Of the "Merriment of Parsons" one of the most conspicuous instances was to be found in the Rev. W.H. Brookfield, the "little Frank Whitestock" of Thackeray's Curate's Walk, and the subject of Lord Tennyson's characteristic elegy:—
"Brooks, for they called you so that knew you best— Old Brooks, who loved so well to mouth my rhymes, How oft we two have heard St. Mary's chimes! How oft the Cantab supper host, and guest, Would echo helpless laughter to your jest!
* * * * *
You man of humorous-melancholy mark Dead of some inward agony—is it so? Our kindlier, trustier Jaques, past away! I cannot laud this life, it looks so dark: [Greek: Skias onar]—dream of a shadow, go,— God bless you. I shall join you in a day."
This tribute is as true in substance as it is striking in phrase. I have noticed the same peculiarity about Mr. Brookfield's humour as about Jenny Lind's singing. Those who had once heard it were always eager to talk about it. Ask some elderly man about the early triumphs of the Swedish Nightingale, and notice how he kindles. "Ah! Jenny Lind! Yes; there was never anything like that!" And he begins about the Figlia, and how she came along the bridge in the Sonnambula; and you feel the tenderness in his tone, as of a positive love for her whose voice seems still ringing through him as he talks. I have noticed exactly the same phenomenon when people who knew Mr. Brookfield hear his name mentioned in casual conversation. "Ah! Brookfield! Yes; there never was any one quite like him!" And off they go, with visible pleasure and genuine emotion, to describe the inimitable charm, the touch of genius which brought humorous delight out of the commonest incidents, the tinge of brooding melancholy which threw the flashing fun into such high relief.
Not soon will fade from the memory of any who ever heard it the history of the examination at the ladies' school, where Brookfield, who had thought that he was only expected to examine in languages and literature, found himself required to set a paper in physical science. "What was I to do? I know nothing about hydrogen or oxygen or any other 'gen.' So I set them a paper in common sense, or what I called 'Applied Science.' One of my questions was, 'What would you do to cure a cold in the head?' One young lady answered, 'I should put my feet in hot mustard and water till you were in a profuse perspiration.' Another said, 'I should put him to bed, give him a soothing drink, and sit by him till he was better.' But, on reconsideration, she ran her pen through all the 'him's' and 'he's,' and substituted 'her' and 'she.'"
Mr. Brookfield was during the greater part of his life a hard-working servant of the public, and his friends could only obtain his delightful company in the rare and scanty intervals of school-inspecting—a profession of which not even the leisure is leisurely. The type of the French abbe, whose sacerdotal avocations lay completely in the background and who could give the best hours of the day and night to the pleasures or duties of society, was best represented in our day by the Rev. William Harness and the Rev. Henry White. Mr. Harness was a diner-out of the first water; an author and a critic; perhaps the best Shakespearean scholar of his time; and a recognized and even dreaded authority on all matters connected with the art and literature of the drama. Mr. White, burdened only with the sinecure chaplaincies of the Savoy and the House of Commons, took the Theatre as his parish, mediated with the happiest tact between the Church and the Stage, and pronounced a genial benediction over the famous suppers in Stratton Street at which an enthusiastic patroness used to entertain Sir Henry Irving when the public labours of the Lyceum were ended for the night.
Canon Malcolm MacColl is an abbe with a difference. No one eats his dinner more sociably or tells a story more aptly; no one enjoys good society more keenly or is more appreciated in it; but he does not make society a profession. He is conscientiously devoted to the duties of his canonry; he is an accomplished theologian; and he is perhaps the most expert and vigorous pamphleteer in England. The Franco-German War, the Athanasian Creed, the Ritualistic prosecutions, the case for Home Rule, and the misdeeds of the Sultan have in turn produced from his pen pamphlets which have rushed into huge circulations and swollen to the dimensions of solid treatises. Canon MacColl is genuinely and ex animo an ecclesiastic; but he is a politician as well. His inflexible integrity and fine sense of honour have enabled him to play, with credit to himself and advantage to the public, the rather risky part of the Priest in Politics. He has been trusted alike by Lord Salisbury and by Mr. Gladstone; has conducted negotiations of great pith and moment; and has been behind the scenes of some historic performances. Yet he has never made an enemy, nor betrayed a secret, nor lowered the honour of his sacred calling.
Miss Mabel Collins, in her vivid story of The Star Sapphire, has drawn under a very thin pseudonym a striking portrait of a clergyman who, with his environment, plays a considerable part in the social agreeableness of London at the present moment. Is social agreeableness a hereditary gift? Nowadays, when everything, good or bad, is referred to heredity, one is inclined to say that it must be; and, though no training could supply the gift where Nature had withheld it, yet a judicious education can develop a social faculty which ancestry has transmitted. It is recorded, I think, of Madame de Stael, that, after her first conversation with William Wilberforce, she said: "I have always heard that Mr. Wilberforce was the most religious man in England, but I did not know that he was also the wittiest." The agreeableness of the great philanthropist's son—Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford and of Winchester—I discussed in my last chapter. We may put aside the fulsome dithyrambics of grateful archdeacons and promoted chaplains, and be content to rest the Bishop's reputation for agreeableness on testimony so little interested as that of Matthew Arnold and Archbishop Tait. The Archbishop wrote, after the Bishop's death, of his "social and irresistibly fascinating side, as displayed in his dealings with society;" and in 1864 Mr. Arnold, after listening with only very moderate admiration to one of the Bishop's celebrated sermons, wrote: "Where he was excellent was in his speeches at luncheon afterwards—gay, easy, cordial, and wonderfully happy."
I think that one gathers from all dispassionate observers of the Bishop that what struck them most in him was the blending of boisterous fun and animal spirits with a deep and abiding sense of the seriousness of religion. In the philanthropist-father the religious seriousness rather preponderated over the fun; in the bishop-son (by a curious inversion of parts) the fun sometimes concealed the religiousness. To those who speculate in matters of race and pedigree it is interesting to watch the two elements contending in the character of Canon Basil Wilberforce, the Bishop's youngest and best-beloved son. When you see his graceful figure and clean-shaven ecclesiastical face in the pulpit of his strangely old-fashioned church, or catch the vibrating notes of his beautifully modulated voice in
"The hush of our dread high altar, Where The Abbey makes us We,"
you feel yourself in the presence of a born ecclesiastic, called from his cradle by an irresistible vocation to a separate and sanctified career. When you see him on the platform of some great public meeting, pouring forth argument, appeal, sarcasm, anecdote, fun, and pathos in a never-ceasing flood of vivid English, you feel that you are under the spell of a born orator. And yet again, when you see the priest of Sunday, the orator of Monday, presiding on Tuesday with easy yet finished courtesy at the hospitable table of the most beautiful dining-room in London, or welcomed with equal warmth for his racy humour and his unfailing sympathy in the homes of his countless friends, you feel that here is a man naturally framed for society, in whom his father and grandfather live again. Truly a combination of hereditary gifts is displayed in Canon Wilberforce; and the social agreeableness of London received a notable addition when Mr. Gladstone transferred him from Southampton to Dean's Yard.
Of agreeable Canons there is no end, and the Chapter of Westminster is peculiarly rich in them. Mr. Gore's ascetic saintliness of life conceals from the general world, but not from the privileged circle of his intimate friends, the high breeding of a great Whig family and the philosophy of Balliol. Archdeacon Furse has the refined scholarship and delicate literary sense which characterized Eton in its days of glory. Dr. Duckworth's handsome presence has long been welcomed in the very highest of all social circles. Mr. Eyton's massive bulk and warm heart, and rugged humour and sturdy common sense, produce the effect of a clerical Dr. Johnson. But perhaps we must turn our back on the Abbey and pursue our walk along the Thames Embankment as far as St. Paul's if we want to discover the very finest flower of canonical culture and charm, for it blushes unseen in the shady recesses of Amen Court. Henry Scott Holland, Canon of St. Paul's, is beyond all question one of the most agreeable men of his time. In fun and geniality and warm-hearted hospitality he is a worthy successor of Sydney Smith, whose official house he inhabits; and to those elements of agreeableness he adds certain others which his admirable predecessor could scarcely have claimed. He has all the sensitiveness of genius, with its sympathy, its versatility, its unexpected turns, its rapid transitions from grave to gay, its vivid appreciation of all that is beautiful in art and nature, literature and life. His temperament is essentially musical, and, indeed, it was from him that I borrowed, in a former paragraph, my description of Jenny Lind and her effect on her hearers. No man in London, I should think, has so many and such devoted friends in every class and stratum; and those friends acknowledge in him not only the most vivacious and exhilarating of social companions, but one of the moral forces which have done most to quicken their consciences and lift their lives.
