Queen Victoria

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Author: Lytton Strachey

III

In 1827 the Duke of York, who had found some consolation for the loss of his wife in the sympathy of the Duchess of Rutland, died, leaving behind him the unfinished immensity of Stafford House and L200,000 worth of debts. Three years later George IV also disappeared, and the Duke of Clarence reigned in his stead. The new Queen, it was now clear, would in all probability never again be a mother; the Princess Victoria, therefore, was recognised by Parliament as heir-presumptive; and the Duchess of Kent, whose annuity had been doubled five years previously, was now given an additional L10,000 for the maintenance of the Princess, and was appointed regent, in case of the death of the King before the majority of her daughter. At the same time a great convulsion took place in the constitution of the State. The power of the Tories, who had dominated England for more than forty years, suddenly began to crumble. In the tremendous struggle that followed, it seemed for a moment as if the tradition of generations might be snapped, as if the blind tenacity of the reactionaries and the determined fury of their enemies could have no other issue than revolution. But the forces of compromise triumphed: the Reform Bill was passed. The centre of gravity in the constitution was shifted towards the middle classes; the Whigs came into power; and the complexion of the Government assumed a Liberal tinge. One of the results of this new state of affairs was a change in the position of the Duchess of Kent and her daughter. From being the protegees of an opposition clique, they became assets of the official majority of the nation. The Princess Victoria was henceforward the living symbol of the victory of the middle classes.

The Duke of Cumberland, on the other hand, suffered a corresponding eclipse: his claws had been pared by the Reform Act. He grew insignificant and almost harmless, though his ugliness remained; he was the wicked uncle still—but only of a story.

The Duchess’s own liberalism was not very profound. She followed naturally in the footsteps of her husband, repeating with conviction the catchwords of her husband’s clever friends and the generalisations of her clever brother Leopold. She herself had no pretensions to cleverness; she did not understand very much about the Poor Law and the Slave Trade and Political Economy; but she hoped that she did her duty; and she hoped—she ardently hoped—that the same might be said of Victoria. Her educational conceptions were those of Dr. Arnold, whose views were just then beginning to permeate society. Dr. Arnold’s object was, first and foremost, to make his pupils "in the highest and truest sense of the words, Christian gentlemen," intellectual refinements might follow. The Duchess felt convinced that it was her supreme duty in life to make quite sure that her daughter should grow up into a Christian queen. To this task she bent all her energies; and, as the child developed, she flattered herself that her efforts were not unsuccessful. When the Princess was eleven, she desired the Bishops of London and Lincoln to submit her daughter to an examination, and report upon the progress that had been made. "I feel the time to be now come," the Duchess explained, in a letter obviously drawn up by her own hand, "that what has been done should be put to some test, that if anything has been done in error of judgment it may be corrected, and that the plan for the future should be open to consideration and revision... I attend almost always myself every lesson, or a part; and as the lady about the Princess is a competent person, she assists Her in preparing Her lessons, for the various masters, as I resolved to act in that manner so as to be Her Governess myself. When she was at a proper age she commenced attending Divine Service regularly with me, and I have every feeling that she has religion at Her heart, that she is morally impressed with it to that degree, that she is less liable to error by its application to her feelings as a Child capable of reflection." "The general bent of Her character," added the Duchess, "is strength of intellect, capable of receiving with ease, information, and with a peculiar readiness in coming to a very just and benignant decision on any point Her opinion is asked on. Her adherence to truth is of so marked a character that I feel no apprehension of that Bulwark being broken down by any circumstances." The Bishops attended at the Palace, and the result of their examination was all that could be wished. "In answering a great variety of questions proposed to her," they reported, "the Princess displayed an accurate knowledge of the most important features of Scripture History, and of the leading truths and precepts of the Christian Religion as taught by the Church of England, as well as an acquaintance with the Chronology and principal facts of English History remarkable in so young a person. To questions in Geography, the use of the Globes, Arithmetic, and Latin Grammar, the answers which the Princess returned were equally satisfactory." They did not believe that the Duchess’s plan of education was susceptible of any improvement; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was also consulted, came to the same gratifying conclusion.

