Benjamin Disraeli, an English author and statesman, eldest son of Isaac Disraeli, born in London, Dec. 21,1805. His mother's maiden name was Basevi. He received his education at home from his father and from private tutors. An intimate friend of his father, an eminent solicitor, who had a great practice and no son of his own, wished to make Benjamin the heir of his business, and took him into his office for a time. But the young Disraeli did not like the life of a lawyer, and was not ambitious of success in that direction. He therefore abandoned the solicitor's office, with its brilliant prospect of wealth and reputation, and devoted himself to literature. His personal beauty, refined manners, and remarkable powers of conversation soon made him a favorite in society. At the age of 19 he visited Germany, and on his return to England published in 182G-'7 his famous novel "Vivian Grey," the chief characters* in which were faithful pictures of himself and of persons well known in English society. The originality, vivacity, and wit of this book gave it great celebrity, and it was translated into the principal languages of Europe. It is said by several of his biographers that at this period he was made editor of a daily paper, called "The Representative;" but this is not true.
In 1828 he published in one volume "The Voyage of Captain Popanilla," a gay and good-humored but flimsy satire, which met with little success. The next year he commenced an extended tour in Italy, Greece, Albania, Syria, Egypt, and Nubia, and returned in 1831. Shortly afterward he published his second fashionable novel, " The Young Duke;" and in the following year another novel, "Con-tarini Fleming, a Psychological Autobiography," which Heinrich Heine pronounced to be "one of the most original works ever written," and which received high praise from Goethe and from Beckford, the author of "Vathek." Its subject is the development of the poetical nature, and it contains brilliant sketches of Italy, Spain, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. The author himself has said of it recently, "It would have been better if a subject so essentially psychological had been treated at a more mature period of life." At this time Disraeli made his first attempt to enter parliament. He presented himself to the electors of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, near his father's residence, as a tory-radical, and was defeated by the whig candidate. In December, 1834, he was again defeated in Wycombe. He next appeared in May, 1835, at Taunton, as a thorough-going conservative.
It was on this occasion that, when charged by somebody in the crowd with " O'Connellism," he called the great Irish agitator a " bloody traitor;" to which Mr. O'Connell made the retort, " For aught I know, the present Disraeli is the true heir at law of the impenitent thief who died on the cross." Disraeli challenged O'Connell's son, Morgan O'Connell, who had taken up his father's quarrel; but the challenge was not accepted. In the mean while Disraeli wrote and published several books. " The Wondrous Tale of Alroy," an oriental romance of extraordinary eloquence and power, depicting the adventures of a prince of the house of David, who in the 12th century proclaimed himself the Messiah, and called the Jews of Persia to arms, appeared in 1833, accompanied by " The Rise of Iskander," a tale founded on the revolt of the famous Scanderbeg against the Turks in the 15th century; a political pamphlet entitled " What is He?" in 1834, in which he tried to explain his political views; " The Revolutionary Epic " and " The Crisis Examined " in the same year, and " A Vindication of the English Constitution " in 1835. In 1836 he published a series of letters in the London "Times" under the signature of "Runnymede," which were read with great interest on account of their remarkable wit and sarcasm.
Toward the close of the same year he published a love story, "Henrietta Temple;" and in the spring of 1837 appeared "Venetia," a novel, in which he portrayed the characters and appearance of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. At last he achieved the great object of his ambition. In the first parliament of the reign of Victoria, being then 32 years of age, he obtained a seat as representative of the conservative borough of Maidstone. His maiden speech was a failure. The house refused to listen, and clamored him down in the rude English fashion. He closed in the following words: "I am not surprised at the reception I have experienced. I have begun several times many things, and I have often succeeded at last. I shall sit down now; but the time will come when you will hear me." In July, 1839, this prediction began to be fulfilled; he made a speech which was listened to with attention, and praised for its ability. In that year he published his five-act tragedy, "Count Alar-cos," founded on an old Spanish ballad, and in the same year contracted a most fortunate marriage with the wealthy widow of Wynd-ham Lewis, his friend and colleague in the representation of Maidstone. The happy influence of this union upon his career he has himself acknowledged in the graceful dedication of one of his novels to a "perfect wife." In 1841 he was elected from the borough of Shrewsbury, and in 1844 published "Conings-by, or the New Generation," which achieved great success and had a wide circulation.
