Tuesday, 1 January 1980

King Edward VII

Non-fiction ~ biography/royalty
Published 29th June 1933
Approx. 86,000 words


Mr. E. F. Benson's literary activities are more than admirable, they are amazing, and his agile pen has perhaps never been more happily, or more usefully, employed than in drawing for us his "speaking" likeness of the Monarch who, in nine short years, stamped himself indelibly on English and European, history. Mr. Benson's admiration for Edward VII is born of intimate knowledge of that King's character and career; he gives many a subtle story, many an important sidelight, many a stinging detail not to be found in Mr. Sidney Lee's 1,600 closely written pages, the avoirdupois of which may have been a little discouraging to the general reader. [...]

Mr. Benson has shown Edward VII to be intensely human, prone to the faults from which his father was free but possessing merits wholly beyond the outlook of that virtuous Prince. Generous no less than just, King Edward will go down to posterity as a most dignified, and withal most lovable, personage, and posterity will do well to hang up on their walls the faithful, if highly coloured, portrait due to Mr. Benson's skill. It is no figure of speech to suggest that unless the first output of King Edward the Seventh is of unusual dimensions, successive editions will rapidly follow, and it is therefore not ungracious to point to one error. Lord Kitchener waited on King Edward when King Edward's end was near, not to tender his resignation as Commander-in-Chief in India, but to receive absolution from the promise he had been coerced to make with regard to assuming the unnecessary and unsatisfactory Mediterranean Command.
~George Arthur in The Spectator, 29/06/1933 [heavily abridged: the original is 1,050 words]
The only criticism which can be made of this excellent book is that it does not handle its subject in the direct and intimate manner which has hitherto characterized the work of its author. E. F. Benson has already published two charming volumes of memoirs covering the period which is the theme of this book: As We Were and As We Are. One gets the impression, in reading his biography of King Edward, that he was a little hampered by these earlier works. For Mr. Benson was a contemporary of King Edward; he knew the greater part of the actors in the drama, he was their friend and their intimate; but it is only rarely that he allows himself in this work to make use of the remarkable personal knowledge he has of his subject. He writes of Edward VII as an excellent and conscientious historian, but a little as he might write of Henry VIII or Richard of Bordeaux. That doubtless was the task which he set himself; the reader, however, cannot but prefer those passages in which Mr. Benson consents to forget that he is a historian in order to become a memorialist.
~André Maurois in The Saturday Review, 23/09/1933 [again heavily abridge: original 1,195 words]
This is not a contribution to biography, or to history, or to literature, but it has its uses. Mr. Benson presents all the salient facts in the life of Edward VII, and in the main he discusses them fairly and intelligently. He does not become indignant at the King's well-known lapses from sound Christian morals, but instead tries to explain them as the result of the cold and Puritanical training of his youth. As sovereign he certainly was not a shining light, but equally certainly he was not stupid. "By virtue of a detached fairmindedness he could both disagree and appreciate," and unlike his mother, he always differentiated between persons and politics. Altogether, he was probably a good change for England after Queen Victoria. There are many illustrations, and also an index.
~The American Mercury, 11/1933
A generation has almost grown up since King Edward died, and far less than half the population can clearly remember when he was Prince of Wales. Yet he seems a wonderfully familiar figure to us all; and here is the third important book to be published on him within a few years. The official biography by Sir Sidney Lee was published in 1927, and a short, brilliant study by Mrs H E Wortham this year. It is, therefore, inevitable that this book has little that is new in it, but if Mr Benson leads us along familiar paths, he guides us with such zest and originality that it is difficult to remember that we knew it all before. I think that he has described the historical and political background with a clearness and simplicity that are wholly admirable, in front of which the King stands out ~ a shrewd, gay, vital, friendly man. [...]
When the historian of the future comes to decide the importance of King Edward in European history, he may not agree with all that Mr Benson says in his appreciation of the King, but he can hardly fail to be stimulated and charmed by this delightful study of a very human man.
~Roger Fulford in The Yorkshire Post, 29/06/1933

No comments:

Post a Comment