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The First Christening The Season Of 1841

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The Queen's First Visit To Scotland

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The Queen's Sympathy During The Illness Of President Garfield

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First Meeting With Prince Albert Death Of William Iv






Mr Gladstone And Lord Beaconsfield








I

Lord Palmerston's laugh--a queer metallic 'Ha! ha! ha!' with
reverberations in it from the days of Pitt and the Congress of
Vienna--was heard no more in Piccadilly; Lord John Russell dwindled
into senility; Lord Derby tottered from the stage. A new scene opened;
and new protagonists--Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli--struggled
together in the limelight. Victoria, from her post of vantage, watched
these developments with that passionate and personal interest which she
invariably imported into politics. Her prepossessions were of an
unexpected kind. Mr. Gladstone had been the disciple of her revered
Peel, and had won the approval of Albert; Mr. Disraeli had hounded Sir
Robert to his fall with hideous virulence, and the Prince had
pronounced that he 'had not one single element of a gentleman in his
composition.' Yet she regarded Mr. Gladstone with a distrust and
dislike which steadily deepened, while upon his rival she lavished an
abundance of confidence, esteem, and affection such as Lord Melbourne
himself had hardly known.


Angeli.]

Her attitude towards the Tory Minister had suddenly changed when
she found that he alone among public men had divined her feelings at
Albert's death. Of the others she might have said 'they pity me and
not my grief'; but Mr. Disraeli had understood; and all his condolences
had taken the form of reverential eulogies of the departed. The Queen
declared that he was 'the only person who appreciated the Prince.'
She began to show him special favour; gave him and his wife two of the
coveted seats in St. George's Chapel at the Prince of Wales's wedding,
and invited him to stay a night at Windsor. When the grant for the
Albert Memorial came before the House of Commons, Disraeli, as leader
of the Opposition, eloquently supported the project. He was rewarded
by a copy of the Prince's speeches, bound in white morocco, with an
inscription in the royal hand. In his letter of thanks he 'ventured to
touch upon a sacred theme,' and, in a strain which re-echoed with
masterly fidelity the sentiments of his correspondent, dwelt at length
upon the absolute perfection of Albert. 'The Prince,' he said, 'is the
only person whom Mr. Disraeli has ever known who realised the Ideal.
None with whom he is acquainted have ever approached it. There was in
him an union of the manly grace and sublime simplicity, of chivalry
with the intellectual splendour of the Attic Academe. The only
character in English history that would, in some respects, draw near to
him is Sir Philip Sidney: the same high tone, the same universal
accomplishment, the same blended tenderness and vigour, the same rare
combination of romantic energy and classic repose.' As for his own
acquaintance with the Prince, it had been, he said, 'one of the most
satisfactory incidents of his life: full of refined and beautiful
memories, and exercising, as he hopes, over his remaining existence, a
soothing and exalting influence.' Victoria was much affected by 'the
depth and delicacy of these touches,' and henceforward Disraeli's place
in her affections was assured. When, in 1866, the Conservatives
came into office, Disraeli's position as Chancellor of the Exchequer
and leader of the House necessarily brought him into a closer relation
with the Sovereign. Two years later Lord Derby resigned, and Victoria,
with intense delight and peculiar graciousness, welcomed Disraeli as
her First Minister.

But only for nine agitated months did he remain in power. The
Ministry, in a minority in the Commons, was swept out of existence by a
general election. Yet by the end of that short period the ties which
bound together the Queen and her Premier had grown far stronger than
ever before; the relationship between them was now no longer merely
that between a grateful mistress and a devoted servant: they were
friends. His official letters, in which the personal element had
always been perceptible, developed into racy records of political news
and social gossip, written, as Lord Clarendon said, 'in his best novel
style,' Victoria was delighted; she had never, she declared, had such
letters in her life, and had never before known everything. In
return, she sent him, when the spring came, several bunches of flowers,
picked by her own hands. He despatched to her a set of his novels, for
which, she said, she was 'most grateful, and which she values much.'
She herself had lately published her 'Leaves from the Journal of our
Life in the Highlands,' and it was observed that the Prime Minister, in
conversing with Her Majesty at this period, constantly used the
words 'we authors, ma'am.' Upon political questions, she was his
staunch supporter. 'Really there never was such conduct as that of the
Opposition,' she wrote. And when the Government was defeated in the
House she was 'really shocked at the way in which the House of Commons
go on; they really bring discredit on Constitutional Government.'
She dreaded the prospect of a change; she feared that if the Liberals
insisted upon disestablishing the Irish Church, her Coronation Oath
might stand in the way. But a change there had to be, and Victoria
vainly tried to console herself for the loss of her favourite Minister
by bestowing a peerage upon Mrs. Disraeli.

Mr. Gladstone was in his shirt-sleeves at Hawarden, cutting down a
tree, when the royal message was brought to him. 'Very significant,'
he remarked, when he had read the letter, and went on cutting down his
tree. His secret thoughts on the occasion were more explicit, and were
committed to his diary. 'The Almighty,' he wrote, 'seems to sustain
and spare me for some purpose of His own, deeply unworthy as I know
myself to be. Glory be to His name.'

