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DISRAELI's career was scarcely less marvelous than that of Napoleon. The poverty-oppressed Corsican's rise to the Empire of France and the domination of Europe was fairly parelleled by the slower, yet certain, ascent of the Christian Jew from a humble station in middle life to be the ruler of an empire on which the sun never sets. And this he accomplished by the sheer force of will and intellectual power, aided by an oratorical gift that made him the spokesman of a party.
His rank as a statesman may still be in dispute, but no one questions his superb and brilliant qualities as a party leader and orator in the House of Commons, and his mastery over that body. When he died no tribute of praise was more eloquent or more just than that pronounced by Mr.
Gladstone. And what he singled out for particular encomium was Disraeli's courage as a leader of party, and his pride in and faithfulness to his own race. But he was not only a Jew; he was a great Englishman who extended and enlarged the empire of the Queen, ever ready to maintain its honor and integrity against all Europe. In none of her prime ministers had Queen Victoria such faith and trust, during her long reign under so many administrations, as in the Earl of Beaconsfield. He achieved his first successes in life as a novelist, and “Vivian Grey” and the “Young Duke” gave him the entrée of London society. Here with D'Orsay, Bulwer and the young aristocracy he posed as a dandy of the dandies, and outshone them all in peculiarities of dress and manner. “Vivian Grey" was the prophecy of his own career, and he meant it to be. From his boyhood he had his eyes on parliament, and made several attempts to gain an election before he succeeded. Five years before he entered parliament, when he was known only as a youthful novelist and a society butterfly, Lord Melbourne asked him one evening what he wanted to be. “Prime minister of England,” replied the auda
cious youth, much to the amusement of the peer, who himself reached that station only a few months prior to the time when Disraeli was first elected to parliament in 1837.
He entered the House of Commons with the accession of Victoria, and lived to confer upon his Sovereign the title of Empress of India. He published his first novel, “Vivian Grey" at twentyone with his eyes fixed longingly on parliament as the predestined theater of his fame. He published his last novel, “Endymion,” at seventysix when he had attained the fulness of his aspirations. He had drank deeply of the bitterness of successive defeats, he had seen and known human nature in all its varying aspects from petty meanness to self-denying generosity and was at last crowned with the victor's laurels in the race of life.
If I were asked what writer of the nineteenth century had made the greatest impress on his time, I think I would say Thomas Carlyle. I am aware that there are others who have influenced in a high degree the thought and expression of modern life. There are Macaulay and Thackeray and Dickens and Tennyson. There are others in less degree that everybody can call to mind, who are entitled to a high place in literature. There are the early poets, like Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley and Keats. There are the critics like Coleridge and Hazlitt. But above and beyond them all, towering like one of his own Scottish crags, stands Carlyle, rugged and beetle-browed, although with many unpleasant and misty phenomena about him. He stands there, unscalable and unknowable on one side, and yet on the other, the merest prey to gossip
and to fortune. Carlyle the genius, appears to have been one person; Carlyle the man, quite another. It is not a pleasant thing to have our idols smashed, but that is what happened to many an American when Froude published the “Reminiscences and Letters of Carlyle.” We stood aghast, for we had been brought up to the idea that preaching and practice went hand in hand. We believed that when a prophet arrived who taught not only the “Everlasting yea and nay"—the absolute truthfulness of life—but also the virtues of self-sacrifice and duty, that we might find in him an exemplar of all these things. What then was our surprise to know that so far from being a private saint, he was above all others one of the most querulous, unhappy and discontented souls that was ever suffered to inhabit a tenement of clay. He could speak no good of any one. His recorded utterances have nothing but contempt for Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Balzac, Hugo, Lamb, Jeffrey, Macaulay, John Stuart Mill and Mazzini. To many of t ese men he was under great obligations, but that was of no significance. Never was there a man born in the world with so strange a conscience. His egotism was so great that he believed that the thing he could not or