The cause of its extraordinary popularity, apart from its great literary merit, was the fact of its principal characters being drawn from well known persons then living. It was regarded also as an exposition of the views and designs of the famous half literary, half political party then attracting public attention under the name of " Young England," of which Disraeli was one of the most conspicuous leaders. In 1845 he published " Sibyl, or the Two Nations," which depicts with much care the condition of the English people at that period, and especially the Chartist agitation. In 1847 he was returned as one of the members for Buckinghamshire, and in the same year he published "Ixion in Heaven," with other tales, and also "Tancred, or the New Crusade," in some respects the best of his novels. He him-self says in the preface to his collected works (1870), that "Coningsby," "Sibyl," and "Tancred" form a trilogy, the object of which was to delineate the origin and character of English political parties. He now began to take a \ leading part in the house of commons. His severe attacks on Sir Robert Peel, for alleged treachery to his party in the adoption of his free-trade policy, are among the most remarkable speeches in the annals of the British legislature.
They established Disraeli's reputation as one of the most powerful debaters and keen and polished satirists in that body. In 1849 he became the recognized leader of the conservative party in parliament. A biography of his father, Isaac Disraeli (1849), and a memoir of his personal and political friend Lord George Bentinck (1852), were his next literary productions. In March, 1852, in the first Derby administration, he received the appointment of chancellor of the exchequer, was made a member of the privy council, and became leader of the ministerial party in the house of commons. He went out of office with the rest of the Derby ministry in December of the same year. In February, 1858, when Lord Derby again accepted the task of forming a new cabinet after the downfall of Lord Pal-merston, Disraeli again became chancellor of the exchequer. In February, 1859, he brought forward an elaborate plan of electoral reform, a principal feature of which was the extension of the suffrage to the whole body of the educated class without regard to property. The bill was defeated in the house of commons, March 31, and parliament was dissolved April 23. The Derby administration retained its place till June 11, when the new parliament passed a vote of want of confidence, and the ministry resigned.
It was succeeded by the Palmerston-Russell cabinet, and on the death of Lord Palmerston, Oct. 18, 1805, by the Russell-Gladstone ministry, which remained in power till June, 1866, when, owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reform bill proposed by them, a vote of want of confidence was pas and they resigned. Disraeli during this period was the leader of the opposition in the house of commons. A new ministry was formed, July 6, the earl of Derby being prime minister and Disraeli chancellor of the exchequer. He was the chief supporter of the reform bill, signed by the queen Aug. 15, 1867, which extended the right of suffrage to all householders in a borough, and to every person in a county who had a freehold of 40 shillings. The earl of Derby resigning in February, 1868, Disraeli became prime minister; but a majority in parliament was opposed to the position which the ministry took on the question of disestablishing the church of Ireland. Parliament was dissolved, but the new elections showed a strong majority for the opposition, and without waiting for its meeting Disraeli with his colleagues resigned, Dec. 2, 1868, and was succeeded as prime minister by Mr. Gladstone. In 1870 Disraeli published "Lothair," a politico-religious novel, aimed at the Fenians, the Communists, and the Jesuits. It had a great success, its circulation in the United States alone exceeding 80,000 copies.
In 1868 he was offered a peerage by the queen, which he declined for himself, but accepted for his wife, who was made Viscountess Beaconsfield on Nov. 28 of that year. She died Dec. 23, 1872. In February, 1874, the parliamentary elections having resulted in a conservative majority, Mr. Gladstone resigned, and Mr. Disraeli again became prime minister. - The career of Mr. Disraeli is one of the most extraordinary in English history. By genius and energy unaided by wealth or family connections, he has made himself leader of the house of commons, minister of finance in the most commercial of countries, and twice prime minister of one of the mightiest of modern empires.