07/23/07 - victoria stills the waters

In today's excerpt - the apex of the British Empire. By 1897, Britain has conquered one quarter of the earth's land and one quarter of its people, and celebrates its preeminence in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee—which climaxes in a six-mile-long parade of unprecedented scope:

"Not since Rome had imperial dominion been flung as wide as Britain's now. It extended over a quarter of the land surface of the world, and on June 22, 1897 the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, its living evidence marched in splendid ranks to the Thanksgiving service at St. Paul's. The occasion being to celebrate the imperial family under the British Crown ... carriages of state carried the eleven colonial premiers of Canada, New Zealand, the Cape Colony, Natal, Newfoundland and the six states of Australia. In the parade rode cavalry from every quarter of the globe: the Cape Mounted Rifles, the Canadian Hussars, the New South Wales Lancers, the Trinidad Light Horse, the magnificent turbaned and bearded Lancers of Kharpurthala, Badnagar and other Indian states, the Zaptichs of Cyprus in tasseled fezzes on black-maned ponies. Dark-skinned infantry regiments, 'terrible and beautiful to behold,' in the words of a rhapsodic press, swung down the streets in a fantasy of varigated uniforms: the Borneo Dyak Police, the Jamaica Artillery, the Royal Nigerian Constabulary, giant Sikhs from India, Houssas from the Gold Coast, Chinese from Hong Kong, Malays from Singapore, Negroes from the West Indies, British Guiana and Sierra Leone; company after company passed before a dazzled people, awestruck at the testimony of their own might. At the end of the procession in an open state landau drawn by eight cream horses came the day's central figure, a tiny person in black with cream-colored feathers nodding from her bonnet. ... Along six miles of streets, millions of happy people cheered and waved in ecstasy of love and pride. 'No one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given to me', wrote the Queen in her Journal. 'Every face seemed to be filled with real joy. I was much moved and gratified.'

"Already for some months there had been an aura of self-congratulation in the air, 'a certain optimism', said Rudyard Kipling, 'that scared me.' ...

"The year 1900, rather than 1899, the Astronomer Royal had decided, after much weighing of the pros and cons, was the hundredth and last year of the Nineteenth Century. ... The most hope-filled, change-filled, progressive, busiest and richest century the world had ever known. Three weeks after it closed, on January 24, 1901, Queen Victoria died, redoubling the general sense of an era's end. ...

"A year before she died, the Queen returning on her yacht from a visit to Ireland, was disturbed by rough seas. After a particularly strong wave buffeted the ship, she summoned her doctor who was in attendance, and said in unconscious echo of a distant predecessor, 'Go up at once, Sir James, and give the Admiral my compliments, and tell him the thing must not occur again.'

"But the waves would not stand still."


Barbara W. Tuchman


The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890 - 1914


A Ballantine Book published by The Random House Publishing Group


Copyright 1962, 1963, 1965 by Barbara W. Tuchman


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