Here we are again! After a little hiatus of, oh, five years or so to pause and get a PhD, I am back to posting summaries of each of CW’s books. I hope to write about one book per week, in chronological order, more or less, filling in the gaps in the Index and then moving on. These vaguely regular posts will be punctuated by news announcements, discussions of related themes and works, etc.
Book Summary: Prince Rudolph of Silvania, c.1902
Like most would-be authors, Williams scribbled incessantly as a child, making up characters, stories, and imaginary worlds. Unlike most writerly children, Williams did not pack his tender tales with talking animals or toys on adventure. No, his juvenilia feature dull political intrigue, ecclesiastical conflicts, monarchical history, romantic rivalries, and bureaucratic negotiations. He must have been a strange child, as indeed he would grow into a strange adult. However, his talent is evident, as is his devotion to his craft.
Prince Rudolph of Silvania is the title given to a red notebook (CW / MS-113), now housed in the Marion E. Wade Center, that dates from Williams’s school days at St. Albans Grammar School (c. 1902-1903) or possibly even earlier. He has written on 136 pages in this little book and has also drawn maps of his imaginary realm.
This fascinating piece of youthful imagination starts with the text of a royal decree declaring that there are too many Roman Catholic chapels and churches in the kingdom and establishing a committee to decide which ones to close! Then follows another decree, this time about the royal succession. There is a dry, scholarly history of Prince Rudolph’s reign, then lists of great statesmen, soldiers, sailors, churchmen, and lawyers of his princedom. The chief laws of the land are delineated, then there are rosters of army regiments and of monarchs, and genealogical tables. Prince Rudolph, through clever negotiations, apparently averted an impending war at the last moment, and the text of his Ultimatum is included, as a “found” document. Caveat lector: Now I’m going to list the other categories of content in this remarkable child’s production: charters, official recognition of various societies (including “The Society for Promoting Protestant Uniformity,” “The Society for Literary Knowledge,” “The Society for Suppressing Drunkenness,” “The Society for The Royal Dramatic Association,” and finally “The Society for The Promotion of Kindness to All Living Creatures”), agreements and alliances, salary sheet for the staff of the Court Gazette, a List of Liberal Ministers, a Treaty between Silvania and Lillienburg, reports from the secretaries of various ministries, a Decree granting Jesuits the permission to have two colleges; lists of various ministers and peers, a war chronicle, architectural and civic plans, a multi-page history of the literature of Silvania (divided by genre), navy lists, bills, more decrees and maps, letters, public speeches, census data, and more.
It’s all more like the work of a medieval historian than of an eight-year-old boy.
And in fact, the Prince Rudolph materials were not young Charles’s solo production. Just as Boxen resulted from an imaginative collaboration between Jack and Warnie Lewis, so Silvania grew out of large-scale, long-term role-playing games Charles developed with his sister Edith and their friend George Robinson. There’s another supposedly found document in the collection: an eighteen-page pamphlet issued by the Editors of the Silvania Court Gazette. What’s fascinating about it is that it’s signed in four different hands. I know nothing of the fine art of handwriting analysis, so I couldn’t tell (when I consulted the MS in the Wade) whether these signatures are those of four different people (Charles, Edith, George, and some other friend?) or whether Williams wrote all of them using various handwritings. The last looks like it was written left-handed.
In any case, Prince Rudolph is a cool example of childhood artistic collaboration and (what’s more rare) a written work capturing their imaginary world.
A plot does emerge from an examination of the documents and data in the Prince Rudolph notebook. It goes something like this: Rudolph is crowned prince of Silvania. At some point, a document comes to light showing that somebody-or-other had made an unsuccessful attempt to remove Prince Rudolph as heir to the throne. Early in his reign, a band of rebel barons make threats against his rule. There’s some vague sub-point about a Dowager Duchess who kidnapped her own son (from whom, I don’t know), wrote a confession telling all, signed the paper, and then expired most dramatically. A fearful anarchist plot rises up all over the continent, and then, after his tumultuous reign, Prince Rudolph, along with a Princess Rosalind and Prince Roland (who I think are his siblings?) are all assassinated! Whew! Young Prince Rupert is instated although he is still a few weeks short of his twentieth birthday. The boy ruler is immediately plunged into a power struggle with Parliament. In the end, he submits and declares to obey the constitution. He dies, and his little son Rudolph (the second, I presume?) takes the throne under the regency of Princess Vera. Yes, it’s as bad as English history, and really pretty much the same. Vera affirms the Thirty Articles of the Constitution. Somebody called Prince Victor is murdered here. The end. I think.
Even this clumsy plot summary gives an idea of the minds of the three (or four) children who created such a world. They were deeply educated in the history of their country, even in the first few years of primary school. They had a sense that making up other worlds needed to involve politics, and they knew far more than I would think healthy about love, marriage, infidelity, war, murder, and legislation. They were savvy kids, although I kind of wish they’d spent more time running around outside whacking at each other with cardboard swords or something.
There is one other kind of content in Prince Rudolph that (of course) I must mention before I close. Even as a little boy, Charles was obsessed with ritual and ceremony. In this MS, there are several Orders of Chivalry mentioned: The Order of the Golden Cross, of St. Brendan, of the Lion, of Maximilian V, of the Star of Silvania, of the Sword of Valour, of the White Rose, of the Sword and Crown, and of the Black Gauntlet. Furthermore, he even composed an actual ritual! It’s the “Ceremony of the Installation of a Knight Imperial of the Golden Cross,” and it contains catechistic questions, much like the initiation ceremonies he himself would experience some fifteen years later. Where he got the idea, the form, and the style for this ceremony, I don’t know. I suppose it came from two sources: First, his reading, already astonishingly broad and deep, in the tradition of English literature (there are elaborate rituals for the investments of knights in Arthurian legends, for instance); Second, from church. The Williams family was high Anglo-Catholic, so Charles was steeped in ritual and liturgy from birth. His passion for ceremonial would never leave him. It’s here in his earliest work, and it’s there to the end.