St. James’s Gazette, August 8, 1902


Charles Augustus Pettifer took up a commanding position on the hearth rug, and stated that he was not going to see the Coronation. He said it sharply as if someone were trying to persuade him to a mean action against his will. As the only other occupant of the smoking-room I inferred that the remark was addressed to me. A faint hope, however, that he might merely be soliloquising, combined with a profound lack of interest in his plans on the present or any other occasion, urged me to pause before replying. And Pettifer, taking a mean advantage of my silence, resumed:—

“No, I shall not go to the Coronation. You ask me why? (I had most emphatically done nothing of the sort). Well, I will tell you. Now, let us reason the matter out. In the first place, how will the average man see the Coronation? Standing, sir. Standing in a dense crowd with one pickpocket at his watch and another at his purse, and the brim of somebody’s straw hat in his eye. Eventually, having for a day and a night supported life on a ham sandwich and a penny bun, having murdered his digestion, suffered tortures from thirst and cramp, and ruined his temper, he will go home and commit suicide. Yes, sir. That is how the average man will see the Coronation. But, you say, (I did not), many will watch the procession from seats. Then all I can say, sir, is that I pity them. I pity them. My sentiment is that a man who spends his ten pounds or his twenty pounds for the privilege of sitting on an uncomfortable seat for a dozen hours and getting an excellent view of the back of somebody else’s head requires pity, and a good deal of it. And from me he will get it. But, you will say, on an historic occasion such as this a man should put up with any discomfort rather than miss the spectacle. I say no. Emphatically no. If you ask the first man you meet why he is going to see the Coronation, he will answer you in one of three ways. He will tell you the true reason, or he will tell you a false reason, or he may possibly give no reason at all, and content himself with being merely rude. But the truth of the matter is that he goes so that in time to come he may be able to brag about it to his grandchildren. So far, good. A very laudable desire. But in what way shall I be inferior to such an one? I read the morning papers. Each morning paper will be full of it. I read the evening papers. More Coronation. I read the illustrated weeklies, and pay my money to see the cinematograph, and if by the time I have finished I cannot, aided by my native wit, pass a comparative examination on the subject, you may write me down an ass.

“Now let us look at the other side of the picture. While the rest of London is expiating its loyalty in dust and, so to speak, ashes, what shall I be doing? I shall be lying in a boat, sir, under some shady tree, or on the sands with a newspaper over my face to keep the sun off. The birds will twitter—(Pettifer has a rooted conviction that Nature intended him for a poet instead of a stockbroker)—the sun will stream in a golden torrent through the leafy interlacing foliage overhead. The breeze will sigh in the boughs. In short, all Nature will smile. No crush. No worry. Simply peace and calm.

“And now, for my last, and, I think, my weightiest reason. Has it never occurred to you that for at least a month after the ceremony the cry in all ranks of Society will be ‘Listeners! Listeners!’ The man who positively did not see the Coronation will be a godsend. Take my case for example. I shall be literally fought for. The boudoir of the duchess and the private bar of the East-end public-house alike will open to my knock. I shall not talk. I hate talking. No subtle epigram, no sparkling wit will be looked for from me. I shall listen. Simply listen. No, sir, in my opinion the man who goes to the Coronation is a fool. Besides,” he concluded in a fine burst of sarcasm, “What is there to see after all? Does the nation flock to see me try on a new hat?”

“Nothing, I suppose,” said I, “is likely to alter your views?”

“Nothing,” he replied.

*   *   *   *   *  *

Two days after I met Pettifer in Piccadilly. He was hurrying in the direction of the Strand. He told me with some heat that he had been trying to get a couple of seats all the morning, had, in fact, offered a blank cheque for them, but without success. He said it was shameful. And then suddenly he recognised me, and recalled his harangue. Evidently he gathered that some explanation would not be out of place, for he laughed nervously, and without waiting for me to question him, said: “Well, the fact was, you see, my wife thought that on an historic occasion like this, don’t you know. Be a pity not to. In fact made rather a point of it. But, excuse me, I must be going.” He dashed off eastwards.

And I realised that the great road had received one more paving-stone.

P. G. W.  





Edward VII and Alexandra were crowned at Westminster Abbey on August 9, 1902, by the 80-year-old Archbishop of Canterbury; on the day before, this piece was published.


John Dawson