The stimulus subsided. The paroxysms ended in prostration. Some took refuge in melancholy, and their eminent chief alternated between a menace and a sigh. As I sat opposite the Treasury bench, the Ministers reminded me of those marine landscapes not unusual on the coasts of South America. You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes; not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest; but the situation is still dangerous: there are occasional earthquakes, and ever and anon the dark rumblings of the sea.
—Speech at Manchester
Since Disraeli was born a Jew, he was received into the Jewish Church with Jewish rites. But Judaism, standing in the way of his ambition, and his parents’ ambition for him, the religion of his fathers was renounced and he became, in name, a Christian. Yet to the last his heart was with his people, and the glory of his race was his secret pride.
The fine irony of affiliating with a people who worship a Jew as their Savior, but who have legislated against, and despised the Jew–this attracted Disraeli. With them he bowed the knee in an adoration they did not feel, and while his lips said the litany, his heart repeated Ben Ezra’s prayer. In temperament he belonged with the double-dealing East. He intuitively knew the law of jiu jitsu, best exemplified by the Japanese, and won often by yielding. He was bold, but not too bold.
Israel Zangwill, shrewdest, keenest and kindliest of Jews–with the tragedy of his race pictured on his furrowed face, a face like an ancient weather-worn statue on whose countenance grief has petrified–has summed up the character of Disraeli as no other man ever has or can. I will not rob the reader by quoting from “The Primrose Sphinx”–that gem of letters must ever stand together without subtraction of a word. It belongs to the realm of the lapidary, and its facets can not be transferred. Yet when Mr. Zangwill refers to the Mephistophelian curl of Lord Beaconsfield’s lip, the word is used advisedly. No character in history so stands for the legendary Mephisto as does this man. The Satan of the Book of Job, jaunty, daring, joking with his Maker, is the Mephisto of Goethe and all the other playwriters who, have used the character. Mephisto is so much above the ordinary man in sense of humor–which is merely the right estimate of values–so sweeping in intellect, that Milton pictures him as a dispossessed god, the only rival of Deity.
Disraeli, not satisfied with playing the part of Mephisto and tempting men to their ruin, but thirsting for a wider experience, turns Faustus himself and sells his soul for a price. He knows that everything in life is sold–nothing is given gratis–we pay for knowledge with tears; for love with pain; for life with death. He haggles and barters with Fate, and pays the penalty because he must.
He alternately affronts and cajoles his enemies; takes all that the world has to give; knows every pleasure; wins every prize; makes love to the daughters of men (without loving them); and winning the one he selects, secretly thanks Jehovah, God of his fathers, that he leaves no offspring–because the woman fit for his mate and equal to mothering his children does not exist.
The sublimity of his egotism stands unrivaled. It is so great that it is admirable. We lift our hats to this man. Napoleon gained the field without prejudice; but this man enters the list with hate and prejudice arrayed against him. He plays the pawns of chance with literature, religion, politics, and moves the queen so as to checkmate all adversaries. He flouts love, but to show the world that he yet knows the ideal, he occasionally pictures truth and trusting affection in his speeches and books. This entire game of life is to him only a diversion.