Isaac Disraeli, an English author, born near Enfield in May, 1766, died Jan. 19, 1848, His father removed to England in 1748 from Venice, whither his Hebrew ancestors had fled in the 15th century from the inquisition in Spain. In Venice they assumed the name of Disraeli (originally written D'Israeli), "a name never borne before or since by any other family, that their race might be for ever recognized." Isaac was an only son, and was intended for the pursuits of commerce, by which his father had attained to fortune. The latter was seriously alarmed when his son during his school days produced a poem; " the loss of one of his argosies uninsured could not have filled him with more blank dismay." He was sent to a college at Amsterdam, where he studied the philosophical works in fashion at the time, and when 18 years of age returned to England a disciple of Rousseau. When informed that a place in the establishment of a great merchant was prepared for him, he replied that he had written and intended to publish a poem of considerable length against commerce, which was the corrupter of man.
Pensive and sensitive, fond of solitude and the society of books, he found no literary friend and counsellor, and was sent by his parents to travel in France, with the hope that adventures and change of scene might divert him from the eccentricity of his course. He lived in Paris, associating with learned men and frequenting libraries, till 1788. On his return he published anonymously in 1789 a satire "On the Abuse of Satire," in polished verses, which was directed against Peter Pindar, then in the height of his popularity. This venture obtained for him the friendship of Mr. Pye, afterward poet laureate, through whose influence the elder Disraeli was persuaded to renounce the effort to convert a poet into a merchant, and was finally induced to furnish means sufficient to enable his son to gratify his passion for book-collecting and for tranquil study. The son now wrote some metrical pieces for the magazines, and in 1790 "A Defence of Poetry," of which he afterward burned all the copies he could obtain. In 1791 he published the first, and in 1793 the second volume of his " Curiosities of Literature," a product of curious erudition, abounding in discursive and anec-dotical criticisms.
A new edition of both volumes appeared in 1794. This was followed by "Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations" (1796); " Vaurien, or Sketches of the Times, a Philosophical Novel" (2 vols., 1797); "Romances," a volume of prose tales (1799); "Narrative Poems" (1803); "Flim-Flams, or the Life and Errors of my Uncle, and the Amours of my Aunt" (3 vols., 1805); and "Despotism, or the Fall of the Jesuits," a novel ( 2 vols., 1811). In 1812 appeared his " Calamities of Authors, including some Inquiries respecting their Moral and Literary Character;" in 1814, "Quarrels of Authors, or some Memoirs for our Literary History, including Specimens of Controversy to the Reign of Elizabeth;" and in 1816, the most finished of his compositions, "Illustrations of the Literary Character, or the History of Men of Genius, drawn from their own Feelings and Confessions." All of these works are amusing and anecdotical, and reveal the author not only as a literary antiquary, but as a man of humor, thoughtfulness, and elegant tastes. His " Curiosities of Literature " had reached the fifth edition, when in 1817 he added a new volume, containing more elaborate essays than the preceding; and the success of the publication was such that he rapidly produced three additional volumes.
He was five years in the composition of his work on the "Life and Reign of Charles I.," which appeared in 1828-'31, and gained for him the degree of D. 0. L. from Oxford. He had long meditated a history of English literature, for which all his previous writings had been preparatory; but in 1839 a paralysis of the optic nerve prevented him from pursuing his researches, and a selection from his numerous manuscripts was given to the public in 1841 under the title of "Amenities of Literature." During the latter part of his life he resided on his manor of Bradenham, Buckinghamshire. "He was," says his son, "a complete literary character, a man who really passed his life in his library. Even marriage produced no change in these habits; he rose to enter the chamber where he lived alone with his books, and at night his lamp was ever lit within the same walls. In London his only amusement was to ramble among booksellers; in the country he scarcely ever left his room but to saunter in abstraction upon a terrace, muse over a chapter, or coin a sentence." A new edition of his works, edited and annotated with a memoir by his son, Benjamin Disraeli, was published in London in 1850, and republished in New York in 9 vols.