The weak-willed youth who took no interest in polities and never read a newspaper had grown into a man of unbending determination whose tireless energies were incessantly concentrated upon the laborious business of government and the highest questions of State. He was busy now from morning till night. In the winter, before the dawn, he was to be seen, seated at his writing-table, working by the light of the green reading — lamp which he had brought over with him from Germany, and the construction of which he had much improved by an ingenious device. Victoria was early too, but she was not so early as Albert; and when, in the chill darkness, she took her seat at her own writing-table, placed side by side with his, she invariably found upon it a neat pile of papers arranged for her inspection and her signature. The day, thus begun, continued in unremitting industry. At breakfast, the newspapers — the once hated newspapers — made their appearance, and the Prince, absorbed in their perusal, would answer no questions, or, if an article struck him, would read it aloud. After, that there were ministers and secretaries to interview; there was a vast correspondence to be carried on; there were numerous memoranda to be made. Victoria, treasuring every word, preserving every letter, was all breathless attention and eager obedience. Sometimes Albert would actually ask her advice. He consulted her about his English: “Lese recht aufmerksam, und sage wenn irgend ein Fehler ist,”6 he would say; or, as he handed her a draft for her signature, he would observe, “Ich hab’ Dir hier ein Draft gemacht, lese es mal! Ich dachte es ware recht so.”7 Thus the diligent, scrupulous, absorbing hours passed by. Fewer and fewer grew the moments of recreation and of exercise. The demands of society were narrowed down to the smallest limits, and even then but grudgingly attended to. It was no longer a mere pleasure, it was a positive necessity, to go to bed as early as possible in order to be up and at work on the morrow betimes.
6 “Read this carefully, and tell me if there are any mistakes in it.”
7 “Here is a draft I have made for you. Read it. I should think this would do.”
The important and exacting business of government, which became at last the dominating preoccupation in Albert’s mind, still left unimpaired his old tastes and interests; he remained devoted to art, to science, to philosophy, and a multitude of subsidiary activities showed how his energies increased as the demands upon them grew. For whenever duty called, the Prince was all alertness. With indefatigable perseverance he opened museums, laid the foundation stones of hospitals, made speeches to the Royal Agricultural Society, and attended meetings of the British Association. The National Gallery particularly interested him: he drew up careful regulations for the arrangement of the pictures according to schools; and he attempted — though in vain — to have the whole collection transported to South Kensington. Feodora, now the Princess Hohenlohe, after a visit to England, expressed in a letter to Victoria her admiration of Albert both as a private and a public character. Nor did she rely only on her own opinion. “I must just copy out,” she said, “what Mr. Klumpp wrote to me some little time ago, and which is quite true —‘Prince Albert is one of the few Royal personages who can sacrifice to any principle (as soon as it has become evident to them to be good and noble) all those notions (or sentiments) to which others, owing to their narrow-mindedness, or to the prejudices of their rank, are so thoroughly inclined strongly to cling.’ There is something so truly religious in this,” the Princess added, “as well as humane and just, most soothing to my feelings which are so often hurt and disturbed by what I hear and see.”
Victoria, from the depth of her heart, subscribed to all the eulogies of Feodora and Mr. Klumpp. She only found that they were insufficient. As she watched her beloved Albert, after toiling with state documents and public functions, devoting every spare moment of his time to domestic duties, to artistic appreciation, and to intellectual improvements; as she listened to him cracking his jokes at the luncheon table, or playing Mendelssohn on the organ, or pointing out the merits of Sir Edwin Landseer’s pictures; as she followed him round while he gave instructions about the breeding of cattle, or decided that the Gainsboroughs must be hung higher up so that the Winterhalters might be properly seen — she felt perfectly certain that no other wife had ever had such a husband. His mind was apparently capable of everything, and she was hardly surprised to learn that he had made an important discovery for the conversion of sewage into agricultural manure. Filtration from below upwards, he explained, through some appropriate medium, which retained the solids and set free the fluid sewage for irrigation, was the principle of the scheme. “All previous plans,” he said, “would have cost millions; mine costs next to nothing.” Unfortunately, owing to a slight miscalculation, the invention proved to be impracticable; but Albert’s intelligence was unrebuffed, and he passed on, to plunge with all his accustomed ardour into a prolonged study of the rudiments of lithography.
