COME AND SEE by Elizabeth Robins
Essay from the collection
Way Stations by Elizabeth Robins
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COME AND SEE *
by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
WITHIN the next few days the world of London will be offered many stirring and picturesque sights. The press has heralded these happenings in thousands of columns for many weeks. We are reminded twenty times a day of the great shows and ceremonies that will attend the Coronation of a King. We walk the changed streets seeing on ever side signs of preparation, in some cases unbeautiful enough, wiping out the ancient landmarks in the fervour of preparatrion for the populace to "Come and See"!
To see what? Not alone the ceremonies attendant on the crowning of the King, but an object lesson in the power and dignity of Imperial manhood. No one who has looked on any similar scene but has brought away an impression less of homage to a peaceful Ruler, and to the triumph of a humane civilisation, than of a spendidly barbaric Pageant of militarism. Even in the funeral rites of the Peacemaker this note was struck to shrillness. In the two Coronation processions of next week amongst all those glittering masses of men will be one woman
* The Coronation Suffrage Pageant. Reprinted from the Westminster Gazette of June 16, 1911.
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--a somewhat lonely figure, with her handful of attendant ladies--for the rest, the Royal show might faithfully be summed up as a Pageant of Arms and the Man.
Yet in the Empire there are other arms, protective, and destructive; arms which have helped to build this Greatness--arms which have upborne each one of those who bear the sceptre, mace, and sword. That army behind the army is given little space and scant remembering in the Royal Pageant--and yet is half the Empire.
Happily civilisation has brought His Majesty's country so far that King George's Coronation week will not go by without some sign from that forgotten host of a consciousness of duty and high destiny.
The preparation for this Act of Faith, and of public spirit on the part of women, has been carried on with a misleading quieitness. For this, no grand stands cover the London turf, no vast scaffolding hides Abbey, or Church, or ancient monument. A brief paragraph in a paper here and there is all the outside world has seen of the preparation for what will be a sight without a parallel.
So far as Royal pageants go, the eyes that saw the Jubilee can hardly expect to find that spectacle surpassed. But no eye will have seen anything like the Woman's Pageant of to-morrow.
Though individual societies, representing women's various activities and political creeds, have shown
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their strength before in the London streets, never before have so many of these associations united in anything like such numbers, or with anything approaching such enthusiasm. But that is not all. The Woman's Procession, projected, guided, marshalled by British women, has grown to be of international interest, and is certain therefore to make its appeal to the stranger within the gate.
No European country but is represented in the ranks. One great feature of this demonstration is the spontaneous generosity it has evoked. I visited three of the places in different parts of London where the work of the preparation was being carried on. I found rooms full of volunteer artists bent over historical designs; yet other rooms full of volunteers carrying out the plans, women cutting fabrics, women sewing, women stencilling banners, gilding emblems. The hours are long in these places where the preparations go forward. But the women who work longest are the women who have the privilege (as some think it) to play all the time, if they prefer. Women who have never worked hard before have been working for the Pageant these hot June days, from eight in the morning till ten at night.
One of the people new to this sort of strain explained the secret of her steadfastness: "When I think I am too tired to do any more, I remember those other women who are not working voluntarily,
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just once in a lifetime. Thinking of those sweated women keeps me at it."
Some of the most exacting work consists in guiding the services of the undisciplined and the vauge. The supreme difficulty has been at times to keep a straight face--as before the handsome offer of Miss ______, who is "willing to be one of the Queens, if you have any left over."
Some of the dressmakers in a small way of business have been among the best and most generous helpers, ready to give time and skill, "out of pure devotion," some say. Others say, out of sad knowledge of the need of this thing, the Pageant stands for. These and other helpers who will not appear to-morrow, will be in many minds as "the Queens" go by.
At the head of the main section (stretching from Blackfriars Bridge to Charing Cross) "General" Drummond will ride in front of the Colour-Bearer, and behind her Miss Annan Bryce, in the silver armour of Jeanne d'Arc. Then will come a symbolic group of New Crusaders, followed by musicians. Then the leaders of the Women's Social and Political Union, and in their train that strange portent, the body of women seven hundred strong, who have endured imprisonment in the struggle for citizenship. After another band of musicians will come an Historical Pageant, led by a figure representing Abbess Hilda, the Founder of the Benedictine Monastery of Whitby, followed by Peeresses summoned to Parlia-
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ment in the reign of Edward III, women Governors, Custodians of castles, women burgesses, historically verified as of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, free-women of various guilds and corporations, followed by the formally disfranchised women of 1832 and after. Much thought and care has been given to the Empire Car, whereon are seated two fugures representing East and West. Over their heads in the Emperor-King's roof-tree, and at their feet symbolic presentments of the various dependencies and colonies. But that the writers' section claims Mrs. Flora Annie Steele, she might have represented British India, since no less an authority than Mr. Rudyard Kipling has said of her acquaintance with the East: "She knows it all as well as I." Before and behind the car, and linking all together in rose-chains, are the bearers of the staves, which are surmounted by emblems of the Kindom and the Empire. The Scottish Contingent brings women-pipers in Highland dress; Wales brings her singers and Ireland her women in Colleen Bawn cloaks, carrying gilded harps.
