The End





The evening had been golden; but, after all, the day was to close in

cloud and tempest. Imperial needs, imperial ambitions, involved the

country in the South African War. There were checks, reverses, bloody

disasters; for a moment the nation was shaken, and the public

distresses were felt with intimate solicitude by the Queen. But her

spirit was high, and neither her courage nor her confidence wavered for

a moment. Throwing herself heart and soul into the struggle, she

laboured with redoubled vigour, interested herself in every detail of

the hostilities, and sought by every means in her power to render

service to the national cause. In April 1900, when she was in her

eighty-first year, she made the extraordinary decision to abandon her

annual visit to the South of France, and to go instead to Ireland,

which had provided a particularly large number of recruits to the

armies in the field. She stayed for three weeks in Dublin, driving

through the streets, in spite of the warnings of her advisers, without

an armed escort; and the visit was a complete success. But, in the

course of it, she began, for the first time, to show signs of the

fatigue of age.



For the long strain and the unceasing anxiety, brought by the war, made

themselves felt at last. Endowed by nature with a robust

constitution, Victoria, though in periods of depression she had

sometimes supposed herself an invalid, had in reality throughout her

life enjoyed remarkably good health. In her old age, she had suffered

from a rheumatic stiffness of the joints, which had necessitated the

use of a stick, and, eventually, a wheeled chair; but no other ailments

attacked her, until, in 1898, her eyesight began to be affected by

incipient cataract. After that, she found reading more and more

difficult, though she could still sign her name, and even, with some

difficulty, write letters. In the summer of 1900, however, more

serious symptoms appeared. Her memory, in whose strength and precision

she had so long prided herself, now sometimes deserted her; there was a

tendency towards aphasia; and, while no specific disease declared

itself, by the autumn there were unmistakable signs of a general

physical decay. Yet, even in these last months, the vein of iron held

firm. The daily work continued; nay, it actually increased; for the

Queen, with an astonishing pertinacity, insisted upon communicating

personally with an ever-growing multitude of men and women who had

suffered through the war.



By the end of the year the last remains of her ebbing strength had

almost deserted her; and through the early days of the opening century

it was clear that her dwindling forces were kept together only by an

effort of will. On January 11, she had at Osborne an hour's interview

with Lord Roberts, who had returned victorious from South Africa a few

days before. She inquired with acute anxiety into all the details of

the war; she appeared to sustain the exertion successfully; but, when

the audience was over, there was a collapse. On the following

day her medical attendants recognised that her state was hopeless; and

yet, for two days more, the indomitable spirit fought on; for two days

more she discharged the duties of a Queen of England. But after that

there was an end of working; and then, and not till then, did the last

optimism of those about her break down. The brain was failing, and

life was gently slipping away. Her family gathered round her; for a

little more she lingered, speechless and apparently insensible; and, on

January 22, 1901, she died.



When, two days previously, the news of the approaching end had been

made public, astonished grief had swept over the country. It appeared

as if some monstrous reversal of the course of nature was about to take

place. The vast majority of her subjects had never known a time when

Queen Victoria had not been reigning over them. She had become an

indissoluble part of their whole scheme of things, and that they were

about to lose her appeared a scarcely possible thought. She herself,

as she lay blind and silent, seemed to those who watched her to be

divested of all thinking--to have glided already, unawares, into

oblivion. Yet, perhaps, in the secret chambers of consciousness, she

had her thoughts, too. Perhaps her fading mind called up once more the

shadows of the past to float before it, and retraced, for the last

time, the vanished visions of that long history--passing back and back,

through the cloud of years, to older and ever older memories--to the

spring woods at Osborne, so full of primroses for Lord Beaconsfield--to

Lord Palmerston's queer clothes and high demeanour, and Albert's face



under the green lamp, and Albert's first stag at Balmoral, and Albert

in his blue and silver uniform, and the Baron coming in through a

doorway, and Lord M. dreaming at Windsor with the rooks cawing in the

elm-trees, and the Archbishop of Canterbury on his knees in the dawn,

and the old King's turkey-cock ejaculations, and Uncle Leopold's soft

voice at Claremont, and Lehzen with the globes, and her mother's

feathers sweeping down towards her, and a great old repeater-watch of

her father's in its tortoise-shell case, and a yellow rug, and some

friendly flounces of sprigged muslin, and the trees and the grass at

Kensington.





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