THE UNFINISHED " DISRAELI."
IN 1 x0, a year before his death, Lord Beaconsfield's last term of office came to an end, and he had a little leisure to turn to his old pursuits and moralise in peace over the vicissitudes of politics. " Of his reflections at this period," • wrote Mr. Froude, "some may be found hereafter in the papers which he bequeathed to Lord Rowton." We turn, therefore, with a keen interest to the fragment of the post- humous novel which the Times published at the beginning of the week. If the Times is correct in its information, the fragment is not a piece of boyish work laid aside in a drawer and forgotten, or even, like " Endymion," a book written at intervals during the concluding ten years of his life, but literally the last work from the pen of the old statesman, when he bad relinquished office and was preparing to relinquish life. On the whole, we are disappointed It is the authentic Disraeli,—of that there can be no mistake ; but it is the Disraeli of " Endymion " rather than of " Sybil " or "Lothair." If we had merely internal evidence to go upon, we should, but for one fact, have placed it comparatively early in his career, for there is much of the theatrical mysticism of " Tancred," or even of the very first novels of all. It is full of that peculiar brand of epigram of which Disraeli alone had the secret,—epigrams not depending upon verbal finesse, but upon an ironical statement of an, obvious fact. It shows the amazing facility in portraiture which enabled him to describe a character in sentences, every separate one of which is banal and platitudinous, and which yet in the aggregate reach a kind of realism. But there is one feature in the story which gives its few chapters a remarkable interest. It contains what is certainly meant for a portrait of the author's great opponent. Traits borrowed from Mr. Gladstone may be found in the other novels, but there is no serious portrait,—Disraeli's sense of political good-breeding was far too keen for that. In Mr. Joseph Toplady Falconet, however, we have an unmistakable sketch. The name is sufficient,—Glad=Gled= Anglic43 Falcon, Toplady being the name of an eminent hymn-writer whom Mr. Gladstone is known to have admired. Hence we should say that the fragment was either not intended for publication, or was written after the author's political career had become a thing of the past; and as Disraeli in his heyday wrote for the public and not for himself, the chapters, even on internal evidence, may be assigned to his last years. , Mr. Falconet's career is a mirror of Mr. Gladstone's. His father is a successful and pious merchant, residing in Clapham : and certainly the Clapham sect have rarely been described with a keener or kindlier perception of their weak- nesses. The countenance of the father was austere, but relieved by "a thrilling sense of domestic happiness, worldly prosperity, and religious satisfaction." The son is singularly grave and precocious. At the University he is a distinguished scholar and "the unrivalled orator of its mimic Parliament." He is returned for the pocket-borough of a noble Lord who is under financial obligations to the elder Falconet, and makes a brilliant speech on the revival of the slave-trade in the Red Sea, the effect of which is not seriously marred when it appears that there has been no such revival, but only a mistake of a telegraph-clerk suffering from delirium tremens. The visit of Lord Bertram, the friendly Peer, to the Clapham home of the Falconets is in Disraeli's best and least malicious manner. It is idle to specu- late as to whom Bertram is intended to represent,—he seems to have something of Palmerston in him, and there is a suggestion that he is a Jew, fOr he advises Falconet to give up the subject of the Red Sea, since "it was a miracle that saved us 'soon being drowned in it before." However, he disappears very soon from the tale, and his wife, a beautiful, brainless, posing woman, who likes to hold a court of young men, becomes the
chief figure. She fascinates the young Falconet, and it was probably on their relations that the plot of the story was to turn. There are the usual batch of Disraeli girls, sylph-like people of " lustrous beauty " like Lady Ermyntriide, or Angela Hartmann, whom the author describes in words which apply to most of his young women,—" a dear girl, but not one of those women who are stronger than armies." The masterful, daimonic woman of the Theodora type is absent, unless Fraulein von Weimar is intended to develop into one. But we have no less than three Unknowns, who are capable of anything. There is the first Unknown par excellence, who wears a diamond star and enlists Lady Bertram in a vague campaign of pessimism. Then there is Mr. Hartmann, the German of Lavender Hill, who has portraits of Kant and Spinoza in his library. "You have two advanced thinkers there," said Mr. Falconet. " I owe them much," said their owner, "but I have long ceased to share their opinions,"—at which orthodox Mrs. Falconet was greatly relieved. Lastly, there is a coloured gentleman from Ceylon, a Buddhist, but half a Christian, whom Mrs. Falconet resolves speedily to make a whole one. Disraeli, like Tancred, had always to go to Mount Sinai for his inspira- tion, and he has provided ample materials for mystery. The other chief character, Lord Gaston, is of the school of St. Aldegonde, a young man who found the world without illusions and preached an elegant pessimism. The book is in no sense a roman a, clef, and apart from Falconet we can identify few of the characters. The Oxford head of a College is, of course, Jowett, " one of those distinguished divines who do not believe in divinity " ; and it is possible to guess at the identity of the Bishop, " who ever remembered how much the Church owed to holy women."
It is admirable comedy for those—and we hope they are many—who can appreciate the subtle ironies of Disraeli's style. But, on the whole, it is not in the first rank of his work. The strong, serious spirit which inspired "Sybil," and the wisdom and acumen which are apparent in the fantasies of " Lothair," had ebbed with the vitality of the writer, and the fragment, as we have said, is rather of the class of "Endymion," comedy where the outlook is more conventional and the comic spirit is a little weary. The portrait of Gladstone, however, seems to us to reach a higher level. To say that Gladstone discovered the latent " religionism " in the House of Commons and in the country, and owed much of his power to its exploitation, is arguable, and for the year 1880, original. Disraeli understood his great opponent better than that opponent understood him, or even himself, but he never seems to have quite made up his mind on that remarkable and varied character. The picture of the one statesman sitting down in his last year of life to review the past and try to draw a portrait of the other—his up- bringing, his early enthusiasms, the influence of politics, of society, of religious movements, in the shaping of his mind, his inconsistencies, his eternal vitality—is surely full of romance and interest. It was the true way to write his autobiography,—to understand his antithesis, and expound in him the ideals and methods which it had been his life's work to contest. But the question arises—How was the story intended to develop ?—for in fiction there must be a conflict of character, and some other figure must be set in contrast with Falconet's development. The answer may lie in the strange people who come out of the East. The book, so far as it goes, contains a gospel of pessimism and disillusion,— Lord Gaston, Hartmann, the Buddhist, the Unknown, all preach it. Was it the author's aim to set against the con- ventional ethics and the narrow fervours of Falconet a speculative ideal which would be fatal to his self-sufficiency, to show the deadening hand of metaphysics on that vitality which is the source of action ? Such a scheme would hive been worthy of the greatest writer, and it is conceivable that Disraeli at the height of his powers might have 'attempted it and succeeded. But since the work belongs to the post- " Endymion " epoch, we fear we must dismiss the suggestion. The Unknown is more probably on a level with the necro- mancers of the earlier novels, and destined to preach a doctrine fuller of rhetoric than thought.