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486 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Benjamin Disraeli. Letters. Volume 6: 1852-1856. Edited by M.G. Wiebe, MaryS. Millar, and Ann P. Robson University of Toronto Press. lxxiv, 622. $125.00 This splendidly edited book maintains the uniformly high quality established in the previous volumes, while presenting the historically most significant Disraeli letters so far published by the Queen's Universtty Editorial Project. All aspects of the book are first-class: the introduction, setting the context for the letters; the information in the headnotes to the letters; the entire design of the volume; the chronologies; the appendices and indexes; and the formidably researched annotations which provide the detailed historical infrastructure for the letters. The volume begins with the advent of the first Derby ministry in February 1852, in which Disraelifinally assumed office combining his work as chancellor of the Exchequer with the duties of leader of the House of Commons. This fragile administration was to last until December 1852. Thereafter, these years were to be characterized by political instability, shallow and short-lived alliances, and shi.fting party labelsJ with the Crimean War under the Aberdeen Coalition dominating the period. The personality of Disraeli, his political and intellectual tenaciousness coupled with his wide emotional range, is more fully revealed than before. Certainly? none of many biographies of Disraeli, including Robert Blake's masterly study, has captured so fully as this volume the diversity of Disraeli's talents, moods, and ambitions. That this is the case is largely because the editors have gathered together 951 letters, for 784 of which there has been 'no public knowledge.' Even so, the editors claim that the total 'is only the survivmg fraction of those he actually wrote.' Since Derby remained so much of the time at Knowsley, Disraeli in 1852 is shown managing the government, writing about matters of war and peace, dispensing patronage, weaning the Conservatives from protection, launching a newspaper to compensate for the withdrawal of supportby late 1852 of The Times, and corresponding assiduously with Mrs Bridges Willyams, to whom he looked for financial aid to relieve his chronic indebtedness, which amounted tosome£25,570 in early 1853· There are also his first letters to Queen Victoria, carefully gracious but not obsequious, and often noting the high quality of speeches given in the House by MPS who were not political friends, notably Richard Cobden. There is also correspondence signalling in 1853 the opening parliamentary duels and rancorous hostility between Gladstone and Disraeli. The editors claim that this volume shows Oisraeli perceptibly aging. That fits in with the traditional view that it was Gladstone who most personified the Victorian gospel of work. But, as the editors note, the wide range of issues Disraeli dealt with illustrates just how high his energy · HUMANITIES 487 quotient was and how vigorous his intellect. Nothing of the 'dandy' remains and little of the professional charmer of women. However, his capacity to understand the feelings of others, to sympathize with bereavement is movingly evident in his letter to Lady Londonderry on the occasion of her husband's death. Such elevated writing is matched by Disraeli's bluntness, for in writing to Lord Stanley on 18 July 1852 he states: 'We built up an opposition on Protection and Protestantism. The first the country has positively pissed upon.' Even where frequently cited letters are published- such as that of 13 August 1852, where Disraeli writes of the 'wretched colonies' as a 'millstone ' - this volume places such correspondence in context. Surrounding Disraeli's irritation with the colonies are letters demonstrating his knowledge of the American political arena, tariff issues with France, and Russian imperial policies against Persia. Of course, Disraeli often showed bad judgment, such as claiming on occasion that he could supplant Lord Derby or in failing to see Palmerston as the dominant, rising politician. However, these letters reveal a much more gifted, energetic, and professional politician thanhas so far been depicted in the secondary literature. It is this more complex understanding ofDisraeli, and of aspects of midVictorian Britain, revealed in the letters and annotations, that justifies the historical importance of this volume and of the entire Disraeli Project. He knew that he was indispensable to the Conservatives; however...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 486-487
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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