The year 1826-27 marked one of the crucial events in the development of the English novel. In that year two young men, inordinately ambitious for preeminence in the social and political spheres, decided that fiction was to be their key to the adamant portals. They realized that the novel could be made fashionable.
In spite of vast differences in antecedents, the two young men were embarking on amazingly parallel careers. Edward Lytton Bulwer was the descendent of unequivocally English stock, tracing through both parents a pedigree of “county families” back to the Norman conquest or further; whereas Benjamin Disraeli came of a Jewish family which had migrated from Spain to Venice in the Inquisition days and of which the first immigrant to England was his grandfather. Believers in heredity, however, are disgruntled by the fact that from such diverse ancestries came two men whose lives were so alike. The chief difference was in their marital relations. The son of sturdy English patricians married at the age of twenty-four a beautiful Irish girl of the same age, with whom he had fallen in love at first sight, and the sequel was a life-long torture of bitterness and recrimination, displayed without reserve to the eyes of a censorious public. The son of bizarre Oriental nomads was thirty-five when he married a widow twelve years his senior, whom he had described after their first meeting as “that insufferable woman”; and their devoted fidelity to one another as long as she lived was proverbial.
Bulwer was nineteen months the elder, and first distinguished himself in the traditional undergraduate activities at Cambridge, while Disraeli after quitting private school at fifteen had devoted himself to solitary reading; but by 1825, when they had both reached their majority, they were already equally famous for personal beauty., witty conversation, exquisite dandyism in dress, and literary promise. As disciples of Byron, they had both begun with publishing poetry; then simultaneously, it would appear, and independently, they flung themselves on the diffident muse of fiction.
At the moment, the novel was in dire need of novelty. The impetus of historical romance was moribund, and the refined feminine novel was reduced from Miss Austen to Miss Ferrier and Mrs. Gore.
Into this stagnating backwater “Vivian Grey” was hurled with a resounding splash. Disraeli happened to be able to supply just what was most lacking, and his publishers advertised him nobly. They announced the anonymous novel as “extremely satirical,” with “portraits of living characters sufficient to constitute a National Gallery”; above all, they described it as “a sort of Don Juan in prose.” The horde of Byron-worshippers found in it the approved admixture of cynical epigram, amorous intrigue, and convention-defying assurance; while the other portion of the reading public, which scorns poetry, enjoyed in it the detail and reality which prose alone can provide. The brilliant dialogue was eminently quotable; the vigorous opinions could provoke immediate argument; and the impudent sketches of celebrities clamored to be identified. The highest social circles had the new thrill of seeing themselves depicted in fiction; the rest of the public revelled in the chance of vicariously entering that interdicted territory.
The first section of “Vivian Grey” appeared in April, 1826, and a second half in March, 1827. Simultaneously with the latter came Bulwer’s first novel, “Falkland,” but it was far less successful in hitting the popular taste. He, too, found his model in Byron, but his was not the Byron of “Don Juan.” The overstrained emotions, misanthropic gloom, and defiance of orthodox morality, unrelieved by wit or common sense, went back to “Manfred” and “Childe Harold”; in many respects, indeed, it derived from a still earlier landmark of the romantic debauch of sentiment, Goethe’s “Werther.” Morbidity, however, was out of style in 1827; the book was reviled by, the prudish, but ignored by the fashionable, and for the moment any comparison of its author’s career with Disraeli’s would have seemed absurd.
A breakdown in health, however, and a prolonged Childe Harold’s pilgrimage in search of a cure, occupied Disraeli during the next three years, leaving Bulwer in undisputed possession of the field. As a result, his second novel, “Pelham,” published in May, 1828, inherited the place of “Vivian Grey” in the public eye. Indeed, if we did not know that it had been drafted in 1825, we would suspect that it was definitely modeled on the other successful book. In both, the inner circle of current political and social life is depicted with witty satire and many recognizable caricatures; in both, the hero conceals dogged ambition and unrelenting hard work, with political supremacy as an object, under a mask of dandyism and dilettante charm. Disraeli’s book might achieve flashes of more penetrating satire, but Bulwer’s had two or three more years of experience behind it, as well as the earnestness which had dominated “Falkland,” so it came closer to actual life than Disraeli’s persistent flippancy had done.
