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The Princess Opens The Victoria Park At Bath








When she was eleven years old, the Princess opened the Victoria Park at
Bath. She began the opening business thus early, and has kept it up
pretty diligently for fifty years--parks, expositions, colleges,
exchanges, law courts, bridges, docks, art schools, and hospitals. Her
sons and daughters are also kept busy at the same sort of work. Indeed
these are almost the only openings for young men of the royal family for
active service, now that crusades and invasions of France have gone out
of fashion. It seems to me that the English people get up all sorts of
opening and unveiling occasions in order to supply employment to their
Princes and Princesses, who, I must say, never shirk such monotonous
duties, however much they may be bothered and bored by them.

Occasionally the Duchess of Kent and her daughter visited Brighton, and
stopped in that grotesque palace of George IV., called the Pavilion. I
have seen a picture of the demure little Princess, walking on the
esplanade, with her mother, governesses, and gentlemen attendants, the
whole elegant party and the great crowd of Brightonians following and
staring at them, wearing the absurd costumes of half a century ago--the
ladies, big bonnets, big mutton-leg sleeves, big collars, heelless
slippers, laced over the instep; the gentlemen, short-waisted coats,
enormous collars, preposterous neckties, and indescribably clumsy hats.

By this time the Princess had learned to bear quietly and serenely, if
not unconsciously, the gaze of hundreds of eyes, admiring or criticising.
She knew that the time was probably coming when the hundreds would
increase to thousands, and even millions--when the world would for her
seem to be made up of eyes, like a peacock's tail. Small wonder that in
her later years, especially since she has missed from her side the
splendid figure which divided and justified the mighty multitudinous
stare, this eternal observation, this insatiable curiosity has become
infinitely wearisome to her.

Several accounts have been given of the manner in which the great secret
of her destiny was revealed to the Princess Victoria, and the manner in
which it was received, but only one has the Queen's indorsement. This was
contained in a letter, written long afterwards to Her Majesty by her dear
old governess, the Baroness Lehzen, who states that when the Regency Bill
(an act naming the Duchess of Kent as Regent, in case of the King dying
before his niece obtained her majority) was before Parliament, it was
thought that the time had come to make known to the Princess her true
position. So after consulting with the Duchess, the Baroness placed a
genealogical table in a historical book, which her pupil was reading.
When the Princess came upon this paper, she said: "Why, I never saw that
before." "It was not thought necessary you should see it," the Baroness
replied. Then the young girl, examining the paper, said thoughtfully: "I
see I am nearer the throne than I supposed." After some moments she
resumed, with a sort of quaint solemnity: "Now many a child would boast,
not knowing the difficulty. There is much splendor, but there is also
much responsibility." "The Princess," says the Baroness, "having lifted
up the forefinger of her right hand while she spoke, now gave me that
little hand, saying: 'I will be good. I understand now why you urged me
so much to learn, even Latin. My aunts, Augusta and Mary, never did, but
you told me Latin was the foundation of English grammar, and all the
elegant expressions, and I learned it, as you wished it; but I understand
all better now,' and the Princess again gave me her hand, repeating, 'I
will be good.'"

God heard the promise of the child of twelve years and held her to it,
and has given her strength "as her day" to redeem it, all through the
dazzling brightness and the depressing shadows, through the glory and the
sorrow of her life, as a Queen and a woman.

The Queen says that she "cried much" over the magnificent but difficult
problem of her destiny, but the tears must have been April showers, for
in those days she was accounted a bright, care-free little damsel, and
was ever welcome as a sunbeam in the noblest houses of England--such as
Eaton Hall, the seat of the Duke of Westminster; Wentworth House,
belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam; Alton Towers, the country house of the
Earl of Shrewsbury; and Chatsworth, the palace of the Duke of Devonshire,
where such royal loyal honors were paid to her that she had a foretaste
of the "splendor," without the "responsibility," of Queenhood.

The King and Queen gave a brilliant ball in honor of "the thirteenth
birthday of their beloved niece, the Princess Victoria," and somewhat
later, the little royal lady appeared at a Drawing-room, when she is said
to have charmed everybody by her sweet, childish dignity--a sort of
quaint queenliness of manner and expression. She was likewise most
satisfactory to the most religiously inclined of her subjects who were to
be, in her mien and behavior when in the Royal Chapel of St. James, on
the interesting occasion of her confirmation. She is said to have gone
through the ceremony with "profound thoughtfulness and devout solemnity."

