More of Queen Victoria's Letters The Letters a Queen Victoria,
1879-1885. Edited by George Earle Bookie. (Murray. 258.)
IN no other monarchical country would the Sovereign have given permission for some of the letters in this volume to be published. The first thing which it is necessary to say is that a wondering admiration is excited by the open-handed- ness, the frankness, and the complete confidence in his subjects with which the King has acted in this matter. His Majesty knows that successful democracy must be based on knowledge. When the, question is whether full knowledge should. be given or withheld he never doubts of the answer.
Democracy is a progressive thing ; it is a long and trying discipline for men to learn how to rule themselves, and
unless they. Are made acquainted with . all the mistakes
of the past, even though many of those mistakes are to the account of the Constitutional Monarchy itself, the pains of learning will be much greater than they need be.. The present
volume shows in a more intense form than any, of the letters previously published the struggles of the Monarchy to find its
right position in relation to a growing democracy. Queen Victoria became alarmed by the most Radical Government she had ever had, and these letters tell the tale. They have been admirably edited by Mr. Buckle with just the right amount of concise explanation.
Most of the Queen's letters display her common sense, her immense industry, and her conscientiousness, but they also display her prejudices in a whiter light than before. It has been said of her that she was an excellent business woman. That is perfectly true. She could analyse the events of the moment wry quickly, come quickly to the point, and see the elements of a situation in their right perspective ; but when great problems of State were part of a gradual evolution from a remote past, or when their significance reached out into a
remote future, she often failed. She could not think theoretically or in the abstract. During a large part Of the
period with which this volume deals the Queen had for her Prime Minister Mr. Gladstone, who applied general principles to every passing event. When his principles constrained him to seek peace and ensue it by what the Queen (who looked only upon the immediate results) repeatedly described as a lamentable "lack of firmness," there was, of course, trouble. Never before had the Queen been so puzzled and shocked. And a malign fate seemed to take an impish delight in raising one spectre after another to stand between her and Mr. Gladstone—the Majuba affair and the " surrender " to the Boers ; the Government's wavering policy in Egypt and the sacrifice of General Gordon ; and the terrible series of Fenian outrages in Ireland, followed by " surrender " to the murderers. There can be no doubt that the Queen expressed the feelings of the average man on most of these subjects.
The differences between herself and Mr. Gladstone were heightened. by the fact that she had only just lost the long and faithful services of Lord Beaconsfield. The contrast
between the flowery and generally flattering letters of Lord Beaconsfield to his Sovereign and the restrained but often
argumentative courtesy of Mr. Gladstone, make an instructive
and amusing contrast. One of the Queen's many excellent qualities, however, was her ability to give way when she
discoVered that she had been unnecessarily alarmed. On such occasions she never bore any grudge or attempted to pretend that though she might seem to have been wrong she had really been right. Her sense of justice and her dignity were perfect.
And, after all, she and Mr. Gladstone, though by very different methods, aimed at the same thing. She had an intense love of peace in spite of her exhortations to " firmness " ; she had no trace Of the intriguer in her composition and was genuinely horrified at the arts of the mischief-maker. If ever she could do anything to smooth away ill-temper between nations she invariably did it.
The opening letters describe the arrangements for sending the Prince Imperial, the Empress Eugenie's son, to see some- thing of the Zulu War. He could not be sent officially but he was allowed to go, as the Queen unexpectedly puts it in one letter, "on his own hook." The young man's terrible death brought out all the Queen's qualities of emotional affection and sympathy. It was not only that -she was sincerely
attached to the Empress ; she felt that the negligence of British officers was the cause of an unnecessary tragedy.
There is an entertaining letter from Lord Beaconsfield, who describes a visit to Hughenden by Sir Evelyn Wood, who had just returned from his successful attempt to improve the position in South Africa. The Queen had reminded Lord Beaconsfield that Lord Palmerston always used to interview Generals personally on their return. Sir Evelyn Wood's visit was the result of the hint. Nor had Lord Beaconsfield any cause to complain that he had discharged a tedious duty ; he thoroughly enjoyed Wood's visit and tells the Queen that Wood's conversation" flows like a fountain, not like a pump." A delightful example of Lord Beaconsfield's knack of parrying a thrust occurs in a letter to the Queen, who had complained indignantly that she did not care to have dunces and fools appointed to her household. Lord Beaconsfield writes : "Lord Beaconsfield's conscience does not accuse him of ever having placed any dunce or fool near your Majesty's person, for he can unaffectedly and sincerely say that he is of opinion that they would be singularly out of their sphere."
It was after the General Election of 1880 that the Queen had to consent to Mr. Gladstone becoming Prime Minister, though she had greatly hoped for Lord Hartington. She at once took him to task for the vehemence of his Midlothian speeches, and Mr. Gladstone made an explanation which was afterwards to be used against him. We quote from the Queen's Memoranda :—
" I then said I wished to be frank and say something ; which was that I hoped he would be conciliatory, as it had been a cause of pain to me to see such asperity and such strong expressions used, and I thought 'peace was blessed.' He replied that he considered all violence and bitterness 'to belong to the past ' ; that he did not deny that in his capacity of a private individual without responsi- bility he had, in dogmatising his views according to the lights given him, used very strong language.' I said this was hardly right as he now came back Leader, and he replied he could not deny this, and that he must be open to the shots that would be fired on him for that."
Next the Queen was disconcerted at Mr. Gladstone's choice of Sir Charles Dilke and Mr. Joseph Chamberlain as members of his Government. Had not Sir Charles Dilke advocated Republicanism and opposed the Civil List ? She could not accept him as a Minister unless he gave the necessary assurance that this should not happen again. Sir Charles Dilke gave the assurance, though he very naturally explained that while criticizing the footing upon which the Civil List stood he had never dreamed of imputing blame to Her Majesty.