Bulwer had three more novels to his credit before Disraeli returned to the contest in 1831, but during the decade that followed they ran neck and neck, their novels being interspersed with political and social treatises, poetry, and plays. The veiy, titles of their books were so much alike as to be interchangeable. Few people can say off-hand with certainty which wrote “Kenelm Chillingly” and which “Contarini Fleming,” which “The Young Duke” and which “The Disowned,” which “Devereux,” “Godolphin,” “Con-ingsby,” or “Lothair.” The same cachet of aristocratic elegance is on them all.
Toward the end of the decade, Bulwer turned to drama, and was immensely successful with “The Lady of Lyons” in 1838 and “Richelieu” in 1839. In the latter year Disraeli brought out “The Tragedy of Count Alarcos,” but its complete failure deterred him from further ambitions for the stage.
By this time both had discovered that to ride two horses at once was not so easy as it had appeared in their confident youth. Literature had been with them frankly but a mounting block to a political career, and it served its purpose. Bulwer was elected a member of parliament in 1831. Disraeli first contested a seat in 1832, but had to wait five years before he gained an election. Once installed in parliament, both showed ability which marked them for rapid advancement, entailing responsibilities that would leave little time for authorship. One career or the other would have to be subordinated, reduced to an avocation. Disraeli, who had declared years before his determination to become Prime Minister, hesitated little in making his choice. His financial straits having been relieved by his marriage, he threw himself violently into the maelstrom of party intrigue, emerged as chancellor of the exchequer in 1852, and in 1868 achieved the higher office that had been for so long his goal. By terrific hard work he succeeded in producing an important trilogy of novels in 1844-47, with the definite purpose of making them a manifesto of his political principles, and thereafter deserted fiction till his old age, when he brought forth “Lothair” and “Endymion.”
Bulwer, meanwhile, had taken the other path. Not oniy was he still financially embarrassed, with his estranged wife’s extravagance added to his own, but also he had become convinced of his preeminence in literature. The versatility of his experiments equalled the industry with which he produced them. Not content with his overwhelming successes in fiction and drama, he aspired to write the great epic of England, and laboriously completed “King Arthur,” in the inevitable twelve books; it was almost as bad as Disraeli’s even more ambitious “Revolutionary Epic” which was to be an allegory of the whole modern world and which never got beyond the first three cantos, although he always cherished the intention of completing it in thirty thousand lines. Satiric poems, essays, translations, all flowed from Bulwer’s pen, and yet in his first vehicle, the novel, he was constantly trying out new effects. A whole new theory of historical fiction, replacing Scott’s “picturesque” method with an “intellectual” method designed to reveal the prevailing influences of the era depicted; a refurbishing of the tale of horror with corroborative details drawn from scientific psychology; the application of realistic technique to Utopian imaginings; these are only three of his innovations which established lasting modes in fiction. Compared to such achievements, political leadership no longer seemed the supreme aim. As early as 1835, therefore, he declined Lord Melbourne’s office of a minor post in the government, and six years later he retired from parliament with little regret, to devote eleven years of his prime to literature alone. From 1852 to 1866 he was again a member, and in 1858 rose to cabinet rank as secretary for the colonies, with Disraeli as a colleague. He filled his office ably enough, but unfortunately his persecution by his wife was at its most frightful crisis, and the mental strain was so devastating that he was obliged to withdraw. In 1866 a life-long ambition was gratified by his elevation to the peerage as Lord Lytton of Knebworth, and in 1873 he died.
The closing years of the two men were as similar as their debuts had been, save that Disraeli, who became Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876, outlived his friend by eight years. Both were solitary old men, with few affectionate relatives or intimate friends, tortured by painful disease, wandering between their vast lonely country houses and the West End scenes of their first triumphs. Much honor was paid them, but they were spectres from another age.
