Isaac D'Israeli was a British writer, scholar and the father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He is best known for his essays and his associations with other men of letters.
Isaac was born in Enfield, Middlesex, England, the only child of Benjamin D'Israeli , a Jewish merchant who had immigrated from Cento, Italy in 1748, and his second wife, Sarah Syprut de Gabay Villa Real (1742/3–1825). Isaac received much of his education in Leiden. At the age of 16, he began his literary career with some verses addressed to Samuel Johnson. He became a frequent guest at the table of the publisher John Murray and became one of the noted bibliophiles of the time.
On 10 February 1802, D'Israeli married Maria Basevi (1774/5–1847), who came from another London merchant family of Italian-Jewish extraction. The marriage was a happy one, producing five children: Sarah ("Sa"; 1802–1859); Benjamin ("Ben" or "Dizzy"; 1804–1881); Naphtali (b. 1807, died in infancy); Raphael ("Ralph"; 1809–1898); and Jacobus ("James" or "Jem"; 1813–1868). The children were named according to Jewish customs and the boys were all circumcised. Religiously, however, Isaac D'Israeli appears to have set aside his Jewish beliefs. In the midst of an eight-year dispute with the Bevis Marks Synagogue and on the advice of his friend, historian Sharon Turner, all his children were baptised into the Church of England in 1817. In 1833 he published a severely critical analysis of contemporary Judaism, The Genius of Judaism. He himself did not receive baptism, however, and never indicated any desire to exchange Judaism for Christianity. He did attend the inauguration ceremonies of the Reform Synagogue at Burton Street, London.
He penned a handful of English adaptations of traditional tales from the Middle East, wrote a few historical biographies, and published a number of poems. His most popular work was a collection of essays entitled Curiosities of Literature. The work contained myriad anecdotes about historical persons and events, unusual books, and the habits of book-collectors. The work was very popular and sold widely in the 19th century, reaching its eleventh edition (the last to be revised by the author) in 1839. It was still in print when the Encyclopædia Britannica entry was written in 1911. His book The Life and Reign of Charles I (1828) resulted in his being awarded the degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford.
In 1841, he became blind and, though he underwent an operation, his sight was not restored. He continued writing with his daughter as his amanuensis. In this way he produced Amenities of Literature (1841) and completed the revision of his work on Charles I. He died of influenza at age 81, at his home, Bradenham House, in Buckinghamshire, less than a year after the death of his wife in the spring of 1847.
D'Israeli's daughter-in-law, the wife of his eldest son, Benjamin, erected a monument to him in June 1862 following his death. It stands on a hill near Hughenden Manor, the Disraelis' country house in Buckinghamshire.
Books by Isaac D'Israeli
This is a collection of short essays on literature. Various subjects are discussed, such as libraries, critics, the classics, and all sorts of things which, in the opinion of Mr. Disraeli, a writer or a reader can do right or wrong. Any bibliophile m...
This is the second volume of the collected Curiosities of Literature by Isaac D'Israeli. As in volume one, D'Isreali again takes us on a tour around literature, with a dash of history and politics here and there. The subjects are so varied that all l...
This is the third and final volume of Isaac D'Israeli's monumental work Curiosities of Literature. It covers a great range of diverse topics, by no means limited to literature only, but also containing numerous essays on history, politics, and custom...