1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac D'Israeli

Anonymous, "I. D'Israeli, Esq." A New Biographical Dictionary of 3000 Cotemporary Public Characters (1825) 2:510-12.



This gentleman is the only son of an Italian merchant, of a Jewish family, who was a long a resident in this country. At a very early period of youth he had a passion for reading, and he even attempted to write little tales concerning giants and ghosts. One of the first books which he read was King's History of the Gods, and he was delighted beyond measure with the contents of it. But, though fond of reading, he was averse from regular study. He first went to an academy at Enfield, near his father's country house, but there he learnt nothing more than a little imperfect Latin. Nor did he make much greater progress under several private masters. He was then sent over to a private seminary in Amsterdam, the master of which was a specious but shallow man, who, however, possessed considerable taste. Young D'Israeli now applied himself ardently to study; was in a short time the companion of his master, rather than his pupil; and he ended by becoming his master's master. In classical literature, however, he made no great progress, and he indeed entertained no respect for it, but he gained an intimate acquaintance with several modern languages, and with the authors who have written in them. At the end of two years he and his preceptor parted, the latter dreading the former, and the former despising the latter. Mr. d'Israeli returned to his native country, and was enraptured to find that his friends did not design to engage him in commercial pursuits, of which he had a most poetical abhorrence. He next made a tour in France and Italy, and came back with a valuable collection of books, and a confirmed predilection for French literature.

It was while he was at Amsterdam that he first tried to write verse, and he took Pope for his model. He himself, however, tells us, that "they were merely verses to the eye, and sounded extremely like the verses of that country in which they were produced." His earliest effort in England appears to have been a Poetical Epistle on the Abuse of Satire, which was an attack on Peter Pindar. It was printed in the 59th volume of the Gentleman's Magazine, and reprinted in the diurnal prints. Peter believed, or affected to believe, it to be the composition of Hayley, and he revenged himself by the Benevolent Epistle to Master John Nichols and Master William Hayley. Yet the epistle on the abuse of satire afterwards procured for its author the friendship of Peter Pindar.

In 1791 he published a poem entitled A Defence of Poetry, which was addressed to the Poet Laureat. It was an animated composition, and it is not easy to conceive why Mr. d'Israeli, when only a few copies were sold, destroyed the whole edition.

Since that publication he has constantly appeared in the character of an original writer, and with full success. His works display extensive reading, a lively fancy, and a pleasant wit, and are written in a flowing and spirited style. The following is a list of them, in their order of publication: A Dissertation on Anecdotes, 1793; Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary Character 1795; Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations, 1796; Vaurien, Satirical Novel, in 2 vols. 1797; Romances, 1798; Narrative Poems, 1803; Despotism, or the Fall of the Jesuits, a novel, 2 vols; Flim Flams, or Life of my Uncle, a kind of satirical biography, in 3 vols.; Calamities of Authors, 3 vols; and Quarrels of Authors, 2 vols.; his last production is a third volume of the Curiosities of Literature.