The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter II. — The Ethics of Royalty
The Ethics of Royalty.
And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said, "This will be the manner of the King that shall reign over you. He will take your sons, and appoint them for Himself, for His chariots, and to be His horsemen; and some shall run before His chariots.
"And He will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to His officers and to His servants.
"And He will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to His work."
"And He will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to earn His ground and to reap His harvest, and to make His instruments of war and instruments of His chariots."
"And He will take your daughters to De confectionaries and to be cooks and to be bakers."
"And He will take your fields and your vineyards and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to His servants."
"And ye shall cry out in that day because of your King which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day."
And all the people said unto Samuel, "Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not, for we have added unto our sins this evil—to ask a king."
The partiality of the clergy, especially those of the Established Church, for the above passage of Holy Writ is well known to all churchgoers. These spiritual guides never tire of reminding their flocks that monarchy is a sinful institution, repugnant to the Divine Will, and, as such, the inevitable source of misery, oppression and dishonour, national and individual. It is perhaps less generally known that the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the coronation of a new monarch, invariably prefaces the ceremony by reading, for his or her Majesty's benefit, the whole of the 8th chapter of 1st Samuel with extraordinary emphasis.
Nonconformist pastors are not less faithful. In their frequent encounters with latter-day sceptics, secularists, page 10 positivists, and other infidels, whose acquaintance with Scripture is apt to be slender or at second hand, they are wont to silence contradiction by forcibly appealing to our existing social and political condition as the literal fulfilment of this divine oracle. It may be difficult to show how the whale swallowed Jonah, but it is not at all hard to prove that cruel wars, intolerable taxation, scandalous sinecures, and impoverishing land monopolies are the normal concomitants of royalty. Ask those right hon. Republicans, Sir Charles Dilke, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. Henry Fawcett if it is not so. They know all about it, or at all events they once did!
"Wha the de'il do ye think we hae gotten for a king?
But a wee, wee German lairdie!
And when they gaed to bring him hame
He was delvin' in his kail yardie;
Sawin' kail and layin' leeks,
But the hose and but the breeks,
Then up his beggar duds he cleeks,
This wee, wee German lairdie."
It is still her Majesty's army, her Majesty's navy, her Majesty's Ministers, nay, her Majesty's Opposition—everybody and everything her Majesty's, except, as shrewd old Cobbett observed, her Majesty's debt, which is national. In the pulpit her Majesty is solemnly prayed for; in the press her great standing achievement of "driving out" is admiringly recorded; at the festive board she is loyally toasted; while the Mint is ever busy stamping the current coin of the realm with her image and superscription.
Why all this praying, recording, toasting, and stamping? We are all, it is too he feared, very great sinners; but why page 11 should royalty, for example, require such an exceptional stretch of the Divine clemency? True, her Majesty's immediate predecessors on the throne have been persons of most disreputable moral character; but did the unremitting orisons offered up for them during their proper lives perceptibly improve their conduct? Not in the least. Indeed, a more startling illustration of the inefficacy of prayer could hardly be had, and it is a wonder that in the late magazine controversy on the subject none of the anti-prayer disputants thought of using it. Can it therefore be that royalty is prayed for in order to show that it is past praying for?
Again, why should her Majesty's health be made the subject-matter of so much bibulous solicitude, so much postprandial laudation? A thousand chances to one the postprandial orator knows nothing whatever of the real character of the royal personage whose merits he extols. What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba? He will know something about Hecuba perchance when the memoirs of some veracious courtier like Greville appear; but not till then. With respect to the present monarch the postprandial orator generally discovers two, and only two, cardinal virtues—the one personal, the other political—which fill his soul with the profoundest admiration and thanksgiving.
Firstly, the Queen has led the life of a respectable matron. How marvellous in a queen! But were somebody to rise and compliment the orator on similar perfections in his (the orator's) wife, his sister, or his daughter, that erring somebody would not improbably be rewarded by having the handiest decanter thrown at his head. Is it, therefore, the orator's intention to show that hardly anything short of a miracle can prevent queens from falling below the most ordinary standard of female virtue?
