Benjamin Disraeli has always fascinated me. He was the only British prime minister of Jewish ancestry although he converted to the Anglican Church at age twelve. In class conscious England during the 19th Century, his rise seems unimaginable. Yet despite being a dandy, an author, and not attending the elite schools, he led the Conservative or Tory Party and vied for political leadership against William Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party or Whigs. The aristocratic Gladstone possessed a proper education, gilded upbringing, and a pronounced arrogance.
They were dynamic politicians who hated each other, but the rivalry made for incisive witticisms. Just as Winston Churchill is renown for his humorous repartee, Disraeli included a subtle sense of humor with his eloquent speeches. The jokes usually were hurled at Gladstone’s expense. I’m sure you have heard some of them, but the remarks still remain amusing and immortal.
On a political campaign, Disraeli was asked: “How would you describe Mr. Gladstone?”
Disraeli replied: “He is a young, sophisticated rhetorician who is inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”
On another occasion, Disraeli was asked what was the difference between a misfortune and a calamity. He said, “If Mr. Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; and if anybody pulled him out, that would be a calamity.”
Once at a social gathering, Gladstone said to Disraeli, “I predict that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease”.
Disraeli replied, “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”
Mr. Disraeli coined many wise phrases and aphorisms that apply to today’s political environment such as, “Ignorance never settles a question,” and “It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.”
And finally, another engaging comment: The recently appointed bishop to the Court of Queen Victoria was very keen to make a grand impression with his first sermon and asked Disraeli for advice. “How long, Mr. Prime Minister, do you think my sermon should last?” he inquired.
“A most perplexing question to answer,” said Disraeli.
“Generally, I should say that if you preach for forty minutes, Her Majesty will be satisfied; for thirty minutes, she will be delighted; if you preach for only fifteen minutes, Her Majesty will be enthusiastic.”