One important step, however, remained to be taken. So far, as the Duchess explained to the Bishops, the Princess had been kept in ignorance of the station that she was likely to fill. "She is aware of its duties, and that a Sovereign should live for others; so that when Her innocent mind receives the impression of Her future fate, she receives it with a mind formed to be sensible of what is to be expected from Her, and it is to be hoped, she will be too well grounded in Her principles to be dazzled with the station she is to look to." In the following year it was decided that she should be enlightened on this point. The well—known scene followed: the history lesson, the genealogical table of the Kings of England slipped beforehand by the governess into the book, the Princess’s surprise, her inquiries, her final realisation of the facts. When the child at last understood, she was silent for a moment, and then she spoke: "I will be good," she said. The words were something more than a conventional protestation, something more than the expression of a superimposed desire; they were, in their limitation and their intensity, their egotism and their humility, an instinctive summary of the dominating qualities of a life. "I cried much on learning it," her Majesty noted long afterwards. No doubt, while the others were present, even her dear Lehzen, the little girl kept up her self-command; and then crept away somewhere to ease her heart of an inward, unfamiliar agitation, with a handkerchief, out of her mother’s sight.

But her mother’s sight was by no means an easy thing to escape. Morning and evening, day and night, there was no relaxation of the maternal vigilance. The child grew into the girl, the girl into the young woman; but still she slept in her mother’s bedroom; still she had no place allowed her where she might sit or work by herself. An extraordinary watchfulness surrounded her every step: up to the day of her accession, she never went downstairs without someone beside her holding her hand. Plainness and regularity ruled the household. The hours, the days, the years passed slowly and methodically by. The dolls—the innumerable dolls, each one so neatly dressed, each one with its name so punctiliously entered in the catalogue—were laid aside, and a little music and a little dancing took their place. Taglioni came, to give grace and dignity to the figure, and Lablache, to train the piping treble upon his own rich bass. The Dean of Chester, the official preceptor, continued his endless instruction in Scripture history, while the Duchess of Northumberland, the official governess, presided over every lesson with becoming solemnity. Without doubt, the Princess’s main achievement during her school-days was linguistic. German was naturally the first language with which she was familiar; but English and French quickly followed; and she became virtually trilingual, though her mastery of English grammar remained incomplete. At the same time, she acquired a working knowledge of Italian and some smattering of Latin. Nevertheless, she did not read very much. It was not an occupation that she cared for; partly, perhaps, because the books that were given her were all either sermons, which were very dull, or poetry, which was incomprehensible. Novels were strictly forbidden. Lord Durham persuaded her mother to get her some of Miss Martineau’s tales, illustrating the truths of Political Economy, and they delighted her; but it is to be feared that it was the unaccustomed pleasure of the story that filled her mind, and that she never really mastered the theory of exchanges or the nature of rent.

