The Great Rivalry : Gladstone & Disraeli
A Dual Biography
London: I.B. Tauris, 2013
Hardcover. xi, 226 p. ISBN 978-1848859258. Ł22.50
Reviewed by Anthony Howe
University of East Anglia, Norwich
The stream of political biography by erstwhile politicians shows little sign of abating, with the latest contribution this ‘dual biography’ of Gladstone and Disraeli by Dick Leonard, a former Labour MP.
Neither Gladstone nor Disraeli is
short of recent studies and Richard Aldous in 2007 also produced a similar
joint biography, The Lion and the Unicorn :
Gladstone vs Disraeli. Leonard benefits from this proliferation of recent
literature (although oddly Angus Hawkins’ two-volume biography of the 14th Earl
of Derby is omitted from the bibliography) and makes no great pretence to
originality but presents a workmanlike, lucid, and pithy chronological account
of the careers of the two politicians suitably set against the background
of elections and party politics. As a result, this book does at times become as
much a potted history of nineteenth-century party politics as a dual biography and
we get little by way of aperçus into
the intellectual background or indeed the popular politics of the period.
Disraeli for the most part appears in a familiar guise as a master of
opportunism, and Leonard’s lodestar here remains the classic biography by
Robert Blake. Similarly,
This is a well-written and mostly accurate account (one does however muse over the putative discussions in a Gladstone Cabinet in which Erskine Childers rather than, more prosaically, Hugh Childers, was a minister). However, given the fine vintage of recent Gladstone-Disraeli studies, the appeal of this book lies primarily in its instant readability rather than its lasting scholarly merits. Inevitably, Disraeli’s Mr Mountchesney comes to mind, ‘I rather like bad wine, one gets so fed up with good’.
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