PITY A POOR PRINCE.
A SHORT time since, we took occasion to notice some of the curious outrages on good taste and good sense committed by official people who happen to be entrusted with the duty of receiving the Queen when she travels. We drew, it may be remembered, a strange, but perfectly true picture of towns turning themselves into travelling Circuses, and railway refreshment rooms trying to look like Royal boudoirs, under the amazing delusion that the Sovereign of this country would approve of them all the more for appearing to be ashamed of themselves in their own characters. We thought it hard at that time, and we think it bard still, that persistent Mayors, should besiege the Royal carriage-windows, and pitiless Corporations pour out all the vials of bad grammar on the Royal head, whenever they can catch the first Personage in these realms on her travels. And we then expressed a very decided opinion (which we now reiterate) that the practice of concealing from our Queen the true aspect of towns,’ stations, and, where it is possible, even of the people themselves, amounts in effect to a species of positive disloyalty, for the plain reason that it deprives her, in her relation to her subjects and to all that surrounds them, of every fair means of judging accurately for herself.
Certain events have lately happened which oblige us to return to this subject. The official persecution of her Majesty has extended its abject range of action, and has now overtaken her Majesty’s second son, Prince Alfred.
When we first heard of the profession that had been chosen for the young Prince, we could not divest ourselves of the idea that the Queen had been to some slight extent influenced, in arriving at her decision, by a natural wish to preserve one of her children, at least, from falling a victim to the municipal authorities of his native country. Any hope of rescue for her eldest son was clearly out of the question. We are all of us born to a drawback of some kind; and the Prince of Wales, as heir to the throne, is necessarily born to a drawback of Mayors and Corporations. Prince Alfred, however, it was still possible to save from being Addressed at his carriage-window, from being bewildered by make-shift drawing-rooms, and from being loyally leapt over, as it were, by sprightly pole-and-canvas arches, whenever he attempted to drive through the streets of a strange town. The one apparently safe means of accomplishing his preservation from these and other equally unendurable nuisances, in the present Mayor-and-Corporation-burdened-condition of all civilised land, was clearly to send him to sea—and that is exactly what his Royal mother has done with him.
Whether we are right or wrong in venturing to set up this theory-, one thing at least is certain. Prince Alfred was not sent to sea as a Prince of the blood royal, but as a midshipman of the Euryalus. The Queen has determined, with excellent good sense, that he shall learn his noble profession exactly as other English lads learn it; that he shall rank with his brother officers on a footing of perfect equality; and that if he rises (as we all hope he will rise) to a position of eminence in the Navy, he shall have something higher and better—something infinitely more satisfactory to his country and to himself—to thank for it, than the accident of his birth. It is gratifying to know this; it is doubly gratifying to know that the son is worthy of the mother’s confidence; that he frankly and gladly accepts his position; and that, finding himself in a new sphere of action (in which, be it remembered, his social standing is really and truly decided by his individual merit), he is as happy and as popular with his messmates as any other sensible, good-humoured, high-spirited English boy might be in his place.
These things are matters of public notoriety. It is perfectly well known, that the Prince eats and drinks and sleeps as other midshipmen eat and drink and sleep; that his outfit has been exactly regulated (though the tradesman who made his chest is rumoured to have gone the loyal length of french-polishing it) by the outfits of other midshipmen; and that every distinction, in short, (except the too-enthusiastic polishing of the chest) has been most strictly and sensibly levelled between the many young officers who are the sons of gentlemen, and the one young officer who is the son of the Queen. Under these circumstances, it would seem hardly necessary that her Majesty should have been obliged to express a wish (as she is understood, however, to have expressed a wish) that no public receptions of the Prince should take place when the Euryalus happened to touch at any particular port. Every circumstance connected with the manner in which the Queen has sent her son to sea, must surely speak for itself, to the same plain and direct purpose, in the case of any official personage, in any part of the world, who Possesses one atom of tact or one grain of common sense? Here is the man-of-war, Euryalus; and one of the midshipmen on board bears the Christian name of Alfred. Surely, the clumsiest of mankind may be trusted Dot to commit the gross blunder of tearing off the wisely assumed incognito of the young officer, and setting him up before his messmates and companions (in flat defiance of the principle on which his own parents have so considerately and so sensibly acted) as a Prince of the Blood Royal, who is not, and never can be, one of themselves!
