Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, May 22, 1910

Amusing Account of the Great Procession in Honor of Queen Victoria Printed in a Little Book for His Friends.

A little book of twenty-two pages was privately printed, but never published, in 1897, bearing this title:




It consists apparently of letters describing the Jubilee procession, and one of them compares the parade of 1897 with that in honor of Henry V after the battle of Agincourt. It is illustrated by pictures, which the author alleges he drew himself. He says:

"If you like to put in the pictures which I made and send to you herewith, very well; I mean the pictures of Henry V, the two French Dukes, his prisoners, and myself. The King and the Duke will be unfamiliar objects to the public, and ought to be valuable. I copied them from the originals in the South Kensington Museum, the only authentic ones in existence.

"I have not finished learning how to draw yet, and cannot do feathers or armor well, so I did not attempt it. Besides, armor makes a portrait look stiff, and for that reason I do not think it is becoming. I like the easy and flexible grace which our modern clothes gives to the figure. And I do not like fierce and aggressive full beards. I like a mild and friendly mustache, so I have shaved these people.

"Those are all the changes I have made; otherwise I have made those men look just as they looked in life, and just as they would look if they were here today, taking a walk. * * * You will find this representation of Henry V accurate and full of feeling, full of sublimity. I have pictured him looking out over the field of Agincourt and studying up where to begin. The President of the Royal Academy is quite frankly excited about this picture, and thinks it is different from anything that even Millais ever painted.

"I have represented the Duke of Bourbon in the act of trying to escape from the Tower of London disguised as a gentleman. I tried to make his handkerchief stick up a little more out of his breast pocket, so as to express horror and surprise, but there was not enough white paint left when I got to that part. But it is no matter, I got at it in another way - by striping his pants I gave them that trembly look and got the same effect.

"The President of the Royal Academy thinks that if I should throw this picture up life size and put it in the National Gallery it would attract attention. But I think he is always trying to flatter me, because I am a poor artist. So I think that the most of it is just his good heart. He is sorry to see me struggling along and earning so little.

"I have represented the Duke of Orleans on the battlefield. He is looking surprised at the way things are going. * * * I got that look of regret which you see in him by putting those shoes on him, which are too small for him. Some think he is my masterpiece, others prefer Henry. The President cannot make up his mind which one he prefers. He thinks that no matter which one he owned, it would not be the one he wanted. He is full of his flatteries. Still, it is only his good heart; of course, I know that.

"I did my own portrait from life. It is a looking glass portrait. It represents me thinking out a great work - a novel, I think, a sort of exalted prose poem. You can see that I have just caught the idea. I am in a kind of trance of sacred emotion. I got that effect by drinking. I had not caught the idea then, and so I had to represent it artificially. You cannot get an effect like that out of milk. I prefer milk, because I am a Prohibitionist, but I do not go to it for inspiration."

Of the procession the author says:

"So far as I can see, a procession has value in but two ways - as a show and as a symbol, its minor function being to delight the eye, its major one to compel thought, exalt the spirit, stir the heart, and inflame the imagination. As a mere show, and meaningless - like a Mardi-Gras march - a magnificent procession is worth a long journey to see; as a symbol, the most colorless and unpicturesque procession, if it have a moving history back of it, is worth a thousand of it.

"After the civil war ten regiments of bronzed New York veterans marched up Broadway in faded uniforms and faded battle flags that were mere shot-riddled rags - and in each battalion as it swung by, one noted a great gap, an eloquent vacancy, where had marched the comrades who had fallen and would march no more.

"Always, as this procession advanced between the massed multitudes, its approach was welcomed by each block of people with a burst of proud and grateful enthusiasm - then the head of it passed, and suddenly revealed those pathetic gaps and silence fell upon that block, for every man in it had choked up, and could not get command of his voice and add it to the storm again for many minutes. That was the most moving and tremendous effect that I have ever witnessed - those affecting silences falling between those hurricanes of worshipping enthusiasm.

"There was no costumery in that procession, no color, no tinsel, no brilliancy, yet it was the greatest spectacle and the most gracious and exalting and beautiful that has come within my experience. It was because it had history back of it and because it was a symbol and stood for something and because one viewed it with spiritual vision, not the physical. There was not much for the physical eye to see, but it revealed continental areas, limitless horizons, to the eye of the imagination and the spirit.

