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single supreme head; it is a pursuit in which a single person does not of necessity dominate. By nature it creates an "upper ten thousand": a certain number of persons and families, possessed of equal culture and equal faculties and equal spirit, get to be on a level, and that level a high level. By boldness, by cultivation, by “social science” they raise themselves above others; they become the “first families," and all the rest come to be below them. But they tend to be much about a level among one another; no one is recognized by all or by many others as superior to them all. This is society as it grew up in Greece or Italy, as it grows up now in any American or colonial town, So far from the notion of a “head of society” being a necessary notion, in many ages it would scarcely have been an intelligible notion. You could not have made Socrates understand it: he would have said, “If you tell me that one of my fellows is chief magistrate and that I am bound to obey him, I understand you, and you speak well; or that another is a priest and that he ought to offer sacrifices to the gods which I or any one not a priest ought not to offer, again I understand and agree with you: but if you tell me that there is in some citizen a hidden charm, by which his words become better than my words and his house better than my house, I do not follow you, and should be pleased if you will explain yourself.”
And even if a head of society were a natural idea, it certainly would not follow that the head of the civil government should be that head. Society as such has no more to do with civil polity than with ecclesiastical; the organization of men and women for the purpose of amusement is not necessarily identical with their organization for political purposes, any more than with their organization for religious purposes, it has of itself no more to do with the state than it has with the church. The faculties which fit
. a man to be a great ruler are not those of society; some great rulers have been unintelligible like Cromwell, or brusque like Napoleon, or coarse and barbarous like Sir Robert Walpole. The light nothings of the drawing-room and the grave things of office are as different from one another as two human occupations can be; there is no naturalness in uniting the two: the end of it always is, that you put a man at the head of society who very likely is remarkable for social defects, and is not eminent for social merits.
The best possible commentary on these remarks is the history of English royalty. It has not been sufficiently remarked that a change has taken place in the structure of our society exactly analogous to the change in our polity: a republic has insinuated itself beneath the folds of a monarchy. Charles II. was really the head of society: Whitehall in his time was the center of the best talk, the best fashion, and the most curious love affairs of the age. He did not contribute good morality to society, but he set an example of infinite agreeableness; he concentrated around him all the light part of the high world of London, and London concentrated around it all the light part of the high world of England. The court was the focus where everything fascinating gathered, and where everything exciting centered. Whitehall was an unequaled club, with female society of a very clever and sharp sort superadded. All this, as we know, is now altered: Buckingham Palace is as unlike a club as any place is likely to be; the court is a separate part, which stands aloof from the rest of the London world, and which has but slender relations with the more amusing part of it. The two first Georges were men ignorant of English, and wholly unfit to guide and lead English society; they both preferred one or two German ladies of bad character to all else in London. George III. had no social vices, but he had no social pleasures: he was a family man, and a man of business; and sincerely preferred a leg of mutton and turnips, after a good
day's work, to the best fashion and the most exciting talk. In consequence, society in London, though still in form under the domination of a court, assumed in fact its natural and oligarchical structure. It too has become an “upper ten thousand”; it is no more monarchical in fact than the society of New York. Great ladies give the tone to it with little reference to the particular court world. The peculiarly masculine world of the clubs and their neighborhood has no more to do in daily life with Buckingham Palace than with the Tuileries. Formal ceremonies of presentation and attendance are retained; the names of levée and drawing-room still sustain the memory of the time when the king's bed-chamber and the queen's “withdrawing-room" were the centers of London life: but they no longer make a part of social enjoyment; they are a sort of ritual in which nowadays almost every decent person can if he likes take part. Even court balls, where pleasure is at least supposed to be possible, are lost in a London July. Careful observers have long perceived this, but it was made palpable to every one by the death of the Prince Consort; since then the court has been always in a state of suspended animation, and for a time it was quite annihilated, but everything went on as usual. A few people who had no daughters and little money made it an excuse to give fewer parties, and if very poor stayed in the country; but upon the whole the difference was not perceptible. The queen bee was taken away, but the hive went on.
Refined and original observers have of late objected to English royalty that it is not splendid enough. They have compared it with the French court, which is better in show, which comes to the surface everywhere so that you cannot help seeing it, which is infinitely and beyond question the most splendid thing in France. They have said that “in old times the English court took too much of the nation's money, and spent it ill; but now, when
it could be trusted to spend well, it does not take enough of the nation's money. There are arguments for not having a court, and there are arguments for having a splendid court; but there are no arguments for having a mean court. It is better to spend a million in dazzling when you wish to dazzle, than three-quarters of a million in trying to dazzle and yet not dazzling.” There may be something in this theory; it may be that the court of England is not quite as gorgeous as we might wish to see it: but no comparison must ever be made between it and the French court. The Emperor represents a different idea from the Queen. He is not the head of the state; he is the state. The theory of his government is that every one in France is equal, and that the Emperor embodies the principle of equality: the greater you make him, the less and therefore the more equal you make all others; he is magnified that others may be dwarfed. The very contrary is the principle of English royalty : as in politics it would lose its principal use if it came forward into the public arena, so in society if it advertised itself it would be pernicious. We have voluntary show enough already in London ; we do not wish to have it encouraged and intensified, but quieted and mitigated. Our court is but the head of an unequal, competing, aristocratic society: its splendor would not keep others down, but incite others to come on. It is of use so long as it keeps others out of the first place, and is guarded and retired in that place; but it would do evil if it added a new example to our many examples of showy wealth, if it gave the sanction of its dignity to the race of expenditure. Fourthly, we have come to regard the Crown as
! the head of our morality. The virtues of Queen Victoria and the virtues of George III. have sunk deep into the popular heart; we have come to believe that it is natural to have a virtuous sovereign, and that the domestic virtues are as likely to be found on
thrones as they are eminent when there. But a little experience and less thought show that royalty cannot take credit for domestic excellence: neither George I. nor George II. nor William IV. were patterns of family merit; George IV. was a model of family demerit. The plain fact is, that to the disposition of all others most likely to go wrong, - to an excitable disposition, the place of a constitutional king has greater temptations than almost any other and fewer suitable occupations than almost any other. All the world and all the glory of it, whatever is most attractive, whatever is most seductive, has always been offered to the Prince of Wales of the day, and always will be; it is not rational to expect the best virtue where temptation is applied in the most trying form at the frailest time of human life. The occupations of a constitutional monarch are grave, formal, important, but never exciting; they have nothing to stir eager blood, awaken high imagination, work off wild thoughts. On men like George III., with a predominant taste for business occupations, the routine duties of constitutional royalty have doubtless a calm[ing] and chastening effect: the insanity with which he struggled, and in many cases struggled very successfully, during many years, would probably have burst out much oftener but for the sedative effect of sedulous employment. But how few princes have ever felt the anomalous impulse for real work; how uncommon is that impulse anywhere; how little are the circumstances of princes calculated to foster it; how little can it be relied on as an ordinary breakwater to their habitual temptations! Grave and careful men may have domestic virtues on a constitutional throne; but even these fail sometimes, and to imagine that men of more eager temperaments will commonly produce them is to expect grapes from thorns and figs from thistles.
Lastly, constitutional royalty has the function which I insisted on at length in my last essay, and which,