2024-07-22 5:03 PM

Editor’s Column: The World Into Which Gay Prince Eddy Was Born

(Part 5)

It is virtually impossible to find words or images that capture anything like the true magnitude of the utter devastation caused by the Great War, not only in terms of over 20 million human lives lost between 1914 and 1918, but of the horrific dismantling and destruction of networks of creative human civilizing efforts that had taken painstaking centuries to assemble.

True it was that the dizzying progress that was accelerating during the last part of the 19th century and up to 1914 seemed to some like it was inevitably driving to some horrible date with destiny. But it is easy for us, over a century later, to suggest this as hindsight. Days began and days ended, one after another, for the people of that time as now.

Inevitable clashes of that century, such as the American Civil War, did not alter the overriding, explosive press of invention and capital on a progress that brought a transcontinental railroad, a Suez and a Panama canal, a cable laid across an ocean, a Beethoven, a Curie, a Titanic, a flying machine, a horseless carriage, a lightbulb, a radio wave, a liberation of entire peoples from slavery, art nouveau, indoor plumbing, penicillin and countless subordinate and collateral achievements all fomented at first by the Great Enlightenment, the opening salvo triumphs at last of the potentials of the human mind over superstition, in the century before.  

Not the least among all these were the dialogues on democracy versus tyranny amid the millennium’s most important development, the American revolution the subsequent establishment of a constitutional democracy, and an ongoing vision derived from it for institutions to lift all humankind out of the squalor, lack and suppression caused by unequal applications of this fabulous new weal. It was inevitable that for the first time, a broad-based population, gaining from the merits of democracy, including property ownership, public education and wide dissemination of the printed word, would see its potential beyond the limits on its forebears, either by the strictures that suffocated creative potential or by the exercise of brute male force, sanctioned by society without question, that kept subservient women, children, slaves and workers in their places.

The cultural straightjacket that such institutions and practices represented for a vast majority of the world’s peoples were countered by the earliest sympathies for the equality of the races and the sexes, alive and thriving at the time of the American revolution and inclusive of a strong urge to untie the sanctioned limits to human passions, as well, in ways routinely punishable by death for millennia before that point. Likewise, compassion and empathy began to be set free in the context of human ideals and passions, too. and the studies of ancient Greek cultures revealed art that stoked those passions and began to give rise to a new permission.

This was the world into which, in 1862, as Americans were fiercely engaged in their devastating Civil War and one of their most provocative and eloquent prophets, Walt Whitman, was emerging onto this landscape, that an heir to the throne of England, Prince Alfred Victor, Duke of Clarence, nicknamed Eddy, was born as a veritably perfect future king for this emerging reality.

One could say that his birth, in harmony with this emerging new age, was a natural evolutionary step in the progression of mankind, as one born to side with the compassionate against the cruel that had characterized the old order, including his boorish famously hedonistic father and as it rubbed off on his clueless younger brother.  

Records show that the then Queen of England, Victoria, was willing to go along with the compassionate and gentle route for her eldest grandson and future king, in the context of the evident expressions of these things that he represented. He was kind, he was genial, he was not in the least a bully or dominant type. Victoria wanted the Oxford graduate Edward Carpenter to be Eddy’s personal mentor, but the latter was about to break out to become the modern world’s first openly-gay advocate, and so he turned the job down. It instead went to Carpenter’s closest friend.

(To be continued. All rights reserved).

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