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October 13, 1978 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-10-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Friday, October 13, 1978 19

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Disraeli's 'Love Affair' With Victoria, Pride in Jewishness

Benjamin Disraeli, the
rakish aspirant to a dip-
lomatic career, and Victoria
the hypochondriac, the
Great Queen who became a
master of herself due to the
influence of the flamboyant
young man, had a "love af-
fair." It became an historic
episode, the young man be-
came Great Britain's Prime
Minister who acquired con-
trol of the Suez Canal for his
nation.
The young Disraeli also
Wad a love for the Judaism
he inherited, although his
father made him a Chris-
tian just before he was to be
Bar Mitzva.

into the revered, magnifi-
cent and almost mythical
figure of her old age: the
Doyenne of Sovereigns, the
Great White Queen, the
Shah-in-Shah Padshah, the
Grandmama of Europe, Vic-
toria Regina et Imperatrix."

them) liked to think of him
as a poor Jewish boy who, by
virtue of his own brilliance,
had overcome all obstacles
to rise to the top.

"The truth was more
prosaic. Disraeli's origins
were neither as romantic
as he pretended nor as
obscure as was some-
times maintained. Both
Isaac D'Israeli and Maria
Basevi, when they mar-
ried in 1802, were mem-
bers of wealthy, talented
and relatively distin-
guished families; and
their second child, Ben-
jamin, was born, on 21
December 1804, into a
prosperous middle-class
These are among the
home. He grew up in a
many things related in
comfortable, red-brick,
"Victoria and Disraeli:
white porticoed house
The Making of a Roman-
BENJAMIN DISRAELI
near Gray's Inn, in Lon-
tic Partnership" (Mac-
(Lord Beaconsfield)
don. Isaac D'Israeli was a
millan) by Theo Aronson.
About the Jewish heri- skeptical, mild-man-
The love affair? The
author, a noted historian,- tage of Disraeli and his love nered, bookish man;
makes an interesting point for his Jewishness: His Maria was a prototype •
father was the Jewish Jewish mother — happy
about it, thus:
"Was Victoria in love scholar, Isaac D'Israeli — to devote herself to her
with Disraeli? Not, one im- note the difference in spel- home, her husband and
agines, in the generally ac- ling — who had his seri con- her four children.

verted. The author, Theo
Aronson, relates the entire
story:

cepted sense of the term.
Nor is the particular form
taken by her love impor-
"Just as Queen Vic-
tant. What is important is
its effect on her character toria always needed the
and future development. support of a man, so did
Disraeli, made the Queen Benjamin Disraeli de-
feel, for the first time in pend on the love,
many years, like a desirable encouragement and
woman; a woman who was sympathy of women. 'A
worth flirting with, and jok- female friend,' he once
ing with, and buttering up. wrote, 'amiable, clever,
Once again she felt herself and devoted, is a posses-
to be the most important sion more valuable than
person in someone's life. parks and palaces; and
Her ego, as she basked in without such a muse, few
the apparently whole- men can succeed in life,
hearted attention of this none be content.'
"Disraeli was at his best
fascinating man, was given
a tremendous fillip. She felt in female company, particu-
appreciated, not so much for larly in the company of
older women. For whether it
her position, as for herself.
"This had been Disraeli's be as a wife, a mistress or a
supreme achievement for friend, Disraeli invariably
Queen Victoria: this build- sought out women older
ing up of her confidence than himself. They alone
both as a monarch and a seemed capable of giving
woman. By opening her him the uncritical affection
eyes to the possibilities of and admiration his egotisti-
her position, by bringing cal nature so ardently
into flower her innate sense craved. In fact, they were
of majesty, by boosting her more like mothers than
self-assurance, Disraeli loves. If Queen Victoria
transformed Victoria: spent much of her life in
search of a father-figure,
Without him, she could so
easily have remained a re- Disraeli spent his in search
cluse, becoming less popu- of a substitute for his
lar, more neurotic and more mother.
"Benjamin Disraeli, who
lethargic by the year.
had so much to say _about
Whether the British
everything else, had sur-
monarchy could have sur-
vived 25 more years of Vic- prisingly little to say about
his mother. Quite clearly,
toria's seclusion is doubtful.
But by setting fire to her there was very little affec-
tion, very little rapport be-
imagination, by treating
tween them. Of his father,
her as a great queen and an
attractive woman, Disraeli on the other hand, he was
very fond. Both parents
re-fashioned Victoria.
" 'For today,' he had were of Italian-Jewish
written to her on her 56th stock. His father, Isaac D'Is-
birthday, 'which has raeli, was the son of a Ben-
given to my country a jamin D'Israeli who had
Sovereign whose reign, it emigrated to England from
is my hope and ambition, Italy in the mid-eighteenth
may rank with that of century. His mother, Maria
Elizabeth, has also given Basevi, was the daughter of
a Naphtali Basevi who had
me, her humble, but cho-
sen servant, a Mistress, likewise left Italy to settle
whoni to serve is to in London.
"In later years, Benjamin
love.. ..'
Disraeli was to glamorize
"How could Queen Vic-
his origins with much flow-
toria possibly have resisted
ery talk of descent from a
such a call?
"By this transforming of family of 'aristocratic'
Spanish Jews who had set-
the Widow of Windsor into
tled in Venice; while others
the Faery Queen, Disraeli
(and Queen Victoria among
enabled Victoria to develop

