[Crystal Palace Speech] | Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, 1804-1881 [author]
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[Crystal Palace Speech] | Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, 1804-1881 [author]


    • Extract from printed pamphlet, National Union, No. XVI (London 1872), pp. 9-11.
    • During the Crystal Palace speech on 24 June 1872 Disraeli outlined his tenets of conservatism: 'to maintain institutions, to uphold empire & to elevate the condition of the people'. Lord Morley (1838-1923), Gladstone's colleague and biographer, later wrote that with his 'rare faculty of wide and sweeping forecast' Disraeli had accurately read the 'characteristics of the time' (Bradford, Disraeli, p. 295). The speech foreshadowed the social legislation which his government would introduce in 1875-6. It is regarded as one of Disraeli's defining contributions to the notion of progressive conservatism.
    • The five-volume anthology, Curiosities of Literature (1791-1834), now in the Library at Hughenden, is probably Isaac's best known work. His other main publication was the five-volume Commentaries on the life and reign of Charles I (1828-30), a topic well-suited to his romantic conservatism. For this study he was awarded a DCL by the University of Oxford in 1832. In addition to these major works Isaac was also the author of several now-forgotten novels and poems.
    • This letter written on 4 August 1825 from Disraeli to his father describes an evening at a party in Albemarle Street hosted by John Murray for former and current African expeditions. Friendship with Murray would further Disraeli's bookish tendencies and literary talent but founder over disastrous financial collaboration.
    • Concerned by his son's health Isaac took Disraeli on his first trip abroad, a six-week tour of Belgium and the Rhine in the summer of 1824 accompanied by William Meredith, Sarah's (then) unofficial fiance. The early part of the journey from London to Aix is recorded here. Most of the entries are in pencil and too faint to read with ease, but this description of an attempt to visit Ruben's house in Antwerp on 2 August 1824 gives some indication of Disraeli's enthusiasm for arhitecture - especially churches - paintings, food and landscape, and of his observations on history and local customs. Disraeli didn't keep a diary on the journey's second leg but he did decide to become a writer - and he drew on his experiences in his first novel, Vivian Grey.
    • Disraeli's debut as a novelist was spectacular. Volume I of Vivian Grey was published anonymously in April 1826. To maximise impact the draft was copied out by Sara Austen to conceal its authorship. Sara, considerably older than Disraeli, was married to his neighbour the lawyer Benjamin Austen, for whom Disraeli had worked. Both Austens were his patrons, she emotionally, he financially. Here she refers to the Star reviewer's comparisons with similar novels like Mathilda and Tremaine, set in 'fashionable' aristocratic society and aimed at middle class readers; the author was a 'lively and accomplished writer' and his 'ingenuity' praised. By July the enthusiasm among high society and reviewers turned to scorn when it was discovered that the satire had been by a youthful onlooker, not an insider.
    • Disraeli announced to his father his intention of standing for Parliament in this letter written on board HMS Hermes in October 1831 in which he expresses concern that Isaac may not have received his earlier one announcing Meredith's death. Here he notes that his fellow passenger, Henry Stanley, had received a letter in Cadiz that the bill to extend the franchise would be lost - an outcome they could 'barely credit'. When this younger son of the 13th Earl of Derby went missing on arrival in London some of the Stanley family suspected Disraeli of introducing him to a gambling den, an unfortunate development which coloured years of his working relationship with Lord Stanley, the future 14th Earl of Derby, and his predecessor as Conservative Prime Minister.
    • In this letter Bulwer Lytton sympathises over the loss of Wycombe and encourages Disraeli to consider standing where two candidates could be returned for the same party (as was then possible); after several more unsuccessful attempts Disraeli would be returned in 1837 for just such a constituency: Maidstone. Disraeli greatly valued Bulwer's intellectually stimulating friendship. The satirical Xion in Heaven, published in Bulwer's New monthly magazine in December 1832 and February 1833, is considered one of Disraeli's most original works.
    • In the summer of 1833 Disraeli met Sir Francis and Lady Sykes (d. 1846) and shortly afterwards began an affair with Henrietta. Sir Francis's property included Basildon Park in Berkshire (now a National Trust property), a setting for Henrietta Temple, the novel inspired by the affair and the pressing need to settle debts. Henrietta was aristocratic and sensuous and, as the references to 'A mother's kiss' (and 'your faithful and fond love') indicate, capable of meeting Disraeli's complex emotional needs. Their relationship was aided by Sir Francis's frequent absences abroad and complicated in the summer of 1834 by Henrietta introducing Disraeli to his future mentor, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst (1772-1863) with whom she later became involved. But it would be her affair with Disraeli's friend, the painter Daniel Maclise, which ended their relationship in December 1836 and subsequently threatened Disraeli's future.
    • Lord John Manners, later 7th Duke of Rutland (1818-1906), regarded by Disraeli as a future Prime Minister, risked the wrath of his father by allying with Disraeli, though he stopped short of total defiance. Smythe's best friend at Cambridge, he was the model for Lord Henry Sidney in Coningsby. Disinclined to attend a proposed public meeting in Birmingham - 'at Christmas time one ought to be at home, and really we have had enough of public meetings for one winter' - he reports in this October 1844 letter (fol. 10v) on the response of the gentry to their movement. Henry Lyster had criticised Disraeli's speech at Shrewsbury (Disraeli's constituency, 1841-7) without hearing it. Manners, with his interest in factory reform and allotments, moves on to compare English and Irish peasants and their holdings and the views of Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800-90), the great sanitary reformer.
    • Wearing his robes as Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
    • The portrait was formerly owned by Disraeli's nephew, Major Coningsby Disraeli.
    • In March 1859 Disraeli introduced a Second Reform Bill to extend the franchise, fulfilling a pledge made by Lord Derby at the opening of the 1859 session.
    • The Conservatives returned to power as a minority government in the summer of 1866. With Liberal plans for electoral reform derailed by the Conservatives combining with the 'Adullamite' Liberal opponents, the Conservatives were ready to exploit the situation. As Derby observes in his brief note of 6 February 1867 to Disraeli, again Chancellor of the Exchequer, the new parliamentary session had opened well, 'but they are very hot on reform without delay'. Disraeli's use of electoral reform to disadvantage the Liberals had been compared to another opportunist David (later 1st Earl), Lord George (1863-1945) [Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (London, 1995), p. 268. Jenkins quoting Blake quoting Beaverbrook on Lloyd George]. More recently his behaviour in 1867 had been likened to a 'basketful of eels' [Ibid., p. 270]. His opportunism combining with the political courage for which he was famous and his willingness to use reform to protect the 'aristocratic settlement' to which he was committed.


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