Last Years Of The Prince Consort


The weak-willed youth who took no interest in politics and never read a

newspaper had grown into a man of unbending determination whose

tireless energies were incessantly concentrated upon the laborious

business of government and the highest questions of State. He was busy

now from morning till night. In the winter, before the dawn, he was to

be seen, seated at his writing-table, working by the light of the green

reading-lamp which he had brought over with him from Germany, and the

construction of which he had much improved by an ingenious device.

Victoria was early too, but she was not so early as Albert; and when,

in the chill darkness, she took her seat at her own writing-table,

placed side by side with his, she invariably found upon it a neat pile

of papers arranged for her inspection and her signature. The day,

thus begun, continued in unremitting industry. At breakfast, the

newspapers--the once hated newspapers--made their appearance, and the

Prince, absorbed in their perusal, would answer no questions, or, if an

article struck him, would read it aloud. After that there were

ministers and secretaries to interview; there was a vast correspondence

to be carried on; there were numerous memoranda to be made.

Victoria, treasuring every word, preserving every letter, was all

breathless attention and eager obedience. Sometimes Albert would

actually ask her advice. He consulted her about his English: 'Lese

recht aufmerksam, und sage wenn irgend ein Fehler ist,' he would

say; or, as he handed her a draft for her signature, he would observe

'Ich hab' Dir hier ein Draft gemacht, lese es mal! Ich daechte es waere

recht so.' Thus the diligent, scrupulous, absorbing hours passed

by. Fewer and fewer grew the moments of recreation and of exercise.

The demands of society were narrowed down to the smallest limits, and

even then but grudgingly attended to. It was no longer a mere

pleasure, it was a positive necessity, to go to bed as early as

possible in order to be up and at work on the morrow betimes.

The important and exacting business of government, which became at last

the dominating preoccupation in Albert's mind, still left unimpaired

his old tastes and interests; he remained devoted to art, to science,

to philosophy; and a multitude of subsidiary activities showed how his

energies increased as the demands upon them grew. For whenever duty

called, the Prince was all alertness. With indefatigable perseverance

he opened museums, laid the foundation-stones of hospitals, made

speeches to the Royal Agricultural Society, and attended meetings of

the British Association. The National Gallery particularly

interested him: he drew up careful regulations for the arrangement of

the pictures according to schools; and he attempted--though in

vain--to have the whole collection transported to South Kensington.

Feodora, now the Princess Hohenlohe, after a visit to England,

expressed in a letter to Victoria her admiration of Albert both as a

private and a public character. Nor did she rely only on her own

opinion. 'I must just copy out,' she said, 'what Mr. Klumpp wrote to

me some little time ago, and which is quite true.--"Prince Albert is

one of the few Royal personages who can sacrifice to any principle (as

soon as it has become evident to them to be good and noble) all those

notions (or sentiments) to which others, owing to their

narrow-mindedness, or to the prejudices of their rank, are so

thoroughly inclined strongly to cling."--There is something so truly

religious in this,' the Princess added, 'as well as humane and just,

most soothing to my feelings which are so often hurt and disturbed by

what I hear and see.'

Victoria, from the depth of her heart, subscribed to all the eulogies

of Feodora and Mr. Klumpp. She only found that they were insufficient.

As she watched her beloved Albert, after toiling with state documents

and public functions, devoting every spare moment of his time to

domestic duties, to artistic appreciation, and to intellectual

improvements; as she listened to him cracking his jokes at the

luncheon-table, or playing Mendelssohn on the organ, or pointing out

the merits of Sir Edwin Landseer's pictures; as she followed him round

while he gave instructions about the breeding of cattle, or decided

that the Gainsboroughs must be hung higher up so that the Winterhalters

might be properly seen--she felt perfectly certain that no other wife

had ever had such a husband. His mind was apparently capable of

everything, and she was hardly surprised to learn that he had

made an important discovery for the conversion of sewage into

agricultural manure. Filtration from below upwards, he explained,

through some appropriate medium, which retained the solids and set free

the fluid sewage for irrigation, was the principle of the scheme. 'All

previous plans,' he said, 'would have cost millions; mine costs next to

nothing.' Unfortunately, owing to a slight miscalculation, the

invention proved to be impracticable; but Albert's intelligence was

unrebuffed, and he passed on, to plunge with all his accustomed ardour

into a prolonged study of the rudiments of lithography.

But naturally it was upon his children that his private interests and

those of Victoria were concentrated most vigorously. The royal

nurseries showed no sign of emptying. The birth of the Prince Arthur

in 1850 was followed, three years later, by that of the Prince Leopold;

and in 1857 the Princess Beatrice was born. A family of nine must be,

in any circumstances, a grave responsibility; and the Prince realised

to the full how much the high destinies of his offspring intensified

the need of parental care. It was inevitable that he should believe

profoundly in the importance of education; he himself had been the

product of education; Stockmar had made him what he was; it was for

him, in his turn, to be a Stockmar--to be even more than a Stockmar--to

the young creatures he had brought into the world. Victoria would

assist him; a Stockmar, no doubt, she could hardly be; but she could be

perpetually vigilant, she could mingle strictness with her affection,

and she could always set a good example. These considerations, of

course, applied pre-eminently to the education of the Prince of Wales.

How tremendous was the significance of every particle of

influence which went to the making of the future King of England!