The Queen, however, did not share her new Minister's view of the
Almighty's intentions. She could not believe that there was any divine
purpose to be detected in the programme of sweeping changes which Mr.
Gladstone was determined to carry out. But what could she do? Mr.
Gladstone, with his daemonic energy and his powerful majority in the
House of Commons, was irresistible; and for five years (1869-74)
Victoria found herself condemned to live in an agitating
atmosphere of interminable reform--reform in the Irish Church and the
Irish land system, reform in education, reform in parliamentary
elections, reform in the organisation of the Army and the Navy, reform
in the administration of justice. She disapproved, she struggled, she
grew very angry; she felt that if Albert had been living things would
never have happened so; but her protests and her complaints were alike
unavailing. The mere effort of grappling with the mass of documents
which poured in upon her in an ever-growing flood was terribly
exhausting. When the draft of the lengthy and intricate Irish Church
Bill came before her, accompanied by an explanatory letter from Mr.
Gladstone covering a dozen closely-written quarto pages, she almost
despaired. She turned from the Bill to the explanation, and from the
explanation back again to the Bill, and she could not decide which was
the most confusing. But she had to do her duty: she had not only to
read, but to make notes. At last she handed the whole heap of papers
to Mr. Martin, who happened to be staying at Osborne, and requested him
to make a precis of them. When he had done so, her disapproval of
the measure became more marked than ever; but, such was the strength of
the Government, she actually found herself obliged to urge moderation
upon the Opposition, lest worse should ensue.

In the midst of this crisis, when the future of the Irish Church was
hanging in the balance, Victoria's attention was drawn to another
proposed reform. It was suggested that the sailors in the Navy should
henceforward be allowed to wear beards. 'Has Mr. Childers ascertained
anything on the subject of the beards?' the Queen wrote anxiously to
the First Lord of the Admiralty. On the whole, Her Majesty was
in favour of the change. 'Her own personal feeling,' she wrote, 'would
be for the beards without the moustaches, as the latter have rather a
soldierlike appearance; but then the object in view would not be
obtained, viz. to prevent the necessity of shaving. Therefore it had
better be as proposed, the entire beard, only it should be kept short
and very clean.' After thinking over the question for another week,
the Queen wrote a final letter. She wished, she said, 'to make one
additional observation respecting the beards, viz. that on no account
should moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly
understood.'

Changes in the Navy might be tolerated; to lay hands upon the Army was
a more serious matter. From time immemorial there had been a
particularly close connection between the Army and the Crown; and
Albert had devoted even more time and attention to the details of
military business than to the processes of fresco-painting or the
planning of sanitary cottages for the deserving poor. But now there
was to be a great alteration: Mr. Gladstone's fiat had gone forth, and
the Commander-in-Chief was to be removed from his direct dependence
upon the Sovereign, and made subordinate to Parliament and the
Secretary of State for War. Of all the liberal reforms this was the
one which aroused the bitterest resentment in Victoria. She considered
that the change was an attack upon her personal position--almost an
attack upon the personal position of Albert. But she was helpless, and
the Prime Minister had his way. When she heard that the dreadful man
had yet another reform in contemplation--that he was about to abolish
the purchase of military commissions--she could only feel that it
was just what might have been expected. For a moment she hoped that
the House of Lords would come to the rescue; the Peers opposed the
change with unexpected vigour; but Mr. Gladstone, more conscious than
ever of the support of the Almighty, was ready with an ingenious
device. The purchase of commissions had been originally allowed by
Royal Warrant; it should now be disallowed by the same agency.
Victoria was faced by a curious dilemma: she abominated the abolition
of purchase; but she was asked to abolish it by an exercise of
sovereign power which was very much to her taste. She did not hesitate
for long; and when the Cabinet, in a formal minute, advised her to sign
the Warrant, she did so with a good grace.

Unacceptable as Mr. Gladstone's policy was, there was something else
about him which was even more displeasing to Victoria. She disliked
his personal demeanour towards herself. It was not that Mr. Gladstone,
in his intercourse with her, was in any degree lacking in courtesy or
respect. On the contrary, an extraordinary reverence permeated his
manner, both in his conversation and his correspondence with the
Sovereign. Indeed, with that deep and passionate conservatism which,
to the very end of his incredible career, gave such an unexpected
colouring to his inexplicable character, Mr. Gladstone viewed Victoria
through a haze of awe which was almost religious--as a sacrosanct
embodiment of venerable traditions--a vital element in the British
Constitution--a Queen by Act of Parliament. But unfortunately the lady
did not appreciate the compliment. The well-known complaint--'He
speaks to me as if I were a public meeting'--whether authentic or
no--and the turn of the sentence is surely a little too
epigrammatic to be genuinely Victorian--undoubtedly expresses the
essential element of her antipathy. She had no objection to being
considered as an institution; she was one, and she knew it. But she
was a woman too, and to be considered only as an institution--that was
unbearable. And thus all Mr. Gladstone's zeal and devotion, his
ceremonious phrases, his low bows, his punctilious correctitudes, were
utterly wasted; and when, in the excess of his loyalty, he went
further, and imputed to the object of his veneration, with obsequious
blindness, the subtlety of intellect, the wide reading, the grave
enthusiasm, which he himself possessed, the misunderstanding became
complete. The discordance between the actual Victoria and this strange
Divinity made in Mr. Gladstone's image produced disastrous results.
Her discomfort and dislike turned at last into positive animosity, and,
though her manners continued to be perfect, she never for a moment
unbent; while he on his side was overcome with disappointment,
perplexity, and mortification.

