In the Days of Queen Victoria - E. M. Tappan

The Little Folk

In the midst of all the royalties that were present at the wedding of the Prince of Wales were the two great novelists of the realm, Thackeray and Dickens; but Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, was not there. Again "someone had blundered," and his invitation had been missent. Both the Queen and Prince Albert felt a sincere admiration and reverence for the poet, and the Prince had asked the favor of an autograph with far more hesitation than most schoolboys would have shown. This is the way in which he made his very modest petition:

"Will you forgive me if I intrude upon your leisure with a request which I have thought some little time of making, viz., that you would be good enough to write your name in the accompanying volume of the 'Idylls of the King'?" Prince Albert was very fond of the "Idylls," and when, only a month after his death, Tennyson brought out a new edition of the poems, it contained a beautiful dedication, which began:

"These to his memory—since he held them dear."

The lines do not sound as if the poet felt obliged to write them because he had been appointed Laureate, but rather as if he meant every word that he wrote. In this dedication he speaks very earnestly of Prince Albert's wisdom and ability and unselfishness, and gives us the exquisite line which everyone quotes who writes of the Prince Consort:

"Wearing the white flower of a blameless life."

The following year, just before the wedding of the Prince of Wales, Tennyson wrote a welcome to the bride, beginning:

"Sea-kings' daughter from over the sea, Alexandra!

Saxon and Norman and Dane are we,

But all of us Danes in our welcome of thee, Alexandra!"

The Queen was much pleased with the poem and said, "Thank him very warmly, and tell him with how much pleasure I have read the lines, and that I rejoice the sweet and charming bride should be thus greeted."

There is a story that when the Danish Princess was a very young girl, she and three of her girl friends sat together in the forest talking of what they should like to do when they were grown up.

"I want to be famous," said one. "I want to paint a picture that everyone will go to see, or to write a book that all Denmark will be eager to read."

"If I could do just what I liked," declared the second, "I would travel all over the world; so I will wish to be a great traveler."

"I want to be rich," said the third, "and then I can travel whenever I choose, and buy all the books I choose without having to write them, and all the pictures I choose without having to paint them. But what do you want, Alix?"

The Princess Alix had been thinking, and she answered slowly, "If I could have just what I wanted, I would choose that everyone who saw me should love me."

However it was with the others, the Princess Alexandra surely had her wish, for everyone who met her seemed to love her. The Queen called her "the fairy," and so great a dignitary as Dean Stanley thought of her in the same way, for after he had had a long talk with her in the corner of the drawing room, telling her how the service of the Church of England differed from that of the Danish Church, he wrote in his diary, "She is as charming and beautiful a creature as ever passed through a fairy tale." "The little gem of Denmark is the pet of the country," declared the newspapers. The unbounded admiration that had been shown to Queen Victoria in the early days of her reign was given to Alexandra. When the Queen came to the throne, young girls who were small and had fair hair and blue eyes were happy. Now, it was bliss to have any feature that resembled the Danish Princess. She had a custom of letting two curls of brown hair fall on each shoulder, and straightway English fashions demanded that every girl should wear four curls hanging on her shoulders. For months London was at the height of gayety. The Princess represented her royal mother-in-law at the drawing rooms of the season; no easy task, for so many ladies attended the first that it took four long hours for them to pass the throne. All this time the Princess Alexandra and the Princess Alice stood to receive them, except for one little resting time of twenty minutes. There were receptions and most magnificent balls, at which all the dignitaries tried their best to make themselves agreeable to the young Princess.

Of course the Queen had no heart for these festivities, but she was glad to have the people pleased, and for one of the most elaborate entertainments she sent decorations and furnishings from Buckingham Palace. The Princess Alice and Prince Louis were with her for several months before the marriage of the Prince of Wales; and only three or four weeks after the great event, a little Hessian granddaughter was born at Windsor Castle. The chaplain of the Hessian court came to England for the christening of the wee maiden. The usual number of names was given her, but the first two were Victoria Alberta.

