The Biography of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

The Biography of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
From The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 15, 1888

Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli

DISRAELI BENJAMIN, first earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), statesman and man of letters, was born at 6 John Street, Bedford Row, London, on 21 Dec. 1804 (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. x. 457). He was the son of Isaac D’lsraeli q. v., whose family consisted of four sons and one daughter. Benjamin, who was baptised at St. Andrew, Holborn (31 July 1817), was privately educated, and at the age of seventeen was articled to Messrs. Swain & Stevenson, solicitors in the Old Jewry. He entered Lincoln’s Inn in 1824, and kept nine terms, but removed his name in 1831. He soon, however, discovered a taste for literature, and in 1826 contributed a forgotten poem, ‘The Modern Dunciad,’ to a forgotten magazine, called ‘The Star Chamber.’ In the same year he burst upon the town with ‘Vivian Grey’ (of which a second part appeared in 1827), a novel more remarkable perhaps for a youth of twenty than even Congreve’s ‘Old Bachelor.’  Extravagant, audacious, and sparkling, rather than truly brilliant, it achieved at once a great success; but the young author, as if to show his contempt for popularity, quitted England soon after its publication, and spent, the next three years (1828-31) in Spain, Italy, the Levant, and the south-east of Europe, which he described to his sister in the first series of letters edited by Mr. Ralph Disraeli. On his return to England in 1831, the brother and sister still continued regular correspondents, and his ‘Letters’ from 1832 to 1852 form the contents of a second volume lately published by the same editor. They do not add much to what was already known, and, though amusing and interesting, are coloured by a strain of egotism, which, if intended for a joke in writing to a near relative, is not one of those jokes which every one is bound to understand.

It was not till the general election of 1837 that Disraeli obtained a seat in parliament, having previously contested without success both High Wycombe (twice in 1832, and again in 1834), and Taunton (in 1836), involving himself in squabbles of no very dignified character with Joseph Hume and Daniel O’Connell. At Taunton he attacked O’Connell, who had written a complimentary letter about him when he stood for Wycombe. O’Connell retorted by comparing Disraeli to the ‘impenitent thief.’ There was some talk of a duel with O’Connell’s son, Morgan, O’Connell having made a vow against the practice; but nothing came of it. In a letter to The Times of 3l Dec 1835 Disraeli gave his own version of the quarrel. While willing to accept the assistance of these influential politicians against Whig dictation, he had distinctly disavowed all sympathy with their peculiar principles. His support of the ballot and triennial parliaments he justified by the example of Bolingbroke and Sir William Wyndham. But the public of that day knew nothing of either, and the historical toryism of Disraeli was entirely beyond their grasp.