TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE EARL OF BEACONSFIELD.
WE do not understand all this newspaper incense offered to the new Peer,—these assertions that he has attained the fitting crown to his exceptional career, these eulogies of the country which permits such a man to rise by sheer force of intellect to such a height of grandeur. Mr. Disraeli has moral and intellectual defects of the gravest kind—such defects that his permanent removal from power would be a cause of thank- fulness alike to Great Britain and to the world—but he is not of the poor stamp of men to whom a peerage is a culminating honour. The Premiership of England must have been lowered
indeed when any Premier gains rank by accepting a title, and to Mr. Disraeli, who has created an Empress, and tossed coro- nets to followers to console them for exclusion from substantial power, an Earldom, which he can hold only for life, is but a decoration, less valuable than the Garter to a great noble or a Dukedom to a King. If he is what his followers think him, if he is even what the electors at the last election declared him to be, the House of Lords receives in his entrance an honour which, in admitting him within their circle, the Peers
have not the power to bestow. Mr. Disraeli deified by an Earl- dom! Why he has had Dukes for henchmen! He has not, as vulgar eulogists are now repeating in every tone of adulation, cut his way to the Peerage. He cut his way long since to the Leadership of the House of Commons, and is now, for reasons of his own, leisurely stepping down to a less illustrious, though also less fatiguing post. Mr. Disraeli takes his title, he does not receive it, and the only honour done in the case is to the somewhat dull assembly in which he does not think it unworthy of his position, in the evening of his strength, to relax himself with a seat. We do not believe in Mr. Disraeli as a fitting guide of the policy of Great Britain, but we will do him the justice to believe that no scorn of ours for his adulators could equal the scorn that he must feel for the ill-bred sycophancy which could throw adulation into such a form as this. In spite of the vein of delight in tawdriness which is so perceptible in his books, his speeches, and his policy, and to which the Times of this week makes so many sardonic allusions, Mr. Disraeli, who has poured such scorn on the Peers as upstart plutocrats, as men "who did not conquer the land, and who do not defend it," who has never lost an opportunity of telling them that, as compared with himself, they are barbarians of yesterday, who reverences nothing but the " race " which he denies them to possess, and the intellect which he contemptuously strikes from the list of their quali- fications, has not, we may be sure, given himself a British title as a crowning honour. He has not bartered, knowingly, a sceptre for a coronet. He has but taken ermine as comfortable flannel for his old age. We may be certain that he has acted now, as ever, on calculation, and the only business of politicians is to inquire whether or no his calculation is well founded.
Allowing always for Mr. Disraeli's one possession, "the zigzag
lightning in his brain," which has so often shown him a way out of an impossible position, we conceive him to have made alike for his party and himself a very great mistake. He has calculated that he could retain power, the ultimate authority which should rest in a Premier's hands, without undergoing the labour inseparable from the leadership of the Commons, and with certain men this would have been the case. When a man's force in Council is so great that any Cabinet in which he sits becomes a Committee for the execution of his decisions, it matters little whether he places himself in the Commons or the Peers. He cannot be excluded from the governing Committee, and once within it, he is by right of innate capacity the ruling spirit. It would have mattered little to Lord Palmerston, though much to his agents in the Commons, if, before his last Administration, he had transferred himself to the softer seats and heavier atmosphere and earlier hours of the Upper Chamber. He could have addressed England from a cushion as easily as from a bench, and in the Cabinet he would still have been supreme. That will not be the position of the Earl of Beaconsfield. His ascendancy in Council has never been unquestioned, he has been beaten in this very Session on his Egyptian policy, and where he has succeeded he has succeeded because he was the necessary man, the one man who could manage the source of all real power, the sensitive, unruly, all- powerful public meeting which expresses the will of the United Kingdom. He is not necessary to his colleagues any longer. He is not wanted to manage the House of Lords, which can be guided much more easily by men of half his intellectual capacity, and if he resigned to-morrow would leave no void that in accepting a peerage he has not already left.