Before I have done with the agreeableness of clergymen I must say a word about two academical personages, of whom it was not always easy to remember that they were clergymen, and whose agreeableness struck one in different lights, according as one happened to be the victim or the witness of their jocosity. If any one wishes to know what the late Master of Balliol was really like in his social aspect, I should refer him, not to the two volumes of his Biography, nor even to the amusing chit-chat of Mr. Lionel Tollemache's Recollections, but to the cleverest work of a very clever Balliol man—Mr. W.H. Mallock's New Republic. The description of Mr. Jowett's appearance, conversation, and social bearing is photographic, and the sermon which Mr. Mallock puts into his mouth is not a parody, but an absolutely faultless reproduction both of substance and of style. That it excessively irritated the subject of the sketch is the best proof of its accuracy. For my own part, I must freely admit that I do not write as an admirer of Mr. Jowett; but one saying of his, which I had the advantage of hearing, does much to atone, in my judgment, for the snappish impertinences on which his reputation for wit has been generally based. The scene was the Master's own dining-room, and the moment that the ladies had left the room one of the guests began a most outrageous conversation. Every one sat flabbergasted. The Master winced with annoyance; and then, bending down the table towards the offender, said in his shrillest tone—"Shall we continue this conversation in the drawing-room?" and rose from his chair. It was really a stroke of genius thus both to terminate and to rebuke the impropriety without violating the decorum due from host to guest.
Of the late Master of Trinity—Dr. Thompson—it was said: "He casteth forth his ice like morsels. Who is able to abide his frost?" The stories of his mordant wit are endless, but an Oxford man can scarcely hope to narrate them with proper accuracy. He was nothing if not critical. At Seeley's Inaugural Lecture as Professor of History his only remark was—"Well, well. I did not think we could so soon have had occasion to regret poor Kingsley." To a gushing admirer who said that a popular preacher had so much taste—"Oh yes; so very much, and all so very bad." Of a certain Dr. Woods, who wrote elementary mathematical books for schoolboys, and whose statue occupies the most conspicuous position in the ante-chapel of St. John's College—"The Johnian Newton." His hit at the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, when he was a junior Fellow of Trinity, is classical—"We are none of us infallible—not even the youngest of us." But it requires an eye-witness of the scene to do justice to the exordium of the Master's sermon on the Parable of the Talents, addressed in Trinity Chapel to what considers itself, and not without justice, the cleverest congregation in the world. "It would be obviously superfluous in a congregation such as that which I now address to expatiate on the responsibilities of those who have five, or even two, talents. I shall therefore confine my observations to the more ordinary case of those of us who have one talent."
 The Right Hon. G.W. Balfour.
Lord Beaconsfield, describing Monsignore Berwick in Lothair, says that he "could always, when necessary, sparkle with anecdote or blaze with repartee." The former performance is considerably easier than the latter. Indeed, when a man has a varied experience, a retentive memory, and a sufficient copiousness of speech, the facility of story-telling may attain the character of a disease. The "sparkle" evaporates while the "anecdote" is left. But, though what Mr. Pinto called "Anecdotage" is deplorable, a repartee is always delightful: and, while by no means inclined to admit the general inferiority of contemporary conversation to that of the last generation, I am disposed to think that in the art of repartee our predecessors excelled us.
If this is true, it may be partly due to the greater freedom of an age when well-bred men and refined women spoke their minds with an uncompromising plainness which would now be voted intolerable. I have said that the old Royal Dukes were distinguished by the racy vigour of their conversation; and the Duke of Cumberland, afterwards King Ernest of Hanover, was held to excel all his brothers in this respect. I was told by the late Sir Charles Wyke that he was once walking with the Duke of Cumberland along Piccadilly when the Duke of Gloucester (first cousin to Cumberland, and familiarly known as "Silly Billy") came out of Gloucester House. "Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Gloucester, stop a minute. I want to speak to you," roared the Duke of Cumberland. Poor Silly Billy, whom nobody ever noticed, was delighted to find himself thus accosted, and ambled up smiling. "Who's your tailor?" shouted Cumberland. "Stultz," replied Gloucester. "Thank you. I only wanted to know, because, whoever he is, he ought to be avoided like a pestilence." Exit Silly Billy.
Of this inoffensive but not brilliant prince (who, by the way, was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge) it is related that once at a levee he noticed a naval friend with a much-tanned face. "How do, Admiral? Glad to see you again. It's a long time since you have been at a levee." "Yes, sir. Since I last saw your Royal Highness I have been nearly to the North Pole." "By G—-, you look more as if you had been to the South Pole." It is but bare justice to this depreciated memory to observe that the Duke of Gloucester scored a point against his kingly cousin when, on hearing that William IV. had consented to the Reform Bill, he ejaculated, "Who's Silly Billy now?" But this is a digression.
Early in the nineteenth century a famous lady, whose name, for obvious reasons, I forbear to indicate even by an initial, had inherited great wealth under a will which, to put it mildly, occasioned much surprise. She shared an opera-box with a certain Lady D—-, who loved the flowing wine-cup not wisely, but too well. One night Lady D—- was visibly intoxicated at the opera, and her friend told her that the partnership in the box must cease, as she could not appear again in company so disgraceful. "As you please," said Lady D—-. "I may have had a glass of wine too much; but at any rate I never forged my father's signature, and then murdered the butler to prevent his telling."
Beau Brummell, the Prince of Dandies and the most insolent of men, was once asked by a lady if be would "take a cup of tea." "Thank you, ma'am," he replied, "I never take anything but physic." "I beg your pardon," replied the hostess, "you also take liberties."
The Duchess of Somerset, born Sheridan, and famous as the Queen of Beauty at the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, was pre-eminent in this agreeable art of swift response. One day she called at a shop for some article which she had purchased the day before, and which had not been sent home. The order could not be traced. The proprietor of the establishment inquired, with great concern, "May I ask who took your Grace's order? Was it a young gentleman with fair hair?" "No; it was an elderly nobleman with a bald head."
The celebrated Lady Clanricarde, daughter of George Canning, was talking during the Franco-German War of 1870 to the French Ambassador, who complained bitterly that England had not intervened on behalf of France. "But, after all," he said, "it was only what we might have expected. We always believed that you were a nation of shopkeepers, and now we know you are." "And we," replied Lady Clanricarde, "always believed that you were a nation of soldiers, and now we know you are not"—a repartee worthy to rank with Queen Mary's reply to Lady Lochleven about the sacramental character of marriage, in the third volume of The Abbot.
A young lady, who had just been appointed a Maid of Honour, was telling some friends with whom she was dining that one of the conditions of the office was that she should not keep a diary of what went on at Court. A cynical man of the world who was present said, "What a tiresome rule! I think I should keep my diary all the same." "Then," replied the young lady, "I am afraid you would not be a maid of Honour."
In the famous society of old Holland House a conspicuous and interesting figure was Henry Luttrell. It was known that he must be getting on in life, for he had sat in the Irish Parliament, but his precise age no one knew. At length Lady Holland, whose curiosity was restrained by no considerations of courtesy, asked him point-blank—"Now, Luttrell, we're all dying to know how old you are. Just tell me." Eyeing his questioner gravely, Luttrell made answer, "It is an odd question; but as you, Lady Holland, ask it, I don't mind telling you. If I live till next year, I shall be—devilish old."
For the mutual amenities of Melbourne and Alvanley and Rogers and Allen, for Lord Holland's genial humour, and for Lady Holland's indiscriminate insolence, we can refer to Lord Macaulay's Life and Charles Greville's Journals, and the enormous mass of contemporary memoirs. Most of these verbal encounters were fought with all imaginable good-humour, over some social or literary topic; but now and then, when political passion was really roused, they took a fiercely personal tone.
Let one instance of elaborate invective suffice. Sir James Mackintosh, who, as the writer of the Vindiciae Gallicae, had been the foremost apologist for the French Revolution, fell later under the influence of Burke, and proclaimed the most unmeasured hostility to the Revolution and its authors, their works and ways. Having thus become a vehement champion of law and order, he exclaimed one day that O'Coighley, the priest who negotiated between the Revolutionary parties in Ireland and France, was the basest of mankind. "No, Mackintosh," replied that sound though pedantic old Whig, Dr. Parr; "he might have been much worse. He was an Irishman; he might have been a Scotsman. He was a priest; he might have been a lawyer. He was a rebel; he might have been a renegade."
