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 Retreat (1978).

[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.

 

[Click on image to enlarge] They 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.

[Click on image to enlarge] So 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.

[Click on image to enlarge] Here 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.


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