Imágenes de páginas

dedicated any of her works to her body.servant, and no author has ever lavished upon princely patron more fervent eulogy than the Queen bestowed upon John Brown, of whom she says:

“A truer, nobler, trustier heart, More loyal and more loving, never beat

Within a human breast." The other lamentation of my correspondent, in which she deplores that the Queen does not care as much about purity in men as Sarah Grand, is almost as grotesque as if one were to lament that the great Napoleon cared less about the winning of victories than the latest drummer boy who executes a fantasia upon the stretched sheepskin. Sarah Grand is a good woman, who wrote “ The Heavenly Twins ” with the best intentions in the world, desiring, and succeeding in her desire, to call public attention to an evil too often slurred over and ignored. But to compare her services or her care ” for a purer life with the lifelong service of the Queen in the same cause is just a trifle too much. Is it not a fact that the Queen has constantly discouraged the appointment of Ministers and high officials whose life has not been able to bear inspection? Is it not an open secret that two of the most notable Prime Ministers of the century were for years more or less cold-shouldered at Court because of a certain looseness in talk and language which Her Majesty disliked and showed that she disliked ? When she began her reign it was not under the austerest auspices. Lord Melbourne is said to have declared on one occasion that “that damned morality is sure to ruin everything." But who is there who does not agree with Baron Stockmar that it was the stainless purity of the Queen that saved everything ? Take the testimony of Mr. Brett, a shrewd observer, well situated and capable of judging things as they are. He says, in his “Yoke of Empire" ;

“ If from the Reform Bill of 1832 to the retirement of Mr. Gladstone in 1894 the Puritan middle classes have governed England, they certainly have no cause to complain of the sympathetic response of the Sovereign to their views and demands. A high standard of virtue had not been hitherto characteristic of the British Hanoverian Court. George the Third bad, it is true, endeared himself to the people by his simple domestic life, but the conduct of the Prince Regent altogether destroyed the use of the Court as an example for the people. The two first Georges flaunted their mistresses as openly as any Stuart, while William the Fourth had fathered and ennobled a tribe of illegitimate children. The character and rule of Queen Victoria have set a high standard below which it will be impossible for a monarch to fall without personal disaster. Out of the Slough of the Regency the Queen and Prince Albert raised the Court of England to the first place among nations. For twenty years the loftiest example of domestic and public virtue was conspicuous on the Throne. Upon society the effect was instantaneous, and the decorous behaviour of the Court led, if not to virtue, at any rate to the concealment of vices which had been previously openly flaunted. Paternity was no longer a matter of speculation.”

All which is well and truly said. Of this phase of the subject of the Queen as the ideal wife and mother-I must postpone remark till my next chapter. Let us now turn to the more general service rendered to the nation by the Monarch who has acted as the embodiment of the great undenominational virtues of the Civic Church,

“ I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink : I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and

ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” These six duties of man to man constitute the bed-rock of the working creed of the Civic Church. Its Head has seldom lost an opportunity of emphasising the importance of these duties from the time of her accession down to the present day, when the only gifts she consents to accept in commemoration of her Great Jubilee are those which would minister to the happiness and comfort of the poorest of her subjects. Not jewels for her diadem, but beds for the hospitals of the poor-these are the wishes of the good Queen. Again to quote Mr. Brett :

“ The Queen has ever conspicuously maintained her high moral attitude of benevolence, of personal sympathy in sorrow, of tender gratitude for public service, of tender regard for misfortune, pain or death in the meanest of her subjects."

To have done this, and done it supremely well, for sixty years on end, is indeed a record of which the human race, and not Great Britain alone, has indeed cause to be proud. It marks the high-water mark of human endeavour under the most arduous circumstances, beneath the fierce light that proverbially beats upon the throne.

The steady adherence in personal practice to the great simple virtues of Honour and Truth is enough to pre-eminently distinguish the reign. John Bright, a Quaker not given to flattering those who wear crowns, declared emphatically that Her Majesty was the most absolutely truthful person he had ever met. For all the small crafts of the courtier she has ever had the most sovereign contempt. In her eyes to be straightforward and sincere is the first of all virtues. Her anxious desire to see things as they are, to know the truth, to hear at first hand exactly what has happened, has always been conspicuous. She has forgiven rudeness, brusquerie, everything but deceit and trickiness. Over and over again her Ministers, even those against whom she had at one time a well-grounded prejudice, have recognised with heartfelt gratitude the support which she has rendered them without stint or grudging, even when they have been carrying out a policy of which she personally disapproved.

