English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Reviewers, Magazinists And Minor Poets Of The First Period
Women Writers Of The First Period
Summary Of The Pre-victorian Literature
Second Or Early Victorian Period—1837-1870
Earle Lytton Bulwer
Captain Frederick Marryat
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Perhaps the most unique figure in English literature is Benjamin Disraeli, who, after a remarkable political career, full of stormy fights and glorious victories, became Earl of Beaconsfield. He was of Spanish-Jewish descent, but his father, Isaac Disraeli, the quiet plodding author of the "Curiosities of Literature," withdrew from the synagogue. Benjamin, born in 1804, early displayed a widely different character from his father, and in 1826 astonished the world with his dashing political novel "Vivian Grey." It satirized briskly the leaders of the time, discussed political problems seriously, and even prefigured his own career. It quite eclipsed Bulwer's "Falkland" which appeared in the same year. After a tour in the East, the successful young author published "Contarini Fleming" (1832), which treats of the develop-ment of a poetic character and gives brilliant sketches of Italy and Syria. Then came the "Wondrous Tale of Alroy" (1833), a dithyrambic Oriental romance of a medioeval Messiah, and "The Revolutionary Epick" (1834), in which he eulogized tyrannicide in blank verse. Meantime, Disraeli had been trying to get into Parliament as a Radical, but being twice defeated, he turned round and gave splendid help to the disheartened Tory party by his "Runnymede Letters" (1836), defending the British Constitution. Yet he always retained much of his early Radicalism and even compelled the reluctant Tories to accept some of it in order "to dish the Whigs." Other books were issued before he reached Parliament "Henrietta Temple," a very sentimental love-story, and "Venetia," in which he rehearsed the story of Byron's life.
At the age of thirty-two, the persevering Disraeli entered Parliament, but his maiden speech was a deplorable failure. When hooted down, he replied, "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 1839 he married the wealthy widow of his friend, Wyndham Lewis, whom he afterward praised as a perfect wife. He assisted in forming a political literary group known as "Young England," and expounded its principles in "Coningsby; or, the New Generation" (1844). In this, as in all his political novels, which should be read by those wishing to know the inside of English history, he drew the principal characters directly from prominent persons of the day, and the public were delighted at tracing the resemblance. In "Sybil" (1845) he treated of the Chartist agitation. "Tancred; or, the New Crusade" (1847) was a further exposition of the political views he was urging on the Conservative party. Disraeli had now become a prominent speaker in the British legislature, and fiercely assailed Sir Robert Peel for his adoption of Free Trade. When the Tories returned to power in 1852, Disraeli was made the leader in the House of Commons. His increased political duties prevented his giving much time to literature. He first became Prime Minister in 1868. Two years later, while out of office, he published "Lothair," a brilliant presentation of the religious as well as the political tendencies of the time. It was aimed particularly at Cardinal Manning and the Jesuits. In 1872 he was called to mourn the loss of his wife, who had gloried in his triumphs and lightened his reverses. In 1874 he was again Prime Minister, and two years later he accepted the peerage which had been offered to him long before. Still greater glory awaited him when he took part in the Berlin Congress, which readjusted the results of the Russo-Turkish War, and when he induced Parliament to confer on Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India. The veteran statesman died in April, 1881. In the same year was published- his last novel, "Endymion," in which were presented, after his usual fashion, Lord Palmerston, Louis Napoleon (as a young man), and other celebrities.
The career of Lord Beaconsfield is more romantic than his novels, brilliant as they are with epigram and paradox. His style was highly rhetorical and sometimes tawdry. Plagiarism was occasionally proved against him, in speech and writing, and yet his overwhelming originality could not be denied. His frequent presentation of living characters under thin disguises piqued curiosity, yet the real value of his work lay elsewhere in the discussion of the social and political problems of England. He treated them ironically, yet he stated a certain amount of permanent truth.