King Bibbs by James Albery
"It's all through that Liberal Government."
These were the words uttered by King Bibbs as he stood in the rain without an
umbrella; and it was not the first time he had uttered them.
Think of it! There stood King Bibbs in the rain without an umbrella.
Once upon a time King Bibbs had a beautiful palace; but there came a Liberal
Government, and they promised the nation economy.
Their policy was to save and censure, to cut down everything they did pay
for, and to cut up everything they did not.
They contracted that every soldier in the army should have one nail less in
his boots, and they blamed the last Government for not having soldiers who
required no boots at all. They arranged that the royal charwomen should clean
the floors of the Government offices with soap without sand or with sand without
soap; and they censured the late Government for having floors that wanted any
cleaning. They cut down the amount and the quality of the cheese required for
the royal mousetraps, and they pointed out to a plundered people that the last
Government were entirely to blame for there being any mice. They voted that the
royal weather-cock on the national stable should be re-gilt only once in six
years, instead of once in five, and they made it clear, at least to their own
party, that it was entirely owing to the tactics of the late Government that
weather-cocks were required at all; and it must be admitted that upon this point
the late Government were a little bit with them.
It was a fine time, and the nation that King Bibbs reigned over might
well feel proud.
But you know that if you keep the stove going by what you can spare from your
household furniture, the time will come when you will be a little at a loss for
What would you do? You cannot part with the comfortable chair you sit in, and
your friends must have their little places; so very likely, if you had no
respect for time-honoured things, you would break up some grand old cabinet that
your forefathers loved, but that to you appeared useless, and so you'd keep the
stove going. And as long as the fire lasted, you and your friends would be warm
and snug in your places.
That's just what our Government did—not ours, of course—but the one I am
They turned their eyes on the king's palace, and they said the nation cannot
be saddled with this expense.
They had already saved the nation about a farthing per head per annum, and
this new sacrifice would save about an eighth as much more. But you must
understand that every man looked at the amount saved in the lump; he never
thought of the farthing that was put in his pocket in return for the time he
wasted in attending public meetings, but had a vague idea that the golden
thousands talked of were in some remote way his rescued property.
What a splendid show of justice, wasn't it now, when bills were plastered all
over King Bibbs's palace, to say those desirable premises would be sold by
public auction on such a date?
It touched the people to the core; they gave up half a day to flock round the
palace, and read the bills; they lost another half-day's work to see the palace
sold; they spent a day's wages to get drunk to celebrate this crowning stroke of
economy, and in their wild delight at the justice done them, they quite forgot
to bank the one-eighth of a farthing which the generous Government had put into
How common it is to say, we go from bad to worse, and on that principle I
suppose it was that this Liberal Government went from good to better.
If it was good that the poor king should give up his palace and live like a
private gentleman, would it not be better that he should go a grade lower, and
live like a retired tradesman?
The odd fact was, that the more they stripped poor King Bibbs of the sacred
paraphernalia that once adorned his life, the more useless he appeared in the
eyes of his subjects; and he was cut down from a palace to a mansion, and from a
mansion to a villa; from having one hundred horses to ten; and from ten to none.
And so it was that King Bibbs came to be walking in the rain without an
umbrella; and so it was, as he reflected on the past he exclaimed,—
"It's all through that Liberal Government."
His most gracious Majesty had been to the reading-rooms to look at the
morning papers, and see what his Government were doing. It may seem wrong that
he should thus waste a penny; but remember, it was his duty to see how his
people were getting on. As he left the rooms there was a quiet, sad smile on the
"Ah," he muttered, "my prime minister is very clever, but he is all ambition
and vanity; he tries to sail the ship with nothing but flags. I do wish he would
take in the bunting and put out some canvas, so that we might have a little real
progress instead of so much show."
At this time he was just turning the corner of Daisy Road on his way home,
when suddenly it began to rain.
"Bless me," said his Majesty, "it's going to pour, and I've forgotten my
umbrella, I shall have my crown quite spoilt. Dear! dear! dear!"
The rain fell faster, and the poor king had yet two miles to go. His ermine
was getting quite damp.
"What am I to do?" he exclaimed. "I shall be wet through. Dear! dear! I shall
be obliged to take a cab."
The king looked along the road, and saw one coming. "Hi! hi!" shouted his
most gracious Majesty, and he waved his sceptre till it almost flew out of his
"Going home to change," said the cabman, with a careless air.
"Don't you know I'm the king?" said poor Bibbs.
"Oh, yes, you're know'd well enough," sneered the cabman; "give my love to
the old woman."
"There, there!" said the poor monarch, appealing plaintively to the empty
street; "there, that comes of having a Liberal Government; as soon as I get a
change I'll be a despot."
You see the true royal spirit in him was not quite crushed.
