The Weekly Machen
This year, Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, which is truly a rare event. Therefore, it seems appropriate to present an article penned by Arthur Machen concerning a British sovereign who ruled during his lifetime. Machen was a staunch monarchist and remained skeptical of democracy, especially of the form which developed in America. The basis for this article is a biography of King Edward VII, which was published two years after his death, and is no doubt a discreet account of the monarch’s life.
The Real King Edward
June 6, 1912
Beyond all question the “book of the day” is Sir Sidney Leo’s Life of King Edward VII.
This memoir and character-sketch appears in the second supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography. That splendid monument of British achievement and British research was officially completed in 1900: the designed tale of sixty-three volumes was then delivered.
But great men still ended their days, and in 1901 the first supplement was issued. To-day the second supplement is issued, containing Sir Sidney Lee’s study of one of the most popular—perhaps the most popular Sovereign that ever reigned over these realms.
Now the first thing that strikes one is that King Edward became what he was not because of, but in spite of his education. It can hardly be doubted that through the unwisdom of his father, the Prince Consort, he received one of the very worst educations that ever fell to the lot of man.
Training for Kingship on Books
It is hardly necessary to say that the highest motives dictated the Prince Consort’s scheme. To him the throne of England was a position of awful and tremendous responsibility; he thought, and thought rightly, that no effort should be spared to fit the young prince for the world-sceptre which would one day placed in his hands.
And with this high intent he sat the Prince of Wales down to a task that would have ruined a weaker personality.
The future king was to camp in a library, talk to nobody but his tutor, and absorb all the available facts about everything.
Books, books, books were to be all his pasture. A lad whose hand was one day to stretch forth in sovereignty over all the seas and shores of the mighty world must not play with lads of his own age; the time was too short for such trivial employment. And all the books were to be dead books; no breath of life, no songs of the imagination must be perceived or heard in them.
“History, the chief subject of study, was carefully confined to bare facts and dates. Fiction was withheld as demoralising, and even Sir Walter Scott came under the parental ban. In the result the Prince never acquired a habit of reading. Apart from the newspapers he practically read nothing in mature years. He wrote with facility and soon corresponded voluminously in a simple style. … At the same time he was as a boy observant, was quick at gathering information from talk, and developed a retentive memory for facts outside school study.”
He must have been a wonderful boy with a wonderful personality to survive this terrible course of pædagogics and pedantry.
But as we know, he did survive it, and contrived to make himself not a bookman, but the most popular man in the world. And, considering what the business of kingship is and the medium in which it operates, it is perhaps well that King Edward formed himself as he did, instead of bending to his father’s wishes and qualifying for the Professorship of Dates and Facts and Dry Bones at the University of Weissnichtwo.
Queen Victoria’s Tutelage
Then there was another difficulty in his life. The Prince was twenty at the death of his father; it was time for him to devote himself to the real study to which he was called—the study of men, the study of affairs, of the practical working of the British Constitution over which he would preside. Now was the time to apprentice Prince Edward to the high and difficult craft of Kingship, but he was not allowed a chance of learning his business.
“Abounding in maternal solicitude, she, (Queen Victoria) never ceased to think of the Prince of Wales as a boy to whom she owed parental guidance, the more so because he was fatherless. A main effect of his father’s death was consequently to place him, in his mother’s view, almost in permanence in statu pupillari. She claimed to regulate his actions in almost all relations of life.
The Queen was very ready to delegate to him formal and ceremonial labours which were distasteful to her, but she never ceased to ignore his title to any function of government. His place in the royal succession soon seemed to him inconsistent with that perpetual tutelage from which Queen Victoria deemed it wrong for him to escape in her lifetime.”
Here was a second and most serious error. A well-known writer says that in his opinion King George IV. has been harshly judged. What else could we expect, he asks, than an idler and a mere voluptuary? We fed the young Prince up like a fighting-cock, and then we gave him nothing to do.
Minister after Minister tried to right the serious wrong. Lord Russell put the point to the Queen in 1865; she gave way a little and against her own judgement. The Prince was allowed to see a few documents.
Mr. Gladstone urged for the admission of the Prince of Wales to further privileges of State information in 1872. The Queen showed that she was annoyed and would do nothing; and when she gave way in 1892, again in response to Mr. Gladstone’s solicitations the concession was made with indifferent grace.
