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Thursday, 31 May 2012

“Victoria, by Grace of God, Queen for Sixty Years! The Occasion of our Day of Celebration is Without Parallel or Precedent.” Or: The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria

It wont, I’m sure, have escaped anyone’s attention that 2012 marks the sixtieth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, our second-longest serving monarch (for now). Plenty of newspapers have included supplements over the last few weeks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, and I have perused – and even kept – a couple of them myself, but I’m also lucky enough to own a copy of the Illustrated London News Diamond Jubilee Number for Queen Victoria’s sixtieth year as monarch, a hundred and fifteen years ago. 

Amazingly, very little has changed in the approach by the press to the contrasting diamond Jubilee’s. The 1897 newspapers contained pictures of key moments and events during Victoria’s sixty years, and modern newspapers have been peppered with photographs of Queen Elizabeth from her childhood to her most recent appearances. The Victorian papers also contained extremely patriotic write-ups on what a super Queen Victoria had been throughout her unparalleled reign, and I have seen similar articles over the last month in today’s press. I have a few newspapers from 1897 which lead up to the Jubilee, and they are filled with adverts for well-established brands, from soap to piano manufacturers, which include some text referring to their being favoured by the Queen, or for serving the public for sixty years (just as the Queen had.) This tactic of using public events such as this still goes on today, and I’ve taken a few snaps of newspaper adverts that I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, both old and new here:































But I digress. If, however, you’d like to read more about Victorian advertising, click here
So, back to the jubilees; it seems that everything in today’s press was being done back then, too, apart from – or so I thought – one aspect which has saturated modern print media which is seen very rarely in nineteenth century newspapers, and that is the celebrity columnist. However, inside my 1897 Jubilee Edition of the ILN, I was delighted to find a Jubilee write-up by Walter Besant.

Walter Besant was a prominent novelist and historian who, having been born in August 1836 and died in June 1901, lived almost exclusively within the reign of Victoria (June 1837 – January 1901) Walter was also the brother of someone we have met before within this blog, Annie Besant, who campaigned for the rights of Matchgirls in the late 1880’s (read more on that here

But back to Walter; keen-eyed Londonophiles may have noticed a little monument to him on the Victoria Embankment. He was a hugely prolific writer, and from 1871 until his death he produced an incredible 47 novels, a play, and 38 works on non-fiction, including quite a lot about London history, which was his area of expertise. Therefore, he seems a natural choice to write a piece for the Illustrated London News looking back at the reign of Victoria, and what a wonderful job he did summing up the age:

From the ILN Diamond Jubilee Number, 1897
By Sir Walter Besant, KT.

Victoria, by grace of God, Queen for sixty years! The occasion of our day of celebration is without parallel or precedent. To us, who find it difficult to stand outside and to consider events in their true proportion, the period seems like a grand triumphal march. To those of us who can remember English life as it was in the forties, the changes that have fallen upon the country are nothing short of a transformation. We are transformed indeed: we no longer think as we did: our daily manners and customs are changed: our views of things are changed: from peer to peasant we are, one and all, transformed. And no one regrets the change: the younger folk, indeed, do not understand it: they have been born in the later Victorian period: to their minds things have always been as they are.

Mere figures go for nothing: that is to say, very few people can realise millions or can understand what they mean. If I set down a few it is for the sake of defining what would otherwise seem vague assertion. For instance, I propose a broad statement that during this long period there has arisen in the national mind such a spirit of enterprise, endeavour, and achievement as has no parallel in our history except in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Now, as then, people have been restless: it is a strange quality in our Anglo -Saxon race that from time to time we become restless: this restlessness has shown itself in colonisation, in emigration, is research, in discovery, in invention - in changes of every kind. As for figures then: the actual increase in the area of the British Empire during the last sixty years has been about three and a half millions of square miles: but, since mere hill and plain do not make a country richer, it is well to add that this area is peopled by at least eight millions, whom we are gradually civilising. Apart from this extension there has been created, absolutely created, out of nothing, new populations; of four millions in Australia, and nearly a million in New Zealand: with noble cities which for the splendour of their buildings and the excellence of their government, may stand beside the finest cities of the old world. In fact, there have arisen four great nations - Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand - any one of which must in the nature of things become, nominally as well as actually, sovereign and independent. To my mind this is the most important political event of the century. The great problem of the immediate future will no longer be the preservation of these States under the Union Jack, but the preservation of friendship and alliance of all four, with the mother country first, and with each other next. Let it be the greater glory of this reign to lay the foundations of such an alliance: let us establish the beginnings of a sentiment, based upon common language, common origin, common institutions, such as may make enmity between any two of these new countries impossible.