The rain fell faster, and King Bibbs took off his crown and was looking at
the great wet spots on the red cotton velvet when a loud voice exclaimed:—"Does
your most gracious Majesty want a cab?"
The king was about to enter the cab without a word, when a ragged boy
officiously stood by the wheel.
"What do you want?" said the boy's sovereign.
"To keep your most gracious Majesty's royal robe from touching the wheel,"
said the boy.
"I can do it myself," said the king, in quite an angry tone.
Now in the ordinary way a monarch would look upon such an attention as simply
his due, but he knew this ragged young subject was looking for patronage; he
wanted a copper, and the king felt he could not afford it. All who have studied
the workings of the human heart know how we conceal our motives even from
ourselves. To look at King Bibbs you would have thought he simply resented the
boy's officiousness. He tried to persuade himself so, but the underlying feeling
was his annoyance at not having a copper to spare. How he would have blushed if
any of the Great Powers of Europe could have seen him at that moment!
"Go to the devil," said the king to his subject. "Go away! go away!"
"Blow'd if I pay my income tax next week!" said the young traitor as he made
a very wicked face at the back of the cab.
"That's a bad boy," muttered Bibbs, as the cab drove off.
Now Bibbs, like many another proud spirit, had enjoyed the noble pleasure of
refusing, which is only felt when you have full power to comply. When you are
forced to refuse through weakness, it is very galling to a monarch, or even to
one of us.
"A d—d bad boy!" he exclaimed, and as if the truth would out in spite of him
he muttered: "It's all thro' that Liberal Government."
The house to which King Bibbs had directed the cabman to drive him, was what
is now called a villa. It was one of a row, and was certainly not at all
suggestive of a palace. Still it had a nice breakfast-parlour underground, and a
handsome little drawing-room, with folding doors, upstairs. The rent was low,
and the neighbourhood was considered, by those who lived there, fashionable.
At first poor Bibbs was treated with some respect, but after a time he fell
into contempt, for kings, like other people, must keep their places.
On arriving at his house the king stepped from the cab and took out his
purse. It would have done any Liberal Government good to see a constitutional
monarch like Bibbs rubbing the edges of certain light coins to see if they were
threepennies or fourpennies. But it would not have done any one good to see the
look on the cabman's face as he received his fare. The king turned to go
"Here, hi!" shouted the cabman.
"What's the matter?" asked the king.
"What's the matter? As if your most gracious Majesty did not know! I want
"You've got your fare," said the king.
"Got my fare!" retorted the cabman; "you're a pretty gracious Majesty, you
are. You go about rolling in luxury and wealth out of the hard earnings of sich
as me, and that's the way you use the money. Bah! The sooner you're done away
with altogether the better. What good are you? Why you ain't worth the crown on
The cabman drove away to swear, and the king paused to reflect. It took the
king some time to calculate, but he found he cost that cabman, at his present
rate of expenditure—he cost that cabman about an eighth of a farthing every ten
The king's lips moved, though he breathed no word; but any one who had
watched the kind mouth would have seen that he was muttering something about
that Liberal Government.
He took out his latch-key and let himself in; he paused in the passage,
gently wiped his crown on the sleeve of his robe, and hung it on a hat-peg, and,
placing his sceptre in the stand beside his forgotten umbrella—forgetfulness
that had cost him a shilling—walked slowly into the parlour.
He sat down to meditate. You have only to read your Shakespeare to know this
is the way of kings. He soliloquised somewhat in this fashion:
"It's quite clear the cheaper I get the more useless I appear. While I was
surrounded with pomp, the people ran after and applauded me; now I get abused by
a low cabman. I was like a grand ruin: while the columns stand, and the broken
entablatures lie about in picturesque profusion, it is visited, made pictures
of, and admired. But take away the old adornments, clear away the ground, and
leave only a little pile of useless earth to mark the spot, and Admiration and
Wonder, as they turn their backs on it, will soon find Respect at their heels—I
see my fate."
The king grew reckless, and ordered an egg for his tea.
You have only to read your poets, and you will see that these sudden
desperate acts foreshadow impending doom.
At the moment that Bibbs was wiping a small spot of egg from his beard, his
ministers were holding a cabinet council to determine what should be their next
move to keep up their popularity.
There was nothing to cut down but the places of themselves and their friends
and relations. That was out of the question. The labourer is worthy of his hire,
and they had laboured hard to get into their present position.
How would it be if they determined that the king should no longer receive any
help from the State, but earn his own living? A little hard work would be good
for the king's constitution.
The idea was a popular one. It was carried out. But poor King Bibbs was too
old to work, so it occurred to one of the ministers, who knew a City gentleman
who had an ugly daughter that he wanted to marry to a person of rank, that by
his influence the poor king might be got into an almshouse.