Albert set to work with a will. But, watching with Victoria the

minutest details of the physical, intellectual, and moral training of

his children, he soon perceived, to his distress, that there was

something unsatisfactory in the development of his eldest son. The

Princess Royal was an extremely intelligent child; but Bertie, though

he was good-humoured and gentle, seemed to display a deep-seated

repugnance to every form of mental exertion. This was most

regrettable, but the remedy was obvious: the parental efforts must be

redoubled; instruction must be multiplied; not for a single instant

must the educational pressure be allowed to relax. Accordingly, more

tutors were selected, the curriculum was revised, the time-table of

studies was rearranged, elaborate memoranda dealing with every possible

contingency were drawn up. It was above all essential that there

should be no slackness: 'work,' said the Prince, 'must be work.' And

work indeed it was. The boy grew up amid a ceaseless round of

paradigms, syntactical exercises, dates, genealogical tables, and lists

of capes. Constant notes flew backwards and forwards between the

Prince, the Queen, and the tutors, with inquiries, with reports of

progress, with detailed recommendations; and these notes were all

carefully preserved for future reference. It was, besides, vital that

the heir to the throne should be protected from the slightest

possibility of contamination from the outside world. The Prince of

Wales was not as other boys; he might, occasionally, be allowed to

invite some sons of the nobility, boys of good character, to play with

him in the garden of Buckingham Palace; but his father presided, with

alarming precision, over their sports. In short, every possible

precaution was taken, every conceivable effort was made. Yet, strange

to say, the object of all this vigilance and solicitude continued to be

unsatisfactory--appeared, in fact, to be positively growing worse. It

was certainly very odd: the more lessons that Bertie had to do, the

less he did them; and the more carefully he was guarded against

excitements and frivolities, the more desirous of mere amusement he

seemed to become. Albert was deeply grieved and Victoria was sometimes

very angry; but grief and anger produced no more effect than

supervision and time-tables. The Prince of Wales, in spite of

everything, grew up into manhood without the faintest sign of

'adherence to and perseverance in the plan both of studies and

life'--as one of the Royal memoranda put it--which had been laid down

with such extraordinary forethought by his father.


Against the insidious worries of politics, the boredom of society

functions, and the pompous publicity of state ceremonies, Osborne had

afforded a welcome refuge; but it soon appeared that even Osborne was

too little removed from the world. After all, the Solent was a feeble

barrier. Oh, for some distant, some almost inaccessible sanctuary,

where, in true domestic privacy, one could make happy holiday, just as

if--or at least very, very, nearly--one were anybody else! Victoria,

ever since, together with Albert, she had visited Scotland in the early

years of her marriage, had felt that her heart was in the Highlands.

She had returned to them a few years later, and her passion had

grown. How romantic they were! And how Albert enjoyed them too! His

spirits rose quite wonderfully as soon as he found himself among the

hills and the conifers. 'It is a happiness to see him,' she wrote.

'Oh! What can equal the beauties of nature!' she exclaimed in her

journal, during one of these visits. 'What enjoyment there is in them!

Albert enjoys it so much; he is in ecstasies here.' 'Albert said,' she

noted next day, 'that the chief beauty of mountain scenery consists in

its frequent changes. We came home at six o'clock.' Then she went on

a longer expedition--up to the very top of a high hill. 'It was quite

romantic. Here we were with only this Highlander behind us holding the

ponies (for we got off twice and walked about) .... We came home at

half past eleven,--the most delightful, most romantic ride and walk I

ever had. I had never been up such a mountain, and then the day was so

fine. The Highlanders, too, were such astonishing people. They 'never

make difficulties,' she noted, 'but are cheerful, and happy, and merry,

and ready to walk, and run, and do anything.' As for Albert he 'highly

appreciated the good-breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make

it so pleasant and even instructive to talk to them.' 'We were always

in the habit,' wrote Her Majesty, 'of conversing with the

Highlanders--with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands.'

She loved everything about them--their customs, their dress, their

dances, even their musical instruments. 'There were nine pipers at the

castle,' she wrote, after staying with Lord Breadalbane; 'sometimes one

and sometimes three played. They always played about breakfast-time,

again during the morning, at luncheon, and also whenever we went

in and out; again before dinner, and during most of dinner-time. We

both have become quite fond of the bag-pipes.'

It was quite impossible not to wish to return to such pleasures again

and again; and in 1848 the Queen took a lease of Balmoral House, a

small residence near Braemar in the wilds of Aberdeenshire. Four years

later she bought the place outright. Now she could be really happy

every summer; now she could be simple and at her ease; now she could be

romantic every evening, and dote upon Albert, without a single

distraction, all day long. The diminutive scale of the house was in

itself a charm. Nothing was more amusing than to find oneself living

in two or three little sitting-rooms, with the children crammed away

upstairs, and the Minister in attendance with only a tiny bedroom to do

all his work in. And then to be able to run in and out of doors as one

liked, and to sketch, and to walk, and to watch the red deer coming so

surprisingly close, and to pay visits to the cottagers! And

occasionally one could be more adventurous still--one could go and stay

for a night or two at the Bothie at Alt-na-giuthasach--a mere couple of

huts with 'a wooden addition'--and only eleven people in the whole

party! And there were mountains to be climbed and cairns to be built

in solemn pomp. 'At last, when the cairn, which is, I think, seven or

eight feet high, was nearly completed, Albert climbed up to the top of

it, and placed the last stone; after which three cheers were given. It

was a gay, pretty, and touching sight; and I felt almost inclined to

cry. The view was so beautiful over the dear hills; the day so fine;

the whole so gemuethlich.' And in the evening there were

sword-dances and reels.