The personal relationship between them was always cordial, and reflected credit on both. In spite of the close similarity between their works, there was never a breath of jealousy on either side; indeed, Disraeli remarked of Bulwer, in a letter to Lady Blessington, “he is the only literary man whom I do not abominate and despise.” They first met when Bulwer submitted some questions to the recognized compendium of obscure and trivial literary facts, the author of the “Curiosities of Literature.” Always generous to inquirers, Isaac Disraeli invited the young author to his country home, Bradenham, where he introduced his son to him. Early in 1829, “Disraeli the Younger” went out of his way to improve the acquaintanceship; having picked up at a sale a copy of Bulwer’s first book of p »ems, he sent it to him, accompanied by what the recipient described to his wife as “a most curious note” which he intended to “keep as a curiosity.” He acknowledged it, however, with flattering remarks about “the brilliant, and almost unrivalled promise” of Disraeli’s works; and a few months later we find him inviting Disraeli to visit him.
Disraeli submitted the manuscript of his second novel to Bulwer for criticism, which was frankly given and attentively received; and a little later, when Bulwer became editor of the New Monthly Magazine, Disraeli was one of the first whom he asked to contribute, and at the highest rates of payment.
It was not only on the literary side, however, that the advantages of the friendship were at this period entirely in Disraeli’s favor. Hereditary claims ensured a place for Bulwer in the most dazzling social and intellectual circles, where the young Jew was admitted only on sufferance for his audacious wit and decorative poses. It was at the salon established by Bulwer and his young wife in Hertford Street, Mayfair, that he met nearly all the celebrities of the day, and had an opportunity to impress them with his talents. At his first dinner there, before his Mediterranean trip, his fellow-guests were Thomas Moore, Washington Irving, and John Gait; a couple of years later he became a regular frequenter, meeting Lord Strangford, Lord Mulgrave, Count d’Orsay, James Morier, Lady Morgan, Mrs. Norton, Miss Landon, Mrs. Gore, and Mrs. Wyndham Lewis, whom he described as “a pretty little woman, a flirt, and a rattle; indeed, gifted with a volubility I should think unequalled.” She later made him known to her husband, who eventually procured for him his long-sought election to parliament, and shortly afterwards, by dying, provided him with a wife.
By more direct channels, also, Bulwer aided his friend’s political progress. When he first contested a seat, at High Wycombe in 1832, Bulwer stumped the constituency for him, and he also obtained letters of commendation from such prominent public men as Daniel O’Connell and Joseph Hume. Five years later, when Disraeli’s maiden speech in parliament was a ludicrous failure, Bulwer showed remarkable tact in solacing his humiliation; having overheard some aspects of the speech praised, and the speaker’s future eminence prophesied, by R. S. Sheil, an outstanding parliamentarian of the time, he promptly invited Sheil and Disraeli to meet at dinner, and the older man’s praise, accompanied by very practical advice, did much to restore Disraeli’s self-respect.
Over and above all these definite services, there was the comradeship which arises from natural affinity. Disraeli writes to hir, sister in the summer of 1832: “On Friday I shall pitch my tent in the green retreats of Bradenham, and Bulwer accompanies me. He wants absolute retirement really to write, and all that. He is to do what he likes, and wander about the woods like a madman. I am anxious that he and my father should become better acquainted. Our sire never had a warmer votary.” Next winter they spent several days together in Bath, ostensibly for change of air and a chance to work, but incidentally to receive the adulation of the city, which, for generations a resort of the dandies, was suitably excited by having two such noted ones at once. A good epitome of their relationship occurs in a letter written by, Disraeli about this time to apologize for some outburst of petulance occasioned by a crisis in “certain domestic annoyances.” He ended by saying, “my dear E. L. B., our friendship has stood many tests. If I analyse the causes, I would ascribe them in some degree to a warm heart on my side and a generous temper on yours. Then let it never dissolve, for my heart shall never grow cold to you, and be yours always indulgent to your affectionate friend, Dis.” Tangible proof of this loyalty appeared in later years, when the balance of importance was shifted, making Disraeli the patron. It was under his influence that Bulwer changed his political allegiance from the Liberal to the Conservative party, it was he who gave help and encouragement during the difficult year in office as Colonial Secretary, and it was through his nomination that Bulwer received his peerage.