But naturally it was upon his children that his private interests and those of Victoria were concentrated most vigorously. The royal nurseries showed no sign of emptying. The birth of the Prince Arthur in 1850 was followed, three years later, by that of the Prince Leopold; and in 1857 the Princess Beatrice was born. A family of nine must be, in any circumstances, a grave responsibility; and the Prince realised to the full how much the high destinies of his offspring intensified the need of parental care. It was inevitable that he should believe profoundly in the importance of education; he himself had been the product of education; Stockmar had made him what he was; it was for him, in his turn, to be a Stockmar — to be even more than a Stockmar — to the young creatures he had brought into the world. Victoria would assist him; a Stockmar, no doubt, she could hardly be; but she could be perpetually vigilant, she could mingle strictness with her affection, and she could always set a good example. These considerations, of course, applied pre-eminently to the education of the Prince of Wales. How tremendous was the significance of every particle of influence which went to the making of the future King of England! Albert set to work with a will. But, watching with Victoria the minutest details of the physical, intellectual, and moral training of his children, he soon perceived, to his distress, that there was something unsatisfactory in the development of his eldest son. The Princess Royal was an extremely intelligent child; but Bertie, though he was good-humoured and gentle, seemed to display a deep-seated repugnance to every form of mental exertion. This was most regrettable, but the remedy was obvious: the parental efforts must be redoubled; instruction must be multiplied; not for a single instant must the educational pressure be allowed to relax. Accordingly, more tutors were selected, the curriculum was revised, the time-table of studies was rearranged, elaborate memoranda dealing with every possible contingency were drawn up. It was above all essential that there should be no slackness: “Work,” said the Prince, “must be work.” And work indeed it was. The boy grew up amid a ceaseless round of paradigms, syntactical exercises, dates, genealogical tables, and lists of capes. Constant notes flew backwards and forwards between the Prince, the Queen, and the tutors, with inquiries, with reports of progress, with detailed recommendations; and these notes were all carefully preserved for future reference. It was, besides, vital that the heir to the throne should be protected from the slightest possibility of contamination from the outside world. The Prince of Wales was not as other boys; he might, occasionally, be allowed to invite some sons of the nobility, boys of good character, to play with him in the garden of Buckingham Palace; but his father presided, with alarming precision, over their sports. In short, every possible precaution was taken, every conceivable effort was made. Yet, strange to say, the object of all this vigilance and solicitude continued to be unsatisfactory — appeared, in fact, to be positively growing worse. It was certainly very odd: the more lessons that Bertie had to do, the less he did them; and the more carefully he was guarded against excitements and frivolities, the more desirous of mere amusement he seemed to become. Albert was deeply grieved and Victoria was sometimes very angry; but grief and anger produced no more effect than supervision and time-tables. The Prince of Wales, in spite of everything, grew up into manhood without the faintest sign of “adherence to and perseverance in the plan both of studies and life —” as one of the Royal memoranda put it — which had been laid down with such extraordinary forethought by his father.
Against the insidious worries of politics, the boredom of society functions, and the pompous publicity of state ceremonies, Osborne had afforded a welcome refuge; but it soon appeared that even Osborne was too little removed from the world. After all, the Solent was a feeble barrier. Oh, for some distant, some almost inaccessible sanctuary, where, in true domestic privacy, one could make happy holiday, just as if — or at least very, very, nearly — one were anybody else! Victoria, ever since, together with Albert, she had visited Scotland in the early years of her marriage, had felt that her heart was in the Highlands. She had returned to them a few years later, and her passion had grown. How romantic they were! And how Albert enjoyed them too! His spirits rose quite wonderfully as soon as he found himself among the hills and the conifers. “It is a happiness to see him,” she wrote. “Oh! What can equal the beauties of nature!” she exclaimed in her journal, during one of these visits. “What enjoyment there is in them! Albert enjoys it so much; he is in ecstasies here.” “Albert said,” she noted next day, “that the chief beauty of mountain scenery consists in its frequent changes. We came home at six o’clock.” Then she went on a longer expedition — up to the very top of a high hill. “It was quite romantic. Here we were with only this Highlander behind us holding the ponies (for we got off twice and walked about). . . . We came home at half-past eleven — the most delightful, most romantic ride and walk I ever had. I had never been up such a mountain, and then the day was so fine.” The Highlanders, too, were such astonishing people. They “never make difficulties,” she noted, “but are cheerful, and happy, and merry, and ready to walk, and run, and do anything.” As for Albert he “highly appreciated the good-breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make it so pleasant and even instructive to talk to them.” “We were always in the habit,” wrote Her Majesty, “of conversing with the Highlanders — with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands.” She loved everything about them — their customs, their dress, their dances, even their musical instruments. “There were nine pipers at the castle,” she wrote after staying with Lord Breadalbane; “sometimes one and sometimes three played. They always played about breakfast-time, again during the morning, at luncheon, and also whenever we went in and out; again before dinner, and during most of dinner-time. We both have become quite fond of the bag-pipes.”
It was quite impossible not to wish to return to such pleasures again and again; and in 1848 the Queen took a lease of Balmoral House, a small residence near Braemar in the wilds of Aberdeenshire. Four years later she bought the place outright. Now she could be really happy every summer; now she could be simple and at her ease; now she could be romantic every evening, and dote upon Albert, without a single distraction, all day long. The diminutive scale of the house was in itself a charm. Nothing was more amusing than to find oneself living in two or three little sitting — rooms, with the children crammed away upstairs, and the minister in attendance with only a tiny bedroom to do all his work in. And then to be able to run in and out of doors as one liked, and to sketch, and to walk, and to watch the red deer coming so surprisingly close, and to pay visits to the cottagers! And occasionally one could be more adventurous still — one could go and stay for a night or two at the Bothie at Alt-na-giuthasach — a mere couple of huts with “a wooden addition”— and only eleven people in the whole party! And there were mountains to be climbed and cairns to be built in solemn pomp. “At last, when the cairn, which is, I think, seven or eight feet high, was nearly completed, Albert climbed up to the top of it, and placed the last stone; after which three cheers were given. It was a gay, pretty, and touching sight; and I felt almost inclined to cry. The view was so beautiful over the dear hills; the day so fine; the whole so gemuthlich.” And in the evening there were sword-dances and reels.