A few more figures. We have lost, of our own people, ten millions by emigration. Yet we have advanced from twenty-five to forty millions. In 1837 railways were only just beginning: there are now over twenty thousand miles in these islands. The carrying power of our shipping has increased from three millions of tons to twenty seven millions. Our textile manufacturers have increased fourfold: our foreign trade sixfold. This is enough of figures: they will afford, at least, even though they are not fully grasped, an idea of progress which is astonishing and unprecedented.

The Queen in 1837
We have not achieved and maintained the extension of Empire without war: it cannot be said that the reign of Queen Victoria has been peaceful: it can, however, be said that her armies have maintained their ancient honour. We have carried on wars all over the world: we have had a great war with Russia; another in India: we have had wars in Afghanistan, Abyssinia, Ashanti, Benin, Burmah, Chitral, Canada, New Zealand and Egypt.

If the reign has not been one of peace abroad it has been one of pacification at home. The reign opened ominously: there was a depression of agriculture far more threatening than that which at present obtains. The farm labourers, by hundreds of thousands, were on the parish: they were angry and gloomy: ricks were blazing everywhere. In the towns a wild Chartism was looking forward, under guise of certain "points," to the overthrow of our institutions and the establishment of a Republic: a spirit of discontent was everywhere: of loyalty to the Crown there was none below a certain social level. What has happened? The revolutionary party has vanished: now and then one may hear a wild word shouted at a Hyde Park meeting: it evokes no response: there is no longer any party which seriously purposes any change in the Constitution: the whole nation is united in loyalty.

What has effected this change? Prosperity, partly. But the successive measures of Reform in a still greater degree. What we commonly call Reform is the extension of the franchise: a thing of importance, no doubt, but of small importance compared with the various Reforms which have affected the daily life of the people. Formerly, the mill-owner and the mine-owner took the children at six and seven years of age, and worked them all day long; in the run of the mill, sometimes at night. That power was taken from them: it was proclaimed by Act of Parliament that a man shall not have power to work a hand more than so many hours a day. Next in importance was the abolition of the debtors prison. When the Queen ascended the throne it was possible to lock up a man for life who owed a few shillings. Think of the barbarity, the stupidity of it! Think what a burden - what a terror - was taken from life when those accursed walls of the fleet and the Queen's Bench were thrown down!

To these acts add the abolition of flogging in the army and the navy. Remember that in 1837 every captain of a ship had it in his power to flog a man for anything, without trial - to give him three dozen or as many dozen as he pleased: there were cases in which, to make the men smart, the Captain flogged the last man down from the yards. It is wonderful that our sailors fought as they did. This Reform affected the whole of that great class from which the Army and the Navy are recruited. They can now enlist without fear of degradation. Hence, the faces, both of sailors and soldiers, are stamped with a brighter, prouder air than formerly. Again, since the whole nation had received the right of vote, it was shameful that any single man should remain uneducated. So the Education Act was passed: a man may now no longer keep his child away from school, but he has nothing to pay for his schooling. We are turning out every year boys and girls whom we have not only taught to read, but whom we have made eager and greedy readers. It is therefore fortunate that the Stamp has been taken off the newspaper and the duty off paper; for a cheap Press and cheap literature have been rendered possible for this army of readers. They cry continually for more. Journals sell by the half million. For those who desire more serious reading and and study, there are springing up everywhere free libraries, by means of which the people command for nothing the whole literature of their country, past and present. By these acts, by the repeal of the Corn Laws, by the Amendment of the Poor Law, by the Reform Act of 1867, by Cheap Postage, by Rapid Communication, by Cheaper Food Supplies, Cheaper Rent, Cheaper clothes, better lodgings, higher wages, the admission of holidays - the old discontent has been driven away so completely that it is well-nigh forgotten.