Although their later work was, on the whole, more mature and artistically excellent, their chief significance in English literature rests with the fiction of their first ten years of authorship, ending in 1887 with Bulwer’s double-novel, “Ernest Maltravers” and “Alice,” and Disraeli’s “Venetia.” Thereafter Bulwer transferred his activity for a few years to play-writing, and Disraeli turned all his energy to politics. When they resumed the practice of fiction, early in the next decade, it was with new purposes and moods. Between 1827 and 1837, however, their pioneering was completed; by the end of that time they had made the novel patrician, sponsored it in every salon of the country, and trained a corps of substitutes eager to carry on their work.
In order to realize their importance, one must perceive how completely at the outset of their careers they represented the fullest efflorescence of the Romantic Movement, in its most popular manifestation. They exhibited an obvious descent through Byron from Goethe’s “Werther” and Rousseau’s “Emile.” In this aspect, Romanticism was primarily the art of self-exploitation, the individualism which expresses itself in sensual indulgence and ostentatious eccentricity. As such, it was not confined to the arts, but found its exponents also in social life, led by George, the Prince Regent, “first gentleman of Europe,” and sustained by the mob of “Corinthians” with Beau Brummell as their chief. On this model Disraeli and Bulwer formed themselves, calling attention to their physical beauty by gorgeous dress and studied poses, dominating conversation with cynical epigrams, hinting at their sophistication in affairs of the heart.
Although allowing to the drawing-rooms of Belgravia only a fraction of their time, they were runners-up for the leadership of the beaux, defeated only, by Count d’Orsay, who gave his whole attention to it. A typical picture of Bulwer is to be found in his wife’s autobiography, when she describes their first meeting. “He was resplendent with French polish—as far as boots went. His cobweb cambric shirt-front was a triumph of lace and embroidery, a combination never seen in this country till six or seven years later (except on babies’ frocks); studs, too, were then non est, but a perfect galaxy glittered down the center of this fairy-like lingerie. His hair, which was really golden and abundant, he wore literally in long ringlets that almost reached his shoulders. Poor d’Orsay’s linen gauntlets had not yet burst upon the London world; but Mr. Lytton Bulwer had three inches of cambric encircling his coat cuffs, and fastened with jewelled sleeve-links. He also dangled from his ungloved and glittering right hand a somewhat gorgeously jewel-headed ebony cane, and the dangling was of the scientific kind.” The gossip-mongering American visitor, N. P. Willis, testified to the same effect, adding: “His head is phrenologically a fine one. His forehead retreats very much, but is very broad and well marked, and the whole air is that of decided mental superiority. His nose is aquiline, and far too large for proportion, though he conceals its extreme prominence by an immense pair of red whiskers, which entirely, conceal the lower part of his face in profile.” There are repeated references to his supercilious manner, with a drawling voice and an air of Olympian superiority, which roused many of his literary rivals to frenzy. Thackeray, for example, assailed him repeatedly with vicious satire, in the transparent disguise of “Lord Bulwig.”
