Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881)
From 1800-1829 Literary Anecdotes

IT was while he was at Bournemouth that Disraeli completed the arrangement for one of the most picturesque features of his first year of office—the offer to Thomas Carlyle of the G.C.B. and a pension. He had been corresponding with Derby in the autumn as to what could be done to honour men of science. . . . `Can we do anything for literature?' wrote Derby on November 28. He suggested that Tennyson and Carlyle were the only conspicuous names; and in pressing Carlyle's claims mentioned that he was, `for whatever reason, most vehement against Gladstone. ... Anything that could be done for him would be a really good political investment. What it should be you know best.' Disraeli caught at the idea; he realized the splendour of Carlyle's genius and the reproach of its total neglect by the State; and his imagination supplied the unique distinction which might not unfitly be offered to the doyen of English letters.

To Queen Victoria.
B—mouth, Dec. 12, 1874.—Mr. Disraeli with his humble duty to your Majesty:

As your Majesty was graciously pleased to say that your Majesty would sometimes aid him with your advice, he presumes to lay before your Majesty a subject on which he would much like to be favoured with your Majesty's judgement.
Your Majesty's Government is now in favour with the scientific world. The Arctic Expedition, and some small grants which may be made to their favourite institutions, will secure their sympathy, which is not to be despised. Can nothing be done for Literature?
Eminent literary men are so few, that there would be no trouble as to choice, if any compliment in the way of honour was contemplated. Mr. Disraeli knows of only two authors who are especially conspicuous at this moment: Tennyson and Carlyle....
Mr. Carlyle is old, and childless, and poor; but he is very popular and respected by the nation. There is no K.C.B. vacant. Would a G.C.B. be too much? It might be combined with a pension, perhaps, not less than your Majesty's royal grandfather conferred on Dr. Johnson, and which that great man cheerfully accepted, and much enoyed.

These thoughts are humbly submitted to the consideration of your Majesty, with, Mr. Disaeli hopes, not too much freedom.

The Queen, in Disraeli's words, `entered into the spirit of the affair', and he conveyed the offer to Carlyle in a letter conceived in the grand manner, to the composition of which, it is evident from the interlined draft found among his papers, he had devoted considerable labour. As a proffer of State recognition by a literary man in power to a literary man in (so to speak) permanent opposition, it would be difficult to excel it either in delicacy or in dignity. Fully to appreciate its magnanimity, it must be remembered that Carlyle had always treated Disraeli as a `conscious juggler', ` superlative Hebrew conjurer'. `He is the only man', Carlyle wrote to John Carlyle, `I almost never spoke of except with contempt; and if there is anything of scurrility anywhere chargeable against me, he is the subject of it; and yet see, here he comes with a pan of hot coals for my guilty head.' . . .

Carlyle's answer was reported to Derby by Disraeli.

To Lord Derby.
B—mouth, Jan. 1, '75.—

. . . Alas! the Philosopher of Chelsea, tho' evidently delighted with the proposal, and grateful in wondrous sentences, will accept of nothing—'Titles of honour, of all degrees, are out of keeping with the tenor of my poor life', and as for money—'after years of rigorous and frugal, but, thank God, never degrading poverty', it has become `amply abundant, even super-abundant in this later time'.
Nevertheless the proposal is `magnanimous and noble, without example in the history of governing persons with men of letters', and a great deal more in the same highly sublimated Teutonic vein. . . .

For the moment Carlyle recognized that he had misjudged Disraeli. Lady Derby, whom Carlyle credited, perhaps rightly, with the origination of the idea, wrote to Disraeli on January 15:

`I saw old Mr. Carlyle today, and he scarcely knew how to be grateful enough for the mark of attention you had paid him. I assure you it was quite touching to see and hear his high appreciation of the offer.'

But, save that he continued to prefer Disraeli to Gladstone, the feeling was transient; and when, a few years later, he dissented from Ministerial policy in the East, he reverted once again to his earlier language, and was not ashamed to talk of the Prime Minister as

`a cursed old Jew, not worth his weight in cold bacon', `an accursed being, the worst man who ever lived'.

From W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin D'Israeli, Lord Beaconsfield (rev. edn., 1829), ii. 695-698.

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