Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Byron and Disraeli: The Mediterranean Tours

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Byron and Disraeli: The Mediterranean Tours

Article excerpt

Disappointment requires change of air desperation, change of scene.

Disraeli, Sybil, Book One, Chapter 5

Byron's influence over Disraeli is a well-recognized literary and historical fact. Byron, Robert Make remarks "was one of Disraeli's heroes. Again and again in his words and life the echo of Byron reverberates" (Disraeli's Grand Tour 30). But what is "the echo of Byron." exactly.-And how did that echo "reverberate" in Disraeli's words and life in the crucial two-year period (1830-1831) Of his grand tour, which Followed Byron's own trip of 1809-1811 so closely? Charles Richmond and Paul Smith's collection, "The Self-Fashioning of Disraeli, 1818-1851 sheds valuable light on the issue, but its contributors fend as does Donald Sultana in his studs, Benjamin Disraeli in Spain, Malta and Albania--to stress a general "Romantic" affiliation, manifested more in Disraeli's fiction than in the two men's travels and the significance of those travels in their future lives. "It is true that Byron exerted an immense influence on Disraeli;" Charles Richmond argues. "But it is a mistake to regard Disraeli's romanticism solely as the sort of fashionable affectation of youth which was prevalent in the generation which followed Byron" (37) Certainly it is a mistake, and it is equally important not to identify Byron with a "fashionably affected" sub-set of the Romantic movement, as Richmond is in danger of doing here. He goes on:

  Most of the positive emotion that historians identify in Disraeli's
  career--his admiration for the English aristocracy; his pride in
  himself as an 'aristocratic Jew'; and his belief in the greatness
  of England--is connected with his romanticism. It served his deepest
  needs, by providing him will, a redeeming vision of the world, which
  permitted him to transcend the Limitations and frustrations of
  his own situation through the power to transform the external world.

Again, this summary is an accurate one; but. Byron's positive role where Disraeli's emotional and intellectual needs are concerned was unique, real, and detailed--as we hope to explain--and it is the Mediterranean that plays the role of analyst in their relation. (1)

Byron and Disraeli are two of the most magnetic figures from 19th century British culture, though the surviving images of them are very different. "The world-famed son of fire," Matthew Arnold called Byron in "Haworth Churchyard": perennially youthful, the exile and fighter for freedoms of every kind, artistic, political, and sexual, who died aged thirty-six fighting the Greek War of Independence. "Der alte Jude ist der mann," Bismarck phlegmatically observed of Disraeli at the Berlin Congress of 1878, when the British premier had reached the top of what he called "the greasy pole" after forty years in Parliament: perennially ingenious and pragmatic, the man who delivered the Suez Canal and the Empress-ship of India on plates to his beloved Queen 'Victoria, and who slogged it out with Gladstone on the floor of the House of Commons for a decade and more around the 1870s. They are the hare and the tortoise of the British 19th century, in the public mind at least.

It is strange, therefore, to go back to the late 1820s, in the aftermath of Byron's death in 1824, and find Disraeli the young Romantic waiting for us there, in a portrait by Daniel Maclise of 1828, curls brushed forward, carefully tied stock of midnight black, left hand thrust into his waistcoat, Bonaparte-style (Gunn et al. 104); or another by the same artist in 1833, leaning; jauntily on a chimney breast, Turkish slippers, sofa, and pipe close to hand (Gunn et al. 354); or a third by Count D'Orsay, replicating for Disraeli in 1834 the very pose in which he had drawn Byron when he visited him with Lady Blessington in Genoa in 1823, down to the curly profile, sensitive physiognomy, neat stock, and open jacket (Gunn et al. 433).

But the Byron that. Disraeli took after around the time of his Mediterranean tour was not the 1823 model, secure in the adoration of Europe and of Teresa Guiccioli. …

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