It is impossible to ignore the achievements of science. We have rendered it possible to perform any operation - the most cruel - upon a patient painlessly. What a step is this! We are carried cheaply all over the island by steam - we who formerly never left our native village! We can send messages all over the world in a moment - distance is annihilated: we can transact business without leaving our office: we can preserve speech in boxes: we can reproduce scenes acted with all the movements of the actors: our ships are scientific instruments; and our machines do things that formerly required skilled intelligence.

These things and many more on which there is no space to dwell - among others, art, music, literature - belong to and increase the Victorian glory. Great and abiding shall be the name and fame for all time of that gracious lady who welcomed and encouraged every one of these great acts for the advance of humanity! It is not the part of a Sovereign to advance personally any branch of endeavour: it is the part of a wise Sovereign to encourage all who attempt and all who succeed.

God save the Queen!

The Queen and her Statesmen.
On the 21st June 1837, the day following the death of King William IV, Queen Victoria held her first Privy Council at Kensington Palace. The first impression produced by the youthful Sovereign was most favourable. Lord Melbourne, himself instructed by Greville, the Clerk, taught her Majesty the formal part of the business, which she carried through with composure and native dignity. According to her wish, the Queen entered the Council Chamber alone. Proclamation was made, then the doors were flung open and the Queen advanced to her place. With unfaltering voice she read her solemn declaration. Thereafter she signed the oath for the security of the Church of Scotland, and the Privy Councillors were sworn. When her uncles knelt to her, the young Queen blushed up to the eyes with embarrassment, her only visible sign of emotion. She made no difference in manner to any, not even when Melbourne, with his Ministers, the Duke of Wellington, and Peel, approached her. Her only sign of dependence was an occasional glance towards Melbourne for her cue. The Queen's modesty and firmness gave happy augery of her fitness for the highest office. All her Councillors were pleased. Wellington told Greville that had it been his own daughter he could not have desired to see her perform her part better. Peel, too, was amazed and gratified. During the earlier years of her reign Queen Victoria was guided in State business with almost fatherly care by Lord Melbourne, for whom she had the warmest regard. When, at length, in 1841, his final resignation had to be given in, the parting was a trial both to Sovereign and Minister. The Premier was satisfied, however, that the Queen had an able and competent adviser on Prince Albert.


The Queen as Wife and Mother.
Endeared as she is to her people by many public virtues, Queen Victoria has come yet closer to the nation's heart by the beauty of her domestic life. At the Queen's accession the affection of the people certainly went out to the young girl thus called to fill the loftiest of positions; but when she became a wife and mother there grew up between Sovereign and people what may almost be called a family tie. This bond her Majesty greatly fostered and strengthened. It was known that apart from the pomp and state of her exalted position, Queen Victoria loved and enjoyed a simple and happy home life, where all that was lovely and of good report had entrance and encouragement. During the happy one-and-twenty years of their married life, the Queen and Prince Albert stood in the forefront of the national life, ever influencing it for good, ever setting an example of purity and virtue. The Royal couple were devoted to each other in no common way. In their tastes and pursuits they were wedded indeed. Music and the fine arts occupies their leisure moments, and it was their delight to meet in private men and women of genius. How beautiful and home-like was their reception of Mendelssohn, how perfect the "harmony" of that occasion, the great composer has himself recorded. From his account we catch one of the fairest glimpses accorded us of the Queen's widely devotion to Prince Albert and of his tender regard for her. And as the years went on and children were growing up around the Royal pair, the nation noted with a glad satisfaction that in parental duties their Sovereign and her Consort had approved themselves a shining example. Amid a court pure as the most sheltered English home, Victoria and Albert went hand in hand with their children, leading them towards the true, the beautiful, and the good.


