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Last Years Of The Prince Consort






Mother And Empress








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 Feodore, 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 Regiment," 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.





Next: The Jubilee Season

Previous: The Little Folk



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