Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUEEN VICTORIA AS A MORAL FORCE - Historical and Political Essays
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QUEEN VICTORIA AS A MORAL FORCE - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Historical and Political Essays 
Historical and Political Essays (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908).
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QUEEN VICTORIA AS A MORAL FORCE
At a time when the unprecedented increase of gigantic and rapidly acquired fortunes has deeply infected both English and American society with the characteristic vices of a Plutocracy, the profound feeling of sorrow and admiration elicited by the death of Queen Victoria is an encouraging sign. It shows that the vulgar ideals, the false moral measurements, the feverish social ambitions, the love of the ostentatious and the factitious, and the disdain for simple habits, pleasures, and characters so apparent in certain conspicuous sections of society, have not yet blunted the moral sense or perverted the moral perceptions of the great masses on either side of the Atlantic. To this type, indeed, we could scarcely find a more complete antithesis than in the life and character of the great Queen who has passed away. Nothing more deeply impressed all who came in contact with her than the essential simplicity and genuineness of her nature.
She was a great ruler, but she was also to the last a true, kindly, simple-minded woman, retaining with undiminished intensity all the warmth of a most affectionate nature, all the soundness of a most excellent judgment. Brought up from childhood in the artificial atmosphere of a Court, called while still a girl to the isolation of a throne; deprived, when her reign had yet forty years to run, of the support and counsel of her husband, she might well have been pardoned if she often found herself out of touch with large sections of her people, and had viewed life through a false medium or in partial aspects. Yet Lord Salisbury probably in no degree exaggerated when he said that if he wished to ascertain the feelings and opinions of the English people, and especially of the English middle classes, he knew no truer or more enlightening judgment than that of the Queen. She thought with them and she felt with them; she shared their ambitions; she knew by a kind of intuitive instinct the course of their judgments; she sympathised deeply with their trials and their sorrows.
She could hardly be called a brilliant woman. It is difficult indeed to judge the full social capacities of anyone who lives under the constant restraints of a royal position, but I do not think that in any sphere of life the Queen would have been regarded as a woman of striking wit, or originality, or even commanding power. The qualities that made her so successful in her high calling were of another kind: supreme good sense; a tact in dealing with men and circumstances so unfailing that it almost amounted to genius; an indefatigable industry which never flagged from early youth till extreme old age; a sense of duty so steady and so strong that it governed all her actions and pleasures, and saved her not only from the grosser and more common temptations of an exalted position, but also in a most unusual degree from the subtle and often half-concealed deflecting influences that spring from ambition or resentment, from personal predilections and personal dislikes. It was these qualities, combined with her unrivalled experience of affairs, and strengthened by long and constant intercourse with the foremost English statesmen of two generations, that made her what she undoubtedly was—a perfect model of a constitutional Sovereign.
The position of a Sovereign under a parliamentary government like ours is a singular and difficult one. There was a school of politicians who were much more prominent in the last generation than in the present one, who regarded the Sovereign, in political life at least, as little more than a figure-head or a cipher, absolved from all responsibility, but also divested of all power, and fulfilling functions in the Constitution which are little more than mechanical. This view of the unimportance of the Monarchy will now be held by few really intelligent men. Those take but a false and narrow view of human affairs who fail to realise the part which sentiment and enthusiasm play in the government of men; and no one who knows England will question that the throne is the centre of a great strength of personal attachment which is wholly different from any attachment to a party or a parliament.
In India and the Colonies this is still more the case. It is not the British Parliament or the British Cabinet that there forms the centre of unity or excites genuine attachment. The Crown is the main link binding the different States to one another, and the pervading sentiment of a common loyalty unites them in one great and living whole. In foreign politics it cannot be a matter of indifference that a Sovereign is closely related to nearly all the greatest rulers in the world, and in frequent, intimate, unconstrained correspondence with them. This is a kind of influence which no Minister, however powerful, can exercise, and it was possessed by Queen Victoria probably to a greater degree than by any Sovereign on record, for there has scarcely ever been one who included among her relations so many of the Sovereigns of the world. Future historians will no doubt have ample means of judging how frequently and how judiciously it was employed in assuaging differences and promoting European peace. All the great offices in Church and State, all the great distributions of honours were submitted to her; and though in a large number of cases this patronage is purely Ministerial or professional, there are many cases in which the Sovereign had a real voice, and a strong objection on her part was usually attended to. In Church patronage and in the distribution of honours she is known to have taken a great interest, and to have exercised a considerable influence.
