- Past and Present:Young England and Industrial Medievalism
Benjamin disraeli’s Vindication of the English Constitution in a Letter to a Noble Lord (1835) was a defence of what was called “the mixed Constitution” (Vindication passim), comprising the three limited estates of the realm: the Commons, the Lords Temporal, and the Lords Spiritual, each with its own duties and powers. Much of the Vindication was based on ideas that Disraeli had found in three works of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke: A Dissertation upon Parties (1733–34), A Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism (1736), and The Idea of a Patriot King (1738). From reading these works, in particular On the Spirit of Patriotism, which was addressed to the youthful Lord Cornbury, Disraeli came to believe that a revived idealism amongst the country’s young aristocrats was the best hope for the moral reformation of both the people and the government that was so desperately needed.
Once it became clear that Disraeli would not be appointed to the Cabinet of Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative Government in 1841, he was in a mood of some desperation, feeling, as he wrote on 25 February 1842 to his wife, Mary Anne, “humiliated,” “solitary,” and “utterly isolated” (Benjamin Disraeli Letters 4 [no. 1217]: 17–18). But, on the strength of an impressive speech, attacking Lord Palmerston’s handling of the Foreign Office, Disraeli soon found himself “with[ou]t effort the leader of a party—chiefly of the youth, & new members,” as he explained to Mary Anne on 11 March 1842 (Letters 4 [no. 1229]: 31). That group was the embryo of Young England, a partie carrée composed also of George Smythe, Lord John Manners, and Alexander Baillie-Cochrane, who looked upon Disraeli as their spiritual and intellectual leader. They all shared a nostalgic perspective on the Tory Party, the Church, the monarchy, and the general progress of recent political events that was the antithesis of the liberal utilitarian spirit of the time.
The bond that brought Young England’s foursome together was their patriotism that derived from their revulsion at the battle of warring factions that early nineteenth-century society seemed to have become and from their desire to restore what they conceived to be an ancient social harmony. Disraeli’s earlier identification with Bolingbroke and the Opposition Circle politics of the early eighteenth century now became transformed into a conscious adoption on Young England’s part of the role that Bolingbroke had urged Lord Cornbury and his circle of young aristocrats to play in the reform of the Tory Party and the country. Inherent in this posture was the idea that the Conservative Party in the hands of Sir Robert Peel and his moderate policy was unequal to the task of addressing the nation’s most pressing problems.
It was in Paris, while Disraeli was there during the House of Commons fall recess of 1842, that the parliamentary identity of the Young England [End Page 9] movement took shape. Both Smythe and Baillie-Cochrane were also there, and the letters they wrote to Manners in London provide a “fascinating commentary” upon the role that Disraeli was beginning to envision for them all (Blake 174). Disraeli’s letters to his sister, Sarah, are full of reports of social encounters with dukes, duchesses, princes, counts, ambassadors, and influential politicians. In this heady atmosphere, and with a sense of recent parliamentary triumph, Disraeli began to imagine the possibilities of obtaining real political power. Something of the precise nature of the fantasy can be gauged from Smythe’s letter to Manners, dated 19 October 1842: “Most private. Dizzy has much more parliamentary power than I had any notion of. The two Hodgsons are his, and Quinton Dick. He has a great hold on Walter and ‘The Times.’ Henry Hope (who will come in soon) is entirely in his hands. He was in Paris, and I had an opportunity of judging” (Whibley 1: 143).
Although the members of Young England did for the next few years continue to act as a ginger group in the House of Commons, with frequent criticisms of Peel’s Ministry, Disraeli’s grand plans did...