But Albert had determined to pull down the little old house, and to

build in its place a Castle of his own designing. With great ceremony,

in accordance with a memorandum drawn up by the Prince for the

occasion, the foundation-stone of the new edifice was laid, and by

1855 it was habitable. Spacious, built of granite in the Scotch

baronial style, with a tower 100 feet high, and minor turrets and

castellated gables, the Castle was skilfully arranged to command the

finest views of the surrounding mountains and of the neighbouring river

Dee. Upon the interior decorations Albert and Victoria lavished all

their care. The walls and the floors were of pitch-pine, and covered

with specially manufactured tartans. The Balmoral tartan, in red and

grey, designed by the Prince, and the Victoria tartan, with a white

stripe, designed by the Queen, were to be seen in every room: there

were tartan curtains, and tartan chair-covers, and even tartan

linoleums. Occasionally the Royal Stuart tartan appeared, for Her

Majesty always maintained that she was an ardent Jacobite.

Water-colour sketches by Victoria hung upon the walls, together with

innumerable stags' antlers, and the head of a boar, which had been shot

by Albert in Germany. In an alcove in the hall stood a life-sized

statue of Albert in Highland dress.

Victoria declared that it was perfection. 'Every year,' she wrote, 'my

heart becomes more fixed in this dear paradise, and so much more so

now, that all has become my dear Albert's own creation, own work,

own building, own laying-out; ... and his great taste, and the

impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere.'

And here, in very truth, her happiest days were passed. In after

years, when she looked back upon them, a kind of glory, a radiance as

of an unearthly holiness, seemed to glow about these golden hours.

Each hallowed moment stood out clear, beautiful, eternally significant.

For, at the time, every experience there, sentimental, or grave, or

trivial, had come upon her with a peculiar vividness, like a flashing

of marvellous lights. Albert's stalkings--an evening walk when she

lost her way--Vicky sitting down on a wasps' nest--a torchlight

dance--with what intensity such things, and ten thousand like them,

impressed themselves upon her eager consciousness! And how she flew to

her journal to note them down! The news of the Duke's death! What a

moment!--when, as she sat sketching after a picnic by a loch in the

lonely hills, Lord Derby's letter had been brought to her, and she had

learnt that 'England's, or rather Britain's pride, her glory, her

hero, the greatest man she had ever produced, was no more!' For such

were her reflections upon the 'old rebel' of former days. But that

past had been utterly obliterated--no faintest memory of it remained.

For years she had looked up to the Duke as a figure almost superhuman.

Had he not been a supporter of good Sir Robert? Had he not asked

Albert to succeed him as Commander-in-Chief? And what a proud moment

it had been when he stood as sponsor to her son Arthur, who was born on

his eighty-first birthday! So now she filled a whole page of her diary

with panegyrical regrets. 'His position was the highest a subject ever

had--above party,--looked up to by all,--revered by the whole

nation,--the friend of the Sovereign ... The Crown never

possessed,--and I fear never will--so devoted, loyal, and faithful

a subject, so staunch a supporter! To us his loss is irreparable ...

To Albert he showed the greatest kindness and the utmost confidence ...

Not an eye will be dry in the whole country.' These were serious

thoughts; but they were soon succeeded by others hardly less moving--by

events as impossible to forget--by Mr. MacLeod's sermon on

Nicodemus,--by the gift of a red flannel petticoat to Mrs. P.

Farquharson, and another to old Kitty Kear.

But, without doubt, most memorable, most delightful of all were the

expeditions--the rare, exciting expeditions up distant mountains,

across broad rivers, through strange country, and lasting several days.

With only two gillies--Grant and Brown--for servants, and with assumed

names ... it was more like something in a story than real life. 'We

had decided to call ourselves Lord and Lady Churchill and party--Lady

Churchill passing as Miss Spencer and General Grey as Dr. Grey!

Brown once forgot this and called me "Your Majesty" as I was getting

into the carriage, and Grant on the box once called Albert "Your Royal

Highness," which set us off laughing, but no one observed it.' Strong,

vigorous, enthusiastic, bringing, so it seemed, good fortune with

her--the Highlanders declared she had 'a lucky foot'--she relished

everything--the scrambles and the views and the contretemps and the

rough inns with their coarse fare and Brown and Grant waiting at table.

She could have gone on for ever and ever, absolutely happy with Albert

beside her and Brown at her pony's head. But the time came for

turning homewards; alas! the time came for going back to England. She

could hardly bear it; she sat disconsolate in her room and watched the

snow falling. The last day! Oh! If only she could be snowed up!


The Crimean War brought new experiences, and most of them were pleasant

ones. It was pleasant to be patriotic and pugnacious, to look out

appropriate prayers to be read in the churches, to have news of

glorious victories, and to know oneself, more proudly than ever, the

representative of England. With that spontaneity of feeling which was

so peculiarly her own, Victoria poured out her emotion, her admiration,

her pity, her love, upon her 'dear soldiers.' When she gave them their

medals her exultation knew no bounds. 'Noble fellows!' she wrote to

the King of the Belgians. 'I own I feel as if these were my own

children; my heart beats for them as for my nearest and dearest.

They were so touched, so pleased; many, I hear, cried--and they won't

hear of giving up their medals to have their names engraved upon them

for fear they should not receive the identical one put into their

hands by me, which is quite touching. Several came by in a sadly

mutilated state.' She and they were at one. They felt that she

had done them a splendid honour, and she, with perfect genuineness,

shared their feeling. Albert's attitude towards such things was

different; there was an austerity in him which quite prohibited the

expansions of emotion. When General Williams returned from the

heroic defence of Kars and was presented at Court, the quick, stiff,

distant bow with which the Prince received him struck like ice upon the

beholders. He was a stranger still.

But he had other things to occupy him, more important, surely, than the

personal impressions of military officers and people who went to Court.