The one subject on which the Queen was not always in harmony with her people was that of foreign politics She and the Prince Consort took a keen interest in them. and during his lifetime she followed very implicitly his guidance. The strong German sympathies she imbued from her own marriage were much intensified by the marriages of her children, and especially by that of her eldest daughter to the heir of the Prussian throne. The influence also of Stockmar, who was the closest adviser of her early married life, was not wholly for good, and the theory which the Prince held that the direction of foreign affairs is in a peculiar degree under the care of the Sovereign, and that the Prince, her husband, should be regarded as ‘her permanent Minister,’ created during many years much friction. In a constitutional country, where the responsibility of affairs rests wholly on the Minister, who is doubly responsible to the Cabinet and to the Parliament, such a theory can only be maintained with great qualifications.
On the other hand, the government of the country was carried on in the name of the Queen. Foreign despatches were addressed to her and could only be answered with her sanction. The right of the English Sovereigns to be present at the Cabinet Councils of their Ministers was abdicated when George I. came to the throne, but every important departure in policy was submitted to the Queen and required her assent. The testimony of Ministers of all shades of policy supports the belief that this was no idle form. The Queen, though always open to argument and tolerant of contradiction, had her own decided opinions; she exercised her undoubted right of expressing and defending them, and even apart from her royal position, her great experience and her singular clearness and rectitude of judgment made her opinion well worth listening to.
The claim put forward by the Queen in her famous memorandum of August 1850, can, I think, hardly be pronounced excessive. She demanded only that before a line of policy was adopted and brought before her she should be distinctly informed of the facts of the case and of the motives that inspired it; that when she had given her sanction to a measure it should not be arbitrarily altered or modified by the Minister; that she must be kept acquainted with all important communications between foreign Ministers and her own Foreign Secretary, and that the drafts of foreign despatches must be sent to her for her approval in sufficient time for her to make herself acquainted with them. She complained that Lord Palmerston was accustomed to send despatches to the Continent without submitting them, in their last revise, to the Sovereign; that in one case he retained without her knowledge a passage which the Prince Consort had deleted; that he paid little or no attention to the numerous memoranda which were drawn up by the Prince for his instruction; that he of his own will and without any consultation committed his Government, in a conversation with the French Ambassador, to an approbation of the coup d'état of Napoleon III. If the general line of his policy had been in accordance with the royal wishes, indiscretions of detail could probably have been overlooked, but the Queen and Prince were both undoubtedly on many occasions—and especially in 1848 and 1849—strongly opposed to the policy of Lord Palmerston. In the interests of peace they objected to the remarkably provocative character of his despatches, which excited a degree of animosity and resentment among the Governments of the Continent that has rarely been paralleled—on two, if not three, occasions it brought England into grave danger of a war with France—and which aroused a very widespread indignation among statesmen of his own party at home.
The widely different tone which was adopted by Lord Clarendon and Lord Granville, the open breach between Palmerston and Lord John Russell on account of the way in which the former conducted his foreign policy without consultation with the Cabinet, and the refusal of Lord Grey, in a most critical moment, to take office in a Government in which Lord Palmerston held the seals of the Foreign Office, show how fully in this respect the sentiments of the Queen accorded with those of many of Lord Palmerston's own colleagues. But in addition to mere questions of manner and procedure, there was much in the substance of the policy of Palmerston to which the Queen objected. Her dislike to the Revolutionary element on the Continent, which Lord Palmerston either encouraged or viewed with indifference, her sympathy with the old governments and dynasties, that were so gravely shaken in the year of the Revolution, were very marked. In the disputes between Germany and Denmark on the Schleswig-Holstein question her sympathies, unlike those of her people, were decidedly with Germany, and although she was fully sensible of the mis-government of some of the Italian States, she was not favourable to that cause of Italian unity which Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston so strenuously upheld. Her nature, which was very frank, made it impossible for her, even if she desired it, to conceal her opinions, and she devoted much time and pains to making herself acquainted with the details of every question as it arose. She made it a rule to sign no paper that she had not read. She did not hesitate fully to apprise her Ministers of her views when they differed from their own, and she enforced her views by argument and remonstrance. She more than once drew up memoranda of her dissent from the. opinions of her Foreign Minister, and insisted on their being brought before the Cabinet for consideration. In the formation of a new Ministry she more than once exercised her power of deciding to whom the succession of the first places should be offered. After an adverse vote of the House of Commons, she considered herself fully authorised to decide whether she would accept the resignation of a Minister or submit the issue to the test of a dissolution, and there were occasions on which she remonstrated with her Ministers on their too ready determination to resign.
