S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Earl of Beaconsfield
[Benjamin Disraeli, an English statesman and author, born in London, 1805; produced his first work, 1826; entered Parliament, 1837; Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1852, 185859, 186668; became premier in the latter year, and again in 1874; raised to the peerage, 1876; attended the Berlin Congress, 1878; died April 19, 1881.]
I have begun several times many things, and have often succeeded at last. I will sit down now, but the time will come when you shall hear me.
The close of his unsuccessful maiden speech in the House of Commons, Dec. 7, 1837, on an Irish-election petition. The prophecy, after its fulfilment, became famous.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, being told by Woodfall the printer, after his first speech, which was on a petition against his election for Stafford, Nov. 20, 1780, that speaking was not in his line, and that he had better stick to his former pursuits, rested his head on his hand a few minutes, and then vehemently exclaimed, It is in me, however, and, by G, it shall come out!MOORE: Life, I. 228.
Disraelis attempts, in 1831 and 1835, to enter Parliament as a radical, were unsuccessful. To the electors of High Wycombe he spoke, in 1831, of the people,that bewildering title under which a miserable minority contrive to coerce and plunder the nation. At Taunton, in 1835, he assailed Daniel OConnell, who had favored his candidature at High Wycombe, and who now said of the ungrateful radical, I cannot divest my mind of the belief that if this fellows genealogy were traced, it would be found that he is the lineal descendant and true heir-at-law of the impenitent thief who atoned for his crimes upon the cross.
During this time the Hon. Mrs. Norton brought about an interview between Disraeli and Lord Melbourne, who asked him what he really wanted to be. I want to be prime minister, was the unabashed reply. When asked by an elector of Taunton, after his opponent had made a dull speech, upon what he was standing as a parliamentary candidate, he answered, Upon my head.
The right honorable gentleman [Sir Robert Peel] caught the Whigs bathing, and walked away with their clothes.
In a debate on the opening of letters at the post-office, Feb. 28, 1845. Disraeli added, of an assumption of Whig principles by the Conservative leader, He has left them in the full enjoyment of their liberal position, and he is himself a strict conservative of their garments; and in the same speech, I look upon him as a man who has tamed the shrew of Liberalism by her own tactics. He is the political Petruchio, who has outbid you all. The violence with which Disraeli attacked Sir Robert Peel is well known. Thus, in a debate on the premiers proposal of an increased grant to Maynooth College in Ireland, Disraeli said that with him great measures are always rested on small precedents: he always traces the steam-engine back to the tea-kettle; in fact, all his precedents are tea-kettle precedents. And in the same speech, We have a great parliamentary middle-man. It is well known what a middle-man is: he is a man who bamboozles one party and plunders the other.
He said of Peel, in the same year, Such a man is no more a great statesman than the man who gets up behind a carriage is a great whip. Also, in a speech on the Corn Importation Bill, May 5, 1846, His life has been one great appropriation clause. He is a burglar of others intellects. There is no statesman who has committed political petty larceny on so great a scale. He compared the conversion of Peels party to the abolition of the Corn Laws, to the Saxons under Charlemagne, who, according to the chronicle, were converted in battalions, and baptized in platoons.
In a debate in the House of Commons, on agricultural interests, March 17, 1845, Disraeli said, For me there remains this, at least,the opportunity of expressing thus publicly my belief that a conservative government is an organized hypocrisy. And in the same speech, There is a difference in the demeanor of the same individual, as leader of the opposition, and as Minister of the Crown. You must not contrast too strongly the hours of courtship with the years of possession.
Disraeli, in his Biography of Lord George Bentinck, gives an account of an interview with him after Lord George had abandoned horse-racing for statesmanship, and had met a defeat in Parliament, as leader of the Conservative party, a few days before the horse Surplice, which he had sold, won the Derby: It was in vain to offer solace. He gave a sort of stifled groan. All my life I have been trying for this, and for what have I sacrificed it? You do not know what the Derby is, he moaned out. Yes, I do: it is the blue ribbon of the turf. It is to racing what the ribbon of the garter is in social and political distinction.
