|Youre here: Home » eDigg Biographies » Biographies N-S » Queen Victoria|
Well do I remember the effect produced on the audience of students, of which I was then one, when Lord Macaulay delivered his Rectorial address in the University of Glasgow, and when, after giving such pictures as he alone could paint, of the character of the four centuries that had closed since the university had been founded--each epoch presenting a scene of bloodshed and misgovernment--he sketched the possible future of the college, and anticipated the time when coming generations would tell how certain contemplated changes had been accomplished during the reign of "the Good Queen Victoria." The phrase was accentuated by an oratorical swing; and when it was given, the tremendous burst of enthusiasm showed that they who listened felt the great historian had chosen the right epithet, and that he intended it in the sense that, as some monarchs are called "Great" and some "Little," so for all time Victoria would be named "the Good Queen." This was said more than forty years ago, before Tennyson had fixed the "Household name," "Albert the Good," for
Victoria greeted as Queen.
The life of her majesty is marked by three great stages--her youth, her married life, and her widowhood. Each is bound to each by the tie of a consistent growth, passing through those experiences which are typical of God's education of His children, whether high or low, rich or poor.
Her childhood, with its wise education, is very much the key to her after-life. Possessed naturally of a quick intellectual capacity, and an unusually accurate memory, a taste for music and the arts, and a deeply affectionate heart, she was admirably brought up by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, on whom the training of the future queen devolved from her infancy. If the education was as high as it was possible to afford a young and intelligent spirit, the moral influences were equally beneficial. The young princess, instead of being isolated within the formalities of a court, was allowed to become acquainted with the wants and sufferings of the poor, and to indulge her sympathies by giving them personal help. The contrast was a great one between the court of George IV., or even that of William, and the truly English home where the Duchess of Kent nurtured this sweet life in all that was simple, loving, and pure. There could scarcely have been a better school for an affectionate nature. All that we learn of her majesty at that time gives a consistent picture of great vivacity, thorough directness in her search after truth, warmth of heart, and considerateness for others, with a genuine love for all that is morally good. These were the characteristics which impressed those who saw her on the trying occasion when she was suddenly ushered into the foremost place in the greatest empire in the world. It was these characteristics which touched the hearts of the good archbishop and of the Chancellor of England when they announced her great destiny to the girl suddenly summoned from slumber. That first request, "My Lord Archbishop, pray for me!" revealed the depth of her character. It was the same when she had next day to pass through the ordeal of meeting the great councillors of state for the first time. Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, Peel, and the keen-eyed Secretary Greville, all felt the beautiful combination of dignity with unaffected simplicity, and of quick intelligence with royal courtesy. But they did not see the episode which followed the fatigue and excitement of the long formalities of the council, when the young queen rushed first of all to her mother's arms, there to indulge her feelings in a burst of tears, and then, with girlish naivete, claiming the exercise of her royal prerogative to procure for herself two hours of absolute solitude.
The earlier years of her reign were happily blessed with the wise and beneficent influence of Lord Melbourne. His relationship to the youthful sovereign was more that of a father and able political instructor than of a formal first minister of the crown. He was too experienced not heartily to appreciate the beautiful character of his young mistress, and the interest he took in her political education, and in everything likely to further her prosperity and happiness, was evidently kindled by warm affection. She was equally favored in having as adviser so sagacious a relative as her uncle Leopold, the late King of the Belgians. The Duke of Wellington regarded her almost as a daughter; and there was also, ever at hand, another, whose trained intellect and loyal heart exercised no little influence on her career--Baron Stockmar--to whose lofty ideal of the functions of royalty, calmly balanced treatment of all questions of state policy, and high-toned moral sympathies, both the queen and the prince consort have amply expressed their indebtedness.
Without touching further on the earlier period of her reign, which was not without many incidents of interest, we turn to the married years of the queen as to a bright and sunny memory.
The position of an unmarried or widowed queen necessarily entails a peculiar loneliness. She is surrounded by the rigorous demands of state necessity. If she has to form a judgment upon documents submitted to her, there is no one so close to her and so independent of all other influences as to be truly an alter ego. Faithful servants of the crown may do their best to be of use, but no one of them can be so near as to receive such unguarded confidences as can be given to the husband who shares every joy and sorrow. The queen's married life was ideally perfect. She married the man she loved, and each year deepened her early affection into an admiration, a reverence, and a pride which elevated her love into consecration.
