Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Wellington College Day

The last rocket which celebrated the Peace of 1856 had scarcely died away—the streets of London had hardly been vacated by the crowds which gathered to keep that festal night when we found ourselves engaged in another ceremonial, very different in some, very similar in others, of its accompanying forms. It had for its object to build up an everlasting memorial of another peace, and of another war, and of what we must own that 1856 cannot show—of a man—the man who waged that war and made that peace. Grateful as we are for present blessings —proud as we may be of the great scientific improvements in navigation and gunnery, in telegraph and steam, which we have compassed since 1815–gladly as we recognise the charitable institutions on the battle-field which were then absent, and the mitigation of barbarous regulations, oppressive to honest trading, which this age has accomplished—it must be owned that the moral grandeur of the great war remains unparalleled, as it embodies itself in the person, the motives, and the career of Wellington. Undesigned, then, as was the coincidence—the result of two or three wet days some six weeks back—we feel how appropriate and full of teaching is the circumstance that the crowning event of the peace jubilee is one which has thrown us back straight into the past generation, in a ceremonial solely in honour of that man the shadow of whose greatness stands projected into all time. Quanto melius est tui reminisci quam cum cateris versari, must have been the feeling of every thoughtful person who witnessed the ceremonial of Monday last. Thankful as we are for the entente cordiale between the leading Powers of Western Europe—which we trust will ripen into well-poised unanimity when a somewhat ebullient and noisy enthusiasm shall have sobered down into that rational good feeling which best promises continuance—we felt it a relief to escape for a few moments from the endless flap of tricolors, and the prodigal shower of “N's" and “E's,” to that amphitheatre whose only heraldic decoration was a grove of Union-jacks—whose one symbolic representation was the modest bust of the chief of Waterloo. Not to have felt this would have been to abdicate the noblest feelings of true national pride in favour of a sham and aimless philanthropism—to commit that fault into which, whatever may or may not be his errors in other ways, the Frenchman, at least, will never fall.

The day left nothing to be desired. It was bright, clear, and exhilarating. The Queen, blessed with her proverbial weather, showed that equally proverbial punctuality which is the politeness of princes—only the attendance of visitors was less numerous than could have been wished. Nothing could have been in better taste than the entire ceremony, as far as it went. The bearing of the Sovereign—at once affable, dignified, and business-like befitted the rightful and constitutional ruler of a great nation, who is not always under the unfortunate strain of having to act and to astonish in the character obligato of “Augustus Caesar, Divi genus.” The presence of the youthful portion of the royal family, including the Great Duke's own godson, took away the formality usually attributed to princely representation. On the other hand, the governing body of the new College was worthily represented by Lord Derby, whose clear, rich voice, and dignified ease of deportment rendered him eminently the right man for the place. The review with which the proceedings concluded was animated and picturesque, favoured as it was by the natural scenery surrounding the field of action; and no painful recollection would have been left behind but for the death, on the very spot, of one of the men engaged in the mimic war.

And yet, with all that we have to praise, we could have wished the day's ceremonial in some respects more ample. The proceedings were too exclusively limited to the Court and the Governors of the College. The Church seemed, indeed, represented by the Primate and the Diocesan, but this was the only great institution which appeared. The Home Secretary was the solitary representative of the existing Cabinet. The Houses of Parliament were nowhere—the corps diplomatique wholly invisible—the Commander-in-Chief only happened to be present as one of the Governors. It was, in short, little more than a private stone-laying on an unusually large scale, and in connexion with unusually interesting antecedents. It will, of course, be answered, that this is the precise truth as to the nature of the day's proceedings—that they were in reality nothing more than a private funzione, and were regulated accordingly. We admit all this, but we still fall back upon our position. The assertion is only another way of saying that England is England. The fact merely embodies what we are accustomed to regard as one of our proudest national attributes--that which so especially struck Montalembert—the performance, namely, in our free land, by voluntary combination, of things which on the Continent fall to the province of the bureau and the prefecture. But, such being the case, we are all the more bound to show that voluntary combination can discharge the functions which we confide to it as well as a ministerial or a police machine. If we are proud to proclaim to Europe that the spirit of our constitution hands over to a private corporation the rearing of the Wellington Memorial, that private corporation ought, in its turn, to be able to borrow the free and cheerful services of the great bodies of the State, when the object is to add pomp to a public ceremonial to which elsewhere they would have been driven by an autocratic rescript. To what extent this principle should have been carried on the 2nd of June, it is not our province to settle. We feel convinced that it was not carried far enough; and with the expression of that conviction we leave the topic. The subsequent review also had hardly a sufficiently visible connexion with the special work of the day. It took place just after the ceremony, and on nearly the same ground; and the sight of any British corps d'armée could not fail to recal the memory of the Great Duke. But this was all. There was not even an arch with the name of Wellington in laurel to fix the recollections of any one of the 15,000 men under arms; for it must be remembered that everything especially symbolical of his memory was wholly concealed from their view within the barriers of the amphitheatre in which the specific action of the day had been conducted. We are sorry to have to make any such remarks, when all was, upon the whole, so satisfactory; but we are compelled to speak for the sake of future ceremonials.

 Into the architectural character of the new building we will not at present enter—we shall have subsequent opportunities of discussing it. But before we conclude, we must tender one suggestion of a practical character. The governors of the Wellington College, rather than delay their work any longer, have undertaken to open the institution without the complement of funds needful to give it complete efficiency. Why does not the Patriotic Fund come to its aid? The directors of that Fund have large finances at their disposal, and the present would be a destination most germane to its legitimate object. The College is the monument of the hero of the older war, but the children who will reap its benefits will primarily be the orphans of the sufferers in the recent contest. As a mere matter of business, we cannot conceive any more judicious or fitting investment of a small portion of the fund in hand. If, however, it is to be done, let it be done quickly. In the ready appreciation of the need so delicately but clearly intimated by Lord Derby in his address, will reside the gracefulness of the act.

Saturday Review, June 7, 1856.

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