- Historic Sites
A King’s Funeral
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
I was really too much driven while in England to enjoy things as I otherwise would have done, but I liked my visits to Oxford and particularly to Cambridge. The Cambridge students greeted me just as the students of our own colleges would have greeted me. On my arrival they had formed in two long ranks, leaving a pathway for me to walk between them, and at the final turn in this pathway they had a Teddy Bear seated on the pavement with outstretched paw to greet me: and when I was given my degree in the chapel the students had rigged a kind of pulley arrangement by which they tried to let down a very large Teddy Bear upon me as I took the degree—I was told that when Kitchener was given his degree they let down a Mahdi upon him, and a monkey on Darwin under similar circumstances.
I had another funny experience, on this occasion with the editor of The Times . A number of editors were invited to meet me at lunch. The first five or six spoke to me with the utmost solemnity, and by the time the editor of The Times had come up. I felt that the occasion had grown too funereal, and so I said to him, “It does not seem to me that you and I ought to waste our time in talking of merely frivolous subjects, and I should like to discuss with you the possible outcome of the controversy between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jeffries.” He looked at me perfectly solemnly, muttered something, and went on. Some months afterwards Sydney Brooks wrote me that this same editor had remarked to him after the Nevada prize ring fiasco that he had always been much puzzled by my remark, and thought I must have been laboring under some delusion because he did not know whether I referred to Dr. Johnson or Ben Jonson, and to Lord Jeffreys or the editor of the Quarterly , and anyhow they were not any of them contemporaries, but he was now much struck by the coincidence that a Negro and a white man who possessed the names I had mentioned had been engaged in a prize fight in America, and it was such an odd coincidence that he really thought he would have to write to me about it!
There was much that was both amusing and interesting in connection with my being special ambassador to the funeral of poor King Edward. All the special ambassadors were, of course, treated with much ceremony and pomp, and I was given a special carriage of State and a guard of six magnificent grenadiers in bearskins, who lined up and saluted me whenever I left or entered the Embassy, while the bugler sounded off—or whatever the technical expression is. Whitelaw Reid [American Ambassador to Great Britain— Ed. ] is thoroughly at home in all such matters, and was both dignified and efficient, and Harry White and my two special aides. Lord Cochrane and Captain Cunninghame R.N., accompanied me on all my formal calls. Not only all the kings I had met, but the two or three I had not previously met, were more than courteous, and the Kaiser made a point of showing his intimacy with me and of discriminating in my favor over all his fellow sovereigns. The only man among the royalties who obviously did not like me was the Archduke Ferdinand, who is an ultramontane, and at bottom a furious reactionary in every way, political and ecclesiastical both. All of the special ambassadors were either sovereigns or princes of the blood royal, excepting Pichon, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and myself.
The night before the funeral there was a veritable wake,—I hardly know what else to call it. King George gave a dinner to the special ambassadors in Buckingham Palace, the palace in which the dead king his lather was lying in state. There was some seventy of us all told. Each man as he arrived said some word of perfunctory condolence to the king our host, and then on with the revel! It was not possible to keep up an artificial pretense of grief any longer, and nobody tried; and it was precisely like any other entertainment. The king sat in the middle of one side of the table, and the Emperor opposite him, and the rest of us were arranged elsewhere without as far as I could judge much attention being paid to rank. I sat with Prince Henry of Prussia on my right hand, and on my left a tall, shambling young man in a light blue uniform, whose card proclaimed him to lie the Prince of Cumberland, or Prince Somebody of Cumberland, I forget which. For lack of other subjects of conversation, I said to him that although his title was English, yet that he himself seemed to be German; and with a melancholy glance at the very vivacious Emperor, who was diagonally opposite us, he answered that he ought to be Prince of Brunswick and King of Hanover, and would be “if it were not for him,” nodding his head to indicate the Emperor. I felt like suggesting to him to relieve his feelings by throwing a carafe at the usurper.
As soon as I entered the room the Bulgarian Czar came up to speak to me, and to thank me for various things I had done for the Bulgarians, a people who have always interested me and in whom I have always believed. He is a very competent fellow, but with some unattractive traits, and at the moment all the other sovereigns were angry with him because he had suddenly christened himself czar instead of king, which they regarded as bumptious. Moreover he had had an intricate row about precedence with the Archduke Ferdinand on the way to the I funeral. The Archduke Ferdinand does not like Bulgaria or its czar, and insisted that as the heir apparent to a real and big empire he was entitled to precedence which the Czar of course flatly denied.