Yet his fidelity remained unshaken. When the Cabinet met, the Prime
Minister, filled with his beatific vision, would open the proceedings
by reading aloud the letters which he had received from the Queen upon
the questions of the hour. The assembly sat in absolute silence while,
one after another, the royal missives, with their emphases, their
ejaculations, and their grammatical peculiarities, boomed forth in all
the deep solemnity of Mr. Gladstone's utterance. Not a single comment,
of any kind, was ever hazarded; and, after a fitting pause, the Cabinet
proceeded with the business of the day.




II

Little as Victoria appreciated her Prime Minister's attitude towards
her, she found that it had its uses. The popular discontent at her
uninterrupted seclusion had been gathering force for many years, and
now burst out in a new and alarming shape. Republicanism was in the
air. Radical opinion in England, stimulated by the fall of Napoleon
III and the establishment of a republican government in France,
suddenly grew more extreme than it had ever been since 1848. It also
became for the first time almost respectable. Chartism had been
entirely an affair of the lower classes; but now Members of Parliament,
learned professors, and ladies of title openly avowed the most
subversive views. The monarchy was attacked both in theory and in
practice. And it was attacked at a vital point: it was declared to be
too expensive. What benefits, it was asked, did the nation reap to
counterbalance the enormous sums which were expended upon the
Sovereign? Victoria's retirement gave an unpleasant handle to the
argument. It was pointed out that the ceremonial functions of the
Crown had virtually lapsed; and the awkward question remained whether
any of the other functions which it did continue to perform were really
worth L385,000 per annum. The royal balance-sheet was curiously
examined. An anonymous pamphlet entitled 'What does she do with it?'
appeared, setting forth the financial position with malicious clarity.
The Queen, it stated, was granted by the Civil List L60,000 a year for
her private use; but the rest of her vast annuity was given, as the Act
declared, to enable her 'to defray the expenses of her royal household
and to support the honour and dignity of the Crown.' Now it was
obvious that, since the death of the Prince, the expenditure for
both these purposes must have been very considerably diminished, and it
was difficult to resist the conclusion that a large sum of money was
diverted annually from the uses for which it had been designed by
Parliament, to swell the private fortune of Victoria. The precise
amount of that private fortune it was impossible to discover; but there
was reason to suppose that it was gigantic; perhaps it reached a total
of five million pounds. The pamphlet protested against such a state of
affairs, and its protests were repeated vigorously in newspapers and at
public meetings. Though it is certain that the estimate of Victoria's
riches was much exaggerated, it is equally certain that she was an
exceedingly wealthy woman. She probably saved L20,000 a year from the
Civil List, the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster were steadily
increasing, she had inherited a considerable property from the Prince
Consort, and she had been left, in 1852, an estate of half a million by
Mr. John Neild, an eccentric miser. In these circumstances it was not
surprising that when, in 1871, Parliament was asked to vote a dowry of
L30,000 to the Princess Louise on her marriage with the eldest son of
the Duke of Argyll, together with an annuity of L6,000, there should
have been a serious outcry.

In order to conciliate public opinion, the Queen opened Parliament in
person, and the vote was passed almost unanimously. But a few
months later another demand was made: the Prince Arthur had come of
age, and the nation was asked to grant him an annuity of L15,000. The
outcry was redoubled. The newspapers were filled with angry articles;
Bradlaugh thundered against 'princely paupers' to one of the largest
crowds that had ever been seen in Trafalgar Square; and Sir Charles
Dilke expounded the case for a republic in a speech to his constituents
at Newcastle. The Prince's annuity was ultimately sanctioned in the
House of Commons by a large majority; but a minority of fifty members
voted in favour of reducing the sum to L10,000.

Towards every aspect of this distasteful question, Mr. Gladstone
presented an iron front. He absolutely discountenanced the extreme
section of his followers. He declared that the whole of the Queen's
income was justly at her personal disposal, argued that to complain of
royal savings was merely to encourage royal extravagance, and
successfully convoyed through Parliament the unpopular annuities,
which, he pointed out, were strictly in accordance with precedent.
When, in 1872, Sir Charles Dilke once more returned to the charge in
the House of Commons, introducing a motion for a full enquiry into the
Queen's expenditure with a view to a root-and-branch reform of the
Civil List, the Prime Minister brought all the resources of his
powerful and ingenious eloquence to the support of the Crown. He was
completely successful; and amid a scene of great disorder the motion
was ignominiously dismissed. Victoria was relieved; but she grew no
fonder of Mr. Gladstone.