But Albert had determined to pull down the little old house, and to build in its place a castle of his own designing. With great ceremony, in accordance with a memorandum drawn up by the Prince for the occasion, the foundation-stone of the new edifice was laid, and by 1855 it was habitable. Spacious, built of granite in the Scotch baronial style, with a tower 100 feet high, and minor turrets and castellated gables, the castle was skilfully arranged to command the finest views of the surrounding mountains and of the neighbouring river Dee. Upon the interior decorations Albert and Victoria lavished all their care. The wall and the floors were of pitch-pine, and covered with specially manufactured tartars. The Balmoral tartan, in red and grey, designed by the Prince, and the Victoria tartan, with a white stripe, designed by the Queen, were to be seen in every room: there were tartan curtains, and tartan chair-covers, and even tartan linoleums. Occasionally the Royal Stuart tartan appeared, for Her Majesty always maintained that she was an ardent Jacobite. Water-colour sketches by Victoria hung upon the walls, together with innumerable stags’ antlers, and the head of a boar, which had been shot by Albert in Germany. In an alcove in the hall, stood a life-sized statue of Albert in Highland dress.
Victoria declared that it was perfection. “Every year,” she wrote, “my heart becomes more fixed in this dear paradise, and so much more so now, that ALL has become my dear Albert’s own creation, own work, own building, own lay-out . . . and his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere.”
And here, in very truth, her happiest days were passed. In after years, when she looked back upon them, a kind of glory, a radiance as of an unearthly holiness, seemed to glow about these golden hours. Each hallowed moment stood out clear, beautiful, eternally significant. For, at the time, every experience there, sentimental, or grave, or trivial, had come upon her with a peculiar vividness, like a flashing of marvellous lights. Albert’s stalkings — an evening walk when she lost her way — Vicky sitting down on a wasps’ nest — a torchlight dance — with what intensity such things, and ten thousand like them, impressed themselves upon her eager consciousness! And how she flew to her journal to note them down! The news of the Duke’s death! What a moment — when, as she sat sketching after a picnic by a loch in the lonely hills, Lord Derby’s letter had been brought to her, and she had learnt that “ENGLAND’S, or rather BRITAIN’S pride, her glory, her hero, the greatest man she had ever produced, was no morel.” For such were here reflections upon the “old rebel” of former days. But that past had been utterly obliterated — no faintest memory of it remained. For years she had looked up to the Duke as a figure almost superhuman. Had he not been a supporter of good Sir Robert? Had he not asked Albert to succeed him as commander-in-chief? And what a proud moment it had been when he stood as sponsor to her son Arthur, who was born on his eighty-first birthday! So now she filled a whole page of her diary with panegyrical regrets. “His position was the highest a subject ever had — above party — looked up to by all — revered by the whole nation — the friend of the Sovereign . . . The Crown never possessed — and I fear never WILL— so DEVOTED, loyal, and faithful a subject, so staunch a supporter! To US his loss is IRREPARABLE . . . To Albert he showed the greatest kindness and the utmost confidence . . . Not an eye will be dry in the whole country.” These were serious thoughts; but they were soon succeeded by others hardly less moving — by events as impossible to forget — by Mr. MacLeod’s sermon on Nicodemus — by the gift of a red flannel petticoat to Mrs. P. Farquharson, and another to old Kitty Kear.
But, without doubt, most memorable, most delightful of all were the expeditions — the rare, exciting expeditions up distant mountains, across broad rivers, through strange country, and lasting several days. With only two gillies — Grant and Brown — for servants, and with assumed names. It was more like something in a story than real life. “We had decided to call ourselves LORD AND LADY CHURCHILL AND AND PARTY— Lady Churchill passing as MISS SPENCER and General Grey as DR. GREY! Brown once forgot this and called me ‘Your Majesty’ as I was getting into the carriage, and Grant on the box once called Albert ‘Your Royal Highness,’ which set us off laughing, but no one observed it.” Strong, vigorous, enthusiastic, bringing, so it seemed, good fortune with her — the Highlanders declared she had “a lucky foot”— she relished everything — the scrambles and the views and the contretemps and the rough inns with their coarse fare and Brown and Grant waiting at table. She could have gone on for ever and ever, absolutely happy with Albert beside her and Brown at her pony’s head. But the time came for turning homewards, alas! the time came for going back to England. She could hardly bear it; she sat disconsolate in her room and watched the snow falling. The last day! Oh! If only she could be snowed up!
The Crimean War brought new experiences, and most of them were pleasant ones. It was pleasant to be patriotic and pugnacious, to look out appropriate prayers to be read in the churches, to have news of glorious victories, and to know oneself, more proudly than ever, the representative of England. With that spontaneity of feeling which was so peculiarly her own, Victoria poured out her emotion, her admiration, her pity, her love, upon her “dear soldiers.” When she gave them their medals her exultation knew no bounds. “Noble fellows!” she wrote to the King of the Belgians, “I own I feel as if these were MY OWN CHILDREN; my heart beats for THEM as for my NEAREST and DEAREST. They were so touched, so pleased; many, I hear, cried — and they won’t hear of giving up their medals to have their names engraved upon them for fear they should not receive the IDENTICAL ONE put into THEIR HANDS BY ME, which is quite touching. Several came by in a sadly mutilated state.” She and they were at one. They felt that she had done them a splendid honour, and she, with perfect genuineness, shared their feeling. Albert’s attitude towards such things was different; there was an austerity in him which quite prohibited the expansions of emotion. When General Williams returned from the heroic defence of Kars and was presented at Court, the quick, stiff, distant bow with which the Prince received him struck like ice upon the beholders. He was a stranger still.
