1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac D'Israeli

Henry Fothergill Chorley, 8 May 1838; Autobiography, Memoirs, and Letters (1873) 1:190-92.



Mr. Disraeli the elder was announced. I had never met him before; and, as of course they talked and I heard, I had the luxury of undisturbed leisure wherein to use eyes and ears. An old gentleman, strictly, in his appearance; a countenance which at first glance (owing, perhaps, to the mouth, which hangs) I fancied slightly chargeable with stolidity of expression, but which developed strong sense as it talked; a rather "soigne" style of dress for so old a man, and a manner good-humoured, complimentary (to Gebir [Walter Savage Landor]), discursive and prosy, bespeaking that engrossment and interest in his own pursuits which might be expected to be found in a person so patient in research and collection. But there is a tone of the philosophe (or I fancied it), which I did not quite like; and that tone (addressing the instinct rather than the judgment) which is felt or imagined to bespeak (how shall it be?) absence of high principle. No one can be more hardy in his negation than Mr. Fonblanque; in no one a sneer be more triumphantly incarnate — and it is sometimes very withering and painful; but he gives you the impression of considering destruction and denial to be his mission; whereas there is an easy optimism and expediency associated with my idea of Mr. Disraeli, which, while it makes his opinions less salient, increases their offence. This is very hardy in the way of generalization! I did not like the manner, above all things, in which he talked about the Slave Trade and Wilberforce's life — how the latter was set down as a mere canter. (Curious to hear this by his own fireside!) Then he advanced a theory about Shakespeare's having been long in exciting the notice he deserved, as compared with Ben Jonson and other dramatists, which was either incompletely stated, or based on shallow premises — most probably the former. It gave occasion to a very fine thing by Landor: "Yes, Mr. Disraeli, the oak and the ebony take a long time to grow up and make wood, but they last forever!"