There was no home in England made more beautiful by all that was tender, cultured, and noble than that in which "the blameless prince" fulfilled his heroic career of duty, and shed the bright light of his joyous, affectionate, and keenly intellectual life. There were few homes in which a greater amount of trying and anxious work was more systematically accomplished, or in which there was a more exquisite blending of hard thinking with the enjoyment of the fine arts and the fulness of loving family happiness. We have picture after picture given us in the life of the Prince Consort which puts us in touch with these brilliant years, when the queen and he were never parted but for one or two brief intervals. Early hours of close labor were followed by a genial and hearty relaxation, and at every turn the wife and sovereign felt the blessedness of that presence which ministered to her in sickness with the gentleness of a woman, and which she leaned upon in hours of difficulty with complete trust in the strength and trueness of his wise intellect. There was no decrease on either side in those feelings and utterances of feeling which are so beautiful when they carry into after years the warmth of the first attachment, only hallowed and deepened by experience.
There were many fresh features in the kind of life which was introduced by the queen and the consort into the habits of the court. Among these none were more marked than the breaking up of that monotony which the restrictions that hitherto prevailed as to the residence of the royal family in one or two state palaces entailed. We can well understand how the Empress Eugenie should have found the Tuileries, in spite of its grandeur, no better than "une belle prison," and her delight at the comparative freedom she enjoyed at Windsor. The queen and Prince Consort inaugurated a new era in the customs of the court by taking advantage of the facilities afforded by modern methods of conveyance. Scarcely any part of the country celebrated for scenery, or any town famous for its industries, remained unvisited by them.
The beneficial effects of these journeys were great. Loyalty is to a large extent a personal matter, and is necessarily deepened when the representative of the state not only possesses moral dignity of character but comes frequently into contact with the people. It is also of use to the crown that its wearer should know, from actual observation, the conditions of life in the country. It is in the light of this mutual action of acquaintance between prince and people that we estimate the value of that knowledge which the Prince of Wales, his brothers, and his sons have gained of so many parts of the empire. The Prince Consort felt keenly the use of these influences. "How important and beneficent," he once said, "is the part given to the royal family of England to act in the development of those distant and rising countries, who recognize in the British crown and their allegiance to it, their supreme bond of union with the mother country and to each other!"
During each year of their married life the queen and Prince Consort went on some interesting tour. In England, Oxford and Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, received royal visits, while such historical houses as Chatsworth, Hatfield, Stowe, and Strathfieldsay were honored by their presence. Ireland was thrice visited. Wales more than once. The first visit to Scotland was made in 1842, another in 1844, and from 1847 only one year passed without a long residence in the north--first at Ardverachie, on Loch Laggan, and then at what was to be their Highland home on Deeside. Repeated visits were also made to the Continent, sometimes in state and sometimes in as much privacy as could be commanded.
It is when we come to this bright time, so full of fresh interest and of a delightful freedom, that we have the advantage of the queen's own "Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands." Her visit to Edinburgh in 1842, and the drive by Birnam and Aberfeldy to Taymouth, and the splendor of the reception, when, amid the cheers of a thousand Highlanders and the wild notes of the bagpipes, she was welcomed by Lord Breadalbane, evidently stirred every feeling of romance. "It seemed," she wrote, "as if a great chieftain of olden feudal times was receiving his sovereign." It appeared like a new world, when, throwing off for a time the restrictions of state, she found herself at Blair two years afterward, climbing the great hills of Atholl, and from the top of Tulloch looking forth on the panorama of mountain and glen. "It was quite romantic; here we were with only this Highlander behind us holding the ponies, not a house, not a creature near us but the pretty Highland sheep, with their horns and black faces. It was the most delightful, most romantic, ride and walk I ever had." These early visits to Scotland inspired her with her love for the Highlands and the Highlanders. She found there quite a world of poetry. The majestic scenery, the fresh, bracing air, the picturesqueness of the kilted gillies, the piping and the dancing, and the long days among the heather, recalled scenes which Sir Walter Scott has glorified for all time, and which are especially identified with the fortunes of the unhappy Stuarts, of whom she is now the nearest representative.
