HE portrait of the Queen would be incomplete without some recognition of the fact that the personal virtues of Her Majesty have contributed to the stability of the English throne. In this era of revolutions, when Europe is crowded with exiled sovereigns, when Sultans and Czars, and even Presidents, are assassinated, when France and Spain and Rome and Naples and a host of pettier States have not only overthrown their monarchs, but changed the very forms of their governments, the British dynasty has remained undisturbed. Doubtless, this is due in a great measure to the freedom of British institutions as well as to the preference of the British people for whatever is established; but the invariable private excellencies of the Queen have also been conspicuous agents in producing the result.
No breath of scandal has ever lighted on Victoria's fame as wife or widow, and the purity of the atmosphere which she had to create for her court is known to the world. Neither is her beautiful domestic life, preserved amid ceremonies and distractions innumerable and unavoidable, a mere matter of course. The spectacle of other sovereigns of her own age and sex and time demonstrates this. Divided families, rebellious or rival relatives, disobedient children, unfaithful consorts of royal rank abound to-day, as in all history. But Her Majesty, with an absolute confidence in the affection of her subjects, and an instinctive sympathy with the domestic feeling of the British people, has revealed much of her character and daily life in the "Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands," and the "Life of the Prince Consort," to which she so largely contributed. Apart from the political character unwisely given to portions of the latter work, there is little in any of these volumes that does not elevate one's idea of the lady who has been able to retain so much simplicity and genuine feeling, amid the pageantries of a palace and the punctilio of a court.
There is doubtless a little of what, to an American and a democrat, seems over-consciousness of rank, a certainty that the most trivial matters concerning herself and her family must be interesting; and the over-weening regard for etiquette, which is one of Her Majesty's most distinctive traits, is often so apparent as to become amusing. She notes how people sit at dinner or the order in which they enter a room as carefully as if these were questions of peace or war, and records the long lists of her guests at weddings or funerals the only occasions at which she now entertains in state as gravely as if she were proclaiming treaties or dividing empires. But these peculiarities are perhaps inseparable from her position, and originate in the life she must lead rather than in her individual character or preferences.
On the other hand, the Queen of England exhibits in her exalted sphere virtues which the humblest man or woman in her realm might imitate, virtues which endear her personally to her subjects and certainly make them unwilling in her time to disturb her throne. Purity, honor, truth, religion, fidelity in all the family relations, constancy to friends, sympathy with all forms of human suffering in whatever class these are traits on account of which the English people of to-day is content to have a Queen.
There may be times when the traits of the woman seem incongruous with the character of a ruler; when the unconscious disposition to submit to another mind, the susceptibility to the influence of a masculine nature, makes the Salique law comprehensible, if not regrettable. Not every favorite or director of the Queen has been a Prince Consort. Beaconsfield and John Brown each exercised a sway that was neither admirable nor beneficial. But there is the other side of the picture, too, and the very womanliness of the Queen has in many ways commended her to her own subjects, while it extorts a sympathetic interest from the world at large. That womanliness makes the country to her no abstraction, but a personality. She feels toward her people as a mother toward her children. There may be to a republican something odd or almost ludicrous in the idea, but there is something touching, and even elevated, besides. The Queen, it is plain, has a downright affection for her people, as for an individual, and, to a certain degree, the affection is returned.
It may be fortunate for the dynasty after all that the sovereign of England in these days is a woman. A very important man once said to me: "This people would not stand another George IV; "and I have heard court ladies declare they would never kiss the hand of the Prince of Wales. The homage paid the Queen has something in it of the courtesy offered to a lady, and no man is humiliated by kneeling to a woman. We all do that, democrats or not, at some time in our lives.
Even the petty revelations in Her Majesty's latest volume, the very babble about the servants and the family, make a picture of home life and of a garrulous old lady under her crown, that has a certain attraction for the English nature. Her love of country life, her visits to the sick, her gossip with the gillies, her presence at servants' balls though she never attends an entertainment of the aristocracy all betray the homespun tastes and virtues of a "gude wife," for all the ermine.
In fact, Her Majesty's sympathies are with the middle class rather than with the aristocracy. She looks like one of them, and, so far as she can, she lives like one of them. I saw her once in public refuse to be cloaked by a duke and turn her shoulders to John Brown. Doubtless Brown performed the service more skilfully, but there was a significance in the act all the same. Her very regard for etiquette, in a lower rank would be the interest of a shopwoman in her wares. I asked General Grant how he was impressed by Her Majesty when he dined at Windsor. He said that when talking with him the Queen had a fidgetty, embarrassed manner, like that of a person unused to her position, but anxious to put him at his ease. She probably wished to show him that she was his superior, and yet to do it in a high-bred way; for in his case she may have had a suspicion that the superiority was not recognized. The sensation must have been unusual.
