The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter XII. — More German Royalty
More German Royalty.
It is the third Gate of Barbarism—the Monarchical Gate—which is closing at this moment. The nineteenth century hears it rolling on its hinges. Victor Hugo.
William IV. (1830—1837.)
William IV., who succeeded George IV., was a curious contrast to the "First Gentleman in Europe." Nobody ever accused William of being a gentleman. He was absolutely lacking in personal dignity, and kept his ministers and courtiers in perpetual anxiety lest he should do something that would make royalty ridiculous in the eyes of what Burke called "the swinish multitude." His ecentricities were in the last degree droll, and remind one more of Sancho Panza's attempts at government than anything else.
"His first speech to the council," says Greville, "was well enough given; but his burlesque character began even then to show itself. Nobody expected from him much real grief, but he does not seem to have known how to act it consistently. He spoke of his brother with all the semblance of feeling, and in a tone of voice properly softened and subdued; but just afterwards, when they gave him the pen to sign the declaration, he said, in his usual tone, "This is a damned bad pen you have given me! "
In another passage the Clerk of the Council thus characterises him:—"He was a man who, coming to the throne at the mature age of sixty-five, was so excited by the exaltation that he nearly went mad, and distinguished himself by a thousand extravagances of language and conduct, to the alarm and amusement of all who witnessed his strange freaks; and though he was shortly afterwards sobered down page 96 into more becoming habits, he always continued to be something of a blackguard, and something more of a buffoon."
He had about the same regard for the press of the country as his father, George III., had for Shakspere. "After breakfast," adds Greville," he reads the Times and Morning Post, commenting aloud on what he reads in very plain terms; and sometimes they hear, 'That's a damned lie!' or some such remark, without knowing to what it applies."
But his freaks, though certainly strange, were not always amiable. At a certain levee he would insist that an unfortunate wooden-legged lieutenant should kneel down; while the president of the Royal Academy, who on one occasion chanced, among other portraits, to point out to him that of the late Admiral Napier, was amazed to be told, Captain Napier may be damned, sir! and you may be damned, sir! and if the queen was not here, sir, I would kick you downstairs, sir!" Indeed, it were hard to say whether the blackguard, the buffoon, or the madman predominated in the character of "the bluff Sailor King"—nay, saving the mark! "the Reformer King."
For the Post of Lord High Admiral of England he had but one qualification—profane swearing. In other respects his incapacity was so marked that resignation was forced on him. But though unfit to be a cabin boy he was quite good enough to be made a king. When king, he wasted the time of the Council by rambling, incoherent speeches to such an extent that Mr. Greville makes the following note:—"We are kept about three times as long by this regular, punctual king as by the capricious irregular monarch who last ruled us."
His zeal as a reformer was entirely on the adverse principle. His aversion to the reformers, particularly Lord John Russell, was extreme. When his son Adolphus told him that a dinner ought to be given for the Ascot races, he said, "You know I cannot give a dinner; I cannot give any dinner without inviting the Ministers, and I would rather see the devil than any one of them in my house." As Duke of Clarence, the slave trade had enjoyed the full benefit of William's distinguished patronage, and when king he expressly declared in writing that nothing in the world would ever induce him to sanction vote by ballot or manhood suffrage. During the first Reform Bill agitation, when the people in page 97 many places were starving by thousands, his only anxiety seems to have been to bring about a collision between the reformers and the military. What distressed him most was the orderly character of the meetings, which afforded no sufficient pretext for violent interference. Though he did not ultimately dare to veto the Bill, his deceitful and protracted opposition brought the country within twenty-four hours of revolution. Mr. John Arthur Roebuck's comment on the part played by the king is to the point—"very weak and very false; a finished dissembler." At a somewhat later date William astonished the guests at a diplomatic dinner, at which the American ambassador was present, by declaring "that it had always been a matter of serious regret to him (William) that he had not been born a free, independent American." This was dissembling, no doubt, but it can hardly be called "finished." William's function was to burlesque royalty, and in that rôle he was always tolerably successful.
When Dr. Allen came to do homage to him for the See of Ely, William graciously said to him, "My lord, I do not mean to interfere in any way with your vote in Parliament except on one subject, the Jews, and I trust I may depend on your always voting against them."
But this bizarre monarch, though he could not control home legislation as he wished, peremptorily insisted on the full measure of his prerogative with regard to foreign affairs. Earl Grey was admonished that no diplomatic despatches were to be sent off without the king's "previous concurrence," and this important point is still conceded to the reigning Guelph, even though "physically and morally incapable."
