« AnteriorContinuar »
1.-FROM REPUBLICANISM TO MONARCHY.
THE REMINISCENCES OF A POLITICAL PILGRIMAGE.
EFORE beginning to collect and collate the reminiscences of those who have
enjoyed more or less frequent opportunities of meeting their Sovereign, I
think it may not be without some interest to my readers if I were to preface the ideas of those who have known the Queen personally by the impressions of one of those who have never had that privilege. The latter are of course in the enormous majority. The number of those who have even seen Her Majesty as the central figure in a passing pageant is comparatively small beside the number of those who have never seen the Queen. Yet the security of the Throne depends upon the loyalty of the millions who, not having seen either one or the other, still nevertheless do honestly believe in God and honour the Queen. Hence, this first paper will probably appeal more closely to the majority of readers than anything that could be written by any of those who are Within. For it embodies the reminiscences and confessions of one who is Without. And after all it is only the hundreds of units who are within. It is the hundreds of millions who are without. To those dim unnumbered myriads, the Queen, though invisible, is nevertheless much more than a name. She is a reality in their lives, counting for much more than they think. How she comes to be such, and how far she is an actual living potent influence in the daily lives of her ordinary commonplace subjects, is surely the first matter for inquiry. And in prosecuting that inquiry no means is so simple and so obvious as that of self-interrogation. What has been my own experience? How did the idea of the Queen come into my small life? The very insignificance of the unit increases the value of its evidence. For in the days when I first formed my ideas of the Queen I was a mere grain of sand on the seashore. My existence was unknown outside the narrow limits of the family circle, and therein I faithfully represent the immense majority of those who are glad to live in the reign of our good Queen.
What do the subjects of the Queen think of her? How do they realise her? The answer to these questions must be sought not among the tradesmen of Windsor, or the members of the Household, or the Ministers of the Cabinet. To all such she is a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood woman, visible, audible, and on due occasion touchable even like ordinary mortals. But they to whom Her Majesty has come within the range of any but the telepathic sense are the minority. What do those know of Her Majesty who never Her Majesty have seen?
Think for a moment how immense is the area within her own Empire upon which the Queen has never set her foot. To all the teeming millions of India she is as
. mysterious and as unseen as Rider Haggard's “She.” In all the great Colonial dependencies where her image is on every coin her foot has never trodden. The loyalty of the colonists in Canada, in South Africa and in Australia flourishes out of sight of the Throne. And what is true of the Colonies is equally true of most of the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish counties. Through many of them, at one time or another, Her Majesty has made a Royal tour or paid a Royal visit. Through most of them the Queen has travelled by special express train with less than the ordinary degree of visibility of a meteor. But outside a radius of twenty miles round the three Royal residences, the Queen is practically unseen. Even in London, which she visits frequently, and through which she has driven in state occasionally, how many millions are there who have never seen Her Majesty! Then, again, there are a thousand who have seen her go by for one who has heard her speak. Those who have heard an articulate word from her lips are extremely few compared with those to whom she has been as dumb as a lay figure. But it is the latter who pay the Queen's taxes, who fight the Queen's battles, and who uphold the Queen's throne.
It is therefore with no apology that I venture, delving deep into the mines of wellnigh forgotten memories, to bring back to the light of day the beginnings of my first conception of the Queen. They are interesting, and may perhaps possess some little degree of importance, because they show how the least interesting and least important human unit in the Imperial hive may be, and in this case was actually, brought into more or less living although quite impersonal relation to the Lady of the Land.
Only the very old, it is sometimes said, care to gossip about the experiences of their early youth, and as they have then usually forgotten them, the world hears very little of what children really think and feel about matters which they can keep to themselves. The slow formation of ideas, the gradual growth of concepts in the child mind, is a process like the germination of the seed in the earth ; silence and darkness and secrecy encompass it about, and to disturb with inquisitive interrogation is fatal. But it is worth while, sometimes, to cast a glance along our backward track, if only to see how and where and when our present ideas were evolved.
