6 MARCH 1880, Page 15


A GERMAN VIEW OF LORD BEACONSFIELD.* THIS book is what it professes to be, a " study " of Lord Beaconsfield's career,—and in some respects a careful study too. Mr. Brandes has read all Lord Beaconsfield's works with care, and apparently a fair proportion of his speeches, too ; but he takes too much from very untrustworthy authori- ties like Mr. Hitchman. Nothing can be more ludicrous than to speak of Lord Beaconsfield's moderation towards opponents and to contrast it with Mr. Gladstone's rancour. The facts are just the other way. Mr. Brandes falls from the same cause into many small mistakes. He attributes, for instance, Mr. Bright's remark that Lord Beaconsfield has probably not a drop of English blood in his veins, to Mr. Gladstone, who always avoids personalities, though his strictly political criticisms are sharp enough. Nevertheless, Mr. Brandes is what he himself deems an impartial critic,—that is, he freely blames Lord Beaconsfield, and sometimes laughs at him. He decides that Lord Beaconsfield is not a really great man, and that only in relation to the standard of the nineteenth century can he be called a great statesman. Yet to speak of Mr. Brandes as an impartial critic would be misleading, without some previous understanding of what impartiality means in his case. Impartiality strictly means not identify- ing yourself beforehand with any view of the subject you are dealing with, but accommodating your view simply to the facts of the case. In this sense, so far as we can see, Mr. Brandes is throughout impartial. He has no prepossessions which blind him to the facts of his hero's life. On the other hand, if im- partiality is to mean, as it sometimes does, the measuring with- out favour by a rigidly just standard, it would be impossible to pronounce this book impartial, as Mr. Brandes leaves us in doubt from beginning to end what standard of character he applies to his hero ; and not unfrequently whether, except on relatively insignificant points, he applies any standard of char- acter at all. He tells us, indeed, that he does not regard Lord Beaconsfield as a great statesman in the sense in which he regards Stein and Wilhelm von Humboldt as great statesmen, and he tells us the reason :—" The statesmen who were masters of all the wealth of culture of the eighteenth • century, like Stein and Wilhelm von Humboldt, were great men, because, with the all-embracing eye of genius, they corn- _prehended and looked over the heads of their contemporaries, stood far above them, and undaunted by discouragement, strove to raise them to their own level. They were also thoroughly upright and honourable men, and no one could ever be in doubt what their opinions really were. Lord Beaconsfield is a man of .a different stamp. Born during the period of reaction, he soon comprehended the age, accommodated himself to it, proclaimed its favourite doctrines in novel forms, and only to a certain ex- tent bade defiance to the spirit of the age, because he paid homage to still stronger and more universal prejudices." But we doubt whether Mr. Brandes really attaches as much import- ance to earnestness and sincerity of conviction as from this • Lord &aeons:field: a Study. By Georg Brandes, Anthoriaed Translation, by Aim George Btnrge. London : B. Bentley and Son.

passage he would appear to do. At least, he has often the greatest doubt as to whether Lord Beaconsfield's convictions really agree with his professions, and yet does not abate much of his admiration on that account. He quotes Mr.

Disraeli's own saying,—" The people have their passions, and it is even the duty of public men occasionally to adopt sentiments with which they do not sympathise, because the people must have leaders," and then he makes this very bland criticism on it :—"A duty it never is, and it can only be justified in cases of urgent necessity, but if words such as these are not necessarily evidences of want of morality, they are undoubtedly the language of love of power." And indeed, on the whole, the tone of the book is one of congratulation, whenever the author can manage to persuade himself that Mr. Disraeli did not really believe some political or religious profession of his with which Mr. Brandes is unable to agree, rather than of condemna- tion that a statesman should be so unscrupulous. After all,—he seems to say,—Disraeli was wiser than he appeared; he talked all this nonsense only because, politically, itpaidhim to affect beliefs he had not got, and it is satisfactory to know that so considerable a man did not sincerely believe what it was convenient for him to put forth to the British public as the nearest equivalent to a creed that he had it in his power to produce. Mr. Brandes tells us again and again, and not without reason, that it is impossible to say how much of Disraeli's creed is serious, and how much of it had no serious conviction behind it. Thus, in con- trasting him with Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Brandes says, evidently in depreciation of the latter, and in extenuation of his hero, "Disraeli's theological narrowness always seems more than half