After some difficulty it was done, and his most gracious Majesty found
himself in possession of two small rooms and ten shillings a week.
Any reasonable old monarch, you would think, might have been very comfortable
under these circumstances, but wherever he turned he met unfriendly glances.
People said almshouses were meant for industrious but unfortunate tradesmen and
their wives, and not for bloated old emperors and kings. Here was a monarch not
only grinding them down with taxation, but actually taking from them the just
reward of virtuous old age.
At last it happened that a shopkeeper died insolvent, and his aged widow was
destitute. There was nothing for it but to put her on the parish, which would be
an expense, or get her into an almshouse.
The matter touched the pockets of the parishioners, and you may be pretty
sure that soon a fine clamour was raised. What had the king done to deserve
charity? Nothing. Meetings were held, bundles of letters were sent to the
newspapers, and at last the influential City gentleman, who meant to stand for
the borough at the next election, was forced to turn out King Bibbs or lose his
The influential gentleman assured his most gracious Majesty that he turned
him out with great reluctance.
What was to be done now? It was pretty clear that the king must go on the
parish. But what parish?
It mattered not where he had lived, he had never paid his rates, and not a
parish would have him. Vestries met and discussed the matter. It was referred to
committees, minutes were brought up and referred back again; meantime poor Bibbs,
who would not go in as a casual, was left, like old Lear, to perish.
It is true that on the first night an old Chartist, who was once imprisoned
for treason, took pity on him, and gave him a bed, but when the king found out
who his benefactor was, his old pride arose within him, and he turned away.
His most gracious Majesty might have been seen feeling with his thumb-nail
the edge of his last coin. It was smooth; King Bibbs had but threepence in the
At this moment he saw some men with advertising boards on their backs. He
looked at them; they were old and feeble. Ah! thought the king, I think I am
strong enough to carry boards. He went up to one of the men, and asked him most
respectfully where he got his employment.
The man turned round and sneered out,—
"Oh, you want to rob us now, do you? You want to take the crust out of
our mouths. You ain't content with grinding us poor working men down with
taxes—you ain't content with having every luxury down to almhouses, but you must
interfere with us. If I catch your most gracious Majesty with half
a board on your back, I'll just smash you. There!"
It will be observed that the people had lost nothing of the outward show of
respect, and always addressed the king in the proper way.
Poor Bibbs bought a penny biscuit, and with the remaining twopence a piece of
card and a bit of string. He wrote on the card,
"PRAY PITY A POOR CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCH."
And with his crown in his hand to get whatever charity would give, he went
into the bitter world to beg his way down to the grave.
Things went on merrily with the ministry for years. They filled all the old
places and invented new. They put the king's head on the coin, and put the coin
in their pockets.
But one fine day a certain Eastern despot with whom they had been intriguing,
thought it a politic thing to pay King Bibbs a visit in
state. Here was a pretty kettle of fish! What were they to do for a king?
It would never do to tell the Eastern despot they didn't know where their
king was, and they did not care; he would have broken with them at once.
They sent in all directions to inquire for the king, but he was not to be
They then tried an advertisement:—
IF THIS SHOULD MEET THE EYE OF KING BIBBS,
he is requested to return to his disconsolate ministers, and all shall be
But poor Bibbs had not seen a newspaper for years, and his ministers were
Then appeared another advertisement:—
LOST, A KING ANSWERING TO THE NAME OF BIBBS.
If any one will take him to the Treasury he will be
Now it so happened that a quiet man of business, as he was passing along a
country highway, saw a poor old half crazy man eating a few dry crusts. By his
side was a bent sceptre, and on his head an old and battered crown, while his
robe of royal purple was torn and soiled, and the ermine on it worn nearly bare
As the stranger approached him, the old man took off his crown, and in a
feeble voice said, "Pray pity a poor constitutional monarch."
The stranger looked in his face and exclaimed, "Good heaven, poor soul, what
has brought you to this?"
The old man brushed a tear away from his sunken eye, and muttered—
"It was all through that Liberal Government!"
A week after a great city was all aglare with flags, and ablare with
trumpets. The streets were lined with people, and a procession passed,
at the head of which was a grand carriage drawn by eight horses. In the
carriage sat a feeble old man in a splendid robe, and with a new crown
that he kept taking off as he bowed to the multitude. At his side was
the splendid Eastern despot, who bowed too, for the people not only said
"Long live King Bibbs!" but they wished the splendid Eastern despot long
life as well. Near the palace gates as they returned, the king left off
bowing, and some were shocked at his pride and some at his pallor.
A few days after there was a grand and solemn procession.
And again, a few days after that, a grand and glorious procession.
The Government were true to their policy, and the wording of their
advertisement. The stranger who had found King Bibbs, after wasting
years in applications, received a note to say his affair was under