It was perhaps the most miserable moment of her life. The Ministers,
the press, the public, all conspired to vex her, to blame her, to
misinterpret her actions, to be unsympathetic and disrespectful in
every way. She was 'a cruelly misunderstood woman,' she told Mr.
Martin, complaining to him bitterly of the unjust attacks which were
made upon her, and declaring that 'the great worry and anxiety and hard
work for ten years, alone, unaided, with increasing age and never very
strong health,' were breaking her down, and 'almost drove her to
despair.' The situation was indeed deplorable. It seemed as if
her whole existence had gone awry; as if an irremediable antagonism had
grown up between the Queen and the nation. If Victoria had died in the
early seventies, there can be little doubt that the voice of the world
would have pronounced her a failure.


III

But she was reserved for a very different fate. The outburst of
republicanism had been in fact the last flicker of an expiring cause.
The liberal tide, which had been flowing steadily ever since the Reform
Bill, reached its height with Mr. Gladstone's first administration; and
towards the end of that administration the inevitable ebb began. The
reaction, when it came, was sudden and complete. The General Election
of 1874 changed the whole face of politics. Mr. Gladstone and the
Liberals were routed; and the Tory party, for the first time for over
forty years, attained an unquestioned supremacy in England. It was
obvious that their surprising triumph was pre-eminently due to
the skill and vigour of Disraeli. He returned to office no longer the
dubious commander of an insufficient host, but with drums beating and
flags flying, a conquering hero. And as a conquering hero Victoria
welcomed her new Prime Minister.

Then there followed six years of excitement, of enchantment, of
felicity, of glory, of romance. The amazing being, who now at last, at
the age of seventy, after a lifetime of extraordinary struggles, had
turned into reality the absurdest of his boyhood's dreams, knew well
enough how to make his own, with absolute completeness, the heart of
the Sovereign Lady whose servant, and whose master, he had so
miraculously become. In women's hearts he had always read as in an
open book. His whole career had turned upon those curious entities;
and the more curious they were, the more intimately at home with them
he seemed to be. But Lady Beaconsfield, with her cracked idolatry, and
Mrs. Brydges-Williams, with her clogs, her corpulence, and her legacy,
were gone: an even more remarkable phenomenon stood in their place. He
surveyed what was before him with the eye of a past-master; and he was
not for a moment at a loss. He realised everything--the interacting
complexities of circumstance and character, the pride of place mingled
so inextricably with personal arrogance, the superabundant
emotionalism, the ingenuousness of outlook, the solid, the laborious
respectability, shot through so incongruously by temperamental cravings
for the coloured and the strange, the singular intellectual
limitations, and the mysteriously essential female element impregnating
every particle of the whole. A smile hovered over his impassive
features, and he dubbed Victoria 'the Faery.' The name delighted him,
for, with that epigrammatic ambiguity so dear to his heart, it
precisely expressed his vision of the Queen. The Spenserian allusion
was very pleasant--the elegant evocation of Gloriana; but there was
more in it than that: there was the suggestion of a diminutive
creature, endowed with magical--and mythical--properties, and a
portentousness almost ridiculously out of keeping with the rest of her
make-up. The Faery, he determined, should henceforward wave her wand
for him alone. Detachment is always a rare quality, and rarest of all,
perhaps, among politicians; but that veteran egotist possessed it in a
supreme degree. Not only did he know what he had to do, not only did
he do it; he was in the audience as well as on the stage; and he took
in with the rich relish of a connoisseur every feature of the
entertaining situation, every phase of the delicate drama, and every
detail of his own consummate performance.

The smile hovered and vanished, and, bowing low with Oriental gravity
and Oriental submissiveness, he set himself to his task. He had
understood from the first that in dealing with the Faery the
appropriate method of approach was the very antithesis of the
Gladstonian; and such a method was naturally his. It was not his habit
to harangue and exhort and expatiate in official conscientiousness; he
liked to scatter flowers along the path of business, to compress a
weighty argument into a happy phrase, to insinuate what was in his mind
with an air of friendship and confidential courtesy. He was nothing if
not personal; and he had perceived that personality was the key that
opened the Faery's heart. Accordingly, he never for a moment allowed
his intercourse with her to lose the personal tone; he invested all the
transactions of State with the charms of familiar conversation; she was
always the royal lady, the adored and revered mistress, he the
devoted and respectful friend. When once the personal relation was
firmly established, every difficulty disappeared. But to maintain that
relation uninterruptedly in a smooth and even course, a particular care
was necessary: the bearings had to be most assiduously oiled. Nor was
Disraeli in any doubt as to the nature of the lubricant. 'You have
heard me called a flatterer,' he said to Matthew Arnold, 'and it is
true. Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to royalty you should
lay it on with a trowel.' He practised what he preached. His
adulation was incessant, and he applied it in the very thickest slabs.
'There is no honor and no reward,' he declared, 'that with him can ever
equal the possession of your Majesty's kind thoughts. All his own
thoughts and feelings and duties and affections are now concentrated in
your Majesty, and he desires nothing more for his remaining years than
to serve your Majesty, or, if that service ceases, to live still on its
memory as a period of his existence most interesting and
fascinating.' 'In life,' he told her, 'one must have for one's
thoughts a sacred depository, and Lord Beaconsfield ever presumes to
seek that in his Sovereign Mistress.' She was not only his own
solitary support; she was the one prop of the State. 'If your Majesty
is ill,' he wrote during a grave political crisis, 'he is sure he will
himself break down. All, really, depends upon your Majesty.' 'He
lives only for Her,' he asseverated, and works only for Her, and
without Her all is lost.' When her birthday came he produced an
elaborate confection of hyperbolic compliment. 'To-day Lord
Beaconsfield ought fitly, perhaps, to congratulate a powerful Sovereign
on her imperial sway, the vastness of her Empire, and the success
and strength of her fleets and armies. But he cannot, his mind is in
another mood. He can only think of the strangeness of his destiny that
it has come to pass that he should be the servant of one so great, and
whose infinite kindness, the brightness of whose intelligence and the
firmness of whose will, have enabled him to undertake labours to which
he otherwise would be quite unequal, and supported him in all things by
a condescending sympathy, which in the hour of difficulty alike charms
and inspires. Upon the Sovereign of many lands and many hearts may an
omnipotent Providence shed every blessing that the wise can desire and
the virtuous deserve!' In those expert hands the trowel seemed to
assume the qualities of some lofty masonic symbol--to be the ornate and
glittering vehicle of verities unrealised by the profane.