The people like such stories about her as this. Once upon a time there was a domestic quarrel between the royal pair, and the Prince Consort locked himself in his bedchamber. But soon Her Majesty repented and knocked at the Prince's door. "Who is there?" he asked. "The Queen," was the reply, and no answer came. After a while there was another knock, and again the Prince Consort asked, "Who is there?" "Victoria, Albert," and the door was opened and the quarrel past.
The counterpart to this is the plaintive utterance of Her Majesty on the death of the Prince: "There is no one left to call me Victoria now."
The Queen is, indeed, debarred from ordinary intimacies, and therefore takes her subjects into her confidence. There is the necessity to unbend to some one, and as no one is near enough or grand enough, she unbends to them all, just as she courtesies to a multitude, but never to an individual. Her subjects respect the confidence. Her weaknesses she may betray, but it is to friends. Her eccentricities have been laid bare, but they shall be covered.
The Queen is the granddaughter of George III in more things than one. She has a touch of his oddity as well as of his obstinacy; she inherits his royal pride and his royal narrowness, but also his idea of duty, his love of country, his fidelity to his family and friends.
I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention the names of two of those friends, not now living, whom many Americans had good reason to esteem, and some to regard with even a kinder feeling. The late Dean of Westminster and his wife, the Lady Augusta Stanley, were both persons of more than ordinary character and admirable qualities, and, while genuinely loyal and attached to British institutions, in no way narrow or prejudiced in their partialities. Both were members of the court for years, and devoted to their royal mistress, and from them I learned many circumstances and traits that made me better appreciate the private character of the Queen. She returned their regard with generous ardor, and has shown that she cherishes their memory still. There must be a charm about her intimate behavior when it attaches natures like theirs. When the Dean paid his addresses to Lady Augusta Bruce, she was in waiting on Her Majesty, and, immediately after he was accepted, the Queen invited him to dinner. At table she remarked, with a touch of affection in the humor, that she had always thought the Dean of Westminster too faithful a subject to suspect him of enticing away a favorite servant of the Crown. But Lady Augusta retained her connection with the court even after her marriage; she was extra-woman of the bedchamber, as it is called, and was often summoned by her royal mistress for companionship as well as attendance. The Dean was sent to St. Petersburg to perform the English service at the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh, and his wife accompanied him. In the rigors of a Russian winter the seeds were sown of the lingering and torturing malady that carried her off. While she lay suffering at the Deanery at Westminster, the Queen and the Princesses paid her frequent visits, prayed with her, read with her, wept over her; and in Westminster Abbey there is placed a memorial stone with an inscription indicating that the lady who sleeps beneath was the friend of her sovereign.
There is, however, one phase of the fidelity so strongly marked in Her Majesty's character which some of her subjects do not find so admirable. The higher English, as a rule, do not mourn long or bitterly for their dead; they return promptly to the world of business or of pleasure, and seem easily comforted for the loss of their nearest relatives. They therefore naturally disapprove the Queen's prolonged withdrawal from public life and court entertainments. They miss the pomp which should surround the head of the State on great occasions, as well as the satisfaction of being seen in public with he ; while as politicians they deem her seclusion unwise, as perhaps it is. The sentiment of loyalty in our day requires every opportunity of expression or development. It is a plant that does not thrive so well in the shade, and the populace must see Majesty continually in the flesh if it is expected continually to revere. The London tradesmen also murmur at the decreased expenditure of an absent court, which they do not hesitate to attribute to parsimony.
It may, indeed, be true that the Queen should sacrifice her private feeling for a public duty; that she should relax her saddened features and put aside her sombre garb; yet who that has read the most touching portions of her recent volumes but will feel for the wife, so many years a widow, and still constant to the memory of her husband? Who can fail to appreciate the fidelity to the past which can find no pleasure in the present, the grief which in any rank is so rare? To the common people at least this steadfastness of sorrow is pathetic, and certainly in history the figure of this mourning Queen will be as interesting as that of any of the frivolous and beautiful sovereigns whose misfortunes have moved the world. Not Marie Antoinette, nor Josephine, nor the unhappy wandering Eugenie of our own day, appeals for a more tender sympathy than Yictoria, seated alone for so many years on so lofty and sad an eminence, not frantic nor rebellious in her sorrow, but faithful, secluded, expectant.
In the gallery of the Queen's private apartments at Windsor there stands a piece of statuary, of life size and nobly conceived, representing the Prince Consort drawn by angels heavenward from the arms of the weeping Queen; beneath is inscribed the line: "Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way."
To come upon this group amid the splendors of a palace is to feel how completely it expresses the emotion of one who mourns before the nations and is lonely upon a throne.Source: Aristocracy In England by Adam Badeau - Franklin Square 1886, Copyright, 1885, 1886. [As Written] Original text, may contain OCR errors.
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON
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