THE LIFE OF DISRAELI.*
Tax fourth volume of the Life of Disraeli gives us an opportunity of judging him during a long period as one of the principal men in opposition, when ho was not actually the Leader of the Opposition. True, in this period Disraeli was also in office—he was twice Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at the end climbed to "the top of the greasy pole," as he called it, and succeeded Lord Derby as Prime Minister. Nevertheless he is seen mainly and characteristically as a member of the Opposition from 1855 to 1868. Mr. Buckle in his capable and lucid review of this time supports the opinion that, though the business of the Opposition is to-oppose, Disraeli's methods were always worthy because he was never factious. This opinion is, in our judgment, justified, though approval of Disraeli's general conduct of the work of opposition—of his conception of his respon- sibility and of the high functions which an Opposition serves, so that one may almost say that a Government cannot govern without an Opposition—does not imply undiscriminating admiration for all his schemes and all his methods. Many of the most revealing sidelights • The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield. By George Earle Buckle, In succeasion-to W. It ilonypenny. Vol. IV., 1855-I865. With PortratO and Illustrations. London: John Murray. (123. neLl on Disraeli's mind come from the long series of letters written to Mrs. Brydges Willyams. If it seemed in a previous volume that rather too much space was given to describing the affairs and pera sonality of this lady, it is now seen that what was written was by no moans out of proportion to the important place which she had in the lives of Disraeli and his wife as the faithful friend of both. From 1855 to 1868 Disraeli was the colleague of Lord Derby, and evidently believed that his mission was to supply the energy, and above all the imagination, in which he considered Derby to be wanting. Mr. Buckle's sympathies are, on the whole, much more with Disraeli than with Derby, as is quite desirable in a biographer, but we cannot help ourselves frequently preferring Derby's very practical moderation. The combination of Derby's common-sense with Disraeli's soaring and resplendent visions was powerful. Disraeli yielded again and again, with more patience than we should have expected, to having the finest feathers pulled out of his peacocks' tails. This was a satis- factory result. Some of the birds would have cut rather a foolish figure if they had been sent forth in all their finery. What was saved to Disraeli was enough—the spirit which made him a prophet of oar Empire„ sometimes prophesying tawdry things, but always and dis- tinctly among the prophets. Another aspect of this interesting period is the vigour and success with which Palmerston defended himself against the brilliant onslaughts of Disraeli in the House. Disraeli throughout these years was growing daily in Parliamentary strength ; but the agile old septuagenarian was equal to all tactics, and generally gave as good as he got. He had, in truth, the ideal temper for resisting Disraeli. He was at once debonair and cynical, and could be pug- nacious, and even ruffianly, without ever losing his coolness. In this way he found Disraeli a less formidable opponent than Gladstone did later, for Gladstone allowed himself to be too easily provoked. To be provoked by one who lays himself out to provoke is a tactical weakness, and only Gladstone's great mental force and grave sincerity enabled him to retrieve strategically what he lost tactically.
It was Derby's refusal to take office in 1855 which probably incurred the long phase of opposition for the Conservatives. Had he felt himself able to undertake the winding up of the Crimean War, he would have made himself seem the indispensable statesman. As it was, having refused to shoulder the responsibility, he was not in a favourable position for criticizing. Sterile and necessarily velvety criticism did not at all suit Disraeli's book, and his positive mind at once began to busy itself with the ideal of securing a satisfactory peace at the first possible moment. In vain Lord Henry Lennox told him that his best line would be to imitate Pitt against Addington, and to "out-war " Palmerston, who had become Prime Minister after Derby's refusal. A vehement peace campaign was carried on by the Press, the newspaper which Disraeli controlled and inspired. It is a curious fact that the phrase " Peace with Honour," which he was to bring forth with such enormous effect at the time of the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, was invented by Disraeli in 1855 to sum up the character of the peace which he then advocated with Russia. Up to the beginning of 1856, Disraeli was managing director of the Press, but if that fact had not been perfectly well authenticated the vividneas, playfulness, and gusto of much of the writing would prove that his advice and masterly language had impressed themselves on the paper. Ha used it as his organ as much as Bismarok used the Hamburger Each- ritheen after his dismissal. How Disraeli over came to deny to Greville and others that he had any connexion with the paper we cannot satis- factorily explain. The simplest explanation, we fear, is that Disraeli said what he knew was not true, just as we cannot explain away his earlier denial that he had ever sought office from Peel. " A Triton among the minnows " was the Press's generous and famous description of the spectacle of Palmerston defending his policy without very stalwart assistance from his colleagues. The phrase surely bears the mark of Disraeli, who could never