Sybil/Book 1/Chapter 6
Notwithstanding the confidence of Lady St Julians, and her unrivalled information, the health of the king did not improve: but still it was the hay fever, only the hay fever. An admission had been allowed to creep into the Court Circular, that "his majesty has been slightly indisposed within the last few days;" but then it was soon followed by a very positive assurance, that his majesty's favourite and long-matured resolution to give a state banquet to the knights of the four orders, was immediately to be carried into effect. Lady St Julians had the first information of this important circumstance; it confirmed her original conviction: she determined to go on with her quadrille. Egremont, with something interesting at stake himself, was staggered by this announcement, and by Lady St Julians' unshaken faith. He consulted his mother: Lady Marney shook her head. "Poor woman!" said Lady Marney, "she is always wrong. I know," continued her ladyship, placing her finger to her lip, "that Prince Esterhazy has been pressing his long-postponed investiture as a Grand Cross, in order that he may dine at this very banquet; and it has been announced to him that it is impossible, the king's health will not admit of it. When a simple investiture is impossible, a state banquet to the four orders is very probable. No," said Lady Marney with a sigh; "it is a great blow for all of us, but it is no use shutting our eyes to the fact. The poor dear king will never show again.
And about a week after this there appeared the first bulletin. From that instant, though the gullish multitude studied the daily reports with grave interest; their hopes and speculations and arrangements changing with each phrase; for the initiated there was no suspense. All knew that it was over; and Lady St Julians, giving up her quadrille, began to look about for seats in parliament for her sons.
"What a happiness it is to have a clever mother," exclaimed Egremont, as he pondered over the returns of his election agent. Lady Marney, duly warned of the impending catastrophe, was experiencing all the advantages of prior information. It delighted her to meet Lady St Julians driving distractedly about town, calling at clubs, closeted with red tapers, making ingenious combinations that would not work, by means of which some one of her sons was to stand in coalition with some rich parvenu; to pay none of the expenses and yet to come in first. And all this time, Lady Marney, serene and smiling, had the daily pleasure of assuring Lady St Julians what a relief it was to her that Charles had fixed on his place. It had been arranged indeed these weeks past; "but then, you know," concluded Lady Marney in the sweetest voice and with a blandishing glance, "I never did believe in that hay fever."
In the meantime the impending event changed the whole aspect of the political world. The king dying before the new registration was the greatest blow to pseudo-toryism since his majesty, calling for a hackney coach, went down and dissolved parliament in 1831. It was calculated by the Tadpoles and Tapers that a dissolution by Sir Robert, after the registration of 1837, would give him a clear majority, not too great a one, but large enough: a manageable majority; some five-and-twenty or thirty men, who with a probable peerage or two dangling in the distance, half-a-dozen positive baronetcies, the Customs for their constituents, and Court balls for their wives, might be induced to save the state. 0! England, glorious and ancient realm, the fortunes of thy polity are indeed strange! The wisdom of the Saxons, Norman valour, the state-craft of the Tudors, the national sympathies of the Stuarts, the spirit of the latter Guelphs struggling against their enslaved sovereignty,—these are the high qualities, that for a thousand years have secured thy national developement. And now all thy memorial dynasties end in the huckstering rule of some thirty unknown and anonymous jobbers! The Thirty at Athens were at least tyrants. They were marked men. But the obscure majority, who under our present constitution are destined to govern England, are as secret as a Venetian conclave. Yet on their dark voices all depends. Would you promote or prevent some great measure that may affect the destinies of unborn millions, and the future character of the people,—take, for example, a system of national education,—the minister must apportion the plunder to the illiterate clan; the scum that floats on the surface of a party; or hold out the prospect of honours, which are only honourable when in their transmission they impart and receive lustre; when they are the meed of public virtue and public services, and the distinction of worth and of genius. It is impossible that the system of the thirty can long endure in an age of inquiry and agitated spirit like the present. Such a system may suit the balanced interests and the periodical and alternate command of rival oligarchical connections: but it can subsist only by the subordination of the sovereign and the degradation of the multitude; and cannot accord with an age, whose genius will soon confess that Power and the People are both divine.
"He can't last ten days," said a whig secretary of the treasury with a triumphant glance at Mr Taper as they met in Pall Mall; "You're out for our lives."
"Don't you make too sure for yourselves," rejoined in despair the dismayed Taper. "It does not follow that because we are out, that you are in."
"How do you mean?"
"There is such a person as Lord Durham in the world," said Mr Taper very solemnly.
"Pish," said the secretary.
"You may pish," said Mr Taper, "but if we have a radical government, as I believe and hope, they will not be able to get up the steam as they did in -31; and what with church and corn together, and the Queen Dowager, we may go to the country with as good a cry as some other persons."
"I will back Melbourne against the field, now," said the secretary.
"Lord Durham dined at Kensington on Thursday," said Taper, "and not a whig present."
"Ay; Durham talks very fine at dinner," said the secretary, "but he has no real go in him. When there is a Prince of Wales, Lord Melbourne means to make Durham governor to the heir apparent, and that will keep him quiet"
"What do you hear?" said Mr Tadpole, joining them; "I am told he has quite rallied."