These severe forms of elaborated sarcasm belong, I think, to a past age. Lord Beaconsfield was the last man who indulged in them. When the Greville Memoirs—that mine of social information in which I have so often quarried—came out, some one asked Mr. Disraeli, as he then was, if he had read them. He replied, "No. I do not feel attracted to them. I remember the author, and he was the most conceited person with whom I have ever been brought in contact, although I have read Cicero and known Bulwer Lytton." This three-edged compliment has seldom been excelled. In a lighter style, and more accordant with feminine grace, was Lady Morley's comment on the decaying charms of her famous rival, Lady Jersey—the Zenobia of Endymion—of whom some gushing admirer had said that she looked so splendid going to court in her mourning array of black and diamonds—"it was like night." "Yes, my dear; minuit passe." A masculine analogue to this amiable compliment may be cited from the table-talk of Lord Granville—certainly not an unkindly man—to whom the late Mr. Delane had been complaining of the difficulty of finding a suitable wedding-present for a young lady of the house of Rothschild. "It would be absurd to give a Rothschild a costly gift. I should like to find something not intrinsically valuable, but interesting because it is rare." "Nothing easier, my dear fellow; send her a lock of your hair."
When a remote cousin of Lord Henniker was elected to the Head Mastership of Rossall, a disappointed competitor said that it was a case of [Greek: eneka tou kuriou]; but a Greek joke is scarcely fair play.
When the New Review was started, its accomplished Editor designed it to be an inexpensive copy of the Nineteenth Century. It was to cost only sixpence, and was to be written by bearers of famous names—those of the British aristocracy for choice. He was complaining in society of the difficulty of finding a suitable title, when a vivacious lady said, "We have got Cornhill, and Ludgate, and Strand—why not call yours Cheapside?"
Oxford has always been a nursing-mother of polished satirists. Of a small sprig of aristocracy, who was an undergraduate in my time, it was said by a friend that he was like Euclid's definition of a point: he had no parts and no magnitude, but had position. In previous chapters I have quoted the late Master of Balliol and Lord Sherbrooke. Professor Thorold Rogers excelled in a Shandean vein. Lord Bowen is immortalized by his emendation to the Judge's address to the Queen, which had contained the Heep-like sentence—"Conscious as we are of our own unworthiness for the great office to which we have been called." "Wouldn't it be better to say, 'Conscious as we are of one another's unworthiness'?" Henry Smith, Professor of Geometry, the wittiest, most learned, and most genial of Irishmen, said of a well-known man of science—"His only fault is that he sometimes forgets that he is the Editor, not the Author, of Nature." A great lawyer who is now a great judge, and has, with good reason, the very highest opinion of himself, stood as a Liberal at the General Election of 1880. His Tory opponents set on foot a rumour that he was an Atheist, and when Henry Smith heard it he said, "Now, that's really too bad, for —— is a man who reluctantly acknowledges the existence of a Superior Being."
At dinner at Balliol the Master's guests were discussing the careers of two Balliol men, the one of whom had just been made a judge and the other a bishop. "Oh," said Henry Smith, "I think the bishop is the greater man. A judge, at the most, can only say, 'You be hanged,' but a bishop can say, 'You be d—-d.'" "Yes," twittered the Master; "but if the judge says, 'You be hanged,' you are hanged."
Henry Smith, though a delightful companion, was a very unsatisfactory politician—nominally, indeed, a Liberal, but full of qualifications and exceptions. When Mr. Gathorne Hardy was raised to the peerage at the crisis of the Eastern Question in 1878, and thereby vacated his seat for the University of Oxford, Henry Smith came forward as a candidate in the Liberal interest; but his language about the great controversy of the moment was so lukewarm that Professor Freeman said that, instead of sitting for Oxford in the House of Commons, he ought to represent Laodicea in the Parliament of Asia Minor.
Of Dr. Haig-Brown it is reported that, when Head Master of Charterhouse, he was toasted by the Mayor of Godalming as a man who knew how to combine the fortiter in re with the suavīter in modo. In replying to the toast he said, "I am really overwhelmed not only by the quality, but by the quantity of his Worship's eulogium."
It has been a matter of frequent remark that, considering what an immense proportion of parliamentary time has been engrossed during the last seventeen years by Irish speeches, we have heard so little Irish humour, whether conscious or unconscious—whether jokes or "bulls." An admirably vigorous simile was used by the late Mr. O'Sullivan, when he complained that the whisky supplied at the bar was like "a torchlight procession marching down your throat;" but of Irish bulls in Parliament I have only heard one—proceeding, if my memory serves me, from Mr. T. Healy: "As long as the voice of Irish suffering is dumb, the ear of English compassion is deaf to it." One I read in the columns of the Irish Times: "The key of the Irish difficulty is to be found in the empty pocket of the landlord." An excellent confusion of metaphors was uttered by one of the members for the Principality in the debate on the Welsh Church Bill, in indignant protest against the allegation that the majority of Welshmen now belonged to the Established Church. He said, "It is a lie, sir; and it is high time that we nailed this lie to the mast." But a confusion of metaphors is not a bull.
Among tellers of Irish stories, Lord Morris is supreme; one of his best depicts two Irish officials of the good old times discussing, in all the confidence of their after-dinner claret, the principles on which they bestowed their patronage Said the first, "Well, I don't mind admitting that, caeteris paribus, I prefer my own relations." "My dear boy," replied his boon companion, "caeteris paribus be d——d." The cleverest thing that I have lately heard was from a young lady, who is an Irishwoman, and I hope that its excellence will excuse the personality. It must be premised that Lord Erne is a gentleman who abounds in anecdote, and that Lady Erne is an extremely handsome woman. Their irreverent compatriot has nicknamed them
"The storied Erne and animated bust."
Frances Countess Waldegrave, who had previously been married three times, took as her fourth husband an Irishman, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, who was shortly afterwards made Chief Secretary. The first night that Lady Waldegrave and Mr. Fortescue appeared at the theatre in Dublin, a wag in the gallery called out, "Which of the four do you like best, my lady?" Instantaneously from the Chief Secretary's box came the adroit reply: "Why, the Irishman, of course '"
The late Lord Coleridge was once speaking in the House of Commons in support of Women's Rights. One of his main arguments as that there was no essential difference between the masculine and the feminine intellect. For example, he said, some of the most valuable qualities of what is called the judicial genius—sensibility, quickness, delicacy—are peculiarly feminine. In reply, Serjeant Dowse said: "The argument of the hon. and learned Member, compendiously stated, amounts to this—because some judges are old women, therefore all old women are fit to be judges."
To my friend Mr. Julian Sturgis, himself one of the happiest of phrase-makers, I am indebted for the following gems from America.
Mr. Evarts, formerly Secretary of State, showed an English friend the place where Washington was said to have thrown a dollar across the Potomac. The English friend expressed surprise; "but," said Mr. Evarts, "you must remember that a dollar went further in those days." A Senator met Mr. Evarts next day, and said that he had been amused by his jest. "But," said Mr. Evarts, "I met a mere journalist just afterwards who said, 'Oh, Mr. Evarts, you should have said that it was a small matter to throw a dollar across the Potomac for a man who had chucked a sovereign across the Atlantic.'" Mr. Evarts, weary of making many jokes, would invent a journalist or other man and tell a story as his. It was he who, on a kindly busybody expressing surprise at his daring to drink so many different wines at dinner, said that it was only the indifferent wines of which he was afraid.
It was Mr. Motley who said in Boston—"Give me the luxuries of life, and I care not who has the necessaries."
Mr. Tom Appleton, famous for many witty sayings (among them the well-known "Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris"), heard some grave city fathers debating what could be done to mitigate the cruel east wind at an exposed corner of a certain street in Boston. He suggested that they should tether a shorn lamb there.
A witty Bostonian going to dine with a lady was met by her with a face of apology. "I could not get another man," she said; "and we are four women, and you will have to take us all in to dinner." "Fore-warned is four-armed," said he with a bow.
This gentleman was in a hotel in Boston when the law forbidding the sale of liquor was in force. "What would you say," said an angry Bostonian, "if a man from St. Louis, where they have freedom, were to come in and ask you where he could get a drink?" Now it was known that spirits could be clandestinely bought in a room under the roof, and the wit pointing upwards replied, "I should say, 'Fils de St. Louis, montez au ciel.'"
Madame Apponyi was in London during the debates on the Reform Bill of 1867, and, like all foreigners and not a few Englishmen, was much perplexed by the "Compound Householder," who figured so largely in the discussion. Hayward explained that he was the Masculine of the Femme Incomprise.
One of the best repartees ever made, because the briefest and the justest, was made by "the gorgeous Lady Blessington" to Napoleon III. When Prince Louis Napoleon was living in impecunious exile in London he had been a constant guest at Lady Blessington's hospitable and brilliant but Bohemian house. And she, when visiting Paris after the coup d'etat naturally expected to receive at the Tuileries some return for the unbounded hospitalities of Gore House. Weeks passed, no invitation arrived, and the Imperial Court took no notice of Lady Blessington's presence. At length she encountered the Emperor at a great reception. As he passed through the bowing and curtsying crowd, the Emperor caught sight of his former hostess. "Ah, Miladi Blessington! Restez-vous longtemps a Paris?" "Et vous, Sire?" History does not record the usurper's reply.
Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to 1869, lived at a beautiful villa near Torquay, and an enthusiastic lady who visited him there burst into dithyrambics and cried, "What a lovely spot this is, Bishop! It is so Swiss." "Yes, ma'am," blandly replied old Harry of Exeter, "it is very Swiss; only there is no sea in Switzerland, and there are no mountains here." To one of his clergy desiring to renew a lease of some episcopal property, the Bishop named a preposterous sum as the fine on renewal. The poor parson, consenting with reluctance, said, "Well, I suppose it is better than endangering the lease, but certainly your lordship has got the lion's share." "But, my dear sir, I am sure you would not wish me to have that of the other creature."
Still, after all, for a bishop to score off a clergyman is an inglorious victory; it is like the triumph of a magistrate over a prisoner or of a don over an undergraduate. Bishop Wilberforce, whose powers of repartee were among his most conspicuous gifts, was always ready to use them where retaliation was possible—not in the safe enclosure of the episcopal study, but on the open battlefield of the platform and the House of Lords. At the great meeting in St. James's Hall in the summer of 1868 to protest against the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, some Orange enthusiast, in the hope of disturbing the Bishop, kept interrupting his honeyed eloquence with inopportune shouts of "Speak up, my lord." "I am already speaking up," replied the Bishop in his most dulcet tone; "I always speak up; and I decline to speak down to the level of the ill-mannered person in the gallery." Every one whose memory runs back thirty years will recall the Homeric encounters between the Bishop and Lord Chancellor Westbury in the House of Lords, and will remember the melancholy circumstances under which Lord Westbury had to resign his office. When he was leaving the Royal Closet after surrendering the Great Seal into the Queen's hands, Lord Westbury met the Bishop, who was going in to the Queen. It was a painful encounter, and in reminding the Bishop of the occurrence when next they met, Westbury said, "I felt inclined to say, 'Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?'" The Bishop in relating this used to say, "I never in my life was so tempted as to finish the quotation, and say, 'Yea, I have found thee, because thou hast sold thyself to work iniquity.' But by a great effort I kept it down, and said, 'Does your lordship remember the end of the quotation?'" The Bishop, who enjoyed a laugh against himself, used to say that he had once been effectually scored off by one of his clergy whom he had rebuked for his addiction to fox-hunting. The Bishop urged that it had a worldly appearance. The clergyman replied that it was not a bit more worldly than a ball at Blenheim Palace at which the Bishop had been present. The Bishop explained that he was staying in the house, but was never within three rooms of the dancing. "Oh, if it comes to that," replied the clergyman, "I never am within three fields of the hounds."
One of the best replies—it is scarcely a repartee—traditionally reported at Oxford was made by the great Saint of the Tractarian Movement, the Rev. Charles Marriott. A brother-Fellow of Oriel had behaved rather outrageously at dinner overnight, and coming out of chapel next morning, essayed to apologize to Marriott: "My friend, I'm afraid I made rather a fool of myself last night." "My dear fellow, I assure you I observed nothing unusual."
In a former chapter about the Art of Conversation I referred to the singular readiness which characterized Lord Sherbrooke's talk. A good instance of it was his reply to the strenuous advocate of modern studies, who, presuming on Sherbrooke's sympathy, said, "I have the greatest contempt for Aristotle." "But not that contempt which familiarity breeds, I should imagine," was Sherbrooke's mild rejoinder. "I have got a box at the Lyceum to-night," I once heard a lady say, "and a place to spare. Lord Sherbrooke, will you come? If you are engaged, I must take the Bishop of Gibraltar." "Oh, that's no good. Gibraltar can never be taken."
In 1872, when University College, Oxford, celebrated the thousandth anniversary of its foundation, Lord Sherbrooke, as an old Member of the College, made the speech of the evening. His theme was a complaint of the iconoclastic tendency of New Historians. Nothing was safe from their sacrilegious research. Every tradition, however venerable, however precious, was resolved into a myth or a fable. "For example," he said, "we have always believed that certain lands which this college owns in Berkshire were given to us by King Alfred. Now the New Historians come and tell us that this could not have been the case, because they can prove that the lands in question never belonged to the King. It seems to me that the New Historians prove too much—indeed, they prove the very point which they contest. If the lands had belonged to the King, he would probably have kept them to himself; but as they belonged to some one else, he made a handsome present of them to the College."
Lord Beaconsfield's excellence in conversation lay rather in studied epigrams than in impromptu repartees. But in his old electioneering contests he used sometimes to make very happy hits. When he came forward, a young, penniless, unknown coxcomb, to contest High Wycombe against the dominating Whiggery of the Greys and the Carringtons, some one in the crowd shouted, "We know all about Colonel Grey; but pray what do you stand on?" "I stand on my head," was the prompt reply, to which Mr. Gladstone always rendered unstinted admiration. At Aylesbury the Radical leader had been a man of notoriously profligate life, and when Mr. Disraeli came to seek re-election as Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer this tribune of the people produced at the hustings the Radical manifesto which Mr. Disraeli had issued twenty years before. "What do you say to that, sir?" "I say that we all sow our wild oats, and no one knows the meaning of that phrase better than you, Mr. ——."
A member of the diplomatic service at Rome in the old days of the Temporal Power had the honour of an interview with Pio Nono. The Pope graciously offered him a cigar—"I am told you will find this very fine." The Englishman made that stupidest of all answers, "Thank your Holiness, but I have no vices." "This isn't a vice; if it was you would have it." Another repartee from the Vatican reached me a few years ago, when the German Emperor paid his visit to Leo XIII. Count Herbert Bismarck was in attendance on his Imperial master, and when they reached the door of the Pope's audience-chamber the Emperor passed in, and the Count tried to follow. A gentleman of the Papal Court motioned him to stand back, as there must be no third person at the interview between the Pope and the Emperor. "I am Count Herbert Bismarck," shouted the German, as he struggled to follow his master. "That," replied the Roman, with calm dignity, "may account for, but it does not excuse, your conduct."
But, after all these "fash'nable fax and polite annygoats," as Thackeray would have called them, after all these engaging courtesies of kings and prelates and great ladies, I think that the honours in the way of repartee rest with the little Harrow boy who was shouting himself hoarse in the jubilation of victory after an Eton and Harrow match at Lord's in which Harrow had it hollow. To him an Eton boy, of corresponding years, severely observed, "Well, you Harrow fellows needn't be so beastly cocky. When you wanted a Head Master you had to come to Eton to get one." The small Harrovian was dumfounded for a moment, and then, pulling himself together for a final effort of deadly sarcasm, exclaimed, "Well, at any rate, no one can say that we ever produced a Mr. Gladstone."
The List of Honours, usually published on Her Majesty's Birthday, is this year reserved till the Jubilee Day, and to sanguine aspirants I would say, in Mrs. Gamp's immortal words, "Seek not to proticipate." Such a list always contains food for the reflective mind, and some of the thoughts which it suggests may even lie too deep for tears. Why is my namesake picked out for knighthood, while I remain hidden in my native obscurity? Why is my rival made a C.B., while I "go forth Companionless" to meet the chances and the vexations of another year? But there is balm in Gilead. If I have fared badly, my friends have done little better. Like Mr. Squeers, when Bolder's father was two pound ten short, they have had their disappointments to contend against. A., who was so confident of a peerage, is fobbed off with a baronetcy; and B., whose labours for the Primrose League entitled him to expect the Bath, finds himself grouped with the Queen's footmen in the Royal Victorian Order. As, when Sir Robert Peel declined to form a Government in 1839, "twenty gentlemen who had not been appointed Under Secretaries for State moaned over the martyrdom of young ambition," so during the first fortnight of 1897 at least that number of middle-aged self-seekers came to the regretful conclusion that Lord Salisbury was not sufficiently a man of the world for his present position, and inwardly asked why a judge or a surgeon should be preferred before a company-promoter or a party hack. And, while feeling is thus fermenting at the base of the social edifice, things are not really tranquil at the summit.
It is not long since the chief of the princely House of Duff was raised to the first order of the peerage, and one or two opulent earls, encouraged by his example, are understood to be looking upward. Every constitutional Briton, whatever his political creed, has in his heart of hearts a wholesome reverence for a dukedom. Lord Beaconsfield, who understood these little traits of our national character even more perfectly than Thackeray, says of his favourite St. Aldegonde (who was heir to the richest dukedom in the kingdom) that "he held extreme opinions, especially on political affairs, being a Republican of the reddest dye. He was opposed to all privilege, and indeed to all orders of men except dukes, who were a necessity." That is a delicious touch. St. Aldegonde, whatever his political aberrations, "voiced" the universal sentiment of his less fortunate fellow-citizens; nor can the most soaring ambition of the British Matron desire a nobler epitaph than that of the lady immortalized by Thomas Ingoldsby:—
"She drank prussic acid without any water, And died like a Duke-and-a-Duchess's daughter."