He was at work--ceaselessly at work--on the tremendous task of carrying

through the war to a successful conclusion. State papers, despatches,

memoranda, poured from him in an overwhelming stream. Between 1853 and

1857 fifty folio volumes were filled with the comments of his pen upon

the Eastern question. Nothing would induce him to stop. Weary

ministers staggered under the load of his advice; but his advice

continued, piling itself up over their writing-tables, and flowing out

upon them from red box after red box. Nor was it advice to be ignored.

The talent for administration which had reorganised the royal palaces

and planned the Great Exhibition asserted itself no less in the

confused complexities of war. Again and again the Prince's

suggestions, rejected or unheeded at first, were adopted under the

stress of circumstances and found to be full of value. The enrolment

of a foreign legion, the establishment of a depot for troops at Malta,

the institution of periodical reports and tabulated returns as to the

condition of the army at Sebastopol--such were the contrivances and the

achievements of his indefatigable brain. He went further: in a lengthy

minute he laid down the lines for a radical reform in the entire

administration of the army. This was premature, but his proposal that

'a camp of evolution' should be created, in which troops should

be concentrated and drilled, proved to be the germ of Aldershot.

Meanwhile Victoria had made a new friend: she had suddenly been

captivated by Napoleon III. Her dislike of him had been strong at

first. She considered that he was a disreputable adventurer who had

usurped the throne of poor old Louis Philippe; and besides he was

hand-in-glove with Lord Palmerston. For a long time, although he was

her ally, she was unwilling to meet him; but at last a visit of the

Emperor and Empress to England was arranged. Directly he appeared at

Windsor her heart began to soften. She found that she was charmed by

his quiet manners, his low, soft voice, and by the soothing simplicity

of his conversation. The good-will of England was essential to the

Emperor's position in Europe, and he had determined to fascinate the

Queen. He succeeded. There was something deep within her which

responded immediately and vehemently to natures that offered a romantic

contrast with her own. Her adoration of Lord Melbourne was intimately

interwoven with her half-unconscious appreciation of the exciting

unlikeness between herself and that sophisticated, subtle,

aristocratical old man. Very different was the quality of her

unlikeness to Napoleon; but its quantity was at least as great. From

behind the vast solidity of her respectability, her conventionality,

her established happiness, she peered out with a strange delicious

pleasure at that unfamiliar, darkly-glittering foreign object, moving

so meteorically before her, an ambiguous creature of wilfulness and

Destiny. And, to her surprise, where she had dreaded antagonisms, she

discovered only sympathies. He was, she said, 'so quiet, so simple,

naif even, so pleased to be informed about things he does not

know, so gentle, so full of tact, dignity, and modesty, so full of kind

attention towards us, never saying a word, or doing a thing, which

could put me out ... There is something fascinating, melancholy, and

engaging, which draws you to him, in spite of any prevention you may

have against him, and certainly without the assistance of any outward

appearance, though I like his face.' She observed that he rode

'extremely well, and looks well on horseback, as he sits high.' And he

danced 'with great dignity and spirit.' Above all, he listened to

Albert; listened with the most respectful attention; showed, in fact,

how pleased he was 'to be informed about things he did not know'; and

afterwards was heard to declare that he had never met the Prince's

equal. On one occasion, indeed--but only on one--he had seemed to grow

slightly restive. In a diplomatic conversation, 'I expatiated a little

on the Holstein question,' wrote the Prince in a memorandum, 'which

appeared to bore the Emperor as "tres-compliquee"'

Victoria, too, became much attached to the Empress, whose looks and

graces she admired without a touch of jealousy. Eugenie, indeed, in

the plenitude of her beauty, exquisitely dressed in wonderful Parisian

crinolines which set off to perfection her tall and willowy figure,

might well have caused some heartburning in the breast of her hostess,

who, very short, rather stout, quite plain, in garish middle-class

garments, could hardly be expected to feel at her best in such company.

But Victoria had no misgivings. To her it mattered nothing that her

face turned red in the heat and that her purple pork-pie hat was of

last year's fashion, while Eugenie, cool and modish, floated in an

infinitude of flounces by her side. She was Queen of England,

and was not that enough? It certainly seemed to be; true majesty was

hers, and she knew it. More than once, when the two were together in

public, it was the woman to whom, as it seemed, nature and art had

given so little, who, by the sheer force of an inherent grandeur,

completely threw her adorned and beautiful companion into the shade.

There were tears when the moment came for parting, and Victoria felt

'quite wehmuethig,' as her guests went away from Windsor. But before

long she and Albert paid a return visit to France, where everything was

very delightful, and she drove incognito through the streets of Paris

in 'a common bonnet,' and saw a play in the theatre at St. Cloud, and,

one evening, at a great party given by the Emperor in her honour at the

Chateau of Versailles, talked a little to a distinguished-looking

Prussian gentleman, whose name was Bismarck. Her rooms were furnished

so much to her taste that she declared they gave her quite a home

feeling--that, if her little dog were there, she should really imagine

herself at home. Nothing was said, but three days later her little dog

barked a welcome to her as she entered the apartments. The Emperor

himself, sparing neither trouble nor expense, had personally arranged

the charming surprise. Such were his attentions. She returned to

England more enchanted than ever. 'Strange indeed,' she exclaimed,

'are the dispensations and ways of Providence!'