"Don't you flatter yourself," said the secretary.
"Well, we shall hear what they say on the hustings," said Tadpole looking boldly.
"Who's afraid!" said the secretary. "No, no, my dear fellow, you are dead beat; the stake is worth playing for, and don't suppose we are such flats as to lose the race for want of jockeying. Your humbugging registration will never do against a new reign. Our great men mean to shell out, I tell you; we have got Croucher; we will denounce the Carlton and corruption all over the kingdom; and if that won't do, we will swear till we are black in the face, that the King of Hanover is engaged in a plot to dethrone our young Queen:" and the triumphant secretary wished the worthy pair good morning.
"They certainly have a very good cry," said Taper mournfully.
"After all, the registration might be better," said Tadpole, "but still it is a very good one."
The daily bulletins became more significant; the crisis was evidently at hand. A dissolution of parliament at any time must occasion great excitement; combined with a new reign, it inflames the passions of every class of the community. Even the poor begin to hope; the old, wholesome superstition still lingers, that the sovereign can exercise power; and the suffering multitude are fain to believe that its remedial character may be about to he revealed in their instance. As for the aristocracy in a new reign, they are all in a flutter. A bewildering vision of coronets, stars, and ribbons; smiles, and places at court; haunts their noontide speculations and their midnight dreams. Then we must not forget the numberless instances in which the coming event is deemed to supply the long-sought opportunity of distinction, or the long-dreaded cause of utter discomfiture; the hundreds, the thousands, who mean to get into parliament, the units who dread getting out. What a crashing change from lounging in St James's street to sauntering on Boulogne pier; or, after dining at Brookes and supping at Crockford's, to be saved from destruction by the friendly interposition that sends you in an official capacity to the marsupial sympathies of Sydney or Swan River!
Now is the time for the men to come forward who have claims; claims for spending their money, which nobody asked them to do, but which of course they only did for the sake of the party. They never wrote for their party, or spoke for their party, or gave their party any other vote than their own; but they urge their claims,—to something; a commissionership of anything, or a consulship anywhere; if no place to be had, they are ready to take it out in dignities. They once looked to the privy council, but would now be content with an hereditary honour; if they can have neither, they will take a clerkship in the Treasury for a younger son. Perhaps they may get that in time; at present they go away growling with a gaugership; or, having with desperate dexterity at length contrived to transform a tidewaiter into a landwaiter. But there is nothing like asking—except refusing.
Hark! it tolls! All is over. The great bell of the metropolitan cathedral announces the death of the last son of George the Third who probably will ever reign in England. He was a good man: with feelings and sympathies; deficient in culture rather than ability; with a sense of duty; and with something of the conception of what should be the character of an English monarch. Peace to his manes! We are summoned to a different scene.
In a palace in a garden—not in a haughty keep, proud with the fame, but dark with the violence of ages; not in a regal pile, bright with the splendour, but soiled with the intrigues, of courts and factions—in a palace in a garden, meet scene for youth, and innocence, and beauty—came the voice that told the maiden she must ascend her throne!
The council of England is summoned for the first time within her bowers. There are assembled the prelates and captains and chief men of her realm; the priests of the religion that consoles, the heroes of the sword that has conquered, the votaries of the craft that has decided the fate of empires; men grey with thought, and fame, and age; who are the stewards of divine mysteries, who have encountered in battle the hosts of Europe, who have toiled in secret cabinets, who have struggled in the less merciful strife of aspiring senates; men too, some of them, lords of a thousand vassals and chief proprietors of provinces, yet not one of them whose heart does not at this moment tremble as he awaits the first presence of the maiden who must now ascend her throne.
A hum of half-suppressed conversation which would attempt to conceal the excitement, which some of the greatest of them have since acknowledged, fills that brilliant assemblage; that sea of plumes, and glittering stars, and gorgeous dresses. Hush! the portals open; She comes! The silence is as deep as that of a noontide forest. Attended for a moment by her royal mother and the ladies of her court, who bow and then retire, VICTORIA ascends her throne; a girl, alone, and for the first time, amid an assemblage of men.
In a sweet and thrilling voice, and with a composed mien which indicates rather the absorbing sense of august duty than an absence of emotion, THE QUEEN announces her accession to the throne of her ancestors, and her humble hope that divine providence will guard over the fulfilment of her lofty trust.
The prelates and captains and chief men of her realm then advance to the throne, and kneeling before her, pledge their troth, and take the sacred oaths of allegiance and supremacy.
Allegiance to one who rules over the land that the great Macedonian could not conquer; and over a continent of which even Columbus never dreamed: to the Queen of every sea, and of nations in every zone.
It is not of these that I would speak; but of a nation nearer her foot-stool, and which at this moment looks to her with anxiety, with affection, perhaps with hope. Fair and serene, she has the blood and beauty of the Saxon. Will it be her proud destiny at length to bear relief to suffering millions, and with that soft hand which might inspire troubadours and guerdon knights, break the last links in the chain of Saxon thraldom?