For Benjamin Disraeli, the early years of the 1860s were ones of both excitement and frustration. Events such as the unification of Italy, the American Civil War, and the start of the wars of German unification brought upheaval and turmoil to the international scene. Such conflicts stood out in stark contrast to the torpor which characterized domestic politics in Britain, as Lord Palmerston's government made few waves with its stance of practiced inactivity. With the Conservative Party winning by-election after by-election, the promise of a return to office seemed tantalizingly close yet frustratingly slow in arrival for Disraeli, who nonetheless patiently waited as the top of the greasy pole loomed ever closer to his reach.
This is the period detailed in the newest volume of the Benjamin Disraeli Letters series. It contains over 900 letters written by Disraeli between 1860 and 1864 to a variety of correspondents. Addressing as they do the gamut of his social and political activities, they provide a window into Disraeli's everyday life and his views on the myriad personalities and events of his time. Aiding in this is the meticulous editorial work of Mel Wiebe, Mary S. Millar, and Ann Robson, who carefully detail the location of each letter and its publication history, and provide extensive footnotes that supply the context of the letters and the texts of related correspondence. Over a half-dozen appendices provide supplemental materials and older documents discovered since the publication of the previous volumes, including a previously unattributed 1848 pamphlet coauthored with Lionel de Rothschild on Jewish emancipation.
The enormous amount of research and editorial effort put into assembling and presenting the letters is the key to the value of the book. With its comprehensive notation, thorough indexes, and detailed chronologies, this is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand Benjamin Disraeli or British politics during the 1860s. This makes it all the more regrettable that this will be the last volume edited by Mel Wiebe, who in the Acknowledgments section notes his departure. Hopefully Queen's University will find someone soon who can maintain the high standards and regular output of this invaluable series, especially as it rests on the cusp of the vital years of Disraeli's premiership.