Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hail and farewell, Victoria


Queen Victoria, Empress of India, died on January 22, 1901.

"Her 440 million subjects felt safe while Victoria was on the throne; but with her passing, the empire settled uneasily after the official and popular mourning. The empire was, as one sermon preached ex cathedra in South Africa, reflected, 'burying the Great White Queen beloved and revered by races, diverse from our own, within the sway of her sceptre.'

"Hardly any event in those or any other times could have expected to touch so many millions of different race as did the death Victoria. When mourning finished, that same empire contemplated its own mortality. The Anglo-Boer War, had shown that the British were not so invincible as previously thought. The war demonstrated an often hopelessly incompetent military and a political system lacking in direction.

"Moreover, Victoria's death was coincidental with the change to a less confident era of British politics that within a few years would need to introduce reforms in India, contemplate losing Ireland, face the challenge of a recalcitrant House of Lords and be surrounded by the new element in Westminster politics, socialism. There would be a world war to confirm Britain's imperial vulnerability and a series of events in Russia that would signal the biggest single change in world politics that the 20th century would witness. Henry James confessed a grief he had not expected for the running down of an old used-up watch. The death of his 'little mysterious Victoria' had 'let loose incalculable forces for possible ill'.

"But then that was perhaps because he loathed the thought of the Prince of Wales being king. Edward thought that almost everyone had been afraid of Victoria. In a sense, that summed up the Victorians. Until the 1890s, everyone was afraid of them. In that exaggeration is the image of the imperial rule of those six decades. It was a reign of no compromise. Bertie, Prince of Wales now Edward VII meant a new era."

(From the BBC Radio website)