1. Civilization and Savage Witticisms
Benjamin Disraeli, the English Frankie Boyle, is quite possibly the most aristocratically flamboyant and cutting Prime Minister in UK history. With perfect comic timing, he sliced through the pompous pretensions of his opponents, like a knife through last month’s beef haslet.
He once parried the insult of the Irish Nationalist Daniel O’Connell by saying:
“Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”
Not much you can say to that, is there?
Well, apart from the fact that Disraeli’s sub-SWP-newsletter rant on Ireland makes Friedrich Engels and the other Victorian armchair anthropologists of Disraeli’s day look rigorous and credible by comparison.
2. Rupert Can’t Bear it
But O’Connell wasn’t the first or the last to fall to Disraeli’s blazingly cool witticisms. See what he said about Lord Stanley:
“The noble lord in this case, as in so many others, first destroys his opponent, and then destroys his own position afterwards. The noble lord is the Prince Rupert of parliamentary discussion: his charge is resistless, but when he returns from the pursuit he always finds his camp in the possession of the enemy.”
So if you’ve ever wondered why people consider the Houses of Parliament to be the graveyard of logic and the eternal heavenly playground of ad hominem dismissals and personal attacks, you know now.
(Or… just watch pretty much any foreign policy discussion in history).
3. When Old Jokes Weren’t Old
But some of the best smackdowns were saved for Disraeli’s best frenemy, William Ewart Gladstone.
“If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; and if anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity.”
OK, that’s a bit of an old chestnut by now; but probably pretty funny at the time. For mutually warring politicians, threatening will get you everywhere.
Oh no, wait! The more recent joke, a few years back, was actually one involving Tony Blair, a classroom, and a game of word definition: “it wouldn’t be a tragedy, and it certainly wouldn’t be an accident!”
Still, I’d better not quote anything disparaging to a certain silken-trousered philanthropist…
Given that, as Our Tony’s namesake Eric Blair once wrote in some contemptible, unpatriotic, ludicrously speculative, pseudo-literary travesty or other: “the International Community is watching You.”
4. Takes One to Know One
Or better still:
“A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that who can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and glorify himself.”
Ah, UK politicians… they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
5. We are not Amused, I do not Remember
Queen Victoria was probably not someone to cross lightly, but the Prime Minister still had to meet with her once in a while over tea, crumpets and the odd 1000-guinea bottle of champagne. So Disraeli had an interesting idea about how he avoided getting sent to the Tower by Her Madge, or at least ending up on the wrong end of a deftly wielded antique Victorian fire poker:
“I never deny; I never contradict; I sometimes forget.”
6. The Brotherhood of Albert
And speaking of the sexist stereotype of the “henpecked” man, this article could not possibly would be complete without a reference to the notorious misogyny of the Victorians.
“No man is regular in his attendance at the House of Commons until he is married.”
Rather an ugly way of talking about women, and lacking any clear evidence beyond the fact that a prominent UK PM said so… that hardly inspires much confidence, does it?
And there is actually concrete evidence against Disraeli’s speculations. After all, his dodgy buddy Gladstone seemed to quite enjoy meeting with and talking down to individuals that his bigoted contemporaries no doubt viewed as “strange women…”
Purely in order to generously enlighten them and to convert them from the “error of their ways,” of course…
Yeah, how many times have we heard that one?
7. Seven’s a Charm
Oh wait, a bonus smack down, just to really rub it in to old Gladstone. Not so much heaping coals of fire upon one’s enemy, as burying them with avalanches of ice-cool sarcasm and cool wit.
“He has not a single redeeming defect.”
“He has not a single redeeming defect.”
What a pity the same can’t be said about the UK politicos of today, huh?
Probably not just the UK though, to be fair!
Still, amusing enough, at least.
So, moral of the story:
Get your arse out there and cross that Goddamn tickbox!