Her Majesty's other pre-eminent virtue, the political one, is not less remarkable—she never interferes with the course of government. Was ever such a qualification for office, or any kind of human employment whatever, heard of before? Conceive of a chimney-sweep who never swept a chimney, a baker who never baked, a butcher who supplied no meat, a shoemaker who made no shoes, or a head clerk who never entered his office, being complimented for magnanimously abstaining from the discharge of the duties of their respec- page 12 tive callings! Nay, more; conceive of a grateful nation rewarding such abstention by a clear grant to the abstainer and his or her relatives of a million sterling per annum, and the marvel has grown a hundredfold!
But our postprandial philosopher would probably demur to a comparison so odious. Kings and queens, he would contend, are not to be confounded with base mechanical butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Admitted, but wherein lies the distinction? It is here. Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers perform functions useful and indeed necessary to society, whereas those of royalty are at best ornamental.
But he who drives fat oxen should, according to Dr. Johnson, himself be fat. Now the question arises, and with reverence be it put, is Victoria Regina really even an ornamental figurehead? Tastes, of course, will differ, but I venture to affirm, without fear of rational contradiction, that there are at least half a million of ladies in the land whose native grace, dignity, and mental gifts would far surpass those to which her Teutonic Majesty can lay claim—ladies, many of them of independent means, willing to do the national honours without garish splendour, and at their own cost.
Moreover, has it not been laid down on the unimpeachable authority of Mr. Oscar Wilde that true ornament is inseparable from utility? Why, then, if the State must have a figurehead, not apply at once to the Grand Old Man? Is he not ornamental? Is he not useful? Is it not ornamental to be equally at home in the jargon of bric-a-brac, and the labyrinths of Dante's Inferno? Is it not useful to be able to fell an oak, to coerce Ireland, and, after the burning of Alexandria, to demonstrate that "we have not been at war with anybody," and all this on strictly Liberal principles?
Again, are the simple hospitalities of the White House at Washington less enjoyable than the tomfooleries of the Court of St. James's? Is President Arthur or President Grévy less a gentleman than the Prince of Wales? Assuredly not. The ornamental argument will not stand a moment's analysis. Royalty is really paid for its inaction, not because it is in its nature ornamental and passive, but because an experience of more than eight centuries has abundantly shown that it is politically dangerous.page 13
The danger from it now is not so much political as social. It acts as a convenient screen behind which there is hardly a job too gross to be hatched. It is the standing symbol of that social injustice and inequality about the effects of which in the East-end of London so much has recently been written. There is a matchless irony in the composition of Sir Charles Dilke's Commission of Inquiry into the Housing of the Poor. To set the Prince of Wales, the Marquis of Salisbury, and other noble lords to investigate the causes of wretched dwellings is more like appointing a committee of wolves to account for a scarcity of lambs than anything I can think of.
Why then so many canting prayers, so many sickening eulogies of an institution so ridiculous, so noxious to the people at large? Simply because the nation is not self-governed. England is ruled by a close oligarchy governing in its own interests, and to that oligarchy royalty is anything but useless.
The people interested in royalty may be roughly divided into two great classes. They are either knaves or fools—persons moved by self-interest or superstition, or, it may be, by a cunning compound of both. Political superstition, like religious superstition, is merely belief without evidence. The privileged ring, and those who are struggling to enter it, compose the former class, which is made up of courtiers, sinecurists, pensioners, peers, parvenus, landlords who neither toil nor spin, self-seeking clergymen, venal writers, lawyers, army and navy officers, snobs, et hoc genus omne.
