[Thomson's attacks upon royalty were frequent, and seldom as good-natured as in this satire. For instance, his 1867 poem "L'Ancien Regime" suggests that servility, war, harlotry, and lies are the "gifts" most desired by kings, but that the best "gift" for "our lord the king" would be death. Thomson did not, however, consider England's "gingerbread monarchy" to be a serious threat to society, and else- where expressed the opinion that "the whole thing will be pitched to Limbo if ever the people get mature enough to put away childish things." This satire, which, like "Proposals for the Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery," owes a good deal to Swift, was originally published in the "Jottings" column of the National Reformer (September 18, 1870) under the title, "Commission of Inquiry as to Complaints against Royalty." In 18^6 Thomson republished it as a twopenny pamphlet under the shorter title, "A Commission of Inquiry on Royalty," and at that time added the "P.S." and made a few minor revisions. G. W. Foote reprinted this later version in Satires and Profanities, from which the present text is taken.]
HE SUBJECTS for our solemn consideration are the Seclusion of her Most Gracious Majesty, and the complaints thereanent published in several respectable journals. In order to investigate the matter thoroughly, we constituted ourselves (the unknown number x) into a special Commission of Inquiry. We are happy to state that the said Commission has concluded its arduous labors, and now presents its report within a week of its appointment; surely the most prompt and rapid of commissions. The cause of this celerity we take to be the fact that the Commissioners were unsalaried; we being unanimously of opinion that had we received good pay for the inquiry throughout the period of our session, we could have prolonged it with certain benefit, if not to the public yet to ourselves, for a great number of years. If, therefore, you want a Commission to do its work rapidly vote no money for it. And do not fear that the most headlong haste in gathering evidence and composing the report will diminish the value of such report; for when a Commission has lasted for years or months it generally rises in a quite different state of the subject matter from that in which it first sat, and the report must be partly obsolete, partly a jumble of anachronisms. In brief, it may be fairly affirmed as a general rule that no Commission of Inquiry is of any value at all; the appointment of one being merely a dodge by which people who don't want to act on what they and everybody else see quite well with their naked eyes, set a number of elderly gentlemen to pore upon it with spectacles and magnifying glasses until dazed and stupid with poring, in the hope that this process will last so long that ere it is finished the public will have forgotten the matter altogether. And now for the result of our inquiries on this subject, which is not only immensely important, but is even sacred to our loyal hearts.
A West-end tradesman complains bitterly that through the absence oi the Court from Buckingham Palace, and the diminished number and splendor of royal pomps and entertainments, the "Season" is for him a very poor season indeed. The Commissioners find that the said tradesman (whose knowledge seems limited to a knowledge of his business, supposing he knows that) is remarkably well off; and consider that West-end tradesmen have no valid vested interest in Royalty and the Civil List, that at the worst they do a capital trade with the aristocracy and wealthy classes (taking good care that the punctual and honest shall amply overpay their losses by the unpunctual and dishonest); that if they are not satisfied with the West-end, they had better try the East-end, and see how that will suit them; and, in short, that this tradesman is not worth listening to.
Numerous fashionable and noble people (principally ladies) complain that they have no Court to shine in. The Commissioners think that they shine a great deal too much already, and in the most wasteful manner, gathered together by hundreds, light glittering on light; and that if they really want to shine beneficially in a court there are very many very dark courts in London where the light of their presence would be most welcome.
It is complained on behalf of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales that they have to perform many of the duties of royalty without getting a share of the royal allowance. The Commissioners think that if the necessary expenses of the heir to the throne are really too heavy for his modest income, and are increased by the performance of royal duties, he had better send in yearly a bill to his Mamma for expenses incurred on her account, and a duplicate of the same to the Chancellor to the Exchequer; so that in every Budget the amount of the Civil List shall be equitably divided between her Majesty and her Majesty's eldest son, doubtless to their common satisfaction.
It is complained on behalf of various foreign royal or ruling personages that while they in their homes treat generously the visiting members of our royal family, they are treated very shabbily when visiting here. The Commissioners think that Buckingham Palace, being seldom or never wanted by the Queen, and very seldom wanted for the reception of the English Court, should be at all times open for such royal or ruling visitors; that a Lord Chamberlain, or other such noble domestic servant should be detailed to attend on them, and see to their hospitable treatment in all respects; and that to cover the expenditure on their account a fair deduction should be made from her Majesty's share of the Civil List, which deduction, being equitable, her Majesty would no doubt view with extreme pleasure.
