Monday, March 26, 2018

Gladstone versus Disraeli

Perhaps in my post from last Friday I assumed a knowledge of British politics that is not common on this side of the Atlantic and perhaps even not universal on the other side.  So a brief explanation.

William Gladstone was one of the great British statesmen of the Victorian age.  He was what we'd now think of as a Progressive.  His opposite number, at least equally great, was Benjamin Disraeli, a conservative.  

They apparently had a genuine dislike for each other and this made for some ferociously personal insults going back and forth.  Disraeli was always a little better at this.  A few classics:

"The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity."

"Inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination."

"He has not one single redeeming defect."
And there is that great, if apocryphal exchange between Disraeli and an unnamed Member of Parliament:*

"You sir, will certainly die either on the gallows or of the pox."

"That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

You just have to wonder how that sort of political language would have gone over in other times, in other places.  In America of the contemporary mid 1800s it may well have resulted in an invitation to meet with pistols at dawn.  In America of the current day it would have made Disraeli the King of Twitter.

But Gladstone had his moments too.  Here's  a cartoon of him showing Disraeli the door when replacing him as Prime Minister:

(image from the Hathi Digital Library Trust, Princeton University)

*It is a humorous quotation that had been kicking around for quite a while, and while Disraeli is certainly the kind of guy who would say things like this it is pretty clear that he was not the first one to do so....

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

I always had the impression that Disraeli did more of these. While conservative, he was much less straight laced than Gladstone. Also, IIRC, Queen Victoria quite liked Disraeli personally, and quite disliked Gladstone.