Free trade is not a principle: it is an expedient.
A good illustration of the alliterative style of his epigrammatic sayings occurred in the speech on the Maynooth grant, before alluded to: Why, Hansard [the reporter of the Parliamentary Debates], instead of being the Delphi of Downing Street, is but the Dunciad of politics.
In the debate in answer to the Queens speech, Jan. 24, 1860, he said, It is much easier to be critical than to be correct. And at Oxford, Nov. 25, 1864, I hold that the characteristic of the present age is craving credulity. Time is precious, he said at Aylesbury, Sept. 11, 1865; but truth is more precious than time.
A precedent, he said in a speech on the Expenditures of the Country, Feb. 22, 1848, embalms a principle.
Figures, he declared, are not party men. You may cross the House, yet you cannot convert 15,000 tons into 20,000 tons (Speech on the Sugar Duties, July 28, 1846).
In a speech on the Railway Bill, April 22, 1846, he noticed the sort of anxiety which seems to exist among the members of the government, that it would be generally supposed that they had a sort of partnership with Providence.
Philosophical ideas in opposition to political principle.
In a speech on the expulsion of the British ambassador from Madrid, June 5, 1848, Disraeli stated his objection to liberalism to be this: that it is the introduction into the practical business of life of the highest kindnamely, politicsof philosophical ideas instead of political principle.
There is a great difference, he once declared, between nationality and race. Nationality is the miracle of political independence. Race is the principle of physical analogy (Speech on the Navy Estimates, Aug. 9, 1848).
It is not at all impossible that a man, always studying one subject, will view the general affairs of the world through the colored prism of his own atmosphere (Speech on Railways-in-Ireland Bill, Feb. 15, 1847).
He called the memory of a great name, and the inheritance of a great example, the legacy of heroes (On the Address in answer to the Queens speech, Feb. 1, 1849).
He quoted a great writer, who said that peace was beauty in action: I say that justice is truth in action (Speech on Agricultural Distress, Feb. 11, 1851).
Disraeli defended, in the House of Commons, in 1853, the Emperor Napoleon, who was denounced for curtailing the freedom of the press; at the same time he denied that he should ever say or do any thing himself to depreciate the influence or diminish the power of Parliament or the press. My greatest honor is to be a member of this House, in which all my thoughts and feelings are concentrated; and as for the press, I am myself a gentleman of the press, and have no other escutcheon.
A tu quoque argument, he said in a speech on the Prosecution of the Crimean War, May 24, 1855, should always be good-humored, for it has nothing else to recommend it.
Addressing the House on Ways and Means, May 3, 1861, he spoke of a resolution having been carried by a very small majority: as it is in its teens, it can hardly be called a majority at all.
The history of superannuation in this country, he declared, is the history of spoliation. It is a very short history, for it may be condensed in one sentence: You promised a fund, and you exacted a tax (Speech on the Civil Service Superannuation Bill, Feb. 15, 1856).
Youth is, we all know, somewhat reckless in assertion; and when we are juvenile and curly, one takes a pride in sarcasm and invective (On the amendments to the Address to the Queen, June 7, 1859).
In a speech on a vote of censure of the government, for its course towards Denmark, July 8, 1864, Disraeli characterized the member for Stroud, the Right Hon. Edward Horsman, as the superior person of the House of Commons.
In a eulogy of Richard Cobden, April 3, 1865, he declared that there are some members of Parliament, who, though not present in the body, are still members of the House: independent of dissolution, of the caprice of constituencies, even of the course of time.