But he had other things to occupy him, more important, surely, than the personal impressions of military officers and people who went to Court. He was at work — ceaselessly at work — on the tremendous task of carrying through the war to a successful conclusion. State papers, despatches, memoranda, poured from him in an overwhelming stream. Between 1853 and 1857 fifty folio volumes were filled with the comments of his pen upon the Eastern question. Nothing would induce him to stop. Weary ministers staggered under the load of his advice; but his advice continued, piling itself up over their writing-tables, and flowing out upon them from red box after red box. Nor was it advice to be ignored. The talent for administration which had reorganised the royal palaces and planned the Great Exhibition asserted itself no less in the confused complexities of war. Again and again the Prince’s suggestions, rejected or unheeded at first, were adopted under the stress of circumstances and found to be full of value. The enrolment of a foreign legion, the establishment of a depot for troops at Malta, the institution of periodical reports and tabulated returns as to the condition of the army at Sebastopol — such were the contrivances and the achievements of his indefatigable brain. He went further: in a lengthy minute he laid down the lines for a radical reform in the entire administration of the army. This was premature, but his proposal that “a camp of evolution” should be created, in which troops should be concentrated and drilled, proved to be the germ of Aldershot.
Meanwhile Victoria had made a new friend: she had suddenly been captivated by Napoleon III. Her dislike of him had been strong at first. She considered that he was a disreputable adventurer who had usurped the throne of poor old Louis Philippe; and besides he was hand-in-glove with Lord Palmerston. For a long time, although he was her ally, she was unwilling to meet him; but at last a visit of the Emperor and Empress to England was arranged. Directly he appeared at Windsor her heart began to soften. She found that she was charmed by his quiet manners, his low, soft voice, and by the soothing simplicity of his conversation. The good-will of England was essential to the Emperor’s position in Europe, and he had determined to fascinate the Queen. He succeeded. There was something deep within her which responded immediately and vehemently to natures that offered a romantic contrast with her own. Her adoration of Lord Melbourne was intimately interwoven with her half-unconscious appreciation of the exciting unlikeness between herself and that sophisticated, subtle, aristocratical old man. Very different was the quality of her unlikeness to Napoleon; but its quantity was at least as great. From behind the vast solidity of her respectability, her conventionality, her established happiness, she peered out with a strange delicious pleasure at that unfamiliar, darkly-glittering foreign object, moving so meteorically before her, an ambiguous creature of wilfulness and Destiny. And, to her surprise, where she had dreaded antagonisms, she discovered only sympathies. He was, she said, “so quiet, so simple, naif even, so pleased to be informed about things he does not know, so gentle, so full of tact, dignity, and modesty, so full of kind attention towards us, never saying a word, or doing a thing, which could put me out . . . There is something fascinating, melancholy, and engaging which draws you to him, in spite of any prevention you may have against him, and certainly without the assistance of any outward appearance, though I like his face.” She observed that he rode “extremely well, and looks well on horseback, as he sits high.” And he danced “with great dignity and spirit.” Above all, he listened to Albert; listened with the most respectful attention; showed, in fact, how pleased he was “to be informed about things he did not know;” and afterwards was heard to declare that he had never met the Prince’s equal. On one occasion, indeed — but only on one — he had seemed to grow slightly restive. In a diplomatic conversation, “I expatiated a little on the Holstein question,” wrote the Prince in a memorandum, “which appeared to bore the Emperor as ‘tres compliquee.’”
Victoria, too, became much attached to the Empress, whose looks and graces she admired without a touch of jealousy. Eugenie, indeed, in the plenitude of her beauty, exquisitely dressed in wonderful Parisian crinolines which set off to perfection her tall and willowy figure, might well have caused some heart-burning in the breast of her hostess, who, very short, rather stout, quite plain, in garish middle-class garments, could hardly be expected to feel at her best in such company. But Victoria had no misgivings. To her it mattered nothing that her face turned red in the heat and that her purple pork-pie hat was of last year’s fashion, while Eugenie, cool and modish, floated in an infinitude of flounces by her side. She was Queen of England, and was not that enough? It certainly seemed to be; true majesty was hers, and she knew it. More than once, when the two were together in public, it was the woman to whom, as it seemed, nature and art had given so little, who, by the sheer force of an inherent grandeur, completely threw her adorned and beautiful companion into the shade.
There were tears when the moment came for parting, and Victoria felt “quite wehmuthig,” as her guests went away from Windsor. But before long she and Albert paid a return visit to France, where everything was very delightful, and she drove incognito through the streets of Paris in a “common bonnet,” and saw a play in the theatre at St. Cloud, and, one evening, at a great party given by the Emperor in her honour at the Chateau of Versailles, talked a little to a distinguished-looking Prussian gentleman, whose name was Bismarck. Her rooms were furnished so much to her taste that she declared they gave her quite a home feeling — that, if her little dog were there, she should really imagine herself at home. Nothing was said, but three days later her little dog barked a welcome to her as she entered the apartments. The Emperor himself, sparing neither trouble nor expense, had personally arranged the charming surprise. Such were his attentions. She returned to England more enchanted than ever. “Strange indeed,” she exclaimed, “are the dispensations and ways of Providence!”