Next to the passion of the Queen for truth, must be placed that other great English virtue—the passion for solid work as opposed to mere ceremonial. In the famous communiqué which she caused to be inserted in The Times in 1866, Her Majesty expressed herself with almost Republican severity on the insignificance of the externals of Court life compared with the real hard work of the government of the realm. After explicitly contradicting the report that she was about to return to Society, she said :

“Whenever any real object is to be obtained by her appearing on public occasions, any national interest to be promoted, or anything to be encouraged which is for the good of the people, Her Majesty will not shrink, as she has not shrunk, from any personal sacrifice or exertion, however painful. But there are other and higher duties than those of mere representation which are now thrown upon the Queen alone and unassisted—duties which she cannot neglect without injury to the public servicewhich weigh unceasingly upon her, overwhelming her with work and anxiety. To call upon her to undergo in addition the fatigue of those mere State ceremonies which can be equally well performed by other English members of family, is to ask her to run the risk of entirely disabling herself for the discharge of those over duties which cannot be neglected without serious injury to the public interests.”

There is the true note of Republican simplicity and of a born ruler's contempt for the frippery and gilding of things compared with the realities underneath.

There is naturally but little known of the part taken by the Queen in the initiative of legislation for the welfare of the poor. Her hearty Godspeed has never been lacking whenever any project has commanded sufficient public support to justify her affixing to it her Royal sign manual. Where any persons have done conspicuous service to the suffering, them the Queen delighteth to honour. Florence Nightingale was entertained and decorated, and Mrs. Stowe was honoured, from the bounty of a heart overflowing with sympathy with the helpless and the tortured. No great disaster at sea or in the mine, on railway or in battle-field, has desolated a hundred British homes without eliciting from the Queen prompt telegram of sympathy, followed usually by a subscription from the Royal purse.

It is curious to read over the Prince Consort's letteressay on the duties of a Bishop in the House of Lords (printed on a previous page), and to compare it with the duties actually performed by Her Majesty in the State. Those who do so will see how closely Her Majesty has followed her husband's advice even as if she were in the Episcopate herself.

The first official steps taken in the direction of National Education were due to the direct initiative of the Queen. As the Duke of Argyll said long after :-“The Sovereigns of this country do take, and are expected to take, an active personal share in the government which is conducted in their name. The Queen," he added, “during all time of her care and sorrow had devoted herself without one day's intermission to those cares of government which belong to her position as Sovereign of this

country.” Her Majesty's initiative was distinctly acknowledged in the first official circular which raised the question of National Education. In 1846, she, with the Prince Consort, was much interested in Dean Hook's proposal to establish a system of national education on the broad basis of universal State-supported Elementary Schools on a strictly secular basis. One day in the week, however, was to be set apart for religious instruction, to be given by each denomination to the children of its own members.

Of the zeal of the Queen and of the Prince Consort for higher education I need not speak.

The Queen's letter to the railway companies in 1865 is interesting as illustrating the desire of Her Majesty to level up the comfort and safety of the masses to that which she herself enjoys. A succession of serious railway accidents led her to reflect upon the difference between her own safely-guarded journeys and the risks run by the general public. So without more ado she sat down and launched a letter to the railcompanies in which she urged them to take more care of her subjects :

“The Queen hopes it is unnecessary for her to recall to the recollection of railway directors the heavy responsibility they have assumed since they have succeeded in securing the monopoly of the means of travelling of almost the entire population of the country.”

It is pleasant to hear a reminder from such exalted quarters of the responsibilities of monopolists—it is a reminder which is quite as much needed in the uncrowned Republic across the sea,

The Queen has democratised the distribution of honours. The Victoria Cross is distributed without regard to rank. The Albert Medal is equally given to rich and poor, noble and plebeian, if so be that they have merited the distinction by some heroic act of self-sacrifice in the saving of life. Whether in devising medals, distributing them, inditing telegrams, or taking part in public reviews or receptions, Her Majesty has been assiduous in praising those that do well, and encouraging all that is best in Church and in State.

