Page images
PDF
EPUB

brations, which had begun, of the two-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Prussian Monarchy, and travelled as quickly as possible to reach the bedside of his Royal grandmother at Osborne. Secondly, there was the peculiar and, as it were, family warmth which marked the expressions of American sorrow and sympathy in regard to the illness of our Queen. For a few brief hours the whole civilised world seemed, and indeed was, united with the British race in their passionate craving for the preservation of the life of the venerable Monarch, whose infuence was universally recognised as having been directed for sixty years and more, with a single eye, to the good of her own vast dominions, and through them to that of mankind at large. And then the blow fell. The “slight rally” was not maintained. By four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 22) the Queen was announced to be sinking, having earlier in the day recognised the several members of her family, including the German Emperor, who were present, and at half-past six on that evening she passed away.

It is quite impossible to exaggerate the sense of bereavement which oppressed the whole British nation and Empire. To her subjects of every rank Queen Victoria's death meant the removal of what had appeared an essential feature in the framework of life, as all but the most aged among them could remember it. Contributions towards something like an analysis of the great and varied services rendered by the Queen to her realm will appear in the extracts in the ensuing pages from utterances by eminent statesmen and others qualified by special knowledge of one kind or another to pay fitting tributes to her worth, and it is not necessary to attempt at this point to offer any distillation of the estimates thus to be presented. But in recording the course of national affairs for the year 1901 it is right to say that the feeling of forlornness which pervaded the country was, alike in its diffusion and in its depth, of a kind such as has not been known in England since the death of King Alfred a thousand years before.

A beneficent and inspiring presence had disappeared—one which seemed to come nearer to the British people of every grade individually and in their families than any personality outside their own immediate circles. The two successive Jubilee celebrations had served in a very powerful degree to assist a people, not naturally imaginative, to reflect on, and so to realise, the extraordinary advantage they enjoyed in owning allegiance to a Sovereign who united the very loftiest sense of public duty with singular tenderness of heart and allembracing and all-observant sympathy. Since the Diamond Jubilee, in 1897, the immense hold already possessed by the Queen upon the reverence and affection of her people had been quite appreciably enhanced; and during 1900 the intensity of her participation in the South African anxieties of the nation, the pains she took to show herself on many occasions to large numbers of the people, and the spirit in which she conceived

[ocr errors]

1901.]
Accession of King Edward VII.

[9 and carried out her visit to Ireland, had combined to raise popular loyalty to an extraordinary level of sustained enthusiasm. The Queen, in a word, was felt to have re-established the British Monarchy in the hearts of the English people, and to have done more by her steady personal influence than any of her statesmen, however distinguished, towards the quickening of living ties between the mother country and the great outlying British communities.

Its firmament was darkened, but there was no check in the automatically ordered life of the British people, ruled by a constitutional monarchy. This was recognised, as it was interesting to observe, by the elected head of the other great branch of the English-speaking race. Immediately on hearing of the Queen's death, which was early in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 22, according to Washington time, President McKinley took the unusual step of ordering the flag on the White House to be halfmasted, and addressed a telegram of condolence to "His Majesty the King, Osborne House, Isle of Wight.” It expressed " the profound sorrow with which the President had received “ the lamentable tidings of the death of her Majesty the Queen," and his own and the American people's sincere sympathy in the King's “ personal bereavement, and in the loss which Great Britain has suffered in the death of its venerable and illustrious Sovereign, whose noble life and beneficent influence have promoted peace and won the affection of the world.” On Wednesday morning, January 23, the King left Osborne for London, and at two o'clock held his first Council at St. James's Palace. Previous to the Council a proclamation was approved, and put forth on the part of “the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted by those of her late Majesty's Privy Council, with numbers of other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of London,” declaring the accession of his Majesty by the title of Edward the Seventh. Having been made aware of this proclamation, which bore ninety-one signatures, including those of the Duke of York, the two Primates, the principal officers of the Privy Council, and many other distinguished personages, the King entered the Council Chamber and delivered-it was said without notes—the following declaration :“YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESSES, MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN,

This is the most painful occasion on which I shall ever be called upon to address you.

“My first and melancholy duty is to announce to you the death of my beloved mother the Queen, and I know how deeply you, the whole nation, and I think I may say the whole world, sympathise with me in the irreparable loss we have all sustained.

"I need hardly say that my constant endeavour will be always to walk in her footsteps. In undertaking the heavy load which now devolves upon me, I am fully determined to be a

Constitutional Sovereign in the strictest sense of the word, and as long as there is breath in my body to work for the good and amelioration of my people.

“I have resolved to be known by the name of Edward, which has been borne by six of my ancestors. In doing so I do not undervalue the name of Albert, which I inherit from my ever to be lamented, great and wise father, who by universal consent is I think deservedly known by the name of Albert the Good, and I desire that his name should stand alone.

“ In conclusion, I trust to Parliament and the nation to support me in the arduous duties which now devolve upon me by inheritance, and to which I am determined to devote my whole strength during the remainder of my life.”

The Councillors then begged that the King would allow his declaration to be published, and his Majesty assented to their request. He then subscribed the oath relating to the security of the Church of Scotland, and signed a proclamation requiring all persons being in office of authority or government at the decease of the late Queen to proceed in the execution of their respective offices ” during the Royal pleasure. The proceedings terminated with the swearing of allegiance to the new Sovereign by the Councillors present. The style assumed by the King gave universal satisfaction, carrying forward as it did some of the most brilliant and cherished of the ancient traditions of the monarchy, and the tone of his Majesty's declaration, its directness and earnestness, and the reverent affection marking its allusion to the late Queen and her illustrious Consort, commended it to the feeling of the whole English people. The old forms and ceremonies were observed in connection with the public proclamation of the King's accession on Thursday, January 24, by the principal heralds at St. James's Palace and in the City of London, and also by the lord mayors and mayors in a large number of provincial cities and towns. The Heir Apparent, as was intimated in an Order in Council, issued on the same day, prescribing the necessary changes consequent upon the new reign in the Book of Common Prayer, was to be styled, for the present at any rate, “George Duke of Cornwall and York.”

