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From the British Quarterly Review.
Coningsby; or, the New Generation. By B. D'Israeli, Esq., M.P. Fifth Edition.
London : 1849.
CONINGSBY has reached a fifth edition, As an author, in spite of a certain notoand its author has almost achieved the am- riety and undeniable talents, his value is bition of his life, and secured his position as null. He has written books, and these the leader of a party and a place in the books have been immensely successful; but Cabinet.
they have no place in our literature—they Is it the disgrace of our literature, or the are indubitable failures or fleeting ephemerdisgrace of our parliament, that the only ides. He has taken many leaps, but has man who has risen into political eminence gained no footing. He has written a quarto through literary ability is that clever, sar- epic; he has written a tragedy; he has castic, extravagant, reckless, disrespectable written novels, pamphlets, and a political and disrespected person who formerly styled treatise on the constitution ; but all these himself D’Israeli the Younger ? In France, works are as dead as the last week's newsmen point with some degree of pride to a paper. The most insignificant niche in the Guizot, a Thiers, a Lamartine, a Villemain temple is denied them. If anybody looks —not to mention numerous lesser names- at them, it is not on their account, but on as men in whom the aristocracy of intelli- his account. The noise they made has gence has achieved its due political recog- passed away like the vacuous enthusiasm of nition. In England we must be content to after-dinner friendships. They have achieved point to the author of “Coningsby”-a fact notoriety for their author, oblivion for themwhich the present writer contents himself selves. Let him write a novel, and “all the with stating, leaving to others the task of world” will read it, quote it, laugh over it, moralizing on it.
talk about it; and among its hundreds of There is, we believe, a point of view readers not one will have felt his heart from which D’Israeli's career may be ex- stirred, his soul expanded, his experience amined with considerable interest. As a deepened, his hopes exalted, his moral naman of letters or as a statesman, he has ture strengthened, or his taste refined ; for small if any intrinsic value ; but the com- not one single passage will have gone direct bination is curious, and bis success is a to any serious purpose. Personalities, sarlesson. His position in the political world casms, and the piquancy of political scandal, is analogous to his position in the literary will create a " sensation;" but other qualiworld, with this enormous difference—that ties are needed to create a work. “Conin the House of Commons he is in com- ingsby" may reach a fifth edition, but petition with a set of men for the most part Coningsby" has no place in our literature, greatly his inferiors in ability, and hampered for it has no enduring qualities. Place by all sorts of routiniary prejudices ; whereas Mrs. Gore's or Mrs. Trollope's name upon in the world of literature he has rivals in the title page, and the factitious value of the the past and in the present, and is deficient book vanishes at once. Looked at calmly, in every quality which could sustain that what is all this display of wit and cleverness rivalry with effect. The genesis of a states- which glitters through the many novels of man from an author is, however, here ren- the author of “Vivian Grey ?” what is all dered doubly piquant as a subject of study, their oriental gorgeousness of diction, their no less from his deficiencies than from the ambitious rhythm, sonorous with weighty serious defects in our political world which words, which elsewhere have meanings in his success implies.
them? Verbiage-nothing else. There is no heart pulsing beneath that eloquence ; | for he never was a radical. All that can there is no earnest soul looking through fairly be brought against him is, that he those grand words. It is all a show “got allowed himself to be mistaken for a radical ; up” for the occasion ; and the showman, allowed the false appearance of his enmity having no belief in his marionnettes, you have to the Whigs to be interpreted as radicalno belief in them. The bitter satirist of ism. The dandy adventurer, Vivian Grey, Grecian infidelity—Lucian-makes Timon never was or could have been a radical. He the Misanthropist tell Jupiter that all the would if he could have entered Parliament godlike epithets with which the poets dig- through the radical interest, for he wanted a nify him, are not the utterances of reverent seat, and was unscrupulous how he attained belief but the necessities of rhythm, not it. Burning with the desire of political diswhat their souls pour forth, but what the tinction, and firmly convinced that he had halting verse requires-ró yàp aurais #o- only to take his seat, to astonish Europe λυώνυμος γινόμενος υπερείδεις πο πίπσον του | with his eloquence, all means were good μέτρου, και αναπληρoίς το κεχηνός του ρυθμού. | which secured so great an end. There was Just the same lip-worship of great princi- a want of straightforwardness in this; but ples covering practical disregard of all prin- political morality is not collet monté, and he ciples, do we meet with in D’Israeli's writ- might easily have lived that down, if his ings. This renders them null. He writes whole career, the whole tone of his mind, solely for effect, and no man who writes for had not confirmed the impression. That effect can be permanently effective.
