Saturday, July 15, 2017

Benjamin Disraeli and some more unseen influences

Benjamin Disraeli the eminent Victorian, the prime minister of what was at the time the greatest power on earth, the statesman and superb orator who was also a novelist, essayist and supreme letter writer, has been extensively studied and written about.

I can’t compete with or add anything to the coverage of many aspects of his life, his brilliant political career in particular, but in any case my main interest is in the unseen influences that I believe were operating behind the scenes.

Curses, cursing and convenient deaths
I have already written about some deaths that were very convenient for Mr Disraeli. I have just read something in a review of the biography Disraeli: a Personal History by Christopher Hibbert
that gives further support to my suspicions:

"There was a streak of icy vengefulness in his temperament; even as a young man he had written down and filed away the names of those who crossed him. 'Something usually happens to them.'"

So Disraeli had a little list! So it was not only innocent people who happened to be in his way who suffered the consequences of his feelings towards them. So in the case of his enemies, the ill-wishing was deliberate.

This discovery has made me want to do a full investigation.

In the meantime, a little research exercise has found some familiar features.  It seems to me that his unsatisfactory (to Disraeli) starting position in life, his inordinate ambition combined with his creative personality and the setbacks he experienced made him someone who might well have attracted the attention of whatever it is that operates below the surface in the lives of selected people.

Benjamin Disraeli’s goals
Just like fellow Victorian novelist Marie Corelli, Benjamin Disraeli desperately wanted to be a Somebody. He wanted power, fame and fortune. He wanted to get to the top and into the right i.e. aristocratic circles. He would do whatever it took; the end was much more important than the means.

Disraeli’s philosophy of life:

“In England, personal distinction is the only passport to the society of the great. Whether this distinction arise from fortune, family, or talent, is immaterial; but certain it is, to enter into high society, a man must either have blood, a million, or a genius.”

Disraeli tried several paths to success, dropping his plans to be a lawyer when he realised that the profession wouldn’t take him where he wanted to go:

“This quest for power is the defining drive of Disraeli's life. "If I become half as famous as I intend to be ... I must have riches and power," he cried at the age of 20, abandoning his legal studies. "Pooh THE BAR! To be a great lawyer, I must give up my chance of being a great man ...”

The backfiring feature
Many of Disraeli’s efforts to make money and achieve success came to nothing. Not only that, he got the exact opposite of what he had hoped for.

For example, he speculated wildly in South American mining shares, and instead of making his fortune it ended in disaster and debt.

After losing money from investing in South American mining ventures, he decided to try his luck as a writer and publisher. 

He started a publishing initiative, a new daily conservative newspaper called The Representative, with borrowed money. He persuaded someone to lend him £26,000, which was a huge amount in 1825. Disraeli was only 20 years old at the time.

Disraeli quickly found editors, article writers and correspondents and rented an office in an exclusive area of the West End. The correspondents were hired across five continents: Disraeli wanted to make the paper the centre for world news.

He hoped that his newspaper would come to rival The Times, but it all backfired. Not only did The Representative not bring Disraeli the acceptance, fame and fortune of his dreams, the enterprise ended in disaster. The newspaper went bankrupt after six months, leaving Disraeli with a heavy debt which he had to pay off for the next thirty years. 

He not made his mark and attracted the attention of the right people as a political publisher, writer and commentator. He had not made The Times look like nothing. He had ended up not triumphant but depressed and humiliated, not knowing what to do next.

There are many practical and political explanations for the failure of The Representative. What often works best is to start small and build up gradually. Other people were involved in the enterprise; there could be nothing more at work in Disraeli’s case than inexperience and unrealistic ambitions.

Even so, the familiar reversal feature says to me that unseen influences were at work.

Perhaps Disraeli had never heard the proposition that, by wanting something too intensely you may activate forces that stop you getting it.

I have reserved a library copy of Christopher Hibbert’s Disraeli: a Personal History in the hope of finding more examples of unseen influences.

Benjamin Disraeli as a young man: