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A Year at Hartlebury or The Election (1834)

This book was jointly written by Benjamin Disraeli and his sister Sarah. Originally it was published under the pseudonyms of Cherry and Fair Star.

Hartlebury is the Disraeli home at Bradenham; Fanchester was in reality High Wycombe where Disraeli stood as candidate twice - unsuccessfully. It seems clear that the political comment in these extracts is Disraeli "thinking aloud" and is perhaps at least semi-autobiographical. This might explain why Disraeli never did acknowledge authorship of the book.

But with all this superficial appearance of triumph, the career of the new candidate was by no means so prosperous as it appeared. The Whig party at Fanchester was very strong. The oligarchy of the High Street were in general Whigs. Fanchester boasted of several considerable manufactories. Their masters, sleek sectarians of all denominations, who under the pretence of anti-slavery meetings, bible societies, and missions "to the heathen", were in fact always sapping the foundations of that church which was the only barrier against their barbarising creeds and customs again inundating the land, were all of course, supporters of the present administration, and full of what they called "gratitude" to Lord Grey. This click, though not numerous, was very powerful. Many a mortgage did they hold on the property of their less prosperous fellow-townsmen; many a small sum, at hard interest and short dates, were they in the habit of lending to the industrious without capital. This click hated Mr. Bohun. They hated him because he was a gentleman, they hated him because he had not a snub nose, because he was suspiciously curious in his linen, because his coat was not cut after their fashion, and because he rode thoroughbred horses: they hated him because he was always courteous to those over whom they tyrannised. No tyrants in the world like the sectarian oligarchy of a country town! A high Whig is at least grand in his haughtiness. He is a tyrant, but a tyrant on a great scale. He loves a coercion bill, he cares not how many infants may be sacrificed to the bloody Moloch of Manufacturing industry, but then he can talk of the bill of rights, and advocate the immediate emancipation of the Niggers; but a low Whig is the least human of all the combinations of human matter, for soul we cannot concede to those wretches with contracted minds and cold hearts. If ever a revolution come round in this once happy country, we may trace all our misery to the influence of the low Whigs. These are the real causes of Manchester massacres, though they are always abusing the magistracy; these are the men who, though they think they are only snuffing the candle in their own miserable hard-hearted parlours, are in fact lighting the torch of every incendiary in the kingdom. How the low Whigs did hate Mr. Bohun! They hated him with that intense predisposition of enmity, which cold-blooded, calculating, unsympathetic, selfish mortals always innately feel for a man of genius, a man whose generous and lively spirit always makes them ashamed of their dead, dunghill-like, existence.

Not knowing how to meet the electrical effect of Mr. Bohun, they all declared that he was insincere. Narrow-minded, short sighted people, who never act but from some gross impulse of immediate interest, unless their miserable minds can detect the quid pro quo of every act of your conduct, always consider you a Charlatan. But the truth is, it was not merely a generous and confident spirit that made Mr. Bohun our advocate, and a strenuous advocate of popular rights, and ever of their extension That he was ambitious there is no doubt, and who but fools are not ambitious? but he had too great a stake in the existing order of society to precipitate a revolution, though he intended to ride the storm, if the hurricane did occur. And this I think was his duty. It is the fashion now "to go along with the people", but I think the people ought to be led, ought to have ideas given them by those whom nature and education have qualified to govern states and regulate the conduct of mankind.

Whatever might have been Mr. Bohun's fancies when absent from his country, his keen brain, on his return, soon detected the spirit of the Reform Bill. He saw it was a Whig measure, and not a democratic one. He perceived that its only object was to destroy the balance of parties in the state, and that it intrenched in power a party who by the course of circumstances, had become pledged to an anti-national policy. Mr. Bohun cared nothing about the wretched struggle of factions, but he wished to be the subject of a great empire, and not to sink into the miserable citizenship of a second-rate island. He knew the Tories could never have remained so long in power, unless they had maintained a national policy: he knew the Whigs, in expelling them from their places, were bound to maintain an adverse system, and therefore he foresaw the dismemberment of the Empire. This was the reason he opposed the Whigs.

Mr. Bohun, with great talents, extensive experience, and a mind imbued with all the profound and comprehensive spirit of modern philosophy, was not insensible to the change which must occur in the relations between the governors and governed. As a theoretical politician, he admitted this change, perhaps in its greatest possible extent: as a practical politician, he thought it the duty of a great statesman only to effect that quantity of change in the country whose destiny he regulated which could be achieved with deference to its existing constitution. As a general principle, he considered the existing constitution the fair gauge of the civilization of a country and its capability of amelioration. As a statesman, he would have proposed measures for England which would have received his opposition in Spain, and he would have legislated for France very differently to what he was prepared to do for his own country.

