Wednesday, February 15, 2006

29May1856, Her Majesty's Birthday

LONDON, May 29th, 1856.
—Her Majesty's birthday, God bless her with many more happy and prosperous years on the throne of this realm ! The day, moreover, of the illuminations in honour of the Peace, the which we went to see in the following manner. We set off at about 8 o'clock, fondly hoping to reach Spencer House by nine, when " festivities were to commence." All the day large crowds had been spreading over the town, which seemed gradually to thicken and condense, and some time before, and all during and after dinner, one continuous unbroken stream poured past our windows, till it almost made one dizzy to look at them. We had the most knowing little illumination, large night-lamps hung on wire in this shape. Well, we set off, and got on famously for about a hundred yards, when took place the first stoppage. From that time we went on at the most wonderful pace, standing still for twenty minutes or more together, and when one did move, at the slowest possible crawl. For before, behind, on either side, sometimes creeping under the horses' necks, as far as one could see through the lit-up darkness, was an unbroken black mass of swaying heads, flowing on incessantly, and all round a hoarse murmur, intermingled with laughter, little shouts, and a few raised voices. But the whole crowd was in the highest state of good humour and docility, nearly every face had a delighted smile on it, children, some such tinies, were held up to look at the blaze of illuminations, jokes passed between the occupants of the thronged vans, omnibuses, carts, carriages, waggons, etc., and the foot-passengers, and oh ! most amusing of all, were the things addressed to our carriage, a subject of much interest, Papa being in his uniform, cocked hat, etc. " Whose your hatter ? " " How many cocks did you shoot in the Crimea ? " (allusion to the feather). " Ooray for the Duke of Wellington ! " (a little cheer raised). " Lord Ebrington ! " " Lord Balmerino ! " " Lord Lovat ! " " Colonel Windham ! " " You're a beauty ! " " Room for another there ? " " Here's a lot of pretty faces ! " " Take your time, Miss Lucy !" " Now then ! " " Whose your tailor ? " etc., etc., etc. When we got to Trafalgar Square there was a delighted sort of rushing cheer, several rockets from the Parks sprung over the tops of the houses, scattering their bright stars. It was at this juncture that we did get a little despairing as to ever reaching our destination ; the fireworks had certainly begun, and we had been nearly an hour coming the bit of a way from George Street to Trafalgar Square. We had once asked a policeman if we could get on better. His answer was : " You will not get there these two hours." But, just here, Mrs. Talbot applied to a superintendent, on a white horse, who went before us, cleared a way directly, and to our amazement we drove off briskly, round a way which proved much less crowded, where of course we met with some stopping but in course of time arrived safely at Spencer House, whither we went to get a good view. We were in very tidy time, and were ushered on to the terrace, among a lot of old generals and officers. It was very beautiful but rather same ; however I enjoyed it immensely. Some of the rockets were most lovely, scattering bright showers of gold or silver that looked like beautiful sheaves of corn. Then after these and others had gone on for a couple of hours, I suppose, there was suddenly an enormous explosion, a huge, dazzling blaze spread high upwards, so that, looking down, we saw a vast sea of upturned faces, packed thicker than I can describe, lit up in a weird-like, glowing lustre ; it was too dark to see the bodies they belonged to ; bright fantastical patterns were cut in fire in the midst of the blaze, rockets hissed, whizzed, exploded, cracked, popped, rushed, boomed, the blaze increased, " God save the Queen " was traced in letters of living flame in the midst, a rushing excited sound of cheering rose from the gazing millions, an immense quantity of dazzling rockets shot upwards—and it was over. I never saw anything more striking than that last display. Then we went in, and had some supper, saw dear Tallee (Her cousin, Lady Sarah Spencer.) and little Harry Lyttelton, much gone off in beauty, and set off again home, which transit was accomplished like the former one, quite if not more difficult. I only heard one thing the least like even a bad word, that was only " Confound you," from a man who had to rush under our horses' necks. It was delightfully amusing, and so the people seemed to think. We reached home at past one. There never had been a more tractable and orderly crowd, only once did I see anything like a dangerous squash, and there were hardly any accidents. The people had all dispersed by next morning. I was so delighted all the time.

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