The alliance prospered, and the war drew towards a conclusion. Both

the Queen and the Prince, it is true, were most anxious that there

should not be a premature peace. When Lord Aberdeen wished to

open negotiations Albert attacked him in a 'geharnischten' letter,

while Victoria rode about on horseback reviewing the troops. At last,

however, Sebastopol was captured. The news reached Balmoral late at

night, and 'in a few minutes Albert and all the gentlemen in every

species of attire sallied forth, followed by all the servants, and

gradually by all the population of the village--keepers, gillies,

workmen--up to the top of the cairn.' A bonfire was lighted, the pipes

were played, and guns were shot off. 'About three-quarters of an hour

after Albert came down and said the scene had been wild and exciting

beyond everything. The people had been drinking healths in whisky and

were in great ecstasy.' The 'great ecstasy,' perhaps, would be

replaced by other feelings next morning; but at any rate the war was

over--though, to be sure, its end seemed as difficult to account for as

its beginning. The dispensations and ways of Providence continued to

be strange.


An unexpected consequence of the war was a complete change in the

relations between the royal pair and Palmerston. The Prince and the

Minister drew together over their hostility to Russia, and thus it came

about that when Victoria found it necessary to summon her old enemy to

form an administration she did so without reluctance. The premiership,

too, had a sobering effect upon Palmerston; he grew less impatient and

dictatorial; considered with attention the suggestions of the Crown,

and was, besides, genuinely impressed by the Prince's ability and

knowledge. Friction, no doubt, there still occasionally was, for,

while the Queen and the Prince devoted themselves to foreign politics

as much as ever, their views, when the war was over, became once more

antagonistic to those of the Prime Minister. This was especially the

case with regard to Italy. Albert, theoretically the friend of

constitutional government, distrusted Cavour, was horrified by

Garibaldi, and dreaded the danger of England being drawn into war with

Austria. Palmerston, on the other hand, was eager for Italian

independence; but he was no longer at the Foreign Office, and the brunt

of the royal displeasure had now to be borne by Lord John Russell. In

a few years the situation had curiously altered. It was Lord John who

now filled the subordinate and the ungrateful role; but the Foreign

Secretary, in his struggle with the Crown, was supported, instead of

opposed, by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless the struggle was fierce,

and the policy, by which the vigorous sympathy of England became one of

the decisive factors in the final achievement of Italian unity, was

only carried through in face of the violent opposition of the Court.

Towards the other European storm-centre, also, the Prince's attitude

continued to be very different from that of Palmerston. Albert's great

wish was for a united Germany under the leadership of a constitutional

and virtuous Prussia; Palmerston did not think that there was much to

be said for the scheme, but he took no particular interest in German

politics, and was ready enough to agree to a proposal which was

warmly supported by both the Prince and the Queen--that the royal

Houses of England and Prussia should be united by the marriage of the

Princess Royal with the Prussian Crown Prince. Accordingly, when the

Princess was not yet fifteen, the Prince, a young man of twenty-four,

came over on a visit to Balmoral, and the betrothal took place.

Two years later, in 1857, the marriage was celebrated. At the last

moment, however, it seemed that there might be a hitch. It was pointed

out in Prussia that it was customary for Princes of the blood-royal to

be married in Berlin, and it was suggested that there was no reason why

the present case should be treated as an exception. When this reached

the ears of Victoria, she was speechless with indignation. In a note,

emphatic even for Her Majesty, she instructed the Foreign Secretary to

tell the Prussian Ambassador 'not to entertain the possibility of

such a question.... The Queen never could consent to it, both for

public and for private reasons, and the assumption of its being too

much for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess

Royal of Great Britain in England is too absurd to say the least....

Whatever may be the usual practice of Prussian princes, it is not

every day that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of

England. The question must therefore be considered as settled and

closed.' It was, and the wedding took place in St. James's Chapel.

There were great festivities--illuminations, state concerts, immense

crowds, and general rejoicings. At Windsor a magnificent banquet was

given to the bride and bridegroom in the Waterloo room, at which,

Victoria noted in her diary, 'everybody was most friendly and kind

about Vicky and full of the universal enthusiasm, of which the

Duke of Buccleuch gave us most pleasing instances, he having been in

the very thick of the crowd and among the lowest of the low.' Her

feelings during several days had been growing more and more emotional,

and when the time came for the young couple to depart she very nearly

broke down--but not quite. 'Poor dear child!' she wrote afterwards.

'I clasped her in my arms and blessed her, and knew not what to say. I

kissed good Fritz and pressed his hand again and again. He was unable

to speak and the tears were in his eyes. I embraced them both again at

the carriage door, and Albert got into the carriage, an open one, with

them and Bertie.... The band struck up. I wished good-bye to the good

Perponchers. General Schreckenstein was much affected. I pressed his

hand, and the good Dean's, and then went quickly upstairs.'

Albert, as well as General Schreckenstein, was much affected. He was

losing his favourite child, whose opening intelligence had already

begun to display a marked resemblance to his own--an adoring pupil,

who, in a few years, might have become an almost adequate companion.

An ironic fate had determined that the daughter who was taken from him

should be sympathetic, clever, interested in the arts and sciences, and

endowed with a strong taste for memoranda, while not a single one of

these qualities could be discovered in the son who remained. For

certainly the Prince of Wales did not take after his father.

Victoria's prayer had been unanswered, and with each succeeding year it

became more obvious that Bertie was a true scion of the House of

Brunswick. But these evidences of innate characteristics served

only to redouble the efforts of his parents; it still might not be too

late to incline the young branch, by ceaseless pressure and careful

fastenings, to grow in the proper direction. Everything was tried.

The boy was sent on a continental tour with a picked body of tutors,

but the results were unsatisfactory. At his father's request he kept a

diary which, on his return, was inspected by the Prince. It was found

to be distressingly meagre: what a multitude of highly interesting

reflections might have been arranged under the heading: 'The First

Prince of Wales visiting the Pope!' But there was not a single one.

