Biography

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Disraeli the Dandy

When he was very young and had made his first appearance in London society as the author of Vivian Grey, there was some thing almost incredible in his aspect. She* assured me that she did not exaggerate in the slightest degree in describing to me his dress when she first met him at a dinner party. He wore 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, white gloves with several brilliant rings outside them, and long black ringlets rippling down upon his shoulders. It seemed impossible that such a Guy Fawkes could have been tolerated in any society. His audacity, which has proved more perennial than brass, was always the solid foundation of his character. She told him, however, that he made a fool of himself by appearing in such fantastic shape, and he afterwards modified his costume, but he was never to be put down.

*Helen Selina Sheridan, Lady Dufferin, (1807-1867), one of the three beautiful granddaughters of the playwright. In his later years, Disraeli confessed that she had been ‘his chief admiration’

From The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley, ed. George William Curtis (John Murray, 1889)

***

It was, indeed, a strange and impressive figure that you might meet, any day, in the late seventies during the session, sauntering slowly on Corry’s arm down Whitehall. A frame, once large and powerful, now shrunken and obviously in physical decay, but preserving a conscious dignity, and, whenever aware of observation, regaining with effort an erect attitude; a countenance of extreme pallor set rigidly like a mask; a high, broad forehead, and straight, well-formed nose; eyes deeply sunken and usually lustreless, but capable of sudden brightening in moments of excitement; a wide, flexible mouth, and firm chin; the whole face in a setting of still abundant hair, kept perennially as black as coal, and arranged with a remnant of curliness over the ears, with one conspicuous curl in the centre of the forehead, and with a small tuft under the chin . . . The curl on the forehead, which came naturally in youth, was a work of careful art in age. ‘It was kept in place,’ writes one who, when young, was admitted to the great man’s intimacy, ‘by being damped and then a yellow bandanna tied tightly round it in front, with the ends down his back, till it was dry. I have thus seen him in his bedroom, attired in addition in a dressing-gown of many colours and a silk cord round his waist.’

W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (John Murray, 1929).

Montagu Corry, later Lord Rowton, was Disraeli's private secretary.


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