QUEEN VICTORIA. HER GIRLHOOD AND WOMANHOOD.
BY GRACE GREENWOOD
A DEDICATORY LETTER
TO CAMILLA TOULMIN (MRS. NEWTON CROSLAND), LINTON LODGE, BLACKHEATH PARK:
Permit me, my dear friend, to inscribe to you this very imperfect Life of your beloved Queen, in remembrance of that dear old time when the world was brighter and more beautiful than it is now (or so it seemeth to me) and things in general were pleasanter;—when better books were written, especially biographies, and there were fewer of them;—when the "gentle reader" and the "indulgent critic" were extant;—when Realism had not shouldered his way into Art;—when there were great actors and actresses of the fine old school, like Macready and the elder Booth—Helen Faucit and Charlotte Cushman; and real orators, like Daniel O'Connell and Daniel Webster;—when there was more poetry and more romance in life than now;— when it took less silk to make a gown, but when a bonnet was a bonnet;— when there was less east-wind and fog, more moonlight to the month, and more sunlight to the acre;—when the scent of the blossoming hawthorn was sweeter in the morning, and the song of the nightingale more melodious in the twilight;—when, in short, you and I, and the glorious Victorian era, were young.
I send this book out to the world with many misgivings, feeling that it is not what I would like it to be—not what I could have made it with more time. I have found it especially difficult to procure facts and incidents of the early life of the Queen—just that period which I felt was of most interest to my younger readers. So much was I delayed that for the actual arrangement and culling of my material, and the writing of the volume, I have had less than three months, and during that time many interruptions in my work—the most discouraging caused by a serious trouble of the eyes.
I am aware that the book is written in a free and easy style, partly natural, and partly formed by many years of journalistic work—a style new for the grave business of biographical writing, and which may be startling in a royal biography,—to my English readers, at least. I aimed to make a pleasant, simple fireside story of the life and reign of Queen Victoria—and I hope I have not altogether failed. Unluckily, I had no friend near the throne to furnish me with reliable, unpublished personal anecdotes of Her Majesty.
I have made use of the labor of several English authors; first, of that of the Queen herself, in the books entitled, "Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands," and "The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince-Consort"; next, of that of Sir Theodore Martin, K.C.B., in his "Life of the Prince-Consort." For this last appropriation I have Sir Theodore Martin's gracious permission. I am much indebted to Hon. Justin McCarthy, in his "History of Our Own Times." I have also been aided by various compilations, and by Lord Ronald Gower's "Reminiscences."
I have long felt that the wonderful story of the life of the Queen of England—of her example as a daughter, wife and mother, and as the honored head of English society could but have, if told simply, yet sympathetically, a happy and ennobling influence on the hearts and minds of my young countrywomen. I have done my work, if lightly, with entire respect, though always as an American and a republican. I could not do otherwise; for, though it has made me in love with a few royal people, it has not made me in love with royalty. I cannot but think that, so far from its being a condition of itself ennobling to human character, those born into it have often to fight to maintain a native nobility,—as Queen Victoria has fought, as Prince Albert fought,—for I find the "blameless Prince" saying: "To my mind the exaltation of royalty is only possible through the personal character of the sovereign."
It suits England, however, "excellent well," in its restricted constitutional form; she has all the venerable, splendid accessories—and I hope "Albert the Good" may have founded a long race of good kings; but it would not do for us;—a race cradled in revolution, and nurtured on irreverence and unbelief, as regards the divine right of kings and the law of primogeniture. To us it seems, though a primitive, an unnatural institution. We find no analogies for it, even in the wildest venture of the New World. It is true the buffalo herd has its kingly commander, who goes plunging along ahead, like a flesh-and-blood locomotive; the drove of wild horses has its chieftain, tossing his long mane, like a banner, in advance of his fellows; even the migratory multitudes of wild-fowl, darkening the autumn heavens, have their general and engineer,—but none of these leaders was born, or hatched into his proud position. They are undoubtedly chosen, elected, or elect themselves by superior will or wisdom. Entomology does, indeed, furnish some analogies. The sagacious bees, the valiant wasps, are monarchists,—but then, they have only queens.
LONDON, October 20th, 1883.
PART I. CHILDHOOD AND GIRLHOOD
PART II. WOMANHOOD AND QUEENHOOD
PART III. WIFEHOOD AND MOTHERHOOD
PART IV. WIDOWHOOD
1. THE PRINCESS VICTORIA. 2. QUEEN VICTORIA AT THE AGE OF 18. 3. THE DUCHESS OF KENT, MOTHER OF THE QUEEN. 4. THE QUEEN AT THE AGE OF 64. 5. PRINCE ALBERT, HUSBAND OF THE QUEEN.
CHILDHOOD AND GIRLHOOD.
Sketch of the Princess Charlotte—Her Love for her Mother—Anecdotes—Her Happy Girlhood—Her Marriage with Prince Leopold—Her Beautiful Life at Claremont—Baron Stockmar, the Coburg Mentor—Death of the Princess Charlotte.
It seems to me that the life of Queen Victoria cannot well be told without a prefacing sketch of her cousin, the Princess Charlotte, who, had she lived, would have been her Queen, and who was in many respects her prototype. It is certain, I think, that Charlotte Augusta of Wales, that lovely miracle-flower of a loveless marriage, blooming into a noble and gracious womanhood, amid the petty strifes and disgraceful intrigues of a corrupt Court, by her virtues and graces, by her high spirit and frank and fearless character, prepared the way in the loyal hearts of the British people, for the fair young kinswoman, who, twenty-one years after her own sad death, reigned in her stead.
Through all the bright life of the Princess Charlotte—from her beautiful childhood to her no less beautiful maturity—the English people had regarded her proudly and lovingly as their sovereign, who was to be; they had patience with the melancholy madness of the poor old King, her grandfather, and with the scandalous irregularities of the Prince Regent, her father, in looking forward to happier and better things under a good woman's reign; and after all those fair hopes had been coffined with her, and buried in darkness and silence, their hearts naturally turned to the royal little girl, who might possibly fill the place left so drearily vacant. England had always been happy and prosperous under Queens, and a Queen, please God, they would yet have.
The Princess Charlotte was the only child of the marriage of the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., with the Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Her childhood was overshadowed by the hopeless estrangement of her parents. She seems to have especially loved her mother, and by the courage and independence she displayed in her championship of that good- hearted but most eccentric and imprudent woman, endeared herself to the English people, who equally admired her pluck and her filial piety—on the maternal side. They took a fond delight in relating stories of rebellion against her august papa, and even against her awful grandmamma, Queen Charlotte. They told how once, when a mere slip of a girl, being forbidden to pay her usual visit to her poor mother, she insisted on going, and on the Queen undertaking to detain her by force, resisted, struggling right valiantly, and after damaging and setting comically awry the royal mob-cap, broke away, ran out of the palace, sprang into a hackney-coach, and promising the driver a guinea, was soon at her mother's house and in her mother's arms. There is another—a Court version of this hackney-coach story—which states that it was not the Queen, but the Prince Regent that the Princess ran away from—so that there could have been no assault on a mob-cap. But the common people of that day preferred the version I have given, as more piquant, especially as old Queen Charlotte was known to be the most solemnly grand of grandmammas, and a personage of such prodigious dignity that it was popularly supposed that only Kings and Queens, with their crowns actually on their heads, were permitted to sit in her presence.
As a young girl, the Princess Charlotte was by no means without faults of temper and manner. She was at times self-willed, passionate, capricious, and imperious, though ordinarily good-humored, kindly, and sympathetic. A Court lady of the time, speaking of her, says: "She is very clever, but at present has the manners of a hoyden school-girl. She talked all sorts of nonsense to me, but can put on dignity when she chooses." This writer also relates that the royal little lady loved to shock her attendants by running to fetch for herself articles she required—her hat, a book, or a chair—and that one summer, when she stayed at a country-house, she would even run to open the gate to visitors, curtsying to them like a country lassie. The Earl of Albemarle, who was her playmate in childhood, his grandmother being her governess, relates that one time when they had the Prince Regent to lunch, the chop came up spoiled, and it was found that Her Royal Highness had descended into the kitchen, and, to the dismay of the cook, insisted on broiling it. Albemarle adds that he, boy-like, taunted her with her culinary failure, saying: "You would make a pretty Queen, wouldn't you?" At another time, some years later, she came in her carriage to make a morning-call at his grandmother's, and seeing a crowd gathered before the door, attracted by the royal liveries, she ran out a back-way, came round, and mingled with the curious throng unrecognized, and as eager to see the Princess as any of them.
Not being allowed the society of her mother, and that of her father not being considered wholesome for her, the Princess was early advised and urged to take a companion and counsellor in the shape of a husband. The Prince of Orange, afterwards King of the Netherlands, was fixed upon as a good parti by her royal relatives, and he came courting to the English Court. But the Princess did hot altogether fancy this aspirant, so, after her independent fashion, she declined the alliance, and "the young man went away sorrowing."
