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Last Years Of The Prince Consort

Failing Health Of Prince Albert

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Failing Health Of Prince Albert








All this time while the Queen was absorbed by anxious care, or passionate
grief for her mother, the health of the Prince-Consort was slowly but
surely failing. The keen blade of his active mind was wearing out its
sheath. His vital forces must have begun to give out long before actual
illness, or he would not so easily have resigned himself to the thought
of the long rest,--still young as he was, with so much to enjoy in life,
and so much to do. It is said that he had premonitions of early death,
and tried to prepare the Queen for his going first--but the realization
of a loss so immense could not find lodgment in her mind. Yet though
often feeling weak and languid, he did not relax his labors--spurring up
his flagging powers. He never lost his interest in public affairs, or in
his children's affairs of the heart. He was happy in contemplating the
happiness of his daughter Alice, and followed with his heart the journey
of his son, Albert Edward, in his visit to the country of the fierce old
Vikings, to woo the daughter of a King of another sort--a Princess so
fair and fresh that she could

--"with lilies boast,
And with the half-blown rose."

That summer his daughter Victoria, with her husband (now Crown Prince)
and their children, came again, for a long visit, and there were many
other guests, and much was done to cheer the Queen; but her first
birthday in orphanage was hopelessly sad, and when that of the Prince
came round, his last--though she wrote to her uncle, "This is the dearest
of days, and one which fills my heart with love and gratitude," she
murmured, because her "beloved mama" was not there to wish him joy. Ah,
what an acting, unreasoning thing is the human heart!

Yet the Queen seems to have had a brief return of happiness--to have been
upborne on a sudden tide of youthful joyance, during their autumn stay at
Balmoral. She wrote: "Being out a good deal here and seeing new and fine
scenery does me good." Of their last great Highland excursion, she said:
"Have enjoyed nothing so much, or felt so much cheered by anything since
my great sorrow."

Because of this intense love of nature--not the holiday, dressed-up
nature, of English parks, streams and lakes--but as she appears in all
her wildness, ruggedness, raggedness and simple grandeur, in the glorious
land of Scott and Burns, the Queen's journal, though a little clouded at
the last, by that "great sorrow," is very pleasant, breezy reading. It
gives one a breath of heather, and pine and peat-smoke.

After coming from Balmoral, and its bracing outdoor avocations and
amusements, the Prince-Consort's health seemed to decline again. He
suffered from rheumatic pains and sleeplessness, and he began to feel the
chill shadows of the valley he was nearing, creeping around him. The last
work of his beneficent life was one of peculiar interest to Americans. It
was the amicable arrangement, in conjunction with the Queen, of the ugly
affair of the Trent. That was a trying time for Americans in England,
unless they were of the South, southerly. We of the North, in the
beginning of our war for the Union, found to our sad surprise that
the sympathies of perhaps the majority of the English were on the side of
our opponents. These very people had been ever before, so decidedly and
ardently anti-slavery in their sentiments--had counseled such stern and
valiant measures for the removal of our "national disgrace," that their
new attitude amazed us. We could not understand what sort of a moral
whirlwind it was that had caught them up, turned them round, borne them
off and set them down on the other side of Mason and Dixon's Line. It was
strange, but with the exception of a few such clear-headed, steadfast
"friends of humanity" as Cobden and Bright, and such heroes as those
glorious operatives of Lancashire, all seemed changed. Even the
sentiments of prominent. Exeter Hall, anti-slavery philanthropists had
suffered a secession change, "into something new and strange," especially
after the battle of Bull Run--that fortunate calamity for us, as it
proved. Most people here were captivated by the splendid qualities of
the Confederates--their gallantry, their enthusiasm, their bravery.
Before these practical revolutionists, those "moral suasion" agitators,
the Northern Abolitionists, made no great show. Garrison with his logic,
Burritt with his languages, Douglas with his magnificent eloquence, were
as naught to Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and that soldier of the
fine old Cromwellian type--Stonewall Jackson. The "institution" was
pronounced in Parliament "not so bad a thing, after all," and the
pathetic "Am-I-not-a-Man-and-a-Brother" of Clarkson, became the Sambo of
Christie and the "Quashee" of Carlyle. In the midst of this ill-feeling
on one side, and sore-feeling on the other, the rash act of a U. S. Naval
Officer, in boarding the British steamer Trent and seizing the
Confederate Envoys, Mason and Slidell, gave England cause, had our
Government endorsed that act, for open hostility. So ready, so eager did
the English Government seem for a war with America, that it did not wait
for an apology, before making extensive military preparations. With that
brave but cool-headed Captain on our Ship of State, Abraham Lincoln, and
that prudent helmsman, William H. Seward, we could not easily have been
driven into a war with England at this time; but we might have been
humiliated even more than we were, by the peremptory demands of Lord
Palmerston--might have been obliged to eat a piece of "humble pie," so
big, hot, and heavy, that it would have remained undigested to this day--
had it not been for the prudence, the courtesy, good sense, and admirable
tact of the Queen and Prince-Consort in modifying and softening the tone
of that important State paper, the demand for an official apology, and
the liberation of the Confederate Envoys. It is for this that Americans
of the North, and I believe of the South, love Queen Victoria, and not
alone for her sake, bless the memory of "Albert the Good."