It is complained on the part of her Majesty's Ministers, that when they want the royal assent and signature to important Acts of Parliament, they have to lose a day or two and undergo great fatigue (which is peculiarly hard on men who are mostly aged, and all overworked) in travelling to and from Osborne or Balmoral. The Commissioners think the remedy plain and easy, as in the two preceding cases. Let a law be passed assuming that absence, like silence, gives consent; so that whenever her Majesty is not in town, the Speaker of the Commons or the Lord Chancellor, or other great officer of State, be empowered to seal and sign in her name, and generally to perform any of her real and royal duties, on the formal demand of the Ministry, who always (and not the Queen) are responsible to Parliament and the country for all public acts.
A taxpayer complains that for fourteen years her Majesty has been punctually drawing all moneys allotted to support the royal dignity, while studiously abstaining from all, or nearly all, the hospitalities and other expensive functions incident to the support of the said dignity. The Commissioners consider that her Majesty is perchance benefiting the country more (and may be well aware of the fact) by taking her money for doing nothing than if she did something for it; that if she didn't take the said money, somebody else would (as for instance, were she to abdicate, the Prince of Wales, become King, would want and get at least as much); so that while our Government remains as it is, the complaint of the said taxpayer is foolish.
Another Taxpayer, who must be a most mean-minded fellow, a stranger to all sacred sympathies and hallowed emotions, says: "If a washerwoman, being stupified by the death of her husband, neglected her business for more than a week or two, she would certainly lose her custom or employment, and not all the sanctity of conjugal grief (about which reverential journalists gush) would make people go on paying her for doing nothing; and if this washerwoman had money enough of her own to live on comfortably, people would call her shameless and miserly if Jlshe asked for or accepted payment while doing nothing; and if this washerwoman had a large family of boys and girls around her, and shut herself up to brood upon her husband's death for even three or four months, people would reckon her mad with selfish misery. The Commissioners (as soon as they recover from the stupefaction of horror into which this blasphemy has thrown them) consider and reply that there can be no proper comparison of a Queen and a washerwoman, and that nobody would think of instituting one, except a brute, a Republican, an Atheist, a Communist, a fiend in human form; that anyhow if, as this wretch says, a washerwoman would be paid for a week or two without working, in consideration of her conjugal affliction, it is plain that a Queen, who (it will be universally allowed) is at least a hundred thousand times as good as a washerwoman, is therefore entitled (at least a hundred thousand times the "week or two" of salary without performance of duty — that is, to at least 1,923 or 3,846 years, whereas this heartless and ribald reprobate himself only complains that our beloved Sovereign lias done nothing for her wage throughout "fourteen years." The Commissioners therefore eject this complainant with ineffable scorn; and only wish they knew his name and address, that they might denounce him for prosecution to the Attorney-General.
A Malthusian (whatever kind of creature that may be) complains that her Majesty has set an example of uncontrolled fecundity to the nation and the royal family, which, besides being generally immoral, is likely, at the modest estimate of £6,000 per annum per royal baby, to lead to the utter ruin of the realm in a few generations. The Commissioners, after profound and prolonged consideration, can only remark that they do not understand the complaint any better than the name (which they do not understand at all) of the "Malthusian;" that they have always been led to believe that a large family is a great honor to a legitimately united man and woman; and that, finally, they beg to refer the Malthusian to the late Prince Consort.
A devotedly loyal Royalist (who unfortunately does not give the name and address of his curator) complains that her Majesty, by doing nothing except receive her Civil List, is teaching the country that it can get on quite as well without a monarch as with one, and might therefore just as well, and indeed very much better, put the amount of the Civil List into its own pocket and call itself a Republic. The Commissioners remark that this person seems the most rational of the whole lot of complainants (most rational, not for his loyalty, but most rational as to the grounds of his complaint, from his own point of view; in accordance with the dictum, "A madman reasons rightly from wrong premises; a fool wrongly from right ones"); and that his surmise is very probably correct — namely, that her Majesty is really a Republican in principle, but not liking (as is perfectly natural in her position) to publicly profess and advocate opinions so opposed to the worldly interest of all her friends and relatives, has been content to further these opinions practically for fourteen years past by her conduct, without saying a word on the subject. The Commissioners, however, find one serious objection to this surmise in the fact that if her Majesty is really a Republican at heart, she must wish to exclude the Prince of Wales from the Throne; while it seems to them that the intimate knowledge she must have of his wisdom and virtues (not to speak of her motherly affection) cannot but make her feel that no greater blessing could come to the nation after her death than his reigning over it. As this is the only complaint which the Commissioners find at once well-founded and not easy to remedy, they are happy to know that it is confined to the very insignificant class of persons who are "devotedly loyal Royalists."
The Commissioners thus feel themselves bound to report that all the complaints they have heard against our beloved and gracious Sovereign (except the one last cited, which is of no importance) are without foundation, or frivolous, or easily remedied, and that our beloved and gracious Sovereign (whom may Heaven long preserve!) could not do better than she is now doing, in doing nothing.