Literature under Victoria.
Her Majesty has contributed to literature one of the most successful books of the age, "Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands." She has also assisted in another, sir Theodore Martin's "Life of the Prince Consort." The Prince Consort himself was a diligent patron of literature, and men of letters owe much to the considerateness of the Empress Frederick and Princess Alice. Women have shone conspicuously in many departments of the literary life of the epoch, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Charlotte Bronte rank among the Queen's favourite authors. The literary life of the period has no more prominent figures than Carlyle and John Stuart Mill - the one ever a fighter and an inspirer to noble ideals; the other an exact thinker, whose work has left its impress on the moral and intellectual development of the age, as has also the work of our most famous living philosopher, Mr. Herbert Spencer. To the four poets laureate of the reign - Southey, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Mr. Austin - must be added the names of Robert Browning and Mr. Swinburne. Literary criticism in the reign has had no greater leader than Matthew Arnold, while John Ruskin has been one of our most brilliant critics of life and art. Fiction has had for its chief representatives William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mr. George Meredith. Lord Macaulay stands out as the most popular exponent of history during the period, and, indeed, may be said to have been the first and foremost of a great band of workers upon the lines of historical research.


Science of the Reign
When the Queen ascended the throne a considerable capital of scientific knowledge had been collected. In her time it has grown with the pleasant and ever-increasing rapidity of a sum at compound interest. Science in England has become less insular and more and more cosmopolitan. The Victorian era has been a time of giants in science: but that is not the peculiarity of the period. Darwins, Daltons, Faradays, Stephensons, Kelvins, and Listers there have been in every century, but never before has the world seen the growth and organisation of a vast army of scientific workers that add their quota to the general sum and disappear nameless into the unknown.
They are as necessary to the giants as workers to the queen bee. Scientific literature is now so vast, and expanding so astoundingly, that it threatens, like an avalanche, to descend and bury its votaries.
The sum and substance of all the efforts of Victorian science has been to put the body and mind of man more at ease. Thanks to the Stephensons, the Brunels, and their disciples, to Faraday, Siemens, Kelvin, Rowland Hill, and their followers, space has been almost annihilated, and the ends of the earth brought together. Simpson, Lister, the continental descendants of the great Jenner, Parkes, and the pioneer band of English sanitarians have alleviated the sting of disease, and put our bodies more at ease. More than any nationality, Englishmen have been busy to put our minds at rest by teaching us the nature of the world we live in, and making us less the creatures of chance. The seas have been charted, the depths of space fathomed, the heavens mapped, the earth and it's plants and animals examined. Darwin, Spencer, and Huxley have replaced empirical theories by a history written in rocks, bones, and living tissue.


The Queen in 1887
At the celebrations consequent on the attainment of her fiftieth year as Queen, her Majesty was reviewed by her people with a lively manifestation of patriotic pride and honest friendship, which was, as someone remarked at the time, the outcome of no sudden enthusiasm, but better - of a sound popular opinion.

The Queen in 1887

Sincerity and cordiality were the notes of the people's greeting to the sovereign. Nor was the rejoicing merely British. The greeting in Waterloo place summed up the worldwide congratulation, "Victoria, all nations salute thee!" Received with the loving and loyal acclamations of her subjects all along the route of the procession to the Abbey on that June day in 1887, her Majesty cannot but have felt that the solemn act of thanksgiving to which she was proceeding was indeed no empty form. To have reigned fifty years, and in these to have won only the increasing love and respect of a worldwide Empire, is indeed a triumph which might well fill the heart of a Sovereign with the profoundest gratitude to providence. Such exercises do but exalt the worshipper. "A figure of singular dignity and interest, drawing and holding all eyes," they said the Queen appeared, as in her simple but regal array she passed to her place in the Abbey. Slowly she traversed the nave, and along the choir to the dais; alone she ascended the steps to take her seat on the chair of state. The Archbishop pronounced the invocation. The choir chanted "Te Deum." At intervals, as a sort of "leit-motif" to the service, were heard the strains of "God Save the Queen!" The nations heart was uplifted in supplication that yet larger store of years might be reserved for our beloved Sovereign. Happy the nation that sees such a day, thrice happy the nation that sees its rejoicings repeated and redoubled, as at this Diamond Jubilee of Victoria!

