22 APRIL 1882, Page 8


ON Wednesday last, the anniversary of Lord Beaconsfield's death, many of his admirers, in Parliament and at the West End, displayed primroses,—Lord Beaconsfield's favourite flower,—in bouquets and button-holes, by way of testifying regretful memory and admiration of his career. We have

never affected admiration of Lord Beaconsfield's career, except so far as great intellectual powers, pertinaciously applied, and never daunted by any kind of catastrophe, extort a kind of admiration from us all. But a year without him has certainly increased, and very decidedly increased, rather than diminished, the estimation in which we held those intellectual powers ; and though we felt no wish at all to join in this rather mawkish and inappropriate expression of sentiment, we should be sorry- to let the anniversary of his death go by without recording sin- cerely some of the thoughts,—not altogether unkindly, though wholly without sympathy for the principles and character of the statesman,—which the recollection of that great career forces upon us.

Was it, by the way, as a sort of expiation of its frequent attacks upon Lord Beaconsfield, that the Punch which appeared on the first anniversary of his death transferred the character in which it most delighted to represent Mr. Disraeli, that of juggler, to his great rival, Mr. Gladstone ? In any case, it was a blunder, both as a joke and as a satiric criticism on life ; and we are not sure that Lord Beaconsfield himself would have been pleased to have that quite unique claim of his to the almost magical manipulation of party questions and party interests so soon forgotten. He would hardly have liked to see the same kind of dexterity attributed to one who neither has nor emulates that special power. Doubtless, Lord Beaconsfield really valued the power, which he had in no common degree, of regarding politics as a game of skill. From first to last he steadily used that power, and used it with great adroitness ; nor would he have found it agreeable to suppose that such a power could in any similar sense be attributed to a statesman so " earnest," so incapable of treating politics as a game,—so absorbed in what Lord Beaconsfield would have thought the superstitious view of it,—as Mr. Gladstone.

But there is one great mistake into which this absolutely verified view of Mr. Disraeli as a great juggler, who mystified his party and the people by his political sleight-of-hand, often led Englishmen, which now, looking back upon his career, we can easily discern and correct. Men associate with this sort of genius so much show and glitter and ostentation of levity, that they are very apt to attribute to it something of real insta- bility of purpose. There is no manner of doubt that for a very long time Mr. Disraeli was not taken seriously by his contemporaries, and there is just as little doubt that this fact rather helped than hindered him in his political strategy.

He told his audience at High Wycombe, very nearly half a century ago, with that extraordinary frankness which with him, as with Prince Bismarck, has so often served to make men incredulous of a perfectly true declaration of policy, —" It is the duty of public men occasionally to adopt sentiments with which they do not sympathise, because the people must have leaders ;" and this absolutely frank avowal is the key to a great deal in Lord Beaconsfield's life which the world never understood, only because it came from one who threw a glowing cloud of pageant over his most serious purposes. In reality, this fixed belief of his carried the day in many great crises of his life,—especially in the two greatest,—first, in 1846, when it enabled him to effect a coalition which turned out Sir Robert Peel's Government, and

made him for the first time not, indeed, the leader of a great party in the House, but the next in succession to a leader

whose health and abilities were wholly inadequate to the task, and who resigned it almost at once ; and again in 1867, when it enabled him successfully to press household suffrage on colleagues pledged up to the lips never to accept it with- out the most solid Conservative make-weights. As regards the first occasion, we must remember that Lord George Bentinck had called on all those with whom he acted to give " their hearty and honest support " to Sir Robert Peel's Irish Coercion Bill of 1846, and, indeed, that he secured that sup-