It was in 1848 that the court proceeded for the first time to Balmoral, then a picturesque but small castle. The air of Deeside had been recommended by Sir James Clark, the queen's physician, and his anticipation of the benefits to be derived from residence there was so completely realized that although four years passed before the property was actually purchased, yet preparations were made for establishing there a royal home. Plans for the future castle and for laying out the grounds were gone into by the prince with keen delight. "All has become my dear Albert's own creation, own work, own building, own laying out, as at Osborne; and his great taste and the impress of his dear hand have been stamped everywhere."
It was here that the queen and the Prince Consort enjoyed for more than twelve years a delightful freedom, mingling with their people, devising the wisest methods for insuring their well-being, going with them to worship in their plain (very plain!) parish church, and being to each and all unaffectedly sincere friends. Every spot around soon became consecrated by some sweet association. Every great family event had its commemoration amid the scenery around the castle; though many a cairn, once raised in joy, is now, alas! a monument of sorrow. The life at Balmoral was in every sense beneficial. There never has been there the kind of relaxation that comes from idleness. Systematic work has been always maintained at Balmoral as at Windsor. Early hours in the fresh morning and a regular arrangement of time during the day have given room for the constant business of the crown; but every now and then there were glorious "outings," whether for sport or for some far-reaching expedition, which gave fresh zest to happy and united toil.
There is more than one characteristic of the queen which may recall to Scotchmen the history of their own Stuarts, and among these is her enjoyment of expeditions incognita. The Prince Consort, with his simple German heart, entered fully into the "fun" of such journeys, as, starting off on long rides across mountain-passes and through swollen burns and streams, lunching on heights from which they could gaze far and wide over mountain and strath, they would reach some little roadside inn, and there, assuming a feigned name, had the delight of feeling themselves "private people," while the simple fare and the ridiculous contretemps which frequently occurred were enjoyed the more keenly because of their contrast to accustomed state. And during all these years their domestic life was unbroken by any great family sorrow. It was not till a year before her great bereavement that the queen lost her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Few can read the account of that sorrowful parting without being drawn nearer to the sovereign by the tie of a common humanity, so deep and tender is the affection that is revealed.
But till 1861 the queen was surrounded by all those who were dearest to her, and she and the prince shared the sweet task of superintending their children's education. Few parents more anxiously considered the best methods for securing a sound moral and religious training. "The greatest maxim of all," writes the queen, "is that the children shall be brought up as simply and in as domestic a way as possible, that (without interfering with their lessons) they should be as much as possible with their parents, and learn to place their greatest confidence in them in all things." As to religious training, the queen's conviction was that it is best when given to a child "day by day at his mother's knee." It was only the great pressure of public duty which rendered it impossible for her to fulfil her part so completely as she desired. "It is a hard case for me," her majesty writes, in reference to the princess royal, "that my occupations prevent me being with her when she says her prayers."
The religious convictions of the queen and the Prince Consort were deep. They both cared little for those mere accidents and conventionalities of religion which so many magnify into essentials. The prince, eminently devout, insisted on the realities of religion. "We want not what is safe, but true," was his commentary on the exaggerated outcry against "Essays and Reviews." "The Gospel, and the unfettered right to its use," was his claim for Protestantism. For his own spirit, like that of the queen, was truly religious. The quiet evenings spent together before communion, and the directness and reverence with which both served God were combined with an utter abhorrence of all intolerance. Such qualities are generally misunderstood by the narrow-minded, who have only their own "shibboleths" to test all faith, and the one Church--whatever it may be--that they regard as "true." The queen and the prince rose above such distinctions; they shared the Catholicism of St. Paul, "Grace be with all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."
But these bright and happy years were doomed to a sudden ending. It is only when we have realized all that her husband was to her that we can measure how fearful was the blow to her loving heart when he who was her pride and her constant companion was laid low. We may well feel what a shattering it brought to all that hitherto had enriched her life, and how very desolate her position became when she was left in loneliness on the throne, a widow separated by her queendom from many of those supports which others find near them, but from which she was deprived by her position. "Fourteen happy and blessed years have passed," she wrote, in 1854, "and I confidently trust many more will pass, and find us in old age as we now are, happily and devotedly united. Trials we must have, but what are they if we are together?" In God's wisdom that hope was not to be realized, and in 1861 the stroke fell, and it fell with crushing power.
