Society in London, by a Foreign Resident

Smalley, George W.


CHAPTER I: The Court and Royal Family


CHAPTER I: The Court and Royal Family




EVERY one knows enough of the government of England to be aware that, in name a monarchy, it is, in reality, a republic. The Sovereign is a fact, but it is rather the idea than the fact of sovereignty which dominates the English mind. British loyalty is divided between a woman and an abstraction. The woman is the Queen; the abstraction is the power she exercises.

The thirty or forty millions of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom accept the monarchy; have not the slightest wish to get rid of it; honor the Monarch as their Church Catechism bids them do; would reprobate any attacks upon the royal person; would resent disrespectful language about her; would even risk their lives to save hers. Yet of these millions, not one per cent.-not one in a thousand-has ever seen the Queen, knows of her except from the newspapers, has any notion of what she is like except from pictures, or of the manner in which she passes her days. Imagine it possible that the Queen should die and her death be kept a profound secret; imagine that certain members of her household and ministers of State conspired together to pretend that she continued to live; imagine that the same announcements appeared as appear now in the ; imagine finally that it were practicable


to perpetuate this delusion, and that the conspirators kept good faith among themselves-imagine this to be the case, and all would go on as it goes on now.

There are not five hundred of Her Majesty's subjects who need or would suspect anything to be wrong. The inclemency of the season, neuralgic pains always supervening on exposure to the air, general debility, an insuperable indisposition to see or be seen by any of her fellow-creatures-any of these pleas would be accepted, provided that no suspicions were excited, as a perfectly reasonable excuse for the being completely, as she is now all but completely, invisible to the ordinary eye. Two or three years ago there died a great English noble-the -who had certainly not revealed himself to more than a score of his relatives or retainers during the last two or three decades of his existence. He had become a myth while he was still in the flesh. Yet the proposition that he was alive never excited controversy, and his estate was as well managed as if he himself issued daily orders to his agents.

The business of the English Empire would be conducted in the same fashion, and might be conducted with nearly the same ceremony, if the Sovereign were as far removed from the mundane vision, from year's end to year's end, as she is from the vision of all save an infinitesimal minority of those who gratefully confess her supremacy. It is sometimes said that the English people are impervious to ideas. Their attitude towards the throne and its occupant shows that they are not. To the overwhelming mass of the British nation, monarchy is an idea pure and simple- intangible, impalpable-yet never a phantom, still less a chimera.

But if monarchy is an idea in England, do not suppose that the monarchy is a nullity. It is no paradox to say that the Monarch is a reality because she is, to such an extent, an idea; that she has power because she circumscribes it within such exiguous limits; that her presence is worshipped because so few manifestations of it are vouchsafed to the worshipper. Her existence is one constant appeal to the imagination of the most imaginative people under the sun. She constitutes the tiny bit of romance in the grimly prosaic lives of tens of thousands. The masses who would probably be organized to agitate and howl if the Queen were to assert any of the powers which the law of the Constitution, by a series of obsolete fictions, reposes in her, would immediately arouse a million


champions if any one in public were to speak lightly against her, or so much as refuse to credit her with the sum of all feminine graces and virtues.

Again, the , notwithstanding that her strength resides chiefly in her ideal aspect, is not a political nonentity, because she is an exceedingly clever woman. And here let me offer a word of advice and caution. In England one may sometimes find one's self in the company of people who speak of the royal family as if its members were, without an exception, stupid, ignorant, wrong-headed, maladroit, and dull. That is the way of the more vulgar Britons. They detract their royalties as they calumniate their climate. The truth is, the reigning family in England is remarkable for its extreme ability, its skilfulness in dealing with situations and with men or women, its rapid and accurate perception, its intuitive savoir-faire. The is, we all know, one of the most gifted ladies in Europe, and only a woman of the highest calibre could have held her own, as she has done in private and public matters, against , or have suggested herself to him as an obstacle in the path of his policy with which he must reckon.

