The King of Sweden at a Sailors' Mission
( Originally Published 1903 )
THERE was one European monarch in 1900 whom I had long been anxious to meet at close range, and I was delighted when I learned, after our arrival in London, that. he was to visit England. King Oscar II., the fourth monarch of the Bernadotte dynasty to wear the twin crowns of the United Kingdom of Sweden and Norway, is famous the world over. He has reigned for a longer number of years, and has reached a more advanced age, than most of his predecessors in modern times. He is now in his seventy-fifth year, and is, after the King of Denmark, the oldest representative of European royalty. At the time of my audience he was seventy-two, but in spite of his great age, there were visible no signs of failing activity, either physical or mental, judging from his personal pursuits or public appearances.
It did not require the suggestion of a London editor to arouse in me a desire to see the Swedish monarch. This aged King of the North has long been the pride of his loyal subjects and an object of interest to people in every civilized land. His intellectual attainments, his striking personality, and, above all, his Christian character, have endeared him not only to the people of Scandinavia, but to Christian men and women throughout the world. It is- admitted by all that King Oscar has used to the utmost of his capacities the opportunities which were offered him of obtaining an uncommonly high degree of intellectual and artistic culture. He speaks the Swedish and Norwegian Ianguages with equal fluency, and also English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. By wide travels from his youth upward—he was educated as a naval officer—within and beyond the bounds of Europe, he has trained his linguistic talents and acquired a discerning understanding of historical antiquities and the requirements of modern life. His reading embraces the literature to a large extent of all the languages he speaks, and he is well versed, too, in Latin classical literature.
The King of Sweden and Norway
The King is an accomplished orator. His strong, sonorous, musically-trained voice sends every word he utters penetrating into the farthest recesses of spacious assembly halls, and is also heard at great distances in the open air. His speeches are distinguished by a lofty diction, profound thought and solid insight into the subject he is treating of. He is well up in universal history, and in recognition of his capacity for original research, he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Lund in 1868. This was not an honorary degree, but one earned by earnest effort.
In consideration of all these accomplishments, the Scandinavians may justly take pride in claiming to possess the best-instructed monarch in Europe to-day, a man who, if he had been born to a private station, would presumably not have failed to attract public attention, and to achieve something remarkable in more pursuits of life than one.
King Oscar is extremely democratic. In receiving visiting royalty with dignified courtesy, he is acknowledged to be a master adept at ceremonious display, tempered with an artistic sense of judicial delicacy. But in every-day life the fetters of court life are loosened, and the relations of the monarch with those daily around him bear the character of friendly intercourse. He is accessible to all his subjects, more so than is the President of the United States to American citizens. The King's audience-rooms are open for several hours each week to men and women of all sorts and conditions, who are introduced into the royal presence after having merely entered their names in a book laid out for the purpose in the ante-chamber. They are not required to submit to any examination of their qualifications or business by any court functionaries. Besides these regular receptions, the King is wont on many other occasions to converse privately with persons outside the official circles. He spends several weeks each year in traveling about his dominions. There is scarcely a town in Sweden or Norway which he hasn't visited once or oftener, and where he doesn't know the leading men by sight. He is almost daily to be seen walking about in gentleman's attire in the public streets of Stockholm, alone, or accompanied by only one or two attendants. A ruler of the character of King Oscar need have no fear of assassination. His noble Christian spirit has long since overcome the hatred of the enemies of the throne.
A Royal Traveler
The King is wont to visit one foreign country each year, and in 1900 he remained for a period of about three months in England. It was during his sojourn there that I was privileged to see him face to face, and to learn something of his personality at close range. His Majesty, with the Queen and the Crown Prince, had taken a country place known as Grove House, in the tiny village of Roehampton, not far from London. Tired of the routine of duties at Stockholm, he had sought this secluded spot to rest awhile. But he was not permitted to live a secluded life. King Oscar has long been popular in English society, and he was obliged to devote some of his time to his many friends.
Soon after the King's arrival, it was suggested to me by the editor of one of the London newspapers, that I might find it worth while to seek an audience with his Majesty, and get from him some words for publication. I thought this an excellent idea, particularly as I had long been desirous of seeing the famous Christian monarch on my own account. I hardly knew how to proceed in order to get myself presented, and I was still considering the problem, when I learned one Saturday that King Oscar had promised to pay a visit on the following day to a Seamen's Mission on the Thames. I at once determined to be present at the Mission when his Majesty arrived, so, early on the Sabbath morning, I traveled to the neighborhood of the Albert Docks, where I expected to find the object of my pilgrimage.
The Mission was easily located, and when I saw what a small, unpretentious place it was, I began to doubt whether any king would journey several miles on a Sabbath morning to attend a service there. But when I spoke to the superintendent, I was informed that the King had promised to come, and that he would certainly keep his word.
And I was not disappointed. Soon after the service had begun in the tiny chapel, the good old King arrived, with a couple of gentlemen, and took his seat in the place provided for him. There was no demonstration and no special service had been arranged on his account, and I thought it likely that his Majesty had requested that there should be no ceremony of any sort. He seemed de-lighted to be there among the sailors, and certainly the sailors were delighted to have him. The Mission was established in the interest of the crews of the lumber ships which visit London from Sweden and Norway, and serves as a home for the sailors when they are in port.
