In the way of rulers there is nothing quite so nice as a king. A king focuses one’s patriotism, and being above everybody in his kingdom is probably the only person in it who arouses no envy. The fact is he inspires in us a sense of proud proprietorship. We rejoice that he has the loveliest of queens, and the lovelier she looks the more we are gratified, just as if she were one of the family. So when the king’s diplomacy wins a bloodless victory we are as proud as if most of the credit belonged to us.
Indeed, one realises the intimate pleasures of patriotism most on coming from an impersonal republic to a kingdom where the royal family is a vital part of the national life. We republicans are nothing if not patriotic, but while we are loyal to the broader aspects of patriotism we miss perhaps its little intimate pleasures.
It is, for example, rather difficult to feel a deep sense of personal loyalty towards the man whom the freak of fortune places for four years at the head of the nation, and of whom one knows very little. The personal interest one takes in him and his family is quite artificial. Opposed to him in politics, one doubts his fitness for his great position; and if one is of his party one favours him with that frank criticism which one naturally feels for the man who yesterday was no better than oneself, and who in four years will come down from his exalted height with the rapidity of a sky-rocket, only to join the army of the “forgotten” so delightfully characteristic of republics.
A republic is a worthy and useful institution, but there is a monotony in a country that consists entirely of kings and queens. It is very nice for all to be born free and equal, but it is not interesting, and there is some comfort in knowing it is not true, for Nature hurls us into the world a living contradiction to that rash statement of the Declaration of Independence.
It is only since I have lived in England that I have recognised the value of the lesser patriotism. Without being in any way disloyal to my own country, I must confess that I am conscious of quite new emotions in this at least partial possession of a king. One feels a critical sense of ownership. The Houses of Parliament belong to me, and Westminster Abbey, and the Horse Guards. A whole troop of these clattered past me in Oxford Street to-day, and, though they didn’t know it, I reviewed them from the top of a ‘bus. I own the sentries before Buckingham Palace, and I take a personal interest in the new gilding of the great railings, for so much gilding must impress visiting royalities, and visiting royalities ought to be impressed!
Now our American Government not only declines to impress foreigners, but takes unnecessary pains to remind us that Benjamin Franklin appeared in homespun and wollen stockings at the Court of France. Times have changed since then, and though we have discarded wollen stockings in our intercourse with foreign Courts, our republic, in her consistent encouragement of an out-of-date Spartan simplicity, leaves her ambassadors to pay her legitimate little bills themselves, with the result that she limits her choice of representatives to men who are not only distinguished, but also rich enough to pay the heavy and necessary expenses of their great position, which should by right be covered by an adequate salary.
It is not that our Government is impecunious; it is only pennywise. Now for the first time in our history America has an embassy in London worthy of her greatness, thanks not to our Government, but to the princely munificence of her new Ambassador. Perhaps he will never know the impetus he has given to the lesser patriotism, nor with what innocent pride we have contemplated his residence from every point of view, and with what patriotic rapture we watched the erection of that splendid marquee destined for the welcome of his fellow-countrymen.
For the first time I realised that this was our embassy and our marquee, and I was proud of my country. These were the outward and visible sign of our great prosperity. Perhaps our Ambassador thinks he is the temporary owner of this stately splendour. It is a pardonable mistake, but the fact is we are the owners, we Americans who have strayed into this crowded and lonely London by way of Cook’s tours, and floating palaces, and who are, many of us, homesick for the sight of something “real American.”
Last Saturday we celebrated that famous Fourth of July which England is so courteous as to forgive. For the first time we penetrated into our embassy. We were aliens no more, we were, so to speak, on our native heath, we could not be crushed even by those magnificent footmen in powder and plush—our footmen—who, as beseems the footmen of a free and independent people, were quite affable.
How proudly we patriots filed up the marble stairs and stared at the pictures and at each other, and acknowledged with a genuine glow of pride how well we were all dressed. I guess!
“We are a prosperous nation,” I exulted, as I had some republican refreshment in the marquee under a roof of green-and-white striped bunting. How good the lemonade tasted! A patriotic lady, with a huge bow of stars and stripes tied in her buttonhole, said enthusiastically, “There is nothing like American lemonade!”
For once one rose superior to the English. One longed to recite to them the Declaration of Independence. I swelled with pride, it was all so well done, and it was my embassy, my marquee, my ices, and my Ambassador. For the first time one revelled in the joy of a worthy possession. For once the English accent was relegated where it belonged—to the background—and we Americans talked unreproved with all those delightful and familiar intonations which eighty millions of people have stamped as classic.
My only other experience of a Fourth of July reception, though there have been many distinguished and hospitable American Ministers since, was years ago. Two of us, urged on by patriotism, chartered a four-wheeler, and were deposited before a modest house, which was so dark inside, compared to the glare outside, that we stumbled up the dim stairs behind other ardent republicans, and groped for the hand of our hostess, who had apparently mislaid her smile early in the day. Then we blinked our way into a dark drawing-room, where a circle of patriots stared coldly at us.
In our search for our Minister we attached ourselves to a little procession that filed into the next room, and we found him talking with delightful affability to an Englishman. To an Englishman, and on this day of all days! To an enemy of that great country which paid him his inadequate salary, while we, his own people, stood meekly about waiting until it should suit him to notice us, and bestow on us that handshake which is the inexpensive entertainment of all republican functions.
First we stood on one foot, and then we stood on the other, and then we coughed—a deprecating, appealing cough—and finally our Minister took a lingering, fond farewell of his Englishman, and then turned to us, with a frost-bitten expression of resignation which did not encourage us to linger. We shook his limp hand, and then we jostled each other into the dining-room.
We were filled with an acute resentment, but far from declining to break bread in his house we decided to take it out of him in refreshments; but the unobtrusive simplicity of the preparations foiled our unworthy designs.
Those were simpler days, and enthusiastic republicans arrived in every variety of attire. Most popular of all was that linen “duster” with which in all its creases the travelling American loved to array himself. Sometimes he wore a coat under it and sometimes he didn’t. Those were the days of paper collars and “made-up” ties, and on state occasions a cluster diamond “bosom pin.” It was a stifling hot day, and we passed into the small dining-room, where a long table imprisoned three waiters. It was a question of each for himself, and I remember the father of a family clutching a plate of what we Americans call “crackers,” and refusing the contents to all but his own offspring.
How we struggled for tea, and what a mercy it was that the waiters were protected from bodily assault by the table! One bestowed on me a tablespoonful of ice cream, densely flavoured with salt. For a moment I hated my country. Republican elbows poked me in every direction, and while I stood helpless in the crush I saw an elderly and stout compatriot pour the tea she had captured into the saucer, and with a placid composure proceed to drink it in that simple way.
“To think of it,” a voice cried into my ear in pained and shocked surprise, “and she a relation of Longfellow’s!”
Exhausted I found myself in the street in a chaos of frantic republicans, part of whom clamoured to get into the house, and part struggled to get out.
If our great Government would only realise that there is nothing so good for the soul as a thrill of patriotism! It is worth cultivating. We cannot all lay down our lives for our country, but there are lesser acts of loyalty which are of infinite value. It belongs to the lesser patriotism to show other folks that we are just as good as they are, if not a bit better. It is our patriotic duty to wear good clothes, to look prosperous, and to prove to foreigners that the star-spangled banner is quite at home even when floating over a palace. It is really worth while going down Park Lane just to say “Our Embassy!”
When I told the cabman to drive to the American Embassy, and for the first time in history he positively knew the way, I thrilled with patriotic pride. It marked an epoch.