intentional, while Mr. Gladstone's is naive." It is obvious there- fore, that, in spite of the praise of Stein and Wilhelm von Humboldt, as men with regard to whom "no one could doubt what their opinions really were," Mr. Brandes decidedly prefers one of whom you can never say what his opinions really are, to one whose convictions are frank and noble, but nevertheless tinctured with a theology which the new German science and German criticism regard as retrograde. A skilful professor of political and theo- logical orthodoxy whose orthodoxy, both political and theological,

rings hollow, finds far greater favour in the eyes of the Neo-Ger- man critic than the statesman who develops steadily as he grows older, and always seems to the world what he is. But if Mr. Brandes is very soft-hearted to theatrical Conservatism, so long as he believes it to be more than half-simulated, he tries to make up for this by condemning Mr. Disraeli for not dealing in his later works in the same easy fashion with ordinary morality

in which he dealt with it in Vivian Grey and The Young Duke Thus he tells us :— "Under George rv. frivolity was the mode ; consequently, in The Young Duke, Disraeli touches with a bolder and freer hand than he ever did afterwards the various mental and other conditions which result from frivolous or illegitimate love. The delineation of it is clever and in extremely good-taste; the critical passages are passed over in jest, or in a tragi-comic style. Still, erotic indiscretions have a place here, and are not, as afterwards, systematically excluded from the life of the hero. By his subsequent strictness, he has injured himself as a fictitious writer. Be had a tone of delicate and indul- gent irony in treating of such phenomena, which, occasionally intro- duced, would have had a good effect, in the somewhat overstrained pathos of his later love-stories."

Mr. Brandes, then, desires more of this same "indulgent irony" in the treatment of bad morality, which he finds so attrac-

tive when it indicates a latent sympathy with religious doubts which Mr. Disraeli had formally repudiated, and democratic tendencies which he had professedly denounced. This, and the panegyrics on German science and criticism,—on the evo- lutionist doctrines of the school of Hiickel, and Scriptural criti- cism of the school of Strauss,— are the only indications we have of the standard of character by which Mr. Brandes tries the subject of his sketch. We should gather from the various hints we receive that he is, in all probability, a democrat of a somewhat socialistic type, with a deep dread of the Slays, and a Bismarck- ion belief that unless Science takes care to ally itself with iron and blood, she may be kept down by the dead-weight of benighted races for another century or two. Probably, too, Mr. Branders has taken up the notion that Lord Beaconsfield is doing the work at once of the Teutonic races and of the iconoclasts of thought, partly by his demonstrations against Russia,—his Jingoism, as we call it, —partly by his unconfessed scepticism. Our biographer is, at all events, lenient to all indications of flippancy which appear to announce a fundamental licence of thought. But when, as here and there, Lord Beaconsfield's flippancy touches the roots of doubt itself,—then Mr. Brandes treats it as trifling with "Science," and is very wroth :—

"From the first he was wanting in the scientific spirit ; he has always been ignorant of the great idea of evolution—the common cnatral idea of philosophy and natural science in the nineteenth cen- tury. He ridicules it in Popanilla, where he says, in one of the satirical turns in which his strength lies, 'By developing the water, we get fish ; by developing the earth, we get corn, and cash, and cot. ton ; by developing the air, we get breath ; by developing the fire, we get heat.' He took up this satire again twenty years later, where the book The Revelations of Chaos is described. You know, all is development. The principle is perpetually going on. First, there was nothing, then there was something, then-1 'forget the next ; I think there were shells, then fishes; then we came. Let me see, did we come next ? Never mind that ; we came at last. And the next change there will be something very superior to us,—something with wings. Ah ! that's it ; we were fishes, and I believe we shall be crows. But you must read it.' How much he was in earnest with these parodies of the doctrine of evolution appears from his well-known speech at Oxford, in 1864, in which he expressed himself with the strongest emphasis against the most modern scientific school,' and even made himself ridiculous by summing up the scientific

discussions of that time as follows The question is—Is man an ape or an angel ? My lord, I am on the side of the angel.' It may well be asked whether he really raeant this, or whether it was only accepted as the necessary sequence of the doctrine of the superiority of and revelation to the Semitic race ; but, if he did not mean it, so much the worse for him. This and other isolated things might be overlooked, though it is always to be regretted when a man who desires to rule his contemporaries talks like a parish clerk of the greatest scientific problems and ideas of his time."