One of the ladies of the Princess used to tell how for a few minutes after the Prince had called to make his sad adieux, she hoped that Her Royal Highness had relented because she walked thoughtfully to the window to see the last of him as he descended the palace steps and sprang into his carriage, looking very grand in his red uniform, with a tuft of green feathers in his hat. But when the Princess turned away with a gay laugh, saying, "How like a radish he looks," she knew that all was over. It is an odd little coincidence, that a later Prince of Orange, afterwards King of the Netherlands, had the same bad luck as a suitor to the Princess or Queen Victoria.
Charlotte's next lover, Leopold, of Saxe-Coburg, an amiable and able Prince, was more fortunate. He won the light but constant heart of the Princess, inspiring her not only with tender love, but with profound respect. Her high spirit and imperious will were soon tamed to his firm but gentle hand; she herself became more gentle and reasonable, content to rule the kingdom of his heart at least, by her womanly charms, rather than by the power of her regal name and lofty position. This royal love- marriage took place in May, 1816, and soon after the Prince and Princess, who had little taste for Court gaieties, went to live at Claremont, the beautiful country residence now occupied by the young Duke of Albany, a namesake of Prince Leopold. Here the young couple lived a life of much domestic privacy and simplicity, practicing themselves in habits of study, methodical application to business, and wise economy. They were always together, spending happy hours in work and recreation, passing from law and politics to music and sketching, from the study of the British Constitution to horticulture. The Princess especially delighted in gardening, in watering with her own hands her favorite plants.
This happy pair had an invaluable aid and ally in the learned Baron Stockmar, early attached to Prince Leopold as private physician, a rare, good man on whom they both leaned much, as afterwards did Victoria and Albert and their children. Indeed the Baron seems to have been a permanent pillar for princes to lean upon. From youth to old age he was to two or three royal households the chief "guide, philosopher, and friend"—a Coburg mentor, a Guelphic oracle.
So these royal lovers of Claremont lived tranquilly on, winning the love and respect of all about them, and growing dearer and dearer to each other till the end came, the sudden death of the young wife and mother,— an event which, on a sad day in November, 1817, plunged the whole realm into mourning. The grief of the people, even those farthest removed from the Court, was real, intense, almost personal and passionate. It was a double tragedy, for the child too was dead. The accounts of the last moments of the Princess are exceedingly touching. When told that her baby boy was not living, she said: "I am grieved, for myself, for the English people, but O, above all, I feel it for my dear husband!" Taking an opportunity when the Prince was away from her bedside, she asked if she too must die. The physician did not directly reply, but said, "Pray be calm."
"I know what that means," she replied, then added, "Tell it to my husband,—tell it with caution and tenderness, and be sure to say to him, from me, that I am still the happiest wife in England."
It seems, according to the Queen, that it was Stockmar that took this last message to the Prince, who lacked the fortitude to remain by the bedside of his dying wife—that it was Stockmar who held her hand till it grew pulseless and cold, till the light faded from her sweet blue eyes as her great life and her great love passed forever from the earth. Yet it seems that through a mystery of transmigration, that light and life and love were destined soon to be reincarnated in a baby cousin, born in May, 1819, called at first "the little May-flower," and through her earliest years watched and tended as a frail and delicate blossom of hope.
Birth of the Princess Victoria—Character of her Father—Question of the Succession to the Throne—Death of the Duke of Kent—Baptism of Victoria —Removal to Woolbrook Glen—Her first Escape from Sudden Death—Picture of Domestic Life—Anecdotes.
After the loss of his wife, Prince Leopold left for a time his sad home of Claremont, and returned to the Continent, but came back some time in 1819, to visit a beloved sister, married since his own bereavement, and become the mother of a little English girl, and for the second time a widow. Lovingly, though with a pang at his heart, the Prince bent over the cradle of this eight-months-old baby, who in her unconscious orphanage smiled into his kindly face, and though he thought sorrowfully of the little one whose eyes had never smiled into his, had never even opened upon life, he vowed then and there to the child of his bereaved sister, the devoted love, the help, sympathy, and guidance which never failed her while he lived.
This baby girl was the daughter of the Duke of Kent and of the Princess Victoire Marie Louise of Saxe-Coburg Saalfield, widow of Prince Charles of Leiningen. Edward, Duke of Kent, was the fourth and altogether the best son of George III. Making all allowance for the exaggeration of loyal biographers, I should say he was an amiable, able, and upright man, generous and charitable to a remarkable degree, for a royal Prince of that time—perhaps too much so, for he kept himself poor and died poor. He was not a favorite with his royal parents, who seem to have denied him reasonable assistance, while lavishing large sums on his spendthrift brother, the Prince of Wales. George was like the prodigal son of Scripture, except that he never repented—Edward like the virtuous son, except that he never complained.
On the death of the Princess Charlotte the Duke of York had become heir- presumptive to the throne. He had no children, and the Duke of Clarence, third son of George III., was therefore next in succession. He married in the same year as his brother of Kent, and to him also a little daughter was born, who, had she lived, would have finally succeeded to the throne instead of Victoria. But the poor little Princess stayed but a little while to flatter or disappoint royal hopes. She looked timidly out upon life, with all its regal possibilities, and went away untempted. Still the Duchess of Clarence (afterwards Queen Adelaide) might yet be the happy mother of a Prince, or Princess Royal, and there were so many probabilities against the accession of the Duke of Kent's baby to the throne that people smiled when, holding her in his arms, the proud father would say, in a spirit of prophecy, "Look at her well!—she will yet be Queen of England."
One rainy afternoon the Duke stayed out late, walking in the grounds, and came in with wet feet. He was urged to change his boots and stockings, but his pretty baby, laughing and crowing on her mother's knee, was too much for him; he took her in his arms and played with her till the fatal chill struck him. He soon took to his bed, which he never left. He had inflammation of the lungs, and a country doctor, which last took from him one hundred and twenty ounces of blood. Then, as he grew no better, a great London physician was called in, but he said it was too late to save the illustrious patient; that if he had had charge of the case at first, he would have "bled more freely." Such was the medical system of sixty years ago.
The Duke of Kent's death brought his unconscious baby's feet a step—just his grave's width—nearer the throne; but it was not till many years later—till after the death of her kindly uncle of York, and her "fine gentleman" uncle, George IV., and the accession of her rough sailor- uncle, the Duke of Clarence, William IV., an old man, and legally considered childless—that the Princess Victoria was confidently regarded as the coming sovereign, and that the momentous truth was revealed to her. She was twelve years old before any clear intimation had been allowed to reach her of the exceptional grandeur of her destiny. Till then she did not know that she was especially an object of national love and hope, or especially great or fortunate. She knew that she was a "Royal Highness," but she knew also, the wise child!—that since the Guelphs came over to rule the English, Royal Highnesses had been more plentiful than popular; she knew that she was obliged to wear, most of the time, very plain cotton gowns and straw hats, and to learn a lot of tiresome things, and that she was kept on short allowance of pin-money and ponies.
The wise Duchess of Kent certainly guarded her with the most jealous care from all premature realization of the splendid part she might have to play in the world's history, as a hope too intoxicating, or a responsibility too heavy, for the heart and mind of a sensitive child.
I wonder if her Serene Highness kept fond motherly records of the babyhood and childhood of the Queen? If so, what a rich mine it would be for a poor bewildered biographer like me, required to make my foundation bricks with only a few golden bits of straw. I have searched the chronicles of the writers of that time; I have questioned loyal old people, but have found or gained little that is novel, or peculiarly interesting.
Victoria was born in the sombre but picturesque old palace of Kensington, on May 24, 1819, and on the 24th of the following June was baptized with great pomp out of the splendid gold font, brought from the Tower, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishop of London. Her sponsors were the Prince Regent and the Emperor of Russia (the last represented by the Duke of York), the Queen Dowager of Wuertemburg (represented by the Princess Augusta) and the Duchess Dowager of Coburg (represented by the Duchess Dowager of Gloucester), and her names were Alexandrina Victoria, the first in honor of the Emperor Alexander of Russia. She came awfully near being Alexandrina Georgiana, but the Prince Regent, at the last moment, declared that the name of Georgiana should be second to no other; then added, "Give her her mother's name—after that of the Emperor." The Queen afterwards decided that her mother's name should be second to no other. Yet as a child she was often called "little Drina."