Disraeli was an equally resplendent figure, with an added touch of oriental vividness. The sprightly Willis may be quoted again: “He sat in the window, with the last rays of daylight reflected from the gorgeous gold flowers of a splendidly embroidered waistcoat, Patent leather pumps, a white stick, with a black cord and tassel, and a quantity, of chains about his neck and pockets, served to make him a conspicuous object. He has one of the most remarkable faces I ever saw. He is lividly pale, and but for the energy of his action and the strength of his lungs, would seem a victim to consumption. His eye is black as Erebus, and has the most mocking and lying-in-wait sort of expression conceivable. His mouth is alive with a kind of working and impatient nervousness, and when he has burst forth, as he does constantly, with a particularly successful cataract of expression, it assumes a curl of triumphant scorn that would be worthy of a Mephistopheles. His hair is as extraordinary as his taste in waistcoats. A thick heavy mass of jet black ringlets falls over his left cheek almost to his collarless stock, while on the right temple it is parted and put away with the smooth carefulness of a girl’s, and shines most unctuously with macassar oil.” We read elsewhere of him walking up Regent Street in a blue surtout, light blue trousers, and black stockings with red stripes; or dining with Bulwer in green velvet trousers, a canary-colored waistcoat, silver shoe-buckles, and lace at his wrists. Lady Dufferin saw him at a dinner party in a black velvet coat lined with satin, purple trousers with a gold band running down the outside seam, a scarlet waistcoat, long lace ruffles falling down to the tips of his fingers, and white gloves with several brilliant rings outside them. Bulwer seems to have been inhibited by his austere British ancestry from abandoning himself to quite such barbaric plumage.
Both being such devoted adherents of the Regency, beau monde, it was natural that their first literary model should be the laureate of that society, Lord Byron. Although he had not been in England since they were schoolboys, the circle in which they moved was still agitated by his recently terminated exploits. Their close association with his intimates may be exemplified by the case of Lady Caroline Lamb, who had been Byron’s first celebrated inamorata. Bulwer fell violently in love with her while still in his teens, oblivious of her being more than twice his age, and made her the heroine of at least two unfinished romances, although her only appearance in his published work was in the less flattering character of an unnamed lady of forty-five, who flirts with the hero of “Godolphin.” Disraeli also came within her orbit, but was apparently, less impressed; he gave her the important role of Mrs. Felix Lorraine in his first novel, as well as including her, of necessity, in “Venetia,” the story which he wove around the career of Byron, wherein she is called Lady Monteagle.
The literary standards of their friends and patrons being determined exclusively by Byron, they naturally imitated him slavishly in their first writings. Bulwer’s “Weeds and Wildflowers” is a twin to “Hours of Idleness,” and Disraeli’s “Modern Dunciad” faithfully echoes “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” They had mastered well the popular note, but so had scores of others, and they were not particularly distinguishable in the crowd.
In one respect, however, they differed from the others. Beneath the two elegant exteriors lurked a ravenous ambition, which pursued more worldly, objects, and recognized more practical weapons, than Byron’s desire for gloomy fame. Neither was wealthy enough by inheritance to maintain a position in the brilliant circles which had admitted them, and to which their inclinations impelled them. Bulwer subsisted on an allowance from his mother, which was withdrawn when he married against her wishes; Disraeli was deep in debt before he was twenty-one, as a result of injudicious speculation, and the danger of arrest hung over him for many years. If they were to hold a place in the extravagant province of Belgravia, they must earn copious money by some gentlemanly method; if they were to advance toward political prominence, they must first catch the public attention. Obviously, their literary talents must be turned to account.
They, did not need much time for discovering that poetry would not serve. Even in Byron’s lifetime the enthusiasm which greeted his early rhymed romances was diminishing. What he would have done had his career been prolonged must remain a problem for fantasy, but it is significant that his last extended poem conformed in all respects to the traditional model of the English novel, being episodic, picaresque, satiric, digressive, intermittently realistic, and interminably long. Remembering that Scott was forty-three when he turned, under pressure of waning success, from poetic narration to prose, one cannot help wondering whether Byron, had he lived to the same age, would not have done likewise, and proffered a rival to “Contarini Fleming” and “Godolphin.” Formed by analogy, one’s concept of that hypothetical first novel of Byron’s proves to be indistinguishable from those and the other works of his two disciples.
The essence of their achievement is that they mated the Byronic romance, which was moribund, with the realistic novel, which was stagnant, and propagated a lively offspring. The social furore aroused by the new literary type was unprecedented. AH the young men of fashion quoted and imitated the epigrams of Vivian Grey and Henry Pelham, studied their mannerisms, extolled their charm. One of the fashions established by “Pelham” has survived for a century: the hero’s mother remarked in a letter to him, “you look best in black, which is a great compliment, for people must be very distinguished in appearance to do so”; and straightway all the dandies discarded their colored coats and adopted black for formal evening wear. Even Bulwer’s vanity could scarcely have foreseen that a hundred years later, in Turkey, and Japan and California, millions of men would be docilely obeying his casual dictum.