In early life William's debts were of a very pressing nature, and he and his brothers Wales and York had recourse to a singularly successful method of raising money. They issued joint and several bonds to an enormous amount, bearing interest at six per cent. These were taken up chiefly on the Continent, the foolish holders fancying that royal securities must be exceptionally secure. They found it otherwise, to their cost, receiving neither interest nor principal. Five or six of them were so ill-advised as to come to England, in the hope of being able by legal process to charge the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall. They were at once arrested under page 98 the Alien Act by order of the Secretary of State, and deported to France, where they were seized and guillotined for carrying on treasonable correspondence with the enemy—as severe a commentary certainly as could well be imagined on the wise injunction, "Put not your trust in princes."
William's treatment of Mrs. Jordan, by whom he had nine children, was peculiarly heartless even for a king. Charles II.'s last words to his brother James were, "Don't let poor Nell (Gwynne) starve." But no such lingering sentiment of honour seems ever to have entered into William's callous bosom. Mrs. Jordan died in a foreign land, deserted and in the deepest poverty. Her numerous offspring, the Fitz-clarences, William did indeed handsomely provide for—at the public expense; while Mr. Ford, her previous "protector," was knighted, and made a stipendiary magistrate at Bow Street.
Fourteen of the Fitzclarence fraternity have held or hold no fewer than twenty-one public offices and pensions—all gross jobs—which have already yielded them £220,500!
Who paid the Bill?
"I," said John Bull,
"Because I'm a fool.
I paid the Bill."
William was succeeded by his niece, Queen Victoria, daughter of his brother, the Duke of Kent, our present Monarch. With regard to this lady, we are asked to believe all manner of incredible things. She is reported to be an incarnation of all the personal, political, and domestic virtues. But eulogies of kings and queens during their lives should always be received with the greatest caution. Very seldom is the real character of English princes known to their contemporaries. Lord Tennyson tells us of "the fierce light that beats upon a throne," and simple-minded folks repeat the well-turned phrase till they deem it the embodiment of a reality. It is, in fact, with the greatest difficulty that a single ray of public light can be made to penetrate the dark recesses of a Court. If, for example, the same fierce light that beats on the presidential chair of the United States were page 99 to be applied to the thrones of Europe, they would all, including that of Queen Victoria, be burned up in a fortnight.
Mr. Henry George generously proposed in a memorable speech in St. James' Hall to allow the Queen, as a widow woman, £100 per annum out of the rent or revenue of the national soil. Her services to the State as a Queen he correctly estimated at nil. Not so reckon the discerning British taxpayers. They pay her over £600,000 a year on the score of queenship; while her late husband, tho. Prince Consort, who impudently told us that "Parliamentary Government was on its trial," received altogether £630,000 for marrying her! "What is called Monarchy," says the immortal Thomas Paine, "always appears to me a silly, contemptible thing. I compare it to something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a wonderful air of seeming solemnity; but when by any accident the curtain happens to be open, and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter,"—or, he might have added shrink into loathing.
We have seen in previous chapters what the lives of the kings and queens of England have been, from the Norman, Conquest downwards, for a period of more than eight centuries. It is a record that reads more like the Newgate Calendar than any other kind of literature; from beginning to end one long revolting tale of ingratitude, deceit, selfishness, rapine, torture, tyranny, waste, lust, madness, bloodshed, murder—atrocious misgovernment. And we are now asked to believe that an institution which for so many centuries has produced such fruit as naturally as a thornbush produces thorns, has become suddenly respectable and innocuous. The Ethopian has been pleased to change his skin, and the leopard his spots. I, for one, do not credit it. A good queen is as much a contradiction in terms as an amiable wolf, cheerful lightning, or a benevolent earthquake. That which has been is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun. Royalty cannot change its character.
It is not that kings and queens are worse naturally than other men and women. It is the institution that corrupts and degrades them below the level of their fellows. Let us demand the abolition of kingship in the interest of kings as well as in the interest of those whom they misgovern. No page 100 community has a right to place man or woman in a position where the temptations to vice are such as to render virtue next to impossible. Royalty is essentially an immoral institution, for the existence of which monarchists are more responsible than monarchs. The Hebrew prophet, Samuel, once and for all drew the moral, economic, and political lineaments of royalty in ineffaceable characters. (See I Sam., viii.). It is an institution that can neither be cured nor longer endured.—Delenda est Carthago.
And with the big kings or monarchs must go the smaller kings or peers who shine by light borrowed from the throne. In a word, the time has come when the whole system of aristocracy and land monopoly, on which it rests, must be brought to an end—a peaceable end, if possible, but at all events to an end. The people demand two things—a complete system of representative government and the restoration of the land. With the former royalty, with the latter aristocracy, is incompatible. Both must therefore fall. The people must begin sternly to agitate for the repeal of the Act of Settlement. "The third Gate of Barbarism—the Monarchical Gate—is closing." The first Gate of Civilisation—the Republican Gate—is ajar, and soon will be flung wide open. Long live the Republic!
"At the birth of each new era,
With a recognising start,
Nation wildly looks at nation,
Standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child
Leaps beneath the Future's heart."