The baby's first move from her stately birthplace was to a lovely country residence called Woolbrook Glen, near Sidmouth. Here Victoria had the first of those remarkable narrow escapes from sudden and violent death which have almost seemed to prove that she bears a "charmed life." A boy was shooting sparrows in vicinity of the house, and a charge from his carelessly-handled gun pierced the window by which the nurse was sitting, with the little Princess in her arms. It is stated that the shot passed frightfully near the head of the child. But she was as happily unconscious of the deadly peril she had been in as, a few months later, she was of the sad loss she sustained in the death of her father, who was laid away with the other Guelphs in the Windsor Royal Vault, never again to throne his little "Queen" in his loyal, loving arms.
The Princess Victoria seems to have been always ready for play, dearly loving a romp. One of the earliest mentions I find of her is in the correspondence of Bishop Wilberforce. After stating that he had been summoned to the presence of the Duchess of Kent, he says: "She received me with her fine, animated child on the floor by her side busy with its playthings, of which I soon became one."
This little domestic picture gives a glimpse of the tender intimacy, the constant companionship of this noble mother with her child. It is stated that, unlike most mothers in high life, the Duchess nursed this illustrious child at her own breast, and so mingled her life with its life that nothing thenceforth could divide them. The wee Princess passed happily through the perils of infantile ailments. She cut her teeth as easily as most children, with the help of her gold-mounted coral—and very nice teeth they were, though a little too prominent according to the early pictures. If the infant Prince Albert reminded his grandmamma of a "weasel," his "pretty cousin" might have suggested to her a squirrel by "a little something about the mouth."
An old newspaper writer gave a rather rapturous and pompous account of the Princess Victoria when she was about three years old. He says: "Passing through Kensington Gardens a few days since, I observed at some distance a party consisting of several ladies, a young child, and two men-servants, having in charge a donkey, gayly caparisoned with blue ribbons, and accoutred for the use of the infant." He soon ascertained that the party was the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, the Princess Feodore of Leiningen, and the Princess Alexandrina Victoria. On his approaching them the little one replied to his "respectful recognition" with a pleasant "good-morning," and he noted that she was equally polite to all who politely greeted her—truly one "to the manner born." This writer adds: "Her Royal Highness is remarkably beautiful, and her gay and animated countenance bespeaks perfect health and good temper. Her complexion is excessively fair, her eyes large and expressive, and her cheeks blooming. She bears a striking resemblance to her royal father."
A glimpse which Leigh Hunt gives of his little liege lady, as she appeared to him for the first time in Kensington Gardens, is interesting, as revealing the child's affectionate disposition. "She was coming up a cross-path from the Bayswater Gate, with a little girl of her own age by her side, whose hand she was holding as though she loved her." And why not, Mr. Poet? Princesses, especially Princesses of the bread-and-butter age, are as susceptible to joys of sympathy and companionship as any of us—untitled poets and title-contemning Republicans.
Lord Albemarle, in his autobiography, speaks of watching, in an idle hour, from the windows of the old palace, "the movements of a bright, pretty little girl, seven years of age, engaged in watering the plants immediately under the window. It was amusing to see how impartially she divided the contents of the watering-pot between the flowers and her own little feet. Her simple but becoming dress—a large straw hat and a white cotton gown—contrasted favorably with the gorgeous apparel now worn by the little damsels of the rising generation. A colored fichu round the neck was the only ornament she wore. The young lady I am describing was the Princess Victoria, now our Gracious Sovereign."
Queen Victoria dressed her own children in the same simple style, voted quaint and old-fashioned by a later generation. I heard long ago a story of a fashionable lady from some provincial town taking a morning walk in Windsor Park, in the wild hope of a glimpse of royalty, and meeting a lady and gentleman, accompanied only by two or three children, and all so plainly dressed that she merely glanced at them as they passed. Some distance further she walked in her eager quest, when she met an old Scotch gardener, of whom she asked if there was any chance of her encountering the Queen anywhere on the domain. "Weel, ye maun, turn back and rin a good bit, for you've passed her Mawjesty, the Prince, and the Royal bairns."
Ah, wasn't she spited as she looked back and saw the joyous family party in the dim distance, and realized what she had lost in not indulging herself in a good long British stare, and what a sin she had committed in not making a loyal British obeisance.
Victoria's early Education—Anecdote—Routine of Life at Kensington Palace—Character and Circumstances of the Duchess of Kent—Anecdote— Simple Mode of Life—Visits.
Queen Victoria tells little of her childhood, but speaks of it as rather "dull." It seems, however, to have never been empty or idle. All her moments were golden—for study, or for work, or healthful exercise and play. She was taught, and perhaps was inclined, to waste no time, and to be careful not to cause others to waste it. A dear English friend contributes the following anecdote, slight, but very significant, obtained long ago from a lady whose young daughters, then at school at Hammersmith, had the same writing-master as the Princess Victoria: "Of course," says my friend, "every incident connected with the little Princess was interesting to the school-girls, and all that this master (I think his name was Steward) had to tell went to prove her a kind-hearted and considerate child.
"She always mentioned to him in advance the days on which she would not require a lesson, saying: 'I thought, perhaps, you would like to know.' Sometimes she would say, 'We are going to Windsor to see Uncle King,' or she would name some other important engagement. By 'Uncle King' she meant George IV. Mr. Steward, of course, availed himself of the liberty suggested by the little Princess, then about eight years old, by whose thoughtful kindness he was saved much time and trouble."
Lord Campbell, speaking of the Princess as a little girl, says: "She seems in good health, and appears lively and good-humored." It may be that the good-humor was, in great part, the result of the good health.
The Princess was brought up after the wisest, because most simple, system of healthful living: perfect regularity in the hours of eating, sleeping, and exercise; much life in the open air, and the least possible excitement.
She was taught to respect her own constitution as well as that of the British Government, and to reverence the laws of health as the laws of God.
An account which I judge to be authoritative of the daily routine of the family life in Kensington, runs thus: "Breakfast at 8 o'clock in summer, the Princess Victoria having her bread and milk and fruit put on a little table by her mother's side. After breakfast the Princess Feodore studied with her governess, and the Princess Victoria went out for an hour's walk or drive. From 10 to 12 her mother instructed her, after which she could amuse herself by running through the suite of rooms which extended round two sides of the palace, and in which were many of her toys. At 2 a plain dinner, while her mother took her luncheon. Lessons again till 4; then would come a visit or drive, and after that a walk or donkey ride in the gardens. At the time of her mother's dinner the Princess had her supper, still at the side of the Duchess; then, after playing with her nurse (Mrs. Brock, whom she called 'dear, dear Boppy'), she would join the party at dessert, and at 9 she would retire to her bed, which was placed at the side of her mother's."
We see regular study, regular exercise, simple food, plenty of outdoor air, plenty of play, plenty of sleep. It seems that when this admirable mother laid her child away from her own breast, it was only to lay it on that of Nature, and very close has Victoria, with all her state and grandeur, kept to the heart of the great all-mother ever since.
The Duchess of Kent was left not only with very limited means for a lady of her station, but also burdened by her husband's debts, which, being a woman with a fine sense of honor, she felt herself obliged to discharge, or at least to reduce as far and fast as possible. Had it not been for help from her generous brother, Leopold, she could hardly have afforded for her daughter the full and fitting education she received. So, had not her taste and her sense of duty towards her child inclined her to a life of quiet and retirement, the lack of fortune would have constrained her to live simply and modestly. As it was, privacy was the rule in the life of the accomplished Duchess, still young and beautiful, and in that of her little shadow; very seldom did they appear at Court, or in any gay Court circle; so, at the time of her accession to the throne, Victoria might almost have been a fairy-princess, emerging from some enchanted dell in Windsor forest, or a water-nymph evoked from the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens by some modern Merlin, for all the world at large—the world beyond her kingdom at least—knew of her young years, of her character and disposition. Now few witnesses are left anywhere of her fair happy childhood, or even of her girlhood, which was like a silvery crescent, holding the dim promise of full-orbed womanhood and Queenhood.
As the Princess grew older, she found loving and helpful companionship in her half-brother and sister, Prince Charles and the Princess Feodore of Leiningen, the three children and their mother forming a close family union, which years and separations and changes of fortune never destroyed. They are all gone from her now; the Queen, as daughter and sister, stands alone.
A kind friend and a well-known English writer, F. Aiken Kortright, for many years a resident of Kensington, tells some pleasant little local stories of the Princess Victoria. She says: "In her childhood the Princess Victoria was frequently seen in a little carriage, drawn over the gravel-walks of the then rural Kensington Gardens, accompanied by her elder and half-sister, the Princess Feodore, and attended by a single servant. Many elderly people still remember the extreme simplicity of the child's attire, and the quiet and unpretentious appearance and manners of her sister, who was one day seen to stop the tiny carriage to indulge the fancy of an unknown little girl by allowing her to kiss her future Queen."
That "unknown little girl" was an elder sister of Miss Kortright. My friend also says that the Duchess of Kent and her daughters frequently on summer afternoons took tea on the lawn, "in sight of admiring promenaders, with a degree of publicity which now sounds fabulous."