The traits which Bulwer and Disraeli inherited from By-ronic romanticism were obvious enough. One was self-glorification—the subordinating of the whole story to a central figure who was unmistakably an idealized version of the author himself. Even without any extraneous knowledge of the authors’ careers, one could not fail to recognize in the delineation of Vivian Grey and Contarini Fleming, of Falkland, Pelham, and Godolphin, that paternal sympathy which poets and novelists reserve for their self-portraits. The limitations of actuality fade, and the writer shows himself as he longs to be. Vivian Grey, scarcely out of his teens, yet the trusted political adviser of statesmen and the courted cavalier of great ladies; the Young Duke, plunging into lurid dissipation and suddenly amazing the nation by becoming a brilliant administrator; Pelham, “the glass of fashion and the mould of form,” secretly but assiduously acquiring both the mental and physical powers to make himself preeminent in serious affairs; they are identical in outline with their creators, and differ only in the more melodramatic rapidity and completeness of their successes.
The essentially romantic idea of the superman is also noteworthy. All these heroes are of the Faust model in seeking not only all knowledge, but all sensual experience as well. They are simultaneously poets and men of the world, scholars and men of action, lovers and misogynists. They have read everything, travelled everywhere, sampled every emotion. Scorning the average citizen, they regard it as a favor to consort with even the greatest of their contemporaries. The conventions of ordinary, behaviour are beneath the contempt of such extraordinary beings.
The outcome of such versatility is a restless oscillation between overwrought emotion and disillusioned cynicism. Category-mongers are sometimes distressed by the fact that the ultra-romantic Byron employs satire as freely as the ultra-classic Pope. The difference, of course, is that Pope’s satire was the consistent expression of a logical splenetic mind, whereas Byron’s was emotional dyspepsia, the revulsion caused by indulgences which were themselves highly vulnerable to satire. These fluctuations from violent eruptions of personal emotion to perverse attacks on all orthodox standards formed the “diabolism” by which Byron and his followers shocked and thrilled the public. Enough of it remained in the early novels of Bulwer and Disraeli to revive that thrill.
As a background for this romantic individualism, they used much of the romantic paraphernalia. Distant and picturesque settings were introduced whenever possible, Italy, being much favored, with occasional excursions as far as the Levant, all distinctly reminiscent of Childe Harold. Mediaeval times also had their appeal, and Bulwer’s “Lelia” or Disraeli’s “Alroy” and “The Rise of Iskander” could pass as prose sequels of “Lara” and “The Corsair.” The supernatural, too, whether as mysterious psychological phenomena or as the more robust spooks of the tale of terror, attracted both of them, particularly Bulwer.
On the other hand, their adoption of the novel as a medium involved other traits which were not at all romantic. Prose depicts the speech and behaviour of human beings very much more plausibly than verse, and moreover the whole tradition of English fiction tended toward social criticism. Above all, there was the ulterior motive of their writing, the ambition for a public career; the elements of melodramatic romance in their books attracted popular attention, but something more substantial must be included to convince the discriminating of the authors’ importance.
As a matter of fact, the special model to which their early books conformed was established by another writer, now almost forgotten. A successful politician named Robert Ward turned in middle age to writing fiction, and in 1825 published “Tremaine, or The Man of Refinement,” which won a notable success because of its painstaking representation of contemporary society. The book was long-winded, formal in diction, and cumbrous in plot, but the long and earnest debates on theological and political problems, and the varied sketches of county society, Oxford life, and so on, revealing the author’s evident acquaintance with his subjects, gave it fame with the more serious-minded readers who had never before found a novel so sober and thoughtful. There is external evidence that Disraeli had this book in mind when he wrote “Vivian Grey”; to preserve his anonymity, Ward had negotiated with his publishers through a young solicitor named Austen, who happened to be a friend of the Disraelis and who arranged the renting of Ward’s country house by the Disraeli family just about the time when “Tremaine” appeared. Receiving confidential information through this channel of Ward’s financial gains, and being promised similar services in dealing with the publisher, Disraeli saw his opportunity. His youthful vivacity and his audacious wit enabled him to avoid the defects of Ward’s book, wherein the hero was a solemn prig and the incidents disjointed and sluggish. The tendency to debate social and philosophical topics was discernible, however, in “Vivian Grey,” to those who had encountered it in “Tremaine.”