“The Queen’s assent was not given very readily. She suggested that she herself should decide what official news should be passed on to her son. She deprecated the discussion of national secrets over country house dinner tables. But she finally yielded. … The Prince freely commented in writing on what was communicated to him. His interest was chiefly in persons, and he frankly criticized appointments or honours, and made recommendations of his own. He avoided intricate matters of general policy, but on minor issues he offered constant remark.”
No Statecraft Until Fifty
The Prince was fifty then, and it was with this equipment, or rather lack of equipment, that he succeeded to the throne in his sixtieth year.
He had passed middle age; he was an elderly man and he was called upon to undertake an immense responsibility, every precaution having been taken to make him thoroughly unfit for his supreme office.
People who knew him were afraid that he would fail.
“He cherished a high regard for his mother’s statesmanship and political acumen, but he had no full knowledge of the precise manner in which they had been exercised. At the outset there were slight indications that he over-estimated the Sovereign’s power. In consultation over a King’s Speech he seemed in some peril of misinterpreting the Royal function. But his action was due to inexperience, and to no impatience of Ministerial advice. Despite his share in two Royal Commissions, he had never studied deeply domestic legislation, and about it he held no well-defined views. He had watched more closely the course of foreign politics. His constant habit of travel, his careful maintenance of good relations with his large foreign kindred, his passion for making the personal acquaintance of interesting men and women on the Continent, gave him much knowledge of foreign affairs; both political and social.”
The expected failure became a great success; how huge a success those know who saw London mourning two years ago, who watched the crowds who wound in and out through the streets, mile after mile, resolved at whatever cost of weariness and waiting to bid farewell to King Edward at his last great reception in Westminster Hall.
Rough men and working were sorry; they said to one another sorrowfully, “It’ll be a long time before we get one like Teddy,” and the love of the “common people” is the finest evidence of a King’s success.
Last April the Premier of France made an eloquent speech at the unveiling of the memorial to King Edward VII., at Cannes, and pronounced a splendid panegyric on the royal and imperial task that had been achieved by the dead monarch. The long years, the Prime Minister said, that intervened between manhood and kingship had fitted the Sovereign for his work, had made him the supreme diplomatist, the peacemaker of Europe and the world.
And there can be no doubt that there has been a very wide impression that King Edward was his own foreign secretary, that in his hands were all the delicate wires which controlled the movements of European international politics. The Germans, indeed, were convinced that King Edward was their deadly foe, a supreme and malefic enchanter who was slowly building up against them a wall of hostile nations and threatening armaments of war.
The King never plotted against the peace and well-being of any nation; but Sir Sidney Lee points out that his diplomatic activities have been much exaggerated.
“His embodiment in foreign eyes of English aspirations inevitably exaggerated the popular importance of his public activities abroad, the foreign Press and public often made, during his reign, the error of assuming that in his frequent interviews with foreign rulers and statesmen he was personally working out a diplomatic policy of his own devising. Foreign statesmen and rulers knew that no subtler aim really underlay his movements than a wish for friendly social intercourse with them and the enjoyment of life under foreign skies quite unencumbered by the burden of diplomatic anxieties.”
In a word, King Edward was not the engineer guiding the revolutions of the vast machine; but ask an engineer how much his skill is worth without the steady drip of the oil on the whirling and interlocking parts?
And this most essential element it was the office of our late monarch to supply; he lubricated by his cheerful presence, his genial personality his unfailing and gracious tact the great wheels of the world’s political life.
He personated England to all nations that he visited, to all the diplomatists whom he encountered; and so it was that foreign nations felt that England turned a pleasant and smiling and peaceful face towards them; goodwill was ever in the King’s train and state.
King Edward had his likes and dislikes, both of people and policies.
He foresaw the immense difficulties in the way of Tariff Reform, he disliked teetotal legislation of the “down with the brewer” kind, he disproved of Suffragetism, and Lloydgeorgism, and the nonsense that was talked during the Boer war by the Pro-Boers and the nonsense that was talked after the war about Chinese “slavery.”
He thought the Lords were unwise to throw out the famous Budget, and he was of opinion that Mr. Winston Churchill was a very young man.
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