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WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.'
THERE are many peculiar difficulties attending any attempt to draw the character of a King, but none greater than that which arises from his isolated position. This isolation has often been pointed out as one of the characteristics of Royalty, but we doubt if sufficient allowance has been made for it as an exceptional element in estimating the mental and moral calibre of Princes. We acknowledge that they stand alone, and in a vague manner we recognise that this fact ought to some extent to modify our estimate of their character ; but we fail to make this modification in our actual estimate, because we have not sufficiently realised in detail the nature of this exceptional plea, and therefore are unable to give effect to it in regard to special points of
character. We say, in a general manner, that Kings are not like other men, and that they must not be judged by exactly the same rules, but we do in fact judge them, both for good and evil, in much the same way as ordinary mortals, and the significance of our vague deprecatory plea is almost entirely lost in the specific panegyric or denunciation which is based on our common moral experience. I cannot hope in the present series of estimates of Royal persons entirely to remedy this defect in criticism ; but, perhaps, something may be achieved in this direction by a few preliminary remarks, and by keeping this peculiarity well in view in exhibiting each of the distinctive points of character.
A King, then, is removed by his peculiar position alike from the support of private friendship, the controlling influence of habitual responsibility to the law, and the habitual safeguard of anthorised criticism. In his own country he has no fellow,—in his own family he has no equal,—and among the Princes of other countries he may find a similarity of position, but never an identity of interests. There can be no real reciprocity with him, either in thought or feeling. If he seek to indulge his affections, the difference and inadequacy of any return that can be attempted by their object must tend to degrade the act to favouritism. If the feeling displayed is of a more subdued and intellectual type, it cannot escape from the character of
patronage. Whether a wrong be resented, in word or deed, or passed over with a gentle rebuke or patient forgiveness, the course adopted can never have a merely personal character and a personal responsibility. It will always be more or less a public act, liable to be judged by other considerations than those of personal feelings. The act is always too significant, either for good or the reverse. The multitude of indifferent and insignificant acts which constitute the greatest part of the lives of ordinary men cannot exist as such with a King. He has always a representative and official character. He cannot act as a private individual, and what is more, he can never think as such. His whole view of life and men is affected by this fact. He always looks at other men and at the characteristics of society ab extra. He cannot accurately appreciate the personal motives of individuals within that society, or perceive and estimate the gathering forces of society during their noiseless formation. Even if his intellect is of moderate calibre, he estimates generally far better than any ordinary individual the significance and relations to the history of the world of the external features of society, and of palpable results. If he is a man of superior intellect, he may index and summarise the progress of events, and look forward towards great ends from far distant premises. He is not lost in details or led astray by inferior objects. He is naturally the best critic of society as a whole,