refrain from paying his tribute to • ability. The question whether Russia should or should not bo mistress of the Black Sea stood in the way of Disraeli's peace plan, and on other grounds, of course, his policy was unpopular. But he took a long view in his recognition of the fact that the Black Sea i3 Russia's natural domain, and that to beat her inexhaustible armies back from its shores would be a superhuman task. Beyond and behind Disraeli's immediate arguments was his unexpressed feeling that da fighting Russia we were engaged not only in an unwise but in an unnatural war. Ultimately the popular objections to peace were removed, partly by the destruction of the Russian Fleet, but still more by the strong desire of Louis Napoleon that the war should continue no longer. We must quote here a few lines from Disraeli's own int- pre.ssions of Louis Napoleon's well-remembered visit to England la 1855. In a letter to Mrs. Brydges Willyams he says :— " Altho', years ago, I had seen the Emperor, and not unfreqitently, I was very much struck by the smallness of his stature. He did not seem taller than our Queen. I understand he enjoyed his visit very much, and greatly captivated Her Majesty, once so much prejudiced against him. There was immense embracing nt the departure, and many tears. When the carriage door was at length closed, and all seemed over, the Emperor re-opened it himself, jumped out, pressed Victoria to his heart, and kissed her, on each cheek, with streaming eyes. What do you think of that ? "
Afterwards Disraeli-tried to convert-Louis Napoleon to the view that the natural friends of France in England were the Conservatives and not the Whigs. He did not succeed, but during his attempt he showed how far he overestimated the intellectual eminence of the Emperor. As we know from other sources, Napoleon, as a matter of fact, regarded Disraeli as only a glib man of letters.
Among the causes in which Disraeli tried to carry Derby with him may be mentioned his scheme for reducing the Cabinet. Part of the scheme was the extraordinary proposal that the Navy and the Army should come under the control of one Minister. The harmonious co-operation of the Services is, of course, essential, but it is strange that Disraeli should have thought that this could be accomplished by overburdening one Minister. Some of the proposals, on the other hand, displayed great foresight ; notably that for giving education a Department of its own. We cannot say so much for his criticism of Gladstone's finance in 1857. The Crimean War had to be paid for, yet Disraeli talked as though a pledge given by Gladstone before the war to abolish the Income Tax had exactly the same validity under what were really war conditions.
The Mutiny immediately followed the Crimean War, and in per- ceiving what justice and conciliation required in India Disraeli was at his best. Something of the Oriental in his temperament gave him the necessary sympathy, and enough of Western training gave him the necessary corrective. It was a feat to forecast in effect the terms of the memorable Proclamation of 1858—memorable for its combination of candour and dignity—in which Queen Victoria explained how the Crown instead of the Company would govern India, and how, while she held fast to the Christian religion, she would never force it upon unwilling subjects. The Proclamation was actually written by Derby, but Mr. Buckle's description of Disraeli's attitude towards India indicates quite clearly the source of the ideas and the language. We cannot go into the treatment of Canning in the notorious Ellenborough despatch. Enough to say that that despatch, condemning Canning for his confiscation policy in Oudh, was read and approved by Disraeli before it was sent. The principles in it were admirable ; the error was that Canning, who had rendered laborious, faithful, and generally wise service, should have been held up to public obloquy, in India of all places, for a single lapse, if such it was. Ellenborough, of course, should have sent his despatch privately, and not hastened to exhibit his own great principles in every public print at the expense of a very sincere servant of the Crown.
The chapters about the Reform Bills introduced alternately by Whig and Conservative Governments remind one of the saying that "Caesar and Pompey were very much alike—especially Pompey." There was very little to choose between the Bills, whatever their political inspiration may have been. Mr. Buckle says that the moderate Con- servative Bill of 1859 was no example of opportunism, but was very seriously intended by Disraeli. On the subject of this see-saw we shall not say more than that the history takes us up to the time when the game ended in the dishing of the Whigs.
Gladstone's stiff and rather frigid answer to Disraeli's appeal to him to join the Derby Ministry in 1858 did not deter Disraeli from making a like appeal to Palmerston in 1859. Ho held out glowing and flattering prospects to the old man, and promised from himself, if only Palmerston would come into the Ministry, " not merely cordial co- operation but a devoted fidelity." The appeal was sent without Derby's knowledge, though it is not surprising to read in the letter that Derby had often approved of the sense of it. For the fact was that Derby had long regarded Palmerston as in effect a Conservative, and while Palmerston was Prime Minister thought that the best thing for the country—and certainly the easiest for himself—was that Palmerston should govern, while he himself offered from the other side the kindly assistance of gentle criticism. Here is Palmerston's answer to Disraeli's appeal :— " BROOM, May 3, 1859.
