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Victoria The Great

Pictures And Descriptions Of The Queen And Her Love Of Pets-

In the Hall of the St. George's Society of Philadelphia there is a very
interesting picture by the late Mr. Sully of Queen Victoria in her
coronation robes. It is life-size, and represents her as mounting the
steps of the throne, her head slightly turned, and looking back over the
left shoulder. It seems to me that Her Majesty should own this picture,
for it is an exquisite specimen of Mr. Sully's peculiar coloring, and a
very lovely portrait. Here is no rigidity, no constraint, no irksome
state. There is a springy, exultant vitality in the bearing of the
graceful figure, and the light poise of the head, while in the complexion
there is a tender softness and a freshness of tints belonging only to the
dewy morning of life. The princeliness of youth, the glow of joy and hope
overtop and outshine the crown which she wears as lightly as though it
were a May-queen's Coronal of roses; and the dignity of simple girlish
purity envelops her more royally than velvet and ermine. The eyes have
the softness of morning skies and spring violets, and the smile hovering
about the red lips, a little parted, is that of an unworn heart and an
eager, confident spirit. This was the first portrait of the young Queen I
ever saw, and still seems to me the loveliest.

Another American artist, Mr. Leslie, painted a large picture of the
coronation, which Her Majesty purchased. As he was to paint the scene, he
was provided with a very good seat near the throne--so near that he said
he could plainly see, when she came to sign her coronation oath, that she
wrote a large, bold hand, doing credit to her old writing master, Mr.

In his recollections he says: "I don't know why, but the first sight of
her in her robes of state brought tears into my eyes, and it had this
effect upon many people; she looked almost like a child." Campbell, the
poet, is related to have said to a friend: "I was at Her Majesty's
coronation in Westminster Abbey, and she conducted herself so well during
the long and fatiguing ceremony that I shed tears many times."

Carlyle said at the time, with a shake of his craggy, shaggy head: "Poor
little Queen! she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to
choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is laid upon her from which an
archangel might shrink.":

And yet, according to Earl Russell, this "poor little Queen," over whom
the painters and poets wept, and the great critic "roared gently" his
lofty commiseration, informed her anxious mother that she "ascended the
throne without alarm." Victoria, if reminded of this in later years,
might have said, "They who know nothing, fear nothing"; and yet the very
vagueness, as well as vastness, of the untried life would have appalled
many spirits.

The Queen was certainly a very valiant little woman, but there would have
been something unnatural, almost uncanny, about her had the regal calm
and religious seriousness which marked her mien during those imposing
rites, continued indefinitely, and it is right pleasant to read in the
reminiscences of Leslie, how the child in her broke out when all the
magnificent but tiresome parade, all the grand stage-business with those
heavy actors, was over. The painter says: "She is very fond of dogs, and
has one favorite little spaniel, who is always on the lookout for her
return when she is from home. She had, of course, been separated from him
on that day longer than usual, and when the state-coach drove up to the
Palace steps she heard him barking joyously in the hall, and exclaimed,
'There's Dash,' and was in a hurry to doff her crown and royal robe, and
lay down the sceptre and the orb, which she carried in her hands, and go
and give Dash his bath."

I hope this story is literally true, for I have a strong impression that
it was this peculiar love of pets, this sense of companionship with
intelligent, affectionate animals, especially dogs and horses, that with
an ever-fresh delight in riding and dancing, healthful sports and merry
games, was the salvation of the young Queen. Without such vents, the
mighty responsibility of her dizzy position, the grandeur, the dignity,
the decorum, the awful etiquette would have killed her--or at least,
puffed her up with pride, or petrified her with formality. Sir John
Campbell wrote of her at this time: "She is as merry and playful as a
kitten."--I hope she loved kittens! Again he says: "The Queen was in
great spirits, and danced with more than usual gaiety, a romping,
country-dance, called the Tempest."

In addition to this girlish gaiety, Victoria seems always to have had a
vein of un-Guelph-like humor, a keen sense of the ludicrous, a delicious
enjoyment of fun, which are among Heaven's choicest blessings to poor
mortals, royal or republican. Prince Albert's sympathy with her love of
innocent amusement, and her delight in the absurdities and drolleries of
animal as well as of human life and character, was one and perhaps not
the weakest of the ties which bound her to him.

