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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was born on December 21, 1804  at 22 Theobalds Road, London.

His family were a prosperous Sephardic family connected in the London literary world. Benjamin had three brothers.

His father was the literary critic and historian Isaac D'Israel (1766-1848), who took 30 years to write his classic work Curiosities of Literature.

Disraeli's mother was Maria Basevi, who came from a branch of the illustrious Abravanel family. Her father was a straw hat salesman from central Italy.

Though Jewish, his parents had Benjamin baptized and raised in the Church of England. However he was also circumcised by a relative from his mother's side, David Abravanel Lindo.

From the age of 6 Benjamin was educated at Islington and then a private school at Blackheath where he didn't much like learning the basics but developed a popular reputation for telling stories. He then attended a more strict school at Walthamstow where he was bereft and left abruptly at the age of 16.

Benjamin acquired much of his education from his father's extensive library.

In the holidays Benjamin formed his own “government” with his brothers and friends where he was prime minister and the government never fell to the opposition.

At the age of 15 Benjamin wrote A True Story, which was published in The Indicator in 1820.

Disraeli was articled to a firm of London solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn, between the ages of 17 and 20.

Disraeli as a young man—a retrospective portrayal painted in 1852

Disraeli suffered from depression in his twenties and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which was described by his doctor as a chronic inflammation of the membranes of the brain. For a four-year period  he lived the life of a recluse, then for many years after that he was frequently bed-ridden through psychosomatic illness and crippling headaches.

Disraeli fought three times unsuccessfully for the seat of High Wycombe between 1831-1837 as a Radical.

Disraeli changed from a Radical to Tory and was elected MP for Maidstone in 1837.

Disraeli was very Jewish looking of Italian/Jewish descendant. He had an ebony curled goatee beard, which was his most famous characteristic as far as cartoonists were concerned.

As a young articled clerk Disraeli wore a black velvet suit with ruffles and black stockings with red clocks.

As a MP Disraeli wore a black velvet coat lined with satin mauve trousers with a gold stripe down them. He frequently wore a crimson waistcoat and white gloves with several glittering jeweled rings on the outside of his gloves.

A witty orator in a satirical and sarcastic way, Disraeli was like a machine gun with his invective wit against political opponents such as Peel, Parlmeston and Gladstone.

Gladstone once challenged Disraeli, who claimed that he could make a joke on any subject, to make a joke about Queen Victoria. "Sir", Disraeli responded, "Her majesty is not a subject".

Gladstone once claimed "Mr Disraeli cannot possibly be sure of his facts." Disraeli responded "I wish I could be as sure of anything as my opponent is of everything."

Anyone who sent an unsolicited manuscript was given the following reply by Disraeli, “Thank you for the manuscript. I shall lose no time in reading it."

Disraeli was once the guest of honor at a public dinner. as the kitchen was some way from the banqueting hall, most of the food was stone cold by the time it reached the table. Sipping his champagne after the meal, Disraeli murmured, "Thank God! At last  have got something warm."

Disraeli’s mistress, Henrietta Sykes from 1733-36 was a striking passionate voluptuous beauty with expensive tastes.

Disraeli married Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis on August 28, 1839 at St Georges, Hanover Square, London. A well to do widow of a political colleague of Disraeli's, she was 12 years older than him.

They spent the first days of their honeymoon at the Kentish Hotel in Tunbridge Wells.

Mary was young looking and pretty but eccentric in her dress sense and general character. They had a good marriage, Disraeli described her as “A pretty little woman, a flirt and a rattle: indeed gifted with a volubility I should think unequalled.”

Mary Anne Lewis c. 1820–30

Queen Victoria was fond of Disraeli and she sent him primroses from the Isle of Wight.. He said of his relationship with the Queen. "Everyone likes flattery and when you come to royalty you should lay it on with a trowel."

Disraeli made several unwise investments when young, including the launch of a new daily newspaper which failed. This plus unwise stock speculation, his expensive mistress and an eighteen month grand tour of Europe, left Disraeli deeply in debt. When he married Mary she bought him a considerable fortune and a fine house in London.

