The Project Gutenberg EBook of Angels & Ministers, by Laurence Housman
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Title: Angels & Ministers
Author: Laurence Housman
Release Date: February 10, 2004 [EBook #11020]
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ANGELS & MINISTERS ***
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Keren Vergon, Charles M. Bidwell, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
ANGELS AND MINISTERS
AND OTHER VICTORIAN PLAYS
Angels and Ministers AND Possession WERE FIRST
The Victorian era has ceased to be a thing of yesterday; it has become history; and the fixed look of age, no longer contemporary in character, which now grades the period, grades also the once living material which went to its making.
With this period of history those who were once participants in its life can deal more intimately and with more verisimilitude than can those whose literary outlook comes later. We can write of it as no sequent generation will find possible; for we are bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh; and when we go, something goes with us which will require for its reconstruction, not the natural piety of a returned native, such as I claim to be, but the cold, calculating art of literary excursionists whose domicile is elsewhere.
Some while ago, before Mr. Strachey had made the name of Victoria to resound as triumphantly as it does now, a friend asked why I should trouble to resuscitate these Victorian remains. My answer is because I myself am Victorian, and because the Victorianism to which I belong is now passing so rapidly into history, henceforth to present to the world a colder aspect than that which endears it to my own mind.
The bloom upon the grape only fully appears when it is ripe for death. Then, at a touch, it passes, delicate and evanescent as the frailest blossoms of spring. Just at this moment the Victorian age has that bloom upon it—autumnal, not spring-like—which, in the nature of things, cannot last. That bloom I have tried to illumine before time wipes it away.
Under this rose-shaded lamp of history, domestically designed, I would have these old characters look young again, or not at least as though they belonged to another age. This wick which I have kindled is short, and will not last; but, so long as it does, it throws on them the commentary of a contemporary light. In another generation the bloom which it seeks to irradiate will be gone; nor will anyone then be able to present them to us as they really were.
PART ONE: ANGELS AND MINISTERS
I. THE QUEEN: GOD BLESS HER!
(A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands)
II. HIS FAVOURITE FLOWER
(A Political Myth Explained)
III. THE COMFORTER
(A Political Finale)
(A Peep-Show in Paradise)
PART THREE: DETHRONEMENTS
V. THE KING-MAKER
VI. THE MAN OF BUSINESS
VII. THE INSTRUMENT
Part One: Angels and Ministers
The Queen: God Bless Her!
QUEEN VICTORIA LORD BEACONSFIELD MR. JOHN BROWN A FOOTMAN
The Queen: God Bless Her!
A Scene from Home-Life in the Highlands
The august Lady is sitting in a garden-tent on the lawn of Balmoral Castle. Her parasol leans beside her. Writing-materials are on the table before her, and a small fan, for it is hot weather; also a dish of peaches. Sunlight suffuses the tent interior, softening the round contours of the face, and caressing pleasantly the small plump hand busy at letter-writing. The even flow of her penmanship is suddenly disturbed; picking up her parasol, she indulgently beats some unseen object, lying concealed against her skirts.
QUEEN. No: don't scratch! Naughty! Naughty!
(She then picks up a hand-bell, rings it, and continues her writing. Presently a fine figure of a man in Highland costume appears in the tent-door. He waits awhile, then speaks in the strong Doric of his native wilds.)
MR. J. BROWN. Was your Majesty wanting anything, or were you ringing only for the fun?
(To this brusque delivery her Majesty responds with a cosy smile, for the special function of Mr. John Brown is not to be a courtier; and, knowing what is expected of him, he lives up to it.)
QUEEN. Bring another chair, Brown. And take Mop with you: he wants his walk.
MR. J.B. What kind of a chair are you wanting, Ma'am? Is it to put your feet on?
QUEEN. No, no. It is to put a visitor on. Choose a nice one with a lean-back.
MR. J.B. With a lean back? Ho! Ye mean one that you can lean back in. What talk folk will bring with them from up south, to be sure! Yes, I'll get it for ye, Ma'am. Come, Mop, be a braw little wee mon, and tak' your walk!
(And while his Royal Mistress resumes her writing, taking Mop by his "lead" he prepares for departure.)
Have ye seen the paper this morning yet? Ma'am.
(The address of respect is thrown in by way of afterthought, or, as it were, reluctantly. Having to be in character, his way is to tread heavily on the border-line which divides familiarity from respect.)
QUEEN. Not yet.
MR. J.B. (departing). I'll bring it for ye, now.
QUEEN. You had better send it.
J.B. (turning about). What did ye say? … Ma'am.
QUEEN. "Send it," Brown, I said. Mop mustn't be hurried. Take him round by the stables.
(He goes: and the Queen, with a soft, indulgent smile, that slowly flickers out as the labour of composition proceeds, resumes her writing.)
(Presently ENTERS a liveried Footman, who stands at attention with the paper upon a salver. Touching the table at her side as an indication, the Queen continues to write. With gingerly reverence the man lays down the paper and goes. Twice she looks at it before taking it up; then she unfolds it; then lays it down, and takes out her glasses; then begins reading. Evidently she comes on something she does not like; she pats the table impatiently, then exclaims:)
(A wasp settles on the peaches.)
And I wish one could kill all wicked pests as easily as you.
(She makes a dab with the paper-knife, the wasp escapes.)
(Relinquishing the pursuit of wasps, she resumes her reading.)
(In a little while Mr. John