It was then safe and agreeable for that quiet, refined family, only because the London "Rough"—that ugly, unwholesome, fungous growth on the fine old oak of English character—had not made his unwelcome appearance in all the public parks of the metropolis. Our friend also states that so simple and little-girlish was the Princess in her ways that, later on, she was known to go with her mother or sister to a Kensington milliner's to buy a hat, stay to have it trimmed, and then carry it (or more likely the old one) home in her hand. I should like to see a little Miss Vanderbilt do a thing of that kind!
The Kents and Leiningens—if I may speak so familiarly of Royal and Serene Highnesses—when away from the quiet home in Kensington, spent much time at lovely Claremont as guests of the dear brother and Uncle Leopold. They seem also to have travelled a good deal in England, visiting watering-places and in houses of the nobility, but never to have gone over to the Continent. The Duchess probably felt that the precious life which she held in trust for the people of England might possibly be endangered by too long journeys, or by changes of climate; but what it cost to the true German woman to so long exile herself from her old home and her kindred none ever knew—at least none among her husband's unsympathetic family—for she was, as a Princess, too proud to complain; as a mother, cheerful in her devotion and self-abnegation.
Queen-making not a Light Task—Admirable Discipline of the Duchess of Kent—Foundation of the Character and Habits of the future Queen—Curious Extract from a Letter by her Grandmamma—A Children's Ball given by George IV. to the little Queen of Portugal—A Funny Mishap—Death of George IV.—Character of his Successor—Victoria's first appearance at a Drawing-room—Her absence from the Coronation of William IV.
Queen-making is not a light task. It is no fancywork for idle hours. It is the first difficult draft of a chapter, perhaps a whole volume, of national history.
No woman ever undertook a more important labor than did the widowed Duchess of Kent, or carried it out with more faithfulness, if we may judge by results.
The lack of fortune in the family was not an unmixed evil; perhaps it was even one of those disagreeable "blessings in disguise," which nobody welcomes, but which the wise profit by, as it caused the Duchess to impress upon her children, especially the child Victoria, the necessity of economy, and the safety and dignity which one always finds in living within one's income. Frugality, exactitude in business, faithfulness to all engagements, great or small, punctuality, that economy of time, are usually set down among the minor moralities of life, more humdrum than heroic; but under how many circumstances and conditions do they reveal themselves as cardinal virtues, as things on which depend the comfort and dignity of life! It seems that these things were so impressed on the mind and heart of the young Victoria by her careful, methodical German mother, that they became a part of her conscience, entered so deeply into the rule of her life that no after-condition of wealth, or luxury, or sovereign independence; no natural desire for ease or pleasure; no passion of love or grief; no possible exigencies of imperial state have been able to overcome or set them aside. The danger is that such rigid principles, such systematic habits, adopted in youth, may in age become, from being the ministers of one's will, the tyrants of one's life.
It seems to be somewhat so in the case of the Queen, for I hear it said that the sun, the moon, and the tides are scarcely more punctual and regular in their rounds and mighty offices, in their coming and going, than she in the daily routine of her domestic and state duties and frequent journeyings; and that the laws of the Medes and Persians are as naught in inexorableness and inflexibility to the rules and regulations of Windsor and Balmoral.
But the English people, even those directly inconvenienced at times by those unbending habits and irrevocable rules, have no right to find fault, for these be the right royal results of the admirable but somewhat unyouthful qualities they adored in the young Queen. They have no right to sneer because a place of honor is given in Her Majesty's household to that meddlesome, old-fashioned German country cousin, Economy; for did not they all rejoice in the early years of the reign to hear of this same dame being introduced by those clever managers, Prince Albert and Baron Stockmar, into the royal palaces, wherein she had not been seen for many a year?
But to return to the little Princess. The Duchess, her mother, seems to have given her all needful change of air and scene, though always maintaining; habits of study, and an admirable system of mental and moral training; for the child's constitution seems to have strengthened year by year, and in spite of one or two serious attacks of illness, the foundation was laid of the robust health which, accompanied by rare courage and nerve, has since so marked and blessed her life. A writer of the time speaks of a visit paid by her and her mother to Windsor in 1829, when the child was about seven years old, and states that George IV., her "Uncle King," was delighted with her "charming manners."
It was about this visit that her maternal grandmamma at Coburg wrote to her mamma: "I see by the English papers that Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent went on Virginia water with His Majesty. The little monkey must have pleased and amused him, she is such a pretty, clever child."
To think of the great Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India, being called "a little monkey"! Grandmammas will take such liberties. Three or four years later, according to that spicy and irreverent chronicler, Charles Greville, the little Princess was not pretty. But she was just entering on that ungracious period in which few little girls are comely to look upon, or comfortable to themselves. Greville saw her at a children's ball, given by the King in honor of his little guest, the child-Queen of Portugal, Donna Maria II., da Gloria, whom the King seated at his right hand, and was very attentive to. Greville says she was fine-looking and very finely dressed, "with a ribbon and order over her shoulder," and she must have seemed very grand to the other children while she sat by the King, but when she came to dance she "fell down and hurt her face, was frightened and bruised, and went away." Then he adds: "Our little Princess is a short, plain child, not so good-looking as the Portuguese. However, if Nature has not done so much, Fortune is likely to do a great deal more for her."
Victoria did not know that, but like any other little girl she may, perhaps, have comforted herself by thinking, "Well, if I'm not so handsome and grand and smartly dressed as that Maria, I'm less awkward. I was able to keep my head and not lose my feet."
As for her small Majesty of Portugal, she was at that time a Queen without a crown and without a kingdom. She had come all the way from Brazil to take her grandfather's throne, a little present from her father, Dom Pedro I., the rightful heir, but only to find the place filled by a wicked uncle, Don Miguel. She had a long fight with the usurper, her father coming over to help her, and finally ousted Miguel and got into that big, uneasy arm-chair, called a throne, where she continued to sit, though much shaken and heaved up and about by political convulsions, for some dozen years, when she found it best to step down and out.
It is said she did not gain, but lost in beauty as she grew to womanhood; so finally the English Princess had the advantage of her in the matter of good looks even.
King George IV., though he was fond of his amusing little niece, did not like to think of her as destined to rule in his place. He is said to have been much offended when, as he was proposing to give that ball, his chief favorite, a gay, Court lady, exclaimed: "Oh, do! it will be so nice to see the two little Queens dancing together." Yet he disliked the Duchess of Kent for keeping the child as much as possible away from his disreputable Court, and educating her after her own ideas, and often threatened to use his power as King to deprive her of the little girl. The country would not have stood this, yet the Duchess must have suffered cruelly from fear of having her darling child taken from her by this crowned ogre, and shut up in the gloomy keep of his Castle at Windsor. But it was the Ogre-King who was taken, a little more than a year after the children's ball—and not a day too soon for his country's good—and his brother, the Duke of Clarence, reigned in his stead.
William IV. had some heart, some frankness and honesty, but he was a bluff, rough sailor, and when excited, oaths of the hottest sort flew from his lips, like sparks from an anvil. Because of his roughness and profanity, and because, perhaps, of the fact of his surrounding himself with a lot of natural children, the Duchess was determined to persevere in her retirement from the Court circle, and in keeping her innocent little daughter out of its unwholesome atmosphere, as much as possible. She was, however, most friendly with Queen Adelaide, who, when her last child died, had written to her: "My children are dead, but yours lives, and she is mine too." The good woman meant this, and her fondness was returned by Victoria, who manifested for her to the last, filial affection and consideration.
The first Drawing-room which the Princess attended was one given in honor of Her Majesty's birthday. She went with her mother and a suite of ladies and gentlemen in State carriages, escorted by a party of Life Guards. The Princess was on that occasion dressed entirely in materials of British manufacture, her frock being of English blonde, very simple and becoming. She stood at the left of her aunt, the Queen, and watched the splendid ceremony with great interest, while everybody watched her with greater interest. But if the presence of the "heir-presumptive to the throne" created a sensation at the Queen's Drawing-room, her absence from the King's coronation created more. Some said it was because a proper place in the procession—one next to the King and Queen—had not been assigned to her; others, that the Duchess had kept her away on account of her delicate health, and nobody knew exactly the truth of the matter. Perhaps the great state secret will be revealed some day with the identity of "Junius" and the "Man in the Iron Mask."
King William jealous of Public Honors to Victoria—Anecdote—The unusual Studies of the Princess—Her Visits to the Isle of Wight—Laughable Incident at Wentworth House—Anecdote related by her Music-teacher— Unwholesome adulation of the Princess—Reflections upon the curious isolation of her Social Position—Extract from one of her later Letters.
