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It will be observed that all these caustic and witty sallies move within the same circle. It is Peel's passion for appropriating the ideas of others that is ridiculed, his want of originality and principle, his betrayal of the party which had raised him to power, and to which he had pledged his word; but of the essence of the subject, the real question of the right of the aristocratic landowners to tax all England for the benefit of the farmers, there is little or nothing. It is more than probable that Disraeli, even in 1845, foresaw the perils, now coming to the front, which threatened English agriculture from competition with America, but in the Parliamentary debates he dealt exclusively with the formal aspect of the question, the renegade conduct of Sir Robert Peel.

Meanwhile, the real question was becoming more urgent. Simultaneously with the failure of the harvest in 1845, in England and Scotland, the potato disease broke out in Ireland, and threatened the wretched population with famine. Under these circumstances, the measure first proposed of admitting corn free from the colonies was insufficient; the Anti-Corn Law League agitated the question to the utmost; the Whig leaders, who had previously advocated a moderate Corn Law, openly declared for absolute and immediate abolition; a large assembly in Dublin declared the adhesion of the Irish to the

Free Trade programme; and finally, civil war was at the doors. Sir Robert Peel then, in January, 1846, laid a Bill before the Lower House for the total abolition of the duty on corn, which, after vehement debates for months in both Houses, passed into law.

Peel still maintained his position, but his power was shattered. The details relating to his situation and that of his opponents may be seen in Lord Beaconsfield's "Life of Lord George Bentinck." His opponents had hoped to the last moment that the Bill would be thrown out in the Lords; but as this hope was frustrated, in great measure by the conversion of the Duke of Wellington, hope, as Lord Beaconsfield confesses with the candour of Contarini Fleming, was succeeded by revenge. "The battle itself was lost, but he who by his treachery had caused the defeat should at all events suffer for it."

A whole Parliamentary recess was, as is stated in the "Life of Bentinck," spent in devising plans to turn Peel out, and in that life the bold intrigues may be traced by which his fall was at last effected by the author of "Vivian Grey," through the instrumentality of the fanatical and unscrupulous Lord George Bentinck, on whom he could fully rely. The final plan adopted was as shabby as it was effectual; it consisted in inducing Lord George Bentinck, as

leader of the Tories, and Lord John Russell, as leader of the Whigs, to join in opposing Peel's Bill in the interests of public safety in Ireland, on the second reading, both Lords having, on the first reading, promised their "sincere and hearty support." This desperate measure was effectual. In June, 1846, Sir Robert Peel was in a minority, and laid down his portfolio.

A man who, like Lord George Bentinck, only assumed the leadership of the Tories against his will and for a time, was not likely to take Peel's place with his former followers. He was, both by birth and family connection, as brother-in-law of Canning, no less than from his liberal religious opinions, a Whig, and had only joined the Tories from interest in the corn duties. He had been besides, from his youth upwards, above all things, a sportsman, and when he entered the House late in the evening, his red hunting-coat was carelessly concealed by a light grey paletot. Then he was a hesitating and laborious speaker. Through him, and, so to speak, as his mouthpiece, Disraeli now led the Tory party for about a year, until, in 1847, Lord George Bentinck withdrew from the leadership, as it appears from disapproval of Disraeli's arguments about the Bill for the emancipation of the Jews. He argued, as usual, for Semiticism, instead of, as Bentinck wished, in favour of the principle of relig

ious liberty. For a short period, the clique of Tory Protectionists, who had fallen with Peel, were without a leader, for they rebelled against acknowledging as their chief the commoner of Jewish extraction and dubious notoriety when second in command, and who had been formerly a Radical; but by the sudden death of Lord George Bentinck, in 1848, Disraeli became the actual advocate as well as the elected leader of the party, and had thus surmounted the first arduous steps on the path to power.

Up to this time, although leader of the landowners, he had represented the borough of Shrewsbury in Parliament. It was necessary to put an end to this absurd position. At the request of numerous electors, he offered himself as a candidate for Buckinghamshire, in which county he had become a landowner by the purchase of the estate of Hughenden Manor. In 1847 he was elected member for the county, by a large number of votes, and continued to represent it until 1876, when he retired from the House of Commons.

CHAPTER XVII.

"TANCRED."

IN Lord Beaconsfield's "Life of Bentinck," there is a passage referring to Peel, in penning which he was obviously thinking of himself. "An aristocracy hesitates before it yields its confidence, but it never does so grudgingly. . . . An aristocracy is rather apt to exaggerate the qualities and magnify the importance of a plebeian leader.” *

Do these words state a fact or express a wish and a hint? The new leader was evidently followed with reluctance, sometimes almost with aversion. It was his descent that stood most in his way; on every collision with those around him, it had been brought up against him, and so it would surely be in the future. Disraeli's object was, therefore, to attack the prejudice against the Jewish race once for all, and so thoroughly to put an end to it, that, at all events, as a Christian prejudice, it should forever be reduced to an absurdity.

A vigorous attack had been made upon it in

* "Life of Lord George Bentinck," p. 318.

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