"But, from the start al-
most, the relationship be-
tween the mother and her
eldest son was unsatisfac-
tory. Perhaps she felt closer
to her only daughter, Sarah;
perhaps she lavished more
affection on her two
younger, more dependable
sons; perhaps she did not
give Benjamin the admira-
tion he felt he deserved.
"For that he deserved
admiration, Benjamin had
no doubt whatsoever. Nor
was his conceit entirely un-
founded. In the first place,
there were his good looks.
Even in boyhood, Benjamin
Disraeli's appearance was
striking. He might have
been born British but his
ancestry was obvious: he
looked like an Italian Jew.
His hair was black, glossy,
curly; his skin was sallow,
his eyes were dark, his nose
was hooked. Among his
flaxen-haired, pink-
cheeked and blue-eyed
schoolmates, he was very
much the odd-man-out.
"There was something
un-English too, about his
manner. Here he seemed
rather more Italian than
Jewish: Disraeli was proud,
vain, flashy, quick-
tempered, extravagant,
emotional, warm-hearted.
He was also a good deal
brighter than his contem-
poraries: quick-witted, in-
quisitive, eager to learn and
anxious to shine. The boy
was determined, not only to
dazzle in company but to
make his mark in the world.

"How he would do this,
he was not yet certain. All
roads lay open to him,
bar one. This was a
career in Parliament. The
parliamentary oath
could be taken only by
Christians. It did not mat-
ter if one were of the
Jewish race; one could
not be of the Jewish faith.
Not until 1858 would this
bar be removed.

"But before Benjamin
turned 13 (and before even
he could have had any am-
bitions to enter Parliament)
the barrier disappeared. In

March 1817 his father —
the skull-capped, scholarly,
retiring Isaac D'Isareli —
quarrelled and broke with
the local congregation, and
with active Judaism. Al-
though he did not convert to
Christianity, he was talked
into have his children bap-
tized into the Church of
England. From now on Ben-
jamin Disraeli would be a
practicing, if not very con-
vinced, Christian."
It is in the review of Dis-
raeli's acclamation of his
Jewish heritage while being
a Christian that the author
introduces the important
question of the attack on the
disfranchisement of Jews
from membership in the
House of Commons because
they would not take the
Christian oath that the is-
sue, crediting Disraeli with
courage, is thus related:
"Dizzy's stand on Jewish
questions caused embar-
rassment and distrust. In
his three-volume novel,
"rancred,' published in
1847, Disraeli set out some
highly unorthodox views on
Judaism and Christianity.
To Disraeli, Christianity
was the logical and highest
development of Judaism. A
Christian, he maintained,
was simply a completed
Jew. It was, perhaps, the
most convenient way of ex-
plaining away how he —
who was so proud of his
`aristocratic' Jewish ances-
try — had converted to the
Christian faith.

"While Dizzy's bizarre
theory had been confined
to the perfervid pages of
'Tancred,' no one had
much minded. But in 1847
Baron Lionel- de
Rothschild was elected
Liberal member for the
City of London. As a
practicing Jew, he could
hardly take the par-
liamentary path 'on the
true faith of a Christian.'
Lord John Russell, the
Whig Prime Minister,
therefore introduced a
motion by which the civil
disabilities on Jews
would be removed.

"To his credit, Disraeli
spoke out in its favor. He
need not have done so. He
could simply have sat mum.
He was a Christian, trying
hard to win the Conserva-
tive leadership by present-
ing himself as a respectable,
dependable, ordinary
English country gentleman.
Rothschild, moreover, was a
Liberal: why should Dis-
raeli make an effort to get
him a seat in the House?
"But he did. He did so,
however, by putting for-
ward his extraordinary
thesis. Had he championed
Rothschild from an accepted
liberal standpoint — that of
religious toleration — he
would have been under-
stood but Dizzy treated the
House to all his high-flown
theories about Christians
being nothing more than
completed Jews.
"The 'infallible throne of
Rome,' he reminded them,
had been established by a
Jew. It was as a Christian,
he argued, that he could not
take upon himself 'the

awful responsibility of
excluding from the legisla-
ture those who are of the
religion in the bosom of
which my Lord and Savior
was born.'

"By his own followers
— those rows of stolid
country gentlemen —
Dizzy's speech was con-
sidered highly objection-
able.

"The Jewish question was
to concern Parliament for
the next 10 years. Each time
a Jewish Emancipation Bill
was passed by the Com-
mons, it was rejected by the
Lords. Not until 1858 would
the matter be resolved. And

throughout his long period,
Disraeli would give it his
if
unequivocal,
outlandishly-reasoned,
support.
"Such, however, was the
force of Disraeli's personal-
ity (and so lacking was he in
any competitors) that he
was able to overcome all
reservations on the part of
his colleagues."

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