At the same time it is certain that the Queen fulfilled with perfection that most difficult duty of an able constitutional Sovereign—the duty of yielding her convictions to those of her responsible Ministers and acting faithfully with Ministers she distrusted. To a Sovereign with clear views and a more than common force of character this must often have been very painful, and to have fulfilled it faithfully and with no loss of dignity is no small merit. It is the universal testimony of all who served her, that no Sovereign ever supported her successive Ministers with a more perfect loyalty or held the scales between contending parties with a more complete impartiality. No one understood better to what point a constitutional Sovereign may press her opinions and at what point she is bound to give way; and while maintaining her rightful authority she never in any degree transgressed its bounds. In the very beginning of her reign she showed this quality in a high degree. She looked up to Lord Melbourne with an almost filial affection, and there were peculiar reasons why his great opponent, Sir Robert Peel, should have been distasteful to her. The dispute about the removal of her Ladies of the Bedchamber, and still more the conduct of Sir Robert Peel in supporting the reduction of the income which the Whigs had proposed for Prince Albert, must have touched her feelings on the most sensitive points, and the stiff, formal, somewhat awkward manner of Peel seemed very little fitted to ingratiate him with a young Sovereign. Yet when the change of Ministry arrived, Peel found no trace of resentment in the Queen. She gave him her complete confidence, and she fully estimated his great qualities. Of all the Ministers who served her there is indeed none of whom she has written in warmer terms. When Lord Palmerston became Prime Minister in 1855 it was contrary to her earnest desire, but when the change was made Palmerston himself acknowledged that he had ‘no reason to complain of the least want of cordiality or confidence on the part of the Court.’ At the time when she was most opposed to her Ministers, she fully acquiesced in the principle that she must submit all letters on public affairs to them and frame her replies upon their advice. There were constant attempts on the part of foreign Sovereigns who were connected with her to carry on affairs by correspondence with her without the knowledge and sanction of her Ministers, but the Queen steadily resisted them. Anything, indeed, that in any way savoured of intrigue was in the highest degree repugnant to her nature.
She acted in the same way in internal affairs. Few measures that were carried in her time were more repugnant to her than Gladstone's disestablishment of the Irish Church. It abolished an institution of which she was herself the head and which a special clause in the Coronation Oath required her to uphold, and she foretold, not without good reason, that it would not pacify Ireland but would be an encouragement to further agitation. The question, however, had been submitted at a general election to the decision of the country, and after that decision had been unequivocally given in favour of the policy of Gladstone, she frankly accepted it with the assent of the Prime Minister. When a great danger of a conflict between the two Houses of Parliament had arisen, she devoted herself actively in preventing it. She employed for that service the instrumentality of Archbishop Tait— a great statesman-prelate, whose promotion to the see of Canterbury was due to her own personal initiative, contrary to the wish of Lord Beaconsfield, but most fully justified by the result—and it was largely due to the intervention of the Queen that the Church Bill was not thrown out in the House of Lords. She acted in a somewhat similar way with reference to the Franchise Bill of 1884, though on this occasion she does not seem to have disliked the measure, which she urged the House of Lords to accept.
On three very memorable occasions the intervention of the Queen had probably a great effect on English politics. It is well known that at the time when the issue of peace or war with the United States was trembling in the balance on account of the seizure of the Southern envoys on the ‘Trent,’ the Queen, acting in accordance with the Prince Consort, by softening and revising the language of an English despatch to America, did very much to prevent the dispute from leading to a great war; that in the proclamation which was issued to the Indian people after the Sepoy Mutiny, she insisted on the excision of some most unfortunate words that seemed to menace the native creeds, and on the insertion of an emphatic promise that they should in no wise be interfered with, and thus probably prevented a new outburst of most dangerous fanaticism; that at the time of the Schleswig-Holstein dispute she contributed powerfully and actively to give a turn to the negotiations that averted a war with Prussia and Austria, which, as is now almost universally recognised, could only have led to a great catastrophe.
