Nearly five years ago, I offered some scattered remarks about the great Dis vs. D'Is controversy--namely, did Victorian writers who spelled Benjamin Disraeli's name as "D'Israeli" (i.e., did not pay attention to the normalized spelling) do so for anti-Semitic reasons? At that time, I suggested that it could not, in fact, be concluded that anti-Semitism was necessarily the reason: everything from his father's ongoing fame (and, therefore, the D'Israeli spelling) to ignorance might be in play. It recently occurred to me that this is one of those questions that could be addressed, albeit not settled, by a trawl through GoogleBooks.
The search parameters: full-view results (so I could check context), using only the English-language results; US results considered separately from those of the UK & Ireland. Obviously, mentions of "Benjamin D'Israeli," the grandfather, had to be separated from "Benjamin D'Israeli," the PM.
Excluding duplicates, irrelevant results, & foreign language references, here are approximately the first twenty examples. I started at the end of the search results:
From the UK & Ireland, D'Israeli spelling with no obvious reference to Judaism or anti-Semitism:
- An 1852 letter from Douglas Jerrold, reprinted by Mary Cowden Clarke, which praises the ascension of a "man with ink in his veins" to the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- He's ID'd as "D'Israeli" in the Parliamentary returns for 1837.
- In a case of massive proofreading failure, the returns for 1852 spell his name both ways.
- Augusta Theodosia Drane, A History of England for Family Use and the Upper Classes of Schools (Burns and Oates, 1881). Consistently ID'd as "D'Israeli."
- "Bishop McIlvane," The Literary World 24 (14 Oct. 1881): 247. Passing mention.
- Rev. John S. Simon, "Thomas Miller, Basket Maker," Golden Hours: A Monthly Magazine for Family and General Reading 15 (1882): 759-60. D is praised for his loyalty to the gentleman of the title, and described as a "complex character."
- Henry Grey, A Bird's-Eye View of English Literature, from the Seventh Century to the Present Time (Griffith & Farran, 1883), 68. D listed as novelist.
- Lord Ronald Gower, My Reminiscences, 2 vols. (Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1883), 2:253. Later on, Gower (who knew D personally) refers to him as "Lord Beaconsfield," and speaks admiringly of him.
- Samuel Carter Hall, Retrospect of a Long Life: From 1815 to 1883, 2 vols., (Richard Bentley, 1883): 1:149. Quotes one of D's sonnets.
From the UK & Ireland, laying heavy emphasis on the Judaism, with or without anti-Semitic overtones:
- The Churchman 39 (May 3, 1879): 489. Reprints a tidbit about the likelihood that D and John Henry Newman were out playing in the same place as little kids, and notes the incongruity of the "handsome little Jew boy" and the "Puritan" having the careers they did.
From the USA, D'Israeli spelling with no obvious reference to Judaism or anti-Semitism:
- Henry Coppee's English Literature: Considered as an Interpreter of English History (1878), praises him as a "persevering, acute, and able statesman" (469). (Coppee obviously thinks he's a better politician than novelist.)
- The Baptist Review 3.11 (1881): 408. Lothair crops up in the new books section.
- Ainsworth R. Spofford and Charles Gibbon, eds., The Library of Choice Literature..., 8 vols. (Gebbie & Co., 1881), I:342. Passing mention in a headnote about his father.
- E. W. Tullidge, "Was Bacon Shakespeare?", Tullidge's Quarterly Magazine 1.4 (July 1881): 583. Passing mention.
- John Savage, '98 and '48: The Modern Revolutionary History and Literature of Ireland (P. J. Kenedy, 1882). Passing mentions.
- Bayard Tuckerman, A History of English Prose Fiction from Sir Thomas Malory to George Eliot (G. P. Putnam, 1882), 292-93. Refers to D as a "great statesman" (and definitely finds him a better politician than a novelist).
- S. P. Linn, Golden Gleams of Thought..., 10th ed. (A. C. McClurg, 1909). Hey, it's the twentieth century, and we still can't get the spelling right?
From the USA, references laying heavy emphasis on the Judaism, with or without anti-Semitic overtones:
- "The Jew and the Turk," The Guardian 29.9 (Sept. 1878): 264 ff. Rather ambivalent article in a Reformed Church magazine about the Jews in the modern world; argues that "[a]lthough a professed Christian, he is still a Jew at heart." Praises D's abilities, however.
- "Benjamin D'Israeli--The Jew," The Southern Review 24.48 (Oct. 1878): 373-84. Um, no ambiguity there. Insists on D's essential Jewishness; throws "oriental" stereotypes around with gleeful abandon. Admires his accomplishments.
- "The Miracle of Hebrew History," The Gospel in All Lands 10 (Aug. 1881): 91. Missionary article. Praise for D in passing, but noticeable grumpiness about Jewish "selfish interests."
(I observed that in the 1870s, at least one Jewish author went out of his way to note that D had altered the spelling of his name. One wonders if he thought people were in need of a reminder.)
Twenty is not, of course, a statistically useful sampling. As a beginning, though, the trends are interesting: most of the D'Israeli spellings occur in contexts where Judaism never comes up; some come accompanied by highly admiring comments; and the error still kicks in even after D's death. Right now, the Dis vs. D'Is issue looks like a bit of a damp squib. Some writers apparently use the D'Is spelling as a slur, but others just seem to think that that's how you spell his name (including people, like Gower, who actually knew the man!). At some point, I'll run a decade-by-decade search to cover the earlier phases of his career, and see if that affects the results. Someone who wanted to pursue a real research project on the topic would have to search nineteenth-century newspapers (and break out the statistics).