I know of nothing in literature so exquisite in its pathos and childlike
simplicity, as the Queen's own account, in the diary kept faithfully at
the time, of the last illness of the Prince-Consort. In it we see the
very beatings of her heart, in its hope and fear, love and agony--can
mark all the stages of the sacred passion of her sorrow. It is a
wonderful psychological study.

That illness in its serious phases, lasted about two weeks. It was a low,
slow fever, which at first was not recognized as fever at all, but only a
heavy cold. I have been told that the Prince himself had from the first,
an impression that he should not recover, and that he talked of his
probable death very calmly with his noble daughter Alice, saying: "Your
mother cannot bear to hear me speak of it yet." The Queen, though very
restless and distressed, and at times shaken with wild alarms, could not
face the coming calamity; could not admit the possibility that the sands
of that precious life--golden sands, were running out. The alternations
of hope and fear, must have been terrible. One morning the Queen records
that on going to the Prince she found him looking very wretched: "He did
not smile, or take much notice of me. His manner all along was so unlike
himself, and he had sometimes, such a strange, wild look." In the evening
she writes: "I found my Albert most dear and affectionate and quite
himself, when I went in with little Beatrice, whom he kissed. He laughed
at some of her new French verses which I made her repeat, then he. held
her little hand in his for some time, and she stood looking, at him."

For several days he wished to be read to, and the Queen and faithful
Alice read his favorite authors; he also asked for music, and Alice
played for him some fine German airs. He even wished often to look at a
favorite picture, one of Raphael's Madonnas, saying, "It helps me through
the day."

At length the fever took on a typhoid form, congestion of the lungs set
in, and there was no longer reason for hope,--though they did hope, till
almost the last hour. Now, it seems that from the first, even when he did
not apparently suffer, except from mortal weariness, there were little
fatal indications. One morning he told the Queen that as he lay awake he
heard the little birds outside, and "thought of those he used to hear at
the Rosenau, in his childhood"; and on the last morning the Queen writes
that he "began arranging his hair just as he used to do when well and he
was dressing."

It seemed to the poor Queen as though he were "preparing for another and
a greater journey" than they had ever taken together. His tenderness
towards her through all this sad fortnight, was very touching. It was not
calculated to loosen the detaining, clinging clasp of her arms; but it
must be very sweet for her to remember. After the weariness of watching,
the prostration of fever, he welcomed always the good-morning caress of
his "dear little wife." Through the gathering mists of unconsciousness,
through the phantom-shades of delirium, his love for her struggled forth,
in a tender word, a wistful look, a languid smile, a feeble stroking of
the cheek. It was "wondrous pitiful," but it was very beautiful. Even at
the last, when he knew no one else, he knew her; and when she bent over
him and whispered, "Tis your own little wife," he bowed his head and
kissed her.

After she knew that all hope must be given up, the Queen still was able
to sit calmly by his bedside, and not trouble with the sound of weeping
the peace of that loving, passing soul. Occasionally she felt that she
must leave the room and weep, or her suppressed grief would kill her. But
she counted the moments and stayed her soul with prayer, to go back to
her post.

It was on the night of December 14, 1861, that the beloved Prince-Consort
passed away,--quietly and apparently painlessly, from the station he had
ennobled, from the home he had blessed. Unconsciously he drifted out on
the unknown, mysterious sea, nor knew that loving feet followed him to
the strand, and that after him were stretched yearning arms.

That death-bed scene passed in a solemn hush, more mournful than any
outcry of passionate grief could be. On one side, knelt the Queen,
holding her husband's hand, trying to warm it with kisses and tears; on
the other, knelt the Princess Alice. At the foot of the bed, the Prince
of Wales and the Princess Helena were kneeling together. It is probable
that all the younger children were sleeping in quiet unconsciousness of
the presence of the dread angel in the Castle. The Dean of Windsor,
Prince Ernest Leiningen,--secretaries, physicians and attached attendants
were grouped around. All was silent, save that low, labored breathing,
growing softer and softer, and more infrequent, and then--it ceased
forever.