It is not for us to lift the curtain of sorrow that fell like a funeral pall over the first years of her widowhood. For many a day it seemed as if the grief was more than she could bear, and although she was sustained through it all by God's grace, and supported by the sympathy of the nation, yet it was naturally a long-continued and absorbing sorrow. Other blows have fallen since then. The tender and wise Princess Alice, and the thoughtful and cultured Duke of Albany, have also been gathered to their rest; and the queen has had to mourn over one after another of her most faithful servants taken from her. But the hallowing hand of time, the soothing remembrance of unspeakable mercies, and the call to noble duty, have done much to restore the strength, if not the joy, of former days. Her people rejoice, and the influence of the Crown is enormously strengthened, when in these later years the queen has been able once more to mingle with the nation.
When we touch on the third period of her life--which may well be termed that of sorrow, although brightened by many happy events in the domestic life of her children--we reach times that are familiar to every reader. These have been years in which the cares of state have often been exceedingly burdensome. The days of anxiety during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny have more than once had their counterpart. Afghanistan, Zululand with its Isandula, and the Transvaal War with its Majuba Hill, Egypt, and the Soudan, brought hours of sore anxiety to the sovereign; but they were probably not more harassing to intellect and heart than the months of difficult diplomacy which the threatening aspect of European politics frequently laid upon Government.
I may say in passing that no portrait of her appears to me to be quite satisfactory. They usually have only one expression, that of sadness and thoughtfulness, and so far they give a true representation; for when there is nothing to rouse her interest and when she is silent, that look of sadness is doubtless what chiefly impresses one. Her face then bears the traces of weary thought and of trying sorrow; but when she is engaged in conversation, and especially if her keen sense of humor has been touched, her countenance becomes lit with an exceedingly engaging brightness, or beams with heartiest laughter.
Her life at Balmoral since her great sorrow maintains, as far as may be, the traditions of the happy past. She still makes expeditions, cognita or incognita, sometimes to the scenes of former enjoyment or to new places of interest. She has in this way visited Blair, Dunkeld, Invermark, Glenfiddich, Invertrossachs, Dunrobin, Inverlochy, Inverary, Loch Marll, and Broxmouth.
The queen, among her people at Balmoral, gives a splendid example to every landlord. "The first lady in the land" is the most gracious mistress possible. Her interest is no condescending "make-believe," as we sometimes find it in the case of others, who seek a certain popularity among their dependents by showing spasmodic attentions which it is difficult to harmonize with a prevailing indifference. With the queen it is the unaffected care of one who really loves her people, and who is keenly touched by all that touches them. She knows them all by name, and in the times of their sorrow they experience from her a personal sympathy peculiarly soothing. There is indeed no part of the volumes she has given us more surprising than the minute knowledge she there shows of all the people who have been in any way connected with her. The gillies, guides, and gamekeepers, the maids who have served her, the attendants, coachmen, and footmen, are seldom mentioned without some notice of their lives being recorded as faithfully as is the case with peers and peeresses. How few mistresses are there who, burdened as she is with duty, would thus hold in kindest remembrance each faithful servant, become acquainted with their circumstances, and provide for them in age or in trial with generous solicitude. It is this rich humanity of feeling that is her noblest characteristic. The public are accustomed to see messages of sympathy sent by the queen in cases of disaster and of accident, but they cannot know how truly those calamities fall upon her own heart. As far as her life in the Highlands is concerned, she is now perhaps the best specimen we have of what the old Highland chieftain used to be, only that in her case we find the benefits of paternal government without its harsh severities. There is the same frank and hearty attachment to her dependents, the same intimate knowledge of each one of them, the same recognition of services. It is a queenly quality to recognize what is worthy, no matter what the rank may be. It was from this she placed so much confidence in her faithful attendant, John Brown. Her great kindness to him was her own generous interpretation of the long and loyal services of one who, for more than thirty years, had been personal attendant on the Prince Consort and herself, leading her pony during many a long day upon the hills, watching over her safety in London as well as on Deeside, and who, on more than one occasion, protected her from peril. "His attention, care and faithfulness cannot be exceeded," she writes in the first volume of the "Leaves," "and the state of my health, which of late years has been sorely tried and weakened, renders such qualifications most valuable."
|Copyright © 1999-2008 eDigg.com. All rights reserved.|