With the young Queen equestrian exercise was more than a pastime, it was
almost a passion. She rode remarkably well, and in her gratitude for this
beautiful accomplishment,--rarer even in England than people think--she
wished as soon as she came to the throne, to give her riding-master,
Fozard, a suitable position near her person, something higher than that
of a groom. She was told that there was no situation vacant that he could
fill. "Then I will create one," she said, and dubbed him "Her Majesty's
Stirrup holder." I would have done more for him--made him Master of the
Horse, in place of Lord Albemarle, who always rolled along in the royal
carriage, or created for him the office of Lord High Equerry of the

N. P. Willis, in his delightful "Pencilings By the Way," gives a bright
glimpse of the Queen on horseback. It was in Hyde Park, and he saye the
party from the Palace came on so fast that the scarlet-coated outriders
had difficulty in clearing the track of the other equestrians. Her
Majesty has always liked to go fast by horse or steam-power, as though
determined not to let Time get ahead of her, for all his wings.

The poet then adds: "Her Majesty rides quite fearlessly and securely. I
met her party full gallop near the centre of Rotten Row. On came the
Queen, on a dun-colored, highly-groomed horse, with her Prime Minister on
one side of her, and Lord Byron on the other; her cortège of Maids
of Honor, and Lords and Ladies of the Court checking their spirited
horses, and preserving always a slight distance between themselves and
Her Majesty. ... Victoria's round, plump figure looks exceedingly well in
her dark green riding-dress. ... She rode with her mouth open, and seemed
exhilarated with pleasure."

This was in 1839. Some years later, a young American writer, who shall be
nameless, but who was as passionate a lover of horses as the Queen
herself, wrote a sort of pæan to horseback-riding. She began by telling
her friends, all whom it might concern, that when she was observed to be
low in her mind--when she seemed "weary of life," and to "shrink from its
strife"--when, in short, things didn't go well with her generally, they
were not to come to her with the soft tones or the tears of sympathy;
then she went on thus, rather pluckily, I think:

"No counsel I ask, and no pity I need,
But bring me, O bring me, my gallant young steed,
With his high-arched neck and his nostril spread wide;
His eye full of fire, and his step full of pride.
As I spring to his back, as I seize the strong rein,
The strength to my spirit returneth again,
The bonds are all broken that fettered my mind,
And my cares borne away on the wings of the wind,--
My pride lifts its head, for a season, bowed down,
And the queen in my nature now puts on her crown."

Now if the simple American girl prepared for a lonely gallop through the
woods, could so have thrilled with the fulness, joy, and strength of
young life; could have felt so royal, mounted on a half-broken, roughly-
groomed western colt (for that's what the "steed" really was), with few
fine points and no pedigree to speak of--what must the glorious exercise
have been to that great little Queen, re-enthroned on thoroughbred,
"highly-groomed," magnificent English horse-flesh?

Her Majesty has always been constant in her equine loves. Six of her
saddle-horses, splendidly caparisoned, walked proudly, as so many
Archbishops, in the coronation procession; and in the royal stables of
London and Windsor, her old favorites have been most tenderly cared for.
When she could no longer use them, she still petted them, and never
reproached them for having "outlived their usefulness."

Another writer from America, James Gordon Bennett, sent home, this
coronation year, some very pleasant descriptions of the Queen. At the
opera he had his first sight of her. "About ten o'clock, when the opera
was half through, the royal party entered. 'There! there! there!'
exclaimed a young girl behind me--'there's the Queen!' looking eagerly up
to the royal box. I looked too, and saw a fair, light-haired little girl,
dressed with great simplicity, in white muslin, with hair plain, a blue
ribbon at the back, enter the box and take her seat, half hid in the red
drapery at the corner remote from the stage. The Queen is certainly very
simple in her appearance; but I am not sure that this very simplicity
does not set off to advantage her fair, pretty, pleasant, little round
Dutch face. Her bust is extremely well-proportioned, and her complexion
very fair. There is a slight parting of the rosy lips, between which you
can see little nicks of something like very white teeth. The expression
of her face is amiable and good-tempered. I could see nothing like that
awful majesty, that mysterious something which doth hedge a Queen. ...
During the performance, the Queen would now and then draw aside the
curtain and gaze back at the audience, with that earnestness and
curiosity which any young girl might show."