Whatever opinions may be formed of the merits of the dispute between Denmark and the German powers about Schleswig-Holstein, few persons who judge by the event can doubt that an isolated intervention of England on behalf of Denmark against the combined forces of Austria and Prussia would have been absolutely impotent to effect the object that was desired, and that even if France had consented to join in the struggle it would have led to a military disaster hardly less than that of the war of Sedan. If, contrary to all probability, the combined forces of France and England had proved stronger than those of Austria and Germany, the result could have hardly failed to be that France would have been established on the left bank of the Ehine, and that the treaty of Vienna, which it was one of the great objects of English policy to maintain, would have been torn into shreds.
The dangers, however, of conflict arising from the extreme irritability of English public opinion against Germany on the Danish question, were very great, and there can be little doubt that the personal influence of the Queen with the German Sovereign was an appreciable influence, and it was her desire that a paragraph in the Queen's Speech opening Parliament in February 1864 was erased. Words which contained at least a veiled or attributed threat to Germany were omitted, and instead of them an inoffensive paragraph was inserted expressing the Queen's ardent desire for peace and recording the earnest efforts she had made to maintain it.1 At the same time when, by the Convention of Gastein in August 1865, the Duchies were severed from the Danish throne and placed in the virtual possession of Prussia and Austria, the protest of Lord Russell against so flagrant a violation of public right, and especially of the right of the people to be consulted on their own destiny, was drawn up with her full assent and indeed in a great measure at her suggestion.2
On other occasions her remonstrances were disregarded, and courses were pursued to which she strongly objected. The surrender after Majuba was in her opinion a pusillanimous abandonment of the English flag, and it was with extreme reluctance that she acquiesced in it. Still more vehement were her feelings about the long abandonment of General Gordon m the Soudan. She had been indefatigable in urging on the Ministry of Gladstone the duty of speedy measures for his rescue, and when, owing to the long delay of the Ministry, the most heroic of modern Englishmen perished at Khartoum, her indignation knew no bounds. In a letter to his sisters, burning with mingled pity and indignation, she pronounced his ‘cruel though heroic fate’ to be ‘a stain left upon England,’ which she keenly felt. This was one of the few occasions in which she allowed her sentiments in hostility to the policy of her Ministers to appear publicly before the world. In general, she had a profound distrust of the policy and judgment of Mr. Gladstone, and she fully shared the dread with which the great body of English statesmen looked upon the Home Bule policy. It was no new sentiment on her part, for she had lived through the Eepeal agitation of O'Connell, and as far back as 1843 Sir Robert Peel had somewhat unconstitutionally declared in Parliament that he was authorised by the Queen to state that she, like her predecessor, was resolved to maintain the Union inviolate by all the means in her power.
There can now be no harm in saying—what when both parties were alive was naturally kept in the background—that the relations of the Queen with Mr. Gladstone were usually of a very painful character. She had personally not much to complain of. The skill and firmness with which Mr. Gladstone resisted the attempts to diminish the parliamentary subsidies for her family were fully and gratefully recognised by the Queen, but the main course of his politics, both foreign and domestic, filled her with alarm, and she never appears to have experienced the attraction which his great personal gifts exercised over most of those with whom he came in immediate contact. The extreme copiousness of his vocabulary, the extreme subtlety of his mind and reasoning, and the imperiousness of temper with which he seldom failed to meet opposition, were all repugnant to her. To those who have experienced the sustained emphasis of language with which Mr. Gladstone was accustomed in conversation to enforce his views, there is much truth as well as humour in the saying which was attributed to the Queen, ‘I wish Mr. Gladstone would not always speak to me as if I was a public meeting’; and a little episode which is related by Sir Theodore Martin illustrates the irritation which Mr. Gladstone's methods of business must have caused to a very busy and overworked lady who always loved few words and simple and direct arguments.1 At all times the Queen had decided political opinions, and the experience of a long reign had given her a large measure of not unjustifiable self-confidence. Few persons had studied as she had during all those years the various political questions that arose, and she had had the advantage of discussing them at length with a long succession of the leading statesmen of England. Under such circumstances her opinions had no small weight, and although in the Liberal Government she gave her full confidence to Lord Clarendon and Lord Granville, she looked with the gravest apprehension on the policy of Mr. Gladstone.
It was a painful and irksome position, but it did not lead the Queen to any unconstitutional course. No public act or word ever disclosed her feelings. It was indeed in most cases very slowly, and in small circles and through private channels, that the convictions of the Queen became known.
