Intolerable Ignorance

Between the date of her death — January 22nd, 1901 — and her extravagant funeral a fortnight later, millions mourned as the body of Queen Victoria lay in state on the Isle of Wight. At some point during this lengthy period, disgusted at what he saw as an excessively long, out-of-touch “spectacle,” the great George Bernard Shaw wrote the following fantastic letter to the editor of the Morning Leader newspaper and made his feelings known.

Unfortunately, said editor, Ernest Parke, refused to print it.

(Source: Bernard Shaw Collected Letters 1898-1910; Image: George Bernard Shaw, via.)


I am loth to interrupt the rapture of mourning in which the nation is now enjoying its favorite festival—a funeral. But in a country like ours a total suspension of common sense and sincere human feeling for a whole fortnight is an impossibility. There are certain points in connection with the obsequies of Queen Victoria which call for vigorous remonstrance.

Why, may I ask, should the procedure in the case of a deceased sovereign be that which has long been condemned and discarded by all intelligent and educated persons as insanity and superstitious? To delay a burial for a fortnight, to hermetically seal up the remains in a leaden coffin (and those who are behind the scenes at our cemeteries know well what will happen to that leaden coffin), is to exhibit a spectacle, not of reverent mourning, but of intolerable ignorance perpetuated by court tradition long after it has been swept away in more enlightened quarters. The remains of the Queen should have been either cremated or buried at once in a perishable coffin in a very shallow grave. The example set by such a course would have been socially invaluable. The example set by the present procedure is socially deplorable.

If at such a moment the royal family, instead of making each other Field Marshals, and emphasizing every foolish unreality and insincerity that makes court life contemptible, were to seize the opportunity to bring its customs into some sort of decent harmony with modern civilization, they would make loyalty much easier for twentieth century Englishmen.

Yours truly,

G. Bernard Shaw