impression indelibly is, that D'Israeli is an Earnestness always commands respect. adventurer. It is not very easy to define No qualities will compensate for its absence. the varied minutive which go to form the Without it, nothing can be done well, impression which men make upon us; but nothing can gain the tribute of mankind. we may, perhaps, convey our meaning by an Believe in a lie, and if you believe it you illustration. will be respected ; but repeat a Gospel We all know what is meant by the “look truth, if you only repeat it, and pretend to of a gentleman;" yet who shall define it ? believe in it, no honest man will open his The man before us is far from handsome, heart to you. For we all feel that in this nothing less than graceful, and is dressed so life it is not the righlness but the uprightness as to drive tailors to despair , yet he imof our views which distinguishes the honest presses every one, high and low, with the man. Humanum est errare.
indisputable fact that he is a “gentleman." Now, in D’Israeli's works, we note as a compare such a man with one of those decided characteristic the absence of all ear- “striking” specimens of modern society, nestness—a want of truthfulness. There is who, with radiant waistcoat, resplendent no gratitude in our admiration. An invinci- jewellery, and well-oiled whiskers, lounges ble feeling of distrust poisons our enjoyment. through the public promenades “ the obKnowing nothing of the author, you never- served of all observers;" him you do not theless pronounce him to be a charlatan, mistake for a gentleman. The waistcoat and one who has not even the grace to may be of the newest fashion, the jewelbelieve in his own charlatanerie. This it is lery genuine, and the whiskers perfectly which has damaged Benjamin D’Israeli; oiled; nevertheless the impression created this feeling accompanies us in our estimate is not, perhaps, one of great sympathy and of him as a public man, and makes us all respect. regard him as an adventurer in politics, no There are minds of analagous contrast. less than as an acrobat in literature. This Some there are which, even in their negliand only this. Many persons suppose that it gence and awkwardness, have still this “look was his sudden conversion from radicalism to of a gentleman.” They produce works, sintoryism which made his public career equiv- ning, it may be, against the rules of the craft ocal. But other men have changed, and yet -heavy, digressive, pedantic, perhaps, or survived the suspicion excited by the change. feebly vivacious—works which act but slightThere is nothing really equivocal in a change ly as levers towards helping the world forof party; it may be very sudden and per- wards, and yet they impress you as being fectly honest, and the world, which loves the products of manly, truthful minds; prefair play, and tolerably well discriminates ferring to be dull rather than to be false; if honesty of purpose, is willing enough to they cannot be brilliant, not choosing to be credit such things. Moreover, in D’Israeli's flasi There are others of the opposite case, we believe there never was a change, ( kind; minds without grace or dignity in their splendor, without heartiness in their mirth, young man, richly gifted, who at a time without charm in their familiarity. These when, if ever, the soul is stung with resistless produce works of beggarly magnificence, in longings for high and noble things; at a time which the jewelled ring sparkles on a dirty when, if ever, the soul is caressed by dreams finger; here glitter is mistaken for light, which, even in their extravagance, have the paradox and mysticism for philosophy, rant redeeming grace of purity, and that exaltafor passion, sarcasm for humor. As a critic tion which the love of the True and Noyou cannot but admit the brilliancy of the ble inspires; at a time when conceptions err glitter, the cleverness of the paradox, or the in their unworldliness, and our ideals are only pungency of the sarcasm ; but what is the extravagant because above the exigences of sum total of the impression made upon you ? practical life; at such a time this man forms do you sympathize with or greatly respect no other ideal of human nature, than that of those works? No: they may amuse you, a clever, sarcastic, unscrupulous adventurer, they may arrest you for a moment, but they using men as tools wherewith to construct want the substantial excellence of truth. the miserable edifice of his notoriety! That, D’Israeli's mind has not this indefinable we say, is a sadder spectacle than
