« AnteriorContinuar »
III.---THE QUEEN AS EDITOR OF THE REALM.
E have mistaken our vocations, you and I,” said Sir Robert Morier to me, on
one of the long evenings when we sat talking in the British Embassy at St.
Petersburg in the early summer of 1888. “Yes,” he continued,” it is you who should have been the diplomatist, while I should have been the editor." after one of the great days I had enjoyed in the Russian capital, when, after many difficulties, I had succeeded in obtaining the object of my mission. And then Sir Robert launched out upon the inexhaustible ocean of personal reminiscence in order to explain how narrowly he had escaped being a journalist, and how much he regretted
the destiny which had cabined, cribbed, and confined him in the diplomatic service, whereas he might have been luxuriating in the freedom of editorial omnipotence. “What might not the Times be and do,” he exclaimed, not once, but twenty times, “ if only its editor realised his opportunities and rose to his responsibilities !”—a favourite text this, and one on which the Ambassador could indeed give the Editor points.
Never shall I forget those famous conversations at the Embassy, when the old man eloquent would discourse literally till the pale sunlight of the early dawn lit up the restless waters of the Neva. What a mine of historical treasure was closed when Sir Robert died no one knows save those who shared with me the inestimable privilege of sitting at his feet night after night, and listening to the outpouring from the depths, in which a singularly exact and tenacious memory had stored up all things worth remembering in European history for the last thirty years. The late Lord Derby once told me that Sir Robert Morier had more knowledge of his business in his little finger than there was in all the rest of the Diplomatic Service put together; and the assertion, although hyperbolical, will surprise no one who can look back to confidential talks with the late Ambassador.
One day, shortly after my interview with the Tsar, Sir Robert Morier surprised me by saying, “I want to read you an extract from my letter to the Queen, in which I have described
visit to Gatschina. I wish to be quite sure that I have got the expressions exactly right.” “Certainly," I said ; “but you are not going to put what I told you into a despatch ?” “Despatch !—who said despatch ?" growled Sir Robert. " It is in my letter to the Queen, that is confidential, and never gets into Blue Books. We constantly write to her of all that goes on,” he added, “when it is important she should know.” So, without more ado, the Ambassador brought out his “ letter” and read it
-all of it, that is, that related to my conversation with Alexander III. He had reproduced my report with marvellous exactitude, embodying it in a most amusing setting of his own. I had very few corrections to make, and was immensely interested in the glimpse thus afforded me of the relations existing between Her Majesty and her Ambassador abroad. “Do you always write like this?" I asked, marvelling not so much at the writing as at the reading. “When there is anything to write," he said ; “and as I have told Her Majesty that I do not think any one has ever had a conversation with the Tsar under circumstances which render it so morally certain that the Tsar would speak his real mind and express exactly what he thinks, I have reported it at some length ”— which was true. Sir Robert Morier would have made a splendid Special Correspondent, and his letter was first class copy.
The incident has often recurred to my mind in the last eight years, and at last I have come to regard it as affording a key or a clue to the real position of the Queen in the Constitutional Monarchy in this its latest stage of development. In that peep into the secret workings of the governing machine I seem to have gained an insight into the truth of things as they are, as opposed to the theories of things as they ought to be, and this leads me to an analogy, natural perhaps to one of my profession, but which none the less will better than any other enable the ordinary man to understand exactly the part which in the present state of the Constitutional Monarchy is played by the Queen.
1.—THE REALM (UNLIMITED). The true theory of the position of the Queen can best be understood by imagining the Realm and all its dependencies as a great newspaper owned by a myriad shareholders, who include all the subjects of Her Majesty at home or over sea. Of these shareholders, a small minority, exclusively male, and resident solely in Great Britain and Ireland, have a voice in the direction of the policy of the whole vast concern. Shareholders' meetings, which must be held once in seven years, and which, as a matter of fact, have been held nearly twenty times in the course of the last sixty years, have power to elect an Editorial Council of six hundred odd members, which sits about seven or eight months in the year. The Realm, however, comes out every day, and
the staff by which it is produced have duties which cannot be intermitted.
