Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 38
ABOVE this couple there was Anne, Queen of England. A very ordinary woman was Queen Anne. She was gay, benevolent, august—to a certain extent. No quality of hers amounted either to a virtue or to a vice. Her flesh was bloated, her wit heavy, her good-nature stupid. She was at once stubborn and weak. As a wife, she was both faithless and faithful,—having favourites to whom she gave her heart, and a husband for whom she kept her bed. As a Christian, she was at once a heretic and a bigot. She had one beauty,—the well-developed neck of a Niobe; the rest of her person was indifferently formed. She was a clumsy coquette, and a chaste one. Her skin was white and fine; she displayed a great deal of it. It was she who introduced the fashion of necklaces of large pearls clasped round the throat. She had a narrow forehead, sensual lips, fleshy cheeks, large eyes, short sight. Her short sight extended to her mind. Beyond a burst of merriment now and then, almost as ponderous as her anger, she lived in a sort of taciturn grumble and a grumbling silence. Words escaped from her which had to be guessed at. She was a mixture of a good woman and a mischievous devil. She liked surprises, which is extremely woman-like. She drank. She had fits of rage; she was violent, a brawler. Anne was a pattern, roughly sketched, of the universal Eve. Her husband was a Dane, thoroughbred.
A Tory, Anne governed through the Whigs. Nobody could have been more awkward than Anne in directing affairs of State. She let things happen as they would. Her entire policy was hare-brained. She excelled in bringing about great catastrophes from little causes. When a desire to rule seized her, she called it giving "a stir with the poker." She would say with an air of profound thought, "No peer can keep his hat on before the king except De Courcy, Baron Kingsale, an Irish peer." Or, "It would be an injustice if my husband were not to be Lord High Admiral, since my father was." And she made George of Denmark Lord Admiral of England and of all her Majesty's plantations. She was incessantly exhaling bad humour; she did not explain her thought, she exuded it. There was something of the Sphinx in this goose.
Anne rather liked rough fun, teasing, and practical jokes. Could she have made Apollo a hunchback, it would have delighted her; but she would have left him a god. Good-natured, her plan was to allow no one to despair, and yet to worry everybody. She often had a rough word in her mouth; a little more, and she would have sworn like Elizabeth. From time to time she would take from a pocket which she wore in her skirt a little round box of chased silver, on which was her portrait in profile, between the two letters Q. A.; she would open this box, and take from it on her finger a little pomade, with which she reddened her lips; and having coloured her mouth, she would laugh. She was greedily fond of the flat Zealand ginger-bread cakes; she was proud of being fat.
More of a Puritan than anything else, Anne would nevertheless have liked to devote herself to stage plays. She had an absurd academy of music, copied after that of France. In 1700, a Frenchman named Forteroche wanted to build a royal circus at Paris, at a cost of four hundred thousand francs, which scheme was opposed by D'Argenson. This Forteroche went over to England, and proposed to Queen Anne to build in London a theatre finer than that of the King of France,—with which idea the queen was immediately charmed. Like Louis XIV., she liked to be driven at a gallop. Her teams and relays would sometimes do the distance between London and Windsor in less than an hour and a quarter.
In Anne's time, no meeting was allowed without the permission of two justices of the peace. The convening of twelve persons, even if it were only to eat oysters and drink porter, was a felony. Under her reign, comparatively mild in other respects, impressing for the navy was carried on with extreme violence,—a gloomy evidence that the Englishman is a subject rather than a citizen. For centuries England suffered under this kind of tyranny, which gave the lie to all the old charters of liberty, and which France considered a good cause for triumph and indignation. What in some degree diminishes the triumph is, that while sailors were being impressed in England, soldiers were being impressed in France. In every great town of France, any able-bodied man, going through the streets about his business, was liable to be shoved by the crimps into a house called "the oven." There he was shut up with others in the same plight; those fit for service were picked out, and the recruiters sold them to the officers. In 1695 there were thirty of these "ovens" in Paris.
The laws against Ireland, emanating from Queen Anne, were atrocious. Anne was born in 1664, two years before the great fire in London, and the astrologers (there were some left; witness Louis XIV., who was born with the assistance of an astrologer, and swaddled in a horoscope) predicted that being the elder sister of fire she would be queen. And so she was, thanks to astrology and the revolution of 1688. She had the humiliation of having only Gilbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, for god-father. To be the god-child of the Pope was no longer possible in England; a mere primate is but a poor sort of god-father. Anne had to put up with it, however. It was her own fault; why was she a Protestant?