Such tributes were delightful, but they remained in the nebulous region
of words, and Disraeli had determined to give his blandishments a more
significant solidity. He deliberately encouraged those high views of
her own position which had always been native to Victoria's mind and
had been reinforced by the principles of Albert and the doctrines of
Stockmar. He professed to a belief in a theory of the Constitution
which gave the Sovereign a leading place in the councils of government;
but his pronouncements upon the subject were indistinct; and when he
emphatically declared that there ought to be 'a real Throne,' it was
probably with the mental addition that that throne would be a very
unreal one indeed whose occupant was unamenable to his cajoleries. But
the vagueness of his language was in itself an added stimulant to
Victoria. Skilfully confusing the woman and the Queen, he threw,
with a grandiose gesture, the government of England at her feet, as if
in doing so he were performing an act of personal homage. In his first
audience after returning to power, he assured her that 'whatever she
wished should be done.' When the intricate Public Worship
Regulation Bill was being discussed by the Cabinet, he told the Faery
that his 'only object' was 'to further your Majesty's wishes in this
matter.' When he brought off his great coup over the Suez Canal,
he used expressions which implied that the only gainer by the
transaction was Victoria. 'It is just settled,' he wrote in triumph;
'you have it, Madam ... Four millions sterling! and almost immediately.
There was only one firm that could do it--Rothschilds. They behaved
admirably; advanced the money at a low rate, and the entire interest of
the Khedive is now yours, Madam.' Nor did he limit himself to
highly-spiced insinuations. Writing with all the authority of his
office, he advised the Queen that she had the constitutional right to
dismiss a Ministry which was supported by a large majority in the House
of Commons; he even urged her to do so, if, in her opinion, 'your
Majesty's Government have from wilfulness, or even from weakness,
deceived your Majesty.' To the horror of Mr. Gladstone, he not
only kept the Queen informed as to the general course of business in
the Cabinet, but revealed to her the part taken in its discussions by
individual members of it. Lord Derby, the son of the late Prime
Minister and Disraeli's Foreign Secretary, viewed these developments
with grave mistrust. 'Is there not,' he ventured to write to his
Chief, 'just a risk of encouraging her in too large ideas of her
personal power, and too great indifference to what the public
expects? I only ask; it is for you to judge.'