"A procession, to be valuable, must do one thing or the other - clothe itself in splendors and charm the eye or symbolize something sublime and uplifting, and so appeal to the imagination . As a mere spectacle to look at, I suppose that the Queen's procession will not be as showy as the Czar's late pageant; it will probably fall much short of the one in "Tannhauser" in the matter of rich and adorable costumery; in the number of renowned personages on view in it it will probably fall short of some that have been seen in England before this. And yet in its major function, its symbolic function, I think that if all the people in it wore their everyday clothes and marched without flags or music it would still be incomparably the most important procession that ever moved through the streets of London.

"For it will stand for English history, English growth, English achievement, the accumulated power and renown and dignity of twenty centuries of strenuous effort. Many things about it will set one to reflecting upon what a large feature of this world England is today, and this will in turn move one, even the least imaginative, to cast a glance down her long perspective and note the steps of her progress and insignificance of her first estate."

Which he thereupon proceeds to do. "I suppose that London has always existed. One cannot easily imagine an England that had no London. No doubt there was a village here 5,000 years ago.

"It was on the river somewhere west of where the Tower is now; it was built of thatched mud huts close to a couple of limpid brooks, and on every hand for miles and miles stretched rolling plains of fresh green grass, and here and there were groups and groves of trees. The tribes wore skins - sometimes merely their own sometimes those of other animals.

"The chief was monarch, and helped out his complexion with blue paint. His industry was the chase; his relaxation was war. Some of the Englishmen who will view the procession today are carrying his ancient blood in their veins. It may be that the village remained about as it began, away down to the Roman occupation, a couple of thousand years ago."

The procession of 1416, in honor of Agincourt, is compared with that of 1897. At Agincourt, which he calls "then and still the most colossal in England's history" 8,000 of the French nobility were slain and the remainder, 1,500 in number, taken prisoners. "This wholesale depletion of the aristocracy," he remarks, "made such a stringent scarcity in its ranks that when the young peasant girl, Joan of Arc, came to undo Henry's might work of fourteen years later she could hardly gather together nobles enough to man her staff.

"On the 22d of December all was ready. There were no cables, no correspondents, no newspapers then - a regrettable defect, but not irremediable.

"A young man who would have been a correspondent if he had been born 500 years later was in London at the time, and he remembers the details. He has communicated them to me through a competent spirit medium, phrased in a troublesome mixture of obsolete English and moldy French, and I have thoroughly modernized his story and put it into straight English, and will here record it. I will explain that is Sir John Oldcastle is a person whom we do not know very well by that name, nor much care for; but we know him well and adore him, too, under his other name - Sir John Falstaff."

But before beginning the translation of the spirit communication Mark pauses to rhapsodize over the vanished paraders of 1416:

"Ah, where now are those long-vanished forms, those unreturning feet! Let us not inquire too closely.

"Translated," he continues, "this is the narrative of the spirit-correspondent, who is looking down upon me at this moment from his high home, and admiring to see how the art and mystery of spelling has improved since his time."

Then the correspondent begins his story of the procession of 1416. "All the way," says he, on both sides, all the windows, balconies, and roofs were crowded with people, and wherever there was a vacancy it had been built up in high tiers of seats covered with red cloth, and these seats were also filled with people - in all cases in bright holiday attire - the women of fashion barring the view from all in the rear with those tiresome extinguisher hats, which of late have grown to be a clothyard high. * * *

"A place had been reserved for me on a fine and fanciful erection in St. Paul's churchyard, and there I waited for the procession. It seemed a long time, but at last a dull booming sound arose in the distance, and after awhile we saw the banners and the head of the procession come into view, and heard the muffled roar of voices that welcomed it. The roar moved continuously toward us, growing steadily louder and louder, and stronger and stronger, and with it the bray and crash of music; and presently it was right with us, and seemed to roll over us and submerge us and stun us, and deafen us - and behold, there was the hero of Agincourt passing by!

"All the multitude was standing up red-faced, frantic, bellowing, shouting, the tears running down their faces; and through the storm of waving hats and handkerchiefs one glimpsed the battle banners and the drifting host of marching men as through a dimming flurry of snow."