I have been told by a lady who had had good opportunities of knowing
about the sad circumstances of that death, that the Queen retained
perfect possession of herself to the last, and that after the lids had
been pressed down over the dear eyes whose light had passed on, she rose
calmly, and courteously thanked the physicians in attendance, saying that
she knew that everything which human skill and devotion could accomplish,
had been done for her husband, whom God had taken. Then she walked out of
the death-chamber, erect,--still the Queen, wearing "sorrow's crown of
sorrow," and went to her chamber, and shut herself in--her soul alone
with God, her heart alone for evermore.

Ah, we may not doubt that this royal being, in whose veins beats the
blood of a long, long race of Kings, was brought low enough then,--to her
knees, to her face,

"For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop."

So absorbing and unwavering had been the love of the Queen for her
husband, who to her, was "nobler than the noblest"; such a proud homage
of the soul had there been--such a dear habit of the heart, in one with
whom habit counted for much, that her people were filled with the most
intense anxiety on her behalf. They feared that this cruel stroke which
lopped off the best part of her life, would kill her, or plunge her into
a depth of melancholy, sadder than death. For some time she was not able
to sleep. The thought of that chamber, so lately the scene of all the
anxious activity of the sickroom, wherein softly moved troubled
physicians and nurses, tearful attendants and awe-struck children, but
where now there were shadowed lights, and solemn silence, and where lay
that beautiful, marble-like shape, so familiar, yet so strange--that
something which was not he, yet was inexpressibly dear, kept her
awake, face to face with her sorrow,--and when at last, the bulletin from
Windsor announced, "The Queen has had some hours' sleep," her people all
in mourning as they were, felt like ringing joy-bells.

The friend from whom I have before quoted, Mrs. Crosland, a most loyal
lady, wrote on this text a very sweet poem, from which I am tempted to
give a few verses:

"Sleep, far the night is round thee spread,
Thou daughter of a line of kings;
Sleep, widowed Queen, white angels' wings
Make canopy above thy head!

"Sleep, while a million prayers rise up
To Him who knew all earthly sorrow,
That day by day, each soft to-morrow
May melt the bitter from thy cup.

. . . . . . . .

"Long life ask for thee, dear Queen,
And moonlight peace, since joy is set.
And Time's soft touch on dark regret.
And memories calm of what has been!

"Long life for thee--for our best sake.
To be our stay 'mid hopes and fears.
Through many far-off future years,
Till thou by Albert's side shall wake!"

It seems Her Majesty could not bear the thought of her beloved Albert,
whose nature was so bright and joyous, and beauty-loving, resting amid
the darkness and heavy silence and "cold obstruction" of the royal vault;
so, as early as the 18th of December, she drove with the Princess Alice
to Frogmore, where they were-received by the Prince of Wales, Prince
Louis of Hesse, and several officers of the Royal Household. Then,
leaning on the arm of her noble daughter, the Queen walked about the
pleasant gardens, till she fixed upon the spot, where now stands the
magnificent mausoleum, which, splendid and beautiful as art can make it,
is like a costly casket, for the dust, infinitely more precious to her
than all the jewels of her crown. It was sweet for her to feel that thus
under the shadow of her mother's dear home, the two most sacred loves and
sorrows of her life would be forever associated.

There was great and sincere mourning in England among all classes, not
alone for the Queen's sake, but for their own, for the Prince-Consort had
finally endeared himself to this too long jealous and distrustful people.
They had named him "alien," at first; they called him "angel," at last.
He was not that, but a most rare man, of a nature so sweet and
wholesome, of a character so well-balanced and symmetrical, of a life so
pure and blameless, that the English cannot reasonably hope to "look upon
his like again," not even among his own sons.

Some of his contemporaries, while admitting his grace and elegance, were
blind to his strength of character, forgetting that a shining column of
the Parthenon may be as strong as one of the dark rough-hewn columns of
P├Žstum. Morally, I believe, the Prince-Consort stands alone in English
royal history. What other youth of twenty-one, graceful, beautiful and
accomplished, has ever forborne what he forbore?--Ever fought such a good
fight against temptations manifold? He was the Sir Galahad of Princes.
Being human, he must have been tempted,--if not to a life of sybaritic
pleasure, to one of ease, through his delicate organization,--and,
through his refined tastes, to one of purely artistic and esthetic
culture, which for him, where he was, would have been but splendid
selfishness.

Though my estimate of the Prince-Consort is based on his own good words
and works, to which I have paid tribute of sincerest praise, it is
strengthened and justified by a knowledge of the loving reverence in
which his name is held to this day, by the English people of the better
class, who honor the Queen for her love stronger than death, and love her
the better for it; for I hold,

----"the soul must cast
All weakness from it, all vain strife,
And tread God's ways through this sad life,
To be thus grandly mourned at last."





Next: The Twilight Life After

Previous: The Prince Of Wales' Trip To America



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