That is the severest passage in the book. The more Mr. Disraeli trifles with all other serious convictions, the more genial and generous Mr. Brandes grows ; even in one passage, as we have seen, seriously expressing his regret that Mr. Disraeli had not given the rein oftener to his genius for trifling with social morality, so successfully as he had done this in his earlier novels.

Such being, so far as we are permitted to see it, the moral and political measure by which Mr. Brandes tries Lord Beaconsfield, we are not surprised to find that "it does not con- cern him" to discuss the abstract morality of Mr. Disraeli's candid avowal, as a young man, that "when a statesman is called to take office, he is not to inquire what his opinions might or might not have been on this or that subject ; he is only to ascertain the needful, and the beneficial, and the most feasible manner in which affairs are to be carried on." Nor does it surprise us that when referring to Mr. Disraeli's with- drawal from the Radical Society called the "Westminster Club," he omits to mention that Mr. Disraeli assured the electors of Taunton that he had never belonged to nor even heard of it. Probably Mr. Brandes regards that disclaimer as only made in a mood of "indulgent irony" towards this political indiscretion. But what does a good deal surprise us is, that when Mr. Brandes comes to record expressions of Mr. Disraeli's sympathy towards the poor, in which he himself heartily agrees, he finds no further trace of this "indulgent irony," but takes his hero quite seriously in everything. In relation to Mr. Disraeli's speech on the Chartist petition of June 14th, 1839, Mr. Brandes says :— "At that period it required considerable personal and Parliamen- tary courage to make such a speech as this, although a sort of aristo- cratic turn was given to it. Disraeli knew how it would be taken and turned to account—it was something like it would be to avow that you sympathised with the Internationalists nowadays—but with these words he clearly referred the proletariat to the Tories. Attempts have been made to show that Disraeli was not sincere in the certainly very Platonic sympathy he expressed with the Chartists, from the circumstance that, during the same year, he voted against the ballot and the shortening of Parliaments ; this implies that, personally, be did not see a way out of their social difficulties for the working-classes by the attainment of political rights, while he professed the contrary opinion ; and it was for this reason that he spoke of sympathy with the Chartists, though he disapproved of the Charter. He explained clearly enough in Sybil, six years afterwards, how he meant his words to be understood. The sum and substance of his opinions was this : The common people are right in calling themselves oppressed and overreached, but they are wrong in the assumption that Toryism is their enemy, and approves their present distress; in order to obtain relief, they must learn that they will get nothing from the present leaders, and that no one but the heads of the aristocracy can or will help them. The correctness of this conviction of Disraeli's may well be doubted, but not that it really was his conviction."

Now what it seems to us precisely the most reasonable thing in the world to doubt, is whether Mr. Disraeli was not here expressing, with a certain "indulgent irony," views which he thought tenable by the aristocracy, but which he did not himself share,—as, indeed, it would be difficult at any period of his career to determine what political or other con- victions, except the conviction of the vast importance of race, he ever did share. If he did sympathise so deeply with the suf- fering operatives, and regard the leaders of the aristocracy as their true chiefs, how was it that for many years afterwards he himself opposed, and induced his aristocratic colleagues to oppose, with the most virulent opposition, that repeal of the Corn Laws which, of all the steps taken in our country em behalf of the poor, did most to relieve their sufferings, and to open to them an epoch of relative prosperity P If the author of Sybil had been in earnest, his action on the Corn Laws would have been simply impossible. But of course he was not in earnest. He was quite willing to champion the " nation " of the poor, on condition that it helped him to rise to the head of the " nation " of the rich. But as the two objects were just then incon- sistent, the poor, for the time, had to go to the wall. Nothing, to our mind, indicates more certainly that the popular side of Mr, Disraeli's Toryism has been due to a mere intellectual flash of insight, not to any grain of moral sympathy with the poor,. than his fierce and, in relation to his own fortunes, decisive, campaign against the repeal of the Corn Laws, at the very time when he had been studying the "condition of England question," as it used at that time to be called, and well knew how Protection weighed on the masses. Had Sir Robert Peel shown any disposition to bring him forward, Sir Robert would, as was evident during the first two years of his administration, have had no warmer champion on behalf of his tentative Free- trade policy than Mr. Disraeli. But when it became neces- sary to rise, if at all, at the expense of Sir Robert Peel, the policy of Free-trade and the welfare of the masses was cast lightly to the winds.