In the autumn the Queen made the customary visit to Balmoral; but only a few days after her arrival she took an evening drive that put her into a great deal of danger, for the carriage turned over, and the Queen, the Princess Alice, and "Lenchen," as the Princess Helena was called, were thrown out. Brown, the Queen's favorite Highland attendant, had little regard for court manners at any time, and less than ever in this predicament. He called out, "The Lord Almighty have mercy on us! Who did ever see the like of this before! I thought you were all killed." The Queen had fallen on her face, and was somewhat bruised. Princess Alice, with her usual calmness, held a lantern so that the men could see to cut the horses free. Then while the driver went for help, the monarch of Great Britain sat in the road wrapped up in plaids and using the floor of the carriage for a back. The Princess had brought her page along, a Malay boy whose father had presented him to a traveler in return for some kindness, and little "Willem" sat in front with one lantern, while Brown held another. It was a strange situation, a Queen, with thousands of soldiers at her command, sitting in a broken carriage waiting for horses and guarded by one Highlander and a little black boy. She wrote in her journal for that day: "People were foolishly alarmed when we got upstairs, and made a great fuss. Had my head bandaged and got to bed rather late."

This soldier's daughter could make little of pain, but she could not so easily put away sorrow. Every place about Balmoral reminded her of something that Prince Albert had said or done, and she could not bear that his presence should be forgotten. On the summit of a hill which they had often visited together, she built a great cairn, on which was inscribed, "To the beloved memory of Albert, the great and good Prince Consort; raised by his broken-hearted widow, Victoria R."

She was touched and grateful when the citizens of Aberdeen wished to put up a statue of the Prince, and asked her to be present at the unveiling. It was nearly two years since his death, but she had not yet taken part in any public ceremony, and she dreaded to have the morning come. When it did come, however, she wrote in her journal the words that were the keynote of her courage in meeting difficulties, "Prayed for help and got up earlier." The rain poured, but the streets of Aberdeen were thronged with people. Out of sympathy with her grief, there was no cheering, and no band playing. For more than twenty-five years she had never appeared on public occasions without both cheering and music; and although she appreciated the thoughtful sympathy of the people, the silence only made the contrast greater between the past and the present. The exercises began with an address to the Queen by the Lord Provost. She handed him a written reply. Then he knelt before her; her Minister gave her a sword; and touching the Provost with it on each shoulder, she said "Rise, Sir Alexander Anderson." Mr. Anderson had now become a knight, and would be called Sir Alexander all the rest of his life. After this little ceremony, the bunting was drawn away from the statue, and what the Queen called a "fearful ordeal" was at an end.

The one upon whom the Queen depended most was Princess Alice. She often went on little picnics or drives "because Alice advised." The Princess and Prince Louis spent as much time in England as possible, and when they were in Germany the letters of the Princess gave her mother a great deal of pleasure. They were full of the details of her daily life, some of which might have come from a palace and some from a cottage. One described a gift just received from the Empress of Russia, "a splendid bracelet;" and a few days later, the young mother wrote exultantly that the baby looked about and laughed. This young housekeeper was deeply interested in all the details of her home. She was grateful to her Queen mother for the big turkey pie and the other good things that arrived at Christmas time; and she wrote of her various little dilemmas, ranging all the way from a half-hour's hunt for a pen just after a journey to the whirl of making the dining room into a bedroom to accommodate a guest. One morning she wrote "in the midst of household troubles," as she said, for the Emperor and Empress had just sent word that they were coming to breakfast with her, and "Louis" was out. But of all the bits of home life in her letters, those about the children—for in a year and a half there was also a little Elizabeth—must have given the most pleasure to the royal Grandmamma. On one page the Princess described some political complication between kingdoms, and on the next was the astounding news that little Victoria could get on her feet by the help of a chair and could push it across the room. Before long, she was walking out with her father before breakfast, with her independent little hands in her jacket pockets. Money was not especially plenty in the home at Darmstadt, and the Princess mother wrote at one time of the little Elizabeth's wearing Victoria's last year's gowns, and at another said that she had just made seven little dresses for the children. With a German father and an English mother, the little Victoria spoke at first a comical combination of German and English, and she announced one day, "Meine Grossmama, die Königin, has got a little vatch with a birdie."