As for Victoria, she accepted everything--compliments, flatteries,
Elizabethan prerogatives--without a single qualm. After the long gloom
of her bereavement, after the chill of the Gladstonian discipline, she
expanded to the rays of Disraeli's devotion like a flower in the sun.
The change in her situation was indeed miraculous. No longer was she
obliged to puzzle for hours over the complicated details of business,
for now she had only to ask Mr. Disraeli for an explanation, and he
would give it her in the most concise, in the most amusing, way. No
longer was she worried by alarming novelties; no longer was she put out
at finding herself treated, by a reverential gentleman in high collars,
as if she were some embodied precedent, with a recondite knowledge of
Greek. And her deliverer was surely the most fascinating of men. The
strain of charlatanism, which had unconsciously captivated her in
Napoleon III, exercised the same enchanting effect in the case of
Disraeli. Like a dram-drinker, whose ordinary life is passed in dull
sobriety, her unsophisticated intelligence gulped down his rococo
allurements with peculiar zest. She became intoxicated, entranced.
Believing all that he told her of herself, she completely regained the
self-confidence which had been slipping away from her throughout the
dark period that followed Albert's death. She swelled with a new
elation, while he, conjuring up before her wonderful Oriental visions,
dazzled her eyes with an imperial grandeur of which she had only dimly
dreamed. Under the compelling influence, her very demeanour altered.
Her short, stout figure, with its folds of black velvet, its muslin
streamers, its heavy pearls at the heavy neck, assumed an almost
menacing air. In her countenance, from which the charm of youth had
long since vanished, and which had not yet been softened by age, the
traces of grief, of disappointment, and of displeasure were still
visible, but they were overlaid by looks of arrogance and sharp lines
of peremptory hauteur. Only, when Mr. Disraeli appeared, the
expression changed in an instant, and the forbidding visage became
charged with smiles. For him she would do anything. Yielding to
his encouragements, she began to emerge from her seclusion; she
appeared in London in semi-state, at hospitals and concerts; she opened
Parliament; she reviewed troops and distributed medals at
Aldershot. But such public signs of favour were trivial in
comparison with her private attentions. During his hours of audience,
she could hardly restrain her excitement and delight. 'I can only
describe my reception,' he wrote to a friend on one occasion, 'by
telling you that I really thought she was going to embrace me. She was
wreathed with smiles, and, as she tattled, glided about the room like a
bird.' In his absence, she talked of him perpetually, and there
was a note of unusual vehemence in her solicitude for his health.
'John Manners,' Disraeli told Lady Bradford, 'who has just come from
Osborne, says that the Faery only talked of one subject, and that was
her Primo. According to him, it was her gracious opinion that the
Government should make my health a Cabinet question. Dear John seemed
quite surprised at what she said; but you are more used to these
ebullitions.' She often sent him presents; an illustrated album
arrived for him regularly from Windsor on Christmas Day. But her
most valued gifts were the bunches of spring flowers which,
gathered by herself and her ladies in the woods at Osborne, marked in
an especial manner the warmth and tenderness of her sentiments. Among
these it was, he declared, the primroses that he loved the best. They
were, he said, 'the ambassadors of Spring,' 'the gems and jewels of
Nature.' He liked them, he assured her, 'so much better for their
being wild; they seem an offering from the Fauns and Dryads of
Osborne.' 'They show,' he told her, 'that your Majesty's sceptre has
touched the enchanted Isle.' He sat at dinner with heaped-up bowls of
them on every side, and told his guests that 'they were all sent to me
this morning by the Queen from Osborne, as she knows it is my favourite
flower.' As time went on, and as it became clearer and clearer
that the Faery's thraldom was complete, his protestations grew steadily
more highly coloured and more unabashed. At last he ventured to import
into his blandishments a strain of adoration that was almost avowedly
romantic. In phrases of baroque convolution, he delivered the message
of his heart. The pressure of business, he wrote, had 'so absorbed and
exhausted him, that towards the hour of post he has not had clearness
of mind, and vigour of pen, adequate to convey his thoughts and facts
to the most loved and illustrious being, who deigns to consider
them.' She sent him some primroses, and he replied that he could
'truly say they are "more precious than rubies," coming, as they do,
and at such a moment, from a Sovereign whom he adores.' She sent
him snowdrops, and his sentiment overflowed into poetry. 'Yesterday
eve,' he wrote, 'there appeared, in Whitehall Gardens, a
delicate-looking case, with a royal superscription, which, when
he opened, he thought, at first, that your Majesty had graciously
bestowed upon him the stars of your Majesty's principal orders. And,
indeed, he was so impressed with this graceful illusion, that, having a
banquet, where there were many stars and ribbons, he could not resist
the temptation, by placing some snowdrops on his heart, of showing that
he, too, was decorated by a gracious Sovereign.

'Then, in the middle of the night, it occurred to him, that it might
all be an enchantment, and that, perhaps, it was a Faery gift and came
from another monarch: Queen Titania, gathering flowers, with her Court,
in a soft and sea-girt isle, and sending magic blossoms, which, they
say, turn the heads of those who receive them.'

A Faery gift! Did he smile as he wrote the words? Perhaps; and yet it
would be rash to conclude that his perfervid declarations were
altogether without sincerity. Actor and spectator both, the two
characters were so intimately blended together in that odd composition
that they formed an inseparable unity, and it was impossible to say
that one of them was less genuine than the other. With one element, he
could coldly appraise the Faery's intellectual capacity, note with some
surprise that she could be on occasion 'most interesting and amusing,'
and then continue his use of the trowel with an ironical solemnity;
while, with the other, he could be overwhelmed by the immemorial
panoply of royalty, and, thrilling with the sense of his own strange
elevation, dream himself into a gorgeous phantasy of crowns and powers
and chivalric love. When he told Victoria that 'during a somewhat
romantic and imaginative life, nothing has ever occurred to him so
interesting as this confidential correspondence with one so exalted and
so inspiring,' was he not in earnest after all? When he
wrote to a lady about the Court, 'I love the Queen--perhaps the only
person in this world left to me that I do love,' was he not
creating for himself an enchanted palace out of the Arabian Nights,
full of melancholy and spangles, in which he actually believed?
Victoria's state of mind was far more simple; untroubled by imaginative
yearnings, she never lost herself in that nebulous region of the spirit
where feeling and fancy grow confused. Her emotions, with all their
intensity and all their exaggeration, retained the plain prosaic
texture of everyday life. And it was fitting that her expression of
them should be equally commonplace. She was, she told her Prime
Minister, at the end of an official letter, 'yours aff'ly V.R. and I.'
In such a phrase the deep reality of her feeling is instantly manifest.
The Faery's feet were on the solid earth; it was the ruse cynic who
was in the air.