But in order to obviate such complaints, which do much harm, whether ill or well founded, and which especially pain the delicate susceptibilities of all respectable men and women, the Commissioners have thought it their duty to draw up the following project of a Constitution, not to come into force until the death of our present beloved and gracious Sovereign (which may God, if so it please Him, long avert!), and to be modified in its details according to the best wisdom of our national House of Palaver.
Whereas it is treasonable to talk of dethroning a monarch, but there can be no disloyalty in preventing a person not yet a monarch from becoming one:
And whereas it is considered by very many, and seems proved by the experience of the last........years that the country can do quite well without a monarch, and may therefore save the extra expense of monarchy:
And whereas it is calculated that from the accession of George I. of blessed memory until the decease of the most beloved of Queens, Victoria, a period of upwards of a century and a half, the Royal Family of the House of Guelph have received full and fair payment in every respect for their generous and heroic conduct in coming to occupy the throne and other high places of this kingdom, and in saving us from the unconstitutional Stuarts:
And whereas the said Stuarts may now be considered extinct, and thus no longer dangerous to this realm:
And whereas the said Royal Family of the House of Guelph is so prolific that the nation cannot hope to support all the members thereof for a long period to come in a royal manner:
And whereas the Dukes of this realm are accounted liberal and courteous gentlemen:
And whereas the constitution of our country is so tar Venetian that it cannot but be improved in harmony and consistency by being made more Venetian still:
Be it enacted, etc.. That the Throne now vacant through the ever-to-be-deplored death of her late most gracious Majesty shall remain vacant. That the members of what has been hitherto the Royal Family keep all the property they have accumulated, the nation resuming from them all grants of sinecures and other salaried appointments. That no member of the said Family be eligible for any public appointment whatever for at least one hundred years. That the Dukes in the order of their seniority shall act as Doges (with whatever title be considered the best) year and year about, under penalty of large fines in cases of refusal, save when such refusal is supported by clear proof of poverty (being revenue under a settled minimum), imbecility, brutality, or other serious disqualification. That no members of a ducal family within a certain degree of relationship to the head of the house be eligible for any public appointment whatever; the head of the house being eligible for the Dogeship only. That the duties of the Doge be simply to seal and sign Acts of Parliament, proclamations, etc., when requested to do so by the Ministry; and to exercise hospitality to royal or ruling and other representatives of foreign countries, as well as to distinguished natives. That a fair and even excessive allowance be made to the Doge for the expenses of his year of office. That the royal palaces be official residences of the Doge. That the Doge be free from all political responsibility as from all political power; but be responsible for performing liberally and courteously the duties of hospitality, so that Buckingham Palace shall not contrast painfully with the Mansion House. Etc., etc.
God preserve the Doge!
The Commission of Inquiry having thus triumphantly vindicated our beloved and gracious Sovereign against the cruel aspersions of people in general, and having moreover drafted a plan for obviating such aspersions against any British King or Queen in future, ends its Report, and dissolves itself, with humble thankfulness to God Almighty whose grace alone has empowered it to conclude its arduous labors so speedily, and with results so incalculably beneficial.
P.S. — Since the above report was drawn up, that ardent English patriot and loyalist, Benjamin Disraeli being by the grace of God and the late Earl of Derby Prime Minister of this realm, has proposed that Parliament shall enable her Most Gracious Majesty to assume the additional title of Empress of India, and Parliament has so far humbly assented. Being sore pressed by many cantankerous persons to give valid reasons for this change, he has given reasons many and weighty; such as the earnest desire of the princes and people of India, which desire has been so abundantly expressed that the expressions thereof cannot be produced lest they should overwhelm Parliament and destroy the balance of the world in general; then the imposing authority of "Whitaker's Almanack," a dissenting minister and a school-girl aged twelve: and lastly the necessity of such a title for scaring all the Russians from India. But I believe that in deference to the well-known modesty of her Most Gracious Majesty he has not produced the most cogent reason of all, which is that for her wonderful and continual goodness during the past fourteen years in abstaining from the active junctions of royalty, thus not only doing no mischief but, preparing us for a Republic de jure by habituating us to a Republic de facto, she merits a great reward; and that, as she has already more money than she knows what to do with, this reward of royal virtue can most fittingly be rendered by her grateful subjects promoting her to the rank of Empress. And it should be noted that whereas the old title of Queen has a certain strength and stability in the habitudes if not in the affections of the people, the new fangled title of Empress has no such support, so that in assuming it our beloved monarch is but working consistently and resolutely toward the great end of her reign, the speedy abolition of monarchy and establishment of a Republic.
Related Materials: Cartoons Satirizing Disraeli's Plan to Make Victoria Empress of India
- The Queen with Two Heads
- New Crowns for Old Ones
- Empress and Earl, or One Good Turn Deserves Another
Last modified 5 March 2005