There was also a little boy in England who was taking much of the Queen's attention, the baby son of the Prince of Wales. He was born at Frogmore House, and as all the clothes provided for him were at Marlborough, he fared no better for raiment at first than if he had been born in a cottage. The loss was made up to him, however, when he was christened; for then he was gorgeous in a robe of Honiton lace, the same one in which his father had been christened, while over the robe was a cloak of crimson velvet with a lining of ermine. Nothing could be too rich and costly, for some day, if he lived long enough, he would wear the English crown. One matter in which the royal family were most economical was in regard to names, for they used the same ones over and over. This little boy was named Albert, for his English grandfather; Victor, for the Queen; Christian, for his Danish grandfather; and Edward, for his father. Princess "Alix" was as eager to be with her precious baby as the Queen had been to stay with her children, and she looked like a mischievous child when she had succeeded in slipping away from some grand company long enough to give baby "Eddie" his bath and put him to bed.

The little Princess Beatrice was scarcely more than a baby herself, but she seems to have felt all the responsibility of being aunt to so many small people. When she was hardly more than three years old, Princess "Vicky's" second child was born, and then Prince Albert wrote of the little girl to his eldest daughter, "That excellent lady has now not a moment to spare. 'I have no time,' she says when she is asked for anything. 'I must write letters to my niece!' "

Around her and across the Channel were children in whom she was most warmly interested, but the Queen's own childhood was rapidly growing more distant, not only by the passing of time, but also by the death of those who were most closely associated with her early days. Bishop Davys died in 1864, and in 1865 the death of King Leopold occurred. He was well called "the wisest king in Europe," and more than one dispute between kingdoms had been left to him for settlement. He knew all the royal secrets, and he made a judicious and kindly use of his knowledge. Ever since the Queen's accession he had aided her with his counsel, and now there was no one to whom she could look for disinterested advice. In that same year the assassination of President Lincoln occurred. The Queen was not satisfied with a formal telegram of regret; she wrote a letter, not as the sovereign of England to the wife of the President, but as one sorrowing woman to another, expressing her warm sympathy.

Few people realized how much severe mental labor the Queen had to endure. Often in the course of a single year many thousand papers were presented to her, and of these there were few to which she did not have to give close thought. For twenty-one years she had discussed everything with Prince Albert, and when they had come to a conclusion, he would, as in the Trent  affair, write whatever was necessary. Then they would read the paper together and make any changes that seemed best. After his death, the Queen had to do all this work alone. She could wear the Kohinoor diamond, and she could build a million-dollar palace if she chose, but there were few persons in the kingdom who worked harder than she. What belonged strictly to matters of state was more than enough for one person, but besides this there were schools, hospitals, and bazaars to open, prizes to distribute and corner-stones to lay. Then there were entertainments, fętes, receptions, balls, etc., frequently in behalf of some good object, whose success was sure if it could be said that the Queen would be present. The Prince and Princess of Wales could not lessen the weight of the public business that pressed so heavily upon the Queen, but they could relieve her from the strain of these public appearances, and this they did. They were both beloved by the people, but after the Queen had lived for five years in retirement, some of her subjects began to complain.

"What has she to do," grumbled one, "but to wear handsome clothes, live in a palace, and bow to people when she drives out?"

"Yes," declared another, "she has nothing to do. Parliament makes the laws, and she just writes her name."

"She's good to her cottagers in the Highlands," said a Londoner, "but she ought to care a little for the merchants here in London. Everybody likes the Princess, but the Queen's the Queen, and there never were such sales as when she was giving her fancy-dress balls."

"She thinks of nothing but her own sorrow," said another. "She has lost all sympathy with the people."

This last speech was made at a public meeting. Mr. John Bright, the "great peace statesman," was present, and he replied to it. His closing words were, "A woman who can keep alive in her heart a great sorrow for the lost object of her life and affection is not at all likely to be wanting in a great and generous sympathy for you."

