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BEACONSFIELD

was so great as that he should be remembered after death more widely, lastingly, respectfully, affectionately, than any other statesman in the long reign of Queen Victoria. While he lived he did not seem at all cut out for that distinction even as an Imperialist. Significant as was the common grief when he died, no such consequence could be inferred from it, and certainly not from the elections of 1880. It stands, however, this high distinction, and with it the thought that it would have been denied to him altogether had the “adventurer” and “mystery man” of the sixties died at the age of threescore years and ten. We have said that never till 1872 did he look upon the full cup of popularity. It might have been said that even at that time intrigue to get rid of him had yet to cease in his own party; and but a few years before, a man growing old, he was still in the lowest deeps of his disappointments and humiliations. How, then, could it be imagined that with six years of power from his seventieth year, the Jew “adventurer,” mysterious and theatrical to the last, should fill a greater space in the mind of England twenty years after death than Peel or Palmerston after five? Of course it can be explained; and when explained, we see that Disraeli’s good fortune in this respect is not due entirely to his own merits. His last years of power might have been followed by as long a period of more acceptable government than his own, to the effacement of his own from memory; but that did not happen. What did follow was a time of universal turbulence and suspicion, in which the pride of the nation was wounded again and again. To say “Majuba” and “Gordon” recalls its deepest hurts, but not all of them; and it may be that a pained and angry people, looking back, saw in the man whom they lately displaced more than they had ever seen before. From that time, at any rate, Disraeli has been acknowledged as the regenerator and representative of the Imperial idea in England. He has also been accused on the same grounds; and if the giver of good wine may be blamed for the guest who gets drunk on it, there is justice in the accusation. It is but a statement of fact, however, that Disraeli retains his hold upon the popular mind on this account mainly. The rekindling of the Imperial idea is understood as a timely act of revolt and redemption: of revolt against continuous humiliations deeply felt, redemption from the fate of nations obviously weak and suspected of timidity. It has been called rescue-work—deliverance from the dangers of invited aggression and a philosophical neglect of the means of defence. And its first achievement for the country (this is again a mere statement of fact) was the restoration of a much-damaged self-respect and the creation of a great defensive fleet not a day too soon for safety. So much for “the great heart of the people.” Meanwhile political students find to their satisfaction that he never courted popularity, and never practised the art of working for “quick returns” of sympathy or applause. As “adventurer,” he should have done so; yet he neglected the cultivation of that paying art for the wisdom that looks to the long future, and bears its fruit, perchance, when no one cares to remember who sowed the seed. So it is that to read some of his books and many of his speeches is to draw more respect and admiration from their pages than could have been found there originally. The student of his life understands that Disraeli’s claim to remembrance rests not only on the breadth of his views, his deep insight, his long foresight, but even more on the courage which allowed him to declare opinions supplied from those qualities when there was no visible likelihood of their justification by experience, and therefore when their natural fate was to be slighted. His judgments had to wait the event before they were absolved from ridicule or delivered from neglect. The event arrives; he is in his grave; but his reputation loses nothing by that. It gains by regret that death was beforehand with him.

“Adventurer,” as applied to Disraeli, was a mere term of abuse. “Mystery-man” had much of the same intention, but in a blameless though not in a happy sense it was true of him to the end of his days. Even to his friends, and to many near him, he remained mysterious to the last. It is impossible to doubt that some two or three, four or five perchance, were at home in his mind, being freely admitted there; but of partial admissions to its inner places there seem to have been few or none. Men who were long associated with him in affairs, and had much of his stinted companionship, have confessed that with every wish to understand his character they never succeeded. Sometimes they fancied they had got within the topping walls of the maze, and might hope to gain the point whence survey could be made of the whole; but as often they found themselves, in a moment, where they stood at last and at first—outside. His speeches carry us but a little way beyond the mental range; his novels rather baffle than instruct. It is commonly believed that Disraeli looked in the glass while describing Sidonia in Coningsby. We group the following sentences from this description for a purpose that will be presently seen:—(1) “He was admired by Character. women, idolized by artists, received in all circles with great distinction, and appreciated for his intellect by the very few to whom he at all opened himself.” (2) “For, though affable and generous, it was impossible to penetrate him: though unreserved in his manners his frankness was limited to the surface. He observed everything, thought ever, but avoided serious discussion. If you pressed him for an opinion he took refuge in raillery, and threw out some paradox with which it was not easy to cope. The secret history of the world was Sidonia’s pastime. His great pleasure was to contrast the hidden motive with the public pretext of transactions.” (3) “He might have discovered a spring of happiness in susceptibilities of the heart; but this was a sealed fountain for Sidonia. In his organization there was a peculiar, perhaps a great deficiency; he was a man without affection. It would be hard to say that he had no heart, for he was susceptible of deep emotions; but not for individuals. Woman was to him a toy, man a machine.” These sentences are separately grouped here for the sake of suggesting that they will more truly illustrate Disraeli’s character if taken as follows:—The first as representing his most cherished social ambitions—in whatever degree achieved. The second group as faithfully and closely descriptive of himself; descriptive too of a character purposely cloaked. The third as much less simple; in part a mixture of truth with Byronic affectation, and for the rest (and more significantly), as intimating the resolute exercise of extraordinary powers of control over the promptings and passions by which so many capable ambitions have come to grief. So read, Sidonia and Benjamin Disraeli are brought into close resemblance by Disraeli himself; for what in this description is untrue to the suspected fundamentals of his character is true to his known foibles. But for a general interpretation of Lord Beaconsfield and his career none serves so well as that which Froude insists on most. He was thoroughly and unchangeably a Jew. At but one remove by birth from southern Europe and the East, he was an Englishman in nothing but his devotion to England and his solicitude for her honour and prosperity. It was not wholly by volition and design that his mind was strange to others and worked in absolute detachment. He had “none of the hereditary prepossessions of the native Englishman.” No such prepossessions disturbed his vision when it was bent upon the rising problems of the time, or rested on the machinery of government and the kind of men who worked it and their ways of working. The advantages of Sidonia’s intellect and temperament were largely his, in affairs, but not without their drawbacks. His pride in his knowledge of the English character was the pride of a student; and we may doubt if it ever occurred to him that there would have been less pride but more knowledge had he been an Englishman. It is certain that in shrouding his own character he checked the communication of others to himself, and so could continue to the end of his career the costly mistake of being theatrical in England. There was a great deal too (though little to his blame) in Lord Malmesbury’s observation that he was not only disliked in the House of Commons for his mysterious manner, but prejudiced by a pronounced foreign air and aspect. Lord Malmesbury does not put it quite as strongly as that, but he might have done so with truth. No Englishman could approach Disraeli without some immediate consciousness that he was in the presence of a foreigner.