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His own career, indeed, had been stranger than fiction, and there were incidents in it which might well induce him to look on literature rather as the enemy than as the friend of his fortunes. He had entered public life with the reputation of a brilliant and original writer, but the Parliament of 1837 was too absorbed in its own passions to have admiration to spare for talents that did not seem immediately to subserve the party interests of one side or the other. They ignored his genius ; they made the most and worst of his peculiarities of person and position; they misunderstood his humour, and misinterpreted his character. Sir Robert Peel, who had done more to educate and encourage young men of promise than any other living statesman, passed him by; and the Lord Stanley of that day gave no signs of the future friendship which was to be founded on a common antagonism. Even when he applied his political wit to the clever fictions that formed the second period of his literary ventures, and pressed into that service the prominent individualities of the small body of adherents who clung to him, he could not be said to have had any distinct hold on the attention of the House of Commons, although his ability as a speaker could not be denied; and it was not till the great Corn-Law contest began that the Government discovered not only what an able adjutant they had neglected, but what a formidable competitor they had raised. This experience would probably lead him to regard pure literature as a pursuit of secondary interest, and it may have required the suggestion of a subject which combines important political results with individual action to have induced him once more to take up the pen. Such a theme his imagination would not naturally seek in the struggles of conscience, or the silent processes of the heart, or the obstinate questionings of the intellect—in such catastrophes of the human soul as inspired the 'Nemesis of Faith,' or · Silas • Marner'—but Religion, as represented in the great structure of the Papal system on the one hand, and in the mystical sublimation of Mazzini on the other, might well afford a subjectmatter very congenial to his mental disposition, and capable of the dramatic effects and personal delineations in which he had so often excelled, while the tendency towards Roman Catholicism of a small but prominent portion of English society would give the general topic an immediate and local application.
The young Member who now occupies the advantageous position of the representative of cultivated Dissenters in the House of Commons, attempted in a late debate to allay Mr.
Newdegate's terrors as to the advance of Popery in this country, by assuring him that the conversions did not show the least defection from Protestantism in the religious sentiment of the community but had been confined to a few cases of "ladies, ‘parsons, and peers.' This is accurately true, and the importance which has been attached to the adhesion to the Roman Catholic Church of certain personages of title, whose mental or spiritual action in other matters would have no claim on public interest, is only to be accounted for by secondary and political considerations. These we could not state more forcibly than in the language of the heroine of the story before us :
I look on our nobility joining the Church of Rome as the greatest calamity that has ever happened to England; irrespective of all religious considerations, on which I will not presume to touch, it is an abnegation of patriotism, and in this age, when all things are questioned, a love of our country seems to me the one sentiment to cling to.'
So speaks the Lady Corisande, the lady-love of Lothair, a young man whose exact social status is never revealed, but which we may infer is all that blood and title can confer. Indeed, we earnestly wish that it were more obscure. About the time when Lothair appears on the stage of London life—and the relation of the dates to the convention of the Ecumenical Council at Rome fixes the period—a young Scotch nobleman of the largest wealth was known to have joined the Roman Catholic communion. He, like Lothair, had been brought up in strict Presbyterian doctrine; he, like Lothair, had become closely connected with a ducal family, which, from its simple manners and unostentatious life, is the very last we ever expected to see delineated in English fiction; he, like Lothair, made a journey to Palestine, and became intimate with the most noted personages in Jerusalem-if he did not, like Lothair, join Garibaldi in Italy, another scion of an illustrious race, whose chivalrous and adventurous spirit has lately passed away to the infinite sorrow of those who knew him best, had done so —and if Lothair does not complete the parallel, but remains a Protestant and marries his first-love, the allusion is not the less obtrusive. When Lord Byron and Shelley were made the heroes of · Venetia,' they were public property; when the striplings of Young England were woven into Coningsby,' they would have been very glad to be so; but the young nobleman, the most serious incidents of whose inner life are here imaginatively portrayed in a story which will be read in every language throughout Europe, and, in our own, throughout North America, has been only forced into public notice by the aocident of his rank and is no especial or remarkable type of
the Roman convert. The rough handling which Mr. Disraeli has himself too often received in connexion with the religion of his race, should rather have taught him to value the susceptibilities of others than have led him to take amusement in this fanciful dissection of a tender and troubled conscience. Time and the vicissitudes of life will undoubtedly obliterate this wrong in the mind of the person interested, and the association itself will be lost to the distant reader, to be only perhaps revived in some variorum edition ; but the fact itself is an instance how dangerous are the facilities of this form of composition even in practised and not malicious hands, reminding us of the pain inflicted by one of the best-natured of writers upon his two best friends—by Mr. Dickens on Leigh Hunt and Savage Landor. The gratification of social curiosity in the identification of characters in satiric fiction is no lofty object of art, and the faculty of caricature has damaged many a powerful artist; the enduring sympathy of mankind will be with the creations of literature which are at once the human beings we know and the ideals we imagine.