Alas! alas! the clumsiest of mankind must and will blunder, to the end of the world, even in the plainest and simplest matters. Exactly as the disastrous tradesman at home french-polished the chest, so the disastrous diplomatic tradesmen, abroad, french-polish Midshipman Alfred, the moment they get hold of him, with a royal reception.
The good ship Euryalus arrives in the Bay of Tangier; and the royal midshipman probably looks forward to a run on shore along with some of his friends in the gun-room. No such good fortune awaits him. We learn from the correspondent of the Gibraltar Chronicle, that Her Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. D. Hay, proceeded in a Moorish—more properly, as we think, a Mayorish—launch, to wait upon his Royal Highness. Mr. D. Hay is instantly saluted by eleven honorary explosions from the guns of the Euryalus—not one of which, we regret to find, was sufficiently powerful to blow him back instantly to his office on shore. The Prince disembarks (as midshipmen invariably do) with twenty-one honorary explosions from the joyful town; which are immediately returned (captains being always particularly attentive where salutes to their midshipmen are concerned) by more explosions from the Euryalus. His Royal Highness—Midshipman Alfred no longer—is received by a perfect Corporation of civil and military authorities. Saddle-horses are in attendance; but the Prince not being quite nautical enough yet to get on horseback the moment he gets on shore, walks up to his quarters with his wearisome escort after him. The same day he has to make calls of ceremony on the minister and the Governor; and, the next morning, by way of showing him a particularly interesting and useful sight to a sailor, he is taken into the country to witness the manœuvring of a large body of cavalry—possibly, the Horse Marines—in which case, we think it hard on the ship’s company not to have invited them all to see the review. It is only fair to the authorities to conclude by mentioning that they seem to have remembered, at the eleventh hour, that they had a midshipman to deal with, and that they then did what they could to gratify the Prince’s sailor-like enthusiasm for the fair sex, by taking him to see the marriage of a beautiful young Jewess. Shortly afterwards, he appears to have been happily rescued from the civil and military Corporation; to have got back to his ship; and to have there re-assumed, let us hope, the natural position in which he had been placed by his parents, and from which the blundering local authorities had done their mischievous utmost to separate him.
Similar exhibitions of ludicrous ostentation and wretched taste took place at Lisbon and at Malta—with this noticeable difference, however, that the reception at Lisbon was directed by a foreign sovereign, and was, on that very account, an excusable piece of folly. The King of Portugal might naturally enough fall into the mistake of supposing that he was bound out of common politeness (to say nothing of common regard for his own diplomatic interests) to take formal public notice of the Queen’s son, as some return for the attention which he himself received from the Court when he visited this country. The King of Portugal was not to be expected to feel with Englishmen on such a purely national question as that involved in the professional education of the Prince. For these reasons we can look composedly enough on the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Barge alongside of the Euryalus; and we can be well content to be merely amused by the reported astonishment of everybody at the alacrity with which the Prince jumped into the barge—an astonishment arising, we presume, from a general idea that the descent of a Queen’s son from a Queen’s ship’s side, could only be accomplished by a species of solemn procession, or by a stage-walk, or by any other means, except the means natural to a lively lad of fourteen who can make good use of his legs.
