Childhood Days





On the western side of Kensington Gardens stands the old Palace,

built originally in the solid Dutch style for King William and Mary.

The great architect, Sir Christopher Wren, made notable additions

to it, and it was still further extended in 1721 for George the First.



Within its walls passed away both William and his Queen, Queen Anne

and her husband, and George the Second. After this time it ceased

to be a royal residence.



The charm of Kensington Gardens, with its beautiful walks and

secluded sylvan nooks--the happy hunting-ground of London children

and the home of 'Peter Pan'--has inspired many writers to sing its

praises:



In this lone, open glade I lie,

Screen'd by deep boughs on either hand;

And at its end, to stay the eye,

Those black-crown'd, red-boled pine trees stand!



Birds here make song, each bird has his,

Across the girding city's hum.

How green under the boughs it is!

How thick the tremulous sheep cries come!



Here at my feet what wonders pass,

What endless, active life is here!

What blowing daisies, fragrant grass!

An air-stirred forest, fresh and clear.

MATTHEW ARNOLD



Beaconsfield spoke of its "sublime sylvan solitude superior to the

cedars of Lebanon, and inferior only in extent to the chestnut

forests of Anatolia."



Kensington Palace was the birthplace of Queen Victoria, and in the

garden walks she used to play, little knowing that she would one day

be Queen of England. Her doll's house and toys are still preserved

in the rooms which she inhabited as a little girl.






Four years had passed since the battle of Waterloo when the Princess

Victoria was born, and England was settling down to a time of peace

after long years of warfare.



In 1830 George the Fourth died, and was succeeded by his brother,

the Duke of Clarence, as William the Fourth, the 'sailor king.'

Though not in any respect a great monarch, he proved himself to be

a good king and one who was always wishful to do the best that lay

in his power for the country's good.



He was exceedingly hospitable, and gave dinners to thousands of his

friends and acquaintances during the year, particularly inviting all

his old messmates of the Navy. He had two daughters by his marriage,

and as these both died young it was evident that the Princess Victoria

might some day succeed to the throne.



Her father, the Duke of Kent, married the Dowager Princess of

Leiningen, who was the sister of Prince Leopold, afterward King of

the Belgians. As a young man the Duke had seen much service, for when

he was only seventeen years of age he entered the Hanoverian army,

where the discipline was severe and rigid. He afterward served in

the West Indies and Canada, and on his return to England he was made

a peer with the title of Duke of Kent. He was afterward General and

Commander-in-Chief in Canada and Governor of Gibraltar.



At the latter place his love of order and discipline naturally made

him unpopular, and, owing to strong feeling on the part of the troops,

it was considered wise to recall the Duke in 1803.



In 1816 he settled in Brussels, and soon afterward met his future

wife in Germany. Princess Victoire Marie Louise was the youngest

daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and widow of Prince Charles of

Leiningen, who on his death had left her as the regent of his

principality.



They were married at Coburg in May 1818. Some months afterward they

came over to England, and on May 24, 1819, their daughter Alexandrina

Victoria was born.



The Duke still kept up his simple, soldierly habits, for throughout

his life he had always believed in regularly ordering one's day. He

rose betimes and took a cup of coffee at six o'clock. Each servant

of the household was allotted his or her regular duties, and was

obliged at least once a day to appear before the Duke. There was a

separate bell for each servant, and punctuality in attendance was

insisted upon.



The christening was attended by members of the Royal Family, and a

dinner was held to celebrate the happy event. The Duke and Duchess

removed soon afterward to Devonshire, and they were both much pleased

with the beautiful surroundings of their new home. The Duke wrote

at this time of his daughter: "My little girl thrives under the

influence of a Devonshire climate, and is, I am delighted to say,

strong and healthy; too healthy, I fear, in the opinion of some

members of my family, by whom she is regarded as an intruder. How

largely she contributes to my happiness at this moment it is needless

for me to say to you."



The Duke had been determined from the first that his child should

be born in England, for he wished her to be English both in upbringing

and in feeling. His wife, who is described by those who knew her as

being a singularly attractive woman, full of deep feeling and

sympathy, fully shared his views on this point.



In January 1820, when only fifty-three years of age, the Duke died

quite suddenly from inflammation of the lungs, following upon a

neglected cold. He was a man of deep religious feeling, and once in

talking to a friend about his little daughter's future career he said

earnestly: "Don't pray simply that hers may be a brilliant career,

and exempt from those trials and struggles which have pursued her

father, but pray that God's blessing may rest on her, that it may

overshadow her, and that in all her coming years she may be guided

and guarded by God."



The widowed mother now returned to London, where the Duchess of

Clarence, afterward Queen Adelaide, interested herself greatly in

little Victoria. The Duchess now devoted herself entirely to the care

of her child, and never did any little girl have a more loving and

devoted mother.



As much time as possible was spent in the open air, and Victoria went

for rides about Kensington on a donkey, which was led by an old

soldier, a great friend and favourite. She always had her breakfast

and supper with her mother, and at nine o'clock retired to her bed,

which was placed close to her mother's. Until the time of her

accession she led as simple and regular a life as thousands of other

little girls.



Many stories are told of her early years to illustrate the

thoroughness of her home training. Even as a small child she was

absolutely truthful, and her chief fault--that of wilfulness--was

due to some extent to her high spirits and abundant energy. She was

especially fond of dolls, and possessed a very large number, most

of which were dressed as historical personages. She had practically

no playmates of her own age, and in later life she often spoke of

these early years as being rather dull.



A description of her at this period runs: "She was a beautiful child,

with the cherubic form of features, clustered round by glossy, fair

ringlets. Her complexion was remarkably transparent, with a soft and

often heightening tinge of the sweet blush rose upon her cheeks that

imparted a peculiar brilliancy to her clear blue eyes. Whenever she

met any strangers in her usual paths she always seemed by the

quickness of her glance to inquire who and what they were."



There was, as was natural, much correspondence between England and

Saxe-Coburg, the home of the Duchess, for the second son of the Duke

of Coburg, Charles Albert Augustus Emmanuel, was already spoken of

as being destined to be Victoria's husband in the future.



Prince Albert had been born at Rosenau on August 19, 1819, and was

thus slightly younger than his cousin. He is spoken of as being a

very handsome boy, "like a little angel with his fair curls," and

was for a time much spoilt until his father interfered and

superintended the children's education himself.



Ernest, the elder son, gives us a charming picture of his father:



"We children beheld in him, and justly, our ideal of courtesy, and

although he never said a harsh word to us, we bore towards him,

through all our love and confidence, a reverence bordering on fear.

He never lectured, seldom blamed; praised unwillingly; and yet the

effect of his individuality was so powerful that we accomplished more

than if we had been praised or blamed. When he was once asked by a

relative whether we were industrious and well behaved, he answered:

'My children cannot be naughty, and as they know well that they must

learn in order to be worthy men, so I do not trouble myself about

it.'"



The Duke liked both his sons to listen to the conversation of their

elders and to take an interest in art and literature. Outdoor

exercise, riding, fishing, hunting, and driving formed part of their

education; they were taught from the first to endure cold and

discomfort without complaint or murmur. The religious teaching they

received had a deep and lasting influence upon the two boys, both

at that time and in later years. But they had a thoroughly happy

boyhood and did not suffer from a lack of companions. After their

confirmation their father took them on a visit to several Courts in

Germany, and also to Vienna--a journey which was intended to open

their minds to the great world of which they had learnt so much and

seen so little; and it was about this time that King Leopold, the

brother of the Duke of Coburg, thought it wise to make a careful

inquiry into the life and character of the young Prince.





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