Perhaps I may be asked for a proof of the talents with which I have credited the . I reply, look at the facts. She became a sovereign forty-eight years ago; she remains a sovereign still; the foundation of her throne is deeper and firmer than ever. Is not this enough? What would you more? There is a proverb which tells us that if it needs a clever man to make a fortune, it needs a cleverer man to keep it. Depend upon it that the Sovereign who, when her reign is well-nigh half a century old, has absolutely nothing to fear from any hostile movement, is a very remarkable woman indeed.

The Queen's year is divided between a Scotch chateau, a feudal mansion in the suburbs-the stateliest building perhaps of its kind in Europe-and a country house close to a fashionable yachting resort. At she lives as much as possible in the open air, reading State documents and being read to by her ladies during the summer in a tent; at , and as is only some twenty miles from it may be called a suburb, and at Osborne she leads the existence of an august recluse, the solitude and monotony of which are only broken by frequent State visits and more unfrequent State ceremonials.

The constitutional functions of sovereignty may be dismissed in a sentence. signs documents and suggests or vetoes the appointment of about all. Yet there is an indirect influence which she exercises on affairs, and, if she does not check the advance of events for long, she may raise difficulties in the way of their progress, or, on the other hand, may help their despatch. The English Premier would find his position much lighter if he could forego his daily letter to Her Majesty when Parliament is in session, and if, in other matters, he were not obliged to observe the formality of consulting the royal will.

Having vast experience, the Queen has some of the authority which it confers. So recently as the autumn of last year that authority was exercised. The two chambers of the legislature were in collision about parliamentary reform. The Queen summoned to her perhaps the only public man with whom she may be now described as on terms of personal friendship-the . Formerly Her Majesty regarded with exceptional favor and confidence , but he fell from the royal grace, never completely to be restored, when he quarrelled with . , I say, sent for the , exhorted him to close the feud between the two parties and the two Houses, and plainly said that upon any terms the matter must be arranged. What followed? The Duke communicated the will of his royal mistress to , and the incident was at an end.

With the exception of the , the Queen has among the statesmen of her epoch no personal friends who would dare plainly to express their opinion to Her Majesty. , who by his adroitness, patient courtiership, unbounded and extravagant adulation, had completely overcome the royal prejudices against him, which at one time seemed insuperable, and who had won the heart and trust of his sovereign, was the last minister who fully enjoyed the royal favor. periodically visit Her Majesty, but the personal relations between the Sovereign and her Premier are of a tepid kind, and have been known to be actually strained and chilly. The position of the Queen is solitary-nay, sad. If the late was mourned so deeply by Her Majesty, and missed so much, it was because he had acquired by long years of faithful service some of its privileges -because Her Majesty knew that she could trust his judgment and


counsel. Few are the friendships which royalty can allow itself, and the attendant of the Queen of England who died some three years ago was not a menial, but a friend. With her relations are those of personal cordiality, but still formal and official. The three most intimate friends of her own sex possessed by the Queen are tile , , and , none of them remarkable for cleverness, tact, or social talent, but each habituated to the ways and attached to the person of the Sovereign.

The lot of the maids of honor is far from easy. The demand upon their physical strength and patience is continuous. They must always be within call, and as seldom or never reads a newspaper with her own eyes, neither their eyes nor their voice must ever tire. Do the hardships of their position, it may be asked, end here? Not perhaps exactly. Crowned womanhood is no exception to the general law of womanhood, and, kindly though her heart may be, the Queen has the capriciousness of her exalted station and her sex. -a woman with the most affectionate manner in the world; all tenderness and sympathetic interest in those with whom she is brought into contact-has no more disagreeable duty to fulfil than that, not seldom imposed upon her, of telling some lady of the Court that her presence has become burdensome to Her Majesty, and that she must go. The Queen likes young people about her, and has few favorites past middle age. Within the last few years two ladies whom the Queen had received into her service with open arms have been dismissed suddenlyone because the Sovereign had wearied of her, the other because she had proved physically unequal to the labor of the position.