At the close of the second Ministry of Mr. Gladstone she at once offered him an earldom, which he refused, and on his death she fully acquiesced in the public funeral in Westminster Abbey, and the Prince of Wales attended it as her representative. In an autograph letter to Mrs. Gladstone she spoke with the deep and genuine warmth that was never wanting in her letters of condolence of her sympathy with the bereavement of that lady. She spoke of his illustrious gifts and of his personal kindness to herself, but it was noticed that no sentence in the letter intimated any approbation of his general policy. ‘Truth in the inmost parts’ was indeed a prominent characteristic of the Queen, and she wrote nothing which was not in accordance with her true convictions.
There were occasions when she took independent steps, and some of these had a considerable influence on politics. Louis Napoleon was one of the few great Sovereigns who were not related to her, and to few persons could the coup d’état which brought him to the throne have been more repugnant, but the cordial personal relations she established with him undoubtedly contributed considerably to the good relations which for many years subsisted between England and France. Bismarck detested English Court influence and was greatly prejudiced against her, but he has left a striking testimony to the favourable impression which her tact and good sense made upon him when he first came into contact with her. She possessed to a high degree the power of choosing the right moment and striking the true chord, and she appears to have been an excellent judge not only of the feelings of large bodies of men, but also of the individual characters of those with whom she dealt. She had a style of writing which was eminently characteristic and eminently feminine, and it is easy to trace the letters which were entirely her own. Her letters of congratulation, or sympathy, or encouragement on public occasions scarcely ever failed in their effect and never contained an injudicious word. The same thing may be said of her many beautiful letters to those who were suffering from some grievous calamity. Whether she was writing to a great public character like the widow of an American President, or expressing her sorrow for obscure sufferers, there was the same note of true womanly sympathy, so manifestly spontaneous and so manifestly heartfelt, that it found its way to the hearts of thousands. The tact for which she was so justly celebrated, like all true tact, sprang largely from character, from the quick and lively sympathies of an eminently affectionate nature. No one could have been less theatrical, or less likely in any unworthy way to seek for popularity; but she knew admirably the occasions or the methods by which she could strike the imagination and appeal most favourably to the feelings of her people. She showed this in the very beginning of her reign when she insisted, in defiance of the opinion of the Duke of Wellington, on riding herself through the ranks of her troops at her first review. She showed it on countless other occasions of her long reign—pre-eminently in her two Jubilees and in her last visit to Ireland. It is well known that this visit was entirely her own idea. To many it seemed rash or even positively dangerous. They dwelt upon the bitter disaffection of a great portion of the Irish people, upon the danger of mob outrage or even assassination, upon the extreme difficulty of preventing a royal visit to Ireland from taking a party character and being regarded as a party triumph or defeat. But the Queen, as Sir William Harcourt once truly said, ‘ never feared her people,’ and nothing could be more happy than the manner in which she availed herself of the new turn given to Irish feeling by the splendid achievements of Irish soldiers in South Africa, to come over, as if to thank her Irish people in person, and at the same time to repair in extreme old age a neglect for which she had been often, and not altogether unjustly, blamed. There never indeed was a more brilliant and unqualified success. To those who witnessed the spontaneous and passionate enthusiasm with which she was everywhere greeted, it seemed as if all bitter feeling vanished at her presence; and the Irish visit, which was one of the last, was also one of the brightest pages of her reign. The credit of its most skilful arrangements belongs chiefly to the officials m Dublin, but the Irish people will long remember the patient courage with which the aged Queen went through its fatigues; the tactful kindness and the gracious dignity with which she won the hearts of multitudes who had never before seen her or spoken to her; the evident enjoyment with which she responded to the cordiality of her reception. One feature of that visit was especially characteristic. It was the Children's Review in Phœnix Park, where, by the desire of the Queen, some fifty thousand children were brought together to meet her. No act of kindness could have gone more directly home to the hearts of the parents, and it left a memory in many young minds that will never be effaced.
It is rather, however, by the example of a life than by any public acts that a constitutional Sovereign can impress her personality on the affections of her people. Of the reign of Queen Victoria it may be truly said that very few in English history have been so blameless as this, which was the longest of all. Her Court was a model of quiet dignity and decorum, singularly free from all the atmosphere of intrigue and from all suspicion of injudicious or unworthy favouritism. She managed it as she managed her family, with a happy mixture of tact and affection; and though she gave her confidence to many she gave it to such persons and in such a way that it seemed never to be abused. No domestic life could in all its relations have been more perfect, and her love of children amounted to a passion. Among the great female rulers it would be difficult to find one less like Queen Victoria than the Empress Catherine of Russia, but they had this common trait of an intense love of children and a great power of winning their affection. There is a charming letter of Catherine to Grimm, describing her life among her grandchildren, which might almost have been written by the English Queen. Her vast family, spread through many countries, was her abiding interest and delight, and although she had to pay in full measure the natural penalty of many bereavements, she at least never knew the dreary loneliness that clouded the last days of her great predecessor, Elizabeth.