King Oscar at the Seamen's Mission
When the simple service was concluded, the congregation flocked into the adjoining dining-room to partake of the Sunday dinner, and, to my surprise, King Oscar entered the room also, and seated himself at the head of the large table. It was apparently arranged that he was to dine with the sailors, and I determined to remain until the meal was finished. It would be a unique experience to see a monarch take dinner with some of the most lowly of his subjects.
The meal progressed in fine style. The King conversed with those who sat near him, and he seemed to enjoy the modest fare as much as did any of the sea-men. When the dessert had been disposed of, his Majesty arose and delivered a short address. I was unable to understand the meaning of his words, but the superintendent explained afterwards that it was a thorough religious address which he delivered. It concerned the work of the Mission and the duty of the sailors to advance its interest in every possible way, and his Majesty urged them not to forget that it was above all a Christian work, and that it was their duty to live as Christian seamen should. The men were deeply impressed with this advice, and I thought that these few words from their ruler would doubtless have greater effect than dozens of sermons from a pulpit.
The King shook hands with us all before he left the place, and when I mentioned to him my desire for an interview, he cordially invited me to call at Grove House. I was not slow to take advantage of the invitation, and on the appointed day I presented myself at the modest dwelling which served as the royal residence. It was a very plain structure, surrounded by beautiful grounds, and any one was free to enter at the lodge. The only guard visible was a stalwart London policeman, and he was stationed there as an act of courtesy by the authorities.
I had taken the precaution to obtain a card from the Swedish Minister before leaving London, because I feared that I might encounter some functionary who would object to my visit. There were no difficulties of the sort, however, and within a few minutes after I entered the reception room I was in the presence of the King. His greeting was most friendly, and I was invited to sit down during our conversation. In the beginning, I replied to many questions on American subjects, and about my various travels, and then I asked his Majesty something about the work of the Seamen's Mission, in which he seemed much interested. His fine face was bright with enthusiasm as he described to me the need of a home for the Scandinavian sailors, and the necessity which existed for increased funds to carry on the work. " It is very important," he said, " that our men have some Christian institution where they can spend their time while away from their ships. They come here to London, strangers in a strange land, and when they go ashore, the only place where they're made welcome is the public house. If they are forced to frequent these drinking saloons they return to their work unfit for duty, and go back to their families at home with their wages spent for liquor. In the Mission everything is provided for their comfort and they are safe from evil influences. I am greatly interested in the work, and while I am here I shall make a personal effort to increase its financial support."
A Noble Christian Worker
Any one who heard the King speak of this Christian work could have no doubt of the practical character of his Christianity. He not only secured subscriptions from others for the Mission, but he contributed a considerable sum himself, and he readily gave me permission to quote him in favor of the work for publication in the London press. In various ways he showed his earnestness in the good cause, and before he left England the Mission was firmly established as a permanent institution, to serve as a London home for Scandinavian seamen.
I was greatly impressed during my audience with King Oscar's knowledge of lowly life in London and the other great cities of Europe. In spite of his many duties, he had evidently found time to make himself acquainted with the seamy side of metropolitan life, and he had many original ideas regarding the best methods of sociological work. As early as 1871 he began his study of London conditions, and in a journal written at that time he tells that he visited the opium dens, grog shops, " doss houses," and penny gaffs " of the great East End, carefully disguised, of course, and that the impression given him by " such a mob, which fears neither God nor the devil, yet dreads punishment, and more especially the police," is one that can never be effaced.
The prediction of the journal of 1871 has been fulfilled. King Oscar does not forget, in his high position, the lowly and unfortunate ones of earth. His Christianity is seen in his daily life and in his political acts. He has ever been a fervent supporter of the Bible, and his deep researches as an Orientalist have only deepened his faith. Throughout his long reign he has been a staunch supporter of the Lutheran State Church, and in every way he has set a good example to his subjects. The King's family life is of course a matter of great concern to every one in his dual kingdom, and it is not the least of Oscar's claims to public respect that in every way the best of examples is set by the palace to the lowlier homes throughout the country.
The royal family have always shared his Majesty's religious principles and his earnestness in well-doing. The second son, Oscar, has long been President of the Scandinavian Young Men's Christian Associations, and the Crown Prince and his wife are ever ready to serve in any good cause. The whole family have done much to advance the cause of Christ throughout the world, for through their influential positions in life their opportunities for service have been multiplied.
The King himself stands before the world as the highest type of Christian statesman, and his true worth is evidenced by universal love and respect. His Majesty has attained an absolutely unique position as an arbitrator in questions of international importance, and is often called upon to adjudicate matters which affect the most distant peoples in the world. This in itself is an eloquent testimony of the world-wide respect for a Christian King. It is impossible to believe that even a king could attain to such eminence in the world without a strong adherence to the principles of Christ. When the history of these days comes to be written by impartial pens, no kingly name will stand inscribed in brighter characters than that of Oscar II., scholar, statesman and Christian gentleman.