As, according to Dr. Johnson, all claret would be port if it could, so, presumably, every marquis would like to be a duke; and yet, as a matter of fact, that Elysian translation is not often made. A marquis, properly regarded, is not so much a nascent duke as a magnified earl. A shrewd observer of the world once said to me: "When an earl gets a marquisate, it is worth a hundred thousand pounds in hard money to his family." The explanation of this cryptic utterance is that, whereas an earl's younger sons are "misters," a marquis's younger sons are "lords." Each "my lord" can make a "my lady," and therefore commands a distinctly higher price in the marriage-market of a wholesomely-minded community. Miss Higgs, with her fifty thousand pounds, might scorn the notion of becoming the Honourable Mrs. Percy Popjoy; but as Lady Magnus Charters she would feel a laudable ambition gratified.
An earldom is, in its combination of euphony, antiquity, and association, perhaps the most impressive of all the titles in the peerage. Most rightly did the fourteenth Earl of Derby decline to be degraded into a brand-new duke. An earldom has always been the right of a Prime Minister who wishes to leave the Commons. In 1880 a member of the House of Russell (in which there are certain Whiggish traditions of jobbery) was fighting a hotly contested election, and his ardent supporters brought out a sarcastic placard—"Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield! He made himself an earl and the people poor"; to which a rejoinder was instantly forthcoming—"John, Earl Russell! He made himself an earl and his relations rich." The amount of truth in the two statements was about equal. In 1885 this order of the peerage missed the greatest distinction which fate is likely ever to offer it, when Mr. Gladstone declined the earldom proffered by her Majesty on his retirement from office. Had he accepted, it was understood that the representatives of the last Earl of Liverpool would have waived their claims to the extinct title, and the greatest of the Queen's Prime Ministers would have borne the name of the city which gave him birth.
But, magnificent and euphonious as an earldom is, the children of an earl are the half-castes of the peerage. The eldest son is "my lord," and his sisters are "my lady;" and ever since the days of Mr. Foker, Senior, it has been de rigueur for an opulent brewer to marry an earl's daughter; but the younger sons are not distinguishable from the ignominious progeny of viscounts and barons. Two little boys, respectively the eldest and the second son of an earl, were playing on the front staircase of their home, when the eldest fell over into the hall below. The younger called to the footman who picked his brother up, "Is he hurt?" "Killed, my lord," was the instantanteous reply of a servant who knew the devolution of a courtesy title.
As the marquises people the debatable land between the dukes and the earls, so do the viscounts between the earls and the barons. A child whom Matthew Arnold was examining in grammar once wrote of certain words which he found it hard to classify under their proper parts of speech that they were "thrown into the common sink, which is adverbs." I hope I shall not be considered guilty of any disrespect if I say that ex-Speakers, ex-Secretaries of State, successful generals, and ambitious barons who are not quite good enough for earldoms, are "thrown into the common sink, which is viscounts." Not only heralds and genealogists, but every one who has the historic sense, must have felt an emotion of regret when the splendid title of twenty-third Baron Dacre was merged by Mr. Speaker Brand in the pinchbeck dignity of first Viscount Hampden.
After viscounts, barons. The baronage of England is headed by the bishops; but, as we have already discoursed of those right reverend peers, we, Dante-like, will not reason of them, but pass on—only remarking, as we pass, that it is held on good authority that no human being ever experiences a rapture so intense as an American bishop from a Western State when he first hears himself called "My lord" at a London dinner-party. After the spiritual barons come the secular barons—the "common or garden" peers of the United Kingdom. Of these there are considerably more than three hundred; and of all, except some thirty or forty at the most, it may be said without offence that they are products of the opulent Middle Class. Pitt destroyed deliberately and for ever the exclusive character of the British peerage when, as Lord Beaconsfield said, he "created a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy." And in order to gain admission to this "plebeian aristocracy" men otherwise reasonable and honest will spend incredible sums, undergo prodigious exertions, associate themselves with the basest intrigues, and perform the most unblushing tergiversations. Lord Houghton told me that he said to a well-known politician who boasted that he had refused a peerage: "Then you made a great mistake. A peerage would have secured you three things that you are much in need of—social consideration, longer credit with your tradesmen, and better marriages for your younger children."
It is unlucky that a comparatively recent change has put it out of the power of a Prime Minister to create fresh Irish peers, for an Irish peerage was a cheap and convenient method of rewarding political service. Lord Palmerston held that, combining social rank with eligibility to the House of Commons, it was the most desirable distinction for a politician. Pitt, when his banker Mr. Smith (who lived in Whitehall) desired the privilege of driving through the Horse Guards, said: "No, I can't give you that; but I will make you an Irish peer;" and the banker became the first Lord Carrington.
What is a Baronet? ask some. Sir Wilfrid Lawson (who ought to know) replies that he is a man "who has ceased to be a gentleman and has not become a nobleman." But this is too severe a judgment. It breathes a spirit of contempt bred of familiarity, which may, without irreverence, be assumed by a member of an exalted Order, but which a humble outsider would do well to avoid. As Major Pendennis said of a similar manifestation, "It sits prettily enough on a young patrician in early life, though, nothing is so loathsome among persons of our rank." I turn, therefore, for an answer to Sir Bernard Burke, who says: "The hereditary Order of Baronets was created by patent in England by King James I. in 1611. At the institution many of the chief estated gentlemen of the kingdom were selected for the dignity. The first batch of Baronets comprised some of the principal landed proprietors among the best-descended gentlemen of the kingdom, and the list was headed by a name illustrious more than any other for the intellectual pre-eminence with which it is associated—the name of Bacon. The Order of Baronets is scarcely estimated at its proper value."
I cannot help feeling that this account of the baronetage, though admirable in tone and spirit, and actually pathetic in its closing touch of regretful melancholy, is a little wanting in what the French would call "actuality." It leaves out of sight the most endearing, because the most human, trait of the baronetage—its pecuniary origin. On this point let us hear the historian Hume—"The title of Baronet was sold and two hundred patents of that species of knighthood were disposed of for so many thousand pounds." This was truly epoch-making. It was one of those "actions of the just" which "smell sweet and blossom in the dust." King James's baronets were the models and precursors of all who to the end of time should traffic in the purchase of honours. Their example has justified posterity, and the precedent which they set is to-day the principal method by which the war-chests of our political parties are replenished.
Another authority, handling the same high theme, tells us that the rebellion in Ulster gave rise to this Order, and "it was required of each baronet on his creation to pay into the Exchequer as much as would maintain thirty soldiers three years at eight-pence a day in the province of Ulster," and, as a historical memorial of their original service, the baronets bear as an augmentation to their coats-of-arms the royal badge of Ulster—a Bloody Hand on a white field. It was in apt reference to this that a famous Whip, on learning that a baronet of his party was extremely anxious to be promoted to the peerage, said, "You can tell Sir Peter Proudflesh, with my compliments, that we don't do these things for nothing. If he wants a peerage, he will have to put his Bloody Hand into his pocket."
For the female mind the baronetage has a peculiar fascination. As there was once a female Freemason, so there was once a female baronet—Dame Maria Bolles, of Osberton, in the County of Nottingham. The rank of a baronet's wife is not unfrequently conferred on the widow of a man to whom a baronetcy had been promised and who died too soon to receive it. "Call me a vulgar woman!" screamed a lady once prominent in society when a good-natured friend repeated a critical comment. "Call me a vulgar woman! me, who was Miss Blank, of Blank Hall, and if I had been a boy should have been a baronet!"
The baronets of fiction are, like their congeners in real life, a numerous and a motley band. Lord Beaconsfield described, with a brilliancy of touch which was all his own, the labours and the sacrifices of Sir Vavasour Firebrace on behalf of the Order of Baronets and the privileges wrongfully withheld from them. "They are evidently the body destined to save this country; blending all sympathies—the Crown, of which they are the peculiar champions: the nobles, of whom they are the popular branch; the people, who recognize in them their natural leaders.... Had the poor King lived, we should at least have had the Badge," added Sir Vavasour mournfully.
"It would have satisfied Sir Grosvenor le Draughte; he was for compromise. But, confound him, his father was only an accoucheur."
A great merit of the baronets, from the novelist's point of view, is that they and their belongings are so uncommonly easy to draw. He is Sir Grosvenor, his wife is Lady le Draughte, his sons, elder and younger, are Mr. le Draughte, and his daughters Miss le Draughte. The wayfaring men, though fools, cannot err where the rule is so simple, and accordingly the baronets enjoy a deserved popularity with those novelists who look up to the titled classes of society as men look at the stars, but are a little puzzled about their proper designations. Miss Braddon alone has drawn more baronets, virtuous and vicious, handsome and hideous, than would have colonized Ulster ten times over and left a residue for Nova Scotia. Sir Pitt Crawley and Sir Barnes Newcome will live as long as English novels are read, and I hope that dull forgetfulness will never seize as its prey Sir Alfred Mogyns Smyth de Mogyns, who was born Alfred Smith Muggins, but traced a descent from Hogyn Mogyn of the Hundred Beeves, and took for his motto "Ung Roy ung Mogyns." His pedigree is drawn in the seventh chapter of the Book of Snobs, and is imitated with great fidelity on more than one page of Burke's Peerage.
