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XXI. the toy of royalty.

Hawthorne frankly acknowledged that he was glad to have been in England before people had done playing with the toy of monarchy. There is something doubly amusing in seeing the efforts of American official personages to give proper reception to the type of royalty lately arrived from the Sandwich Islands-something which may almost be called the toy of a toy, bearing the same relation to the European plaything that is borne by the strange dolls of the Aleutian Islands to the elaborate French or German article. The dusky queen of a few Pacific islands, whose husband is the elected king of a decaying handful of converted savages-the whole population under their sway, native and foreign, being little more than fifty thousand-has been received as if she were the Queen of England and Empress of India. And why not? A toy is a toy, and to a child the mere size or costliness is of little importance. In monarchies the royal station tells, and whether it be an exiled Bourbon or a dethroned Bonaparte, it is much the same thing. [106] General Badeau, in his curious and valuable book on “Aristocracy in England,” describes an occasion where Prince Leopold and the Prime-minister of England brought with them in the carriage an African prince. “He looked to me,” says Badeau, “like any little negro boy of nine or ten; but he had his gentlemen-in-waiting, he took precedence of the Prince-minister, and he stood on the red carpet reserved for royalty alone.” The difference is that all this in England is in a manner serious; even persons of liberal opinions half believe in it, as a little girl half believes that her doll is hungry unless allowed a bit of her luncheon. In America it has been a curious combination of genuine international hospitality with a sort of pleasurable playing at something hitherto only known through the medium of books.

My own acquaintance with the toy of royalty is very limited, having been confined, so far as personal conversation goes, to one emperor and his empress. It was enough at least to furnish a standard, and to diminish the importance of minor interviews. One must draw the line somewhere, and I might perhaps draw it at emperors. His Imperial Majesty of Brazil was certainly a well-informed man, with a creditable appreciation of Whittier's poetry. There was a curious little lady-in-waiting, I remember, who went round reminding people that her [107] Imperial Majesty was a Bourbon. But I must admit, for one, that I had been sitting beside the empress on a sofa for some time, chatting as composedly as I should have done with any other middle-aged lady, before it occurred to me how incongruous was my attitude with the dignity that once hedged her great name. Think of it — a race that had furnished Europe with dukes for five hundred years and with kings for three hundred, that had convulsed nations with wars on questions of dynasty, and had rent courts with strife as to the problem who should use so much as a footstool in the queen's presence-and here was I sitting on a hair-cloth sofa beside a Bourbon! If this was all the reverence still due to a wearer of even that august name, what earthly glory was left for a Guelph? how much less for a Bonaparte! how inconceivably little for poor Queen Kapiolani! I remember, indeed, that one stately American lady, unable quite to forget the traditions of her youth, did actually bend one knee a little before the Bourbon empress; and I wonder whether any one remembered even thus much of homage for her Imperial Majesty from the Hawaiian Islands. Probably not.

As a latter of fact, it is all a play suited for children. The very name and associations of royalty are coming to belong to the childish domain just as distinctly as Puss in Boots or Jack and the [108] Bean-stalk. For a few years longer some prince will survive in London to select the popular actress of the day and to decide what shade of gloves gentlemen shall wear; but soon even these important functions will be discharged less expensively, and the common-sense of even the elder branch of the Anglo-Saxon race will assert itself. This all are coming to see; but what men do not see so clearly is that not only much of the melodrama of the present, but much written history of the past, will shrink in value with the disappearance of monarchy, and will be no more held in men's minds. When the Western continent is held by a hundred millions of people who care no more for the name of king than did the roaring waves in Shakespeare's “Tempest,” those thronging myriads can afford to dismiss from their memories three-quarters of the European wars, turning upon dynastic quarrels as valueless for profit as the forgotten strifes among the Saxon heptarchy. Every step that in any way illustrates the slow passage of man to political self-government will have a continued and even a redoubled interest; but every strife to decide whether somebody's third cousin or fourth cousin should get the throne will have no further value but to point the moral-which will then have been abundantly established — as to the folly of trusting anybody with a throne at all. Mr. Barnum, it is said, is about to buy the crown [109] jewels of France for his museum, which is undoubtedly the best use to make of them. A time will come, probably, when his successor will also engage the last survivors of royal families to travel with the Greatest Show on Earth, or will put them on little reservations like American Indians, or let them spend an innocent old age on quiet country farms, such as Dickens's showman planned for his giants after they had grown shaky in the knees. Recent discoveries in Egypt have shown that the person of a king may be kept in tolerably good preservation for several thousand years. But the pictured result seems to indicate that for royal mummies, as for the institution they commemorate, it is easy to survive not only usefulness, but even good looks.

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