More music, and then, after thirty-one of the branches of the W.S.P.U., come the Imperial Contingents. After them the International Groups--led by the Americans in recognition of our common tongue and blood.
In the Finnish Society, marching behind their beautiful silk banner, will be Madame Malmberg and other Finnish ladies in national costume. Other
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countries have sent women distinguished in art, in science, and in law.
The Conservative and Unionist Women's Franchise Association precedes the Pageant of Queens. After them comes the New Constitutional Society. Then the Actresses, led by Hedda Gabler, in the accomplished person of the Princess Bariatinsky on horseback. The President, Mrs. Forbes Robertson, and the members of the Actresses' League will follow.
After these come the women-musicians, under the leadership of Dr. Ethel Smyth, to whose inspiring music all the many feet will march.
Mrs. Despard and the officials and members of the Women's Freedom League are followed by the various Church Leagues and the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society.
From the other direction, coming up Whitehall, Mrs. Fawcett, in her doctor's robes, leading the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, will be joined by the University sections.
From Westminster Bridge to Northumberland Avenue will stretch a further detachment headed by the Women Writers. After the artists, the Fabian group, nurses, gardeners, the great body of teachers, and women in business, twenty-nine more branches of the W.S.P.U., and the various men's societies.
I find it impossible even to enumerate all the groups, let alone describe them, a reason the more why this Pageant should be seen. Another and a
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most excellent reason is that it will present aspects of uncommon beauty. The third reason it should be seen is that this procession will be significant beyond any, even in this memorable work. Here will be the greatest gathering of women the world has ever seen in the world's greatest city. Four miles of women marching toward one goal. Many of them have not come lightly by the power to do this thing the public will be looking at to-morrow. Those who have marched before have noticed many a woman looking out of windows with troubled eyes at the regiments going by in the mud or the dust of London streets. Hundreds of those who last year watched the others will be found to-morrow among the marchers.
That is one of the significant things about this army. Always it is greater than before. And for all the "roses, roses," that wreathe the cars and festoon the six hundred emblem-crowned staves, for all the music and the smiling, always this army is at heart a graver host; ready for service, and, if need be, for suffering. Heaven send that one aspect of the old need is past. A Liberal editor wrote last week of the Coronation rite: "Let us admit that when men took it seriously it was a noble tribute to the Liberal faith that refuses to base authority on force."
The great act of peace and public profession of faith that will be offered to-morrow, must go far to show the idleness of attempting, any longer, to
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maintain that enough women are not enough in earnest about the idea that sets this procession marching through the London streets.
June 16, 1911 - October 23, 1911
DURING the summer and autumn of 1911 the peaceful propaganda in support of the Conciliation Bill went forward vigorously and uninterruptedly--so far as Suffragists were concerned. All was harmony, except when Mr. Lloyd George sounded from time to time a jarring note. He urged the Parliamentary Committee of Liberal Suffragists to ballot for a wider measure, and to claim that the promise of "a week in 1912," won with such difficulty from the Prime Minister, should apply to a measure embodying the widening amendments. Challenged in the House about this, Mr. Lloyd George said that the Prime Minister's promise did not refer strictly and solely to the Conciliation Bill, but to any Bill with an open title. The drift of this was clearly seen by those who were genuine Suffragists. A vigorous protest was made against this devious manipulation of a pledge obtained for a different use and a more practical end. So great was the outcry against the threatened contravention of the spirit of the Prime Minister's undertaking, that Mr. Asquith was obliged to step into the breach made by the Chancellor. In a public letter to the Chairman of the Conciliation Committee (Lord Lytton) the Prime Minister repudiated the construction put upon his words by Mr. Lloyd George, reiterated the pledge, and said it applied, as Suffragists supposed, to the Con-
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ciliation Bill, and to that Bill alone. But the attempt to divert a promise from the service of a measure on whose behalf it could be of use, to a measure too unwieldly to save, inspired a profound uneasiness in those who had worked tirelessly for the Conciliation Bill, and waited long and paitently to see it given a chance.
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