The alliance prospered, and the war drew towards a conclusion. Both the Queen and the Prince, it is true, were most anxious that there should not be a premature peace. When Lord Aberdeen wished to open negotiations Albert attacked him in a “geharnischten” letter, while Victoria rode about on horseback reviewing the troops. At last, however, Sebastopol was captured. The news reached Balmoral late at night, and in a few minutes Albert and all the gentlemen in every species of attire sallied forth, followed by all the servants, and gradually by all the population of the village-keepers, gillies, workmen —“up to the top of the cairn.” A bonfire was lighted, the pipes were played, and guns were shot off. “About three-quarters of an hour after Albert came down and said the scene had been wild and exciting beyond everything. The people had been drinking healths in whisky and were in great ecstasy.” The “great ecstasy,” perhaps, would be replaced by other feelings next morning; but at any rate the war was over — though, to be sure, its end seemed as difficult to account for as its beginning. The dispensations and ways of Providence continued to be strange.
An unexpected consequence of the war was a complete change in the relations between the royal pair and Palmerston. The Prince and the Minister drew together over their hostility to Russia, and thus it came about that when Victoria found it necessary to summon her old enemy to form an administration she did so without reluctance. The premiership, too, had a sobering effect upon Palmerston; he grew less impatient and dictatorial; considered with attention the suggestions of the Crown, and was, besides, genuinely impressed by the Prince’s ability and knowledge. Friction, no doubt, there still occasionally was, for, while the Queen and the Prince devoted themselves to foreign politics as much as ever, their views, when the war was over, became once more antagonistic to those of the Prime Minister. This was especially the case with regard to Italy. Albert, theoretically the friend of constitutional government, distrusted Cavour, was horrified by Garibaldi, and dreaded the danger of England being drawn into war with Austria. Palmerston, on the other hand, was eager for Italian independence; but he was no longer at the Foreign Office, and the brunt of the royal displeasure had now to be borne by Lord John Russell. In a few years the situation had curiously altered. It was Lord John who now filled the subordinate and the ungrateful role; but the Foreign Secretary, in his struggle with the Crown, was supported, instead of opposed, by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless the struggle was fierce, and the policy, by which the vigorous sympathy of England became one of the decisive factors in the final achievement of Italian unity, was only carried through in face of the violent opposition of the Court.
Towards the other European storm-centre, also, the Prince’s attitude continued to be very different to that of Palmerston. Albert’s great wish was for a united Germany under the leadership of a constitutional and virtuous Prussia; Palmerston did not think that there was much to be said for the scheme, but he took no particular interest in German politics, and was ready enough to agree to a proposal which was warmly supported by both the Prince and the Queen — that the royal Houses of England and Prussia should be united by the marriage of the Princess Royal with the Prussian Crown Prince. Accordingly, when the Princess was not yet fifteen, the Prince, a young man of twenty-four, came over on a visit to Balmoral, and the betrothal took place. Two years later, in 1857, the marriage was celebrated. At the last moment, however, it seemed that there might be a hitch. It was pointed out in Prussia that it was customary for Princes of the blood royal to be married in Berlin, and it was suggested that there was no reason why the present case should be treated as an exception. When this reached the ears of Victoria, she was speechless with indignation. In a note, emphatic even for Her Majesty, she instructed the Foreign Secretary to tell the Prussian Ambassador “not to ENTERTAIN the POSSIBILITY of such a question . . . The Queen NEVER could consent to it, both for public and for private reasons, and the assumption of its being TOO MUCH for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess Royal of Great Britain in England is too ABSURD to say the least. .. Whatever may be the usual practice of Prussian princes, it is not EVERY day that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England. The question must therefore be considered as settled and closed.” It was, and the wedding took place in St. James’s Chapel. There were great festivities — illuminations, state concerts, immense crowds, and general rejoicings. At Windsor a magnificent banquet was given to the bride and bridegroom in the Waterloo room, at which, Victoria noted in her diary, “everybody was most friendly and kind about Vicky and full of the universal enthusiasm, of which the Duke of Buccleuch gave us most pleasing instances, he having been in the very thick of the crowd and among the lowest of the low.” Her feelings during several days had been growing more and more emotional, and when the time came for the young couple to depart she very nearly broke down — but not quite. “Poor dear child!” she wrote afterwards. “I clasped her in my arms and blessed her, and knew not what to say. I kissed good Fritz and pressed his hand again and again. He was unable to speak and the tears were in his eyes. I embraced them both again at the carriage door, and Albert got into the carriage, an open one, with them and Bertie . . . The band struck up. I wished good-bye to the good Perponchers. General Schreckenstein was much affected. I pressed his hand, and the good Dean’s, and then went quickly upstairs.”
