In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan
While the German wars were going on the Queen was thinking for her country as a sovereign and feeling for her children as a mother. In the midst of all the claims upon her, she had one aim that she never forgot, and that was to make her country understand and appreciate the talents and character of Prince Albert. She concluded to have a book prepared that should tell the story of his life, for she felt that no one who really knew him could fail to honor him. When the first volume was published, even her children were surprised that she should tell matters of her own private life so fully; but she loved and trusted her people, and she was as frank with them as she would have been with an intimate friend.
The year after this book was brought out, the Queen herself became the author of a book, "Our Life in the Highlands." It is made up of extracts from the journal which she always kept. "Simple records," she calls them, but they often give charming pictures of the merry times at Balmoral. Sir Arthur Helps aided her in preparing the book for the press. "He often scolds me," she said, "because I am careless in writing; but how could he expect me to take pains when I wrote late at night, suffering from headache and exhaustion, and in dreadful haste?" She arranged to have Sir Theodore Martin complete the life of the Prince, and she spent much time in arranging her husband's papers and letters for him to use. She generally chose the selections to be inserted, and she read every chapter as it was written.
About her own authorship the Queen was very modest, and when she sent a copy of her book to Dickens, she wrote in it, "From the humblest of writers to one of the greatest." At Sir Walter Scott's home, she was asked to write her name in his journal; and, although she granted the request, she wrote in her own journal, "I felt it a presumption in me." When Carlyle met her, he said, "It is impossible to imagine a politer little woman; nothing the least imperious, all gentle, all sincere; makes you feel too (if you have any sense in you) that she is Queen."
Her being Queen gave her a peculiar power over the marriages of her children, for they were not legal unless she gave her formal consent. Early in 1871 she was called upon again to exercise her right, for far up in the hills about Balmoral there was a momentous little interview between the Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne. "Princess Louise is so bright and jolly to talk with," one of the Scotch boys had said of her when she was a very young girl, and this Scotch Marquis was of exactly the same opinion.
The Queen had guessed before how matters stood with her daughter and the gentleman whom she had once called "such a merry, independent child." The young man had proved his independence by asking for the hand of the Princess, inasmuch as it was three hundred years since a member of the royal family had married a subject, but the Queen paid no attention to tradition. She felt sure that the Marquis would make her daughter happy, and that was enough. Most of her subjects agreed with her; and one of the newspapers said jubilantly, "The old dragon Tradition was routed by a young sorcerer called Love."
The wedding was celebrated at Windsor. It was a brilliant scene, of course, and if all the gentlemen were arrayed as vividly as the Duke of Argyll, the father of the bridegroom, the ladies did not monopolize gorgeousness of attire. The Duke was a Scottish chieftain, and he appeared in Highland dress. His kilt and the plaid thrown over his shoulders were of the gay Campbell tartan. His claymore, a broad two-handed sword, was at his side, and in front there hung from his belt a sporran, or deep pouch made of skin with the hair or fur on the outside. His dirk sparkled with jewels. Altogether he might have stepped out of some resplendent assemblage of the middle ages. After the wedding breakfast, the bride laid aside her white satin and Honiton lace and arrayed herself in a traveling dress of Campbell plaid. The carriage door was closed, and the young couple drove away for Claremont in a little shower of white slippers, accompanied, according to Highland tradition, by a new broom, which was sure to bring happiness to the new household.
The Queen's daughters were now in homes of their own except the Princess Beatrice, a merry little girl of fourteen, who had been radiantly happy in her new pink satin at her sister's wedding. The Queen was devoted to her children, but it would have been easier for her to pass through the next few years if she had been all sovereign and not woman. War broke out between France and Germany, and both Prince "Fritz" and Prince Louis were in the field. Anxious as she was for them, she was even more troubled for the Princess Alice, who was really in quite as much danger as if she had been in the army. For several years she had been deeply interested in lessening the sufferings of the poor in times of illness; and in providing trained nurses for wounded soldiers. While this war was in progress, she not only went to the hospitals daily, but she brought the wounded men to her own house and cared for them herself. She was exposed over and over again to typhus fever and other diseases, but she seemed to be entirely without fear. One of her friends describes seeing her help to lift a soldier who was very ill of smallpox.
