Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield
St George’s Hall, Lime Street, Liverpool
Not much happens in Benjamin Disraeli’s 1844 novel, Coningsby. The orphan of a marquis meets the son of a cotton manufacturer. Old and new money collide. It’s a snapshot of a political landscape, inspired by real events and real people. A snapshot of a newly-industrialized and newly-urbanized society that exploits its poorer members and denies them security and justice. The conflict between the new and the old, the industrial and the rural, the fair and the unfair shape all of Disraeli’s novels. Because they shaped his time. As well as being a novelist, Benjamin Disraeli was a politician, although his political career had got off to a faltering start. His first speech in the House of Commons in 1837 was largely booed and heckled, forcing Disraeli to stop speaking and take his seat. ‘Though I sit down now,’ he quipped, ‘the time will come when you hear me.’ He was right. As a politician, he was sympathetic to the plight of the poor, saying the rights of labour were ‘as sacred as the rights of property’, and he believed strongly that the aristocracy should use their influence to help those less fortunate than themselves. He became Britain’s first Jewish-born Prime Minister in 1868 and none of his earlier conviction wavered. There was the factory Act in 1874 to protect workers, the Employment and Workers Act in 1878 that improved the legal condition of trade unions and allowed employees to take their bosses to court, should the need arise, as well as public health acts, education acts, housing acts. All to benefit those less well off than him. Somehow, Disraeli also found time to write novels. Like Coningsby. Nurture your mind with great thoughts, he wrote in the third part of the book, To believe in the heroic makes heroes. Disraeli himself believed in the heroic. He also believed in accepting and facilitating change.