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"Court Circles"
by [?]

The passionate excitement created in Canada by the arrival of a daughter of the Queen, and the prospect of the establishment of “a court” in Ottawa which will have the appearance of a real Court–that is, a court with blood royal in it, instead of a court held merely by the queen’s legal representatives–is a phenomenon of considerable interest. It affords a fresh illustration of that growth of reverence for royalty which all the best observers agree has for the last forty years been going on in England, side by side with the growth of democratic feeling and opinion in politics–that is, the sovereign has more than gained as a social personage what she has lost as a political personage. The less she has had to do with the government the more her drawing-rooms have been crowded, and the more eager have people become for personal marks of her favor.

The reason of this is not far to seek. It lies in the enormous increase during that period in the size of the class which is not engaged in that, to the heralds, accursed thing–trade, and has money enough to bear the expense of “a presentation,” and of living or trying to live afterward in the circle of those who might be invited to court, or might meet the Prince of Wales at dinner. The accumulation of fortunes since the Queen’s accession has been very great, and they have, however made, come into possession now of a generation which has never been engaged in any occupation frowned on by the Lord Chamberlain, and which owns estates, or at all events possesses all outward marks of gentility, when it has been received by the Queen, and has got into Burke’s Dictionary at the end of an interesting though perhaps apocryphal genealogy. This reception is the crown of life’s struggle, a sort of certificate that the hero or heroine of it is fit company for anybody in the world. It is, in fact, a social graduation. When you get somebody who is himself a graduate to agree to present you, and the Lord Chamberlain, after examining your card, makes no objection to you, he virtually furnishes you with a sort of diploma which guarantees you against what may be called authorized snubs. People may afterward decline your invitations on the ground that they do not like you, or that your entertainments bore them, but not on the ground that your social position is inferior to their own.

That the struggle for this diploma in a wealthy and large society should be great and increasing is nothing wonderful. The desire for it among the women especially, to whose charge the creation and preservation of “position” are mainly committed, is very deep. It inflames their imagination in a way which makes husbands ready for anything in order to get it, and in fact makes it indispensable to their peace of mind and body that they should get it as soon as their pecuniary fortune seems to put it within their reach. Since the Queen ascended the throne the population has risen from 20,000,000 to 35,000,000, and the number of great fortunes and presentable people has increased in a still greater ratio, and the pressure on the court has grown correspondingly; but there remains after all only one court to gratify the swarm of new applicants. The colonies, too, have of late years contributed largely to swell the tide. Every year London society and the ranks of the landed gentry are reinforced by returned Australians and New Zealanders and Cape-of-Good-Hopers and China and India merchants, who feel that their hard labors and long exile have left life empty and joyless until they see the names of their wives and daughters in the Gazette among the presentations at a drawing-room or levee.

In the colonies, and especially in Canada, where there is so little in the local life to gratify the imagination, the court shines with a splendor which the distance only intensifies. To a certain class of Canadians, who enjoy more frequent opportunities than the inhabitants of the other great colonies of renewing or fortifying their love of the competition of English social life, and of the marks of success in it, the court, as the fountain of honor, apart from all political significance, is an object of almost fierce interest. In England itself the signs of social distinction are not so much prized. This kind of Canadian is, in fact, apt to be rather more of an Englishman than the Englishman himself in all these things. He imitates and cultivates English usages with a passion which takes no account of the restrictions of time or place. It is “the thing” too in Canadian society, as in the American colony in Paris, to be much disgusted by the “low Americans” who invade the Dominion in summer, and to feel that even the swells of New York and Boston could achieve much improvement in their manners by faithful observation of the doings in the Toronto and Ottawa drawing-rooms.