Princess Alice little thought of what value her skill in nursing would be to her own family, but near the end of 1871, the Prince of Wales was taken ill with typhoid fever, and her help was of the utmost value. It was just ten years before that Prince Albert had died of the same disease, and to the anxious Queen every day was an anniversary. She hastened to the home of the Prince at Sandringham, and when she saw how ill he was, she sent at once for the other members of the family. The days passed slowly. One day he seemed a little better, and there was rejoicing, as the telegraph flashed the news not only over England, but to Canada, India, to every part of the world. Then came a day of hopelessness. The Queen mother watched every symptom. "Can you not save him?" she pleaded; and all the physicians could answer was, "You must be prepared for the worst. We fear that the end is near."
Bulletins were sent out to the public every hour or two. All London seemed to tremble with fear and anxiety. Stores were open, but there was little of either buying or selling. Day and night the citizens crowded the streets in front of the newspaper offices. They talked of no one but the Prince.
"He's a good boy to his mother," said one, "and she'll miss him sorely."
"He's living yet, God bless him, and perhaps after all he'll mend," declared another of more hopeful spirit.
"Did you ever hear that when he was a little chap and his tutor was going to leave him, the young man couldn't go into his room without finding a little present on his pillow or perhaps a note from the little boy saying how much he should miss him?"
"It'll kill the Queen," said one man. "The poor woman's had all she can bear, and she'll never go through this."
"And the Prince's boy's but eight years old," declared another. "There'll be a regent for ten years, and no one can say what harm will come to the country in that time."
So the days passed. The fourteenth of December came, the anniversary of the day on which the Prince Consort had died. The Prince breathed and that was all. The people about the offices were hushed. Everyone dreaded to hear the next message, but when it came, it said "Better." London hardly dared to rejoice, but the Prince continued to gain, and at last the Queen joyfully granted the wish of her people and appointed a Thanksgiving Day. The special service was held at St. Paul's Church, and there were many tears of joy when the Queen walked up the nave between the Prince and the Princess of Wales.
After the religious ceremony was over, the guns roared out the delight of the people, and a wild excitement of happiness began. At night St. Paul's was illuminated, and everyone was jubilant. The Queen was deeply touched and pleased with the warm sympathy shown by her subjects, and a day or two later she sent a little letter to be published in the papers to tell them how happy they had made her.
Only two days after this letter was written, there was a great alarm, for when the Queen went out to drive a young fellow sprang towards the carriage and aimed a pistol at her. He was seized in a moment and proved to be a half-crazed boy of seventeen whose pistol had neither powder nor bullet. Most of the Queen's personal attendants were Highlanders, and one of them, John Brown, had thrown himself between her and what he supposed was the bullet of an assassin. Both the Queen and Prince Albert were always most appreciative of faithful service, and looked upon it as something which money could not buy. She had been thinking of having special medals made to give to her servants who deserved a special reward, and she now gave the first one to John Brown. With the medal went an annuity of $125.
John Brown seemed to have no thought but for the Queen. To serve her and care for her was his one interest. He cared nothing about court manners, and was perhaps the only person in the land who dared to find fault with its sovereign to her face. Statesmen would bow meekly before her, but the Scotchman always spoke his mind. He even ventured to criticise her clothes. The Queen never did care very much for fine raiment, and in her journal where she narrates so minutely as to mention the fact that a glass of water was brought her, she describes her dress merely as "quite thin things." John Brown thought nothing was good enough for his royal mistress. "What's that thing ye've got on?" he would demand with most evident disapproval, if a cloak or gown was not up to his notion of what she ought to wear; and this Queen, who knew so well what was due to her position, knew also that honest affection is better than courtly manners, and kept Brown in close attendance. She built several little picnic cottages far up in the hills, where she and some of her children would often go for a few days when they were at Balmoral. There is a story that when she was staying at one of these cottages, she wished to go out to sketch. A table was brought her, but it was too high. The next was too low, and the third was not solid enough to stand firmly. So far John Brown had not interfered, but now he brought back one of the tables and said bluntly, "They canna make one for you up here." The Queen laughed and found that it would answer very well.
One cannot help wondering what Queen Victoria's guests thought of her attendant's blunt ways, but they must have often envied her his honest devotion. In 1872 and 1873 she had several very interesting visitors. One of them was David Livingstone, the African explorer.
"What do the people in the wilderness ask you?" queried the Queen.