But that is by no means all. The Permanent Editor, by the mere fact of being permanent, speedily acquires a prestige, an influence, and a store of experience which make her more than a match for any of the temporary staffs which run the Realm for periods of uncertain duration. The same permanence of office enables her to communicate confidentially with other permanents, whether in Germany, Austria, or Russia, in a way that it is impossible to those outside the Royal caste. She had been on the throne before Lord Rosebery was born. She was a Crowned Queen before Lord Salisbury was ten years old. She is the Nestor of the statesmen of Europe. Apart altogether from the mysterious charm of Royalty, she represents tradition, continued service, and unrivalled experience. The Cabinet secrets of all her Ministries have been familiar to her ; she has guided the Realm through scores of crises; she has at last acquired a position where influence has attained a degree of authority hardly to be distinguished from absolute power.
The temporary staff is no doubt allowed to run the Realm in minor matters very much as it pleases so long as it does not threaten the continuity, the stability, and the tranquillity of the immense concern whose Shareholders have trusted their interests to her care.
But the moment danger threatens from any quarter, then the Permanent Editor asserts herself, and seldom asserts herself in vain. Like all trustees, she is opposed to policies of adventure. Her policy is peace; and on more than one occasion she has averted disastrous wars.
In the hands of the Permanent Editor lies the nominal right to appoint every Bishop of the Church, every Colonial Governor, every Ambassador. She is the fountain of
honour. It can only reign garters and peerages through her sign manual. And this nominal right of appointment is often converted into actual power of appointment by the natural desire of the temporary staff to oblige their permanent chief, and by the fact that she is far better informed than they as to the qualities of the men and the extent to which they are personæ gratæ at the Courts to which it is proposed to accredit them. What, for instance, can the Earl of Kimberley in a brief and embarrassed sojourn at the Foreign Office know of the ins and outs of all the international complications which are as familiar as household words in the mouth of the great Permanent Editor ? For the Queen not only reads the printed correspondence of the Ambassadors, of which a few shreds carefully cooked alone are printed in Blue Books; she can, and often does, carry on a direct personal private correspondence with these Ambassadors, Colonial Governors, Indian Viceroys, and the like,
Outside the one, two, or three narrowly restricted fields of party conflict, the Permanent Editor has more say in the settlement of everything than all the temporary staff put together. In the Army, in the Navy, in the Colonial Service, in India, and in Diplomacy the Permanent Editor is incomparably more influential, if she pleases to exert her influence, than the leaders of both parties put together. As a rule, the strength even of the most robust editor being limited, she does not interfere with the regular routine administration of the Realm. Editors-in-chief seldom concern themselves about news paragraphs or the placing of advertisements. Neither does the Queen disturb herself about the small things, the tithe of mint and anise and cumin. It is with the weightier matters that she deals. The goddess does not step out of the machine unless there is a complication worthy of so exalted an intervention to unravel. But she is never beyond reach, and even in the smaller things she is more potent than any of her temporary assistants.
Looking, then, at the Realm as a newspaper, it is obvious that the position of Permanent Editor, even though it is limited by a prohibition of all direct contribution to the columns of the paper, is on the whole immeasurably more influential on all questions but those of direct party warfare than the position of the most influential of her advisers. While they technically advise her, she has a vantage point from which she can advise them, and while she is in theory deprived of all authority, in practice her sagacity, her experience, her opportunities make her virtually supreme.
In the preceding study of this series I showed how Her Majesty, though pitted single-handed against statesmen of both parties, had succeeded in compelling the adhesion of the whole nation to her Imperial policy, I shall now in a rapid survey of the history of the reign proceed to show how the Imperial Editor has often succeeded in controlling the policy and in guiding the rulers of the Realm over which she reigns.
II. -THE GIRL QUEEN. The part played by the Queen as Permanent Editor of the Realm can best be illus trated by describing some of the things she has actually done in the sixty years of her reign ; first, in the choice of her temporary assistants; and, secondly, in the promoting or opposing of policies at home and abroad. It is assumed too often that the Queen has no partialities and no policies. The very reverse is the case. Her Majesty has the strongest personal sympathies and antipathies, and there is no one of all her subjects who has more definite political opinions or who expresses them with such vigour and unreserve. There never was a human being less qualified for playing a colourless and neutral rôle than this strong-willed, clear-thinking daughter of the Tudors. At the beginning of her reign she allowed this vehemence of temperament to betray her into more than one false step; but although years and a husband taught