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Faces and Places By Sir Henry W. Lucy Characters: 9093

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

We in this country have grown accustomed to the existence of the

Prince of Wales, and his personality, real and fabulous, is not

unfamiliar on the other side of the Atlantic. But if we come to

think of it, it is a very strange phenomenon. The only way to

realise its immensity is to conceive its creation today, supposing

that heretofore through the history of England there had been

no such institution. A child is born in accidental circumstances

and with chance connections that might just as reasonably have

fallen to the lot of some other entity. He grows from childhood

through youth into manhood, and all the stages, with increasing

devotion and deference, he is made the object of reverential

solicitude. All his wants are provided for, even anticipated. He

is the first person to be considered wherever he goes. Men who

have won renown in Parliament, in the camp, in literature, doff

their hats at his coming, and high-born ladies curtsey.

It is all very strange; but so is the rising of the sun and the

sequence of the moon. We grow accustomed to everything and take

the Prince of Wales like the solar system as a matter of course.

Reflection on the singularity of his position leads to sincere

admiration of the manner in which the Prince fills it. Take it for

all in all, there is no post in English public life so difficult

to fill, not only without reproach, but with success. Day and night

the Prince lives under the bull's-eye light of the lantern of a

prying public. He is more talked about, written about, and pulled

about than any Englishman, except, perhaps, Mr. Gladstone. But Mr.

Gladstone stands on level ground with his countrymen. If he is

attacked or misrepresented, he can hit back again. The position of

the Prince of Wales imposes upon him the impassivity of the target

used in ordinary rifle practice. Whatever is said or written about

him, he can make no reply, and the happy result which in the main

follows upon this necessary attitude suggests that it might with

advantage be more widely adopted.

Probably in the dead, unhappy night when the rain was on the roof

and the Tranby Croft scandal was on everybody's tongue, the Prince

of Wales had some bad quarters of an hour. But whatever he felt or

suffered, he made no sign. To see him sitting in the chair on the

bench in court whilst that famous trial was proceeding, no one, not

having prior knowledge of the fact, would have guessed that he had

the slightest personal interest in the affair. There was danger of

his even over-doing the attitude of indifference. But he escaped it,

and was exactly as smiling, debonair and courtly as if he were in

his box at the theatre watching the development of some quite other

dramatic performance. He has all the courage of his race, and his

long training has steeled his nerves.

It would be so easy for the Prince of Wales to make mistakes that

would alienate from him the affection which is now his in unstinted

measure. There are plenty of precedents, and a fatal fulness of

exemplars. Take, for example, his relations with political life. It

would not be possible for him now, as a Prince of Wales did at the

beginning of the century, to form a Parliamentary party, and

control votes in the House of Commons by cabals hatched at

Marlborough House. But he might, if he were so disposed, in less

occult ways meddle in politics. As a matter of fact, noteworthy and

of highest honour to the Prince, the outside public have not the

slightest idea to which side of politics his mind is biassed. They

know all about his private life, what he eats, and how much; how he

dresses, whom he talks to, what he does from the comparatively

early hour at which he rises to the decidedly late one at which he

goes to bed. But in all the gossip daily poured forth about him

there is never a hint as to whether he prefers the politics of Tory

or Liberal, the company of Lord Salisbury or Mr. Gladstone.

In a country where every man in whatever station of life is a keen

politician, this is a great thing to say for one in the position of

the Prince of Wales.

This absolute impartiality of attitude does not arise from

indifference to politics or to the current of political warfare.

The Prince is a Peer of Parliament, sits as Duke of Cornwall, and

under that name figures in the division lists on the rare occasions

when he votes.

When any important debate is taking place in the

House, he is sure to be found in his corner seat on the front Cross

Bench, an attentive listener. Nor does he confine his attention to

proceedings in the House of Lords. In the Commons there is no more

familiar figure than his seated in the Peers' Gallery over the

clock, with folded hands irreproachably gloved, resting on the

rail before him as he leans forward and watches with keen interest

the sometimes tumultuous scene.

Thus he sat one afternoon in the spring of the session of 1875. He

had come down to hear a speech with which his friend, Mr. Chaplin,

was known to be primed. The House was crowded in every part, a

number of Peers forming the Prince's suite in the gallery, while

the lofty figure of Count Munster, German Ambassador, towered at

his right hand, divided by the partition between the Peers'

Gallery and that set apart for distinguished strangers. It was a

great occasion for Mr. Chaplin, who sat below the gangway visibly

pluming himself and almost audibly purring in anticipation of

coming triumph. But a few days earlier the eminent orator had the

misfortune to incur the resentment of Mr. Joseph Gillis Biggar.

All unknown to him, Joseph Gillis was now lying in wait, and just

as the Speaker was about to call on the orator of the evening,

the Member for Cavan rose and observed,--

"Mr. Speaker, Sir, I believe there are strangers in the house."

The House of Commons, tied and bound by its own archaic

regulations, had no appeal against the whim of the indomitable

Joey B. He had spied strangers in due form, and out they must go.

So they filed forth, the Prince of Wales at the head of them, the

proud English Peers following, and by another exit the Envoy of the

most potent sovereign of the Continent, representative of a nation

still flushed with the overthrow of France--all publicly and

peremptorily expelled at the raising of the finger of an uneducated,

obscure Irishman, who, when not concerned with the affairs of the

Imperial Parliament, was curing bacon at Belfast and selling it at

enhanced prices to the Saxon in the Liverpool market.

The Prince of Wales bore this unparalleled indignity with the good

humour which is one of his richest endowments. He possesses in rare

degree the faculty of being amused and interested. The British

workman, who insists on his day's labour being limited by eight

hours, would go into armed revolt if he were called upon to toil

through so long a day as the Prince habitually faces. Some of its

engagements are terribly boring, but the Prince smiles his way

through what would kill an ordinary man. His manner is charmingly

unaffected, and through all the varying duties and circumstances of

the day he manages to say and do the right thing. It is not a heroic

life, but it is in its way a useful one, and must be exceedingly hard

to live.

Watching the Prince of Wales moving through an assemblage, whether

it be as he enters a public meeting or as he strolls about the

greensward at Marlborough House on the occasion of a garden party,

the observer may get some faint idea of the strain ever upon him. You

can see his eyes glancing rapidly along the line of the crowd in

search of some one whom he can make happy for the day by a smile or a

nod of recognition. If there were one there who might expect the

honour, and who was passed over, the Prince knows full well how sore

would be the heart-burning.

There is nothing prettier at the garden party than to see him walking

through the crowd of brave men and fair women with the Queen on his

arm. Her Majesty used in days gone by to be habile enough at the

performance of this imperative duty laid upon Royalty of singling

out persons for recognition. Now, when he is in her company, the

Prince of Wales does it for her. Escorting her, bare-headed,

through the throng; he glances swiftly to right or left, and when he

sees some one whom he thinks the Queen should smile upon he whispers

the name. The Queen thereupon does her share in contributing to the

sum of human happiness.

It is, as I began by saying, all very strange if we look calmly at it.

But, in the present order of things, it has to be done. It is the

Prince of Wales's daily work, and it is impossible to conceive it

accomplished with fuller appearance of real pleasure on the part of

the active agent.

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