Then comes a description of King Henry's appearance, and then that of the captive knights. More interesting is the author's description of the man whom Mark Twain supposes to be the original of Falstaff:

"The knights were a long time in passing; then came 5,000 Agincourt men-at-arms, and they were a long time; and at the very end, last of all, came that intolerable old tun of sack and godless ruffler, Sir John Oldcastle, (now risen from the dead for the third time,) fat-faced, purple with the spirit of bygone and lamented drink, smiling his hospitable, wide smile upon all the world, leering at the women, wallowing about in his saddle, proclaiming his valorous deeds as fast as he could lie, taking the whole glory of Agincourt to his single self, measuring off the miles of his slain and then multiplying them by 5, 7, 10, 15, as inspiration after inspiration came to his help - the most inhuman spectacle in England, a living, breathing outrage, a slander upon the human race; and after him came, mumming and blethering, his infamous lieutenants; and after them his 'paladins,' as he calls them, the mangiest lot of starvelings and cowards that was ever littered, the disgrace of the noblest pageant that England has ever seen. God rest their souls in the place appointed for all such!"

The report from heaven stops abruptly. Mark Twain explains the reason:

"That was as much of it as the spirit correspondent could let me have; he was obliged to stop there because he had an engagement to sing in the choir, and was already late."

Next he moralizes about the progress of the world:

"British history is 2,000 years old, and yet in a good many ways the world has moved further ahead since the Queen was born than it moved in all the rest of the 2,000 put together. * * * Since the Queen first saw the light she has seen invented and brought into use (with the exception of the cotton gin, the spinning frames, and the steamboat) every one of the myriad of strictly modern inventions which, by their united powers, have created the bulk of the modern civilization and made life under it easy and difficult, convenient and awkward, happy and horrible, soothing and irritating, grand and trivial, an indispensable blessing and an unimaginable curse; she has seen all these miracles, these wonders, these marvels piled up in her time, and yet she is but 78 years old. That is to say, she has seen more things invented than any other monarch that ever lived, and more than the oldest old-time English commoner that ever lived, including Old Parr, and more than Methusaleh himself - five times over."

He enumerates many of them. That was also done at the time by several hundred other persons, but some of Mark Twain's enumerations are characteristically phrased, such as:

"She has seen the public educator - the newspaper - created, and its teachings placed within the reach of the leanest purse. There was nothing properly describable as a newspaper until long after she was born.

"She has seen the world's literature set free, through the institution of international copyright.

"She has seen America invent arbitration, the eventual substitute for that enslaver of nations, the standing army, and she has seen England pay the first bill under it, and America shirk the second - but only temporarily; of this we may be sure.

"She has seen a Hartford American (Dr. Wells) apply anaesthetics in surgery for the first time in history, and for all time banish the terrors of the surgeon's knife, and she has seen the rest of the world ignore the discoverer and a Boston doctor steal the credit of his work."

All this was written before he saw the procession. When he saw it he wrote;

"I was not dreaming of so stunning a show. All the nations seemed to be filing by. They all seemed to be represented. It was a sort of allegorical suggestion of the Last Day, and some who live to see that day will probably recall this one if they are not too much disturbed in mind at the time."

He gives a description of the appearance presented by the various Oriental races, including this about those from India:

"Then there was an exhaustive exhibition of the hundred separate brown races of India, the most beautiful and satisfying of all the complexions that have been vouchsafed to man, and the one which best sets off colored clothes and best harmonizes with all tints."

When Prince Rupert of Bavaria rode by it excited Mark Twain to comment on the fact that the English Legitimists are still "paying unavailing homage" to Rupert's mother, Princess Ludwig, as the rightful Queen of England:

"The house of Stuart was formally and officially shelved nearly two centuries ago, but the microbe of Jacobite loyalty is a thing which is not exterminable by time, force, or argument."


In his conclusion he says:

"It is over now; the British Empire has marched past under review and inspection. The procession stood for sixty years of progress and accumulation, moral, material, and political. It was made up rather of the beneficiaries of these prosperities than of the creators of them. * * *

"It was a memorable display and must live in history. It suggested the material glories of the reign finely and adequately. The absence of the chief creators of these was perhaps not a serious disadvantage. One could supply the vacancies by imagination, and thus fill out the procession every effectively. One can enjoy a rainbow without necessarily forgetting the forces that made it."

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search