Mr. Bennett gave other descriptions of the Queen as he saw her driving in
the Park. He wrote: "I had been taking a walk over the interior of the
Park, gazing listlessly at the crowd of carriages as they rolled by. Just
as I was entering the arched gateway to depart, a sensation spread
through the crowd which filled that part of the promenade. 'The Queen!
the Queen!' flew from lip to lip. In an instant two outriders shot
through the gate; near Apsley House, followed by a barouche and four,
carrying the Queen and three of her suite. She sat on the right hand of
the back seat, leaning a good deal back. She was, as usual, dressed very
simply, in white, with a plain straw, or Leghorn bonnet, and her veil was
thrown aside. She carried a green parasol."

Ah, why green, O Queen? Later that afternoon he saw her again, going at
a slower rate, holding up that green parasol, bowing right and left and
smiling, as the crowd saluted and cheered. The Queen does not bow and
smile so much nowadays, but then she no longer carries a green parasol.

N. P. Willis also saw the young sovereign at the opera, and dashes off a
poet's vivid sketch of her:

"In her box to the left of me sat the Queen, keeping time with her fan to
the singing of Pauline Garcia, her favorite Minister, Lord Melbourne,
standing behind her chair, and her maids of honor grouped around her--
herself the youthful, smiling, admired sovereign of the most powerful
nation on earth. The Queen's face has thinned and grown more oval since I
saw her four years ago as the Princess Victoria. She has been compelled
to think since then, and such exigencies in all stations in life work out
the expression of the face. She has now what I should pronounce a
decidedly intellectual countenance, a little petulant withal when she
turns to speak, but on the whole quite beautiful enough for a virgin
Queen. She was dressed less gaily than many others around her."

I have given much space to these personal descriptions of Queen Victoria
as she appeared in those first two years of her Queenhood, because they
are still to the world--the world of young people, at least--the most
interesting years of all her glorious reign. There was great poetry about
that time, and, it must be confessed, some peril.

Mrs. Oliphant, in her excellent little life of the Queen, says: "The
immediate circle of friends around the young sovereign fed her with no

It is difficult to believe such a statement of any mortal Court-circle.
But if gross adulation was not offered--a sort of moral pabulum, which
the Queen's admirable good sense would have rejected, there was profound
homage in the very attitude of courtiers and in the etiquette of Court
life. The incense of praise and admiration, "unuttered or exprest," was
perpetually and inevitably rising up about her young footsteps wherever
they strayed; it formed the very air she breathed--about as healthful an
atmosphere to live and sleep in as would be that of a conservatory
abounding in tuberoses, white lilies, and jessamine.

Still, that she did not grow either arrogant or artificial, seems proved
by the pleasant accounts given of her simple and gracious ways by the
painters of whom I have spoken--Thomas Sully and Charles Leslie. I
remember particularly, hearing from a friend of Mr. Sully, of the
generous interest she took in his portrait of her, which, I think, was
painted at Windsor. She gave him all the sittings, or rather standings,
her busy life would allow; giving him free use of all the splendid
paraphernalia necessary for his work. Between whiles the painter's young
daughter stood for the picture, being, of course, obliged to don the
royal robes and even the tiara. One day, while thus engaged and arrayed,
the Queen came suddenly into the room. Miss Sully much confused was about
to descend from the steps of the throne, when the Queen exclaimed,
laughing: "Pray stay as you are; I like to see how I look!"

Leslie, whose picture of the Coronation was painted at Windsor, gave a
pleasant account of the Queen's kindly and easy ways. "She is now," he
says, "so far satisfied with the likeness that she does not wish me to
touch it again. She sat five times--not only for the face, but for as
much as is seen of the figure, and for the hands, with the coronation-
ring on the finger. Her hands, by the by, are very pretty--the backs
dimpled and the fingers delicately shaped. She was particular to have her
hair dressed exactly as she wore it at the ceremony every time she sat."

