Mark Twain on Queen Victoria

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Today’s free story from the Library of America is Mark Twain’s ‘Queen Victoria’s Jubilee,’ originally published in 1897 in the San Francisco Examiner.

Reporting from London, Twain gives an account of the celebration for the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne. ‘She was received with great enthusiasm,’ he writes, ‘It was realizable that she was the procession herself, that all the rest of it was mere embroidery; that in her the public saw the English Empire itself.’ As straightforward as that is, Twain managed to work in a bit of his wit and sarcasm.

Since the queen first saw the light she has seen invented and brought into use (with the exception of the cotton gin, the spinning frames and the steamboat), every one of the myriads of strictly modern inventions which, by their united power, have created the bulk of modern civilization and made life under it easy and difficult, convenient and awkward, happy and horrible, soothing and irritating, grand and trivial, an indispensable blessing and an unimaginable curse. She has seen woman freed from the oppression of many burdensome and unjust laws; colleges established for her, privileged to earn degrees in men’s colleges -- but not get them; in some regions rights accorded to her which lift her near to political equality with man; and a hundred bread-winning occupations found for her where hardly one existed before -- among them medicine, the law and professional nursing. The Queen has herself recognized the merit in her sex. Of the 501 lordships which she has conferred in sixty years, one was upona woman.

Twain’s piece includes an imagined correspondent covering another glorious English parade in 1415, and a passionate evocation of Civil War veterans marching unglamorously in New York. It was largely unavailable until its republication this month in the Library of America’s ‘Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, Other Travels.’


The Library of America Story of the Week may actually be a poem or a piece of journalism; whatever the work, it is delivered by e-mail every Monday.

-- Carolyn Kellogg