Denmark had paid for Anne's virginity (virginitas empta, as the old charters expressed it) by a dowry of £6,250 a year, secured on the bailiwick of Wardinburg and the island of Fehmarn. She followed, without conviction and by routine, the traditions of William. The English under this régime born of a revolution enjoyed as much liberty as they could lay hands on between the Tower of London, in which the orators were incarcerated, and the pillory, in which the writers were placed. Anne spoke a little Danish in her private chats with her husband, and a little French in her private chats with Bolingbroke. Wretched gibberish; but the height of English fashion, especially at court, was to talk French. There was never a bon mot but in French. Anne paid a deal of attention to the coinage of the realm, especially to the copper coins, which are the common and popular ones; she wanted to cut a great figure on them. Six different farthings were struck during her reign. On the back of the first three she had merely a throne struck; on the back of the fourth she ordered a triumphal chariot; and on the back of the sixth a goddess holding a sword in one hand and an olive branch in the other, with the scroll, Bello et pace. Her father, James II. was blunt and cruel; she was brutal. At the same time she was really mild au fond,—a contradiction which only appears such. A fit of anger metamorphosed her. Heat sugar, and it will boil.
Anne was popular. England likes female rulers. France excludes them. Why? One reason is apparent at once; perhaps there is really no other. With English historians Elizabeth embodies grandeur; Anne, good-nature. As they will; be it so. But there is nothing delicate in the reigns of these women. The lines are heavy. It is gross grandeur and gross good-nature. As to their immaculate virtue, England is tenacious of it, and we are not going to oppose the idea. Elizabeth was a virgin tempered by Essex; Anne, a wife complicated by Bolingbroke.
One idiotic habit of the people is to attribute to the king what they do themselves. They fight: whose is the glory? The king's. They pay: whose is the generosity? The king's. Then the people love him for being so rich. The king receives a crown from the poor, and gives them back a farthing. How generous he is! The colossus which is really only the pedestal contemplates the pygmy which is really the statue. How great this myrmidon is! He is on my back. A dwarf has an excellent way of making himself taller than a giant: it is to perch himself on his shoulders. But that the giant should allow it, there is the wonder; and that he should admire the height of the dwarf, there is the folly. Ah, the simplicity of mankind!
The equestrian statue, reserved for kings alone, is an excellent figure of royalty: the horse is the people. Only, the horse becomes transfigured by degrees. It begins as an ass; it ends as a lion. Then it throws its rider; and you have 1642 in England and 1789 in France. Sometimes it devours him; and you have 1649 in England, and 1793 in France. That the lion should relapse into the donkey is astonishing; but it is so. This was occurring in England. It had resumed the pack-saddle; namely, idolatry of the crown.
Queen Anne, as we have just observed, was popular. What was she doing to make herself so? Nothing. Nothing!—that is all that is asked of the sovereign of England. He receives for that nothing £1,250,000 a year. In 1705, England, which had had but thirteen men-of-war under Elizabeth and thirty-six under James I., counted a hundred and fifty in her fleet. The English had three armies,—five thousand men in Catalonia, ten thousand in Portugal, fifty thousand in Flanders; and besides, was paying £1,666,666 a year to monarchical and diplomatic Europe,—a sort of prostitute which the English people has always had in keeping. Parliament having voted a patriotic loan of thirty-four million francs of annuities, there had been a rush to the exchequer to subscribe it. England was sending a squadron to the East Indies, and a squadron to the West of Spain under Admiral Leake, without mentioning the reserve of four hundred sail under Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel. England had lately annexed Scotland. It was the interval between Hochstadt and Ramillies, and the first of these victories was foretelling the second. England, in its cast of the net at Hochstadt, had made prisoners of twenty-seven battalions and four regiments of dragoons, and deprived France of one hundred leagues of country,—France, who was drawing back dismayed from the Danube to the Rhine. England was stretching out her hand towards Sardinia and the Balearic Islands; she was bringing into her ports in triumph ten Spanish line-of-battle ships, and many a galleon laden with gold, Hudson's Bay and Straits were already partially relinquished by Louis XIV. It was believed that he was about to give up his hold on Acadia, St. Christopher's, and Newfoundland; and that he would be only too happy if England would but allow the King of France to catch a few cod off Cape Breton. England was about to inflict upon him the mortification of compelling him to demolish the fortifications of Dunkirk. Meanwhile, she had taken Gibraltar, and was taking Barcelona. What great things accomplished! How was it possible to refuse Anne admiration for taking the trouble of living at the period?
