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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Monday, 22 July 2013

Streets of London

Wednesday, July 22nd., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

At 10 o'clock, Piccadilly pavements were loosely thronged with women in light summer attire - cool, energetic, merry, inquisitive, and having an air of being out for the day. Their restless eyes were on everything at once: on each other; on the great houses of Piccadilly decorated with bunting, where workmen were even then erecting stands and gaspipes curved into monogrammatic designs, and nailing festoons of gold fringe upon red cloth; on the patient vendors of elevated standing room behind the railings of the Green Park; on the mounted police who, disposed in companies, dismounted like automata at the word of command.

Happy, infantile faces, most of them had, faces expressive of a childish intention to enjoy; faces unmarked by thought and showing but slight traces of care; the faces of those to whom life is a simple orderly affair, presenting few problems. here and there was a family group - husband, wife and tall young girls with long loose hair. And how transparently naive these last! Essentially as untutored as the veriest village maid, and offering a sharp contrast to the men of business, young and old, who in cabs and omnibuses and on foot were wending to the city just as though this had been a common day! Judging from the ordinary occupants of the streets, one is apt to think of London as a city solely made up of the acute, the knowing, the worldly, the blase. But, hidden away behind sun-blinds in quiet squares and crescents, there dwells another vast population, seen in large numbers only at times such as this, an army of the Ignorantly Innocent, in whose sheltered seclusion a bus-ride is an event, and a day spent amongst the traffic of the West End an occasion long to be remembered.

At one o'clock, as I rode home on the omnibus, all the streets were so many seas of faces, so many gardens of hats. Most of the shop-windows and balconies were already occupied in anticipation of a spectacle yet two hours distant. And though hundreds of women sat contentedly on the pavements with their feet in the gutter, none looked fatigued or bored.

What an anachronism monarchy is! To think that in these modern times a head of state should be chosen by accident of birth rather than on merit by election seems incredible, but in addition there are all the associated hangers-on: sons, daughters, cousins, and all the privileged entourage. One would think that there would be crowds in the streets not to cheer but to protest this gross injustice, and yet ... It is interesting that the women seem more enthusiastic than the men, and perhaps this is because of a persistent fantasy of seeing themselves bejewelled and costumed, feted and adored, an eternal Cinderella-princess.

On 22 July 1896, Princess Maud married her first cousin, Prince Carl of Denmark, in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. Prince Carl was the second son of Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark, Queen Alexandra's elder brother, and Princess Louise of Sweden. The bride's father, the Prince of Wales, gave her Appleton House on the Sandringham Estate as a country residence for her frequent visits to England. In June 1905 the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, dissolved Norway's 91 year old union with Sweden and voted to offer the throne to Prince Carl. Maud's membership of the British royal house had some part in why Carl was chosen. Following a plebiscite in November, Prince Carl accepted the Norwegian throne, taking the name of Haakon VII, while his young son took the name of Olav. King Haakon VII and Queen Maud were crowned at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on 22 June 1906, that being the last coronation in Scandinavia.

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