port for its first reading ; but before the second reading, "it was submitted to the consideration of Lord George Bentinck that there appeared only one course to be taken, which, though beset with difficulties, was, with boldness and dexterity, at least susceptible of success," and this course was to resist to the uttermost on the second reading the Coercion Bill supported by Lord George and his friends on the first. This was Mr. Disraeli's advice, and it carried the day, and turned out Sir Robert Peel. Mr. Disraeli felt that this was an occasion when he and his friends must adopt sentiments with which they did not sympathise, "because the people must have leaders," and he adopted them accordingly. It was just the same in the great crisis of 1867, when the present Lord Salisbury denounced his leader's policy as a "policy of legerdemain," and declared that but for the " impenetrable veil" which Mr. Dis- raeli had drawn over his real intentions, he never would have gained the majority which enabled him to fulfil those inten- tions. Here, again, it was simply that Mr. Disraeli saw that the people " must have leaders," and that it had, therefore, become the duty of public men to adopt "sentiments with which they did not sympathise," in order to provide them with Those leaders. This was, indeed, the fixed principle of his great career ; but it was never adequately seen in his lifetime, chiefly on account of that dashing style, that air of humour, that flowery and sometimes almost farcical badinage, with which Mr. Disraeli was accustomed to deck the perfectly stern and unbending purpose with which he played the game of politics. You can do much at what you play as if it were a game, which you cannot do in high earnest. The world shrugged its shoulders at a strange inconsistency, and muttered, " It is only Dizzy !" But the world was never more mistaken in its life in the use of the word " only." Politics was a game to him, but it was the game of his life. He intended to win it, and, in a sense, he did win it. He appeared to treat his career as a primrose path, which he followed only for its attractiveness. But he knew well that it was rugged and long and steep, and sore to the feet ; he cared as little as any one could for the primroses in it, even when he found them ; but he gained many a point by the appearance of jaunty carelessness with which he so sedulously disguised his severe and unbending purpose ; and when he quoted the remark of the veteran General, who said that he won his long course of victories when he was old because he had been always beaten in his youth, he virtually avowed the indomitable volition which threaded all his quips and cranks and inimitable satires into a single chain of pur- pose. The dandy and extravaganza-maker of early life, the humourist of fifty years, the devotee of primroses, the master of legerdemain, misled the public as to the great coherence and significance of his political game. He knew throughout what he would do, if he could ; and he knew more or less what he could do, if he would.

But another reflection is suggested by the great career that ended a year ago, which is more melancholy. Undoubtedly, Lord Beaconsfield won for himself a name which, to use his own words concerning one of his own heroes, " will dwell for ever on the lips of his fellow-men." But is it the kind of fame which even death itself seems rather to glorify than to bedim ? We should be concealing our deepest convictions, if we pre- tended to think so. Lord Beaconsfield had the genius and the vision to carry some beneficent measures. He, no doubt, sin- cerely believed in the claims of democracy to some kind of support, so far as he believed in any political institution at all. And he believed, too, that there might be a genuine alliance between a popular kind of aristocracy and popular ignorance, which might be worked, in some respects, to the advantage of both. But what he believed in most of all was the import- ance of securing the lead ; his name will always be connected with the policy of so manipulating the passions, the emotions, and the imaginations of the people as to make them easily leadable,—rather than with the duty of teaching them what they ought to desire, what they ought to pursue, what they ought to disdain. He aimed rather at dazzling the people, at casting a spell over them, at taming them, at making them re- spond to his magic, than at elevating their minds or purifying their aims. We marvel at his career, but there is not a single passage in it upon which even his friends are able to look back with anything like a flush of more than in- tellectual pride. He wielded some strange talisman, but it was not a talisman by which the nation was raised to any clearer perception of its own temptations and its own duties. Bur- lesque, Pantomime, Melodrama, Comedy, Tragicomedy,—all these we had in succession in Lord Beaconsfield's life, as well as a single and indomitable purpose, hidden, from the many, which underran them all. But we had no great action, and the one Administration for which he was completely responsible was but a too tragic farce. He played the game of politics so

as to make the English people more proud of their own worst failings than they were before ; and we cannot recall his career without the sad conviction that this great man,--for a great man he certainly was,—was permitted to stir the passions and bewilder the imaginations of the British people, nay, to raise up a school of statesmen who hold that stirring the passions and bewildering the imaginations of the British people is the great secret of statesmanship,—rather in order that we might learn to distrust all such spells, and to distrust our own sus- ceptibility for such spells, than for the sake of anything in his brilliant career which we can afford to emulate. Of all successful statesmen, Lord Beaconsfield seems to us the one who best illustrates the power of indomitable will and genius to achieve success ; and also the utter worthlessness of success when achieved, where it adds nothing,—as his success has added nothing,--to the solidity, and strength, and worth of the national character, even if it has not tended partially to undermine it.