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Meghan's diary won't be a match for Queen Victoria's journal - AN Wilson

Blog | By AN Wilson | Jul 17, 2020

Harry and Meghan, Sandringham, Christmas 2017 (Credit: Mark Jones)

Lockdown makes one lose track of time, so whether Meghan Markle’s notorious Memoirs have been ghosted yet, is something of which I am unaware. She kept journals from the moment of her encounter with Prince Harry. Something tells me that they will not compare with Some Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, which were a deserved best-seller in happier days.

Disraeli, in his slightly bitchy way, said, “We authors, Ma’am”, when she had published the first of her volumes.

She was the first British monarch (have I got this right?) to go into print, since James VI and I wrote his diatribe against smoking, A Counterblaste to Tobacco. (Its sentiments would have been echoed by Queen Victoria). James VI was clever, but his writing was not literature. To find a literary British monarch before Queen Victoria, you would have to go back to James I of Scotland, imprisoned by the English at the age of eleven in 1406, and not released until 1424. His The Kingis Quair really is a bloody good poem in the Chaucerian/Dantean mode. (he was an excellent King of Scotland when he was finally released. Murdered in Perth 1437).

The novelty of Victoria’s publication was that, like The Kingis Quair, a love poem, her journal was autobiography. She was sharing her pain – the grief for her husband Prince Albert, and her yearning for their days together on Deeside. She followed it with More Leaves. And she had it in mind to publish a third volume, a grief-stricken tribute to her love for John Brown, which the young Randall Davidson, newly appointed Dean of Windsor, was delegated by the Court to tell her to squash. If only we could find it in the archives at Windsor!

Disraeli was a brilliant novelist. Lothair is a truly sparkling example of the silver-fork school of fiction. But he was wrong to sneer at, while pretending to flatter, the Fairy, as he called his monarch. We can now read her Journals Online and, despite the fact that they were copied out and censored by her daughter Princess Beatrice, they remain one of the great diaries of our literature. Set them beside the many volumes of her published letters, and you can see that Victoria was, truly, a writer manque.

No monarch, or royal, since has shown much talent in the literary line.

My friend Peter Quennell, poet, critic, man of letters and clubman, once found himself on a tiny aeroplane in 1951, flying over to Pari . There were very few other passengers. In those days you had to fill in landing forms, answering such questions as “distinguishing characteristics” (Lord David Cecil wrote “charming smile”). One had to write one’s age and one’s sex. “What age are you going to put, Harold?” John Sparrow once asked Harold Nicolson, to receive the reply, “What sex are you going to put, John?”).

Anyhow, Peter Quennell on the plane, filling in his form. Profession?

The man in front turned round and said, “It asks for Profession. What shall Oi put?”

It was the Duke of Windsor. He had lately published A King’s Story, an extremely bland account of royal tours. “Why not put ‘author’, sir?” asked Quennell.

The Little Dook, as his friends in Paris called him, laughed. “Oi LOIK that!” he said. “Oi’ll put ‘author’”.

Those of us scribblers who have toiled in garrets all our lives, and feared

Toil, envy, want, the patron and the gaol

can never imagine how tempting and exotic non-writers believe it, to be able to describe oneself as a writer. So Meghan will soon be one – or perhaps already is. I bet she won’t think of a title as brilliant as the Duchess of Windsor’s The Heart has its Reasons. And you can bet your bottom dollar it will not be a rival to Queen Victoria.