This motley crew have one characteristic in common. They are all dishonestly bent on living luxuriously, and without toil, at the cost of the industrious portion of the community. To them the Crown is a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Let them be but deprived of its protection, and they would be like sheep without a shepherd. They would be taken in detail, stripped of their borrowed plumes, and relieved of their booty. They magnify royalty and prostrate themselves before it, not because they believe in it—they are too near it not to know how great an imposture it is—but because it effectually dazzles and stupefies the industrious classes—the fools—whose sore toil allows them neither time for reflection nor opportunity for study. page 14 Like Hamlet's "groundlings," they are adjudged "capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise."
Howbeit, the groundlings at times make a noise that is not at all to the taste of royalty and the parasitic creatures that cluster around it. Poor Blowitz of the Times, and his congeners of the press, have hardly yet recovered from the tempest of hisses by which the unmannerly groundlings of Paris drove the Spanish King out of the great Republican city. It was a new experience for monarchs and Monarchists, which cannot fail to do them a world of good. The significance of the incident may be measured by the childish horror of the organs of the privileged classes here and on the Continent.
In happy England the people are in no danger of falling into the anti-monarchical enormities of the Parisians. They know their station better, have better manners, and better political teachers—Radical teachers, too—to point out to them the path they ought to pursue. Listen to that right honourable Radical, Anthony John Mundella, on the vote in supply, to pay the cost of the Prince of Wales's mischievous jaunt to India:—"As long as we had a monarchy we should be ashamed to have a cotton-velvet or tinfoil sort of monarchy; he did not believe in a cheap, shabby, Brummagem monarchy, and he always would give his vote loyally and in consistency with those opinions, which he believed to be the opinions of his constituents." There spoke a true friend of the people! What more praiseworthy than to record one's vote in consistency with the opinions of one's constituents! No Brummagem monarchies for the opulent operatives of Sheffield! Against such claptrap the gods themselves might contend in vain. The fact is, the public mind has been so long saturated with delusive, constitutional cant, distorted history, and treacherous political compromises, that the boldest investigator may well despair of evolving order out of the chaos.
To begin with, "our glorious constitution," of which constitutional authors predicate so many excellences, never had any existence, except in the imagination of the writers. In the United States the meanest citizen can challenge the validity of an Act of Congress in a court of justice, and if it page 15 is held to be repugnant to the Constitution of the Republic—a document which most American schoolboys know by heart—it becomes a dead letter in spite of President, Senate, and House of Representatives. What is called the British Constitution, on the other hand, consists of an intricate tangle of successive checks and limitations imposed on the despotic feudal authority set up by Norman William at the Conquest. They are all so contrived that they can be suspended on the slightest provocation. In Ireland, at this moment, Earl Spencer, the representative of royalty, is clothed with powers which the Czar of Russia might almost envy. Our liberties, such as they are, depend not on a constitution, but on a form of government which a powerful Minister may twist into pretty much any shape he pleases. The armour of ancient despotism can be brought out from the store-room at any moment. It needs no refurbishing. So true it is that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," especially in oligarchic England.
Three elements enter into the composition of English Government :(1.) the Monarchical; (2.) the Aristocratic; and (3.) the Republican, represented respectively by Queen, Lords, and Commons. At the bar of history and reason, Monarchy and Aristocracy have long stood condemned. Their crimes in the past have been enormous, and to-day they exist only for themselves, which can be permitted to no man or body of men in this universe of God. The hereditary principle, or rather want of principle, is followed in flagrant violation of a well-observed law of nature. Wise men seldom have wise sons, good men often have bad sons, while men of intellect frequently beget intellectual imbeciles. Mental or moral gifts in excess antagonize the reproductive energies. Who would dream of making a man Lord Chief Justice of England or Astronomer-Royal on the ground of paternal tenure of office? Certainly no one in his senses.
"O, thou that sea-walls sever
From lands unwalled by seas!
Wilt thou endure for ever,
O Milton's England, these?
Thou that wast his Republic,
Wilt thou clasp their knees? These royalties rust-eaten,
These worm-corroded lies,
That keep thy head storm-beaten
And sun-like strength of eyes
From the open air and heaven
Of intercepted skies."