Alan Sillitoe, 1 April 1982
Most of my first literary influences – if they can be called such – came from the cinema. I remember some time during the early Forties seeing a film, one of those ‘B’ pictures from Hollywood, which had for its subject the life of the great British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. The scene that comes back is during a debate in the House of Commons on some great issue, when Disraeli sat with eyes closed, seemingly asleep, while the Leader of the Opposition, probably Mr Gladstone, went through his speech. Disraeli appeared to sleep, and not to hear what his chief adversary had to say. His own speech was already prepared, and he did not care to be influenced by whatever argument might be brought against the ideas he intended to put forward. Perhaps, not so much a mark of self-assurance, it was merely a mannerism to confound his enemies, but it made an impression on me because my consciousness found such a tactic congenial. Otherwise, why remember an incident from a film of so long ago, when scores more are totally forgotten? This, I thought, as Disraeli rested with hand on chin, or lay back nonchalantly on the hard seat, is the way to deal with those who might be against me. The incident struck me because it depicted the action of an individual who had faith in himself in an age which seemed to have considered it a virtue. Not to be particularly interested in what his opponent was saying exhibited the profound conviction of his own beliefs. Did not the poet King David say: ‘Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward and put to confusion, that desire my hurt’?