subsesomething which we have been trying to de- quent part of his careeer. If this be the scribe. He has not the “look of a gentleman. youthful ideal, what will be the worked-out His talents fail to win respect. His cox- manbood ? There is a problem for the morcombry is without grace; his seriousness alist to solve; with Vivian Grey as an ideal, without conviction. He has an active fancy, how may a man work out this life of ours ? surprsing command of language, no incon- We return to our old position, and say siderable knowledge, especially of history, that it is the absence of earnestness which powers of massing facts into a symmetrical lies at the root of all D’Israeli's failures, posiappearance of generalization, and a keen tive and comparative, and which has dessense of the ludicrous and humbug in others; troyed the impression his talents would otherhe is a shrewd observer of men and things, wise have made. People talk much of his but he has neither the eye to see nor the coxcombry and conceit; but his conceit, soul to comprehend anything much below though colossal, is injurious to him, not the surface. There is little depth in him of through its greatness, but through its want any kind-thought or feeling. Hence the of basis. It is not because he has an over want of vitality in all he does. He cannot estimate of himself, but because he has an paint, for he cannot grasp, a character; his entirely false estimate. We believe, that withsole power in that line consists in hitting off out intense self-confidence no
man would the obtrusive peculiarities, the juttings out of achieve greatness. It seems clear that all an individuality. In his books you meet with great men, from Shakspeare to Napoleon, nothing noble, nothing generous, nothing were perfectly aware of their superiority, and tender, nothing impassioned. His passion is could speak of it at times with unhesitating mere sensuality, as his eloquence is mere dic- laudation. It is also true that very smali tion ; the splendor of words, not the lustre men have fancied and proclaimed themselves of thoughts. Imagination, in the large and to be Shakspeares and Napoleons. In the noble sense, he has none, for his sensibility one case, we accept even a boast as the is sustained by no warmth. Humor he has indication of conscious power; in the other, none, for humor is deep.
we laugh at the strange hallucination of fatIt is something to say for him that he has uity. The origin of our laughter is in the realized the ideal of his youth. By dint of recognition of the discrepancy between the indomitable perseverance and confidence in pretensions and the performance; the origin himself, unshaken by failure, he has trodden of the hallucination is in the confusion of a dewith considerable success the path which his sire for distinction with the power of distinimagination sketched. He early conceived guishing oneself. When a man judges himself the idea of a political adventurer, rising into with some degree of accuracy, we allow him eminence through literary ability, and leading to use a liberal measure; we admit his over a party by means of dashing rhetoric and estimate of himself as natural, inevitable. polished sarcasms. Vivian Grey was the But we are pitiless towards every false estihero of his youthful soul; the ideal to attain mate he makes of himself. Now D’Israeli is which his life has been given. What a hero, in this case. His notion of his own powers and what an ideal! If there is anything in is not simply inordinate, it is preposterous. his career which touches us with a feeling of He lives in an eternal Fool's Paradise. One pitiful sadness, it is to think that here was a great weakness of his-the inability of so
adjusting the focus of mental vision as to most superb of Empires produced in the Æneid a distinguish the real proportions of things, Political Epic ; the revival of Learning and the arises, we believe," from his fundamental birth of vernacular genius presented us in the Dideficiency, the want of truthfulness. He vine Comedy with a National Epick; and the cannot appreciate the truth. He neither Reformation and its consequences called from the rightly sees what is within him, nor what is rapt Lyre of Milton a Religious Epick ;