"They ask many questions," he replied, "but perhaps the one I hear oftenest is, 'Is your Queen very rich?' and when I say 'Yes,' they ask, 'How rich is she? how many cows does she own?' "
Other visitors were a group of envoys from the King of Burmah, a monarch with such strict regard for what he looked upon as royal etiquette that he would not allow the British representative to come into his presence unless the indignant Englishman took off his shoes before attempting to enter the audience room. His letter to the Queen began with the flourishes that would be expected from so punctilious a potentate: "From His Great, Glorious, and Most Excellent Majesty, King of the Rising Sun, who reigns over Burmah, to Her Most Glorious and Excellent Majesty Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland." He sent among other gifts a gold bracelet which must have been of more value than use, for it weighed seven pounds.
The guest who made the greatest sensation was the Shah of Persia. For more than two months he was on his way to England, and the nearer he came, the more wild were the fancies that people had about him. The newspapers were full of stories about his dagger, whose diamonds were so dazzling, they said, that one might as well gaze at the midday sun. They told amazing tales about the pocket money which he had brought with him, some putting the amount as $2,500,000, others as $25,000,000. "When he walks about, jewels fall upon the ground," one newspaper declared. "He wears a black velvet tunic all sprinkled with diamonds, and he has epaulets of emeralds as big as walnuts," romanced another.
The curiosity seekers were disappointed when he appeared, though it would seem as if he had enough jewelry to make himself worth at least a glance, for up and down his coat were rows of rubies and diamonds. He wore a scimitar, and that, together with his belt and cap, was sparkling with precious stones, while his fingers were loaded with rings.
The Queen came from Balmoral to welcome him. Whether she gave him the formal kiss that was expected between sovereigns, the accounts do not state, but all sorts of entertainments were arranged for him, a great ball, a review of artillery, an Italian opera, and many other amusements. He was much interested in the review, and the troops must have been interested in him, for he rode an Arab horse whose tail had been dyed a bright pink. At this review one of the newspaper stories proved very nearly true, for a member of the Persian suite fell from his horse and really did scatter diamonds about him on the grass. After a visit of a little more than two weeks, the Shah bade farewell to England. Before his departure there was an exchange of courtesies between himself and the Queen. She made him a knight of the Garter, and he made her a member of a Persian order which he had just instituted for ladies. The Queen gave him a badge and collar of the Garter, set in diamonds; and he returned the gift by presenting her with his photograph in a circle of diamonds.
In the midst of this entertainment and display, the tender heart of the Queen was more than once deeply grieved by the death of dear friends. The cherished Féodore, the Princess Hohenlohe, died; then the Queen lost Dr. McLeod, the Scotch clergyman who had so helped and comforted her in her troubles. Hardly two months had passed after his death before heart-broken letters came from Darmstadt. Princess Alice had been away for a short time, counting the hours before she could be with her children again. At last she was at home with them and happy. The two little boys were brought to her chamber one morning, and as she stepped for a moment into the adjoining room, one of them, "Frittie," fell from the window to the stone terrace, and died in a few hours. The heart-broken mother longed to go to her own mother for comfort in her trouble, but she could not leave her home, neither could the Queen come to her.
Warm, tender words of sympathy came from England, from a Queen mother who well knew what sorrow meant. "Can you bear to play on the piano yet?" she asked some three months after the accident; for it was long after the death of Prince Albert before she herself could endure the sound of music. Princess Alice replied, "It seems as if I never could play again on that piano, where little hands were nearly always thrust when I wanted to play. Ernie asked, 'Why can't we all die together? I don't like to die alone, like Frittie.' "
While the heart of the Queen was aching with sympathy for her daughter, she had also to attend to arrangements for the marriage of her sailor son "Affie," now Duke of Edinburgh, with the daughter of the Emperor of Russia. She herself could not go to the wedding at St. Petersburg, but she asked Dean Stanley to go and perform the English ceremony; for as the bride was a member of the Greek Church, there was a double rite. To Dean Stanley's wife she sent a mysterious little parcel containing two sprigs of myrtle, and with it a letter which asked her to put them into warm water, and when the wedding day came, to place them in a bouquet of white flowers for the bride. The myrtle had grown from the slip in the bridal bouquet of the Princess Royal, and in the five marriages of royal children that had preceded this one, each bride had carried a bit of the bush.