Little by little the Queen learned the feelings of her people, and she soon published a response which must have made the grumblers feel ashamed. She said she was grateful for their wish to see her, but so much was now thrown upon her which no one else could do that she was overwhelmed with care and anxiety, and did not dare to undertake "mere representation," lest she should become unable to fulfill the duties which were of real importance to the nation. Some months later, she wrote of herself in a private letter: "From the hour she gets out of bed till she gets into it again, there is work, work, work—letter-boxes, questions, etc., which are dreadfully exhausting."

The Queen wished sincerely not only to do what was best for the people, but also to please them. She could not go to balls and theaters, but early in 1866 she determined to open Parliament in person. The London world rejoiced. They tried to imagine that the old days had come again, and they put on their jewels and their most splendid robes. All the way to the Parliament Building the streets were full of crowds who shouted "Long live the Queen! Hurrah for the Queen!" In the House of Lords there was a most brilliant assembly. Silks rustled and jewels sparkled as all rose to welcome the sovereign. As she entered, the Prince of Wales stepped forward and led her to the throne. The royal Parliamentary robes with all their glitter of gold and glow of crimson were laid upon it, for the Queen wore only mourning hues, of deep purple velvet, trimmed with white miniver. On her head was a Marie Stuart cap of white lace, with a white gauze veil flowing behind. The blue ribbon of the Garter was crossed over her breast, and around her neck was a collar of diamonds. All the radiant look of happiness with which those were familiar who had seen her on the throne before, was gone. She was quiet and self-controlled, but grave and sad. Instead of reading her speech, she gave it to the Lord Chamberlain. At its close, she stepped down from the throne, kissed the Prince of Wales, and walked slowly from the room.

The Queen's two daughters, Helena and Louise, had attended her in opening Parliament. This must have been a little embarrassing for the older one, inasmuch as the Queen's address declared that the royal permission had been given for the Princess Helena to marry Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein; but members of the royal family cannot always consult their own feelings. When they rule different countries, it is not always easy for them even to remain friendly. The fact that the Queen, her daughters, and her Danish daughter-in-law were as fond of one another at the end of 1866 as they were at the beginning of 1864 is proof that the English royal family were very harmonious. Trouble had arisen between Denmark and the German states in regard to the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, and in 1864 war had broken out between the little kingdom of Denmark and the united powers of Prussia and Austria. Both countries were anxious to win the help of England. Princess "Vicky" and Princess Alice naturally sympathized with the German states; while Princess Alexandra's affection was of course with her own home land, which had now become her father's kingdom. The Emperor of France did not wish to have the German states increase in power, and he was ready to help Denmark, provided England would stand by him. England was willing, but England's sovereign would not hear to any talk of war with Germany, and the Ministers hesitated to act against her decided opposition. Of course the Danish Princess was grieved that the Queen would not consent to help her beloved country. Bismarck was the German statesman who was pushing on the war, therefore he was the man who was most abhorrent to the Princess of Wales. There is a story that the Queen had promised the little Beatrice a present, and that when she asked, "What shall it be?" the wee maiden, who had been carefully tutored by her sister-in-law, replied demurely, "Please, mamma, I'd like the head of Bismarck on a charger."

Two years later, there was a still more difficult condition of affairs in the Queen's family, for now that Prussia and Austria held the Schleswig-Holstein duchies, it was a question to which of the two powers they should belong; and to complicate matters even more, Princess Helena had married Prince Christian. Prussia and the north German states held together, and Austria joined the forces of the south German states. Prince "Fritz" belonged to the north and Prince Louis to the south, and therefore the husbands of the two English Princesses were obliged to fight on opposite sides. The war lasted for only seven weeks, but it was an anxious time for Queen Victoria, who shared so fully in the troubles of her daughters. Princess Alice's two little girls were sent to England to be safe in her care, but in the midst of the war, a third little daughter was born. The boom of the distant guns was heard as she lay in her cradle in Darmstadt. Wounded men were being brought into the town, and the residents were fleeing in all directions. By and by the end came, and then the little dark-eyed baby was named Irene, or peace. Never before had a child so many godfathers, for when Prince Louis said farewell to his cavalry, he delighted them by asking the two regiments, officers and men, to be sponsors to his little girl.