An eye closely intent upon the lesser beauties of the natural world will find a very engaging specimen of the genus Baronet in Sir Barnet Skettles, who was so kind to Paul Dombey and so angry with poor Mr. Baps. Sir Leicester Dedlock is on a larger scale—in fact, almost too "fine and large" for life. But I recall a fleeting vision of perfect loveliness among Miss Monflathers's pupils—"a baronet's daughter who by some extraordinary reversal of the laws of Nature was not only plain in feature but dull in intellect."
So far we have spoken only of hereditary honours; but our review would be singularly incomplete if it excluded those which are purely personal. Of these, of course, incomparably the highest is the Order of the Garter, and its most characteristic glory is that, in Lord Melbourne's phrase, "there is no d——d nonsense of merit about it." The Emperor of Lilliput rewarded his courtiers with three fine silken threads, one of which was blue, one green, and one red. The Emperor held a stick horizontally, and the candidates crept under it, backwards and forwards, several times. Whoever showed the most agility in creeping was rewarded with the blue thread.
Let us hope that the methods of chivalry have undergone some modification since the days of Queen Anne, and that the Blue Ribbon of the Garter, which ranks with the Golden Fleece and makes its wearer a comrade of all the crowned heads of Europe, is attained by arts more dignified than those which awoke the picturesque satire of Dean Swift. But I do not feel sure about it.
Great is the charm of a personal decoration. Byron wrote:
"Ye stars, that are the poetry of heaven."
"A stupid line," says Mr. St. Barbe in Endymion; "he should have written, 'Ye stars, that are the poetry of dress.'" North of the Tweed the green thread of Swift's imagination—"the most ancient and most noble Order of the Thistle"—is scarcely less coveted than the supreme honour of the Garter; but wild horses should not drag from me the name of the Scottish peer of whom his political leader said, "If I gave —— the Thistle, he would eat it." The Bath tries to make up by the lurid splendour of its ribbon and the brilliancy of its star for its comparatively humble and homely associations. It is the peculiar prize of Generals and Home Secretaries, and is displayed with manly openness on the bosom of the statesman once characteristically described by Lord Beaconsfield as "Mr. Secretary Cross, whom I can never remember to call Sir Richard."
But, after all said and done, the institution of knighthood is older than any particular order of knights; and lovers of the old world must observe with regret the discredit into which it has fallen since it became the guerdon of the successful grocer. When Lord Beaconsfield left office in 1880 he conferred a knighthood—the first of a long series similarly bestowed—on an eminent journalist. The friends of the new knight were inclined to banter him, and proposed his health at a dinner in facetious terms. Lord Beaconsfield, who was of the company, looked preternaturally grave, and, filling his glass, gazed steadily at the flattered editor and said in his deepest tone: "Yes, Sir A.B., I drink to your good health, and I congratulate you on having attained a rank which was deemed sufficient honour for Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren."
But a truce to this idle jesting on exalted themes—too palpably the utterance of social envy and mortified ambition. "They are our superiors, and that's the fact," as Thackeray exclaims in his chapter on the Whigs. "I am not a Whig myself; but, oh, how I should like to be one!" In a similar spirit of compunctious self-abasement, the present writer may exclaim, "I have not myself been included in the list of Birthday Honours,—but, oh, how I should like to be there!"
 Since this passage was written, a return has been made to the earlier practice, and an Irish peerage has been created—the first since 1868.
THE QUEEN'S ACCESSION.
The writer of these chapters would not willingly fall behind his countrymen in the loyal sentiments and picturesque memories proper to the "high mid-summer pomps" which begin to-morrow. But there is an almost insuperable difficulty in finding anything to write which shall be at once new and true; and this chapter must therefore consist mainly of extracts. As the sun of August brings out wasps, so the genial influence of the Jubilee has produced an incredible abundance of fibs, myths, and fables. They have for their subject the early days of our Gracious Sovereign, and round that central theme they play with every variety of picturesque inventiveness. Nor has invention alone been at work. Research has been equally busy. Miss Wynn's description, admirable in its simplicity, of the manner in which the girl queen received the news of her accession was given to the world by Abraham Hayward in Diaries of a Lady of Quality a generation ago. Within the last month it must have done duty a hundred times.
Scarcely less familiar is the more elaborate but still impressive passage from Sybil, in which Lord Beaconsfield described the same event. And yet, as far as my observation has gone, the citations from this fine description have always stopped short just at the opening of the most appropriate passage; my readers, at any rate, shall see it and judge it for themselves. If there is one feature in the national life of the last sixty years on which Englishmen may justly pride themselves it is the amelioration of the social condition of the workers. Putting aside all ecclesiastical revivals, all purely political changes, and all appeals, however successful, to the horrible arbitrament of the sword, it is Social Reform which has made the Queen's reign memorable and glorious. The first incident of that reign was described in Sybil not only with vivid observation of the present, but with something of prophetic insight into the future.
"In a sweet and thrilling voice, and with a composed mien which indicates rather the absorbing sense of august duty than an absence of emotion, THE QUEEN announces her accession to the throne of her ancestors, and her humble hope that Divine Providence will guard over the fulfilment of her lofty trust. The prelates and captains and chief men of her realm then advance to the throne, and, kneeling before her, pledge their troth and take the sacred oaths of allegiance and supremacy—allegiance to one who rules over the land that the great Macedonian could not conquer, and over a continent of which Columbus never dreamed: to the Queen of every sea, and of nations in every zone.
"It is not of these that I would speak, but of a nation nearer her footstool, and which at this moment looks to her with anxiety, with affection, perhaps with hope. Fair and serene, she has the blood and beauty of the Saxon. Will it be her proud destiny at length to bear relief to suffering millions, and with that soft hand which might inspire troubadours and guerdon knights, break the last links in the chain of Saxon thraldom?"
To-day, with pride and thankfulness, chastened though it be by our sense of national shortcomings, we can answer Yes to this wistful question of genius and humanity. We have seen the regulation of dangerous labour, the protection of women and children from excessive toil, the removal of the tax on bread, the establishment of a system of national education; and in Macaulay's phrase, a point which yesterday was invisible is our goal to-day, and will be our starting-post to-morrow.
Her Majesty ascended the throne on the 20th of June 1837, and on the 29th the Times published a delightfully characteristic article against the Whig Ministers, "into whose hands the all but infant and helpless Queen has been compelled by her unhappy condition to deliver up herself and her indignant people." Bating one word, this might be an extract from an article on the formation of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Government. Surely the consistency of the Times in evil-speaking is one of the most precious of our national possessions: On the 30th of June the Royal Assent was given by commission to forty Bills—the first Bills which became law in the Queen's reign; and, the clerks in the House of Lords having been accustomed ever since the days of Queen Anne to say "his Majesty" and "Le Roy le veult," there was hopeless bungling over the feminine appellations, now after 130 years revived. However, the Bills scrambled through somehow, and among them was the Act which abolished the pillory—an auspicious commencement of a humane and reforming reign. On the 8th of July came the rather belated burial of William IV. at Windsor, and on the 11th the newly completed Buckingham Palace was occupied for the first time, the Queen and the Duchess of Kent moving thither from Kensington.
On the 17th of July, Parliament was prorogued by the Queen in person. Her Majesty's first Speech from the Throne referred to friendly relations with Foreign Powers, the diminution of capital punishment, and "discreet improvements in ecclesiastical institutions." It was read in a clear and musical voice, with a fascinating grace of accent and elocution which never faded from the memory of those who heard it. As long as her Majesty continued to open and prorogue Parliament in person the same perfection of delivery was always noticed. An old M.P., by no means inclined to be a courtier, told me that when her Majesty approached the part of her speech relating to the estimates, her way of uttering the words "Gentlemen of the House of Commons" was the most winning address he had ever heard: it gave to an official demand the character of a personal request. After the Prince Consort's death, the Queen did not again appear at Westminster till the opening of the new Parliament in 1866. On that occasion the speech was read by the Lord Chancellor, and the same usage has prevailed whenever her Majesty has opened Parliament since that time. But on several occasions of late years she has read her reply to addresses presented by public bodies, and I well recollect that at the opening of the Imperial Institute in 1893, though the timbre of her voice was deeper than in early years, the same admirable elocution made every syllable audible.