He had taught her, however, a lesson, which she had learnt with
alarming rapidity. A second Gloriana, did he call her? Very well,
then, she would show that she deserved the compliment. Disquieting
symptoms followed fast. In May 1874, the Tsar, whose daughter had just
been married to Victoria's second son, the Duke of Edinburgh, was in
London, and, by an unfortunate error, it had been arranged that his
departure should not take place until two days after the date on which
his royal hostess had previously decided to go to Balmoral. Her
Majesty refused to modify her plans. It was pointed out to her that
the Tsar would certainly be offended, that the most serious
consequences might follow; Lord Derby protested; Lord Salisbury, the
Secretary of State for India, was much perturbed. But the Faery
was unconcerned; she had settled to go to Balmoral on the 18th, and on
the 18th she would go. At last Disraeli, exercising all his influence,
induced her to agree to stay in London for two days more. 'My head is
still on my shoulders,' he told Lady Bradford. 'The great lady has
absolutely postponed her departure! Everybody had failed, even the
Prince of Wales; ... and I have no doubt I am not in favour. I can't
help it. Salisbury says I have saved an Afghan War, and Derby
compliments me on my unrivalled triumph.' But before very long, on
another issue, the triumph was the Faery's. Disraeli, who had suddenly
veered towards a new Imperialism, had thrown out the suggestion that
the Queen of England ought to become the Empress of India. Victoria
seized upon the idea with avidity, and, in season and out of season,
pressed upon her Prime Minister the desirability of putting his
proposal into practice. He demurred; but she was not to be baulked;
and in 1876, in spite of his own unwillingness and that of his entire
Cabinet, he found himself obliged to add to the troubles of a stormy
session by introducing a bill for the alteration of the Royal
Title. His compliance, however, finally conquered the Faery's
heart. The measure was angrily attacked in both Houses, and Victoria
was deeply touched by the untiring energy with which Disraeli defended
it. She was, she said, much grieved by 'the worry and annoyance' to
which he was subjected; she feared she was the cause of it; and she
would never forget what she owed to 'her kind, good, and considerate
friend.' At the same time, her wrath fell on the Opposition. Their
conduct, she declared, was 'extraordinary, incomprehensible, and
mistaken,' and, in an emphatic sentence which seemed to contradict
both itself and all her former proceedings, she protested that
she 'would be glad if it were more generally known that it was her
wish, as people will have it, that it has been forced upon
her!' When the affair was successfully over, the imperial triumph
was celebrated in a suitable manner. On the day of the Delhi
Proclamation, the new Earl of Beaconsfield went to Windsor to dine with
the new Empress of India. That night the Faery, usually so homely in
her attire, appeared in a glittering panoply of enormous uncut jewels,
which had been presented to her by the reigning Princes of her Raj. At
the end of the meal the Prime Minister, breaking through the rules of
etiquette, arose, and in a flowery oration proposed the health of the
Queen-Empress. His audacity was well received, and his speech was
rewarded by a smiling curtsey.

These were significant episodes; but a still more serious manifestation
of Victoria's temper occurred in the following year, during the
crowning crisis of Beaconsfield's life. His growing imperialism, his
desire to magnify the power and prestige of England, his insistence
upon a 'spirited foreign policy,' had brought him into collision with
Russia; the terrible Eastern Question loomed up; and, when war broke
out between Russia and Turkey, the gravity of the situation became
extreme. The Prime Minister's policy was fraught with difficulty and
danger. Realising perfectly the appalling implications of an
Anglo-Russian war, he was yet prepared to face even that eventuality if
he could obtain his ends by no other method; but he believed that
Russia in reality was still less desirous of a rupture, and that, if he
played his game with sufficient boldness and adroitness, she
would yield, when it came to the point, all that he required without a
blow. It was clear that the course he had marked out for himself was
full of hazard, and demanded an extraordinary nerve; a single false
step, and either himself, or England, might be plunged in disaster.
But nerve he had never lacked; he began his diplomatic egg-dance with
high assurance; and then he discovered that, besides the Russian
Government, besides the Liberals and Mr. Gladstone, there were two
additional sources of perilous embarrassment with which he would have
to reckon. In the first place there was a strong party in the Cabinet,
headed by Lord Derby, the Foreign Secretary, which was unwilling to
take the risk of war; but his culminating anxiety was the Faery.