In accordance with the provisions of the Act 6 Anne, c. 7, which enjoins the sitting of Parliament immediately on the demise of the Crown, both Houses met on January 23. The first two days of the brief and mournful session were occupied by the taking of the oath of allegiance to the new Sovereign, and it was not till Friday, the 25th, that the solemn duty of placing on record the national sense of bereavement could be proceeded with. In the meantime the world-wide sympathy on which King Edward had reckoned in the opening declaration of his reign had been manifested in every possible fashion, and with the most evident sincerity. Officially, by the words and acts of Sovereigns and Presidents, by the utterances of states

1901.)
Special Meeting of Parliament.

[11 men, and the resolutions of Legislatures, and unofficially, by the expressions of the press and the general attitude of the public mind, there was paid to the nobility of the character, and the beneficence of the influence, of Queen Victoria a tribute such as, in its earnestness and its universality, had very rarely, if ever, previously been rendered to any human being. She appeared, in a word, to have been looked upon in every direction as incarnating every quality for which the British race is anywhere regarded with respect, liking or admiration, and none of those by which it anywhere arouses suspicion or resentment. Ex-President Harrison, of the United States, where Queen Victoria's death was treated as a virtually domestic event of engrossing interest, affirmed that “no other death could have excited such general sorrow,” and that may be regarded as a trustworthy estimate by a competent contemporary observer.

Within the English-speaking parts of the British Empire the grief manifested was, as need hardly be said, of the profoundest quality. Reverent devotion to the person of the Queen had been, as already observed, one of the main welding influences by which the self-governing Colonies, as they grew in population, wealth and importance, were drawn into increasingly close touch with the mother country, and they entered to the full into the sense of loss which had fallen like a cloud on the British people at home. Perhaps even more remarkable were the manifestations of respectful sorrow exhibited by the various non-British communities within the allegiance of the British Crown. Certain it is that among the French Canadians, among the Cape Dutch, and even the Boer prisoners, among the peoples of India, of the most diverse creeds and races, among the Maoris of New Zealand, and many other tribes of Asiatic, African and Polynesian blood, the signs of mourning bore every mark of genuineness. And thus, in truth, one pulse of sorrow seemed to be uniting the whole Empire when the Imperial Parliament devoted its first sitting of the new century and the new reign to the expression of mourning for the great Queen who had been taken away and loyal greeting to her eldest son and successor. On Friday, January 25, in the House of Lords, Lord Salisbury brought the following message from the King, which was read by the Lord Chancellor, the House uncovering: " EDWARD REX.

“ The King is fully assured that the House of Lords will share the deep sorrow which has befallen his Majesty and the nation by the lamented death of his Majesty's mother, the late Queen. Her devotion to the welfare of her country and her people and her wise and beneficent rule during the sixty-four years of her glorious reign will ever be held in affectionate memory by her loyal and devoted subjects throughout the dominions of the British Empire.”

Lord Salisbury then moved an address :

“ To assure his Majesty that this House deeply sympathises in the great sorrow which his Majesty has sustained by the death of our beloved Sovereign, the late Queen, whose unfailing devotion to the duties of her high estate and the welfare of her people will ever cause her reign to be remembered with reverence and affection ; to submit to his Majesty our respectful congratulations on his accession to the Throne and to assure him of our loyal attachment to his person; and further to assure him of our earnest conviction that his reign will be distinguished under the blessing of Providence by the anxious desire to maintain the laws of the kingdom and to promote the happiness and liberties of his subjects.

The Prime Minister said that in submitting this resolution he had to perform the saddest duty that had ever befallen him. The late Queen had so many titles to their admiration that it would occupy an enormous time to glance at them even perfunctorily; but that which would chiefly attach to her character in history was the fact that, being a Constitutional Monarch with restricted powers, she reigned by sheer force of character and by the lovableness of her disposition over the hearts of her subjects, and exercised a greater influence in moulding their destinies than she could have done even if she had been invested with the most despotic power. She had been a great instance of government by example, by esteem, and by love. The position of a Constitutional Sovereign was not an easy one, as duties had to be reconciled which sometimes seemed far apart. Her Majesty, however, always maintained and practised a rigorous supervision over public affairs, giving to her Ministers her frank advice, and warning them of danger if she saw there was danger ahead. She had an extraordinary power of divining what her people, and especially, Lord Salisbury thought, those of the middle classes, would think. Yet she never adhered to her own conception obstinately, but, on the contrary, she was full of concession and consideration. “We owe her gratitude," continued Lord Salisbury, “in every direction—for her influence in elevating the people, for her power with foreign Courts and Sovereigns to remove difficulties and misapprehension which sometimes might have been dangerous ; but, above all things, I think, we owe her gratitude for this, that by a happy dispensation her reign has coincided with that great change which has come over the political structure of this country and the political instincts of its people. She has bridged over that great interval which separates old England from new England. Other nations may have had to pass through similar trials, but have seldom passed through them so peaceably, so easily, and with so much prosperity and success as we have. I think that future historians will look to the Queen's reign as the boundary which separates the two states of England—England which has changed so much-and recognise that we have undergone the

« PreviousContinue »