MEL DISRAELI AND THE PUBLIC.
r ittii bitterness with which Mr. Freeman writes of him, the .I. roughness, almost brutality, with which Mr. Chamber- lain recently attacked him, the disposition shown by the Press to doubt him,—all these recent incidents mark a change in the general attitude towards Mr. Disraeli which is worth a moment's examination. He is losing rapidly- a popularity with his enemies which, both in its degree and kind, was quite ex- ceptional in English politics, and the absence of whieh, as events go on, will be more and more felt on his career. Up to this time, he has been liked by his opponents as few English party leaders have ever been liked by any but their followers: Though he has roused some bitter personal hatreds, and has, in the House especially, a few anta- gonists who would, if they could, morally flay him, he has never excited strong animosities among the body of his opponents. They have feared him, without the hatred which fear usually excites. They have always disliked his policy and distrusted his motives, but they have always appreciated his intellect, admired his speeches, and enjoyed his capacity for scattering personal and political epigrams. He has been treated tenderly for his worst acts, his flights of fancy have been laughed at rather than condemned, and his occasional bursts of spite towards individuals have been either con- doned or forgotten. Very few have been able to measure swords with him, and fewer have desired to do it. The journalists have been even more merciful than the Members, have been more cordial in their estimation of his displays, and have been apt to show unexpected annoyance whenever Mr. Disraeli has been, as has happened occasionally in his contests with Mr. Gladstone, seriously pommelled. This spirit of tolerance, which has filtered down from above to the lowest class, till Mr. Disraeli might defend oligarchy without having his windows broken, and till personal attackii on him in public meetings are resented with hisses, is imperceptibly, though slowly, passing away. We do not know that the Premier has lost much of the confidence of his own party. He was always distrusted by its most competant men, always hated by his own Press, ana always worshipped by a scattered but enthusiastic band 8?` devotees. There has been little change in these respects, though of course, since Mr. Disraeli became Premier the devotPs have made them- selves a little more visible than before; laid for all that appears, he might still educate his followers to by out the Mobarchy or abolish the Established Church. It is the attack whiat grows more bitter, not the defence which grows more slack.* Thera is a tone of suspicion, and even of active dislike, in all com- ments on Mr. Disraeli which is novel, and which exercises an ever-increasing effect on his position; The old tolerati5n haw become slightly contemptuous, the old distrust has deepened to hostility, the old smile at his vagaries has broadened into a sneer. The country papers—always first to indicate a change —have begun to doubt if Englishmen ought not to be ashamed of such a ruler, to speak of the Premier " whom it pleases Providence to set over us," and to warn their readers very carefully that on foreign politics more especially it behoves them to be Very watchful of Mr. Disraeli's personal idiosyn- crasies and desires. In another year Mr. Disraeli will be assailed as unsparingly as Premier ever was, and his policy,. his character, and even his abilities " reckoned up-" as- tlrey have hitherto never been.
Some part of this change is, of course, due to a change in Mr. Disraeli himself. Whether from failing vigour—which,. however, is not apparent in his demeanour—or from con- tented ambition, or from the absence of serious opposition, which still, when he understands the subject, wakes him up to- battle, he has not of late years shown himself at his best. His speeches are rather dull ; his acts, with one great exception, have not been striking ; his intellectual displays have been few, and have not fixed popular attention ; he has hardly uttered an epigram for two years, and has not smashed anybody since he tied an epithet, tin-kettle-fashion to the eloquence of Mr. Beresford Hope. Mr. Freeman will be hit off some day, no doubt, in a felicitous line, and Mr. Chamberlain must feel a little like an Etonian waiting in chilly expectation for the first swish of the birch, but the possi- bility of executions does not interest men quite so fully as their occurrence, particularly when there is a doubt whether they will come off after all. But the greater part of the change is not- in Mr. Disraeli, but in the circumstances which surround him.. The kindliness felt for him was never quite the kindliness felt in England for the statesman who has carried out the national will, or the author who has increased general knowledge, or the poet who has expressed the thought which millions had previously found inexpressible. It was rather the kindness felt for the great actor, or, to be still more true, for the gladiator whose skill con- stantly defeated force, for the retiariea, as it were of the political arena. The audience, even when hostile to-him, hadIn them the spirit of the amphitheatre, and cried, "Hunet 1" exultingly after a good blow, though it fell