How speeds daily life beneath the royal roof? Much in this fashion. The Queen takes her meals-breakfasts and lunches-in her apartments alone. The ladies of the Court have a sitting-room and dining-room appropriated to themselves, and at the dimensions of these are of the most modest kind, the entire space occupied by the castle being so limited that the Queen's ministers in attendance are requested not to bring a private secretary with them, and are compelled to transact all their business and correspondence in their bedchamber.

The royal dinner-hour is nine o'clock, and at five minutes to nine the Queen, if she has company, enters the room in which the guests are assembled, and then, as the hour strikes, leads the way to the


banquet. Royal dinner-parties have one great advantage-they are very short. Soon after ten the diners are once more in the salon or corridor of reception, the Queen addresses each in succession for a few minutes, and before eleven the function is at an end. What impresses those who have had the honor of conversation with Her Majesty most is the singularly minute acquaintance which she possesses of the character and the career, the fortune and the families, of her most distinguished subjects. In the army she takes the keenest interest, and exercises in many methods her personal initiative and command. , now in the Egyptian service, and formerly colonel of a hussar regiment, would have been restored to his original rank in the British army but for the hostile intervention of the Sovereign. More lately the Queen gave instructions that a lady of title, guilty of a literary indiscretion, should be forbidden to attend the royal drawing-rooms of the London season.

When the Queen makes her influence felt in the restricted sphere of activity which still remains open to her, she generally does so in a way that most of her subjects would approve. A few failings, some feminine, some royal, apart, the Queen is a fair embodiment and reflection of English common-sense, accurately understanding in the main the genius of her people and the currents of popular feeling; well knowing that princes are loved and esteemed in proportion as they show themselves to be human, and that the autobiographical volumes, contemptible though, as literary productions, they are, which she has from time to time given to the public, or the messages which she addresses to the people when any great event occurs-a railway accident or a battle-perceptibly strengthen the foundations on which the structure of monarchy rests. And perhaps Englishmen and Englishwomen of the middle or the lower class like their Sovereign none the less because so many of her tastes are identical with their own. has not only the true German love for pageants and ceremonials of State, uniforms, trappings, shows, and functions of all kinds, but the passion distinctive of the English proletariat for funerals and for whatever is associated with the sepulchre. It is morbid, but what will you? There is nothing which fascinates the British workman and his wife so much as the business of the undertaker. The crowning ambition in the laborer's life is a handsome funeral. Coffins, shrouds, hearses, and nodding plumes delight him. He and his


wife are enthusiastic over what they will call a beautiful corpse. These peculiarities are illustrated by the Queen on a becoming scale. There is a bliss in tears, and to English royalty there is a pleasure, nay, a rapture, in the pomp and apparatus of mortality.

The Queen's youngest daughter, the , now about to be married to , has been for years her mother's constant companion, and will see a good deal of Her Majesty in the future. The English mind has been, unconsciously it may be, impressed by the spectacle of the Queen and the Princess, by the contrast it suggests, and by the tender thoughtfulness shown, without failure and without stint, by the girl to the woman. To Her Royal Highness life, varied though the domestic routine of Court has been by attendance at flower-shows, bazaars, and fetes, has proved perhaps a trifle monotonous. It was necessary to do something, and four years ago the Princess determined to change her state, and privately betrothed herself to the handsome scion of Prussian royalty. The secret was well kept. When the breathed it into the ears of her royal mother a little storm broke. It did not last long, but while it lasted it was acute. Everything is now arranged. The formal consent of the Sovereign has been given, and though the match is not liked by any of the royal family it is acquiesced in. The may wish it were otherwise, and in that desire, if it be his desire, he is influenced less by personal sentiments than by his own idea of public opinion. The English people, he knows, are averse to this indefinite multiplication of petty German potentates, supported by English money, dwelling under the shadow of royalty. Moreover His Royal Highness is aware that the pretensions of these foreign princes, the airs they give themselves, the knowledge especially of military matters which they profess, are not acceptable to the English gentry. As a question of taste, therefore, and policy, the does not encourage alliances of that sort. But he is too sagacious to create any disturbance about it, and he will receive as his brother-in-law much as he received or the .

