Disraeli Project launches ninth volume of Benjamin Disraeli Letters
The Disraeli Project, established in 1975, is a research unit at Queen’s University engaged in producing a scholarly edition of the correspondence of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), Earl of Beaconsfield, the British novelist, politician and prime minister. Over the course of his life, Disraeli wrote more than 13,000 letters, most of which are held on microfilm and photocopies at the Disraeli Project. To date, nine volumes of those letters have been published by University of Toronto Press, the most recent one, volume 9, in April 2013.
As Queen’s celebrates the latest volume, the director of the Disraeli Project, Dr Michel Pharand (MP), sits down for a chat with Meredith Dault (MD), Senior Communications Officer.
MD: What period of Disraeli’s life does this volume cover?
MP: This volume covers the years 1865 to 1867, with the most prominent issue being the Reform Act of 1867, which enlarged the number of possible voters by a very wide margin – male voters, of course. Often working behind the scenes while the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, was disabled with gout, Disraeli, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a key player in formulating the bill and getting it passed in the House of Commons.
MD: The Disraeli Project has been active for some time. What happens now that you’ve got volume nine on the shelf?
MP: We’re actually doing something different at the moment. We’ve obtained a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to make our collection of Disraeli letters available online. So what we are doing right now is uploading the letters to the web (without the annotations, of course: they are protected by copyright). We are in process of verifying transcriptions of our entire collection and uploading them so that they will be available to scholars around the world. Of course this will be more convenient and far less expensive than buying the books. That said, scholars won’t have access to the detailed annotations that have made our books indispensable to Victorian scholarship.
MD: Do you hope to resume publishing hardcopy books in the future?
MP: Certainly that’s our plan – if we are lucky enough to obtain further funding. I should mention that volume ten in the Benjamin Disraeli Letters series is already finished and now at University of Toronto Press for review and copy-editing. That volume – which is crucial, as it covers a single year, 1868, during which Disraeli becomes Prime Minister for the first time – is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014.
MD: How many more volumes do you anticipate?
MP: Well, we have approximately another 7,000 letters to annotate and publish. That will take us from 1869 to Disraeli’s death in 1881. We calculate that these remaining letters will require another eight print volumes!
MD: How long have you been involved with the Project?
MP: The Disraeli Project is almost 40 years old. I’ve been with it almost seven years, so I’m a relative newcomer! We’ve recently downsized, so at the moment it’s just my co-editor, Ellen Hawman, and me working at the Project. But we do get a lot of help from our advisory editors, including the Project’s Director Emeritus, Dr. Mel Wiebe, who has almost forty years of editorial experience and who continues, even in retirement, to review and refine our work. If we’re lucky enough to obtain additional funding, we might be able to bring more people on board. We’re also very grateful for the ongoing support of Queen’s, which continues to supply us with office space in Watson Hall.
MD: We are living in interesting political times these days in Canada. What do you think Benjamin Disraeli would think of the current political climate if he were alive today?
MP: Frankly, I don’t think anything happening these days would shock him. There is bribery now and there was bribery then – and much else. He wouldn’t be overly shocked by what we’re seeing today. Reading Disraeli’s letters is like reading a diary of his age. He writes about everything: from bankruptcies and political scandals to the cattle plague and Canada. Yes, even Canada! I don’t think he’d be at all surprised to find that, in many ways, things really haven’t changed that much in 150 years.
Benjamin Disraeli Letters, 1865-1867, is published by University of Toronto Press. The book will be launched at Queen’s on Wednesday, Dec. 18 from 2:00 until 4:00pm at the Queen’s University Club.