Mr. Bohun considered the Whigs as a party of political swindlers, who had obtained power by false pretences. They had been permitted to enter office on the pretence of making those changes which the spirit of the age required: instead of effecting this purpose, their only object had been to root up the power of their opponents, and to destroy that happy balance of parties in the state, which in an aristocratic country is indispensible to the freedom and felicity of the mass. Mr. Bohun was of opinion that with the present machinery of the constitution, it was almost impossible to dislodge the Whigs from office, and as they were pledged to pursue an anti-national policy, he consequently considered the country in imminent peril. He was desirous of seeing a new party formed, which while it granted those alterations in our domestic policy which the spirit of the age required, should maintain and prosecute the ancient external policy by which the empire had been founded, and of this party he wished to place himself at the head a position which his high lineage his splendid fortune and his superior talents, justified him in contemplating. Deeming the dismemberment of the empire the necessary consequence of the Whigs long remaining in office, Mr. Bohun was of opinion that we should get rid of the Whigs at any price, and as he considered that result was impossible, according to the new constitution, he was the advocate of movement. Perceiving that the nomination of representatives, in the vast majority of the towns, was in the hands of the Sectarian low Whig Oligarchy, he thought that the only mode by which this barbarising power could be destroyed was to expand the Whig constituency into a national constituency. Mr. Molesworth and some of the old Tories denounced these doctrines as revolutionary, and thought Mr. Bohun mad, or only amusing his audience; but Mr. Molesworth, though a sensible man, spoke on this subject from prejudice, and not from thought.

The nucleus of the Tory party at Fanchester was the corporation. The corporation was most unpopular. Their chief was a jolly brewer a regular John Bull a member of the Pitt club, and an abhorrer of the French. He was unpopular as a mayor, but as a man was, nevertheless, the favourite of the town. The populace laughed even when they gave him a gentle hoot. He was a portly man, with a rubicund visage, very shrewd, and nothing of a bigot. He loved to go to church in state, with his robes and aldermen, his beadles and silver maces. He was the chief supporter of Sir George Vavasour, the Tory candidate, and held up his head, though no one knew better that Toryism was at a terrible discount. However, the jolly brewer always put a good face upon public affairs, and talked of "re-action". He had faith in the good common sense of Englishmen, and though he daily declared that the country had been irretrievably ruined by Catholic emancipation, and that for his part, he did not know where the constitution was, he was equally regular in his asseverations of his readiness to die for it any day of his life.

* * * * * * *

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Prigmore. "Fair play is the characteristic of (terrible hooting) Englishmen," shouted Mr. Prigmore at the height of his voice.

"That's noble," shouted Master Thorpe. "That's noble, Prigmore and fair play!"

"Hear him, hear him!" exclaimed many even of the Bohunites.

"We don't want him," responded others.

"We won't have him. We won't have him at no price. We don't want nothing of him."

"Go back to town."

"Book him an inside place!"

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Prigmore, and he put on his hat, and affected to retire.

"Don't let him retire," said Mr. Bohun. "Speak to the people Scroggin. Get him a hearing."

Mr. Scroggin jumped out on the portico of the Rose, and was received with a loud cheer. Scroggin loved to make a speech. There was comparative silence.

"Fellow townsmen," said Mr. Scroggin.  "It is the wish of Mr. Bohun that everyone should have fair play."

"That's noble!" exclaimed the Bohunites.

"That's noble!" echoed Master Thorpe.

Mr. Prigmore still continued standing with his hat on. In about five minutes there was a lull. Mr. Prigmore took his hat off. The clamour recommenced but more feeble.

"Hush! Hush!" said many of the leading Bohunites. "Hear him, hear him!"

And at length they did hear him. Mr. Prigmore was an acute, cold, fluent man. The Fanchester people thought him a great orator till they heard Mr. Bohun, because he was never at a loss for words, and spoke with authority on subjects which they did not comprehend. Mr. Prigmore was a barrister by calling; but the profession only masked the political adventurer. He commenced life as an extreme Radical, and wrote articles against Lords and Ladies in the Westminster Review. When the Whigs juggled themselves into office, Mr. Prigmore left off abusing the Aristocracy, and only anathematised the Tories. His political economy, and his brazen assurance had quite humbugged the Whigs, who are themselves the most ignorant people in the world of all those who presume to be statesmen. Prigmore got a commissionership in one of the numerous Whig jobs, wrote a pamphlet against Corporations dedicated to Lord Durham, whom he described in the dedication as the hope of the country, and in return was sent down by Mr. Ellice as the Government candidate for Fanchester with a special letter to the eminent low Whig manufacturer, Mr. Jenkins.

Mr. Prigmore amid occasional interruptions made a speech of three quarters of an hour length full of the usual common places of the click. Gratitude to Lord Grey, who had given the people "Reform", was the burthen of the song. The separate stanzas consisted of abuse of the Tories, praise of the Whigs, panegyrics of the great things they had done, promises of the great things they would do. Vague generalities about retrenchment, reform, reduction of expenditure, reduction of taxation, were mixed up with some attacks in details on the Corn Laws, corrupt corporations, and parson magistrates.

Now and then Thorpe raised a faint cheer, but the people listened with indifference and impatience. Mr. Jenkins who stood by the side of Mr. Prigmore, looked gloomy but firm. At length Mr. Prigmore put on his hat, and this was the only moment of dead silence which had occurred during the day.

At this moment Mr. Bohun, who was a perfect master of stage effect, stepped out on the portico of the Rose. An acclamation rent the skies. Individual exclamations were lost in the universal cheer. Nothing was seen but the waving of hats and handkerchiefs and flags, and Mr. Bohun's band of course immediately struck up "See the conquering hero!"

This was an opportunity Mr. Bohun had long courted. He had made so many speeches during the few days he had been a Candidate for Fanchester, that he really began to find some difficulty in discovering novel topics to vary his discourses. He longed to have an opponent to reply to, and now he had found one. Unhappy Prigmore, never was a man so scarified!

See also Disraeli's 'Lord Monmouth after the Reform Bill' from Coningsby (1844)


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