To do so is never very grateful, for it exposes one to ridicule, and the grown man has sufficient reverence for the dreams of his youth not to expose them unveiled to the laughter of the world. Most of our ideas, even the most exalted, have their roots in some early impression which is as often as not mistaken, although the fruit it bears may be good and useful enough. Take, for instance, the Queen. There are probably not half a dozen men and women in the Empire who could accurately put together all the general and particular notions which it would be necessary to associate in order to form an adequate concept of what the Sovereign really is. But the first conception which even Mr. Gladstone has had of the Queen may very likely have been quite as grotesque and fantastic as those which our little ones are forming to-day. That first thought was as the tiny rill in which explorers tell us they have discovered the spring of the mighty Congo; but although travellers will risk life and waste treasure in searching for the sources of these arteries of continents, how few care to explore the secret places of their memories for the origin of their ideas !
In such a quest, all thought of anything but the actual fact must be rigidly repressed. If we are to explore the fairyland of childhood with the bull's-eye lantern of the scoffer and the cynic, and hail each innocent misconception with the cheap wit of Count Smalltork, we may bid farewell to any really truthful or exact genesis of our general ideas. All of which precious exordium seems to convince me that even while preparing to make the exploration on my own account, I shrink somewhat from the jibes and sneers which will certainly be showered upon the laying bare of the roots of ideas which go down, far away down, into the long-hidden strata of childhood.
Well, then, taking courage to make the plunge, where, when, how did the idea of the Queen first dawn upon the infantile mind of her unknown subject who in the early fifties first began to look out upon the world with the questioning intelligence of the wide-eyed child ?
I was born in 1849, the year when Europe was still rocking with the earthquake of the Revolution of 1848. The forces of Law and Order were grimly resuming their sway over the wild enthusiasm of the movement which had temporarily shaken down half the thrones of Europe and driven the Pope as a fugitive from the Eternal City. I was born at Embledon, but in my second year my parents came to live on Tyneside. Howden, nearly half-way between Newcastle and the sea, lies opposite the great shipbuilding town of Jarrow, a place where the Queen's ships are built, but which is not exactly a favourite resort of Royalty. To form any idea of the Queen from seeing her was, therefore, altogether out of the question. She did not even pass through the Central Station at Newcastle save at rare intervals, and then usually in the dead hour of night as she sped from Windsor to Balmoral or from Balmoral to Windsor. As a matter of fact, I never saw Her Majesty until I was five-and-twenty, when I saw her alight from her carriage at Windsor railway station.
Many children are brought up in an atmosphere heavily charged with reverence for the Queen and all the Royal Family. Possibly, if I had been lulled to sleep by “God save the Queen," I might, in the strange mystical way of childhood, have mixed up the Queen with the Deity, and have contracted, even in the nursery, a sentiment of awe for Her Majesty. But I was not brought up that way. The first time I remember hearing of the Queen was when I was a very little child, long before I had learnt to read. Her name struck upon my infantile ear in the familiar nursery rhyme which, to millions of children, has linked Royalty with the domestic tabby, and has even then not given Royalty the first place :
“ Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been ?
I've been to London to see the Queen.
In this favourite epic of the nursery the Pussy Cat, no doubt a near relative of Puss in Boots, and cousin at the least to Dick Whittington's Cat, is the hero of the tale. The Queen only plays the secondary part. Children-healthy, natural children -usually think much more of cats than of queens. The Queen is a far-away unrealised abstraction, whereas a cat is a moving miracle of grace and speed, with “ clawses longer than you would think,” eyes that see in the dark, and incalculable capacities of latent devilry. Compared with a cat a queen is unsubstantial as dreamstuff. Still the Queen was something that it was worth while for Pussy Cat herself to make a journey to London to see, and that was enough. It was evidently a sufficient excuse, an obviously adequate explanation of the journey. To go to London to see the Queen suggested that no other reason could possibly be so good. “Did people ever go to London except to see the Queen ? " asked the little inquirer to whom the capital itself was but the residence of the Queen. How great and grand and truly marvellous must the Queen be! And yet withal how delightfully human ! For she sat in a chair and a little mouse ran underneath it, just as we had seen mousey run under mother's chair. To inquiries about the Queen, we got such answers as left a delightfully vague impression of remoteness and grandeur. Searching diligently in this original deposit or first conception of the Queen, I cannot discover any other ideas than that she wore a crown and sat on a throne. About the same time the same veracious authorities, the Bibles of the nursery, impressed upon the plastic mind the idea which for ever associates queens with bread and honey :
• The King was in his counting-house
Counting out his money ;
Eating bread and honey."
