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Albert The Good








The year 1861 was a black year for the Queen. On March 15th her mother,
the Duchess of Kent, died. She had been living for some time at
Frogmore, a pleasant house in the Windsor Home Park, and here in the
mausoleum erected by her daughter her statue is to be seen.

She was sincerely loved by every member of her household, and her
loss was felt as one affecting the whole nation. In the words of
Disraeli: "She who reigns over us has elected, amid all the splendour
of empire, to establish her life on the principle of domestic love.
It is this, it is the remembrance and consciousness of this, which
now sincerely saddens the public spirit, and permits a nation to bear
its heartfelt sympathy to the foot of a bereaved throne, and to
whisper solace to a royal heart."

The death of the Queen's' mother came as a great shock to the Prince
Consort. The Queen was, for a time, utterly unable to transact any
business, and this added to his already heavy burden of cares and
responsibilities.

In the following November the King of Portugal died. The Prince had
loved him like a son, and this fresh disaster told so severely upon
his health that he began to suffer much from sleeplessness. The
strain of almost ceaseless work for many years was gradually wearing
him out.

He had never been afraid of death, and not long before his last
illness he had said to his wife: "I do not cling to life. You do;
but I set no store by it. If I knew that those I love were well cared
for, I should be quite ready to die to-morrow. . . . I am sure, if
I had a severe illness, I should give up at once, I should not struggle
for life."

On the 1st of December the Queen felt anxious and depressed. Her
husband grew worse and could not take food without considerable
difficulty, and this made him very weak and irritable.

The physicians in attendance were now obliged to tell her that the
illness was low fever, but that the patient himself was not to know
of this. The Ministers became alarmed at his state, and when the news
of his illness became public there was the greatest and most
universal anxiety for news.

In spite of slight improvements from time to time, the Prince showed
no power of fighting the disease, and on the evening of the 14th
December he passed gently away.

It is no exaggeration to say that the death of the Queen's beloved
husband saddened every home in the land; it was a sorrow felt equally
by the highest and the lowest. He died in the fulness of his manhood,
leaving her whom he had loved and guarded so tenderly to reign in
lonely splendour.

In the dedication of Idylls of the King to the memory of Prince
Albert, Tennyson, the poet-laureate, wrote:

Break not, O woman's-heart, but still endure;
Break not, for thou art Royal, but endure,
Remembering all the beauty of that star
Which shone so close beside Thee that ye made
One light together, but has past and leaves
The Crown a lonely splendour.

When one looks over the vista of years which have passed since that
mournful day, it is with sadness mingled with regret. For it is too
true that "a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country."

'Albert the Good' was, like many other great men, in advance of his
times, and not until he was dead did the nation as a whole realize
the blank he had left behind him.

Even so late as 1854 Greville writes in his Diary of the extraordinary
attacks which were made upon the Prince in the public Press. Letter
after letter, he noted, appeared "full of the bitterest abuse and
all sorts of lies. . . . The charges against him are principally to
this effect, that he has been in the habit of meddling improperly
in public affairs, and has used his influence to promote objects of
his own and the interests of his own family at the expense of the
interests of this country; that he is German and not English in his
sentiments and principles; that he corresponds with foreign princes
and with British Ministers abroad without the knowledge of the
Government, and that he thwarts the foreign policy of the Ministers
when it does not coincide with his own ideas and purposes." And again:
"It was currently reported in the Midland and Northern counties, and
actually stated in a Scotch paper, that Prince Albert had been
committed to the Tower, and there were people found credulous and
foolish enough to believe it."

But English gratitude is always such
To hate the hand which doth oblige too much.

These words of Daniel Defoe help to explain something of the attitude
of a part of the nation toward the Prince in his lifetime.

He had given his life in the service of his wife and his adopted
country, but he was a 'foreigner,' and the insular Briton, brought
up in the blissful belief that "one Englishman was as good as three
Frenchmen," could not and would not overcome his distrust of one who
had not been, like himself, so singularly blessed in his nationality.

But Time has its revenges, and the services of Prince Albert will
"smell sweet and blossom in the dust" long after the very names of
once famous lights of the Victorian era have been forgotten.

His home life was singularly sweet and happy, and a great contrast
to that of some of his wife's predecessors upon the English throne.
The Queen, writing to her Uncle Leopold in this the twenty-first year
of their marriage, says: "Very few can say with me that their
husband at the end of twenty-one years is not only full of the
friendship, kindness, and affection which a truly happy marriage
brings with it, but the same tender love of the very first days of
our marriage!"

