Jan Morris, from Farewell
the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat (1978)
James (now Jan) Morris (1926– ),
historian, traveler, and travel-writer, was
educated at Oxford University and worked
on the editorial staff of The Guardian newspaper
from 1957 to 1962. Her many books include Coronation
Everest (1958), an account of the first
successful ascent of that mountain, which
s/he covered as a journalist; Venice (1960);
and Conundrum, an account of the sex-change
operation by which James became Jan. Her
masterpiece may prove to be the three-volume
history of the British Empire: Pax Britannica:
The Climax of an Empire (1968), Heaven's
Command: An Imperial Progress (1973),
and Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial
[A Spectacle of Empire]
The following extract from Farewell
the Trumpets describes the occasion,
on June 22, 1897, of Queen Victoria's
Diamond Jubilee, which the British celebrated
as a festival of empire.
were in possession that day of the largest
Empire ever known to history, and since a
large part of it had been acquired during
the sixty years of Victoria's reign,
it seemed proper to honour the one with the
other. It would mark this moment of British
history as an Imperial moment, a Roman moment.
It would proclaim to the world, flamboyantly,
that England was far more than England: that
beneath the Queen's dominion lay a quarter
of the earth's land surface, and nearly
a quarter of its people — literally,
as Christopher North
>> note 1 the
poet, had long before declared it, an Empire on which the sun never set.
the day had been a proud, gaudy, sentimental,
glorious day. This was fin de siècle.
>> note 2 The
public taste was for things theatrical. Statesmen and generals were actors
themselves, and here was the brassiest show on earth. Through the grey and
venerable streets of the capital — the "greatest city since the
ruin of Thebes" — there had passed in parade a spectacle of Empire.
There were Rajput princes and Dyak headhunters, there were strapping troopers
from Australia. Cypriots wore fezzes, Chinese wore conical straw hats. English
gentlemen rode by, with virile moustaches and steel-blue eyes, and Indian
lancers jangled past in resplendent crimson jerkins.
was Lord Roberts of Kandahar,
>> note 3 on
the grey Arab that had taken him from Kabul
to Kandahar in his epic march of 1880.
Here was Lord Worseley of Cairo (1832–1914),
and Wolseley, hero of Red River, Ashanti
and Tel-el-Kebir. Loyal slogans fluttered
through the streets — "One Race,
One Queen" — "The Queen
of Earthly Queens" — "God
Bless Her Gracious Majesty!" Patriotic
songs resounded. Outside St. Paul's
Cathedral, where the Prince of Wales received
the Queen in her barouche, a service of
thanksgiving was held, with archbishops
officiating and an Empire in attendance.
That morning the Queen had telegraphed a
Jubilee message to all her subjects —
to Africa and to Asia, to the cities of the
Canadian West and the townships of New Zealand,
to Gibraltar and Jamaica, to Lucknow and Rangoon,
to sweltering primitives of the rain-forests
as to svelte merchant princes of the milder
tropics. The occasion was grand. The audience
was colossal. The symbolism was deliberate.
The Queen's message, however, was simple.
"From my heart I thank my beloved people,"
she said. "May God bless them."
Reproduced from Farewell
the Trumpets by Jan Morris (Copyright
© Jan Morris 1978) by permission of PFD
on behalf of Jan Morris.