the racism of the british against the irish -- 9/25/18

Today's selection -- from Disraeli by Robert Blake. Politics has long been a vicious endeavor. Benjamin Disraeli was a famed British member of Parliament who towered above his conservative contemporaries as leader of his party and served twice as prime minister. In his younger years in politics, he showed a particularly venomous side -- including a streak of racism against the Irish, claiming "this wild ... and superstitious race ... hate our free and fertile soil." His 1835 "Vindication of the English Constitution," which condemned ideas like popular sovereignty and universal suffrage, and his correspondence that followed amply demonstrate this:

"Disraeli followed up the Vindication by a renewed burst of journalistic activity, on this occasion choosing The Times as his organ. He had been introduced to Thomas Barnes, the great editor, by Lord Lynd­hurst. The paper's policy was to support [Prime Minister Robert] Peel and attack the Whigs, and early in 1836 Disraeli, under the pseudonym of 'Runnymede', wrote a series of open letters to some of the leading politicians of the day....

"In general the tone shows Disraeli nearly at his worst. A visitor from foreign parts who learns that Lord John Russell is leader of the House 'may begin to comprehend how the Egyptians worshipped -- AN INSECT'. Lord William Bentinck, the ex­-Governor-General of India was standing in the Whig interest for Glasgow. The author predicts that he is unlikely to survive the session. 'Congenial Cheltenham will receive from now glorious Glasgow the antiquated Governor and the drivelling Nabob.' As for [Catholic Association leader Daniel] O'Connell, ... [he] is 'the hired instru­ment of the Papacy; as such his mission is to destroy your Protestant society, and, as such, he is a more terrible enemy to England than Napoleon'. 

Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli speaks during a debate on Irish home rule

Throughout these letters Disraeli evinced a virulent racial and religious prejudice towards Ireland. This was, indeed, to be one of the least commendable features of Victorian politics, especially among the unenlightened masses who saw their standards threatened by hordes of alien papist immigrants accepting low wages and living in filthy conditions. It is, however, surprising to find Disraeli going so far, even though it is true that the attitude fitted with his theory in the Vindication of the Whigs as the anti-national party and the Tories as the party of England. ... Nevertheless Disraeli cannot in retrospect have reflected with pride on a passage like this -- or at least one hopes not:


[The Irish] hate our free and fertile isle. They hate our order, our civilisation, our enterprising industry, our sustained courage, our decorous liberty, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their fair ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood . . . My lords, shall the delegates of these tribes, under the direction of the Roman priesthood, ride roughshod over our country -- over England -- haughty and still imperial England?"



Robert Blake




St. Martin's Press


Copyright Robert Blake 1966


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