Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHY MR. DISRAELI HAS SUCCEEDED. ( From The Economist, 7 th September, 1867.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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WHY MR. DISRAELI HAS SUCCEEDED. ( From “ The Economist, ” 7 th September, 1867.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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WHY MR. DISRAELI HAS SUCCEEDED.
Mr. Disraeli once said that those “who went down to posterity were about as rare as planets”; but he will succeed in going down there himself. The Reform Act of 1867 will be remembered as long as the Constitution of England is remembered. Why so great a change was made so silently and with so little national discussion will amaze our children—just as we of this generation cannot comprehend the Reform discussions of 1832, and why so much was hoped from a measure upon its face so prosaic. But Mr. Disraeli is identified with it. His name was the first on the back of the Bill of the names of those who brought it in, and his will be the name which posterity will think of with it. And the reward is just. It is Mr. Disraeli’s Bill. Without professing to know what happened in the Cabinet, so much as this is certain. Mr. Disraeli all along wished to go down very low, to beat the Whigs—if possible, the Radicals too—by basing the support of the Conservative party upon a lower class than those which they could influence. For this end he induced his party to surrender their creed and their policy; he altered what his followers had to say, even more than the Constitution under which they are going to live. How then did he attain such a singular success?
It is usual to say that he attained it by fraud and deceit. And we certainly are not about to defend his morality. On the contrary, we have attacked it often, and, if need were, would attack it now. But a little study of human affairs is enough to show that fraud alone—fraud by itself—does not succeed; it is too ugly and coarse for man to bear; it is only when disguised in great qualities, and helped on by fine talents, that it prospers. What, then, in this case, were the accompanying aids?
Mr. Disraeli is one of the most observant students of human life in England. He said many years since of Sir R. Peel, “He was a bad judge of character. The prosperous routine of his youth was not favourable to this talent. He never had to struggle.” But Mr. Disraeli has had to struggle. His career is of his own making; it has no precedent; he is the one literary adventurer, who has led the House of Commons, or who is likely, perhaps to lead it, if wealth is strengthened by the new Bill as much as seems probable. In the course of his aspiring youth he observed all classes of men—not deeply and profoundly perhaps; it is only the very greatest men who do that; but distinctly, and in their plain traits. His early novels are studies of conspicuous life. In them all the obvious momentary part of English society is sketched very vividly and very well.
The whole of this observant faculty, which was trained in social life, has been concentrated on Parliament. For years he has sat almost silent—never raising petty discussions and confusing old people who thought a leader of Opposition ought to be always opposing, but watching day by day the course of events till he has, perhaps, the best and nicest Parliamentary memory of his generation. Probably he required all this culture. He has not—at least experience seems to show that he has not—instinctive tact. There is even at times an inaptitude to comprehend those around him. When he asked last Session, “Why, what opinions have we changed?” there was a roar as much from his own side of the House as from the opposite; and, perhaps, there was hardly a man there who did not understand better than Mr. Disraeli why it was gauche to say that. He failed egregiously in his first speech, though it would be absurd to press that by itself, as many great speakers have failed at first, and most learn by paining their hearers, but there was a sort of opaque, undiscerning vanity about the performance, which was singularly unpromising. Indeed as for instinctive tact, Mr. Disraeli has made stupendous blunders: a Budget which everybody was to like, but which no one would accept; an Indian Bill, at which everybody laughed; speeches in Opposition innumerable, which made men say, till Lord Palmerston died, “That Dizzy was the Whigs’ best friend”. But now, with the training of years, he has developed a sort of second-hand tact by memory, which serves him well, and is surer than any he has to fight against.
Mr. Disraeli is not profound in the least, and perhaps he would laugh at telling what he thinks his best creed. But he has a fatal facility in suggesting hazy theories which would puzzle an Aristotle. The driest and hardest thinker could never get right if he persisted in tying his words into the pretty puzzles which Mr. Disraeli delights in, and which so often take. His language upon abstract subjects, for upon those of this world he can talk plainly enough, is to that of a thinker by profession—to the language, say, of Mr. Mill—what discolouring artificial light is to daylight. You never know what he is talking about, or whether it means much or little. But, though not deep, Mr. Disraeli’s mind is beyond measure quick, and, as far as it penetrates, original. There is nothing routine about him. He got the House of Commons to sit at unheard-of hours—from 2 till 7—and seemed to think nothing of it, though some grave members thought it almost a Reform Bill in itself. It has been said, not very wisely, that the best general is he who best knows how to repair a defeat; and if that were translated, it might be said that Mr. Disraeli was the best leader of the House of Commons, for he knows how to glide out of a scrape better than anyone.
To this quickness of a keen man, he joins, by some freak of nature, the imperturbability of an apathetic man. Whether he is quite as impassive as he seems, may indeed be doubted. Very near observers are said to be able to detect shades of wincing. But very impassible he must be; and it is a sort of “double first” in skirmishing talent to be so quick to hit, and so hard to be hit. No doubt the opportunities of his career have been favourable—at least, they look so now that he has made a good use of them. He found the Tory party at the death of Lord George Bentinck almost barren of great ability in the House of Commons. The trained official Peelites who before led the party had followed Sir Robert Peel. The grade of gentry who fill the country seats, and mostly compose the Conservative party in the Commons, are perhaps the least able and valuable part of English society. They have neither the responsibilities nor the culture of great noblemen, and they have never felt the painful need of getting on, which sharpens the middle class. They have a moderate sort of wealth which teaches them little, and a steady sort of mind fit for common things, but they have no flexibility and they have no ideas. Almost the worst of the class, too, are often sent to Parliament, and the best left out, because a foolish prejudice requires that the member shall have land within the county. Mr. Disraeli found himself with the most ingenious and manipulating intellect of his generation at the head of the “Army of Fogies,” and the result is what we see.
What have been the consequences of the slow honesty of the Tory party, and the quick dishonesty of the Tory leader, future years will unfold better than we can understand them now. But it is well for us to see exactly what the forces were; and that it was not fraud itself which won, but fraud in a convenient place, and with singular ability.