February 4

1836 Politics by candle-light

The Speech from the Throne is a solemn moment in the conduct of business in those legislatures which have adopted the British parliamentary system (the supreme form of government ever conceived by humans.) In it the monarch (or his vice-regal representative) enters the Upper House (being forbidden to enter the House of Commons since Charles I’s invasion of 1642) and reads the speech which outlines the government’s plans for the forthcoming session. What follows is the 19th-century account of such a speech king awry.

The opening-day of the Session of Parliament in 1836 (February 4), was unusually gloomy, which, added to an imperfection in the sight of King William IV, and the darkness of the House, rendered it impossible for his Majesty to read the royal speech with facility. Most patiently and good-naturedly did he struggle with the task, often hesitating, sometimes mistaking, and at others correcting himself. On one occasion, he stuck altogether, and after two or three ineffectual efforts to make out the word, he was obliged to give it up; when, turning to Lord Melbourne, who stood on his right hand, and looking him most significantly in the face, he said in a tone sufficiently loud to be audible in all parts of the House, ‘Eh! what is it?’ Lord Melbourne having whispered the obstructing word, the King proceeded to toil through the speech; but by the time he got to about the middle, the librarian brought him two wax-lights, on which he suddenly paused; then raising his head, and looking at the Lords and Commons, he addressed them, on the spur of the moment, in a perfectly distinct voice, and without the least embarrassment or the mistake of a single word, in these terms:

My Lords and Gentlemen, I have hitherto not been able, from want of light, to read this speech in the way its importance deserves; but as lights are now brought me, I will read it again from the commencement, and in a way which, I trust, will command your attention.

The King then again, though evidently fatigued by the difficulty of reading in the first instance, began at the beginning, and read through the speech in a manner which would have done credit to any professor of elocution.

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