MY DEAR Ma. DDsnAELL—I am sorry I was out when your messenger arrived, and that I have thereby caused him to be detained here longer than he ought to have been. I am much obliged to you for the kind and friendly terms of your letter, and if I say in answer that many reasons which it is unnecessary to go into would prevent me from entering into such an arrangement as that which you suggest might be possible, I trust it is needless for me to assure you that no want of personal good feeling towards Lord Derby or yourself, or towards any other members of your Government, could form part of those reasons.—My dear Mr. Disraeli, your sincerely, PAI2dERSTON."
In the same year, when it seemed that the Government could not survive, Disraeli proposed to Derby—" My dearest Lord," as he addresses him—that Derby's son, Lord Stanley, should reconstruct the Ministry. Disraeli was always a lover of youth and youthful ability, but his admiration did not often lead him further astray than then. The House of Stanley, if gratified by the wild suggestion, were at all events not dazzled by it, and politely set it aside.
Wo have already mentioned some questions of foreign policy. As regards Russia, Disraeli's instincts were splendidly right. As regards Franco, he was right again, though ho exaggerated the personal im- portance of the Emperor. He wanted an alliance with France, and it was in this connexion—the spectacle of Europe kept on tenterhooks by an unnecessary rivalry between the two most liberalizing nations of Europe—that he coined the disparaging phrase, " bloated arma- ments." The phrase has been often misunderstood and more often misapplied. Disraeli, as we understand him; would never have hesi- tated to spend the money necessary for national security. As for the Italian risargimento, Disraeli failed altogether in sympathy.
Possibly his attachment to the Court caused him to refuse to encourage what might intelligibly be regarded as an embarrassment. In any case, he steadily declined to meet Garibaldi during his 'English visit. In the Schleswig-Holstein affair he consented to Lord John Russell's policy of non-intervention. The truth was that he could hardly do otherwise when the crisis came. Russell had not divined Prussian intentions early enough to check them, and when the time came for a sharp decision in English policy Louis Napoleon abandoned Denmark. Russell was left either to follow the French example or to fight single- handed. In the case of the American Civil War, Disraeli took the wrong view fashionable in England and sympathized with the South. Unlike some other statesmen, however, he was wise enough to keep his opinions to himself. A particularly " bad shot " in foreign policy by Disraeli was his remark that Prussia, being a country without nationality, was " clearly the subject for partition."
We have been able only to suggest some of the conspicuous features of this most interesting volume. We may end by quoting two passages on subjects not already mentioned. Of the Church of England Disraeli wrote :—
" For myself, I look upon the Church as the only Jewish institution that remains, and, irrespective of its being the depository of divine truth, must ever cling to it as the visible means which embalms the memory of my race, their deeds and thoughts, and connects their blood with the origin of things. There are few great things left., and the Church is one. No doubt its position at this moment is critical, and, indeed, the whole religious sentiment of the country is in a convulsive state ; but I believe the state of affairs is only one of the periodical revolts of the Northern races against Semitic truth, influenced mainly by mortified vanity in never having been the medium of direct communication with the Almighty ; and that it will end as in previous instances, after much sorrow and suffering, in their utter discomfiture."
His reverence for the Church was, we conclude, more " picturesque " than anything else. From this point of view he regarded heresy, no doubt, as a kind of vandalism. Thus he was led to rebuke as alarming what we should now look upon as the very mild and amiable latitu- dinarianism of Essays and Reviews and the utterances of Jowett at Oxford. Finally, here is a glimpse of Disraeli either as a passionately sympathetic man or as a courtier—we do not attempt to decide. His critical faculty was, in any case, out of use for the moment. After the Prince Consort's death he wrote to the Queen :-
" The Prince is the only person, whom Mr. Disraeli has ever known, who realized the Ideal None with whom he is acquainted have ever approached it. There was in him an union of the manly grace and sublime simplicity, of chivalry with the intellectual splendor- of the Attic Academe. The only character in English History that would, in some respects, draw near to him is Sir Philip Sidney : the same high tone, the same universal accomplishment, the same blended tenderness and vigor, the same rare combination- of romantic energy and classio repose. Both left us in their youth. But there is no person in our history who has established such a permanent, and almost mystic, ascendancy over national feeling as Sir Philip Sidney ; and the writer of these lines is much mistaken if, as time advances, the thought and sentiment of a progressive age will not cluster round the Prince ; his plans will become systems, his suggestions dogmas, and the name of Albert will be accepted as the master-type of a generation of profounder feeling and vaster range than that which he formed and guided with benignant power."