'Le jeune prince plaisait a tout le monde,' old Metternich reported to

Guizot, 'mais avait l'air embarrasse et tres triste.' On his

seventeenth birthday a memorandum was drawn up over the names of the

Queen and the Prince informing their eldest son that he was now

entering upon the period of manhood, and directing him henceforward to

perform the duties of a Christian gentleman. 'Life is composed of

duties,' said the memorandum, 'and in the due, punctual and cheerful

performance of them the true Christian, true soldier, and true

gentleman is recognised.... A new sphere of life will open for you in

which you will have to be taught what to do and what not to do, a

subject requiring study more important than any in which you have

hitherto been engaged.' On receipt of the memorandum Bertie burst into

tears. At the same time another memorandum was drawn up, headed

'Confidential: for the guidance of the gentlemen appointed to attend on

the Prince of Wales.' This long and elaborate document laid down

'certain principles' by which the 'conduct and demeanour' of the

gentlemen were to be regulated 'and which it is thought may

conduce to the benefit of the Prince of Wales.' 'The qualities which

distinguish a gentleman in society,' continued this remarkable paper,


(1) His appearance, his deportment and dress.

(2) The character of his relations with, and treatment of, others.

(3) His desire and power to acquit himself creditably in conversation

or whatever is the occupation of the society with which he mixes.'

A minute and detailed analysis of these sub-headings followed, filling

several pages, and the memorandum ended with a final exhortation to the

gentlemen: 'If they will duly appreciate the responsibility of their

position, and taking the points above laid down as the outline, will

exercise their own good sense in acting upon all occasions upon these

principles, thinking no point of detail too minute to be important, but

maintaining one steady consistent line of conduct, they may render

essential service to the young Prince and justify the flattering

selection made by the royal parents.' A year later the young Prince

was sent to Oxford, where the greatest care was taken that he should

not mix with the undergraduates. Yes, everything had been

tried--everything ... with one single exception. The experiment had

never been made of letting Bertie enjoy himself. But why should it

have been? 'Life is composed of duties.' What possible place could

there be for enjoyment in the existence of a Prince of Wales?

The same year which deprived Albert of the Princess Royal brought him

another and a still more serious loss. The Baron had paid his last

visit to England. For twenty years, as he himself said in a letter to

the King of the Belgians, he had performed 'the laborious and

exhausting office of a paternal friend and trusted adviser' to the

Prince and the Queen. He was seventy; he was tired, physically and

mentally; it was time to go. He returned to his home in Coburg,

exchanging, once for all, the momentous secrecies of European

statecraft for the tittle-tattle of a provincial capital and the gossip

of family life. In his stiff chair by the fire he nodded now over old

stories--not of emperors and generals, but of neighbours and relatives

and the domestic adventures of long ago--the burning of his father's

library--and the goat that ran upstairs to his sister's room and ran

twice round the table and then ran down again. Dyspepsia and

depression still attacked him; but, looking back over his life, he was

not dissatisfied. His conscience was clear. 'I have worked as long as

I had strength to work,' he said, 'and for a purpose no one can impugn.

The consciousness of this is my reward--the only one which I desired to


Apparently, indeed, his 'purpose' had been accomplished. By his

wisdom, his patience, and his example he had brought about, in the

fullness of time, the miraculous metamorphosis of which he had dreamed.

The Prince was his creation. An indefatigable toiler, presiding, for

the highest ends, over a great nation--that was his achievement; and he

looked upon his work and it was good. But had the Baron no misgivings?

Did he never wonder whether, perhaps, he might have accomplished not

too little but too much? How subtle and how dangerous are the snares

which fate lays for the wariest of men! Albert, certainly, seemed to

be everything that Stockmar could have wished--virtuous,

industrious, persevering, intelligent. And yet--why was it?--all was

not well with him. He was sick at heart.

For in spite of everything he had never reached to happiness. His

work, for which at last he came to crave with an almost morbid

appetite, was a solace and not a cure; the dragon of his

dissatisfaction devoured with dark relish that ever-growing tribute of

laborious days and nights; but it was hungry still. The causes of his

melancholy were hidden, mysterious, unanalysable perhaps--too deeply

rooted in the innermost recesses of his temperament for the eye of

reason to apprehend. There were contradictions in his nature, which,

to some of those who knew him best, made him seem an inexplicable

enigma: he was severe and gentle; he was modest and scornful; he longed

for affection and he was cold. He was lonely, not merely with the

loneliness of exile but with the loneliness of conscious and

unrecognised superiority. He had the pride, at once resigned and

overweening, of a doctrinaire. And yet to say that he was simply a

doctrinaire would be a false description; for the pure doctrinaire

rejoices always in an internal contentment, and Albert was very far

from doing that. There was something that he wanted and that he could

never get. What was it? Some absolute, some ineffable sympathy? Some

extraordinary, some sublime success? Possibly, it was a mixture of

both. To dominate and to be understood! To conquer, by the same

triumphant influence, the submission and the appreciation of men--that

would be worth while indeed! But, to such imaginations, he saw too

clearly how faint were the responses of his actual environment. Who

was there who appreciated him, really and truly? Who could

appreciate him in England? And, if the gentle virtue of an inward

excellence availed so little, could he expect more from the hard ways

of skill and force? The terrible land of his exile loomed before him a

frigid, an impregnable mass. Doubtless he had made some slight

impression: it was true that he had gained the respect of his fellow

workers, that his probity, his industry, his exactitude, had been

recognised, that he was a highly influential, an extremely important

man. But how far, how very far, was all this from the goal of his

ambitions! How feeble and futile his efforts seemed against the

enormous coagulation of dullness, of folly, of slackness, of ignorance,

of confusion that confronted him! He might have the strength or the

ingenuity to make some small change for the better here or there--to

rearrange some detail, to abolish some anomaly, to insist upon some

obvious reform; but the heart of the appalling organism remained

untouched. England lumbered on, impervious and self-satisfied, in her

old intolerable course. He threw himself across the path of the

monster with rigid purpose and set teeth, but he was brushed aside.