" And the spirit of my Time, shall it alone be around him. He fancies that the world can uncelebrated ?” be made plastic to his wishes ; that he has only to wish to do something great, and to This home-thrust of a question has all the do it. To write epics, to revive a fallen force of an epigram. What! shall Greece drama, to rule states—these may be accom- boast of a Homer, Rome of a Virgil, Italy of plished at once, and by a mere exertion of a Dante, and shall England, in her nineteenth the will to do it! This is laughably shown century, big with events more glorious than in his early attempts. An inhabitant of Bed any by-gone era, be uncelebrated while D'Islam never had less misgivings respecting his raeli the Younger lives, who can imbody the right to the throne of England, than D'Israeli spirit of his Time? The age, indeed, is unhad to his power of assuming the position of poetical—as all ages are to unpoetical minds; the great English poet. No one remembers, but the spirit of the Time demands imbodibecause no one ever read, his "Revolutionary ment, and when the lightning plays round Epick ;” but many remember with a smile, the Mount Ida, and a D'Israeli the Younger is magniloquence of its Preface. He who has watching it, something considerable must laughed so much at others, has there afforded result. a more than equivalent return; he has never made others half so ridiculous by his satire,
“ Standing upon Asia,” continues the inspired as he has made himself by his seriousness. broad Hellespont alone between us, and the Shad
rhapsodist," and gazing upon Europe,” with the Open this epic: it is worth the trouble. ow of Night descending on the mountains, these The very title page of this quarto volume has mighty continents appeared to me as it were the such an exquisite disregard of the “ eternal | Rival Principles of Government that at present fitness of things"-such a compound of pup-contend for the mastery of the world. What! I pyism and pomposity, that it deserves a exclaimed “is the Revolution of France a less implace among the facetiæ of literature: portant event than the siege of Troy? Is Napo
leon a less interesting character than Achilles ? THE REVOLUTIONARY EPICK.
For me remains the Revolutionary Epick !"
dozen lines of a poem thus prefaced; the D'ISRAELI THE YOUNGER.
man whose taste and judgment could have
written, printed, and corrected proofs of No wonder it was received with a shout of such prose as that without any misgivings as derision ; especially when the preface herald- to its exquisite absurdity, was assuredly the ed the poem in this magnificent style :
last man to write a poem of any worth whatever, much less a poem which was to rank
beside Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. “It was on the plains of Troy that I first conceived the idea of this work. Wandering over
Accordingly, this “Dardanian reverie,” as that illustrious scene, surrounded by the tombs of he styles it, which proposed to “teach wisheroes and by the confluence of poetic streams, dom both to monarchs and multitudes,” my musing thoughts clustered round the memory was received by the ungrateful age which it of that immortal song to which all creeds and was to render illustrious, with such contempt countries alike respond, which has vanquished and derision, that the poet broke his lyre, Chance and defies Time.
“Deeming myself, perchance too rashly, in that and forbore to sing again. It is, indeed, a excited hour, a Poet, I cursed the
destiny that had pitiable performance ; it is worthy of its preplaced me in an age that boasted of being antipo- face! Convinced that there was but little etical. And while my Fancy thus struggled with chance of his taking his place as the epic my Reason, it flashed across my mind like the light poet of his age, he made one gallant dash at ning which was then playing over Ida, that in the dramatic laurel wreath, feeling himself those great poems which rise the pyramids of po- called upon to “revive English tragedy. etic art, amid the falling and the fading splendor “Count Alarcos” is many degrees better of less creations, the Poet hath ever imbodied the spirit of his Time. Thus the most heroic in- than the “Revolutionary Epick,” because cident of an heroic age produced in the Iliad' an less fatuous and presumptuous; but it is in Heroic Epick; thus the consolidation of the nowise better than the hundreds of unreada. VOL. XVIII. NO. II.
THE WORK OF
ble, unactable tragedies which fatigue the prepared to astonish Europe as a poet and press every season, as if to demonstrate the à statesman. The want of the age was a dearth of our dramatic genius. The preface Great Man, and lo! from the Pyramids came to “Alarcos” is also in better taste, though D’Israeli the Younger. Historians will note there are reminiscences of the old puppyism, with surprise that his return did not percepas when he tells us :
tibly affect the funds.