From a certain point of view, the reign of Anne seems to be a reflection of the reign of Louis XIV. In that great race called "history," Queen Anne certainly bears some resemblance to the French monarch. Like him, she played at a great reign; she had her monuments, her arts, her victories, her captains, her men of letters, her privy purse to pension celebrities, her gallery of chefs-d'œuvre, side by side with those of his Majesty. Her court, too, was a cortége, with the features of a triumph, an order, and a march. It was a miniature copy of all the great men of Versailles, who were not giants themselves. In it there is enough to deceive the eye; add "God save the Queen," which might have been taken from Lulli, and the ensemble becomes an illusion. Not a personage is missing. Christopher Wren is a very passable Mansard; Somers is as good as Lamoignon; Anne has a Racine in Dryden, a Boileau in Pope, a Colbert in Godolphin, a Louvois in Pembroke, and a Turenne in Marlborough. Heighten the wigs and lower the foreheads: the whole effect is solemn and pompous, and the Windsor of the time bears a faded resemblance to Marly. Still, the whole was effeminate, and Anne's Père Tellier was called Sarah Jennings. However, there is an outline of incipient irony, which fifty years later was to turn to philosophy, in the literature of the age; and the Protestant Tartuffe is unmasked by Swift just in the same way as the Catholic Tartuffe is denounced by Molière. Although the England of that period quarrels and fights with France, she imitates her and draws enlightenment from her; and the light on the façade of England is French light. It is a pity that Anne's reign lasted but twelve years, or the English would not hesitate to call it the century of Anne,—as we say the century of Louis XIV. Anne appeared in 1702, as Louis XIV. declined. It is one of the curiosities of history that the rise of this pale planet coincides with the setting of the purple planet, and that at the very time France had the Sun king England should have had the Moon queen.
One fact is well worthy of note. Louis XIV., although they waged war upon him, was greatly admired in England. "He is just the kind of a king they need in France," said the English. The love of the English for their own liberty is mingled with a certain acceptance of servitude for others. Their favourable opinion of the chains which bind their neighbours sometimes amounts to enthusiasm for the despot next door.
To sum up, Anne rendered her people hureux, as the French translator of Beeverell's book repeats three times, with graceful reiteration, in the sixth and ninth page of his dedication and the third of his preface.
Queen Anne bore the Duchess Josiana a slight grudge,—for two reasons. Firstly, because she thought the Duchess Josiana handsome. Secondly, because she thought the Duchess Josiana's betrothed handsome. Two reasons for jealousy are sufficient for a woman; one is sufficient for a queen. Let us add that she bore her a grudge for being her sister.
Anne did not like women to be pretty. She considered it contrary to good morals. As for herself, she was ugly,—not from choice, however. She derived a part of her religion from that ugliness. Josiana, beautiful and philosophical, was a cause of vexation to the queen. A pretty duchess is not a desirable sister to an ugly queen.
There was another grievance,—Josiana's "improper" birth.
Anne was the daughter of Anne Hyde, a simple gentlewoman, lawfully but vexatiously married by James II. when Duke of York. Anne, having this inferior blood in her veins, felt herself but half royal; and Josiana, having come into the world irregularly, drew closer attention to the incorrectness, less great, but really existing, in the birth of the queen. The daughter of a mésalliance disliked to see the daughter of bastardy so near her. It was an unpleasant reminder. Josiana had a right to say to Anne, "My mother was at least as good as yours." Of course at court no one said so, but they evidently thought it. This was a bore for her Royal Majesty. Why did this Josiana exist? What had put it into her head to be born? What good was a Josiana? Some relationships are detrimental.
Nevertheless, Anne smiled on Josiana. Perhaps she might even have liked her, had she not been her sister.