Sixty Years in Parliament
Parliament has greatly changed during the Queen's reign. It has changed in men and in manners. The Squire and the Nabob no longer fill its benches. With Sir Robert Peel, the merchant and the manufacturer became almost supreme, and they have followed been followed by the retail dealer, the newspaper reporter, the working man. As a club the House of Commons has ceased to be exclusive. Less than forty years ago, Mr. Glover, who, "wore a hat with a curled brim, and a rather ponderous watch-chain," was deprived of his seat because he had not three hundred pounds a year. That was the qualification for a borough member, and double the sum was required on the part of the representative of a county. But now, if you can get anybody to pay your expenses, you need not have a shilling in the world.
Dress has changed with the composition of the House. In the time of Mr. Canning, the Minister always came down in silk stockings and pantaloons or knee- breeches, and even in the last generation members thought it essential to dress for Parliament at least as well as for a Society call or a garden party. But in recent days unconventionality has been the rule, and low hats and short jackets are quite common. Old formal habits have disappeared as completely as snuff. If you want a pinch now you must get it from the doorkeeper. Since Sir Charles Russell, who "first his snuff-box opened, then the case," became my Lord Chief Justice, no man has taken snuff while addressing the House of Commons. And the mere mention of a duelling may appear absurd in these blue-book-and-biscuit days. 

Peel challenged O'Connell, and so did Disraeli. But honour is satisfied nowadays with a letter to the "Times." The House takes itself more seriously than in "the good old gentleman like times when members of Parliament had nobody to please, and Ministers of State nothing nothing to do." There were long speeches before the time of Palmerston, who on one occasion held the House for five hours, and during the Reform struggle of 1831 there was so late a sitting that old Sir Thomas Baring sent for his razor, and Bennet, the member for Wiltshire, for his nightcap. But the work now is steadier and harder than when Lord Melbourne initiated the Queen into the spirit of the Constitution. Lord Melbourne's name reminds one of her Majesty's wonderful experience. Her first Prime Minister was born in 1779. Her last may carry recollections of the glorious Victorian era far into the next century. The Queen, while always acting within the Constitution, has naturally had her favourites. She would be more than mortal and less than a woman if she had not. For Lord Melbourne she entertained almost a daughter's affection. Peel chilled her at first by his shy, apparently stiff manners, but in course of time a cordial understanding grew up between Minister and Sovereign. And even "Pam," although he shocked the Prince Consort by his frivolity, was at last esteemed almost as much at Windsor as in the rest of the country. Disraeli's chivalry won the way to the heart of the Queen, as is witnessed by the memorial tablet erected at Hughenden Church by "his grateful and affectionate Sovereign and friend"; and it is pleasant to know that in these, her great Jubilee days, she is served by a Minister for whom she has shown warm esteem. Never has Sovereign been more honoured by the faithful Commons. Yet her sex has not induced them to give new privileges in their House to women. The press has stepped from one new privilege to another, provincial papers having been admitted by the side of the London journals, and every personal peculiarity as well as every speech being noted without fear of Serjeant or Clock Tower.