From the first, her attitude was uncompromising. The old hatred of
Russia, which had been engendered by the Crimean War, surged up again
within her; she remembered Albert's prolonged animosity; she felt the
prickings of her own greatness; and she flung herself into the turmoil
with passionate heat. Her indignation with the Opposition--with anyone
who ventured to sympathise with the Russians in their quarrel with the
Turks--was unbounded. When anti-Turkish meetings were held in London,
presided over by the Duke of Westminster and Lord Shaftesbury, and
attended by Mr. Gladstone and other prominent Radicals, she considered
that 'the Attorney-General ought to be set at these men'; 'it can't,'
she exclaimed, 'be constitutional.' Never in her life, not even in
the crisis over the Ladies of the Bedchamber, did she show herself a
more furious partisan. But her displeasure was not reserved for the
Radicals; the backsliding Conservatives equally felt its force.
She was even discontented with Lord Beaconsfield himself. Failing
entirely to appreciate the delicate complexity of his policy, she
constantly assailed him with demands for vigorous action, interpreted
each finesse as a sign of weakness, and was ready at every juncture to
let slip the dogs of war. As the situation developed, her anxiety grew
feverish. 'The Queen,' she wrote, 'is feeling terribly anxious lest
delay should cause us to be too late and lose our prestige for ever!
It worries her night and day.' 'The Faery,' Beaconsfield told Lady
Bradford, 'writes every day and telegraphs every hour; this is almost
literally the case.' She raged loudly against the Russians. 'And
the language,' she cried, 'the insulting language--used by the Russians
against us! It makes the Queen's blood boil!' 'Oh,' she wrote a
little later, 'if the Queen were a man, she would like to go and give
those Russians, whose word one cannot believe, such a beating! We
shall never be friends again till we have it out. This the Queen feels
sure of.'

The unfortunate Prime Minister, urged on to violence by Victoria on one
side, had to deal, on the other, with a Foreign Secretary who was
fundamentally opposed to any policy of active interference at all.
Between the Queen and Lord Derby he held a harassed course. He gained,
indeed, some slight satisfaction in playing off the one against the
other--in stimulating Lord Derby with the Queen's missives, and in
appeasing the Queen by repudiating Lord Derby's opinions; on one
occasion he actually went so far as to compose, at Victoria's request,
a letter bitterly attacking his colleague, which her Majesty
forthwith signed, and sent, without alteration, to the Foreign
Secretary. But such devices gave only a temporary relief; and it
soon became evident that Victoria's martial ardour was not to be
side-tracked by hostilities against Lord Derby; hostilities against
Russia were what she wanted, what she would, what she must, have. For
now, casting aside the last relics of moderation, she began to attack
her friend with a series of extraordinary threats. Not once, not
twice, but many times she held over his head the formidable menace of
her imminent abdication. 'If England,' she wrote to Beaconsfield, 'is
to kiss Russia's feet, she will not be a party to the humiliation of
England and would lay down her crown,' and she added that the Prime
Minister might, if he thought fit, repeat her words to the Cabinet.
'This delay,' she ejaculated, 'this uncertainty by which, abroad, we
are losing our prestige and our position, while Russia is advancing and
will be before Constantinople in no time! Then the Government will be
fearfully blamed and the Queen so humiliated that she thinks she would
abdicate at once. Be bold!' 'She feels,' she reiterated, 'she
cannot, as she before said, remain the Sovereign of a country that is
letting itself down to kiss the feet of the great barbarians, the
retarders of all liberty and civilisation that exists.' When the
Russians advanced to the outskirts of Constantinople she fired off
three letters in a day demanding war; and when she learnt that the
Cabinet had only decided to send the Fleet to Gallipoli she declared
that 'her first impulse' was 'to lay down the thorny crown, which she
feels little satisfaction in retaining if the position of this country
is to remain as it is now.' It is easy to imagine the
agitating effect of such a correspondence upon Beaconsfield. This was
no longer the Faery; it was a genie whom he had rashly called out of
her bottle, and who was now intent upon showing her supernal power.
More than once, perplexed, dispirited, shattered by illness, he had
thoughts of withdrawing altogether from the game. One thing alone, he
told Lady Bradford, with a wry smile, prevented him. 'If I could
only,' he wrote, 'face the scene which would occur at headquarters if I
resigned, I would do so at once.'

He held on, however, to emerge victorious at last. The Queen was
pacified; Lord Derby was replaced by Lord Salisbury; and at the
Congress of Berlin der alte Jude carried all before him. He returned
to England in triumph, and assured the delighted Victoria that she
would very soon be, if she was not already, the 'Dictatress of
Europe.'

But soon there was an unexpected reverse. At the General Election of
1880 the country, mistrustful of the forward policy of the
Conservatives, and carried away by Mr. Gladstone's oratory, returned
the Liberals to power. Victoria was horrified, but within a year she
was to be yet more nearly hit. The grand romance had come to its
conclusion. Lord Beaconsfield, worn out with age and maladies, but
moving still, an assiduous mummy, from dinner-party to dinner-party,
suddenly moved no longer. When she knew that the end was inevitable,
she seemed, by a pathetic instinct, to divest herself of her royalty,
and to shrink, with hushed gentleness, beside him, a woman and nothing
more. 'I send some Osborne primroses,' she wrote to him with touching
simplicity, 'and I meant to pay you a little visit this week but
I thought it better you should be quite quiet and not speak. And I beg
you will be very good and obey the doctors.' She would see him, she
said, 'when we come back from Osborne, which won't be long.' 'Everyone
is so distressed at your not being well,' she added; and she was, 'Ever
yours very aff'ly, V.R.I.' When the royal letter was given him, the
strange old comedian, stretched on his bed of death, poised it in his
hand, appeared to consider deeply, and then whispered to those about
him: 'This ought to be read to me by a Privy Councillor.'





Next: Old Age

Previous: Widowhood



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