The indifference of the Duchess of Kent to the heavy pomps and heavier gayeties of his Court so offended his unmajestic Majesty, that he finally became decidedly inimical to the Duchess. Though he insisted on seeing the little Princess often, he did not like the English people to see too much of her, or to pay her and her mother too much honor. He objected to their little journeys, calling them "royal progresses," and by a special order put a stop to the "poppings," in the way of salutes, to the vessel which bore them to and from the Isle of Wight—a small piece of state- business for a King and his Council to be engaged in. The King's unpopular brother, the Duke of Cumberland, was also supposed to be unfriendly to the widow of a brother whom he had not loved, and to the child whom, according to that brother, he regarded from the first as an "intruder," and who certainly at the last, stood between His Royal Grossness and the throne—the throne which would have gone down under him. Yet, in spite of enmity and opposition from high quarters, and jealousy and harsh criticism from Court ministers and minions, the Duchess of Kent, who seems to have been a woman of immense firmness and resolution, kept on her way, rearing her daughter as she thought best, coming and going as she felt inclined.
Victoria's governess was for many years the accomplished Baroness Lehzen, who had also been the chief instructress of her sister, Feodore. Until she was twelve years old, her masters were also German, and she is said to have spoken English with a German accent. After that time her teachers, in nearly all branches, were English. Miss Kortright tells me a little anecdote of the Princess when about twelve years old, related by one of these teachers. She had been reading in her classical history the story of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi—how she proudly presented her sons to the ostentatious and much-bediamonded Roman dame, with the words, "These are my jewels." "She should have said my Cornelians," said the quick-witted little girl.
Victoria was instructed in some things not in those days thought proper for young ladies to learn, but deemed necessary for a poor girl who was expected to do a man's work. She was well grounded in history, instructed in Latin—though she did not fancy it, and later, in the British Constitution, and in law and politics. Nor were light accomplishments neglected: in modern languages, in painting and music, she finally became singularly proficient. Gifted with a remarkably sweet voice and a correct ear, she could not well help being a charming singer, under her great master, Lablache. She danced well, rode well, and excelled in archery.
As I said, the brave Duchess, as conscientious as independent, kept up the life of retirement from Court pomps and gayeties, and of alternate hard study and social recreation, which she thought best for her child.
She quietly persevered in the "progresses" which annoyed the irascible and unreasonable old King, even visiting the Isle of Wight, though the royal big guns were forbidden to "pop" at sight of the royal standard, which waved over her, and the young hope of England. Perhaps recollections of those pleasant visits with her mother at Norris Castle have helped to render so dear the Queen's own beautiful sea-side home, Osborne House. I remember a pretty little story, told by a tourist, who happened to be stopping at the village of Brading during one of those visits to the lovely island. One afternoon he strolled into the old church-yard to search out the grave of Elizabeth Wallbridge, the sweet heroine of Leigh Richmond's beautiful religious story, "The Dairyman's Daughter." He found seated beside the mound a lady and a young girl, the latter reading aloud, in a full, melodious voice, the touching tale of the Christian maiden. The tourist turned away, and soon after was told by the sexton that those pilgrims to that humble grave were the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria.
I am told by a Yorkshire lady another story of the Princess, of not quite so serious a character. She was visiting with her mother, of course, at Wentworth House, the seat of Earl Fitzwilliam in Yorkshire, and while at that pleasant place delighted in running about by herself in the gardens and shrubberies. One wet morning, soon after her arrival, she was thus disporting herself, flitting from point to point, light-hearted and light-footed, when the old gardener, who did not then know her, seeing her about to descend a treacherous bit of ground from the terrace, called out, "Be careful, Miss; it's slape!"—a Yorkshire word for slippery. The incautious, but ever-curious Princess, turning her head, asked, "What's slape?" and the same instant her feet flew from under her, and she came down. The old gardener ran to lift her, saying, as he did so, "That's slape, Miss."
There is nothing remarkable, much less incredible, in these stories of the young Victoria, nor in the one related by her music-teacher, of how she once rebelled against so much practice, and how, on his telling her that there was no "royal road" in art, and that only by much practice could she become "mistress of the piano," she closed and locked the obnoxious instrument and put the key in her pocket, saying playfully, "Now you see there is a royal way of becoming 'mistress of the piano.'" But not so simple and natural and girlish are all the things told of the Queen's young days. Loyal English people have said to me, "You will find few stories of Her Majesty's childhood, but those few will all be good."
Yes, too good. The chroniclers of forty and fifty years ago—the same in whose loyal eyes the fifteen children of George III. were all "children of light"—could find no words in which to paint their worship for this rising star of sovereignty. According to them, she was not only the pearl of Princesses for piety and propriety, for goodness and graciousness, but a marvel of unchildlike wisdom, a prodigy of cleverness and learning; in short, a purely perfect creature, loved of the angels to a degree perilous to the succession. The simplest little events of her daily life were twisted into something unnaturally significant, or unhealthily virtuous. If she was taken through a cotton-mill at Manchester, and asked a score or two of questions about the machinery and the strange processes of spinning and weaving, it was not childish curiosity—it was a love of knowledge, and a patriotic desire to encourage British manufactures.
If she gave a few pennies to a blind beggar at Margate, the amiable act was heralded as one, of almost divine beneficence, and the beggar pitied, as never before, for his blindness. The poor man had not beheld the face of the "little angel" who dropped the coin into his greasy hat! If, full of "high spirits," she took long rides on a donkey at Ramsgate, and ran races with other children on the sands, it was a proof of the sweetest human condescension—the donkey's opinion not being taken.
Of course all this is false, unwholesome sentiment, quite incomprehensible to nineteenth century Americans, though our great- grandfathers understood this sort of personal loyalty very well, and gloried in it, till George the Third drove them to the wall; and our great-grandmothers cherished it as a sacred religious principle till their tea was taxed. I dare say that if the truth could be got at, we should find that little Victoria was at times trying enough to mother, masters, and attendants; that she was occasionally passionate, perverse, and "pestering," like all children who have any great and positive elements in them. I dare say she was disposed, like any other "only child," to be self-willed and selfish, and that she required a fair amount of wholesome discipline, and that she got it. Had she been the prim and pious little precocity which some biographers have painted her, she would have died young, like the "Dairyman's Daughter"; we might have had an edifying tract, and England a revolution.
One of her biographers speaks with a sort of ecstatic surprise of the fact that the Princess was "affable—even gay," and that she "laughed and chatted like other little girls." And yet she must early have perceived that she was not quite like other little girls, but set up and apart. Though reared with all the simplicity practicable for a Princess Royal, she must have been conscious of a magic circle drawn round her, of a barrier impalpable, but most real, which other children could not voluntarily overpass. She must have seen that they could not call out to her to "come and play!" that however shy she might feel, she must propose the game, or the romp, as later she had to propose marriage. She even was obliged to quarrel, if quarrel she did, all alone by herself. Any resistance on the part of her playmates would have been a small variety of high treason. She must sometimes, with her admirable good sense, have been wearied and disgusted by so much concession, conciliation, and consideration, and may have envied less fortunate or unfortunate mortals who can give and take hard knocks, for whom less is demanded, and of whom less is expected.
She may have tired of her very name, with its grand prefixes and no affix, and longed to be Victoria Kent, or Something—Jones, Brown, or Robinson.
She seems to have been a child of simple, homely tastes, for in 1842, when Queen, she writes to her Uncle Leopold from Claremont, where she is visiting, with her husband and little daughter: "This place brings back recollections of the happiest days of my otherwise dull childhood—days when I experienced such kindness from you, dearest uncle; Victoria plays with my old bricks, and I see her running and jumping in the flower- garden, as old (though I feel still little) Victoria of former days used to do."
The Princess opens the Victoria Park at Bath—Becoming used to Public Curiosity—Secret of her Destiny revealed to her—Royal Ball on her Thirteenth Birthday—At the Ascot Races—Picture by N. P. Willis— Anecdotes—Painful Scene at the King's last Birthday Dinner.
When she was eleven years old, the Princess opened the Victoria Park at Bath. She began the opening business thus early, and has kept it up pretty diligently for fifty years—parks, expositions, colleges, exchanges, law courts, bridges, docks, art schools, and hospitals. Her sons and daughters are also kept busy at the same sort of work. Indeed these are almost the only openings for young men of the royal family for active service, now that crusades and invasions of France have gone out of fashion. It seems to me that the English people get up all sorts of opening and unveiling occasions in order to supply employment to their Princes and Princesses, who, I must say, never shirk such monotonous duties, however much they may be bothered and bored by them.
Occasionally the Duchess of Kent and her daughter visited Brighton, and stopped in that grotesque palace of George IV., called the Pavilion. I have seen a picture of the demure little Princess, walking on the esplanade, with her mother, governesses, and gentlemen attendants, the whole elegant party and the great crowd of Brightonians following and staring at them, wearing the absurd costumes of half a century ago—the ladies, big bonnets, big mutton-leg sleeves, big collars, heelless slippers, laced over the instep; the gentlemen, short-waisted coats, enormous collars, preposterous neckties, and indescribably clumsy hats.
