One of the most intriguing relationships in Victorian history is that between George Smythe (1818–1857), handsome aristocrat and iconoclast, and Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), society novelist, Jewish outsider, and future British prime minister. While Smythe’s friendship was central to Disraeli’s rise to political power in the 1840s and 1850s, little has been written about Smythe’s life beyond a few paragraphs in biographies and histories of the period.
Mary S. Millar redresses this omission with Disraeli’s Disciple, the first ever biography of Smythe. Drawing from extensive original research, Millar details the full extent of Smythe’s early brilliance as a writer and politician with the Young England splinter group that fostered Disraeli’s political rise. Millar’s research reveals how heavily Disraeli relied on Smythe and how closely Disraeli’s fictional characters were based on him: his looks and idealism in Coningsby (1844), his duplicity in Tancred (1847), and his charm in Endymion (1880). Millar identifies Smythe’s incisive journalism for the first time, illustrating his fine grasp of European politics and the venom of his personal attacks. She also documents Smythe’s numerous and often disreputable love affairs with remarkable partners: the French countess thirty years his senior, the Anglican priest who wrote him passionate poetry, the circus equestrienne he groomed for marriage to an Earl, and the Scottish heiress he married as he lay dying of tuberculosis.
In addition to the portrait it paints of a fascinating man whose public life was as earnest and idealistic as his private life was shocking and titillating, Disraeli’s Disciple also provides new insights into the politics of this formative stage in British history. It is a captivating and enthralling biography that will change the way we view Victorian England.