The Triumph of Steam and Electricity
The most striking and by far the most palpable evidence of progress during the reign is the ever-increasing speed which the unexampled discoveries of physical science have forced into every day life. Steam and electricity have conquered time and space to a greater extent during the last sixty years than all the preceding six hundred years witnessed; so that a man may cram into ten years as much experience as his grandfather could have done in fifty. Britannia Rules the Waves this year of grace in a way that was but a poetical figure of speech in Thomson's time. Exactly four hundred years before the Queen ascended the throne, the first English vessel to cross the Atlantic reached Newfoundland. And yet there is a greater transformation in the character of an Atlantic liner today than there was between the old wooden sailing ships which existed in 1837 and the good ship "Matthew" of Bristol which bore John Cabot westwards in 1497. The "Great Western," which was the first steamer built for regular voyages between Europe and America, was launched in 1837. She was but 213ft. long, with a displacement of 2300 tons, and the old unwieldy paddle to bear her along. That was a great advance on the old fashioned barque with her white spreading sails: but think of the ocean greyhounds of today, four times her size, capable of crossing the Atlantic in less than five-and-a-half days. The broad Atlantic has, indeed, become a mere pond. The wooden vessel looks almost as antique as the caracks of the Armada. Iron has come to rule supreme; steam has made the picturesque sails of sixty years ago as old fashioned almost as a trireme. Thus in 1840 the steamers
belonging to England numbered but 600; today they have increased to nearly 8500; and steam tonnage has increased from 95,807 to 6,121,555 in this year of Jubilee, against a total tonnage of nearly nine millions.
 
On land the same splendid story of progress dazzles the imagination. Think of the stage coach of sixty years ago. How infinitely antiquated it looks today, revived today as a mere amusement! And yet England resounded from end to end with the postboy's horn in 1837, and the Queen never travelled by rail until 1842. In 1837 she could not have possibly reached Aberdeen on her way to Balmoral under forty five hours; today she could cover the 540 miles on twelve hours - the quickest long-distance journey in the world. The United Kingdom could boast in 1850 of only 6621 miles of iron road; today the figures stand at 21,174 miles, while the Empire holds close on 75,000 miles of rail. Well might Mr. Kipling "confound" the romance that sees death to poetry in the banished stage coach, for is not the miracle of the railroad more wonderful than the most blazoned coach-and-four that ever spanked on the Queen's highway?
The very streets bear evidence to the presence of the god of speed. What would Dr. Johnson think if he strolled down Fleet Street today, with its network of telephone and telegraph wires above, that make it the very cradle of the world; with its endless stream of hansoms and 'buses and bicycles; with its future procession of motor-cars? Is there anything more insistent on the progress of the reign than that?

So much for facts and figures. What does this literal quickening of life portend? Is it not that figurative quickening which makes the whole world kin; every part of it feeling the pulse-beat of every other part instantaneously; so that seas divide no more, and diverse tongues create no Babel? For the network of liners and rail and cable with which England more than any other power has covered the earth makes the division of the world into separate kingdoms as arbitrary as the lines if latitude and longitude on a schoolboy's globe.

Queen Victoria 1897 Jubilee Portrait


Editorial Note
This remarkable Record Number of a Record Reign may be accepted as one of many evidences of the abundant enterprise of the First Pictorial Newspaper. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS was established more than fifty-five years ago, and from its First Number until now it has consistently claimed to be the Best as well as the Oldest Illustrated Journal in the World.

The unique position of THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS as a complete record of the best art of the day has only been maintained by the outlay of vast expenditure on the part of its proprietors. A number of distinguished artists have regularly contributed to its pages, and money has been poured out lavishly in sending special correspondents to every corner of the globe. That this judicious outlay of money and talent has been abundantly recognised by the public is proved by the fact that THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS can claim to have the largest circulation of any illustrated paper, and is everywhere recognised as an old and valued friend.

***

I thought I would include the editorial above, just in case anyone is unfamiliar with the ILN. I have written a few posts containing excerpts from their pages, and they really are a superb chronicle of the age. If you’re interested in owning an original edition then look on eBay, you will, in all likeliness, be able to pick one up for as little as £15.

And now, I wish a very happy Jubilee weekend to all – and don’t forget to buy your souvenirs; your purchases could provide the opportunity one hundred and fifteen years hence for history bloggers writing of the second Elizabethan age to come up with a post describing the nick-nacks we bought, and how it all started in the middle of the Victorian age…

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