Page images

The Queen's Speech.

in person.

ABOUT a fortnight ago curiosity and speculation were all agog about the probable toạe of the Queen's Speech. I don't mean by the tone, the accents in which it was delivered; for that has always been described by the newspapers in the self-same terms ever since the accession of our beloved sovereign, as being spoken with “Her Majesty's usual musical intonation and clear and distinct voice." I believe that form of expression is kept in type at all the London newspaper offices, and preserved expressly for those occasions when the Queen opens parliament

But by the tone of the speech I mean its drift or tenor. We cannot speak about the meaning of a royal speech, for they never have any meaning whatsoever ; they are not intended to have any, and they certainly do not belie their intentions. Every one looks forward with anxiety to the appearance of the address, not on account of any definite statements it may contain, because every one knows that it is sure not to contain any statements at all; but in order that they may take notice of those subjects which appear to have been most studiously omitted from the speech altogether, or which have been most quietly slurred over. For example-the manufacturer eagerly devours the morning's papers which contains the speech, to see if there are any probabilities of war which may influence his commercial enterprises. There may not be one word about war in the whole speech from beginning to end, yet the merchant lays down the paper with a gloomy countenance, and says he expects every hour to seo a telogram posted up in the Exchange that the funds have gone down three-and-a-half per cent, because

we are likely to have a war with France. “Why," says his unsophisticated companion, who has been looking over his shoulder, “I do not see anything about war in Her Majesty's Speech.” “No," says the politician, “that's just where it is; if the Queen had said anything about it, it would have been all serene; but as she says nothing one way or the other, we are sure to have a war before the latter end of next week.”

Such are the satisfactory and confidential terms in which speeches from the throne have been couched from time immemorial. Terms arranged by wily diplomatists, and designed to express as little as possible, with as much parade as may be, and then engrossed on vellum,” to be warbled to “ lords and gentlemen" in the silvery tones of Victoria the First. But it is by no means the exclusive peculiarity of Queens' Speeches to conceal all information under a copious collocation of words. It is an infirmity to which many orators among Her Majesty's subjects are sadly prone. It is a very easy thing, especially at a political meeting, to “bring down the house" with thunders of applause, by simply sprinkling the harangue here and there with such hackneyed phrases as “the rights of labour," “ the great working heart of society," " the backbone and sinew of the constitution," " vote by ballot," and "civil and religious liberty all over the world.” No one knows better than the political demagogue, who lives by his patriotism, that this is the true secret of political popularity. Ask him to define these phrases, and he will scout the idea with disdain. He is not in the babit of condescending to definitions ; he is a man who is in the habit of propounding great and broad principles, and advocating them on great and broad bases, &c., &c.; and there are always plenty of satellites in the meetings where he holds forth who know the wave of his hand or the wink of his eye, and who are ever on the alert for the signal to applaud, and to shout " Bravo, Tommy Potts and the British constitution for ever!” Such men as these have no reason to stoop to define any phrases they may use, when they have nothing to do but bawl them out at the top of their voices in order to conciliate the acclamations of admiring hundreds. I do not say that such phrases as I have

quoted have no meaning, and cannot be defined. On the contrary, I believe them to be expressive, when rightly applied, of much that is true and good; but as burlesqued and travestied upon many of our political platforms they have no more meaning than if the orator who employed them had entertained his audience with the song of “Old Dog Tray."

Acts of parliament, légal documents, and forensic speeches, are all characterised by this peculiarity of saying a great deal and expressing scarcely anything. For example, if you go into some great law library and take down the three hundred and sixty-fifth volume of the Abridgement of the Statutes, and turn over the leaves at random, you may possibly come across an enactment, the plain English of which is, that if one man knock another down upon the turnpike road, he shall be liable to prosecution, and find it couched in some such terms as the following: “ And be it enacted, that if any man, woman, or child proceeding along the king's highway, at any hour of day or night, either on foot or by any conveyance, as cart, coach, horse, ass, mule, wheelbarrow, or other means of locomotion, shall maliciously, and with malice aforethought, stop, arrest, or impede any man, woman, or child proceeding either on foot or by conveyance, as cart, coach, horse, ass, mule, wheelbarrow, or other means of locomotion, along the king's highway aforesaid, and shall strike, or cause to be struck, the man, woman, or child aforesaid, either with the hand, or clenched fist, the foot, or a stick, cane, crowbar, or other offensive instrument, in such way, mode, and manner as that the said man, woman, or child shall fall to the ground, shall be subject to such pains and penalties as are specified in Geo. IV., cap 57, vol. 273, p. 874, sec. 9."

It would, however, be a criminal waste of time, and a misapplication of this afternoon's address to lengthen it out by a multiplication of such specimens as these. We have adopted this title for no political purpose, but to dedicate, if possible, to a spiritual end.

When Her Majesty goes to deliver her speech in person she, of course, turns out amidst all the paraphernalia and concomitants of state. Long lines of crested soldiers prance before her equipage and halberdiers, and fuglemen precede the bearers of the fife and drum as the air resounds with martial music. And then the gilded carriage, with the smiling monarch, circled with her crown of rule, comes slowly on; the steeds caparisoned, and plumed, and decked, nod their heads proudly as if they knew the royal burden that they drew. In short, the monarch is seen as a monarch, while the acclamations of assembled crowds combine to lend prestige and lustre to the pageant. Let us try to let the fancy and the heart play together upon this spectacle of & royal procession, and turn it, if we can, to spiritual account. It reminds us of the promise that the prophet gives in such glowing terms to Israel, that “their eyes should behold the King in His beauty."

There are people to be found in the world and not a few who, having little or no imagination of their own, are fond of decrying those who ever dwell with fondness on the pictures which the fancy paints. Fancy, I know, may often dip her pençil in the thick and seething urn of licentiousness and vice, may mix her colours on the pallet of the voluptuary, and draw her hues from the lurid and the feverish lights of hell; but she may, by the aid of the rapt imagery of such an artist as Isaiah, without presumption fileh a little fire from Heaven,-she may, in a spirit of sanctified and divinely-tempered phantasy, borrow, for her more sacred purposes, a rainbow tint, or the smile of a sunbeam, she may aspire above the coarse sackcloth of earthborn lusts for the ground-work of her pictures, and gild her fairer and more ethereal canvass with a ray of glory from on high.

At all events, we shall presume to call in her aid to some extent this afternoon, in dwelling for a little on the ideas suggested by our title, in conjunction with this promise, for they seem to call rather for an ecstatic than a didactic contemplation,

There are often stately pageants connected with the wealth and royalty of this world, which aid the imagination to realize the magnificence of a king.

But it is a sort of flushed and timid pageantry, which soon palls upon the eye, and reacts upon the sense. Earthly splendour, however dazzling, dissipates and depresses the mind, as

« PreviousContinue »