Readers would not read the “Revolution“ Years have flown away since, rambling in the ary Epick,” constituents would not elect the sierras of Andalusia, beneath the clear light of a
He was forced to bide his Spanish moon, and freshened by the sea-breeze great statesman. that had wandered up a river from the coast, i time. Novels, pamphlets, and newspaper first listened to the chaunt of that terrible tale, squabbles, kept him before the public. At (the ballad of Alarcos.) It seemed to me rife with last, he did secure a seat. Now, assuredly, all the materials of the tragic drama ; and I plan- Europe will be astonished ; now, if ned, as I rode along, the scenes and characters of house will shake. The great orator has which it appeared to me susceptible.
“ That was the season of life, when the heart is taken his seat. The tories have their Orlanquick with emotion and the brain with creative do; a tottering cause has its Mirabeau. He fire; when the eye is haunted with beautiful rose, he spoke, and the house did shake—but sights and the ear with sweet sounds ; when we it was with laughter. The failure was as live in reveries of magnificent performance, and signal as that of his “Epick;" and from a the future seems only a perennial flow of poetic similar cause. The utter want of discrimininvention-[the season in which we write · Viv-ation, which prevented his seeing the misian Greys !']
take he committed in his poetic grandilo“ Dreams of fantastic youth! Amid the stern realities of existence, I have unexpectedly achiev- quence, prevented him from estimating ed a long lost purpose."
aright the means by which an audience could
be moved. He meant to be eloquent, and All this was very unpromising in a dra- was ludicrous; his ornate periods only made matic poet; and again an ungrateful age re- men titter; instead of being warned, he profused to be delighted. D’Israeli does the ceeded in the same strain, until the laughter age the justice, however, of saying that it is was so uproarious, that, breaking through all “full of poetry, for it is full of passion.” | the courtesies which usually surround a Indeed, the common ory about the time be- maiden speech, it forced him to set down uting unpoetical, is only the cry of incapacity, tering an energetic prophecy, that the time and forces one to remember Gibbon's strange would come when they should listen to him! assertion, that the age of history was past-We remember one passage which created an assertion uttered on the eve of the French great mirth at the time: he was alluding to Revolution !
Mr. Hudson's having gone to Rome to bring These two attempts are, we believe, the back Sir Robert Peel, and that simple matter only attempts D’Israeli has made to win for was spoken of as “when the hurried Hudson himself a name among our poets; they are swept into the chambers of the Vatican.” evidences of that want of self-knowledge, This was the “Revolutionary Epick” over and of due estimate of his powers, which again. meet us at every turn in his career.
The He has fulfilled his prophecy, however : man who could so easily delude himself into they have listened to him, and now they listthe idea that he was a Homer might very en to few men with more attention. He has easily persuade himself he was a Pericles, or, learned to adapt himself to the tastes and at the least, a Canning. And as he thought temper of the house. He indulges in little to reach the heights of Parnassus at one of that Oriental magnificence of style which bound, and make bimself immortal without amused them before. He knows his power toil, so did he fancy that he had only to get lies in sarcasm, and he is sarcastic, Homer a seat in Parliament to sway with his impas- has broken his lyre, and changed places with sioned oratory the destinies of the nation. Thersites. People yawn or sneer when he He had always hankered after political dis- begins to unroll the panorama of his polititinction. During the political excitement of cal philosophy ; but they brighten up when the reform agitation, he was wandering over they see by the twinkle of his eye that he is the plains of Troy, watching the lightning preparing one of his “ hits." playing over Ida, standing upon Asia, and D’Israeli conceives bimself to be a man of gazing upon Europe, and being looked down genius ; in truth he is only the prospectus of upon by forty centuries from the heights of a genius. He has magnificent plans, but he the Pyramids. But he came back in 1832, writes prefaces instead of books. All the