In June 1837 the most lively emotion in the masses of the people was the joy of a great escape. I have said before that grave men, not the least given to exaggeration, told me their profound conviction that, had Ernest Duke of Cumberland succeeded to the throne on the death of William IV., no earthly power could have averted a revolution. The plots of which the Duke was the centre have been described with a due commixture of history and romance in Mr. Allen Upward's fascinating story, God save the Queen. Into the causes of his intense unpopularity, this is not the occasion to enter; but let me just describe a curious print of the year 1837 which lies before me as I write. It is headed "The Contrast," and is divided into two panels. On your left hand is a young girl, simply dressed in mourning, with a pearl necklace and a gauzy shawl, and her hair coiled in plaits, something after the fashion of a crown. Under this portrait is "Victoria." On the other side of the picture is a hideous old man, with shaggy eyebrows and scowling gaze, wrapped in a military cloak with fur collar and black stock. Under this portrait is "Ernest" and running the whole length of the picture is the legend:—
"Look here upon this picture—and—on this, The counterfeit presentment of two sov'reigns."
This print was given to me by a veteran Reformer, who told me that it expressed in visible form the universal sentiment of England. That sentiment was daily and hourly confirmed by all that was heard and seen of the girl-queen. We read of her walking with a gallant suite upon the terrace at Windsor; dressed in scarlet uniform and mounted on her roan charger, to receive with uplifted hand the salute of her troops; or seated on the throne of the Plantagenets at the opening of her Parliament, and invoking the Divine benediction on the labours which should conduce to "the welfare and contentment of My people." We see her yielding her bright intelligence to the constitutional guidance, wise though worldly, of her first Prime Minister, the sagacious Melbourne. And then, when the exigencies of parliamentary government forced her to exchange her Whig advisers for the Tories, we see her carrying out with exact propriety the lessons taught by "the friend of her youth," and extending to each premier in turn, whether personally agreeable to her or not, the same absolute confidence and loyalty.
As regards domestic life, we have been told by Mr. Gladstone that "even among happy marriages her marriage was exceptional, so nearly did the union of thought, heart, and action both fulfil the ideal and bring duality near to the borders of identity."
And so twenty years went on, full of an ever-growing popularity, and a purifying influence on the tone of society never fully realized till the personal presence was withdrawn. And then came the blow which crushed her life—"the sun going down at noon"—and total disappearance from all festivity and parade and social splendour, but never from political duty. In later years we have seen the gradual resumption of more public offices; the occasional reappearances, so earnestly anticipated by her subjects, and hedged with something of a divinity more than regal; the incomparable majesty of personal bearing which has taught so many an onlooker that dignity has nothing to do with height, or beauty or splendour of raiment; and, mingled with that majesty and unspeakably enhancing it, the human sympathy with suffering and sorrow, which has made Queen Victoria, as none of her predecessors ever was or could be, the Mother of her People.
And the response of the English people to that sympathy—the recognition of that motherhood—is written, not only in the printed records of the reign, but on the "fleshly tables" of English hearts. Let one homely citation suffice as an illustration. It is taken from a letter of condolence addressed to the Queen in 1892, on the death of Prince "Eddie," Duke of Clarence:—
"To our beloved Queen, Victoria.
"Dear Lady,—We, the surviving widows and mothers of some of the men and boys who lost their lives by the explosion which occurred in the Oaks Colliery, near Barnsley, in December 1866, desire to tell your Majesty how stunned we all feel by the cruel and unexpected blow which has taken 'Prince Eddie' from his dear Grandmother, his loving parents, his beloved intended, and an admiring nation. The sad news affected us deeply, we all believing that his youthful strength would carry him through the danger. Dear Lady, we feel more than we can express. To tell you that we sincerely condole with your Majesty and the Prince and Princess of Wales in your and their sad bereavement and great distress is not to tell you all we feel; but the widow of Albert the Good and the parents of Prince Eddie will understand what we feel when we say that we feel all that widows and mothers feel who have lost those who were dear as life to them. Dear Lady, we remember with gratitude all that you did for us Oaks widows in the time of our great trouble, and we cannot forget you in yours. We have not forgotten that it was you, dear Queen, who set the example, so promptly followed by all feeling people, of forming a fund for the relief of our distress—a fund which kept us out of the workhouse at the time and has kept us out ever since.... We wish it were in our power, dear Lady, to dry up your tears and comfort you, but that we cannot do. But what we can do, and will do, is to pray God, in His mercy and goodness, to comfort and strengthen you in this your time of great trouble.—Wishing your Majesty, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Princess May all the strength, consolation, and comfort which God alone can give, and which He never fails to give to all who seek Him in truth and sincerity, we remain, beloved Queen, your loving and grateful though sorrowing subjects,
"THE OAKS WIDOWS."
The historic associations, half gay, half sad, of the week on which we are just entering tempt me to linger on this fascinating theme, and I cannot illustrate it better than by quoting the concluding paragraphs from a sermon, which now has something of the dignity of fulfilled prophecy, and which was preached by Sydney Smith in St. Paul's Cathedral on the Sunday after the Queen's accession.
The sermon is throughout a noble composition, grandly conceived and admirably expressed. It begins with some grave reflections on the "folly and nothingness of all things human" as exemplified by the death of a king. It goes on to enforce on the young Queen the paramount duties of educating her people, avoiding war, and cultivating personal religion. It concludes with the following passage, which in its letter, or at least in its spirit, might well find a place in some of to-morrow's sermons:—"The Patriot Queen, whom I am painting, reverences the National Church, frequents its worship, and regulates her faith by its precepts; but she withstands the encroachments and keeps down the ambition natural to Establishments, and, by rendering the privileges of the Church compatible with the civil freedom of all sects, confers strength upon and adds duration to that wise and magnificent institution. And then this youthful Monarch, profoundly but wisely religious, disdaining hypocrisy, and far above the childish follies of false piety, casts herself upon God, and seeks from the Gospel of His blessed Son a path for her steps and a comfort for her soul. Here is a picture which warms every English heart, and would bring all this congregation upon their bended knees to pray it may be realized. What limits to the glory and happiness of the native land if the Creator should in His mercy have placed in the heart of this royal woman the rudiments of wisdom and mercy? And if, giving them time to expand, and to bless our children's children with her goodness, He should grant to her a long sojourning upon earth, and leave her to reign over us till she is well stricken in years, what glory! what happiness! what joy! what bounty of God! I of course can only expect to see the beginning of such a splendid period; but when I do see it I shall exclaim with the pious Simeon—'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.'"
As respects the avoidance of war, the event has hardly accorded with the aspiration. It is melancholy to recall the idealist enthusiasms which preceded the Exhibition of 1851, and to contrast them with the realities of the present hour. Then the arts of industry and the competitions of peace were to supplant for ever the science of bloodshed. Nations were to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and men were not to learn war any more. And this was on the eve of the Crimea—the most ruinous, the most cruel, and the least justifiable of all campaigns. In one corner of the world or another, the war-drum has throbbed almost without intermission from that day to this.
But when we turn to other aspirations the retrospect is more cheerful. Slavery has been entirely abolished, and, with all due respect to Mr. George Curzon, is not going to be re-established under the British flag. The punishment of death, rendered infinitely more impressive, and therefore more deterrent, by its withdrawal from the public gaze, is reserved for offences which even Romilly would not have condoned. The diminution of crime is an acknowledged fact. Better laws and improved institutions—judicial, political, social, sanitary—we flatter ourselves that we may claim. National Education dates from 1870, and its operation during a quarter of a century has changed the face of the industrial world. Queen Victoria in her later years reigns over an educated people.
Of the most important theme of all—our national advance in religion, morality, and the principles of humane living—I have spoken in previous chapters, and this is not the occasion for anything but the briefest recapitulation. "Where is boasting? It is excluded." There is much to be thankful for, much to encourage: something to cause anxiety, and nothing to justify bombast. No one believes more profoundly than I do in the providential mission of the English race, and the very intensity of my faith in that mission makes me even painfully anxious that we should interpret it aright. Men who were undergraduates at Oxford in the 'seventies learned the interpretation, in words of unsurpassable beauty, from John Ruskin:—
"There is a destiny now possible to us—the highest ever set before a nation, to be accepted or refused. We are still undegenerate in race; a race mingled of the best northern blood. We are not yet dissolute in temper, but still have the firmness to govern and the grace to obey. We have been taught a religion of pure mercy, which we must either now finally betray or learn to defend by fulfilling. And we are rich in an inheritance of honour, bequeathed to us through a thousand years of noble history, which it should be our daily thirst to increase with splendid avarice, so that Englishmen, if it be a sin to covet honour, should be the most offending souls alive.