By this time the Princess had learned to bear quietly and serenely, if not unconsciously, the gaze of hundreds of eyes, admiring or criticising. She knew that the time was probably coming when the hundreds would increase to thousands, and even millions—when the world would for her seem to be made up of eyes, like a peacock's tail. Small wonder that in her later years, especially since she has missed from her side the splendid figure which divided and justified the mighty multitudinous stare, this eternal observation, this insatiable curiosity has become infinitely wearisome to her.
Several accounts have been given of the manner in which the great secret of her destiny was revealed to the Princess Victoria, and the manner in which it was received, but only one has the Queen's indorsement. This was contained in a letter, written long afterwards to Her Majesty by her dear old governess, the Baroness Lehzen, who states that when the Regency Bill (an act naming the Duchess of Kent as Regent, in case of the King dying before his niece obtained her majority) was before Parliament, it was thought that the time had come to make known to the Princess her true position. So after consulting with the Duchess, the Baroness placed a genealogical table in a historical book, which her pupil was reading. When the Princess came upon this paper, she said: "Why, I never saw that before." "It was not thought necessary you should see it," the Baroness replied. Then the young girl, examining the paper, said thoughtfully: "I see I am nearer the throne than I supposed." After some moments she resumed, with a sort of quaint solemnity: "Now many a child would boast, not knowing the difficulty. There is much splendor, but there is also much responsibility." "The Princess," says the Baroness, "having lifted up the forefinger of her right hand while she spoke, now gave me that little hand, saying: 'I will be good. I understand now why you urged me so much to learn, even Latin. My aunts, Augusta and Mary, never did, but you told me Latin was the foundation of English grammar, and all the elegant expressions, and I learned it, as you wished it; but I understand all better now,' and the Princess again gave me her hand, repeating, 'I will be good.'"
God heard the promise of the child of twelve years and held her to it, and has given her strength "as her day" to redeem it, all through the dazzling brightness and the depressing shadows, through the glory and the sorrow of her life, as a Queen and a woman.
The Queen says that she "cried much" over the magnificent but difficult problem of her destiny, but the tears must have been April showers, for in those days she was accounted a bright, care-free little damsel, and was ever welcome as a sunbeam in the noblest houses of England—such as Eaton Hall, the seat of the Duke of Westminster; Wentworth House, belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam; Alton Towers, the country house of the Earl of Shrewsbury; and Chatsworth, the palace of the Duke of Devonshire, where such royal loyal honors were paid to her that she had a foretaste of the "splendor," without the "responsibility," of Queenhood.
The King and Queen gave a brilliant ball in honor of "the thirteenth birthday of their beloved niece, the Princess Victoria," and somewhat later, the little royal lady appeared at a Drawing-room, when she is said to have charmed everybody by her sweet, childish dignity—a sort of quaint queenliness of manner and expression. She was likewise most satisfactory to the most religiously inclined of her subjects who were to be, in her mien and behavior when in the Royal Chapel of St. James, on the interesting occasion of her confirmation. She is said to have gone through the ceremony with "profound thoughtfulness and devout solemnity."
The next glimpse I have of her is at a very different scene—the Ascot races. A brilliant American author, N. P. Willis, who then saw her for the first time, wrote: "In one of the intervals, I walked under the King's stand, and saw Her Majesty the Queen, and the young Princess Victoria, very distinctly. They were leaning over the railing listening to a ballad-singer, and seeming as much interested and amused as any simple country-folk could be. The Queen is undoubtedly the plainest woman in her dominions, but the Princess is much better-looking than any picture of her in the shops, and for the heir to such a crown as that of England, quite unnecessarily, pretty and interesting. She will be sold, poor thing! bartered away by those great-dealers in royal hearts, whose grand calculations will not be much consolation to her if she happens to have a taste of her own."
Little did the wise American poet guess that, away in a little fairy principality of Deutschland, there was a beautiful young fairy prince, being reared by benevolent fairy godmother-grandmothers, especially to disprove all such doleful prophecies, and reverse the usual fate of pretty young Princesses in the case of the "little English mayflower."
Greville relates a little incident which shows that the Princess, when between sixteen and seventeen, and almost in sight of the throne, was still amenable to discipline. He describes a reception of much pomp and ceremony, given to the Duchess and the Princess by the Mayor and other officers of the town of Burghley, followed by a great dinner, which "went off well," except that an awkward waiter, in a spasm of loyal excitement, emptied the contents of a pail of ice in the lap of the Duchess, which, though she took it coolly, "made a great bustle." I am afraid the Princess laughed. Then followed a magnificent ball, which was opened by the Princess, with Lord Exeter for a partner. After that one dance she "went to bed." Doubtless her good mother thought she had had fatigue and excitement enough for one day; but it must have been hard for such a dance-loving girl to take her quivering feet out of the ball-room so early, and for such a grand personage as she already was, just referred to in the Mayor's speech, as "destined to mount the throne of these realms," to be sent away like a child, to mount a solemn, beplumed four- poster, and to try to sleep, with that delicious dance-music still ringing in her ears.
Greville also relates a sad Court story connected with the young Princess, and describes a scene which would be too painful for me to reproduce, except that it reveals, in a striking manner, Victoria's tender love for and close sympathy with her mother. It seems that the King's jealous hostility to the Duchess of Kent had grown with his decay, and strengthened with his senility, till at last it culminated in a sort of declaration of war at his own table. The account is given by Greville second-hand, and so, very likely, over-colored, though doubtless true in the main. The King invited the Duchess and Princess to Windsor to join in the celebration of his birthday, which proved to be his last. There was a dinner-party, called "private," but a hundred guests sat down to the table. The Duchess of Kent was given a place of honor on one side of the King, and opposite her sat the Princess Victoria. After dinner Queen Adelaide proposed "His Majesty's health and long life to him," to which that amiable monarch replied by a very remarkable speech. He began by saying that he hoped in God he might live nine months longer, when the Princess would be of age, and he could leave the royal authority in her hands and not in those of a Regent, in the person of a lady sitting near him, etc. Afterwards he said: "I have particularly to complain of the manner in which that young lady (the Princess Victoria) has been kept from my Court. She has been repeatedly kept from my Drawing-rooms, at which she ought always to have been present, but I am resolved that this shall not happen again. I would have her know that I am King, and am determined to make my authority respected, and for the future I shall insist and command that the Princess do, upon all occasions, appear at my Court, as it is her duty to do."
This pleasant and hospitable harangue, uttered in a loud voice and an excited manner, "produced a decided sensation." The whole company "were aghast." Queen Adelaide, who was amiable and well-bred, "looked in deep distress"; the young Princess burst into tears at the insult offered to her mother; but that mother sat calm and silent, very pale, but proud and erect—Duchess of Duchesses!
Victoria's first meeting with Prince Albert—She comes of Age—Ball in honor thereof—Illness of King William—His Death—His Habits and Character—The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor inform Victoria that she is Queen—Her beautiful bearing under the ordeal.
In May, 1836, the Princess saw, for the first time, her cousins, Ernest and Albert, of Saxe-Coburg. These brothers, one eighteen and the other seventeen, are described as charming young fellows, well-bred and carefully educated, with high aims, good, true hearts, and frank, natural manners.
In personal appearance they were very prepossessing. Ernest was handsome, and Albert more than handsome. They were much beloved by their Uncle Leopold, then King of Belgium, and soon endeared themselves to their Aunt Kent and their Cousin Victoria. They spent three weeks at Kensington in daily intercourse with their relatives, and with their father, the Duke of Coburg, were much feted by the royal family. They keenly enjoyed English society and sights, and learned something of English life and character, which to one of them, at least, proved afterwards useful. Indeed this admirable young Prince, Albert, seemed always learning and assimilating new facts and ideas. He had a soul athirst for knowledge.
On May 24, 1837, the Princess Victoria came of age. She was awakened early by a matutinal serenade—a band of musicians piping and harping merrily under her bedroom windows. She received many presents and congratulatory visits, and had the pleasure of knowing that the day was observed as a grand holiday in London and throughout England. Boys were let out of school, and M.P.'s out of Parliament. At night the metropolis was "brilliantly illuminated"—at least so thought those poor, benighted, ante-electrical-light Londoners—and a grand state ball was given in St. James' Palace. Here, for the first time, the Princess took precedence of her mother, and we may believe she felt shy and awkward at such a reversal of the laws of nature and the habits of years. But doubtless the stately Duchess fell back without a sigh, except it were one of joy and gratitude that she had brought her darling on so far safely.
