24 JANUARY 1936, Page 7


IT has fallen to The Spectator in the course of its history to record the deaths of five British sovereigns. A study of the verdicts passed in its columns on the two earliest of them, King George IV and his successor, is an instructive revelation of the strangely low repute in which the throne was in those days held, or of the candour by which Press criticism was in those days marked, or—more probably—of both. What, it may be asked with some curiosity, would the elegist find to say of George IV ? He found this, among other things : " A very nice attention to the rigidities of moral observance can hardly be asked from one who, to the vigour of youth and an eminently handsome person, unites a complete command of fortune, and whose will every man who surrounds him is more anxious to flatter than to regulate. The King at a very early period of his life gave evidence of his fondness for female society ; a failing of all others the most excus- able, but it not unfrequently brings down on its . possessor a degree of censure that the colder and darker vices of a disposition inherently evil do not provoke."

There follows a list of the principal successive objects of His Majesty's amours, and the quarrel between him and Queen -Caroline is summed up heavily against the Queen.

* •* • * Rather strangely William IV evokes distinctly stronger criticism, prefaced with the remark that the strictures " are the dispassionate convictions of a calm retrospect having no regard to aught but the plain truth."

The plain truth thus commended is that " on the throne, as in private life, William IV appears to have been a good-hearted man with frank impulses and kindly feelings; willing to do right but not unfrequently doing wrong from want of know- ledge and strength of mind. He had little informa- tion and strong prejudices. Though sufficiently conceited and self-willed, he was easily imposed upon and led by the designing."

Or, if you will : " His late Majesty, though at times a jovial and, for a king, an honest man, was a weak, ignorant, commonplace sort of person. . . . Notwithstanding his feebleness of purpose and littleness of mind, his ignorance and his prejudices, William IV was to the last a popular sovereign, but his very popularity was acquired at the price of something like public contempt." * * ** • When it is considered that these appreciations appeared in each- case within some four days of the late King's death the changes that a century has brought in journa- listic method are sufficiently demonstrated. The change indeed was effected in much less time than that. When Queen Victoria died in 1901 no word was spoken of her in these columns but in praise, though of her son as he ascended the throne a certain subtle criticism is nplied, in the suggestion that • " as to the past we believe that the nation will not and ought not .to think. Their attention must be fixed on the King that is and will be and not on the • Prince of Wales. The King will be judged and ought to be judged solely by his life and actions as King." The Order of Service followed by the great gathering in St. Paul's Cathedral on Tuesday had necessarily to be compiled in haste, and any word of captious criticism would be ungenerous, the more so since the service was, I believe, that used after Queen Victoria's death. But the one prayer in which King George was mentioned was taken from the Order for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer, and the whole service found its centre in the words : " We give Thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased Thee to deliver Thy servant KING GEORGE out of the miseries of this sinful world."

What does this mean ? That if the King had died at sixty instead of seventy, and so been spared ten years of the miseries of this sinful world, our cause for thanksgiving would have been by so much the greater ? Does such a doctrine deserve to be perpetuated ? And could no word of thanks have been uttered for the King's life, what he did, what he gave, what he was ? Very different was the note sounded at the outset of the Prime Minister's broadcast address on Tuesday night, " After he had served his own generation by the will of God he fell on sleep."

* * * What did Mr. Masefield, in the sonnet he cabled from Los Angeles, mean by the quatrain : "And when the War was ended, when the thought Of revolution took its hideous place, His courage and his kindness and his grace Scattered or charmed its ministers to naught " ? What revolution, where ? The whole sonnet deals with England (the Poet Laureate should surely have said Britain) but the threat of revolution here after the War is surely a new discovery.

What is the worst history-book extant ? An interesting question, and the more so when answered by a man who was a considerable historian himself. The answer, in fact, is surprising. " The worst book of history that I have ever read is Sir George Trevelyan's American Revolution." The speaker is President Wilson, and the dictum is recorded in Mr. Ray Stannard Baker's new volume of the President's Life and Letters. The reason for the verdict, good or bad as it may be, is disarming, for Mr. Wilson added, " How absurd at this time to believe that the English were all wrong and that we were all right." (I hope I need warn no one against confusing Sir George Trevelyan with his son, the present Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.) * * * * A rather curious testimony to Mr. Kipling's past vogue comes from an unexpected quarter. Bermondsey enjoys the possession of a Kipling Street and a Rudyard Place. Why and how ? I have made some inquiries—or rather had some inquiries made for me—and find that the thoroughfares in question were originally Nelson Street and Hamilton Place respectively. But during the Boer War (thanks, no doubt, to " The Absent-Minded Beggar ") the popular demand for a re-christening became irresistible. Why Bermondsey in particular was thus inspired is not so clear. It may have been the same urge that produced the Bermondsey Bookshop. JANUS,