So great and signal a continued series of services rendered by the Queen suggests the thought whether it might not be possible to localise the Victorian tradition by creating in every parish and town and county and colony something that would be equivalent within the locality to the Monarchy in its wider range. The Civic Centre, the Civic Federation, represent an attempt to create, in the village or the city, a centre which would be to the community what the Queen is to the Empire.

It is true that such a body would have none of the great prestige of the Crown. It could distribute no honours and reward no services. But although without such instruments of influence and of authority, it might nevertheless be greatly serviceable if it were but to take Her Majesty's conduct as its example, and try to do in its own restricted area what she does in her more exalted sphere.

It is of course presumptuous, and ridiculous withal, to compare so puny and insignificant an effort as the organising of the altruistic forces of the community as has been made by the proposed Association of Helpers with the imposing and glorious Monarchy of Britain. But the greatest may help the smallest, and in the principles and practice of the Sovereign the least of subjects may find much to encourage and to guide. What is wanted is that in every centre of population within her Empire, the Helpful who desire to help their fellow-men should be in some way or other banded together so as to enable the local community to enjoy the advantage of a centre where sits some one at least who is above parties and sects, and whose one desire is to discourage evil and to encourage those that do well. And that community will be the healthiest and most progressive which succeeds most perfectly in establishing either on an aristocratic or democratic basis the most efficient local representative of the principles and practice of Her Majesty the Queen.

[ocr errors]
[graphic][ocr errors]

THE QUEEN THE PRINCE CONSORT, AND THEIR FIVE ELDEST CHILDREN. (After a picture by Il'interhalter, exhibited (bis special command) to the public at Buckingham Palace, in 1848.)


ER MAJESTY is a Queen, ay, every inch a Queen. But before she was a

Queen she was a woman. Her reign as Sovereign has been protracted

beyond the longest reign of English monarchs; but her sixty years of sovereignty fall short of her seventy-eight years of womanhood. As sixty is to seventyeight, so is--no, the rule of three does not apply. For there is no comparison. Victoria as Woman is o immeasurably more important to the majority of her subjects than Her Maiesty the Queen and Empress, that no arithmetical comparison can express the difference.

The reason is obvious. Among the four hundred million subjects of the Queen of Britain and Empress of India there may be, perhaps—it is an outside allowancefour millions who have any adequate idea of the real every-day work of our Sovereign Lady the Queen. It is probably nearer the mark to say that only four hundred thousand persons, at the very utmost, have even an elementary conception of the part which she has played as Monarch in the modern State. Of those who really understand how diligent and useful the Queen has been all these sixty years of her reign as Ruler and Sovereign, as inspirer of Imperial policies, and as peacemaker and general manager in last resort of all great controversies, it is doubtful whether there are four thousand all told. I have some means of gauging this by the bewildered amazement and blank incredulous denials which have been evoked by the four preceding articles of this series. We never knew, say my readers—we had no idea before that the Queen really counted for so much in the State. The evidence that she has inspired great Colonial and Indian policies, that she has prevented wars and averted great crises-all these things, even after sixty years, are practically unknown to the vast majority of her subjects. To display the real workings of the Monarchy in the modern State, to unveil the secret influence of the Sovereign in our Democratic age, has been a veritable revelation to thousands—a revelation the authenticity of which even now is frankly questioned by many of those who ought to know better. But while only four thousand, or at the outside four millions, appreciate the Queen as Sovereign, there is not one among all the four hundred millions who is not more or less qualified to appreciate the woman who, for sixty years, has been the foremost figure in the greatest Empire in the world.

We are all of woman born, and one-half of us are born women. Every one of us worshipped a woman in the days when in earliest infancy mother was to us the soul Incarnation of all the Gods—the Love of Heaven come down to earth for our exclusive benefit. Of the moiety of the race who attain man's estate, hardly one but has worshipped some other woman, and most of us more than one. As maiden, daughter, sister, bride, mother, aunt, grandmother and widow, there is none of us so utterly forlorn and orphaned by destiny but has at one time or another had practical personal experience of the Angel in the House. She has either fascinated us with her charm, ministered to us with her love, soothed us with her sympathy, awed us by her resignation, or if she has done none of these things she has in some miraculous fashion by her very failures and imperfections made more vivid and more adorable the ideal woman which she, alas ! was not. Hence there is not one of us but feels that he is more or less competent to appreciate, to understand, or to criticise the Queen regarded from the point of view of her womanhood. We all of us obey the poet's injunc

« AnteriorContinuar »