jingles have been the first to introduce the idea of Royalty! Princes and princesses there were enough in fairyland. But the pussy cat's queen and the queen with bread and honey will be found to supply the substratum of most of our ideas of Royalty. The Bible, the fairy-tale Sunday book, helped in this, as in everything else, to give more definite form to the infantile conception of the Queen. In the New Testament there is only a passing glimpse of a queen, for Herodias' mother, although Herod's wife, does not figure as a queen. In the Old Testament, Pharaoh's daughter was a princess, and Solomon's wives were too numerous to be queens. Esther and Vashti were queens so long as the king loved them, but of queens proper there were only the Queen of Sheba, that fairy princess of Semitic tradition ; Queen Athaliah, who came to a bloody end ; and Queen Jezebel, who painted her face and tired her hair and looked out of a window, beneath which the dogs were soon to lick up her blood. The pictures of these queens in the illustrated Bible, which we used to look at as we sat on father's knee, helped to give form and outline to the shadowy idea of the Queen.
How and when and where it was that I first conceived any definite idea of the Queen as a visualised entity actually existing in material shape on the surface of this planet, I do not remember. But I can remember very well the first picture of the
Queen that ever attracted my attention.
It is the portrait by which she is best
The old unperforated red stamp was commonly RONE PEN called in our home a Queen's Head. I
remember being told when I asked if the Queen was like that, that she was not so good-looking. For there was no idealising of Royalty in our home. Children now-a-days, thanks to photography and illustrated journalism, are familiar with the features of the Queen. But in those days it was otherwise.
In St. Petersburg in every government office and police station you are confronted with the painted or printed picture of the Tsar, who silently looks down upon you from the wall as if to emphasise the fact that everything is done by his autocratic authority. The Queen's portrait confronted us nowhere. Only on the postage stamp did we see the semblance of the Queen's head. And how many millions I wonder to this very hour, all our modern appliances notwithstanding, have never seen any other portrait of Her Majesty but that on a postage stamp? Another image, however, must not be omitted. The conception produced by the postage stamp was modified by the effigy on the penny. They were great cartwheels of copper in those days, bearing in high relief the uncrowned head of Her Majesty. The difference between the two somewhat puzzled the youthful mind, which was thus early introduced to differing authorities.
Thus equipped, with due foundation of nursery rhyme and Bible stories and familiarised by postage stamp and penny piece with the Queen's image, I embarked upon the next stage in the voyage of life—that critical section wherein the vast unknown world of the Printed Page opens its marvels to the eye, and the child learns to read. Reading soon became a delight, and in reading history my ideas of Queens began to expand. It is very laughable the way in which in early and perhaps even in later life we stumble upon our likes and dislikes, without apparent reason, and then having taken up with a prejudice, we hug it to the end. The reminiscence I am about to recall, grotesque though it may appear, brings to mind an incident which irrationally enough, perhaps, has influenced my subsequent life more than most of the philosophers and divines in my library.
While still in my petticoats, I contracted, childlike, a hopeless passion for a pretty
Aunt Bessie, who was sympathetic and kind to me, and who laughed good-humouredly when I declared that if she would only wait for me till I became a man I would inarry her. Poor Aunt Bessie died and left me forlorn, when in a fortunate hour I laid hands on a history book in the Sunday-school library, and discovered to my delight and surprise that Queen Elizabeth was known as Good Queen Bess. The chapter devoted to