Bulwer’s first success in the same mode was likewise provided with a definite purpose beneath the frivolous exterior. According to his own repeated declarations, he was deathly sick of the sentimental Byronism which was still the dominant affectation, taking the form of gloomy mystery, world-weary despair, and vague hints of unutterable sins; he determined to replace it with a more cheerful and practical and sociable pose. Writing about “Pelham” some years later, he remarked, “I think that, above most works, it contributed to put an end to the Satanic Mania—to turn the thoughts and ambitions of young gentlemen without neckcloths, and young clerks who were sallow, from playing the corsair and boasting that they were villains. If, mistaking the irony of Pel-ham, they went to the extreme of emulating the foibles which that hero attributes to himself, those, at least, were foibles more harmless, and even more manly and noble, than the conceit of a general detestation of mankind, or the vanity of storming our pity by lamentations over imaginary sorrows, and sombre hints at the fatal burden of inexpiable crimes.” The two young authors were able thus to supplant the outworn mode for the very reason that they had so much in common with it. Instead of iconoclastic fury, they used subtle reconstruction. Speaking the language of the fashionable world, and borrowing most of the outward semblances of the existing craze, they won the confidence of those whom they, wished to control.
Their flair for politics was particularly in evidence. Shrewd comments and maxims were freely interspersed with the flippant dialogue. The recognizable portraits of celebrities were not included merely to amuse the gossip-mongers, although they served that purpose incidentally; they were necessary if the stories were to be immediately applicable to the public affairs of the nation at the moment.
From the very beginning, therefore, they were both writing the “Novel-with-a-Purpose.” No one before them had so definitely recognized the propaganda value of fiction, or consciously set out to use the popularity of melodrama and wit as a stalking horse for serious doctrines. Once they discovered their power to influence the public mind, they praci tised it more and more. The Messianic delusion grew upon them, as we have seen it grow upon Mr. H. G. Wells. From politics and high society it rapidly, spread to social conditions. As early as 1830, Bulwer made a direct assault upon the prison system, in “Paul Clifford,” the object of which was, as the author stated in a preface to a later edition, “to draw attention to two errors in our penal institutions, viz., a vicious Prison Discipline, and a sanguinary Penal Code.” Thus it definitely inaugurated the series of fictionized tracts which was maintained by Dickens, Kingsley, Reade, and others. Disraeli stayed longer with strictly political themes, but when he came to write “Sybil” he plunged deep into the problems of industrialism, and anticipated “Mary Barton,” and “North and South,” and “Put Yourself in His Place.” In other words, the strongly ethical tendency, with special humanitarian emphasis, which is the most prominent factor in the accepted concept of “Victorianism,” first showed itself in the work of these two writers.
Their importance, then, is that they typify perfectly, the transition which was inevitable as soon as the industrial revolution began, and which assumed its definite direction with the first reform bill. In politics, it was Disraeli, with Bulwer as one of his lieutenants, who disrupted the old alignment of Whig and Tory, creating new parties consistent with the needs of a new era, at the expense of being termed traitors by their former colleagues. Their literary exploits were of the same nature; again, they began with ostensible adherence to the old standard, and quietly introduced features which ended by displacing it. In the parlance of crime, theirs was an “inside job.” The identity of their careers is in itself the best symbol of the new age; Bulwer, scion of the most exclusive hereditary caste, and Disraeli, descended from merchants of a pariah race, met on common ground because the one pocketed his family pride and set about working for a living, and the other clambered to a social level where the old rigid system would never have admitted him.