For Monarchists Only
Front a Correspondent
At the time of King Edward Vil's death a young mathematician. who is now Master of one of the Cambridge colleges, tried to explain to me rather shamefacedly why he was feeling some emotion: " If your cousin Was dead you might feel nothing, but if everybody had lost his cousin I suppose we should all feel something."
Probably we should. We should be still more likely to do so if the cousin whom each of us had lost was one and the same person. For if you can fix the attention of a number of people upbn one object. not only can you play upon the feelings of all of them at once, but the feelings of each will he intensified by contact with the feelings of everyone else.
This is not only true of crowds gathered in one place. It is enough if an identical nucleus of imagery and suggestion is implanted separately in each individual's mind. For it will form a common background to the daily intercourse of the com
munity. It becomes the subject of constant reference and comment in which the impression in each person's mind intensifies, and is intensikd by, the similar impression in every other person's.
Synthetic Emotions There was truth enough, therefore, in my friend's explanation of his state of mind when Edward VII died. A mental picture of each of the recent Sovereigns of this country has been deeply implanted in the minds of all his subjects by the publicity given by the press to his fulfilment of the ceremonial functions of his office. He plays the central part in every great national ceremony: he is the most photographed person in the land and his most trivial words and movements on public occasions are reported.
This is natural enough and ie itself harmless. The harm, it seems to me, begins when for reasons of State and with the aid of a trick of journalism a definite and agreed legend is built up about him. Certain characteristics, suggested perhaps by some actual traits, are fastened upon him in a highly exaggerated form, and he is uni versally praised for them. And everyone is given to understand that it is upon just this combination of virtues embodied in him that the well-being of the State very largely depends.
The impression thus stamped simultaneously upon a score of million persons is hypnotic in its intensity. It went far in the last few years to swamp and obliterate the genuine monarchical sentiment of the British people and replace it by a manufactured article similar in origin to the synthetic emotions of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.
Adding Insult to Injury The monarchy is now in danger of suffering in the eyes of the nation from a reaction against these short-sighted methods of boosting it. The production of conventionalised and sentimental pictures reached its climax in the case of Edward VIII, and the figure thus portrayed entered so deeply into the emotional life of the nation that a great wave of disgust, unfair but understandable, passed over millions of humble folk at the shattering of the picture in which they had believed. The cinema audiences gave pathetic evidence of it. Indeed, an intense nervous irritation affected almost everyone so long as the settlement of the King's affairs remained in suspense.
Furthermore, to the more critically minded the artificiality of this picturemaking was demonstrated beyond all dispute by the parade-ground precision with which the press dropped one picture of King Edward and substituted another and then set to work to build up a picture of the new King openly modelled on the one which had just done duty for George V.
It was, and continues to be, a disgustingly insulting performance. A number of writers have been reminding us of the violent language in which The Times assailed George IV on his death, but this outspoken hostility and condemnation is almost a tribute of respect in comparison with the contemptuous patronage with which The Times of our own day, speaking for the inner governing circle, allotted the new King his role in the nation's mythology in the very issues in which it was dismissing the subject pot.f its last legend with patronising The, Invisible Man
So it has come about that Edward's successor, having had the throne thrust upon him in circumstances which must be painful both for personal reasons and for their political implications, has had to witness this obviously mechanical myth-making about hintself and, on the top of it. his Home Secretary telling the House of Commons that the duties of the Sovereign are now such that they can be efficiently exercised by one who in ordinary affairs would be reckoned a minor and, finally, has to take over a Coronation arranged for someone else. A nation that can treat its kings thus deserves nothing from them.
Indeed, if kingship comes to a sudden end in this country (and there are not wanting signs of this) it will be largely the fault of this myth-making. For myself I should like to see the monarchy flourishing, for it might again produce a leader of the people against the ruling oligarchy. But, as the throne is at present controlled, if any of its occupants—the present one or another— should possess the moral qualities required for this leadership, the people will not be allowed to know.