Mr. Brandes appreciates so well the political wit and sarcasm of Lord Beaconsfield, that we are surprised to find so many indications of his strange over-estimate of Mr. Disraeli's novels._ In one place, for instance, he talks of Mr. Disraeli's "pathetic lyrical flight," and this is the windy rhodomontade to which he applies that term :—

"'Amid the ruins of eternal Rome, I scribble pages lighter than the wind, and feed with fancies volumes which will be forgotten ere I can hear that they are even published. Yet am I not one insensible to the magic of my memorable abode, and I could pour my passion o'er the land ; but I repress my thoughts, and beat their tide back to their hollow caves For I am one, though young, yet old enough to know Ambition is a demon ; and I fly from what I fear. And Fame has eagle wings, and yet she mounts not so high as man's desires Could we but drag the purple from the hero's heart could we but tear the laurel from the poet's throbbing brain, and, read their doubts, their dangers, their despair, we might learn a greater lesson than we shall ever acquire by musing over their exploits or their inspiration. Think of unrecognised Cwsar, with bin' wasting youth, weeping over the Macedonian's young career ! Could Pharsalia compensate for those withering pangs ? View the obscure- Napoleon starving in the streets of Paris ! What was St. Helena, to the bitterness of such existence ? The visions of past glory might illumine even that dark imprisonment; but to be conscious that his supernatural energies might die away without creating their miracles can the wheel or the rack rival the torture of such a suspicion ?' " "I want to make my life a novel," said a conceited boy once to the present reviewer, as he passed his hand excitedly through his hair. Would Mr. Brandes have called that a "pathetic

lyrical flight?" It sounds to us quite as good, and decidedly simpler than this windy flight of the young Disraeli's. Then,. again, Mr. Brandes speaks of Tancred as containing "the highest religious pathos of which the author is capable." And so, no doubt,. it does, for it contains nothing that could touch a religious heart at all. Mr. Brandes, with rather more literary discretion, says of Lord Beaconsfield, towards the close of his book, "his mind is of the metallic order." Nothing truer was ever said. "Dli robur at ma triplex dream pectus erat " might well have been his motto. But minds of the metallic order are hardly capable of either pathos or poetry, and all Mr. Disraeli's attempts at either have been flashy failures. In their piquant criticisms on society and. politics, his novels, excepting Lot hair, have always contained good. reading. Their satire is pungent ; their parodies of the ways of the world admirable. But as mirrors of human character and. human nature in the larger sense, they are naught. They never get beyond persiflage. They photograph the trashy parts. of life and passion, and miss all that is deep and real. Their mysticism is pure bombast, and their idealism empty glitter.. They touch their highest point in delineating the talk of the club-room, but when they profess to plumb either a man's. ambition or a woman's love, they become false, pretentious,.

and hollow.

Again, as a statesman, Mr. Brandes does not really gauge Lord Beaconsfield, partly because he appears to like him best for not thinking what he professes, and partly because he evidently does not understand at all how profoundly empty Lord Beaconsfield's so-called achieve- ments have been. Thus he gravely tells us that at the Berlin Congress, Lord Beaconsfield "snatched the British supremacy, over Asiatic Turkey, which brought those countries over which David Alroy acquired dominion, under the sovereignty of Ben- jamin Disraeli." Did he really ? What act of sovereignty has he been able to show us ? Can he get even a nominal finance inspector appointed in those provinces? Can he even obtain a par- don for a school-master who has interfered in the translation of a tract ? What Lord Beaconsfield snatched was no supremacy at all, but the name of it without the thing or the hope of the thing. And that is precisely where his power lies. He can always pass off words for things on the ignorant multitude. But the man who makes a" study" of Lord Beaconsfield should not be one of the ignorant multitude. He should know more about his hero than his words. He should have compared his words with his deeds. And this is what Mr. Brandes has, unfortunately, omitted to do. Audacity to think anything whatever,—.audacity to say anything that he thinks which it is to his purpose to say, —Lord Beaconsfield has always had ; and doubtless, it is a great power, a power which in political life goes a good way. But audacity to make his words good he has not had,—partly because he has never loved work, or had enough knowledge of the dull order to know how it is requisite to support words by deeds, —partly because the pageant of life really deceives him. His audacity ends where the chief value of audacity usually begins.