It was her misfortune that the mental atmosphere which surrounded her during these years of adolescence was almost entirely feminine. No father, no brother, was there to break in upon the gentle monotony of the daily round with impetuosity, with rudeness, with careless laughter and wafts of freedom from the outside world. The Princess was never called by a voice that was loud and growling; never felt, as a matter of course, a hard rough cheek on her own soft one; never climbed a wall with a boy. The visits to Claremont—delicious little escapes into male society—came to an end when she was eleven years old and Prince Leopold left England to be King of the Belgians. She loved him still; he was still "il mio secondo padre or, rather, solo padre, for he is indeed like my real father, as I have none;" but his fatherliness now came to her dimly and indirectly, through the cold channel of correspondence. Henceforward female duty, female elegance, female enthusiasm, hemmed her completely in; and her spirit, amid the enclosing folds, was hardly reached by those two great influences, without which no growing life can truly prosper—humour and imagination. The Baroness Lehzen—for she had been raised to that rank in the Hanoverian nobility by George IV before he died—was the real centre of the Princess’s world. When Feodora married, when Uncle Leopold went to Belgium, the Baroness was left without a competitor. The Princess gave her mother her dutiful regards; but Lehzen had her heart. The voluble, shrewd daughter of the pastor in Hanover, lavishing her devotion on her royal charge, had reaped her reward in an unbounded confidence and a passionate adoration. The girl would have gone through fire for her "PRECIOUS Lehzen," the "best and truest friend," she declared, that she had had since her birth. Her journal, begun when she was thirteen, where she registered day by day the small succession of her doings and her sentiments, bears on every page of it the traces of the Baroness and her circumambient influence. The young creature that one sees there, self-depicted in ingenuous clarity, with her sincerity, her simplicity, her quick affections and pious resolutions, might almost have been the daughter of a German pastor herself. Her enjoyments, her admirations, her engouements were of the kind that clothed themselves naturally in underlinings and exclamation marks. "It was a DELIGHTFUL ride. We cantered a good deal. SWEET LITTLE ROSY WENT BEAUTIFULLY!! We came home at a 1/4 past 1... At 20 minutes to 7 we went out to the Opera... Rubini came on and sang a song out of ’Anna Boulena’ QUITE BEAUTIFULLY. We came home at 1/2 past 11." In her comments on her readings, the mind of the Baroness is clearly revealed. One day, by some mistake, she was allowed to take up a volume of memoirs by Fanny Kemble. "It is certainly very pertly and oddly written. One would imagine by the style that the authoress must be very pert, and not well bred; for there are so many vulgar expressions in it. It is a great pity that a person endowed with so much talent, as Mrs. Butler really is, should turn it to so little account and publish a book which is so full of trash and nonsense which can only do her harm. I stayed up till 20 minutes past 9." Madame de Sevigne’s letters, which the Baroness read aloud, met with more approval. "How truly elegant and natural her style is! It is so full of naivete, cleverness, and grace." But her highest admiration was reserved for the Bishop of Chester’s ’Exposition of the Gospel of St. Matthew.’ "It is a very fine book indeed. Just the sort of one I like; which is just plain and comprehensible and full of truth and good feeling. It is not one of those learned books in which you have to cavil at almost every paragraph. Lehzen gave it me on the Sunday that I took the Sacrament." A few weeks previously she had been confirmed, and she described the event as follows: "I felt that my confirmation was one of the most solemn and important events and acts in my life; and that I trusted that it might have a salutary effect on my mind. I felt deeply repentant for all what I had done which was wrong and trusted in God Almighty to strengthen my heart and mind; and to forsake all that is bad and follow all that is virtuous and right. I went with the firm determination to become a true Christian, to try and comfort my dear Mamma in all her griefs, trials, and anxieties, and to become a dutiful and affectionate daughter to her. Also to be obedient to DEAR Lehzen, who has done so much for me. I was dressed in a white lace dress, with a white crepe bonnet with a wreath of white roses round it. I went in the chariot with my dear Mamma and the others followed in another carriage." One seems to hold in one’s hand a small smooth crystal pebble, without a flaw and without a scintillation, and so transparent that one can see through it at a glance.