During the discussion in committee on the Reform Bill of 1867, Mr. Beresford Hope spoke of Disraeli as the Asian Mystery. The action of the former while speaking, says Jennings (Anecdotal History of Parliament), and, it may be added, his descent from the family of Hope of Amsterdam, gave point to Disraelis sarcastic reply: When he talks about an Asian mystery, I will tell him that there are Batavian graces in all he says, which I notice with satisfaction, and which charm me.
He called Goldwin Smith an itinerant spouter of stale sedition.
In a speech at the Mansion House, Nov. 9, 1878, he said, The government of the world is carried on by sovereigns and statesmen, and not by anonymous paragraph-writers or the hair-brained chatter of irresponsible frivolity.
He said of Lord Salisbury, in 1874, He is a great master of gibes, and pouts, and sneers.
In a speech at the meeting of an agricultural society at Aylesbury, in 1864, he quoted the observation of a very great scholar, that, in his opinion, the declaration of the wisest of mankind, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, was not a misprint, but a mistake of the copyist, and that he believed that the words were not Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas, but Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas. This caused a member of the Liberal party to characterize the views of the opposition as a policy of sewage.
Replying to Lord Palmerston, in a debate on fortifications and works, June 3, 1862, he accused the noble lord of seeming to think that posterity is a pack-horse, always ready to be loaded. This reminds one of Sir Boyle Roches unanswerable question in the Irish Parliament, Why should we legislate for posterity? What has posterity ever done for us?
In reply to Sir Robert Peel, who appealed from the judgment of his critics to the verdict of posterity, Disraeli said, Very few people reach posterity. Who among us may arrive at that destination, I presume not to vaticinate. Posterity is a most limited assembly. Those gentlemen who reach posterity are not much more numerous than the planets.
At a meeting of the Oxford Diocesan Society in 1864, Mr. Disraeli gave his views upon the popular idea of Darwinism: What is the question which is now placed before society, with the glib assurance which to me is most astounding? That question is this: Is man an ape, or an angel? I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence those new-fangled theories.
Assassination has never changed the history of the world.
(Speech in the House of Commons on the assassination of President Lincoln, May, 1865.)
Re-action, he said, is the law of life; and it is the characteristic of the House of Commons (On the address in reply to the Queens Speech, Feb. 6, 1867). Change, he remarked at a Conservative banquet at Edinburgh, Oct. 29, 1867, change is inevitable in a progressive country. Change is constant.
He spoke in the same address (at the banquet in Edinburgh) of reform, and particularly of the bill passed under his leadership during the administration of Lord Derby; and said of the interval between 1860 and the passage of the act, I had to prepare the mind of the country, and to educate,if it be not arrogant to use such a phrase,to educate our party.
The Right Hon. Robert Lowe said, after the passage of the bill, We must now at least educate our masters. It was of this statesman (Lord Sherbrooke) that Disraeli declared, What is more remarkable than his learning and his logic is that power of spontaneous aversion which particularly characterizes him. At another time he called him an inspired schoolboy.
In moving a vote of thanks in the House of Commons to Sir R. Napiers army after the Abyssinian campaign of 1868, he gave utterance to one of his most florid periods: They brought the elephant of Asia to convey the artillery of Europe to dethrone one of the kings of Africa, and to hoist the standard of St. George upon the mountains of Rasselas.
In a speech to the Conservatives of Lancashire, at Manchester, April 3, 1872, Disraeli said, As I sat opposite the Treasury Bench, the ministers reminded me of one of those marine landscapes not very unusual on the coasts of South America. You behold a range of exhausted volcanoesnot a flame flickers on a single pallid crest, but the situation is still dangerous. There are occasional earthquakes, and, ever and anon, the dark rumbling of the sea. In the same speech he called increased means and increased leisure the two civilizers of man.
Mr. Bright made a humorous allusion to the conservative ministry, in a speech on Reform, at Birmingham, in 1866. The government of Lord Derby in the House of Commons, sitting all in a row, reminds me very much of a number of amusing and ingenious gentlemen whom I dare say some of you have seen and listened to. I mean the Christy Minstrels.