Yes! even Palmerston was still unconquered--was still there to afflict

him with his jauntiness, his muddle-headedness, his utter lack of

principle. It was too much. Neither nature nor the Baron had given

him a sanguine spirit; the seeds of pessimism, once lodged within him,

flourished in a propitious soil. He

'questioned things, and did not find

One that would answer to his mind;

And all the world appeared unkind.'

He believed that he was a failure and he began to despair.

Yet Stockmar had told him that he must 'never relax,' and he never

would. He would go on, working to the utmost and striving for the

highest, to the bitter end. His industry grew almost maniacal.

Earlier and earlier was the green lamp lighted; more vast grew the

correspondence; more searching the examination of the newspapers; the

interminable memoranda more punctilious, analytical, and precise. His

very recreations became duties. He enjoyed himself by time-table, went

deer-stalking with meticulous gusto, and made puns at lunch--it was the

right thing to do. The mechanism worked with astonishing efficiency,

but it never rested and it was never oiled. In dry exactitude the

innumerable cog-wheels perpetually revolved. No, whatever happened,

the Prince would not relax; he had absorbed the doctrines of Stockmar

too thoroughly. He knew what was right, and, at all costs, he would

pursue it. That was certain. But alas! in this our life what are the

certainties? 'In nothing be over-zealous!' says an old Greek. 'The

due measure in all the works of man is best. For often one who

zealously pushes towards some excellence, though he be pursuing a gain,

is really being led utterly astray by the will of some Power, which

makes those things that are evil seem to him good, and those things

seem to him evil that are for his advantage.' Surely, both the

Prince and the Baron might have learnt something from the frigid wisdom

of Theognis.

Victoria noticed that her husband sometimes seemed to be depressed and

overworked. She tried to cheer him up. Realising uneasily that he was

still regarded as a foreigner, she hoped that by conferring upon him

the title of Prince Consort (1857) she would improve his position

in the country. 'The Queen has a right to claim that her husband

should be an Englishman,' she wrote. But unfortunately, in spite

of the Royal Letters Patent, Albert remained as foreign as before; and

as the years passed his dejection deepened. She worked with him, she

watched over him, she walked with him through the woods at Osborne,

while he whistled to the nightingales, as he had whistled once at

Rosenau so long ago. When his birthday came round, she took the

greatest pains to choose him presents that he would really like. In

1858, when he was thirty-nine, she gave him 'a picture of Beatrice,

life-size, in oil, by Horsley, a complete collection of photographic

views of Gotha and the country round, which I had taken by Bedford, and

a paper-weight of Balmoral granite and deers' teeth, designed by

Vicky.' Albert was of course delighted, and his merriment at the

family gathering was more pronounced than ever: and yet ... what was

there that was wrong?

No doubt it was his health. He was wearing himself out in the service

of the country; and certainly his constitution, as Stockmar had

perceived from the first, was ill-adapted to meet a serious strain. He

was easily upset; he constantly suffered from minor ailments. His

appearance in itself was enough to indicate the infirmity of his

physical powers. The handsome youth of twenty years since with the

flashing eyes and the soft complexion had grown into a sallow,

tired-looking man, whose body, in its stoop and its loose fleshiness,

betrayed the sedentary labourer, and whose head was quite bald on the

top. Unkind critics, who had once compared Albert to an operatic

tenor, might have remarked that there was something of the butler

about him now. Beside Victoria, he presented a painful contrast. She,

too, was stout, but it was with the plumpness of a vigorous matron; and

an eager vitality was everywhere visible--in her energetic bearing, her

protruding, enquiring glances, her small, fat, capable, and commanding

hands. If only, by some sympathetic magic, she could have conveyed

into that portly, flabby figure, that desiccated and discouraged brain,

a measure of the stamina and the self-assurance which were so

pre-eminently hers!

But suddenly she was reminded that there were other perils besides

those of ill-health. During a visit to Coburg in 1860, the Prince was

very nearly killed in a carriage accident. He escaped with a few cuts

and bruises; but Victoria's alarm was extreme, though she concealed it.

'It is when the Queen feels most deeply,' she wrote afterwards, 'that

she always appears calmest, and she could not and dared not allow

herself to speak of what might have been, or even to admit to herself

(and she cannot and dare not now) the entire danger, for her head would

turn!' Her agitation, in fact, was only surpassed by her thankfulness

to God. She felt, she said, that she could not rest 'without doing

something to mark permanently her feelings,' and she decided that she

would endow a charity in Coburg. 'L1,000, or even L2,000, given either

at once, or in instalments yearly, would not, in the Queen's opinion,

be too much.' Eventually, the smaller sum having been fixed upon, it

was invested in a trust, called the 'Victoria-Stift,' in the names of

the Burgomaster and chief clergyman of Coburg, who were directed to

distribute the interest yearly among a certain number of young

men and women of exemplary character belonging to the humbler ranks of


Shortly afterwards the Queen underwent, for the first time in her life,

the actual experience of close personal loss. Early in 1861 the

Duchess of Kent was taken seriously ill, and in March she died. The

event overwhelmed Victoria. With a morbid intensity, she filled her

diary for pages with minute descriptions of her mother's last hours,

her dissolution, and her corpse, interspersed with vehement

apostrophes, and the agitated outpourings of emotional reflection. In

the grief of the present the disagreements of the past were totally

forgotten. It was the horror and the mystery of Death--Death present

and actual--that seized upon the imagination of the Queen. Her whole

being, so instinct with vitality, recoiled in agony from the grim

spectacle of the triumph of that awful power. Her own mother, with

whom she had lived so closely and so long that she had become a part

almost of her existence, had fallen into nothingness before her very

eyes! She tried to forget it, but she could not. Her lamentations

continued with a strange abundance, a strange persistency. It was

almost as if, by some mysterious and unconscious precognition, she

realised that for her, in an especial manner, that grisly Majesty had a

dreadful dart in store.