This could hardly have been a very gay state ball, for their Majesties were both absent. The King had that very day been attacked with hayfever, and the Queen had dutifully stayed at home to nurse him. He rallied from this attack somewhat, but never was well again, and in the small hours of June 2d the sailor King died at Royal Windsor, royally enough, I believe, though he had never been a very royal figure or spirit. Of course after he was gone from his earthly kingdom, the most glowing eulogies were pronounced upon him in Parliament, in the newspapers, and in hundreds of pulpits. Even a year later, the Bishop of London, in his sermon at the Queen's coronation, lauded the late King for his "unfeigned religion," and exhorted his "youthful successor" to "follow in his footsteps." Ah, if she had done so, I should not now be writing Her Majesty's Life!
It must be that in a King a little religion goes a long way. The good Bishop and other loyal prelates must have known all about the Fitz- Clarences—those wild "olive branches about the table" of His Majesty; and they were doubtless aware of that little unfortunate habit of profanity, acquired on the high-seas, and scarcely becoming to the Head of the Church; but they, perhaps, considered that His Majesty swore as the sailor, not as the sovereign. He certainly made a good end, hearing many prayers, and joining in them as long as he was able, and devoutly receiving the communion; and what is better, manifesting some tender anxiety lest his faithful wife and patient nurse should do too much and grieve too much for him. When he saw her like to break down, he would say: "Bear up; bear up, Adelaide!" just like any other good husband. William was not a bad King, as Kings went in those days; he was, doubtless, an orthodox churchman, and we may believe he was a good Christian, from his charge to the new Bishop of Ely when he came to "kiss hands" on his preferment: "My lord, I do not wish to interfere in any way with your vote in Parliament, except on one subject—the Jews. I trust I may depend on your always voting against them!"
When the solemn word went through the old Castle of Windsor, "The King is dead!" his most loyal ministers, civil and religious, added under their breath: "Long live the Queen!" and almost immediately the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain left Windsor and travelled as fast as post-horses could carry them, to Kensington Palace, which they reached in the gray of the early dawn. Everybody was asleep, and they knocked and rang a long time before they could rouse the porter at the gate, who at last grumblingly admitted them. Then they had another siege in the court- yard; but at length the palace door yielded, and they were let into one of the lower rooms, "where," says Miss Wynn's account, "they seemed forgotten by everybody." They rang the bell, called a sleepy servant, and requested that the special attendant of the Princess Victoria should inform her Royal Highness that they desired an audience on "very important business." More delay, more ringing, more inquiries and directions. At last the attendant of the Princess came, and coolly stated that her Royal Mistress was "in such a sweet sleep she could not venture to disturb her." Then solemnly spoke up the Archbishop: "We are come on business of State, to the Queen, and even her sleep must give way." Lo it was out! The startled maid flew on her errand, and so effectually performed it, that Victoria, not daring to keep her visitors waiting longer, hurried into the room with only a shawl thrown over her night- gown, and her feet in slippers. She had flung off her night-cap (young ladies wore night-caps in those queer old times), and her long, light- brown hair was tumbling over her shoulders. So she came to receive the first homage of the Church and the State, and to be hailed "Queen!" and she was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, of India and the mighty Colonies! It seems to me that the young girl must have believed herself at that moment only half awake, and still dreaming. The grand, new title, "Your Majesty," must have had a new sound, as addressed to her,— something strange and startling, though very likely she may have often said it over to herself, silently, to get used to it. The first kiss of absolute fealty on her little hand must have thrilled through her whole frame. Some accounts say that as full realization was forced upon her, she burst into tears; others dwell on her marvellous calm and self- possession. I prefer to believe in the tears, not only because the assumption of the "dangerous grandeur of sovereignty" was a solemn and tremendous matter for one so young, but because something of awe and sorrow on hearing of the eternal abdication of that sovereignty, by her rough but not to her unloving old uncle, was natural and womanly, and fitting. I believe that it has not been questioned that the first words of the QUEEN were addressed to the Primate, and that they were simply, "I beg your Grace to pray for me," which the Archbishop did, then and there. Doubtless, also, as related, the first act of her queenly life was the writing of a letter of condolence to Queen Adelaide, in which, after expressing her tender sympathy, she begged her "dear aunt" to remain at Windsor just as long as she might feel inclined. This letter she addressed to "Her Majesty, the Queen." Some one at hand reminded her that the King's widow was now only Queen Dowager. "I am quite aware of that," replied Victoria, "but I will not be the first person to remind her of it." I cannot say how much I like that. Wonderful is the story told by many witnesses of the calmness and gentle dignity of Her Majesty, when a few hours later she met the high officers of the Church and State, Princes and Peers, received their oaths of allegiance and read her first speech from an improvised throne. The Royal Princes, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, Her Majesty's uncles, were the first to be sworn, and Greville says: "As they knelt before her, swearing allegiance and kissing her hand, I saw her blush up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their civil and their natural relations; and this was the only sign of emotion which she evinced."
When she first entered the room she had kissed these old uncles affectionately, walking toward the Duke of Sussex, who was very feeble.
Greville says that she seemed rather bewildered at the multitude of men who came to kiss her hand and kneel to her, among them the conqueror of Napoleon—soldier of soldiers—the Duke!—but that she did not make any difference in her manner, or show any especial respect, or condescension in her countenance to any individual, not even to the Premier, Lord Melbourne, for whom she was known to have a great liking, and who was long her trusted friend and favorite Minister.
The Queen was also called upon to take an oath, which was for "the security of the Church of Scotland." This she has most faithfully kept; indeed, she has now and then been reproached by jealous champions of the English Establishment for undue graciousness towards the Kirk and its ministers.
For this grand but solemn ceremony at Kensington—rendered the more solemn by the fact that while it was going on the great bell of St. Paul's was tolling for the dead King,—the young Queen was dressed very simply, in mourning.
She seems to have thought of everything, for she sent for Lord Albemarle, and after reminding him that according to law and precedent she must be proclaimed the next morning at 10 o'clock, from a certain window of St. James' Palace, requested him to provide for her a suitable conveyance and escort. She then bowed gravely and graciously to the Princes, Archbishops and Cabinet Ministers, and left the room, as she had entered it—alone.
The last day of Victoria's real girlhood—Proclaimed Queen from St. James' Palace—She holds her first Privy Council—Comments upon her deportment by eye-witnesses—Fruits of her mother's care and training.
It seems to me that the momentous day just described was the last of Victoria's real girlhood; that premature womanhood was thrust upon her with all the power, grandeur, and state of a Queen Regnant. I wonder if, weary and nervously exhausted as she must have been, she slept much, when at last she went to bed, probably no longer in her mother's room. I wonder if she did not think, with a sort of fearsome thrill that when the summer sun faded from her sight, it was only to travel all night, lighting her vast dominions and her uncounted millions of subjects; and that, like the splendor of that sun, had become her life—hers, the little maiden's, but just emerging from the shadow of seclusion, and from her mother's protecting care and wise authority, and stepping out into the world by herself!
The next day she went in state to St. James Palace, accompanied by great lords and ladies, and escorted by squadrons of the Life Guards and Blues, and was formally proclaimed from the window of the Presence Chamber, looking out on the court-yard. A Court chronicle states that Her Majesty wore a black silk dress and a little black chip bonnet, and that she looked paler than usual. Miss Martineau, speaking of the scene, says: "There stood the young creature, in simplest mourning, her sleek bands of brown hair as plain as her dress. The tears ran down her cheeks, as Lord Melbourne, standing by her side, presented her to the people as their Sovereign. ... In the upper part of the face she is really pretty, and with an ingenuous, sincere air which seems full of promise."
After the ceremony of proclamation was over, the "little Queen" remained for a few moments at the window, bowing and smiling through her tears at that friendly and enthusiastic crowd of her subjects, and listening to the National Anthem played for the first time for her, then retired, with her mother, who had not been "prominent" during the scene, but who had been observed "to watch her daughter with great anxiety."
At noon the Queen held a Privy Council, at which it was said, "She presided with as much ease as though she had been doing nothing else all her life." At 1 P.M. she returned to Kensington Palace, there to remain in retirement till after the funeral of King William.
It is certain that the behavior of this girl-queen on these first two days of her reign "confounded the doctors" of the Church and State. Greville, who never praises except when praise is wrung out of him, can hardly say enough of her grace and graciousness, calmness and self- possession. He says, also, that her "agreeable expression, with her youth, inspire an excessive interest in all who approach her, and which," he is condescending enough to add, "I can't help feeling myself." He quotes Peel as saying he was "amazed at her manner and behavior; at her apparent deep sense of her situation, her modesty, and at the same time her firmness. She appeared to be awed, but not daunted."
The Duke of Wellington paid a similar tribute to her courage.
