THE LONDON ILLUSTRATED NEWS
SATURDAY AUGUST 30 1856
THE DINNER TO THE GUARDS
Although the Crimea has been evacuated, and the pomp of Peace has succeeded to the pomp of War in Russia as well as in England and France, it is matter of rejoicing to know that the public interest in the brave men who sustained the honour of the British name in the bloody battle-fields of the Alma and of Inkerman has suffered no diminution. It is felt by the British people of all ranks and classes that if our officials mismanaged the war, or the progress of hostilities produced no General worthy to be associated on the historical page with the great commanders of the last generation; – the rank and file of the British Army did all that men could do, and more than some men might have done, to vindicate and exalt the ancient renown of their country. To have fought in the fields or wrought in the trenches of the Crimea to have commanded or obeyed the memorable struggle of 1854 and 1855 is a passport to the admiration and the gratitude of the men and women of Great Britain, from the Sovereign on the throne to the humblest country lass that helps to gather in the harvest. Each part of the country has welcomed its own hers, or its own regiment. Swords of honour to the officers, and public dinners or receptions to the men, have been the form which these ovations have assumed; and if occasionally the tribute have been indiscriminate, it has invariable been enthusiastic. If the English did not capture the Malakoff they had pluck enough to have done it, if the fortune of war had so willed it. If William did not preserve Kars he did his duty manfully, and was beaten by famine, not by the foe. If the whole of the Crimea were not wrested from Russia and given back to Turkey, it was not for want of will or want of courage on the part of the British army or its leaders; but because diplomacy and intrigue – in Paris, if not at home – stopped our brave men in the career of victory. Such has been the feeling of the people of this country, in every reception of the returning heroes of the Crimea; and such it will continue to be. The popular instinct is aware that the nation wants, and will yet want, soldiers; that if England is to hold her own amid the troubles that are preparing for Europe she must be ready to confront new perils, and to withstand new combinations against her; and that the red-coats, and plenty of them, are almost, if not quite, as necessary as an effective Navy, to uphold the name and the fame, the power and the position of the country.
Among the most gratifying of the recent demonstrations of this kind was at the dinner to the Guards, which took place in the Surrey Gardens on Monday last, and at which the chair was appropriately taken and excellently filled, by an admirable specimen of the British soldier. The unaffected and rough, but genuine eloquence of Sergeant-Major Edwards went direct to the point and would have been in appealing to the reason of his listeners, and to the hearts of the comrades who had shared with him the privations and hardships as well as the glories of the Crimea. The eloquence of the Lord Mayor reads tamely and ineffectively after that of the gallant soldier in the chair; and we venture to predict that, if the Sergeant-Major had to propose the health of the chief magistrate of the city of London, he would have found something more to the purpose to say of him than that, “whether as regarded his height, his looks, or the tinge of grey on his hair, he was an honour” to the city of London. If he had a portrait to paint or a nigger to sell, his Lordship could scarcely have been more personal.
If any improvement might have been suggested in the character of the festival, it was that the fare might have been somewhat more plentiful, that the whole sum subscribed for the purpose should have been expended in regaling the gallant men who had deserved so well of their country; and lastly, that the Lord Mayor, if not the colonels and the Generals, the Lords and the Honourables, who sat in the boxes, and looked on as at a play should have been seated at the tables, and mingled with the men on terms of perfect equality. The Lord Mayor of London, at all events, would have suffered no diminution of his somewhat obsolete dignity if he had sat at the right hand of the Sergeant-Major. The representative of the rank and file of the noblest army in the world was for the nonce, the equal of the representative of the first city in the world; and the air of patronage and superiority implies, if not intended, by the Lord Mayor’s address from a side box, was somewhat out of place. But perhaps the Lord Mayor, who by virtue of his position, is not only the representative of civic honour, but of English and civic hostility, intends to make the gallant Guardsmen the amende honorable by inviting them to a dinner in the City- His Lordship could not perform a more popular act. Omitting turtle, turbot, and whitebait; hock, claret, and burgundy, and treating them to substantial beef and pudding, and the homely drinks which they were accustomed to receive in the Crimea at the fair hands of Mrs Seacole, he could feast the whole of them at a tenth, or twentieth, part of the sum which it would cost him to entertain as a many aldermen or member of the Court of Common Council, with a sprinkling of Judges and Bishops. We throw out the hint for his Lordship’s consideration.
Let us express, in conclusion, our hope that the interest of the people of England in the career and character of their Army will not confine itself to dinners and triumphal arches, speeches, and swords of honour; but that the Army as an institution will receive the attention due to its high importance in a time of such unsettlement and disquietude as the present, when Great Britain is almost the only State in Europe whose Sovereign sits securely on the throne. We may have to rely upon an army yet to save us from dishonour; and, although the sea which guards our shores is worth, as a means of defence, a standing army of five hundred thousand men, it is by no means improbable we may require the heroism of stout hearts and brave hands in other battle fields that those of the Crimea. We are forewarned, and should be forearmed; and if, in time of peace, we treat the soldier as a useful citizen of free and enlightened State-if we look to his comfort, to his education, and to his dignity-and make his profession in all respects such as an honourable and well-conducted man will find it worth his while to follow, we shall neither lack heroes in the time of war, nor sacrifice them by unnecessary neglect and stupid routine, as we did in the first dark days of the Crimean struggle.