Tuesday, March 29, 2011

April 19, 1881 --- The Death of Disraeli

At home in Curzon Street, Mayfair, Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) dies at the age of 76.

Increasingly frail, afflicted by asthma and gout, the great statesman had been under the care of Dr. Joseph Kidd, London's leading homeopathic physician. He had prescribed claret (not port) for the gout and arsenic for the cough. Alas, returning from a dinner one frigid March evening, Disraeli caught a fatal chill.

It took a command from the Queen to overcome the jealousies of the medical profession and permit a bronchial specialist to consult with the despised Dr. Kidd. It was too late, even Dizzy told a friend, "Whatever the doctors may tell you, I do not believe I shall get well." Asked if he would like a personal visit from his "Faery Queen," he quipped, "It is better not. She would only ask me to take a message to Albert." He did send her a final note: "At present, I am prostrated but devoted - B."  A stream of callers did attend upon the sickbed, including his bitter enemy of 40 years, Prime Minister Gladstone. However, Disraeli took his enmity with him to the grave, railing on to the end about Gladstone, calling him "the primary cause of our encircling difficulties."

Death comes in early morning. Rising up in bed as if to speak, he sinks down and passes away silently. The Queen gets the news from John Brown, "His sad and tearful face had too plainly told that a heavy blow had fallen." Gladstone anguished so much over the eulogy he would have to give in the Commons that he came down with diarrhea. In the end, he called Disraeli's career "remarkable" and admitted to no "personal antipathy." He offered a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey but Disraeli's will calls for burial beside his wife at his country seat at Hughenden. Gladstone sourly noted, "As he lived, so he died - all display, without reality or genuineness."

At the funeral, the coffin was borne by tenants of the estate. The Queen, kept away for reasons of protocol, sent wreaths of primroses from Osborne House. "His favorite flowers," wrote the Queen. To this day, people wonder whether she meant Disraeli's or her Albert's.

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