It is doubtful whether any of the great Victorian statesmen who made England the leading power in the 19th century could have passed a modern loyalty and security check. Gladstone’s habit of bringing trollops home to tea made him a security risk and the testimony of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting that they had to lock their doors during country weekends against the ardor of Lord Palmerston would have eliminated him. It is one of the principal merits of Robert Blake’s new “full” biography of Disraeli to bring alive the many episodes in Disraeli’s youth that would have given bulk to his security file and that were treated with excessive discretion in Monypenny and Buckle’s Life of Benjamin Disraeli the “official” standard biography, commissioned by the trustees of Disraeli’s estate, and completed in 1920.
The most important of these episodes was Disraeli’s open and notorious adultery with Lady Sykes carried on just when Disraeli first presented himself as candidate for election to the House of Commons. At least one other liaison, disastrous business speculations, resulting debts and entrapments by money sharks, and the authorship of indiscreet novels, to say nothing of an outlandish and “irresistibly comic” mode of dress, marked the early years of the “dandified young bounder” leading a life dominated by “society, love, debts, and literature.” But as Robert Blake recognizes, the credit for first unraveling the many obscurities in Disraeli’s early life must go to Professor B. R. Jerman’s highly readable book The Young Disraeli, published seven years ago. While Blake’s account is based on his own researches in Disraeli’s papers and not on secondary sources, Blake tells us nothing new about that young sinner whom Monypenny and Buckle kept under a bushel.
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