In the early years of her reign she fully filled her place as the leader of English society. In the plays she patronised, in the art she preferred, in the restrictions of her Drawing Booms, in the fashions she countenanced, in the intimacies she selected or encouraged, her influence was always healthy and pure, and for some years it powerfully affected the tone of English society. Unfortunately, after the great calamity of her widowhood the nerves of the Queen seem to have been shaken, and though she never intermitted her political duties and spent daily many hours over her correspondence, she allowed her social duties to fall too much and too long into abeyance. She still, it is true, occasionally appeared in public ceremonies. She laid the first stones of several hospitals and infirmaries. She presided over the inauguration of several great industrial enterprises. She sometimes opened Parliament in person, and was sometimes present at military and naval reviews. But she scarcely ever appeared in London, except for a few days. She never appeared in a London theatre. She shrank from great crowds and large social gatherings, and buried herself too much in her Highland home. This is one of the few real reproaches that history is likely to bring against her. Her influence on English society was never wholly lost, and it was always an influence for good, but for many years it was exerted less frequently and less powerfully than it should have been, and the tone of large sections of society lost something by her retirement.
It may be doubted, however, whether this long retirement really injured her in the minds of her people. Her rare occasional appearances had a greater weight, and the depth of feeling exhibited by her long widowhood became a new title to respect. The transparent simplicity and unselfishness of her character were now generally appreciated, and her own books contributed greatly to make her people understand her. It is in general far from a wise thing for royal personages to descend into the arena of literature unless they possess some special aptitude for it. They expose themselves to a kind of criticism wholly different from that which follows them in their public lives—a criticism more minute and often more deliberately malevolent than that to which an ordinary writer is subject. The Queen wrote pure and excellent English and she had a good literary taste, but she certainly could never have become a great writer; and the complete frankness and unreserve of her Journals, as well as their curious homeliness of thought and feeling, were not viewed with favour in some sections of the fashionable and of the literary world. There were circles in which the word ‘bourgeois,’ and there were others m which the word ‘commonplace,’ was often pronounced. Yet in this, as on nearly all occasions when the Queen acted on her own impulse, she acted wisely. Her books had at once an enormous circulation, and there can be no doubt that they contributed very widely to her popularity. Multitudes to whom she had before been little more than a name, now realised that she was one with whom they had very much in common. Her evident longing for sympathy produced an immediate response. Her deep domestic affection, her constant interest in her servants, her high spirits, her love of scenery, her love of animals, her power of taking delight in little things, appeared vividly in her pages and came home to the largest classes of her people.
In some respects the Queen was an eminently democratic Sovereign. While maintaining the dignity of her position, rank and wealth were in her eyes always subordinate to the great realities of life and to true human affections. In no one was the touch of Nature that makes the whole world kin more constantly visible. She was never more in her place than in visiting some poor tenant on the morrow of a great bereavement, or uttering words of comfort by the sick bed of some humble dependant. Men of all ranks who came in contact with her were struck with her thoughtful kindness, and her royal gift of an excellent memory never showed itself more frequently than in the manner in which she remembered and inquired after the fortunes and happiness of obscure persons related to those with whom she spoke.
Her religious opinions were brought very little before the public. Beyond a deep sense of Providential guidance and of the comforting power of religion, little is to be gathered from her published utterances; but she seemed equally at home in the Scotch Presbyterian and the Anglican Episcopal Church, and her marked admiration for such men as Dean Stanley and Norman Macleod, and for the preaching of Principal Caird, gives some clue to the bias of her opinions. Her mind was not speculative but eminently practical, and while she patronised good works of the most various kinds, there is reason to believe that those which most appealed to her personal feelings were those which directly contributed to alleviate the sufferings, or promote the material welfare, of the poor. She devoted the greater part of her Jubilee present to institutions for providing nurses for the sick poor, and this is said to have been one of the charities in which she took the warmest and most constant interest.