That void, no doubt, is a great one. Mr. Disraeli, though he never understood England, and sometimes mistook even the House of Commons, had rare capacity for managing that body, and a positive genius for controlling the stubborn impulses, the sudden movements, as of herds in terror, the frantic rushes of his own party within its walls. No one could pilot them to pasture so well, no one so coolly head them off when a stampede led them towards a precipice, no one so clearly convince them, even while they shook their manes with rage, that they had reached an impassable wall. As leader of the House he has had many superiors, as leader of the Tories no equal, and it was the conviction of this truth, the certainty that with Mr. Disraeli discontented no Tory Cabinet could live, that made him the necessary man to 134en whose instincts would have led them to look to any other quarter for a leader. He has himself resigned this position.
He is no longer indispensable, and he will feel that truth with every hour of the official day. He may flatter himself till Parliament meets that he has another power in reserve, a hold over the people equal to that which he possessed over the Commons, a power like Palmerston's, but he will wake to find himself deluded. The power of Mr. Disraeli over the people was very considerable, and did without a doubt affect the result of the last election, but it was not power of the kind which will con- tinue to attach to the Earl of Beaconsfield. The secret of the power was admiration,—admiration for the intellectual gymnast, the political Leotard who could fly through the air so far, and who so seldom missed his tip. The householders enjoyed his audacity, smiled at his tergiversations, and delighted in turns of policy which suggested something of political frolic- someness in the chief man in the State. All men love surprises in politics, as all men enjoy surprises in their theatres or their novels. They were as amused with him as with Palmerston, though in a very different way, the two admira- tions being as different as admiration for an acrobat and admiration for a great comedian. Disappearance kills that kind of confidence, and Mr. Disraeli as intellectual gymnast has retired. The Earl of Beaconsfield cannot disport; himself in that way in the Upper Chamber. The air is too dense, the immediate audience too averse to such displays, the machinery too heavy to be trusted. The new Peer believes, it is said, that he has a style of eloquence, unrevealed as yet, which will impress the Peers ; that while in the Commons they appreciate "Don Juan," in the Lords they will have admiration for" Paradise Lost." He may be right, and may be able at seventy to exchange the ottava rima for blank verse, but he will find that if the Peers admire his epics, which we doubt, their real taste being for the laugh- ing humour and simple narrative of Chaucer, the English people will not ; that in altering the form he has altered also the impression of his verse, to which that form materially con- duced. Unless the Earl of Beaconsfield can not only make himself but show himself necessary to some course of policy on which the nation has set its heart, he will find that, no longer leading the Commons, no longer exciting daily admiration, he will, like every predecessor who has set him his example, be for- gotten by the people whom, except when in carrying household suffrage he threw over the traditions of his party, he has never served. Bread is no cheaper, taxation no lighter, Britain no grander for Mr. Disraeli. And what chance is there of his propounding such a policy? We should say simply none. When straining for a cry in home affairs, he found none better than Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas, and when eager to lead in foreign affairs has only to offer to a people who pray every week for deliverance from Turks the Turkish status quo. You cannot make a great policy out of a mere refusal to believe disagreeable evidence. No man in England grudges Mr. Disraeli ease, if he desires it, "honours," if he cares about them, social rank, if he thinks that Britain has it to give, but among all Englishmen, those who grudge them least are those who most desire that his authority should end.
And if Mr. Disraeli in receding into the perfumed but non- luminous atmosphere of the Peers has injured himself, he has also injured his party, which, whatever old Conservatives may think, does not rule now as Toryism, but as Toryism tempered till England can bear it by Mr. Disraeli. The Tory party may rule again ; whenever it can find a great administrator it will rule ; but this party which is ruling is not that, but a party whose first element, the Earl of Beaconsfield, has withdrawn from the labours of the place where substantial power in England permanently resides.