Queen Victoria may very well have been amused at the fact that an observance of her birthday has become Canada’s official date for the start of summer and a completely unlaced lack of restraint, it’s just that – pause here to brace yourself, and sit a little straighter while you’re at it – she wouldn’t have shown it. At least not in public.
And I ask you, while you lounge in the sun and think about the last time you didn’t tell someone exactly how you felt, is that such a bad thing? Come now, let’s have a little shoutout for Queen Vicky and a few of the things she espoused, shall we? Think of it as a respite – ah, a holiday! – from the confessional, blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, oversharing, emotive culture in which we now live.
And you could, if you feel so reclined – oops, I mean inclined – think of it as your patriotic duty. Canada is the only country that observes Queen Victoria’s birthday. Not even the United Kingdom has a bank holiday devoted to her memory. (The British and the Australians celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday in June.) It started in Upper Canada in 1838, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, and because of the popularity of the birthday celebration – colonials, at the height of the Empire, were often more British than the British, let’s not forget – the government of the time made it a public holiday in 1845. It’s our oldest public holiday. Abdul Karim, according to Queen Victoria’s Last Love, a documentary which aired last month on Britain’s Channel 4.
At almost 70, she lavished attention on the exotic young man, who was in his twenties. She learned Hindustani from him, gave him houses (three in total), a lavish lifestyle and medals. The Royal household despised him, but the more they disapproved, the more the Queen supported him. In 1897, the year of her Diamond Jubilee, her family threatened to have her declared insane – the only tactic they could think of to dissuade her from giving him a knighthood. She didn’t in the end.
Such was the scandal that her son, King Edward VII, ordered that all records of their relationship, including correspondence and photographs, be destroyed. It was only in 2010 that an archive of letters and pictures, as well as Mr. Karim’s “lost diary,” which had been kept secret by his family for nearly a century, shed light on the relationship.
Who would that thought that the Queen had such a rich emotional life? She had a clear boundary about what was appropriate in the public realm as did the average person in Victorian times. I’m not suggesting that what a leader does privately shouldn’t be of interest or concern. That’s a complicated subject. But in the same way that I look at antique fashions of dress or the artistry of 19th-century furniture-making, what I admire about those times is the respect for the privacy of emotions, the discipline of controlling what is said and what is shown. It's arcane, sure, but lovely in a way. It requires thoughtfulness, I guess, which is exactly what so much of modern culture seems to lack.
We may not be able to (or want to) emulate that old-fashioned way of life all the time – listen, I’m on Facebook, too, and I often write from the experiences of my personal life – but maybe today could be a moment to think about the secret happiness we can have by not sharing everything we do and feel.