Yet perhaps, after all, to the discerning eye, the purity would not be absolute. The careful searcher might detect, in the virgin soil, the first faint traces of an unexpected vein. In that conventual existence visits were exciting events; and, as the Duchess had many relatives, they were not infrequent; aunts and uncles would often appear from Germany, and cousins too. When the Princess was fourteen she was delighted by the arrival of a couple of boys from Wurtemberg, the Princes Alexander and Ernst, sons of her mother’s sister and the reigning duke. "They are both EXTREMELY TALL," she noted, "Alexander is VERY HANDSOME, and Ernst has a VERY KIND EXPRESSION. They are both extremely AMIABLE." And their departure filled her with corresponding regrets. "We saw them get into the barge, and watched them sailing away for some time on the beach. They were so amiable and so pleasant to have in the house; they were ALWAYS SATISFIED, ALWAYS GOOD-HUMOURED; Alexander took such care of me in getting out of the boat, and rode next to me; so did Ernst." Two years later, two other cousins arrived, the Princes Ferdinand and Augustus. "Dear Ferdinand," the Princess wrote, "has elicited universal admiration from all parties... He is so very unaffected, and has such a very distinguished appearance and carriage. They are both very dear and charming young men. Augustus is very amiable, too, and, when known, shows much good sense." On another occasion, Dear Ferdinand came and sat near me and talked so dearly and sensibly. I do SO love him. Dear Augustus sat near me and talked with me, and he is also a dear good young man, and is very handsome." She could not quite decide which was the handsomer of the two. "On the whole," she concluded, "I think Ferdinand handsomer than Augustus, his eyes are so beautiful, and he has such a lively clever expression; BOTH have such a sweet expression; Ferdinand has something QUITE BEAUTIFUL in his expression when he speaks and smiles, and he is SO good." However, it was perhaps best to say that they were "both very handsome and VERY DEAR." But shortly afterwards two more cousins arrived, who threw all the rest into the shade. These were the Princes Ernest and Albert, sons of her mother’s eldest brother, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. This time the Princess was more particular in her observations. "Ernest," she remarked," is as tall as Ferdinand and Augustus; he has dark hair, and fine dark eyes and eyebrows, but the nose and mouth are not good; he has a most kind, honest, and intelligent expression in his countenance, and has a very good figure. Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful; c’est a la fois full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent." "Both my cousins," she added, "are so kind and good; they are much more formes and men of the world than Augustus; they speak English very well, and I speak it with them. Ernest will be 18 years old on the 21st of June, and Albert 17 on the 26th of August. Dear Uncle Ernest made me the present of a most delightful Lory, which is so tame that it remains on your hand and you may put your finger into its beak, or do anything with it, without its ever attempting to bite. It is larger than Mamma’s grey parrot." A little later, "I sat between my dear cousins on the sofa and we looked at drawings. They both draw very well, particularly Albert, and are both exceedingly fond of music; they play very nicely on the piano. The more I see them the more I am delighted with them, and the more I love them... It is delightful to be with them; they are so fond of being occupied too; they are quite an example for any young person." When, after a stay of three weeks, the time came for the young men and their father to return to Germany, the moment of parting was a melancholy one. "It was our last HAPPY HAPPY breakfast, with this dear Uncle and those DEAREST beloved cousins, whom I DO love so VERY VERY dearly; MUCH MORE DEARLY than any other cousins in the WORLD. Dearly as I love Ferdinand, and also good Augustus, I love Ernest and Albert MORE than them, oh yes, MUCH MORE... They have both learnt a good deal, and are very clever, naturally clever, particularly Albert, who is the most reflecting of the two, and they like very much talking about serious and instructive things and yet are so VERY VERY merry and gay and happy, like young people ought to be; Albert always used to have some fun and some clever witty answer at breakfast and everywhere; he used to play and fondle Dash so funnily too... Dearest Albert was playing on the piano when I came down. At 11 dear Uncle, my DEAREST BELOVED cousins, and Charles, left us, accompanied by Count Kolowrat. I embraced both my dearest cousins most warmly, as also my dear Uncle. I cried bitterly, very bitterly." The Princes shared her ecstasies and her italics between them; but it is clear enough where her secret preference lay. "Particularly Albert!" She was just seventeen; and deep was the impression left upon that budding organism by the young man’s charm and goodness and accomplishments, and his large blue eyes and beautiful nose, and his sweet mouth and fine teeth.

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Chicago: Lytton Strachey, "III," Queen Victoria, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in Queen Victoria (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed January 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PWWT4XSRNDKSA5I.

MLA: Strachey, Lytton. "III." Queen Victoria, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in Queen Victoria, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 20 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PWWT4XSRNDKSA5I.

Harvard: Strachey, L, 'III' in Queen Victoria, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Queen Victoria, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PWWT4XSRNDKSA5I.