The Prince, in a letter to a friend, rejoiced that their marriage
"still continues green and fresh and throws out vigorous roots, from
which I can, with gratitude to God, acknowledge that much good will
yet be engendered for the world."

The finest tribute to the Prince Consort's memory is to be found in
the Dedication written by Lord Tennyson to his Idylls of the King:

These to His Memory--since he held them dear,
Perchance as finding there unconsciously
Some image of himself--I dedicate,
I dedicate, I consecrate with tears--
These Idylls.

Like Arthur, 'the flower of kings,' he was a man of ideals, above
petty jealousies and small ambitions:

Hereafter, thro' all times, Albert the Good.

The Idylls produced such a deep impression upon the Prince that
he wrote to the author, asking him to inscribe his name in the volume.
The book remained always a great favourite with him, and Princess
Frederick William was engaged upon a series of pictures illustrating
her favourite passages at the time of his death.

An enumeration of the varied activities of Prince Albert during his
lifetime would need a volume. His position was always a difficult
one and was seldom made easier by the section of the Press which
singled him out as a target for its poisoned arrows. Only a strong
sense of duty and an unwavering belief in his wife's love could have
sustained him through the many dark hours of tribulation and sorrow.
He rose early all the year round, and prepared drafts of answers to
the Queen's Ministers, wrote letters and had cleared off a
considerable amount of work before many men would have thought of
beginning the day's tasks.



No article of any importance in the newspapers or magazines escaped
his attention. Every one appealed to him for help or advice, and none
asked in vain. His wide knowledge and judgment were freely used by
the Queen's statesmen, and the day proved all too short for the
endless amount of work which had to be done.

In spite of increasing burdens and poor health he was always in good
spirits. "At breakfast and at luncheon, and also at our family
dinners, he sat at the top of the table, and kept us all enlivened
by his interesting conversation, by his charming anecdotes, and
droll stories without end of his childhood, of people at Coburg, of
our good people in Scotland, which he would repeat with a wonderful
power of mimicry, and at which he would himself laugh most heartily.
Then he would at other times entertain us with his talk about the
most interesting and important topics of the present and of former
days, on which it was ever a pleasure to hear him speak."[10]

[Footnote 10: Queen Victoria's Journal.]

His rule in life was to make his position entirely a part of the
Queen's, "to place all his time and powers at her command." Every
speech which he made in public was carefully considered beforehand,
and then written out and committed to memory. As he had to speak in
a foreign tongue, he considered this precaution absolutely necessary.
At the same time it often made him feel shy and nervous when speaking
before strangers, and this sometimes gave to those who did not know
him a mistaken impression of coldness and reserve.

His sympathy with the working classes was sincere and practical. He
was convinced that "any real improvement must be the result of the
exertion of the working people themselves." He was President of the
Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and
never lost an opportunity of pointing out that, to quote his own words,
"the Royal Family are not merely living upon the earnings of the
people (as these publications try to represent) without caring for
the poor labourers, but that they are anxious about their welfare,
and ready to co-operate in any scheme for the amelioration of their
condition. We may possess these feelings, and yet the mass of the
people may be ignorant of it, because they have never heard it
expressed to them, or seen any tangible proof of it."

His grasp of detail and knowledge of home and foreign political
affairs astonished every one who met him, ministers and ambassadors
alike. His writing-table and that of the Queen stood side by side
in their sitting-room, and here they used to work together, every
dispatch which left their hands being the joint work of both. The
Prince corrected and revised everything carefully before it received
the Queen's signature. Considering the small amount of time at his
disposal, it was remarkable how much he was able to read, and read
thoroughly, both with the Queen and by himself. "Not many, but much,"
was his principle, and every book read was carefully noted in his
diary.

Even to the last he exerted his influence in the cause of peace. The
American Civil War broke out in 1861, and Great Britain declared her
neutrality. But an incident, known as 'The Trent Affair,' nearly
brought about a declaration of war.

The Southern States, or 'Confederates,' as they were usually called,
sent two commissioners to Europe on board the British mail steamer
Trent. The Trent was fired upon and boarded by a Federal officer,
who arrested the commissioners.

This was regarded as an insult to our flag, as it was a breach of
international law to attack the ship of a neutral power. The
Government therefore decided to demand redress, and a dispatch,
worded by Palmerston, was forwarded to the Queen for her signature.

The Prince realized at once that if the dispatch were forwarded as
it was written it would lead to open war between the Northern States
and our country, and he suggested certain alterations to the Queen,
who agreed to them. A more courteously worded message was sent, and
the Northern States at once agreed to liberate the commissioners and
offered an ample apology.





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