Now, if these great men did not greatly idealize her, under the double glamour of gallantry and loyalty, Victoria was a most extraordinary young woman. A few days before the death of the King, Greville wrote: "What renders speculation so easy and events so uncertain is the absolute ignorance of everybody of the character, disposition, and capacity of the Princess. She has been kept in such jealous seclusion by her mother (never having slept out of her bedroom, nor been alone with anybody but herself and, the Baroness Lehzen), that not one of her acquaintance, none of the attendants at Kensington, not even the Duchess of Northumberland, her governess, can have any idea what she is, or what she promises to be." The first day of Victoria's accession he writes: "She appears to act with every sort of good taste and good feeling, as well as good sense, and nothing can be more favorable than the impression she has made, and nothing can promise better than her manner and conduct do... William IV. coming to the throne at the mature age of sixty-five, was so excited by the exaltation that he nearly went mad... The young Queen, who might well be either dazzled or confounded with the grandeur and novelty of her situation, seems neither the one nor the other, and behaves with a propriety and decorum beyond her years."
Doubtless nature was kind to Victoria in the elements of character, but she must have owed very much of this courage, calmness, modesty, simplicity, candor, and sterling good sense to the peculiar, systematic training, the precept and example of her mother, the much-criticised Duchess of Kent, so unpopular at the Court of the late King, and whom Mr. Greville had by no means delighted to honor. Ah, the good, brave Duchess had her reward for all her years of patient exile, all her loving labor and watchful care, and rich compensation for all criticisms, misrepresentations, and fault-finding, that June afternoon, the day of the Proclamation, when she rode from the Palace of St. James to Kensington with her daughter, who had behaved so well—her daughter and her Queen!
WOMANHOOD AND QUEENHOOD.
The sovereignty of England and Hanover severed forever—Funeral of King William IV. at Windsor—The Queen and her household remove to Buckingham Palace—She dissolves Parliament—Glowing account of the scene by a contemporary Journal—Charles Sumner a spectator—His eulogy of the Queen's reading.
Ever since the accession to the throne of Great Britain of the House of Brunswick, the Kings of England had also been Kings of Hanover. To carry on the two branches of the royal business simultaneously must have been a little difficult, at least perplexing. It was like riding a "two-horse act," with a wide space between the horses, and a wide difference in their size. But the Salic law prevailed in that little kingdom over there; so its Crown now gently devolved on the head of the male heir- apparent, the Duke of Cumberland, and the quaint old principality parted company with England forever. That is what Her Majesty, Victoria, got, or rather lost, by being a woman. A day or two after her accession, King Ernest called at Kensington Palace to take leave of the Queen, and she dutifully kissed her uncle and brother-sovereign, and wished him God- speed and the Hanoverians joy.
There is no King and no kingdom of Hanover now. When Kaiser William was consolidating so many German principalities into his grand empire, gaily singing the refrain of the song of the old sexton, "I gather them in! I gather them in!" he took Hanover, and it has remained under the wing of the great Prussian eagle ever since. It is said that the last King made a gallant resistance, riding into battle at the head of his troops, although he was blind—too blind, perhaps, to see his own weakness. When his throne was taken out from under him, he still clung to the royal title, but his son is known only as the Duke of Cumberland. This Prince, like other small German Princes, made a great outcry against the Kaiser's confiscations, but the inexorable old man still went on piecing an imperial table-cover out of pocket-handkerchiefs.
The young Queen's new Household was considered a very magnificent and unexceptionable one—principally for the rank and character and personal attractions of the ladies in attendance, chief among whom, for beauty and stateliness, was the famous Duchess of Sutherland—certainly one of the most superb women in England, or anywhere else, even at an age when most women are "falling off," and when she herself was a grandmother.
The funeral of King William took place at Windsor in due time, and with all due pomp and ceremony. After lying in state in the splendid Waterloo chamber, under a gorgeous purple pall, several crowns, and other royal insignia, he was borne to St. George's Chapel, followed by Prelates, Peers, and all the Ministers of State, and a solemn funeral service was performed. But what spoke better for him than all these things was the quiet weeping of a good woman up in the Royal Closet, half hidden by the sombre curtains, who looked and listened to the last, and saw her husband let down into the Royal Vault, where, in the darkness, his—their baby- girl awaited him, that Princess with the short life and the long name— poor little Elizabeth Georgina Adelando, whom the childless Queen once hoped to hear hailed "Elizabeth Second of England."
In midsummer the Queen, the Duchess of Kent, and their grand Household moved from Kensington to Buckingham Palace, then new, and an elegant and luxurious royal residence internally, but externally neither beautiful nor imposing. But with the exception of Windsor Castle, none of the English Royal Palaces can be pointed to as models of architectural beauty, or even sumptuous appointments. The palaces of some of our Railway Kings more than rival them in some respects, while those of many of the English nobility are richer in art-treasures and grander in appearance. Kensington Palace was not beautiful, but it was picturesque and historic, which was more than could be said of any of the Georgian structures; there was about it an odor of old royalty, of poetry and romance. The literature and the beauty of Queen Anne's reign were especially associated with it. Queen Victoria was, when she left it, at an age when memories count for little, and doubtless the flitting "out of the old house into the new" was effected merrily enough; but long afterwards her orphaned and widowed heart must often have gone back tenderly and yearningly to the scene of many tranquilly happy years with her mother, and of that first little season of companionship with her cousin Albert.
Hardly had she got unpacked and settled in her new home when she had to go through a great parade and ceremony. She went in state to dissolve Parliament. The weather was fine and the whole route from Buckingham Palace to the Parliament House was lined with people, shouting and cheering as the magnificent procession and that brilliant young figure passed slowly along. A London journal of the time gave the following glowing account of her as she appeared in the House of Lords: "At 20 minutes to 3 precisely, Her Majesty, preceded by the heralds and attended by the great officers of state, entered the House—all the Peers and Peeresses, who had risen at the flourish of the trumpets, remaining standing. Her Majesty was attired in a splendid white satin robe, with the ribbon of the Garter crossing her shoulder and a magnificent tiara of diamonds on her head, and wore a necklace and a stomacher of large and costly brilliants. Having ascended the throne, the royal mantle of crimson velvet was placed on Her Majesty's shoulders by the Lords in waiting." And this was the same little girl who, six years before, had bought her own straw hat and carried it home in her hand! I wonder if her own mother did not at that moment have difficulty in believing that radiant and royal creature was indeed her little Victoria!
The account continues: "Her Majesty, on taking her seat, appeared to be deeply moved at the novel and important position in which she was placed, the eyes of the assembled nobility, both male and female, being riveted on her person." I would have wagered a good deal that it was the 'female' eyes that she felt most piercingly. Then it goes on: "Her emotion was plainly discernible in the heavings of her bosom, and the brilliancy of her diamond stomacher, which sparkled out like the sun on the swell of the ocean as the billows rise and fall." So disconcerted was she, it seems, by all this silent, intense observation, that she forgot, nicely seated as she was, that all those Peers and Peeresses were standing, till she was reminded of it by Lord Melbourne, who stood close at her side. Then she graciously inclined her head, and said in rather a low tone, 'My Lords, be seated!' and they sat, and eke their wives and daughters.
"She had regained her self-possession when she came to read her speech, and her voice also, for it was heard all over the great chamber." And it is added: "Her demeanor was characterized by much grace and modest self- possession."
Among the spectators of this rare royal pageant was an American, and a stiff republican, a young man from Boston, called Charles Sumner. He was a scholar, and scholar-like, undazzled by diamonds, admired most Her Majesty's reading. In a letter to a friend he wrote: "I was astonished and delighted. Her voice is sweet and finely modulated, and she pronounced every word distinctly, and with a just regard to its meaning. I think I never heard anything better read in my life than her speech, and I could but respond to Lord Fitz-William's remark to me when the ceremony was over, 'How beautifully she performs!'" How strange it now seems to think of that slight girl of eighteen coming in upon that great assembly of legislators, many of them gray and bald, and pompous and portly, and gravely telling them that they might go home!
Comments upon the young Queen by a contemporaneous writer in Blackwood—A new Throne erected for her in Buckingham Palace—A touching Anecdote related by the Duke of Wellington—The Queen insists on paying her Father's Debts—The romantic and passionate interest she evoked—Her mad lover—Attempts upon her life—She takes possession of Windsor Castle.
A writer in Blackwood, speaking of the Queen about this time, said: "She is 'winning golden opinions from all sorts of people' by her affability, the grace of her manners, and her prettiness. She is excessively like the Brunswicks and not like the Coburgs. So much the more in her favor. The memory of George III. is not yet passed away, and the people are glad to see his calm, honest, and English physiognomy renewed in his granddaughter."
Her Majesty's likeness to the obstinate but conscientious old king, whose honest face is fast fading quite away from old English half-crowns and golden guineas, has grown with her years.