Posts Tagged ‘Disraeli’

Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de Lesseps (1805 – 1894) French

Engineer, diplomat


The Suez Canal owes its birth to the vision and courage of De Lesseps and by his achievement he brought the Far East nearer to the West. Few men have achieved as he did in face of such over whelming odds and few men with such a record of success have died in such poverty and disgrace.


Born on November 19, 1805 at Versailles, he followed the family tradition as he entered the consular service in 1825. It was on his way to Alexandria that he first got the idea of building Suez Canal. It was also a stroke of luck to become friendly with Mohammed Said, son of Mohamet Ali, the great ruler of Egypt. After more than twenty years when Mohammed Said became the ruler De Lesseps was invited to visit him at Alexandria. He arrived there on November 7, 1854. His personality and persuasion finally convinced Said Pasha that he agreed for the project Suez Canal. What followed was a sordid diplomatic intrigue to scuttle the whole project. England’s Palmerston, told De Lesseps he regarded the Canal as a French attempt to interfere in the East and was ready to move heaven and earth to stop the Canal being built. Palmerston’s government tried to bring the Sultan of Turkey as overlord of Egypt to their side. De Lesseps however went ahead with the project. The rights were obtained and a company was floated in Paris and on April 25, 1859 the first blow of the axe was given by De Lesseps at Port Suez. When Said died in 1863, Ismail, who succeeded him, caused him much uneasiness. Largely through the efforts of Britain, the practise of using forced labor was stopped. At the outset it had been estimated that 8,000 men would be needed. Soon it swelled to a number of 40,000  and at one time there were as many as eighty thousand at work, the bulk of these wielders of pick and spade were Egyptian Fellaheen. For two years the work was held up: As forced labour was discontinued De Lesseps decided to go ahead with the project using machinery. At last, on November 16, 1869 the Canal was formally opened.

Shortly thereafter ships of all nations were sailing through the Canal; for the Canal shortened the voyage from London to Bombay by five thousand miles. What was Britain’s fears were laid at rest when Disraeli in one of the briliant coups got control of the Canal.

If De Lesseps had stopped with the suez Canal he might have passed his last years in happiness instead of disgrace. When the Geographical Society of Paris decided in 1879 to construct the Panama Canal, De Lesseps was designated head of the enterprise. Work was begun in 1881 and went on for eight years during which about 50,000 lives were lost through malaria and yellow fever.

De Lesseps now old and confined to Paris, most of the time did not have complete grip of the problems facing the company. Besides his project was at fault. He had determined to build the canal without locks, against the advice of his engineers who concluded that the Culebra and the Chagres, the mountain and river that barred his path, could not be overcome in any other way. In 1888 the company went bankrupt for £ 80,000,000. It was estimated only one third was spent on the canal, one third wasted and one third stolen. Thousands of investors were ruined.

In the face of a full-blown scandal the French government was forced to institute an enquiry. De Lesseps was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined; but the sentence was suspended. He died on December 7, 1894 in his ninetieth year.
In not so distant future one might think a new shipping lane cutting through North West will obviate the importance of Suez Canal. From Far East vessels will cut through Arctic circle taking advantage of melting ice.

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William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1897) served as Prime Minister of Great Britain four times.
Here I shall concern myself with Gladstone the Man.