upon a favourite. That spirit dOes not survive a transfer from the theatre to actual life, and the gladiator is very differently "v;atelled in battle, and by very different eyes. The plan which seemed so daring and original when Mr. Disraelr'Irtrl! only to utter it, seems dangerous when he hia to carry it into effect. The light state- ment intended to extricate its author from a scrape becomes detestable, when it is the defence of a Premier for his policy ut- tered in his place iliyarliament. The epigram which moved such laughter when thrown out in Opposition, moves,' when action has to be deduced from it, only an angry', scoTh. People who have enjoyed a proposal to buy the Canal Shares fol- lowed by no consequences, grow contemptuous when insou- ciance seems to have rendered the effected purchase of no political use. They would have smiled had Mr. Disraeli announced in a speech that in India an Imperial title was needful to raise the Queen to the level of the Czar, but they blushed when the Monarchy was degraded by an Act having that for its sole argument and defence. And though tl#yMight have borne, as a literary statement, the proposition thit atroci- ties are inevitable in war, they grew furious when, being uttered by a Premier, the apophthegm had the effect of an encouragement to the atrocious to continue torturing. Mr. Disraeli's indifference to facts has, in the novelist and the orator, had a charm ; but the public, when he was fighting Abyssinia, winced at nonsense about the mountains of Rasselas, andnow,when people are being tortured forinsurrection, they do not like to hear, as an extenuation of such deeds, that Turks have usually taken a shorter method with insurgents. If in actor were suddenly understood to be, not acting, but behaving, many an amused cheer would be changed into an angry hiss, and that is pre- cisely the change which is passing over Mr. Dieraeli's position. His words have become facts, and the tendency to admire their skill without reference to their importance has consequently passed. So has the value to himself of his capacity for posing as Sphinx. That was a most valuable faculty once, when the Sphinx's silence did not matter, and its possible capacity to utter wisdom excited admiration ; but now the nation wearies of the silence, and does not altogether credit the wisdom. It is amused when Tenniel once more sketches the Premier in the character, for the drawing is quite wonderful, and the character belongs to the subject by tradition ; but it does not feel certain any longer that the Sphinx ought to be silent, or that when the monster opens its mouth it will settle the Eastern Question once for all. A Sphinx which is not quite silent, yet says nothing particular, is not a Sphinx of awe. There is, in fact, a general decline of belief in Mr. Disraeli, which may rapidly become contempt, and already shows itself in a new acerbity alike of analysis and attack. The English people in speculation rather dislike the ordinary, but in action they prefer to be led, however audaciously, by a man who tells them where he is going, why he is going there, and what the extent of labour demanded of them will be. Mr. Disraeli not only does not tell them, but contrives to excite a doubt whether he has a goal, a reason for seeking it, or any knowledge of the toil to be expended on its attainment.
It may be said that the change of opinion is unfair, because Mr. Disraeli's individuality has in part been merged. As leader of Opposition, literary athlete, and orator, he was, in fact, alone ; but as Premier, he is only principal in a Cabinet which, if it does nothing else, must reduce his originality. It is, for example, we shall be told, unfair to adduce the failure in Egypt, because Mr. Disraeli achieved the success which other men insisted on declining to utilise. That defence is, in part, of course fair, though every other Premier has suffered for his Cabinet, but it will avail Mr. Disraeli leas than any other man in his position. He is nothing if not distinctive. The very capacity most frequently attributed to him is the capacity to educate, to make ordinary men do unusual things, to impress his individuality upon all action ; and when he fails to do this, he disappoints expectation, and is no longer Mr. Disraeli. It does not add to the repute of a stream to be lost perpetually in a quagmire, and those who can understand a great idea only dislike its parent when sure that,although he will express, he will not execute it. If Mr. Disraeli is always to be stifled by ordinary men, an ordinary man would fill his place much better, for he would not raise the expectation the failure of which creates so much annoyance. He would do all that parochial work which Mr. Disraeli declines, without raising the hope of higher labour, merely that it may be dis- appointed. Mr. Disraeli may be smothered in his Cabinet, but then the fact that he can be smothered is an immense derelic- tion from the ideal formed of Mr. Disraeli. It is no acceptable excuse for a hero that he could not show himself heroic, because he had just been bonneted, even though it should be literally true ; and it is no apolegy for Mr. Disraeli's failures to say that he only failed because Lord Derby opposed him, or the Marquis of Salisbury refused his consent to action.