10 Lessons from Queen Victoria’s Favorite Prime Minister

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804 – 1881), was twice the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during Queen Victoria’s reign.

He is remembered for his influential voice in world affairs, associating the Conservative party with the glory and power of the British Empire.

And he was the favorite Prime Minister of Queen Victoria, who told her oldest daughter,

The present man will do well. He is very peculiar … but very clever and sensible … He is full of poetry, romance and chivalry. When he knelt down to kiss my hand, he said “In loving loyalty and faith.”

Here are 8 timeless nuggets of wisdom from Benjamin Disraeli—as relevant today as they were during Queen Victoria’s reign and long before …

The first is my favorite Disraeli quote that finds a happy balance between optimism and pessimism. We know things can go wrong, but if we prepare for that, we can maintain an optimistic view of life.
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Hope

Benjamin Disraeli by H Lenthall, c. 1870
Benjamin Disraeli by H Lenthall, c. 1870

Change

There is nothing more certain than change. Technological change is particularly apparent in our modern age. Disraeli witnessed huge advances in technology and industrialization during the Victorian Era. Just as we accept a change in the weather and prepare accordingly, if we accept change in our lives and prepare as Disraeli suggests, we can manage and deal with change more effectively.

Changeable Weather by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe
Changeable Weather by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

Travel

Travel helps open our minds to diversity. The world is full of different lands, different architecture, different foods, different people. Travel helps us realize that although we are all different, we are all uniquely important.

The Travelling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg - 1862
The Travelling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg – 1862

Heroes

Disraeli’s advice on how to be a hero—believe you can do it. Belief in ourselves and our ability to do great things is a prerequisite to being one of life’s heroes.

It pays to dream big—many of the world’s most successful people started with a big dream.

Florence Nightingale, Wellcome Trust
Florence Nightingale, Wellcome Trust

Knowledge

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing — Socrates.

When we realize we don’t have all the facts, we’re prompted to discover them. With today’s web and search technologies, it’s much easier and faster to find information that helps us arrive at the facts and increase our knowledge.

Still life with books by L. Block (1848-1901)
Still life with books by L. Block (1848-1901)




Audacity

One of the greatest examples of audacity was Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River during the American Revolutionary War in 1776.

Despite bad weather and icy, treacherous water, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops to a surprise victory against the Hessian forces at the Battle of Trenton.

Washington’s audacity turned the tide for the Continental Army that only a week earlier was on the verge of collapse. It inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851

Criticism

It’s human nature to be critical. Churchill thought that although criticism is unpleasant, it is necessary.

American writer Elbert Hubbard found a solution for avoiding criticism: “do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing”.

But not all criticism is fair, warranted, or justified. Disraeli’s words strike at the heart of the extra care needed for constructive criticism—to improve an outcome by offering valid and well-reasoned options in a friendly manner.

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874
Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

Courage

Where courage is the strength to face our fears, bullying is a smokescreen to hide them.

Disraeli advocated courage, not bullying. As a child, he struggled against antisemitism, but his courage and pride in his Jewish heritage saved him from humiliation.

Courage is Half the Battle by John Henry Dolph (American, 1835 - 1903)
Courage is Half the Battle by John Henry Dolph (American, 1835 – 1903)

Conduct

Disraeli suffered defeat and loss in his life through circumstance, but he never felt bitter or unfriendly to those who rejected him. He swallowed his pride and kept the characteristically British “stiff upper lip”.

Exemplary behavior by Horatio Henry Couldery (United Kingdom, 1832 - 1893)
Exemplary behavior by Horatio Henry Couldery (United Kingdom, 1832 – 1893)

Love

Disraeli reminds us that the most powerful force on earth is love. It is what gives life its purpose and its continuity.

Mother and Child in an Interior by Peter Ilsted - 1898
Mother and Child in an Interior by Peter Ilsted – 1898

 

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.