When the bride reached Balmoral, a company of volunteers in kilts were waiting to receive her. Just beyond were the tenants on the Queen's estate, all in their best clothes. The pipers were present, of course, and the best clothes of the Queen's pipers were well worth seeing. The kilt was of Stuart plaid, and the tunic of black velvet. Over the shoulder was a silver chain from which hung a silver powder horn. The bag for the pipe was of blue velvet. Ornaments were worn wherever there was a place for them, but the only jewels were cairngorms, and they were always set in silver. The shoes had heavy silver buckles. The bride and all her royal friends drove to the castle, where their health was drunk by a merry company. The end of the Queen's account of this reception of royalty sounds delightfully simple and homelike. "We took Marie and Alfred to their rooms downstairs," she says, "and sat with them while they had their tea."
In so large a family as that of the Queen there was always a birth or a marriage, a coming or a going. Not long after the marriage of his brother Alfred, the Prince of Wales left England to spend some months in India. This journey was not a pleasure trip, it had a state purpose, and that was to pay honor to the native princes who had aided the English in their efforts to govern India. The Prince was well accustomed to being received with cheering and the firing of guns, but his Indian reception was something entirely new. At one place twenty-four elephants painted in different colors trumpeted a greeting. In another, which was ruled by a lady, the sovereign met him, but she could hardly be said to have made her appearance, for her face was thickly veiled. At still another he was carried up a hill in a superb chair made of silver and gold. There was a boar hunt, an antelope hunt, and an elephant fight; there was a marvelously beautiful illumination of surf; there were addresses presented by people of all shades of complexion and all varieties of costume, often so magnificent that some one called the wearers "animated nuggets."
This visit of the Prince of Wales was followed by the Queen's assumption of the title of Empress of India. There was a vast amount of talk about the new title, for many English thought that it was foolish and childish to make any change. On the other hand, "Empress" was the proper title for a woman who ruled over many kings, even kings of India. There were stories afloat that one reason why the Queen wished to become an Empress was because the Russian Princess, who was the daughter of an Emperor, had claimed precedence over the English Princesses, who were only the daughters of a Queen. However that may be, the title was formally assumed in 1876. It was proclaimed in India with all magnificence. Sixty-three princes were present to hear the proclamation. There were thousands of troops and long lines of elephants. A throne that was a vision of splendor was built high up above the plain; and on this sat the viceroy of the Queen, who received the honors intended for her.
Queen Victoria was much pleased with the new title, and soon began to sign her name "Victoria, R. I.," for "Regina et Imperatrix," to all documents, though it had been expected that she would affix it to her signature only when signing papers relating to India. Another title which she enjoyed was that of "Daughter of the Regiment." The Duke of Kent had been in command of the "Royal Scots" at the time of her birth and therefore they looked upon her as having been "born in the regiment." In the autumn of this same year she presented them with new colors, and there was a little ceremony which delighted her because it was evidently so sincere. There was first a salute, then marching and countermarching, while the band played old marches that were her favorites, among them one from the "Fille du Régiment," to hint that she belonged especially to them. Then there was perfect silence. Two officers knelt before her, and she presented them with the new colors, first making a little speech. The Royal Scots were greatly pleased, because in her speech she said, "I have been associated with your regiment from my earliest infancy, and I was always taught to consider myself a soldier's child." In spite of her many years' experience in making short speeches and of her perfect calmness in public in her earlier years, the Queen was never quite at ease in speaking to an audience after Prince Albert died, and she said of this occasion, "I was terribly nervous." She never ceased to miss the supporting presence of the Prince, and she wrote pitifully of her first public appearance after his death, "There was no one to direct me and to say, as formerly, what was to be done."
The Queen was soon to feel even more lonely, for late in the autumn of 1878 there came a time of intense anxiety, then of the deepest sorrow. Princess Alice's husband and children were attacked by diphtheria. "Little Sunshine," as her youngest daughter was called in the home, died after three days' illness. The mother hid her grief as best she could that the other children should not know of their loss. Three weeks later, she too was taken with the same disease, and died on the seventeenth anniversary of her father's death. Little children and poor peasant women of Hesse were among those who laid flowers on her bier and shared in the grief of the sorrowing monarch across the Channel.
The Queen had built a cairn at Balmoral in memory of the Prince Consort. Others had been built from time to time, one rising merrily with laughing and dancing to commemorate the purchase of the estate; others erected to mark the date of the marriage of the sons and daughters of the house. To these a granite cross was now added to the memory of the beloved daughter, "By her sorrowing mother, Queen Victoria," said the inscription.
So it was that the happy circle of sons and daughters was first broken; so it was that the years of the Queen passed on, full of the joys and sorrows that seemed to come to her almost hand in hand.