, who married the third daughter of the Sovereign, lives the life of an English country gentleman in a capital house in -an amiable, domesticated, philoprogenitive person; not brilliant, perhaps, yet not wanting in the quality of practical shrewdness. Silly stories have been current about


him, such as that he had conceived before his marriage higher matrimonial ambitions, and that he had previously rehearsed the drama of domesticity elsewhere. These stories are fictions. is nothing more than he seems to be and what I have described. There is no skeleton in his cupboard. He is a fair shot, a kindly companion, hospitable, contented with his lot; equally pleased whether some of his royal relatives come down to shoot with him or whether he is shooting by himself. The takes an interest in charitable and beneficent institutions of every kind: bazaars, asylums, schools, orphanages, and so forth. She is the feminine equivalent of the Englishman who is a professional chairman of public dinners and patron of eleemosynary funds. She is the friend and colleague of , whose acquaintance every visitor of distinction makes before he or she has been in London many days.

Let me preface my remarks on the with a few brief comments on the other royalties. The , with her ducal husband, , has quitted the English capital, probably forever, and, as is well known, is now settled at . She was always much liked in England. Teck, however, was not a success. The and his people never took kindly to him. They recognized in him something which the English call bad form. His manner lacked the repose which English taste demands. Physically by no means ill-looking-- indeed, almost handsome-and with a fine presence, he possessed by nature and he acquired by art nothing of the grand manner. He missed the due proportion of things, and showed an ignorance of their fitness. He presumed upon his position with a curious clumsiness. He was habitually late for appointments, and when he apologized for his unpunctuality he did so in a manner which aggravated the original offence. Then he was not always happy in his conversation at dinner, contriving too often to say the wrong thing to the wrong person. He himself said that he was never well received in England. Whether his grievances were real or imaginary, he paraded them too much. He went about complaining of his treatment, and protesting, without the slightest provocation, that he intended henceforth to look after himself. He was supposed to be wanting in deference to his wife altogether; he rubbed up the most fastidious and sensitive portion of English society the wrong way. Nevertheless a good fellow.

Of the , , and of the , it is not possible to say much which is not known already. His Lordship, though the heir to the ancient Scotch dukedom of , was never made one of the family by his royal brothers-in-law. It was regarded as a mesalliance. His appointment to the Viceroyship of was a temporary release from a position not merely difficult, but impracticable. He has now been two years in England again, and he finds his path much smoother. He is a gentleman of pleasant, picturesque appearance, thoroughly courteous and kindly, of reflective habits, studious tastes, and no mean intellectual endowments. The sense of novelty and strangeness he experienced at being the Queen's son-in-law has worn off. He has developed an independence of character, has resolved to live his own life, reading much, writing a little, and generally following the bent of his own excellent inclinations. The recognizes the propriety of his brother-in-law's course. The has her own occupations, is a passable artist and tolerable statuary. And so between them the pair have settled down into a steady, respectable, refined, dignified existence. It was their common wish that they should proceed to India as Viceroy and Vicequeen after the retirement of ; but there were political objections to the step, and the force of these was fully admitted by and the Princess.

There are three other royal or semi-royal personages, of whom everything that it is necessary to state may be summed up in half a dozen sentences. Than , till the other day , no more thoroughly excellent or universally popular man has been ever known in England. A capital officer, he was generosity itself as a host. Government House at was always open in his time to every properly accredited comer. Bright, cheery, acute, ingenious, resourceful, assisted-nay, made-by his Princess, he won all hearts. His local popularity expanded into a national popularity, and nothing could be more acceptable to the English people than his promotion to the military command of Ireland. , who married a sister of the late , is a meritorious sculptor, working at his art as if it were his only means of subsistence, and receiving many valuable commissions. His studio is in , where he has a modest little establishment. To the majority of Englishmen his existence is unknown, and in London society


he is seldom seen. He is the father of a clever and graceful daughter-herself no mean sculptress-the . Of nothing more need be said than that he is a commander of the Queen's yacht, that he has a pleasant presence, and a short, quick, imperious manner.