THIS "season of rejoicing, exultant joy", as the dictionary calls it — the Jubilee, in other words — technically began last February with the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Queen's reign.
But I was already able to note in a broadcast last December the invention of a soft, sweet drink called "Jubilade"; the offer of a variety of commemorative objects to those who bought the right sort of tea-bags, or sausages, or dog food. or fish fingers.
And there was the feverish manufacture of tankards, mugs, plates, plaques and medallions, historical wall-charts, spoons and even replicas of the Crown Jewels.
A vast mass of merchants in and out of Britain had made a hard-headed guess about the saleability of these often hideous and useless items, and had decided that they could safely risk money on their being welcomed by the public at a time of whole-hearted and genuine celebration.
By now it must be obvious to all that the merchants were right. In days when the Press in
Britain discusses the Monarchy more freely and critically than it has at any period since the early days of the reign of Queen Victoria, when she was not popular, and in days when there are more and better jokes about royalty than, possibly, ever before in history, anyone with an eye in his head can see that the Monarchy as an institution, and especially the Queen herself as a person, are very high in public esteem.
Grasp of reality
There is not, of course, the fervour, the frenzy even, that could he seen at the time of the Coronation in the early 1950s — and, probably, since Britain is in so deep an economic trough, this is just as well. There was something a trifle bogus in all the 1950s euphoria, when some of the newspapers presented with a good uplift story, told us that we were all "New Elizabethans", and implied that there was a good time coming.
With hindsight, it seems extraordinary that it took so long for the people to realise that all that heady stuff grew out of the hope that wishing would make it so rather than from any roots in sober fact.
I doubt if anyinie among the huge numbers all over the country ready to cheer the Queen in her processions and public appearances, without
grudging the cash cost of the regal splendour, will do so in the belief, or .even the halfhope, that this little bit of mafficking represents in itself, or even heralds, some sort of spectacular national recovery.
For the more thoughtful it may be, partly, at least, an acknowledgement of the fact that — whatever the rest of us may have been doing during these past 25 years — the Queen herself has never at any time in her reign lost her own grasp of reality.
It is now pretty well understood that she got down to business at the start — applying her most obvious qualities of deep seriousness, conscientiousness, dutifulness, dedication — and that during the quarter of a century since her accession, as the only person in the country in unbroken contact with State affairs at the very top, she has acquired a unique depth and range of knowledge and experience.
There is not much doubt that most people in Britain admire and like the Queen as a woman, as the mother of a family, and as their Sovereign. Even the recognised anti-monarchists agree, with regret, that there is no real republicanism in Britain.
Apart from the glamour and mystique of Monarchy, there is probably quite a wide appreciation of the fact that the Queen is now a thorough professional, a Monarch with a complete understanding of her role. What is more questionable is the extent to which her people understand precisely what this role is.
The fact is that Britain has at the head of its national life a phencimenon that many not so long ago might have thought a contradiction in terms --a modern Monarchy. It is a State that has retained a fundamentally medieval institution, adjusted and modified with changes over the centuries, to produce a unique constitutional apparatus that is firmly based yet curiously flexible, reasonable rather than rational, expressive of a human need, imbued with important and undeniable spiritual qualities.
In attempting to analyse just what that apparatus, the Monarchy, has become in Britain — or, at least, what it clearly seeks conscientiously to be — I was charmed to discover that at least, one excellent mind had visualised something like it as an ideal centuries before Walter Bagehol's brilliant exposition of the Crown's proper function in the 19th century. It had been in the thoughtspf St Thomas Aquinas.
In his hook on Aquinas, Fr F. C. Coplestone, SJ, said this: "What is certain, however, is that though he did not regard any particular form of govern ment as divinely ordained for all men, and though he did not attach primary importance to the form of constitution and government, he gave the palm to a 'mixed' constitution in which the principle of unity, represented by monarchy, is combined with the principle of administration by the best and with some measure of popular control, as, for example, by the people electing certain magistrates.
"Aquinas thought that monarchy is most conducive to unity and that it is the most 'natural' form of government, possessing analogies with God's rule over creation ... But at the same time the Constitution should be such that the likelihood of tyrants arising or of rulers acting tyrannically is diminished as far as possible. So we can say, if we like to use modern terms, that Aquinas favoured constitutional monarchy."
Aquinas's formula for good government does, in fact, have a striking general resemblance to what the British Monarchy, and especially the House of Windsor, has sought to bring about. Like all things human it has its imperfections; but it manifestly works, and there can he no doubt that the vast majority of the nation prefer it to other possible systems.
Certainly, the attachment to it of many may be largely emotional. But emotion is not essential to it, nor even that "magic" or the Monarchy, Bagehot's "nice and pretty events" which sweeten politics for the mass of the people..
Interestingly, Harold Nicholson, while working on his official biography of George V in 1950, noted in his diary: "I fear I have no mystic feeling about the Monarchy. 1 regard it merely as a useful institution."
By the Grace of God
It is useful, of course, because it prevents the people in power — the government of the day — from having in their own ranks the Head of State, and from seeking to introduce their own nominee into that position, and because it provides instead someone who is above party politics, and who can clearly be seen to represent not just those who have been elected to power, but the whole nation.
Some kind qf elected or nominated figulehead President would clearly not be preferable in a country such as Britain, for no such person could peisonify, as does the Sovereign, the nation both in its past and in its present.
However, all this may be, it is not to be supposed that the Jubilee crowds will be cheering "a useful institution".
It is quite reasonable to think that, even in a post-Christian Britain, some will be moved by
a lingering, if not entirely conscious, awareness that Monarchy is a holy mystery, that the Sovereign's crowning, nearly a quarter of a century ago, was a Consecration, and that Elizabeth II is what her Proclamation stated her to be — Queen by the Grace of God.
But most people will, of course, if they think about it, essentially be cheering the Queen and her family as people to be esteemed because they represent the nation's selfesteem; and that will be no bad thing in days when the pointing out of Britain's warts and wounds threatens to become a fashionable vice of the articulate.
It will make a nice change for the people to have a chance to celebrate their awareness that the majesty the Queen embodies is that of themselves, their history and traditions, their laws and their democracy. There must be consciousness, too, in the cheers, of the Queen's personal achievement in the 25 years of her reign.
Not the least part of this has been the manner in which she has accepted and instigated change, altering nothing of the essence of the Monarchy, but formulating, with the help and encouragement of her husband and her eldest son, a new style that accepts the demands of a new age.