"Within the last few years we have had the laws of natural science opened to us with a rapidity which has been blinded by its brightness, and means of transit and communication given to us which have made but one kingdom of the habitable globe. One kingdom—but who is to be its King? Is there to be no King in it, think you, and every man to do that which is right in his own eyes? Or only kings of terror, and the obscene Empires of Mammon and Belial? Or will you, youths of England, make your country again a royal throne of Kings, a sceptred isle, for all the world a source of light, a centre of peace; mistress of learning and of the arts; faithful guardian of great memories in the midst of irreverent and ephemeral visions; faithful servant of time-tried principles, under temptation from fond experiments and licentious desires; and amidst the cruel and clamorous jealousies of the nations, worshipped in her strange valour of good will towards men?"
 Sunday, June 20, 1897.
"PRINCEDOMS, VIRTUES, POWERS."
The celebrations of the past week have set us all upon a royal tack. Diary-keepers have turned back to their earliest volumes for stories of the girl-queen; there has been an unprecedented run on the Annual Register for 1837; and every rusty print of Princess Victoria in the costume of Kate Nickleby has been paraded as a pearl of price. As I always pride myself on following what Mr. Matthew Arnold used to call "the great mundane movement," I have been careful to obey the impulse of the hour. I have cudgelled my memory for Collections and Recollections suitable to this season of retrospective enthusiasm. Last week I endeavoured to touch some of the more serious aspects of the Jubilee, but now that the great day has come and gone—"Bedtime, Hal, and all well"—a lighter handling of the majestic theme may not be esteemed unpardonable.
Those of my fellow-chroniclers who have blacked themselves all over for the part have acted on the principle that no human life can be properly understood without an exhaustive knowledge of its grandfathers and grandmothers. They have resuscitated George III. and called Queen Charlotte from her long home. With a less heroic insistence on the historic method, I leave grandparents out of sight, and begin my gossip with the Queen's uncles. Of George IV. it is less necessary that I should speak, for has not his character been drawn by Thackeray in his Lectures on the Four Georges?
"The dandy of sixty, who bows with a grace, And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses, and lace; Who to tricksters and fools leaves the State and its treasure, And, while Britain's in tears, sails about at his pleasure,"
was styled, as we all know, "the First Gentleman in Europe." I forget if I have previously narrated the following instance of gentlemanlike conduct. If I have, it will bear repetition. The late Lord Charles Russell (1807-1894), when a youth of eighteen, had just received a commission in the Blues, and was commanded, with the rest of his regiment, to a full-dress ball at Carlton House, where the King then held his Court. Unluckily for his peace of mind, the young subaltern dressed at his father's house, and, not being used to the splendid paraphernalia of the Blues' uniform, he omitted to put on his aiguillette. Arrived at Carlton House the company, before they could enter the ball-room, had to advance in single file along a corridor in which the old King, bewigged and bestarred, was seated on a sofa. When the hapless youth who lacked the aiguillette approached the presence, he heard a very high voice exclaim, "Who is this d—d fellow?" Retreat was impossible, and there was nothing for it but to shuffle on and try to pass the King without further rebuke. Not a bit of it. As he neared the sofa the King exclaimed, "Good evening, sir. I suppose you are the regimental doctor?" and the imperfectly-accoutred youth, covered with confusion as with a cloak, fled blushing into the ball-room, and hid himself from further observation. And yet the narrator of this painful story always declared that George IV. could be very gracious when the fancy took him; that he was uniformly kind to children; and that on public occasions his manner was the perfection of kingly courtesy. His gorgeous habits and profuse expenditure made him strangely popular. The people, though they detested his conduct, thought him "every inch a King." Lord Shaftesbury, noting in his diary for the 19th of May 1849 the attempt of Hamilton upon the Queen's life, writes:—"The profligate George IV. passed through a life of selfishness and sin without a single proved attempt to take it. This mild and virtuous young woman has four times already been exposed to imminent peril."
The careers of the King's younger brothers and sisters would fill a volume of "queer stories." Of the Duke of York Mr. Goldwin Smith genially remarks that "the only meritorious action of his life was that he once risked it in a duel." The Duke of Clarence—Burns's "Young royal Tarry Breeks"—lived in disreputable seclusion till he ascended the throne, and then was so excited by his elevation that people thought he was going mad. The Duke of Cumberland was the object of a popular detestation of which the grounds can be discovered in the Annual Register for 1810. The Duke of Sussex made two marriages in defiance of the Royal Marriage Act, and took a political part as active on the Liberal side as that of the Duke of Cumberland among the Tories. The Duke of Cambridge is chiefly remembered by his grotesque habit (recorded, by the way, in Happy Thoughts) of making loud responses of his own invention to the service in church. "Let us pray," said the clergyman: "By all means," said the Duke. The clergyman begins the prayer for rain: the Duke exclaims, "No good as long as the wind is in the east."
Clergyman: "'Zacchaeus stood forth and said, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.'"
Duke: "Too much, too much; don't mind tithes, but can't stand that." To two of the Commandments, which I decline to discriminate, the Duke's responses were—"Quite right, quite right, but very difficult sometimes;'" and "No, no! It was my brother Ernest did that."
Those who care to pursue these curious byways of not very ancient history are referred to the unfailing Greville; to Lady Anne Hamilton's Secret History of the Court of England; and to the Recollections of a Lady of Quality, commonly ascribed to Lady Charlotte Bury. The closer our acquaintance with the manners and habits of the last age, even in what are called "the highest circles," the more wonderful will appear the social transformation which dates from her Majesty's accession. Thackeray spoke the words of truth and soberness when, after describing the virtues and the limitations of George III., he said: "I think we acknowledge in the inheritrix of his sceptre a wiser rule and a life as honourable and pure; and I am sure that the future painter of our manners will pay a willing allegiance to that good life, and be loyal to the memory of that unsullied virtue."
For the earlier years of the Queen's reign Greville continues to be a fairly safe guide, though his footing at the palace was by no means so intimate as it had been in the roistering days of George IV. and William IV. Of course, her Majesty's own volumes and Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort are of primary authority. Interesting glimpses are to be caught in the first volume of Bishop Wilberforce's Life, ere yet his tergiversation in the matter of Bishop Hampden had forfeited the Royal favour; and the historian of the future will probably make great use of the Letters of Sarah Lady Lyttelton—Governess, to the Queen's children—which, being printed for private circulation, are unluckily withheld from the present generation.
A pleasing instance of the ultra-German etiquette fomented by Prince Albert was told me by an eye-witness of the scene. The Prime Minister and his wife were dining at Buckingham Palace very shortly after they had received an addition to their family. When the ladies retired to the drawing-room after dinner, the Queen said most kindly to the Premier's wife, "I know you are not very strong yet, Lady——; so I beg you will sit down. And, when the Prince comes in, Lady D—— shall stand in front of you." This device of screening a breach of etiquette by hiding it behind the portly figure of a British Matron always struck me as extremely droll.
Courtly etiquette, with the conditions out of which it springs and its effect upon the character of those who are subjected to it, has, of course, been a favourite theme of satirists time out of mind, and there can scarcely be a more fruitful one. There are no heights to which it does not rise, nor depths to which it does not sink. In the service for the Queen's Accession the Christological psalms are boldly transferred to the Sovereign by the calm substitution of "her" for "Him." A few years back—I do not know if it is so now—I noticed that in the prayer-books in St. George's Chapel at Windsor all the pronouns which referred to the Holy Trinity were spelt with small letters, and those which referred to the Queen with capitals. So much for the heights of etiquette, and for its depths we will go to Thackeray's account of an incident stated to have occurred on the birth of the Duke of Connaught:
"Lord John he next alights. And who comes here in haste? The Hero of a Hundred Fights, The caudle for to taste.
"Then Mrs. Lily the nuss, Towards them steps with joy; Says the brave old Duke, 'Come tell to us. Is it a gal or boy?'
"Says Mrs. L. to the Duke, 'Your Grace, it is a Prince' And at that nurse's bold rebuke He did both laugh and wince."
Such was the etiquette of the Royal nursery in 1850; but little Princes, even though ushered into the world under such very impressive circumstances, grow up into something not very unlike other little boys when once they go to school. Of course, in former days young Princes were educated at home by private tutors. This was the education of the Queen's uncles and of her sons. A very different experience has been permitted to her grandsons. The Prince of Wales's boys, as we all remember, were middies; Princess Christian's sons were at Wellington; Prince Arthur of Connaught is at Eton. There he is to be joined next year by the little Duke of Albany, who is now at a private school in the New Forest. He has among his schoolfellows his cousin Prince Alexander of Battenberg, of whom a delightful story is current just now. Like many other little boys, he ran short of pocket money, and wrote an ingenious letter to his august Grandmother asking for some slight pecuniary assistance. He received in return a just rebuke, telling him that little boys should keep within their limits, and that he must wait till his allowance next became due. Shortly afterwards the undefeated little Prince resumed the correspondence in something like the following form: "My dear Grandmamma,—I am sure you will be glad to know that I need not trouble you for any money just now, for I sold your last letter to another boy here for 30s."