DISRAELI by Richard W. Davis


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Though Disraeli appears in every history of English politics, full-scale biograhies of the great Conservative minister are few. In 1920 there was the six-volume study of Monypenny and Buckle, in 1966 Robert Blake's acclaimed Disraeli which ran to 800 pages. Davis' 225 pp. entry is certainly more wieldy; it is also the least sympathetic to Dizzy, wholly immune to his charm, wit, and romantic flourishes. His reading of the man who climbed ""the greasy pole"" is not, like Blake's, a work of art and high drama. To Davis Disraeli is an opportunist tout court. His ballyhoos for ""Tory Democracy,"" his devotion to the Established Church and the ""great landed interests,"" his youthful Radicalism--all were equally chimerical and self-serving. More: Davis charges Disraeli with cynically exploiting religious bigotry, especially anti-Catholic sentiment, in his ""crafty and scheming"" ascent. He does credit Dizzy with successfully breaking the mid-century ""Liberal monopoly on reform,"" though again out of self-interest. Of the non-political life there is little, apart from his youthful literary indiscretions and his sincere devotion to his mothering wife Mary Anne. Davis' achievement is to clarify succinctly the complexities of party politics in the 1850s and '60s, a period of unstable coalitions and much maneuvering. A solid interpretation but a narrow gauge.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown