The British interest in the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer is genuine and not of a servile nature. It has nothing to do with bending the knee to one's betters. It serves, like everything to do with the modern crown, a double purpose. It is a means of serving our own convenience, and of contemplating ourselves critically.
The first is purely practical. The use of kings, queens, princes and princesses, and royal dukes and duchesses is to take an overload of labor off the backs of our politicians. The royals go round the country, opening hospitals and town halls and libraries and schools and universities, congratulating everybody within sight, in order that our premiers and cabinet ministers shall have more time to govern the country and enjoy a longer and less martyrized life than most American presidents do. This also guarantees a less snappy contact with the people who staff the essential institutions. The ministering angels, nurses and the rest, do not get their thanks from preoccupied people who are ministers wishing they were talking to some expert about the next budget.
The other job that royalty does is providing enlarged models of ourselves of typical Britons, under typical stresses. A French journalist who had lived a long time in England without learning much about us once said to me that he saw no advantage in our having our present queen. She looked, he said, just like the sort of woman who would write a letter to the advice editress of any women's magazine and sign it "Worried." The stupid fellow was in fact naming the chief source of the queen's usefulness. The natural reaction of any sensible woman in the year 1981 is to be worried, and it is inspiring, when one is having a disagreeable time, to see somebody who is suffering the same inconvenience as oneself but behaving rather better. Hence the queen helps the female population by just looking harassed, while her husband helps the male population by all his typically bourgeois projects concerning wildlife preservation and sport, which are the enlarged version of such worthy but tiresome things as the mass of conforming Englishmen like to do, like working for the society for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, or teaching children how to sail. The mass of people do not go to prison and do not riot. The royals show us a magnified example of their innocence.
The present exercise of royalty, the royal wedding, has obviously at least one aspect not characteristic of all weddings. Few marriages have the delicious aspect of freeing the bridegroom from the hard fate of being repeatedly kissed by young women whom it would not have occurred to him to kiss had it been left to him to decide. But apart from that consideration, we are back at the typical aspect of marriage, as a territory on which care has to be exerted. How wise of the young man not teaching his fiancee how to catch salmon, that he wishes her in the future to share his favorite sport, but he is not teaching her himself. He has handed over that task to the gillie who taught him to fish. Well this bears out what I say about the royals showing us magnified images of ourselves, but better. Think of the innumerable husbands, who, teaching their young wives to drive in order to have delicious voyages in beautiful scenery, find the prospect marred, sometimes more than a little.
That was a sensible arrangement, and we have some reason for believing that the Prince of Wales is a sensible man. There is great reason to harbor this hope, because of a choice he has made. He has thought over his predecessors and feels a special pleasure in George III. This is a discerning choice, particularly as George III was so long victim of a rare disease which causes frequent delirium, and was therefore taken to be a lunatic, when in fact he was well aware of what was what.
He did much for the British Museum Library, not with a specialist's knowledge, but with a shrewd man's technique of poking about till he got the best advice. That is the function of any reigning monarch: he may not be able to think out any problem himself, but his nostrils dilate when he gets near a good adviser. That raises further problems, which the Prince of Wales has probably learned from his affections. It is known that he was greatly attached to his relative, Lord Mountbatten, who was not so long ago assassinated in Ireland. He was a man of the most charming presence and, his initimates reported, the greatest fun to be with, and also he could return affection. But he had had a great failure in his life. He had mishandled the withdrawal of the British from India in a way that created deep suffering. It sometimes seems from listening to the prince's speeches as if he may have noted that his dear friend had made a blunder, for all his endearing qualities, and that sometimes charm and courage are not everything compared with horse sense: and it sometimes occurred to me that the prince cherishes a most delightful if prosaic ambition. He wants to be sensible. He does not really ask for much more. He will pass up the chance of looking brilliant on the steps of the throne, in order to pursue this ideal, to be sensible like a good banker, like a good attorney. That bodes well for his relations with history. We do not mind a bit of curtsying to him so long as he sticks to it.
As for the prince's bride, Lady Diana Spencer, all speak well of her, though she has the misfortune to be moving into the fiercest glare of publicity at a time when every young girl has her hair brushed down over her forehead, so that she seems to have been constructed on the model of a muffin or a thatched cottage. How Lady Diana, in future years, will mourn over her wedding photographs, which show her as a victim of this fashion. But again, how typical, how like the mass of the British public. What percentage of brides are embarrassed by their wedding photographs?
Typical, too, the surprise felt by the populace from time to time at the revelation regarding the bride's family, which includes a step-grandmother known as Barbara Cartland, a writer of romatic fiction, with a boundless enthusiasm for vitamins and honey as helps toward eternal youth. In fact, Barbara Cartland is admired by all who know her for the courage with which, long years ago, she functioned as a girl reporter, and for the courage with which she later met a family crisis, and what is wrong with vitamins and the product of the bee? And what does it matter what future in-laws look like or do? Always in-laws come from the unknown, themselves incredible. We have all seen this happen in our unroyal families, and it is only because strangers always seem very strange, because the human race is made up of strange individuals that often seem to have nothing in common.
A bewildering world we live in for that very reason, and that is the value of royalty. The pageantry of the court exists simply to insert beauty into the daily routine. (How lovely it is that one can see beefeaters in their gorgeous uniforms any day at the Tower of London, and on the exceptional day of the wedding, there will be exceptional beauty in St. Paul's Cathedral.) And for the rest the royal scene is simply a presentation of ourselves, behaving well. If anybody is being honored it is the human race, old Adam and Eve, who can make life hell when they riot, but can be most engaging when they mind their manners. Why do you think we listen so devoutly when royalty makes amiable but rather empty speeches on public occasions? Because it is to our advantage to be wishy-washy, to disapprove of anybody, everybody, who is violent, to approve of protecting all justly aggrieved parties. Please don't shoot at us as we play "God Save the Prince of Wales" on the piano of our disorganized barroom, we are doing our best.