She is said not to have had any sympathy with the movement for the extension of political power to women, which became so conspicuous in her reign; but her own success in filling for sixty-three years the highest political position in the nation will always be quoted in its support. Considering, indeed, how comparatively small has been the number of reigning female Sovereigns, it is remarkable how many in modern times have shown themselves pre-eminently capable. Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Russia, Maria Theresa of Austria, and our own Elizabeth, all rise far above the level of ordinary Sovereigns. Some of these seem figures of a larger and stronger mould than Queen Victoria, but they governed under very different constitutional conditions, and, with one exception, there are serious blots on their memory. There are few sadder facts in history than that the pure and tender-hearted Spanish Queen should have been deeply tinged with the persecuting fanaticism of her age and country; that she should have consented to the establishment of the Inquisition in Castile, to the expulsion of the Moors from her dominions, to the first law in Europe establishing a practical censorship of the Press. The unscrupulous ambition, the shameless favouritism, the gross personal vices of Catherine, are as conspicuous as her high intelligence, her indomitable will, her majestic commanding power. The reign of Elizabeth is perhaps the most glorious in English history, but the character of that great Queen is lamentably tarnished by waywardness and caprice. Among purely constitutional Sovereigns Queen Anne holds a respectable, though certainly not a brilliant, place, and it may be added that much of the merit of the very constitutional though not very glorious reign of George II. is due to the excellent sense and judgment of Queen Caroline. In spite of the saying of Burke, the age of chivalry is not wholly dead. The sex of Queen Victoria no doubt gave an additional touch of warmth to the loyalty of her people, and many of the qualities that made her most popular are intensely, if not distinctively, feminine. They would not, however, have given her the place she will always hold in English history, if they had not been united with what men are accustomed to regard as more peculiarly masculine—a clear, well-balanced mind, singularly free from fanaticisms and exaggerations, excellently fitted to estimate rightly the true proportion of things.
In the last years of her reign the political horizon greatly cleared. Lord Beaconsfield, during his later Ministries, obtained not only her fullest political confidence, but also won a warmer degree of personal friendship than she had bestowed on any Minister since the death of Lord Melbourne; and her relations with his successor, Lord Salisbury, appear to have been perfectly harmonious. The decisive rejection by the country of the Home Bule policy removed a great incubus from her mind, and she was fully in harmony with the strong Imperialist sentiments which now began to prevail in English thought, and especially with the warmer feeling towards our distant colonies which was one of its chief characteristics. Her own popularity also rapidly grew. She had keenly felt and bitterly resented the reproaches which had at one period been frequently brought against her for her neglect of social and ceremonial duties during many years of her widowhood. Her censors, she maintained, made no allowance for her loneliness, her advancing years, her feeble health, the overwhelming and incessant pressure of her more serious political duties. But her two Jubilees, bringing her once more into close to uch with her people, put an end to these reproaches. The Queen found with pleasure and perhaps with surprise how capable she still was of performing great public functions, and the vast outburst of spontaneous loyalty and affection of which she became the object gave her deep and unconcealed pleasure. To those, however, who were closely in connection with her it was touching to observe the gracious and unaffected modesty with which she received the homage of her subjects. Flattery was one of the things she disliked the most, and all who knew her best were struck with the singularly modest view she always took of herself. But blending with this modesty, and even with a shyness which she never wholly conquered, was the craving of a deeply affectionate and womanly nature for sympathy, and this craving was now abundantly gratified.
Still, with all this there was much that was melancholy in her later days. She had survived nearly all the intimacies of her youth. Death had made—especially in very recent times—many gaps in the circle of those who were nearest to her, and several of her children and of her children's husbands had preceded her to the tomb. Her sight had greatly failed. She was bowed down by physical infirmity, and her last year was saddened by a long, sanguinary, and inglorious war. Yet almost to the very end she continued with unabated courage to fulfil her daily task, and there was no sign that she had lost anything of her quick sympathy and her admirable judgment and tact. Her life was a most harmonious whole in which mind and character were happily attuned,
Like perfect music set to noble words.
Queen Victoria, by Sidney Lee, p. 349.
Ollivier, L'Empire Libéral, vii. p. 455.
Sir Theodore Martin was asked by the Queen to give her a piécis of a very long and unintelligible letter of Mr Gladstone purporting to explain the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill (Queen Victoria as I knew Her, by Sir Theodore Martin).—Ed.