For indeed, before the year was out, a far more terrible blow was to

fall upon her. Albert, who had for long been suffering from

sleeplessness, went, on a cold and drenching day towards the end of

November, to inspect the buildings for the new Military Academy at

Sandhurst. On his return, it was clear that the fatigue and

exposure to which he had been subjected had seriously affected his

health. He was attacked by rheumatism, his sleeplessness continued,

and he complained that he felt thoroughly unwell. Three days later a

painful duty obliged him to visit Cambridge. The Prince of Wales, who

had been placed at that University in the previous year, was behaving

in such a manner that a parental visit and a parental admonition had

become necessary. The disappointed father, suffering in mind and body,

carried through his task; but, on his return journey to Windsor, he

caught a fatal chill. During the next week he gradually grew

weaker and more miserable. Yet, depressed and enfeebled as he was, he

continued to work. It so happened that at that very moment a grave

diplomatic crisis had arisen. Civil war had broken out in America, and

it seemed as if England, owing to a violent quarrel with the Northern

States, was upon the point of being drawn into the conflict. A severe

despatch by Lord John Russell was submitted to the Queen; and the

Prince perceived that, if it were sent off unaltered, war would be the

almost inevitable consequence. At seven o'clock on the morning of

December 1, he rose from his bed, and with a quavering hand wrote a

series of suggestions for the alteration of the draft, by which its

language might be softened, and a way left open for a peaceful solution

of the question. These changes were accepted by the Government, and

war was averted. It was the Prince's last memorandum.

He had always declared that he viewed the prospect of death with

equanimity. 'I do not cling to life,' he had once said to Victoria.

'You do; but I set no store by it.' And then he had added: 'I am

sure, if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once, I should not

struggle for life. I have no tenacity of life.' He had judged

correctly. Before he had been ill many days, he told a friend that he

was convinced he would not recover. He sank and sank.

Nevertheless, if his case had been properly understood and skilfully

treated from the first, he might conceivably have been saved; but the

doctors failed to diagnose his symptoms; and it is noteworthy that his

principal physician was Sir James Clark. When it was suggested that

other advice should be taken, Sir James pooh-poohed the idea: 'there

was no cause for alarm,' he said. But the strange illness grew worse.

At last, after a letter of fierce remonstrance from Palmerston, Dr.

Watson was sent for; and Dr. Watson saw at once that he had come too

late. The Prince was in the grip of typhoid fever. 'I think that

everything so far is satisfactory,' said Sir James Clark.

The restlessness and the acute suffering of the earlier days gave place

to a settled torpor and an ever-deepening gloom. Once the failing

patient asked for music--'a fine chorale at a distance'; and a piano

having been placed in the adjoining room, Princess Alice played on it

some of Luther's hymns, after which the Prince repeated 'The Rock of

Ages.' Sometimes his mind wandered; sometimes the distant past came

rushing upon him; he heard the birds in the early morning, and

was at Rosenau again, a boy. Or Victoria would come and read to him

'Peveril of the Peak,' and he showed that he could follow the story,

and then she would bend over him, and he would murmur 'liebes Frauchen'

and 'gutes Weibchen,' stroking her cheek. Her distress and her

agitation were great, but she was not seriously frightened. Buoyed up

by her own abundant energies, she would not believe that Albert's might

prove unequal to the strain. She refused to face such a hideous

possibility. She declined to see Dr. Watson. Why should she? Had not

Sir James Clark assured her that all would be well? Only two days

before the end, which was seen now to be almost inevitable by everyone

about her, she wrote, full of apparent confidence, to the King of the

Belgians: 'I do not sit up with him at night,' she said, 'as I could be

of no use; and there is nothing to cause alarm.' The Princess

Alice tried to tell her the truth, but her hopefulness would not be

daunted. On the morning of December 14, Albert, just as she had

expected, seemed to be better; perhaps the crisis was over. But in the

course of the day there was a serious relapse. Then at last she

allowed herself to see that she was standing on the edge of an

appalling gulf. The whole family was summoned, and, one after another,

the children took a silent farewell of their father. 'It was a

terrible moment,' Victoria wrote in her diary, 'but, thank God! I was

able to command myself, and to be perfectly calm, and remained sitting

by his side.' He murmured something, but she could not hear what it

was; she thought he was speaking in French. Then all at once he began

to arrange his hair, 'just as he used to do when well and he was

dressing.' 'Es ist kleines Frauchen,' she whispered to him; and he

seemed to understand. For a moment, towards the evening, she went into

another room, but was immediately called back: she saw at a glance that

a ghastly change had taken place. As she knelt by the bed, he breathed

deeply, breathed gently, breathed at last no more. His features became

perfectly rigid. She shrieked--one long wild shriek that rang through

the terror-stricken Castle--and understood that she had lost him for


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