Of ministers speeches during the recess of 1872, Disraeli said, Her Majestys ministers may be said during the last six months to have lived in a blaze of apology; and in a letter to Lord Grey de Wilton, Oct. 3, 1873, For nearly five years the present ministers have harassed every trade, worried every profession, and assailed or menaced every class, institution, and species of property.
An expression first used by Edward Miall, M.P., a late well-known advocate of disestablishment, in a letter to some of his political friends. Disraeli appropriated it in a speech in the House of Commons, March, 1873, in which he said that the aristocratic principle, the constitution of the House of Commons, the position of the National Church, would in due time become great and burning questions. The expression is, however, borrowed from the German. In the preface of Hagenbachs Grundlinien der Liturgik und Homiletik, 1803, the author asks, Who will burden himself with your liturgical parterre, when the burning questions (brennende Fragen) of the day invite to very different toils?
On his return from the Berlin Congress, July 16, 1878, Lord Beaconsfield said, Lord Salisbury and myself have brought you back peacebut a peace, I hope, with honor, which may satisfy our sovereign, and tend to the welfare of the country.
Lord John Russell spoke at Greenock, September, 1853, of the duty of securing the rights of nations by peace, and added, But, while we endeavor to maintain peace, I certainly should be the last to forget, that, if peace cannot be maintained with honor, it is no longer peace.
A correspondent of Notes and Queries calls attention to a singular similarity of expression in Fletchers Queen of Corinth, I. 1:
Eraton.The general is returned, then?
Neanthes.With much honor.
Sosicles.And peace concluded with the place of Argos?
Neanthes.To the queens wishes.
Of the results of the Berlin Congress as applied to Greece, Lord Beaconsfield said in the House of Peers, July 18, 1878, Greece has a future; and I would say, if I might be permitted, to Greece, what I would say to an individual who has a future,Learn to be patient.
In a speech at Guildhall, Nov. 9, 1879, Lord Beaconsfield said, One of the greatest of Romans, when asked what was his politics, replied, Imperium et libertas. That would not make a bad programme for a British ministry. Tacitus said of Nerva, He joined two things hitherto incompatible, principatum ac libertatem.Agricola, ch. 3.
He accused a former secretary of foreign affairs, the fifteenth Earl of Derby, in the House of Lords, March 5, 1881, of an opposite principle: I do not know that there is any thing that excites enthusiasm in him except when he contemplates the surrender of some national policy.
On moving for leave to bring in the Representation of the People Bill in the House of Commons, Feb. 28, 1859, Mr. Disraeli said, I believe there is a general wish among all men of light and leading in this country, that the solution of this long-controverted question should be arrived at. Disraeli used this expression in an electioneering address in the form of a letter to the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, March 10, 1880: It is to be hoped that all men of light and leading will resist this destructive doctrine; but he only recalled a sentence in Sybil (Book V., ch. i.): Not a public man of light and leading in the country withheld the expression of his opinion. Burke had, however, anticipated Disraeli, for he said in Reflections on the French Revolution, 419, The men of England, the men, I mean, of light and leading in England, etc.
In a speech in 1862, during the American Civil War, in which Disraeli advocated disarmament, and a cordial understanding with France, he spoke of putting an end to these bloated armaments which naturally involve states in financial embarrassment. It was not the first time that the word bloated had been heard in the House. Daniel OConnell, in 1835, called Lord Alvanley a bloated buffoon, which led to a bloodless duel between the buffoon and the agitators son. Before the combatants took position, a Methodist preacher passing by exhorted Alvanley to think of his soul. Yes, he replied, but my body is just now in the greatest danger. Duelling fell into disrepute in England in consequence of this meeting.
When Disraeli was made Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1852, some one complained that he was ignorant of finance. Never mind, was the reply, Exodus comes before Numbers.HENRY GREVILLE: Diary, I. 417.