It wasn't until several years into his marriage when a rich young widow from Torquay left him £40,000 in his will, that Disraeli was able to clear his debts.

Disraeli wrote standing up.

He read Pride and Prejudice 19 times.

Primarily in order to pay off his debts, Disraeli began writing novels, the first of which, Vivian Grey, appeared in 1826 with some success.

Alongside its success Vivian Grey caused a scandal due to its lampooning of many influential people.

Vivien Grey was published anonymously due to its scandalous nature, but when it came out that the author was Disraeli, his reputation and future career was threatened.

Disraeli introduced the phrase “dark horse” in his 1831 novel, The Young Duke: A Moral Tale Through Gay. He wrote “a dark horse, which had never been thought of…rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”

Disraeli's 1832 psychological romance Contarini was his own favorite among the novels he wrote.

Disraeli's 1844 Coningsby novel was.immensely sublime and successful. It came to be regarded as a manifesto for young England.

His 1870 book Lothair, which was published whilst in opposition, was possibly more widely read than any novel since the days of Sir Walter Scott. Despite being poorly reviewed, its first edition sold out within two days.

Asked why he wrote novels when Daniel Deronda came out in 1876, Disraeli replied that every so often he would have an urge to read a novel, so in order to have one at hand he would write it himself.

Disraeli once quipped: "The author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children."

Disraeli received a £10,000 payment for Endymion in 1880, the highest 19th century advance for a novel.

Disraeli coined the phrase in Endymion, "His Christianity was muscular".

His books were more popular among the public than critics. A 16 year old RL Stevenson described Disraeli's novels as "The dullest Historical Romances". Wordsworth described his novels as "trashy..

His motto was "Fort, nihil difficile." (Nothing is difficult to the strong.)

Disraeli was involved in a public slanging match with Daniel O'Connell. There was evidence that it was settled by a duel but eventually Disraeli was bound over to keep the peace in £500 sureties.

Disraeli nearly ruined his political career with his maiden speech at Parliament because his extravagant phraseology and dandified dress provoked derisive laughter from his fellow members.

After his disastrous ambitious maiden speech was shouted him down before he could finish, Disraeli said, "The time will come when you will hear me."

He lived at Hughenden Manor between 1847-1881. A country house near Beaconsfield, he remodelled it with battlements and pinnacles.

Disraeli became Prime Minister in 1868 on Lord Derby's retirement due to ill-health. Hen lost the election the same year but won in 1874 with a majority of 100 and was Prime Minister until 1880.

Disraeli invented the idea of "One Nation" conservatism, designed to appeal to all ranks in society

When he first became British Prime Minister in 1868, Disraeli said “Yes, I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole. The allusion was to the competitive sport at fairs of climbing up or along a greasy pole without slipping off.

Born to Jewish parents, it was fortuitous for Disraeli that he converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England at the age of 12, as it is probable the anti-Semitic Victorians would not have allowed a Jew to be Prime Minister.

As leader of the country,Disraeli championed the cause of believing Jews to sit in the House of Commons.

Queen Victoria once asked Disraeli whether he saw himself as a Jew or a Christian. Disraeli replied, "Your Majesty, I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New.”

On another occasion in a speech at the Oxford Diocesan Conference, during the height of controversy over Darwin’s evolution theories, Disraeli quipped, “Is man an ape or an angel? I, my Lord, I am on the side of angels.”

In 1875 an Egyptian financial crisis enabled Disraeli to buy a 44% holding in the Suez Canal Company for Britain and thus secured the country great influence in the running of Egypt.

Disraeli photographed in 1878

Benjamin Disraeli died on April 19, 1881 from bronchial asthma at 19 Curzon Street, London. Lying on his deathbed, he was asked if he would like Queen Victoria to visit him. "No, it is better not", he mumbled, "she would only ask me to take a message to Albert."

Disraeli's graveyard is in Hughenden Churchyard, Buckinghamshire. Queen Victoria sent primroses to his funeral. The day of his death is known as primrose day.

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