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D'ISRAELI, IsA.Ac (1766-1848), was born at Enfield in May 1766. He belonged to a, Jewish family which, having been driven by the Inquisition from Spain, towards the end of the 15th century, settled as merchants at Venice, and assumed the name which has become famous. In 1748 his father, then only about eighteen years of age, removecl to England, where, before passing the prime of life, he amassed a competent fortune, and retired from business. Both he and his wife gradually dropped con-nection with their co-religionists, with whom their son never appears to have associated himself.
• The strongly marked characteristics which determined D'Israeli's.career were displayed to a singular degree even in his boyhood. He spent his time over books, and in long day-dreams, and evinced the strongest distaste for business and all the more bustling pursuits of life. These idiosyn-cracies met with uo sympathy from either of his parents, whose ambitious plans for his future career they threatened to disappoint. At length, when he was about fourteen, in the hope of changing the bent of his mind, his father sent him to school at Amsterdam, where he remained four or five years. Here in the principal's library, and under the principal's influence, he studied Bayle and Voltaire, and became an ardent disciple of Rousseau. Here also he wrote a long poem against commerce, which he produced as an exposition of his opinions when, on his return to England, his father divulged his intention of placing him in a com-mercial house at Bordeaux. Against such a d.estiny his mind strongly revolted ; and, in this extremity, it was natural that he should eagerly seek- the sympathy and counsel of a literary friend. He carried his poem, with a letter earnestly appealing for advice and assistance, to Samuel Johnson; but when, full of eager hope, he called again a week after to receive an answer, the packet was returned unopened - the grand old censor .was on his death-bed. He also addressed a letter to Dr Vicesimus Knox, in a tone of the loftiest sentiment, displaying all his literary aspirations, his earnestness and simplicity of heart, and his utter lack of all the qualities of " that despicable thing " (as he called him) " a mere man of the 'world," and begging to be received into the scholar's family, that he might enjoy the benefit of his learning and ex-perience. How this application was answered we do not know. The evident firmness of his resolve, however, was not :without effect. His parents gave up their purpose for a time. He was sent to travel in France, and allowed to occupy him,self as he wished ; and he had the happiness of spending some months in Paris, in the society of literary men, and. devoted to the literary pursuits in which be delighted.
In the beginning of 1788 he returned home, being then a few months past his majority, to lay the first stone of his literary fame by an attack on Peter Pindar, under the form of a poein in the manner of Pope On the Abuse of Satire. Published, as it was, at a most appropriate moment, it at once attained popularity. Its authorship became the great subject of debate in literary- circles, and it was attribnted by some to Hayley, upon whom it was actually revenged, with characteristic savageness, by its victim. It is greatly to Wolcott's cre,dit that, sensitive though he was to attacks upon himself, he at once, on learninc, his mistake, sought the acquaintance of his young opponent, towards whom he Senn to have borne no malice, and whose friend lie remained to the end of his life. But of all the fortunate issues of this success not the least fortunate was that it brought D'Israeli what he had so long earnestly desired-- the friendship of a refined man of letters. Through it he made the acquaintance of Henry James Pye, who helped to persuade his father that it would be a mistake to force him into a business career, and who introduced him into literary circles. Henceforth his life was passed in the way he best likeds - in quiet and almost uninterrupted study. His health was for the most part sufficiently robust, though he was for some yeaiss the victim of a nervous depression and weakness, which came upon him when he was abont twenty-eight years of age, and which doubtless was chiefly- caused by his sedentary habits. He was able to maintain his strenuous a,nd extraordivary devotion to study till he reached the advanced age of seventy-two, when, though still in the enjoyment of unimpaired health, and in the very midst of what would have been his greatest undertaking, he was forced, by paralysis of the optic nerve, to give up work almost entirely. He lived ten years longer, and his death which took place at his seat at Bradenham House on the 19th January 1848, was due not to old age but to an epidemic which carried him off after a few hours' illness.
Isaac D'Israeli is most celebrated as the author of the Curiosities of Literature, by far the best and most popular of all the many works of the kind which have appeared in England. It is a miscellany of literary and historical anecdotes, of original critical remarks, and of interesting and curious information of all kinds, animated by genuine literary feeling, taste, and enthusiasm. The first volume was published anonymously in 1791 ; and it immediately attained the popularity it deserved. Two years later it was followed by a, second volume ; it was not, however, till the lapse of twenty-four years that the third made its appearance. Three other volumes were subsequently added, and in the later editions the first two volumes were much improved. With the Curiosities of Literature may be appropriately classed D'Israeli's Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations (1796), the Calantities of Authors (1812), and the Quarrels of Authors (1814). Towards the close of his life D'Israeli formed the project of embodying his wide knowledge of English literature in a continuous history ; loss of sight, however, prevented him from publishing more than three volumes, which appeared in 1811 under the title of the Amenities of Literature. But of all his literary works the most interesting and delightful is his Essay on the Literary Character (1795), which, like most of his writings abounds in illustrative anecdotes. His contribu-tion to t'he famous "Pope controversy " - in which Bowles and Hazlitt so vigorously attacked, and Byron and Campbell so vigorously asserted, the poetical merit and personal worth of the great poet of the 18th century, - a defence of Pope contained in a criticism of Spence's Anecdotes contributed to the Quarterly Review (July 1820) - is of interest, both as indicating the nature of his critical views, and as founded upon elaborate study of the life and era of the poet. lle also published a slight sketch of Jewish history, and especially of the growth of the Talmud, entitled the Genius of Judaism, as well as a few poet-11s in imitation of Pope, and several novels.
He was, besides, the author of two historical works--a brief defenco of the literary merit and personal and political character of James I. (1816), and a work. of considerable research and magnitude entitled a Commentary On the Life and Reign of King Charles I. (1828-31). The latter work was recognized by the University of Oxford, 3.1 hich con-ferred upon the author the honorary degree of D.C.L. As an historian D'Israeli is distinguished by two characteris-tics. In the first place, he had small interest in polities, and no sympathy with the.passionate fervour, or adequate appreciation of the importance, of political struggles. And, secondly, with a laborious zeal then less common than now among historians, he sought to bring to light fresh historical material by patient search for letters, diaries, and other manuscripts of value which had escaped the notice of previous students. Indeed, the honour has been claimed for him of being one of the founders of the modern school of historical research, whose patient labours have thrown so much light upon important. events and characters.
Of the amiable personal character and the placid life of Isaac D'Israeli a charming picture is to be found in the brief memoir prefixed to the Curiosities of Literature, by his sou the earl of Beaconsfield, from which the following may be quoted : - Isaac D'Israeli " was a complete literary character, a man who really passed his life in his library He disliked business, and he never required relaxation ;. he was absorbed in his pursuits. In London his only amusement was to ramble among book-sellers ; if he entered a club, it was only to go into the library. In the country he scarcely ever left his room but to saunter in abstraction upon a terrace, muse over a chapter, or coin a, sentence He had by nature a. singular volatility which never deserted him. His feelings, though always amiable, were not painfully deep, and amid joy or sorrow, the philosophic vein was ever evident. He more resembled Goldsmith than any man I can compare him to ; in his conversation, his apparent confusion of ideas ending with some felicitous phrase of genius, his nai-vete, his simplicity not untouched with a dash of sarcasm affecting innocence - one was often reminded of the gifted and interesting friend of Burke and Johnson. There was, however, one trait in which my father did not resemble Goldsmith ; he had no vanity. Indeed one of his few infirmities was rather a deficiency in self-esteem."