The next glimpse I have of her is at a very different scene--the Ascot
races. A brilliant American author, N. P. Willis, who then saw her for
the first time, wrote: "In one of the intervals, I walked under the
King's stand, and saw Her Majesty the Queen, and the young Princess
Victoria, very distinctly. They were leaning over the railing listening
to a ballad-singer, and seeming as much interested and amused as any
simple country-folk could be. The Queen is undoubtedly the plainest woman
in her dominions, but the Princess is much better-looking than any
picture of her in the shops, and for the heir to such a crown as that of
England, quite unnecessarily, pretty and interesting. She will be sold,
poor thing! bartered away by those great-dealers in royal hearts, whose
grand calculations will not be much consolation to her if she happens to
have a taste of her own."

Little did the wise American poet guess that, away in a little fairy
principality of Deutschland, there was a beautiful young fairy prince,
being reared by benevolent fairy godmother-grandmothers, especially to
disprove all such doleful prophecies, and reverse the usual fate of
pretty young Princesses in the case of the "little English mayflower."

Greville relates a little incident which shows that the Princess, when
between sixteen and seventeen, and almost in sight of the throne, was
still amenable to discipline. He describes a reception of much pomp and
ceremony, given to the Duchess and the Princess by the Mayor and other
officers of the town of Burghley, followed by a great dinner, which "went
off well," except that an awkward waiter, in a spasm of loyal excitement,
emptied the contents of a pail of ice in the lap of the Duchess, which,
though she took it coolly, "made a great bustle." I am afraid the
Princess laughed. Then followed a magnificent ball, which was opened by
the Princess, with Lord Exeter for a partner. After that one dance she
"went to bed." Doubtless her good mother thought she had had fatigue and
excitement enough for one day; but it must have been hard for such a
dance-loving girl to take her quivering feet out of the ball-room so
early, and for such a grand personage as she already was, just referred
to in the Mayor's speech, as "destined to mount the throne of these
realms," to be sent away like a child, to mount a solemn, beplumed four-
poster, and to try to sleep, with that delicious dance-music still
ringing in her ears.

Greville also relates a sad Court story connected with the young
Princess, and describes a scene which would be too painful for me to
reproduce, except that it reveals, in a striking manner, Victoria's
tender love for and close sympathy with her mother. It seems that the
King's jealous hostility to the Duchess of Kent had grown with his decay,
and strengthened with his senility, till at last it culminated in a sort
of declaration of war at his own table. The account is given by Greville
second-hand, and so, very likely, over-colored, though doubtless true
in the main. The King invited the Duchess and Princess to Windsor to
join in the celebration of his birthday, which proved to be his last.
There was a dinner-party, called "private," but a hundred guests sat down
to the table. The Duchess of Kent was given a place of honor on one side
of the King, and opposite her sat the Princess Victoria. After dinner
Queen Adelaide proposed "His Majesty's health and long life to him," to
which that amiable monarch replied by a very remarkable speech. He began
by saying that he hoped in God he might live nine months longer, when the
Princess would be of age, and he could leave the royal authority in her
hands and not in those of a Regent, in the person of a lady sitting near
him, etc. Afterwards he said: "I have particularly to complain of the
manner in which that young lady (the Princess Victoria) has been kept
from my Court. She has been repeatedly kept from my Drawing-rooms, at
which she ought always to have been present, but I am resolved that this
shall not happen again. I would have her know that I am King, and am
determined to make my authority respected, and for the future I shall
insist and command that the Princess do, upon all occasions, appear at my
Court, as it is her duty to do."

This pleasant and hospitable harangue, uttered in a loud voice and an
excited manner, "produced a decided sensation." The whole company "were
aghast." Queen Adelaide, who was amiable and well-bred, "looked in deep
distress"; the young Princess burst into tears at the insult offered to
her mother; but that mother sat calm and silent, very pale, but proud and
erect--Duchess of Duchesses!





Next: Victoria's First Meeting With Prince Albert

Previous: King William Jealous Of Public Honors To Victoria



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