The Queen in her writings says very little of this portion of her
"strange, eventful history,"--a time so filled with incident, so gilded
with romance, so bathed in poetry, so altogether splendid in the eyes of
all the world; for to her, life--or all which was most "happy and
glorious" in life--began and ended with Prince Albert. She even speaks
with regret of that period of single queenliness, and says: "A worse
school for a young girl--one more detrimental to all natural feelings and
affections--cannot well be imagined than the position of a Queen at
eighteen without experience and without a husband to guide and support
her. This the Queen can state from painful experience, and she thanks God
that none of her own dear daughters are exposed to such danger."

Human nature is rash and young-woman-nature ambitious and ill-disposed to
profit by the costly experience of eld, and I doubt not the clever
Princess Royal or the proud and fair Princess Louise would have mounted
any throne in Christendom "without alarm." Most of Her Majesty's loyal
subjects deny that any harm came to her from her unsupported position as
Queen Regnant, or that she was capable of being thus harmed--but the
Queen knows best.

The Princess Victoria was a proud, high-spirited girl, and it were no
treason to suppose that at the first she had a sense of relief when the
leading-strings, in which she had been so long held, were cut, though by
the scissors of Atropos, and she was free to stand and go alone. Her good
mother, becoming at once an object of political jealousy, removed herself
from the old close companionship, though retaining in her heart the old
tender solicitude--perhaps feeling herself more than ever necessary to
her daughter. Mothers are so conceited. It is small wonder if after her
life of studious and modest seclusion and filial subordination, the
gaiety, the splendor, and the supremacy of the new existence intoxicated
the young sovereign somewhat. The pleasures of her capital and the homage
of the world captivated her imagination, while the consciousness of power
and wealth and personal loveliness inclined her to be self-indulgent and
self-willed. In spite of the good counsel of the family Mentor, Baron
Stockmar, and of her sagacious uncle, Leopold, she must have committed
some errors of judgment--fallen into some follies; she was so young and
impulsive--so very human. Her first independent political act seems to
have been a mistake, founded on a misunderstanding. It was at all events
an act more Georgian than Victorian. The Whig party, to which she was
attached, had by a series of blunders and by weak vacillation lost
strength and popularity, and Lord Melbourne's Ministry found itself so
hard-pressed that it struck colors and resigned. Then the Queen was
advised by the Duke of Wellington to invite the Conservative leader, Sir
Robert Peel, to form a new Ministry. She did so, but frankly told that
gentleman that she was very sorry to lose Lord Melbourne and his
colleagues, whom she liked and approved--which must have been pleasant
talk to Sir Robert. However, he went to work, but soon found that
objections were made by his colleagues to certain Whig ladies in personal
attendance on the Queen, and likely to influence her. So it was proposed
to Her Majesty to make an important change in her household. I believe
that the Duchess of Sutherland and Lady Normandy--the first the sister
and the second the wife of a prominent Liberal--were especially meant;
but the Queen took it that she was called on to dismiss all her ladies,
and flatly refused, saying that to do so would be "repugnant to her
feelings"--forgetting that feeling was no constitutional argument. She
had got used to those Ladies of the Bed-Chamber, and they to her. They
knew just where everything was, what colors became her, and what gossip
and games amused her. Doubtless she loved them, and doubtless also she
loved her own way. Surely the right of her constitutional advisers to
dictate to her must have a limit somewhere, and she drew the line at her
bed-chamber door. Then, as Sir Robert would not yield the point, she
recalled Melbourne and went on as before. The affair created immense
excitement. Non-political people were amused at the little Queen's spirit
of independence. Liberals applauded her patriotism and pluck in defeating
the "wicked Bed-Chamber Plot," and for her loyalty to her friends; but
the defeated Tories were very naturally incensed, and, manlike, paid Her
Majesty back, when measures which she had much at heart came before
Parliament a year or so later--as we shall see.

Many years later the Queen appears to have thought that she was beginning
to drift on to rocks of serious political mistakes and misfortunes as
well as into rapids of frivolity, when the good, wise Pilot came to take
the helm of her life-craft.

This pilot was, of course, the "Prince Charming," selected and reared for
her away in Saxe-Coburg--that handsome Cousin Albert, once in a letter to
the good uncle Leopold tacitly accepted by her in girlish
thoughtlessness, as she would have accepted a partner in a joyous
country-dance, and afterwards nearly as thoughtlessly thrown over and
himself sent adrift.

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