16 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 23


THE Kings are in front just now. They have been gaining upon the statesmen in popular imagination for some years, and at this moment few speeches by Cabinet Ministers are read with the interest attached to the carefully worded utterances of Sovereigns on their travels, and no actions are studied so closely as their usually very rapid movements. It is difficult, as one reads of their visits to each other, and ponders the meaning of their friendlinesses, not to wonder a little what they think of themselves. Though so often in evidence, they tell us very little about that, and the world has to gather it up from observations not often accurate, nor always even keen. Do they really imagine, as is so often assumed, that they stand between the statesmen and the Higher Powers, holding in special charge the safety of their peoples ? We may be sure that they themselves reject the cynical explanation that they must reign by divine decree, for nothing else could explain the fact of their reigning at all ; but do they offer, in moods of reflection and self-communion, any other explanation to them- selves ? The German Emperor probably does, for though the rise of the Hohenzollerns to the very top has been somewhat sudden of late, his house has behind it a long line of successes so amazing as to suggest the intention of Providence that the family should succeed. Rosbach may be accounted for by the genius of the great Frederick, but the idiocy in Versailles which made Rosbach possible suggests something of overruling Providence. Moreover, the Kaiser must be allowed to be a man of very exceptional ability, and fully the equal in statesmanship of any of his Ministers. His great rival in European dignity, the Austrian Kaiser, may also believe that he is on his throne by the will of heaven, for with his descent from Charlemagne, through the husband. of Maria Theresa, he represents, in the picturesque if not in the real sense, the terrible majesty of the old Roman Caesars, who, as De Quincey showed, when they reigned, reigned alone, without rivals to criticise or opposition to embarrass them. The Russian ruler makes his claim more and more definite as events seem to cast a doubt upon it, and it may be that, like his father, he holds that God must specially guide him, for he can find in himself ne adequacy for his overiehelming task. The King of Italy probably thinks, like a true Savoyard, that though God protects him, he must always be watchful lest the protection be insufficient ; and our own King, if he thinks of the subject at all amid his eternal distractions, has a bit of real evidence to produce. Building on the sure and sound foundation laid by that great Queen of happy memory, his mother, he has restored the charm of Monarchy in a way which seventy years since would have seemed impossible, for statesmen then thought the British Crown was slipping to the ground. The Kings all alike, however, one notices, though confident in the rightfulness of their position, seek the applause of the peoples, and like all Sovereigns since Belshazzar, believing the writing on the wall to be untranslateable, hold, like philosophers, alarm ignotum pro Inagnift,co. They are perplexed, for the interpreters they consult either flatter or revile, and neither in reviling nor in flattery can there be illumination. One wonders whether they are happy— they who, in spite of Shakespeare, are with the popu- lace a byword for happiness—but thatsecret is kept as perfectly as their lemma* counsels fez' 1}4440. A, at any rate, the heart of the King is as inscrutable as in ancient days. On the whole, we see no reason to complain that they are in front. The Monarchies succeed as well as the Republics, even in protecting that general sense of popular well-being which it is so hard to make either perfect or secure. Asia, which is inherently Monarchical, is un- tormented by hunger, but cries aloud at intervals that God by sending drought or flood has visited the peoples with famine ; and both America and France are shaken with anxiety because of the very poor. We talk of our Socialists as menacing the order of society; but in Germany and Austria the menace is so real that the whole people are disciplined to keep it in restraint. It is, however, a little curious that, while the peoples are turning to the Kings, they know less of their inner thoughts and real capacities than of those of any statesman. Every Sovereign is watched by keen intelligences specially deputed to watch him, yet the world admits with a single voice that a King is never known until he has been buried for fifty years. A' screen of silences rarely, if ever, penetrated protects the majesty of even the smaller thrones. Who knows at this moment the inner mind of King Carlos of Portugal, though he is striving to govern without a Parliament? Political philosophers say that the day of the Kings will pass ; but the historian can but remember that, indefensible as Monarchy may be by argument, the Monarchs have survived a thousand years, and during all that time " the fierce light which beats upon a throne " can scarcely be said to have crumbled away any morsel of the charm of thrones. Only earth- quakes upset them. That would be explicable if it had been so from the first ; but though the Pharaohs reigned in the beginning of things, the great civilisations of Greece and Rome were independent of Monarchs—for Alexander must be considered a conqueror rather than a King—and the long and wonderful line of the Caesars was not based, and did not assume to be based, on the " Monarchical principle." Rome bore a Caesar, but would have shuddered at the name of King. The deduction is that thrones have their uses in the future of the great white races of Europe, and that the Kings need not seek so anxiously to understand the wishes of democracy, or tremble so much when for passing moments the people seem to think that they are ready to do without them. They are not ready, or the institution would not have survived so many cataclysmic changes. After all, physical power has always remained in the hands of the masses ; and the fact that they have used it so little to insist on revolutionary changes is proof of one of two things,— either the thrones fill a place which cannot be supplied otherwise, or Providence does protect an arrangement at which human reason has smiled for centuries, bowing down the next minute before that in which it professes to have lost all faith, and for which it fails to make a reasonable defence. If the Kings would but feel secure, they might do more for their peoples even than they do, —might restrain the fanaticism of militarism, and forego without regret some of the social pretensions which even now provoke the thinkers to inquire : Who are these, and why do a thousand children throng to see whether the little heir of Norway is other than themselves ?