It would hardly be conceivable in British Parliamentary history that two personalities so diametrically opposed to one another as Disraeli and Gladstone were at the forefront of politics. In 1834 Gladstone was appointed as a junior Lord of the Treasure by Sir Robert Peel who had just formed his first ministry. Two weeks later Disraeli and Gladstone met for the first time: Gladstone was appalled by Disraeli’s “foppish” attire. Gladstone who changed opinions whenever it suited him came to represent the highest political morality while Disraeli who after he had found his party stuck to it all his life, was regarded as a man of few scruples. Gladstone returned to Hawarden, his country seat where he cut down trees for relaxation while Disrael planted trees around his estate. There was no friendship between them throughout their long political lives. When Disraeli died not surprisingly, he chose not attend the funeral.
As an extension of their antipathies to one another we see them representing two opposing ideologies: William Ewart Gladstone was the leader of opposition when Disraeli represented the Tories.
To Disraeli politics was a question of expedience whereas with Gladstone was a matter of morality and he could delude himself his was the voice of justice and truth. He played the politics as a demagogue combined with a missionary zeal that Dizzy thought he was mad; while his opponent thought Dizzy was a devil.
Gladstone carried common qualities on such a vast scale and without imagination and humor, the public saw in him a political prophet of his times. He was a humbug and not above stooping to underhand methods if it helped. As Henry Labouchere, M.P remarked, “I don’t object to (him) always having the ace of trumps up his sleeve but merely to his belief that God Almighty put it there.”
His political fortunes were tied to the moral compass that he referred with the gusto of a miser to his gold. How well he read it may be guessed from his pet project on redeeming fallen angels.* Did he also as rumors had their field day,enjoy birching on the side? It is quite ironic a man of such rectitude should invite doubt and gossip from the public in the name of social service?
In 1844 Peel was attempting to pursue a policy of conciliation in Ireland. A perpetual grievance of the Catholic Church in Ireland was the disparity in finances between the wealth of the Anglican establishment that ministered to about a twelfth of the people and the poverty of the Catholic Church, that ministered to the vast majority of the population. In February 1845 Peel proposed to increase — and make permanent — the Maynooth grant from £9,000 to £30,000 p.a. He tendered his resignation rather than compromise his integrity. Peel’s reaction was, ‘I really have great difficulty sometimes in comprehending what Gladstone means’.
As an Anglican he was zealous to the point of missing the core value of his faith: charity. In 1846 Gladstone’s sister Helen had been restrained by the Lunacy Commission; she had a long history of instability and opium addiction; she also had had a series of lovers but the final straw for Gladstone was her conversion to Roman Catholicism. He could tolerate her other failings but not her apostasy.
While Dizzy endeared himself to the Queen he upset the Queen with his high moralizing tone. It was in his official capacity(as VP of the Board of Trade) that he first dined with Queen Victoria at Buckingham palace and was appalled to find that there was no chaplain present and that grace was not said prior to the meal.
Gladstone formed his second ministry even though Queen Victoria attempted to appoint Lord Hartington instead. The queen was widely reported to have commented that, ‘He speaks to me as if I were a public meeting’. Just before she appointed Gladstone, Victoria wrote to Sir Henry Ponsonby that she would ‘sooner abdicate than send for or have anything to do with that half-mad fire-brand…’
Gladstone was known affectionately by his supporters as “The People’s William” or the “G.O.M.” (“Grand Old Man”, or, according to Disraeli, “God’s Only Mistake” Disraeli’s assessment of Gladstone was that he ‘had not one single redeeming defect’.

Gladstone and Fallen Angels
*In 1848 he founded the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women. In May 1849 he began his most active “rescue work” with “fallen women” and met prostitutes late at night on the street, in his house or in their houses, and spent much time arranging employment for them. In a ‘Declaration’ signed on 7 December 1896 and only to be opened after his death by his son Stephen, Gladstone wrote:
With reference to rumours which I believe were at one time afloat, though I know not with what degree of currency: and also with reference to the times when I shall not be here to answer for myself, I desire to record my solemn declaration and assurance, as in the sight of God and before His Judgment Seat, that at no period of my life have I been guilty of the act which is known as that of infidelity to the marriage bed.
In 1927, during a court case over published claims that he had had improper relationships with some of these women, the jury unanimously found that the evidence “completely vindicated the high moral character of the late Mr. W. E. Gladstone”.

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In The House Of The Lords

The House of Lords was generally considered as the grave of eloquence. When someone remarked that Disraeli would find the Lords tame after the Commons, he replied,”I am dead;dead but in the Elysian fields.”
A young peer once asked Disraeli what course of study he had best undertaken to qualify himself of speaking so as to catch the ear of the House of the Lords.
“Have you a graveyard near your house?” asked Dizzy.
“Then I should recommend you to visit it early of a morning and practise upon the tombstones”.
Final Days
Disraeli was already ill and as he corrected the proof of his final speech in Parliament,he said wearily, ”I’ll not go down to posterity talking bad grammar”.
As death drew near, Disraeli ravaged by gout and asthma,quipped, ‘ I have suffered much. Had I been a nihilist, I would have confessed all.’

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Benjamin Disraeli(1804-1881)

In 1831 Disraeli during his visit to Cairo met Mahmet Ali who after a career of corruption and bloodshed made himself a Pasha of Cairo and master of Egypt. He was toying with the idea of parliamentary government asked Disraeli for his comments. The visitor mentioned a few difficulties in the way of Egyptian democracy as he saw it. Mahmet was silent and thoughtful but at the next levee he gave Disraeli the benefit of his meditations.”God is great,”he began,”you are a wise man. Allah Kerim!”and he spoke of having as many parliaments as the King of England himself. “See here,”he showed two lists of names,”here are my parliaments. But I have made up my mind to prevent inconvenience, to elect them myself.”

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