YOU ARE not meant either to envy or resent the status and living conditions of the royals. And when they are attacked for "giving a bad example" by going fox hunting. I feel an indignation and compassion for them which is probably quite uncalled for. What fun it would be to own all those enormous houses, with lots of small ones too if you wanted to live the simple life on beer and sausages for a hit. What fun not even to know what you own, with enough gorgeous bric-a-brac to keep a museum gallery for ever full (the Queen's Gallery in London) with ever changing exhibitions. Their ancestors were pretty good collectors. Charles I was a superb buyer but Cromwell flogged most of his pictures to the Tsars and founded the basis of the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg. George III was good on clocks. The Prince Regent got a thing or two out of the debris of the French Revolution. The Prince Consort practically introduced the Italian Primitives to the country. Queen Victoria used to buy a suitable contemporary picture every year but did not believe it right to pay more than something like En She always got her picture.
How pleasant to find a Canaletto used as a splash board in a servant's bedroom in a Palace. And you don't have to bother about ■,our etchings, you have those port foliosof Leonardo drawings in the library.
Mind you there are drawbacks as there are in every job — the work. All those tours — alleviated by superb staff work. And where do all the presents go? On the many royal tours I have attended as a journalist. I have seen them loaded down with war canoes, cloaks made of feathers, hooks of commemorative photographs, and a herd of various animal toys for the children. They can't all go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
Of course, there still are those drawbacks. The speeches, the occasional insolent student, the marvellous, deadly food. For, wherever you go, some cook has done her/his best and is peering from the kitchens to see how much of the saddle or lamb you arc eating.
And then every week. if you are the Monarch and not a fringe Royal, the Prime Minister calls to keep you in the picture. Of course you get red boxes of reports to read. But there is nothing anyway you can do about it. Even some of Queen Victoria's most frantic royal advice got ignored.
Nor can you even influence the choice of the men who are going to come to call. I mean you can't tell where they've been. Sir Harold Wilson was charming. Some are deadly.
But then royals are fair game for three sorts of criticism. There is the straight, pseudo-republican, you-cost-too-much sort. There is a sort of innocence here.
There is a popular press approach in which, under the guise of giving loyal advice, some paper is able to criticise and to insinuate. Much better the direct insults of Private Eye or Wee Willie Hamilton, MP.
But I detest the tactics of the anti-fox hunters who would make them the scapegoats for this whole not particularly bloodthirsty nation and insist they stop bouncing about the country in elegant clothes seeking the ritual death of a fox.
I'm not a bit surprised if occasionally after they have wielded air sprays at the hounds, some splendid woman past her prime on a horse lashes out a bit or the retired colonel who is people's warden in his parish church rides his horse at some protestor.
NOW CATHOLIC newspapers, and for all that I know every other sort of newspaper, are subject to a great deal of animal propaganda. Some of it is horrid. Some of it is brave and passionate. Some of it seems informed by hate and envy rather than by love.
The first Bishop of Arundel. and Brighton, the late David Cashman, was a lovely man. He once said that one of the great pleasures of his life was shooting. This statement was picked up by the Daily Mirror and was splashed across the front page. To his vast honour he never claimed that some reporter — usually as fair game as any stoat — had misquoted him, even though for a day or two he was libelled as a bloodthirsty bishop.
1 have too many friends who shoot and hunt and worship God with a humble and sophisticated piety above mine to blame people who enjoy these pleasures. Because I have not been tempted by this sport, nor indeed have had much chance to practice it, this is the least of all arguments why I should take up arms against it.
The attitude of the Church has been unworried about the whole matter. Animals were created for the use of humans though it is true that they were not made for their pleasure. Yet high ecclesiastics have ol'ten indulged in the chase. One postReformation Archbishop of Canterbury killed a keeper while out stag hunting and, poor fellow, was suspended from his priestly functions for shedding human blood.
Huntsmen even have their own patron saint. This is St Hubert who flourished in the seventh century. He is said to have been the son of the Duke of Aquitaine and a leader of royal courts, charming and utterly committed to the chase.
He was out hunting when most good people were in church one Good Friday. He was chasing a magnificent stag when the animal stopped and turned and looked at him and he saw that it had a crucifix between its antlers, He then heard a voice telling him that he would go down into hell unless he began to lead a holy life.
He went at once to Maastricht. one of those rich little Low Country cities whose fate is for ever to be fought over. His wife died, He gave his son to his brother and his money to the poor. He resigned his titles and became the first bishop of Liege. To generations of Catholics his story has not discouraged, it has positively Sanctified the hunt. His least used to fall on November 3. This day is now given to the Peruvian St Martin de Porres who was of mixed blood and very kind to mice.
The formality, the dignity and the danger seems to be to confer a rightness on foxhunting. It is not
a subject I could or would debate in public. I have not enough indignation left over from other things to condemn it and I confess I do not like the people who made such an ugly song and dance about it. And I am fascinated into silence by people who talk about horses.
It is to break all the rules of our unwritten constitution to pick on the Royals for this particular sort of condemnation. This is a highly selective and suspect sort of indignation. Why is it never extended to coarse fishing. But that is a working class sport, cruel but sacrosanct.
IF YOU look back on history there is almost nothing of which you can wholely approve. We bring a contemporary indignation LO bear on the habits of our "ancestors".
But what will our "descendants" think of us, what Wi II they find incomprehensively evil? We have got rid of cockfighting — I saw it once in Bali and it was thrilling and horrifying and I left for the same reason that I left Oh! Calcutta at half time— even though I was there for my
We have stopped otter hunting. Unlike Italians we do not shoot starlings though I have eaten them in the oldest restaurant in the world (which is in Tokyo) and they are delicious.
We do not set. terriers on rats any more. We don't send children down the mines. But there is a Welsh boxer lying in a coma while I am %%riling this. I do not see how we can justify the continuation of this "noble art".
Including hunting, the richer people are blamed for many of their pleasures, particularly for those that they do not share with the slightly poorer.
1 here is shooting. Those beautiful and edible birds would not be alive if they had not been bred and protected to be killed. Yet people, traditional killing sort of people, can and do grow tired or the sport. They may own vast moors and yet, like the Duke of Devonshire. go out with no more than a shooting stick to watch his invited guns banging away.
I have a faint suspicion that I have been inconclusive. But thank God that the Church is not too conclusive about animals. And I hate the bullying tactics of those who would stop other people smoking or Prince Charles going out hunting.