But the case is altered, when we get to Malta. Here, in an English possession, where the authorities had no excuse for awkwardly thwarting the Queen’s intentions, and mischievously elevating her son above the free sea-training and the impartial sea-discipline which can alone make a sailor of him—here, the sickening servility of these receptions of the young Prince reached its climax. The governor, the council, the judges, the archbishop, the Protestant bishop, the clergy, the nobility, and all the other grandees in the island received the midshipman in solemn assembly on the steps of the palace. Whether they fell on their knees at his approach, or whether they walked backwards till they got in-doors, is not mentioned-but it is asserted, quite seriously, that a levée was held; and that, wherever the Prince went, there a procession persistently went with him, both before and behind. There was a ball. too (the Midshipman’s partners duly chronicled), and an illumination; and there would have been more to-do, if the Midshipman had not “greatly chagrined” the Maltese, by graciously condescending to allow his Captain to proceed on his cruise! But the crowning absurdity of all was accomplished by making the midshipman of the Euryalus publicly review the troops of the garrison. When we had arrived at this part of the newspaper narrative, nothing else that it might have contained would have astonished us. After reading of all the soldiers in Malta being reviewed by a sailor of the age of fourteen, we should not have felt the least surprised at being further informed of the governor boxing the compass, the judges holystoning the decks, or the Archbishop borrowing the boatswain’s whistle, and piping all hands, out of compliment to the Prince, in the very pulpit itself.
What is to stop this fawning perversion of Prince Alfred from the plain professional purpose to which his parents have so wisely devoted him? Who is to prevent these abject authorities from doing their best to spoil a frank, straightforward, natural lad, who is promising so well at the fair outset of his career? It is not easy to suggest an answer to these questions. How are people, who have no tact, no taste, no natural sense of what is appropriate and no instinctive terror of what is ridiculous—who seem to be influenced, partly, by the childish pleasure of putting on fine clothes, with the adult folly superadded of feeling proud at publicly exhibiting them; and, partly by the imperious necessity of cringing and crawling, which is the motive power that works in mean natures—how are such people as these to be reached by any ordinary process of remonstrance? Argument, entreaty, reproof, contempt; the pen of the writer, the tongue of the orator, are all shivered alike against the adamantine insensibility to every species of intellectual attack which distinguishes the genuine Flunkey nature. The one idea which occurs to us, in connection with this very disheartening part of the subject—and which we beg leave, in conclusion, to express with all possible respect—is, that the Queen her self might possibly come to the rescue of her son before it is too late to save him. Her Majesty has been pestered with tens of thousands of Addresses from her subjects. What if she were suddenly to turn the tables, and actually present her subjects with an Address from herself? May we hope to be excused, if, following out this idea, we venture to lay the following few lines at the foot of the Throne, as a rough sketch of the new kind of Royal Address which we are bold enough to suggest?
ADDRESS FROM THE QUEEN TO CERTAIN OF HER SUBJECTS IN OFFICE.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR FLUNKEYSHIPS,—I, your much-wearied and much-persecuted Sovereign, do hereby beg and entreat that you will, for the future, allow my second son to pursue his profession in peace and quietness, unencumbered and unperverted by Receptions, which separate him from his messmates, among whom I wish him to mingle as one of themselves. Governors, Generals, Admirals, Archbishops, Authorities civil and military, Corporations of every degree of obesity, —be so good as to learn, once for all, from your Queen, that true loyalty is one of the forms of true politeness, in which the delicacies of restraint, and the graces of good-sense, count among the chiefest and the most necessary of courteous accomplishments. Understand, distinctly, that when I send my son to sea as a midshipman, it is a flat contradiction of my intentions for you to receive him as a Prince. Reserve your spare gunpowder, therefore, for my enemies; keep your fine clothes and your processions for yourselves; and by no means consider it any part of your duty towards Midshipman Alfred to spoil a good sailor by reminding him, to no earthly purpose, that you are Flunkeys and that he is a Prince.
If some such pithy expostulation as this should ever happen, under an extraordinary stress of circumstances, to be prepared by direction of the Queen, there is no office within the gift of the Sovereign which it would give us half so much pleasure to receive as the useful, enviable, and patriotic office of presenting the Address.
First published in Household Words 15 January 1858 XIX 145-147
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