Mr Gladstone And Lord Beaconsfield


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.'

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