Albert, as well as General Schreckenstein, was much affected. He was losing his favourite child, whose opening intelligence had already begun to display a marked resemblance to his own — an adoring pupil, who, in a few years, might have become an almost adequate companion. An ironic fate had determined that the daughter who was taken from him should be sympathetic, clever, interested in the arts and sciences, and endowed with a strong taste for memoranda, while not a single one of these qualities could be discovered in the son who remained. For certainly the Prince of Wales did not take after his father. Victoria’s prayer had been unanswered, and with each succeeding year it became more obvious that Bertie was a true scion of the House of Brunswick. But these evidences of innate characteristics only served to redouble the efforts of his parents; it still might not be too late to incline the young branch, by ceaseless pressure and careful fastenings, to grow in the proper direction. Everything was tried. The boy was sent on a continental tour with a picked body of tutors, but the results were unsatisfactory. At his father’s request he kept a diary which, on his return, was inspected by the Prince. It was found to be distressingly meagre: what a multitude of highly interesting reflections might have been arranged under the heading: “The First Prince of Wales visiting the Pope!” But there was not a single one. “Le jeune prince plaisit a tout le monde,” old Metternich reported to Guizot, “mais avait l’air embarrasse et tres triste.” On his seventeenth birthday a memorandum was drawn up over the names of the Queen and the Prince informing their eldest son that he was now entering upon the period of manhood, and directing him henceforward to perform the duties of a Christian gentleman. “Life is composed of duties,” said the memorandum, “and in the due, punctual and cheerful performance of them the true Christian, true soldier, and true gentleman is recognised . . . A new sphere of life will open for you in which you will have to be taught what to do and what not to do, a subject requiring study more important than any in which you have hitherto been engaged.” On receipt of the memorandum Bertie burst into tears. At the same time another memorandum was drawn up, headed “confidential: for the guidance of the gentlemen appointed to attend on the Prince of Wales.” This long and elaborate document laid down “certain principles” by which the “conduct and demeanour” of the gentlemen were to be regulated “and which it is thought may conduce to the benefit of the Prince of Wales.” “The qualities which distinguish a gentleman in society,” continued this remarkable paper, “are:—
(1) His appearance, his deportment and dress.
(2) The character of his relations with, and treatment of, others.
(3) His desire and power to acquit himself creditably in conversation or whatever is the occupation of the society with which he mixes.”
A minute and detailed analysis of these subheadings followed, filling several pages, and the memorandum ended with a final exhortation to the gentlemen: “If they will duly appreciate the responsibility of their position, and taking the points above laid down as the outline, will exercise their own good sense in acting UPON ALL OCCASIONS all upon these principles, thinking no point of detail too minute to be important, but maintaining one steady consistent line of conduct they may render essential service to the young Prince and justify the flattering selection made by the royal parents.” A year later the young Prince was sent to Oxford, where the greatest care was taken that he should not mix with the undergraduates. Yes, everything had been tried — everything . . . with one single exception. The experiment had never been made of letting Bertie enjoy himself. But why should it have been? “Life is composed of duties.” What possible place could there be for enjoyment in the existence of a Prince of Wales?
The same year which deprived Albert of the Princess Royal brought him another and a still more serious loss. The Baron had paid his last visit to England. For twenty years, as he himself said in a letter to the King of the Belgians, he had performed “the laborious and exhausting office of a paternal friend and trusted adviser” to the Prince and the Queen. He was seventy; he was tired, physically and mentally; it was time to go. He returned to his home in Coburg, exchanging, once for all, the momentous secrecies of European statecraft for the little-tattle of a provincial capital and the gossip of family life. In his stiff chair by the fire he nodded now over old stories — not of emperors and generals — but of neighbours and relatives and the domestic adventures of long ago — the burning of his father’s library — and the goat that ran upstairs to his sister’s room and ran twice round the table and then ran down again. Dyspepsia and depression still attacked him; but, looking back over his life, he was not dissatisfied. His conscience was clear. “I have worked as long as I had strength to work,” he said, “and for a purpose no one can impugn. The consciousness of this is my reward — the only one which I desired to earn.”
Apparently, indeed, his “purpose” had been accomplished. By his wisdom, his patience, and his example he had brought about, in the fullness of time, the miraculous metamorphosis of which he had dreamed. The Prince was his creation. An indefatigable toiler, presiding, for the highest ends, over a great nation — that was his achievement; and he looked upon his work and it was good. But had the Baron no misgivings? Did he never wonder whether, perhaps, he might have accomplished not too little but too much? How subtle and how dangerous are the snares which fate lays for the wariest of men! Albert, certainly, seemed to be everything that Stockmar could have wished — virtuous, industrious, persevering, intelligent. And yet — why was it — all was not well with him? He was sick at heart.
For in spite of everything he had never reached to happiness. His work, for which at last he came to crave with an almost morbid appetite, was a solace and not a cure; the dragon of his dissatisfaction devoured with dark relish that ever-growing tribute of laborious days and nights; but it was hungry still. The causes of his melancholy were hidden, mysterious, unanalysable perhaps — too deeply rooted in the innermost recesses of his temperament for the eye of reason to apprehend. There were contradictions in his nature, which, to some of those who knew him best, made him seem an inexplicable enigma: he was severe and gentle; he was modest and scornful; he longed for affection and he was cold. He was lonely, not merely with the loneliness of exile but with the loneliness of conscious and unrecognised superiority. He had the pride, at once resigned and overweening, of a doctrinaire. And yet to say that he was simply a doctrinaire would be a false description; for the pure doctrinaire rejoices always in an internal contentment, and Albert was very far from doing that. There was something that he wanted and that he could never get. What was it? Some absolute, some ineffable sympathy? Some extraordinary, some sublime success? Possibly, it was a mixture of both. To dominate and to be understood! To conquer, by the same triumphant influence, the submission and the appreciation of men — that would be worth while indeed! But, to such imaginations, he saw too clearly how faint were the responses of his actual environment. Who was there who appreciated him, really and truly? Who COULD appreciate him in England? And, if the gentle virtue of an inward excellence availed so little, could he expect more from the hard ways of skill and force? The terrible land of his exile loomed before him a frigid, an impregnable mass. Doubtless he had made some slight impression: it was true that he had gained the respect of his fellow workers, that his probity, his industry, his exactitude, had been recognised, that he was a highly influential, an extremely important man. But how far, how very far, was all this from the goal of his ambitions! How feeble and futile his efforts seemed against the enormous coagulation of dullness, of folly, of slackness, of ignorance, of confusion that confronted him! He might have the strength or the ingenuity to make some small change for the better here or there — to rearrange some detail, to abolish some anomaly, to insist upon some obvious reform; but the heart of the appalling organism remained untouched. England lumbered on, impervious and self-satisfied, in her old intolerable course. He threw himself across the path of the monster with rigid purpose and set teeth, but he was brushed aside. Yes! even Palmerston was still unconquered — was still there to afflict him with his jauntiness, his muddle-headedness, his utter lack of principle. It was too much. Neither nature nor the Baron had given him a sanguine spirit; the seeds of pessimism, once lodged within him, flourished in a propitious soil. He
“questioned things, and did not find
One that would answer to his mind;
And all the world appeared unkind.”