Mr. Disraeli's political novels have some of the merits and some of the defects of a fairy tale. The events are incoherent and impossible; the characters are so fantastical, that they cease to be those of ordinary mortals ;--ordinary mortals are converted into imps, sprites, and genii, irradiated with artificial light, and thrown into positions and attitudes which remind us successively of a melodrama, a burlesque, or a dream. In this splendid vision we have Cardinals parading in cærulean armour and pink cassocks-ropes of pearls, as large as those which Aladdin plucked in the cave of the Lamp, but which are now regularly turned and wiped in a south-westerly wind by Mr. Ruby of Bond Street-alabaster tombs surrounded by railings of pure gold-girls who play the violin dressed in white with “gigantic sashes of dazzling beauty'—young ladies in exquisite dressing gowns, with slippers rarer than the lost one of Cinderella, brandishing beautiful brushes over tresses still more fair—the golden whip and jingling reins of the demimonde converted to Rome by the wonder-working Cardinalblazing parterres and Babylonian terraces, ideal cathedrals, vistas of genius, schemes of power, all alike extravagant and unreal, and in which we find no meaning at all, except it be the irony of an imagination which has tried and exhausted life.
When Mr. Disraeli wrote his first novel, his accomplished and amazed father is said to have exclaimed, “Dukes? Sir, • what does my son know about Dukes? He never saw one in
his life. At the time which gives his last production to the
world, Mr. Disraeli has not only seen a great many Dukes, but he has actually made one of that ethereal race. Yet the Dukes of the sexagenarian author of · Lothair ’ have not an atom more resemblance to the concrete British Duke than the phantom aristocracy of · Vivian Grey. People accuse Mr. Disraeli of making too free a use of incidents and peculiarities connected with living persons; and, no doubt, that (if he be guilty of it) is an odious mode of giving the sting of satire to an idle fiction. But he is at least equally open to the remark that as none of his characters can ever have existed at all, and as they have but little resemblance to the class in which he is pleased to place them, he may claim for them the freedom of pure creatures of the imagination. There is some amusement and but little mischief in such a book, so long as it is understood to be a satire and a burlesque. It might be otherwise if any one were so ill acquainted with English society as to mistake Mr. Disraeli's gorgeous creations for the realities of English life. It is amusing to observe the undisguised contempt of the great Tory leader for the illustrious class of persons whom it has been his lot to lead in politics and to portray in fiction. He is, no doubt, like Mr. Phæbus, ' a sincere admirer of the aristocracy of his country;' but, like that distinguished artist, he would add that on the
whole they most resemble the old Hellenic race; excelling ' in athletic sports, speaking no other language than their own, ' and never reading.' It is the first time we remember to have seen the want of intellectual culture classed among the attributes of the Hellenic race; and we are not sure that the proposition is more true of ourselves. And to this piece of philosophy Mr. Phoebus adds a piece of advice, which is invaluable: "You have not had time to read much. Give it up • altogether.
It is the fashion to press hardly on Mr. Disraeli's open preference for what is conventionally termed " high life,' and the predominance of the peculiarities and mannerisms of any one class of society are certainly damaging to any work of fiction. There is no reason why a man or woman of any condition should not be shown capable of whatever depth of sentiment or height of intellect the subject may demand, but the superiority must be personal and not dependent on caste. In this case our upper-classes, with their self-contained, often supercilious, bearing, their decorous frivolity, and their contentment with their own position, have evidently a charm for his oriental nature, and his enjoyment in the splendours and luxuries of their existence is a genuine feeling, in which he is not the
least ashamed to indulge. But, on the other hand, it is apparent that a social order averse to originality, impatient of genius, indulgent to dulness, disinclined to self-sacrifice, is an inadequate field for the delineation of passion or enthusiasm or even earnest thought, and it is fortunate for the verisimilitude of this drama that the religion of the ecclesiastical actors rarely exceeds the bounds of political utility, and that Lothair's piety does not extend far beyond desiring to be as well off in another life as he is in this.
That great sacred Polity of which the fervid Puritan Edward Irving has written, as the temple builded together by Satan
out of the very materials of God, and over which my mind * wandereth with great admiration ; '—which the free-thinking Lord Shaftesbury has described as “that ancient Hierarchy ' which in respect of its first foundation, its policy, and the 'consistency of its whole frame and constitution, cannot but ' appear, in some respects, august and venerable, even in such
as we do not usually esteem weak eyes; '—that Church to whose dominion over the minds of men Lord Macaulay saw no end in any progress of human intelligence—is the scene and subject of these volumes. The characters of its agents are subtle, skilful, and various. There is a Cardinal faithfully sketched after Archbishop Manning in the attenuation of his figure and in his habit of looking-in after dinner, and moving about in other ways in British society with an ease and comfort very different from what our recognised customs have hitherto accorded to anyone presenting himself in the more than princely attitude of particeps regni Romani :' there is a perambulating Nuncio, of royal Jacobite blood, who is equally familiar with the wild heart of Garibaldi and the deep mind of the French Emperor: there is a casuistic Theologian, the most fascinating of companions, with a designation taken from Guy Fawkes' plot, but whose real name is left once in type, constituting the third volume of the first edition a bibliomaniac curiosity:* there is a charming group of one of those old Catholic families, that have taken a certain grace and virtue from the position of a persecuted minority while mingling habitually and occasionally intermarrying with their Protestant neighbours, but
Nothing is new—not even a slip of the pen. In the first edition of Miss Austen's 'Emma'(vol. i. p. 202), “Cobham' is printed instead of * Highbury,' the imagined locality of the fiction—to the delight of enthusiastic critics who had already suggested it as the point at which the indications of distance from various places mentioned in the tale had been made to converge.