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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:01:03
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Shortly afterwards the Queen underwent, for the first time in her life, the actual experience of close personal loss. Early in 1861 the Duchess of Kent was taken seriously ill, and in March she died. The event overwhelmed Victoria. With a morbid intensity, she filled her diary for pages with minute descriptions of her mother’s last hours, her dissolution, and her corpse, interspersed with vehement apostrophes, and the agitated outpourings of emotional reflection. In the grief of the present the disagreements of the past were totally forgotten. It was the horror and the mystery of Death — Death, present and actual — that seized upon the imagination of the Queen. Her whole being, so instinct with vitality, recoiled in agony from the grim spectacle of the triumph of that awful power. Her own mother, with whom she had lived so closely and so long that she had become a part almost of her existence, had fallen into nothingness before her very eyes! She tried to forget, but she could not. Her lamentations continued with a strange abundance, a strange persistency. It was almost as if, by some mysterious and unconscious precognition, she realised that for her, in an especial manner, that grisly Majesty had a dreadful dart in store.

Besides his seven sons, George III had five surviving daughters. Of these, two — the Queen of Wurtemberg and the Duchess of Gloucester — were married and childless. The three unmarried princesses — Augusta, Elizabeth, and Sophia — were all over forty.

He was not in love with her. Affection, gratitude, the natural reactions to the unqualified devotion of a lively young cousin who was also a queen — such feelings possessed him, but the ardours of reciprocal passion were not his. Though he found that he liked Victoria very much, what immediately interested him in his curious position was less her than himself. Dazzled and delighted, riding, dancing, singing, laughing, amid the splendours of Windsor, he was aware of a new sensation — the stirrings of ambition in his breast. His place would indeed be a high, an enviable one! And then, on the instant, came another thought. The teaching of religion, the admonitions of Stockmar, his own inmost convictions, all spoke with the same utterance. He would not be there to please himself, but for a very different purpose — to do good. He must be noble, manly, and princely in all things,” he would have to live and to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his new country;” to use his powers and endeavours for a great object — that of promoting the welfare of multitudes of his fellowmen.” One serious thought led on to another. The wealth and the bustle of the English Court might be delightful for the moment, but, after all, it was Coburg that had his heart. While I shall be untiring,” he wrote to his grandmother, in my efforts and labours for the country to which I shall in future belong, and where I am called to so high a position, I shall never cease ein treuer Deutscher, Coburger, Gothaner zu sein.” And now he must part from Coburg for ever! Sobered and sad, he sought relief in his brother Ernest’s company; the two young men would shut themselves up together, and, sitting down at the pianoforte, would escape from the present and the future in the sweet familiar gaiety of a Haydn duet.

Next year was the fiftieth of her reign, and in June the splendid anniversary was celebrated in solemn pomp. Victoria, surrounded by the highest dignitaries of her realm, escorted by a glittering galaxy of kings and princes, drove through the crowded enthusiasm of the capital to render thanks to God in Westminster Abbey. In that triumphant hour the last remaining traces of past antipathies and past disagreements were altogether swept away. The Queen was hailed at once as the mother of her people and as the embodied symbol of their imperial greatness; and she responded to the double sentiment with all the ardour of her spirit. England and the people of England, she knew it, she felt it, were, in some wonderful and yet quite simple manner, hers. Exultation, affection, gratitude, a profound sense of obligation, an unbounded pride — such were her emotions; and, colouring and intensifying the rest, there was something else. At last, after so long, happiness — fragmentary, perhaps, and charged with gravity, but true and unmistakable none the less — had returned to her. The unaccustomed feeling filled and warmed her consciousness. When, at Buckingham Palace again, the long ceremony over, she was asked how she was, I am very tired, but very happy,” she said.

Gossart. Adolphe Quetelet et le Prince Albert de Saxe-Cobourg. Academie Royale de Belgique. Bruxelles. 1919.

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 ever had 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 Argyle, together with an annuity of L6,000, there should have been a serious outcry9.


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