24 JANUARY 1936, Page 4


THE death of no sovereign of these realms through- out their history has created more profound or widespread grief than King George V's. That is a large claim, but it is justified. His father enjoyed great popularity, but it was of a different texture from the affection King George inspired. Queen Victoria, after years of eclipse, had re-established a lasting hold on the hearts of her people, but in her lonely widowhood she could not appeal to a nation and an empire as King George did through five-and- twenty years in virtue not only of his own personality but of the family circle of which he was the head: Owing immensely much to his mother, Queen Alexandra, the King set his duty to his home at least as high as his duty to his kingdom. And he-was right. No greater service could have been rendered to the nation than the spectacle, of which the world from time to time caught revealing glimpses, of King George's sons and daughter growing up under the guidance of their father, and of as wise and devoted a consort as ever lightened the tasks of a British king, and taking up one by one those public duties which all of them have performed so unpretentiously and so well. On one of them, King Edward VIII, falls now the hardest duty of all. In the success with which he may be counted on to discharge it the first ingredient will be his father's training and example.

In King George dignity and simplicity were uniquely mingled. He owed much to the fortune of his birth, which made him a king's second son, not the heir-apparent to the throne, and enabled him to be brought up as a serving sailor. He mastered his profession. He commanded his own ships. He so far combined sagacity and knowledge as to convince so obdurate a doctrinaire as Sir John Fisher on at least one occasion that the First Sea Lord was wrong and that the royal sailor, at that time Prince of Wales, was right. Till he came to the throne he was a subject and a citizen. When he succeeded his father he remained, one witfp his fellow-citizens still. He had an intense sense of duty. His life might have been longer if he had spared himself more. He took each task as it came, and quietly and efficiently discharged it. Eight years before lie became king himself, when his father was struck down with sudden illness on the eve of his coronation, his sister, Princess Victoria (whose death so little preceded his) said of him that " the Prince of Wales was beyond all praise—good, helpful and quiet ; he managed everything."

Those qualities remained characteristic throughout his life. The King was humble, but with no false humility. He could act with decision and inde- pendence, as he did in regard to the Parliament Bill procedure in 1910. He was conscious of the great- ness of his office, and the inability of any mortal man to fill it to perfection. He was probably never fully conscious of the narrowness of the gulf which separated his achievement from perfection. How continually, in places where speech was free and no servile reverence for royalty laid restraints on candour, has tribute been paid to King George's. wisdom and tact and instinctive rightness. How rarely, if ever, has the opinion been uttered, either in bitterness or regret, that the King was wrong. Year by year in increasing measure he evoked the affection of an Empire. His critical illness eight years ago revealed for the first time what the King meant to the nation. From that time there was a new intimacy in the relationship between sovereign and people. The invention of wireless did much to foster it, by enabling his subjects to the limits of his realms to hear his voice and to realise behind the voice the monarch who was essentially a man of like substance to themselves. And the unprece- dented depth and intensity of the enthusiasm that found expression in the Silver Jubilee celebrations was a revelation and a matter for. profound emotion to the King himself. For this generation he will remain an unfading memory.

The span of King George's reign has seen the world in many respects revolutionised. The radio, the motor-car, the cinematograph have become the commonplaces of civilisation since he ascended the throne. And all but four years of his rule were darkened by the War and the stresses and anxieties that were its legacy. All that in different ways affected King George and his family. But it is more relevant today to dwell on a change of immense significance to his subjects everywhere, in which his personal part was large. During his reign the Colonies became Dominions and the Empire a Commonwealth. That statement may not be strictly accurate chronologically. The process had begun before King Edward died. But it was during King George's reign that the Commonwealth in its present form, and with its present self-consciousness, took shape.

And the British Commonwealth of Nations is what it is, with its freedom unrestricted and its loyalty unqualified, because at the heart of the Empire there has ruled for a quarter of a century a King of all the Britains familiar with his Dominions from personal knowledge, of whose discerning sym- pathy they were constantly made aware. It is significant that while King Edward VII travelled chiefly in Germany and Austria and France, King George V travelled chiefly over the British Empire. He began his journeys as a midshipman of fourteen, he visited Cape Colony immediately after Majuba in 1879, and again twenty-two years later as the Boer War was ending. He inaugurated the new Parlia- ment of the Australian Commonwealth, and held a Coronation Durbar in India on the occasion of his third visit to the great dependency whose last advance towards Dominion status he was to see foreshadowed, if not yet quite realised. " I have looked on Your Royal Highness," wrote Lord Esher as long ago as 1908, " as the first member of the Royal Family who has ever grasped the meaning, from personal experience, of Britain overseas." The knowledge and understanding which justified that tribute then had been vastly deepened and extended by the time the King. was called to take leave of his dominion, and his Dominions. A great King has died, a King_ who has done more for his realm than most of his subjects yet fully comprehend. For kingship itself he has done almost infinitely much. Among the monarchs of the earth he stood solitary in his supremacy. The War sent his German cousin to exile at Doom and his Russian cousin to death at Ekaterinberg. It swept the ruling Hapsburg from his dual throne. Its remoter consequences submerged the Italian monarchy. King George it left enduringly estab- lished in his rule over a people knitted throughout the world as never before into a common unity by a common loyalty. There is no antiquarian or super- stitions, veneration for kingship as such in this realm or this Coimnonwealth. It has to prove itself in the person of-a King, And it has been King George V's supreme achievement that in a day when monarchy is in eclipse in far more than half the world he has set kingship in this country not only beyond the breath of challenge but beyond the breath of criticism. His son ascends the vacant throne sustained by the confidence and loyalty of an undivided nation. To call on him to equal his father's virtues is to set the demand almost too high. If he can approach them he will have more than earned his people's gratitude.