He believed that he was a failure and he began to despair.
Yet Stockmar had told him that he must “never relax,” and he never would. He would go on, working to the utmost and striving for the highest, to the bitter end. His industry grew almost maniacal. Earlier and earlier was the green lamp lighted; more vast grew the correspondence; more searching the examination of the newspapers; the interminable memoranda more punctilious, analytical, and precise. His very recreations became duties. He enjoyed himself by time-table, went deer-stalking with meticulous gusto, and made puns at lunch — it was the right thing to do. The mechanism worked with astonishing efficiency, but it never rested and it was never oiled. In dry exactitude the innumerable cog-wheels perpetually revolved. No, whatever happened, the Prince would not relax; he had absorbed the doctrines of Stockmar too thoroughly. He knew what was right, and, at all costs, he would pursue it. That was certain. But alas! in this our life what are the certainties? “In nothing be over-zealous!” says an old Greek. “The due measure in all the works of man is best. For often one who zealously pushes towards some excellence, though he be pursuing a gain, is really being led utterly astray by the will of some Power, which makes those things that are evil seem to him good, and those things seem to him evil that are for his advantage.” Surely, both the Prince and the Baron might have learnt something from the frigid wisdom of Theognis.
Victoria noticed that her husband sometimes seemed to be depressed and overworked. She tried to cheer him up. Realising uneasily that he was still regarded as a foreigner, she hoped that by conferring upon him the title of Prince Consort (1857) she would improve his position in the country. “The Queen has a right to claim that her husband should be an Englishman,” she wrote. But unfortunately, in spite of the Royal Letters Patent, Albert remained as foreign as before; and as the years passed his dejection deepened. She worked with him, she watched over him, she walked with him through the woods at Osborne, while he whistled to the nightingales, as he had whistled once at Rosenau so long ago. When his birthday came round, she took the greatest pains to choose him presents that he would really like. In 1858, when he was thirty-nine, she gave him “a picture of Beatrice, life-size, in oil, by Horsley, a complete collection of photographic views of Gotha and the country round, which I had taken by Bedford, and a paper-weight of Balmoral granite and deers’ teeth, designed by Vicky.” Albert was of course delighted, and his merriment at the family gathering was more pronounced than ever: and yet . . . what was there that was wrong?
No doubt it was his health. He was wearing himself out in the service of the country; and certainly his constitution, as Stockmar had perceived from the first, was ill-adapted to meet a serious strain. He was easily upset; he constantly suffered from minor ailments. His appearance in itself was enough to indicate the infirmity of his physical powers. The handsome youth of twenty years since with the flashing eyes and the soft complexion had grown into a sallow, tired-looking man, whose body, in its stoop and its loose fleshiness, betrayed the sedentary labourer, and whose head was quite bald on the top. Unkind critics, who had once compared Albert to an operatic tenor, might have remarked that there was something of the butler about him now. Beside Victoria, he presented a painful contrast. She, too, was stout, but it was with the plumpness of a vigorous matron; and an eager vitality was everywhere visible — in her energetic bearing, her protruding, enquiring glances, her small, fat, capable, and commanding hands. If only, by some sympathetic magic, she could have conveyed into that portly, flabby figure, that desiccated and discouraged brain, a measure of the stamina and the self-assurance which were so pre-eminently hers!
But suddenly she was reminded that there were other perils besides those of ill-health. During a visit to Coburg in 1860, the Prince was very nearly killed in a carriage accident. He escaped with a few cuts and bruises; but Victoria’s alarm was extreme, though she concealed it. “It is when the Queen feels most deeply,” she wrote afterwards, “that she always appears calmest, and she could not and dared not allow herself to speak of what might have been, or even to admit to herself (and she cannot and dare not now) the entire danger, for her head would turn!” Her agitation, in fact, was only surpassed by her thankfulness to God. She felt, she said, that she could not rest “without doing something to mark permanently her feelings,” and she decided that she would endow a charity in Coburg. “L1,000, or even L2,000, given either at once, or in instalments yearly, would not, in the Queen’s opinion, be too much.” Eventually, the smaller sum having been fixed upon, it was invested in a trust, called the “Victoria–Stift,” in the name of the Burgomaster and chief clergyman of Coburg, who were directed to distribute the interest yearly among a certain number of young men and women of exemplary character belonging to the humbler ranks of life.
