The corpulent voluptuary,"" was Kipling's verdict on his King as Prince of Wales and the contemporary press tagged ""Bertie"" as a libertine. While Mr. Magnus is sternly respectful, as befits the first biographer to be granted unrestricted access to the Royal Archives, and really rather prim about his subject's relative morality, there are 44 halftones competing with the text. There are photographs and portraits that take Edward VII from slender, almost girlish, good looks to -- well, a corpulent voluptuary. Almost all of this material was covered by Virginia Cowles in The Gay Honarch, 1956, with a spicier attention to mistresses, affectionate irreverence and none of the awe proper to the biographers of English Personages which Mr. Magnus has in abundance. No matter, reading of a vanished pomp and circumstance is a special taste as compelling as salty peanuts. Whoever tells it, the account of King Edward's early years is a horror story. He was submitted by the ""ever to be lamented"", Albert to a cruel regime of study and rewarded with constant criticism. Unemployed at any worthy function until his coronation at the age of 60, although he literally begged for something to do, patriarchal at home, lusty in private, he is seen as a basically good man encouraged in his foolishness by sycophants; always privileged but seldom influential. Additionally, the book provides an excellent picture of an age in politics and society that took its name from the King who had waited so long to exercise so briefly a severely delimited power.