Shortly afterwards the Queen underwent, for the first time in her life, the actual experience of close personal loss. Early in 1861 the Duchess of Kent was taken seriously ill, and in March she died. The event overwhelmed Victoria. With a morbid intensity, she filled her diary for pages with minute descriptions of her mother’s last hours, her dissolution, and her corpse, interspersed with vehement apostrophes, and the agitated outpourings of emotional reflection. In the grief of the present the disagreements of the past were totally forgotten. It was the horror and the mystery of Death — Death, present and actual — that seized upon the imagination of the Queen. Her whole being, so instinct with vitality, recoiled in agony from the grim spectacle of the triumph of that awful power. Her own mother, with whom she had lived so closely and so long that she had become a part almost of her existence, had fallen into nothingness before her very eyes! She tried to forget, but she could not. Her lamentations continued with a strange abundance, a strange persistency. It was almost as if, by some mysterious and unconscious precognition, she realised that for her, in an especial manner, that grisly Majesty had a dreadful dart in store.
For indeed, before the year was out, a far more terrible blow was to fall upon her. Albert, who had for long been suffering from sleeplessness, went, on a cold and drenching day towards the end of November, to inspect the buildings for the new Military Academy at Sandhurst. On his return, it was clear that the fatigue and exposure to which he had been subjected had seriously affected his health. He was attacked by rheumatism, his sleeplessness continued, and he complained that he felt thoroughly unwell. Three days later a painful duty obliged him to visit Cambridge. The Prince of Wales, who had been placed at that University in the previous year, was behaving in such a manner that a parental visit and a parental admonition had become necessary. The disappointed father, suffering in mind and body, carried through his task; but, on his return journey to Windsor, he caught a fatal chill. During the next week he gradually grew weaker and more miserable. Yet, depressed and enfeebled as he was, he continued to work. It so happened that at that very moment a grave diplomatic crisis had arisen. Civil war had broken out in America, and it seemed as if England, owing to a violent quarrel with the Northern States, was upon the point of being drawn into the conflict. A severe despatch by Lord John Russell was submitted to the Queen; and the Prince perceived that, if it was sent off unaltered, war would be the almost inevitable consequence. At seven o’clock on the morning of December 1, he rose from his bed, and with a quavering hand wrote a series of suggestions for the alteration of the draft, by which its language might be softened, and a way left open for a peaceful solution of the question. These changes were accepted by the Government, and war was averted. It was the Prince’s last memorandum.
He had always declared that he viewed the prospect of death with equanimity. “I do not cling to life,” he had once said to Victoria. “You do; but I set no store by it.” And then he had added: “I am sure, if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once, I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity of life.” He had judged correctly. Before he had been ill many days, he told a friend that he was convinced he would not recover. He sank and sank. Nevertheless, if his case had been properly understood and skilfully treated from the first, he might conceivably have been saved; but the doctors failed to diagnose his symptoms; and it is noteworthy that his principal physician was Sir James Clark. When it was suggested that other advice should be taken, Sir James pooh-poohed the idea: “there was no cause for alarm,” he said. But the strange illness grew worse. At last, after a letter of fierce remonstrance from Palmerston, Dr. Watson was sent for; and Dr. Watson saw at once that he had come too late The Prince was in the grip of typhoid fever. “I think that everything so far is satisfactory,” said Sir James Clark.8
8 Clarendon, II, 253–4: “One cannot speak with certainty; but it is horrible to think that such a life MAY have been sacrificed to Sir J. Clark’s selfish jealousy of every member of his profession.” The Earl of Clarendon to the Duchess of Manchester, December 17, 1861.
The restlessness and the acute suffering of the earlier days gave place to a settled torpor and an ever — deepening gloom. Once the failing patient asked for music —“a fine chorale at a distance;” and a piano having been placed in the adjoining room, Princess Alice played on it some of Luther’s hymns, after which the Prince repeated “The Rock of Ages.” Sometimes his mind wandered; sometimes the distant past came rushing upon him; he heard the birds in the early morning, and was at Rosenau again, a boy. Or Victoria would come and read to him “Peveril of the Peak,” and he showed that he could follow the story, and then she would bend over him, and he would murmur “liebes Frauchen” and “gutes Weibchen,” stroking her cheek. Her distress and her agitation were great, but she was not seriously frightened. Buoyed up by her own abundant energies, she would not believe that Albert’s might prove unequal to the strain. She refused to face such a hideous possibility. She declined to see Dr. Watson. Why should she? Had not Sir James Clark assured her that all would be well? Only two days before the end, which was seen now to be almost inevitable by everyone about her, she wrote, full of apparent confidence, to the King of the Belgians: “I do not sit up with him at night,” she said, “as I could be of no use; and there is nothing to cause alarm.” The Princess Alice tried to tell her the truth, but her hopefulness would not be daunted. On the morning of December 14, Albert, just as she had expected, seemed to be better; perhaps the crisis was over. But in the course of the day there was a serious relapse. Then at last she allowed herself to see that she was standing on the edge of an appalling gulf. The whole family was summoned, and, one after another, the children took a silent farewell of their father. “It was a terrible moment,” Victoria wrote in her diary, “but, thank God! I was able to command myself, and to be perfectly calm, and remained sitting by his side.” He murmured something, but she could not hear what it was; she thought he was speaking in French. Then all at once he began to arrange his hair, “just as he used to do when well and he was dressing.” “Es kleines Frauchen,” she whispered to him; and he seemed to understand. For a moment, towards the evening, she went into another room, but was immediately called back; she saw at a glance that a ghastly change had taken place. As she knelt by the bed, he breathed deeply, breathed gently, breathed at last no more. His features became perfectly rigid; she shrieked one long wild shriek that rang through the terror-stricken castle and understood that she had lost him for ever.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13