As the Queen's letters during the Prime Ministership of Mr. Gladstone are really a 'crescendo of anxiety and disapproval, we will pass on quickly to the letters which contain her culmination of dismay. The following is a letter to the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward
BALMORA.L CASTLE, 27th May, 1882. DEAREST BERTIE,—The state of affairs—this dreadfully Radical Government which contains many thinly-veiled Republicans—and the way in which they have truckled to the Home Rulers—as well as the utter disregard of all my opinions which after forty-five years of experience ought to be considered, all make me very miserable, and disgust me with the hard, ungrateful task I have to go through and weigh on my health and spirits. You as my eldest son, and Si3 intimate as you are with Lord Ilartington, might and should, I think, speak strongly to him, reminding him how HE asked you to tell me in '80 that if I took Mr. Gladstone I should certainly NOT have to take these violent and dangerous Radicals, instead of which, two days after, I had most unwillingly taken this most dangerous man ; all the worst men who had no respect for Kings and Princes or any of the landmarks of the Constitution were put into the Government in spite of me. The mischief Mr. Gladstone does is incalculable ; instead of stemming the current and downward course of Radicalism, which he could do perfectly, he heads and encourages it and alienates all the true Whigs and moderate Liberals from him. Patriotism is nowhere in their ranks. How differently do the leaders of Oppo- sition in the House behave to the disgraceful way in which in times of great difficulty the Liberal Opposition opposed Lord Beaconsfield, and tried to injure him I You and all of you should speak to those who might and ought, to act differently to what they do ! Lord Granville behaves miserably ; he is the only one I know well, and he never even answers my remarks 1—Your devoted Mama, V. R. & I."
In January, 1883, Mr. Gladstone was going to speak in Scotland and the name of Midlothian rushed back upon the memory of the Queen. She writes to him :— " Mr. Gladstone will remember that when she first saw him in '80,
when she asked him to form a Government, she expressed her regret at some of the speeches in Midlothian, and he replied that he did-
not then think himself a responsible person. Still everything he then said has been quoted as if he were so, and the Queen feels very
anxious that he should not now bind himself to any particular course which afterwards he might find it difficult not to pursue." -
It must be said that Mr. Gladstone never failed to answer the Queen's warnings or reproaches with explanations in which he was patient, dignified, and courteous. Sometimes his explanations were a little too involved. If only he had had one touch of Lord Beaconsfield's genius for averting wrath by an airy and homage-bearing persiflage ! On pages 700-8 there is a noble letter in which• he defends him- self by making an earnest profession of his political faith. Reading between the lines one can see that Mr. Gladstone was hurt when the Queen telegraphed to him, without using a code, expressing all her feelings about the fall of Khartoum and the death of Gordon.
"10 DOWNING STREET, 5th Feb., 1885.—Mr. Gladstone has had the honour this day to receive your Majesty's telegram en dair, relating to the deplorable intelligence received this day from Lord Wolseley, and stating that it is too fearful to consider that the fall of Khartoum might have been prevented and many precious lives saved by earlier action. Mr. Gladstone does not presume to estimate the means of judgment possessed by your Majesty, but so far as his information and his recollection at the moment go, he is not alto- gether able to follow the conclusion which your Majesty has been pleased thus to announce. Mr. Gladstone is under the impression that Lord Wobieley's force might have been sufficiently advanced to save Khartoum had not a large portion of it been detached by a circuitous route along the river, upon the express application of, General Gordon, to occupy Berber on the way to the final destina- tion: He speaks, however, with submission on a point of this kind."
The Queen nevertheless was not convinced. A few days later she writes to Sir Henry Ponsonby :—
" Mr. Gladstone and the Government have—the Queen feels it dreadfully—Gordon's innocent, noble, heroic blood on their con- sciences. No one who reflects on haw he was sent out, how he was refused, can deny it ! It is awful. . . . May they feel it, and may they be made to do so ! . . . Pray read this last letter of Lord Wolseley's, and what he says about delay. If Mr. Gladstone tries to throw it on him, the Queen herself will remind Mr. Gladstone, and hopes Lord Wolseley will be indignant ! It is all this that has made the Queen ill."
A few days later still the Queen writes to Lady Wolseley :— " In strict confidence I must tell you I think the Government are more incorrigible than ever, and I do think that your husband should hold strong language to them, and even THREATEN to resign if he does not receive strong support and liberty of action. I have written very strongly to the Prime Minister and others, and I tell you this ;• but it must never appear, or Lord Wolseley ever /et out the hint I give you. But I really think they must be frightened."
By the end of 1885 the Queen rightly judged that Mr.. Gladstone was intent upon the policy that developed later into his Home Rule Bill. Lord Salisbury was then in Office but tottering. The Queen wrote to Mr. Goschen :—
"Let me urge and implore you by all the sense of honour you so strongly possess, by your devotion and love for our dear, great country, to do all you can to gather around you all the moderate Liberals, who indeed ought to be called Constitutionalists,' to prevent Mr. Gladstone recklessly upsetting the Government without being able to form a Government himself, which could stand, and Which I could accept, for I should firmly refuse Mr. Chamberlain, and Sir Ch. Dilke, for different reasons, as you can understand. I am sure that you with Lord Hartington and many other moderate Liberals would save the country by standing aloof from Mr. Glad- stone, who is utterly reckless, and whose conduct at this moment, in proposing what would be Home Rule, is most mischievous and inoompreheneiible. Out of this might grow a Coalition •in time. Let Lord Hartington be strong and firm and the country will respect and look up to him. He can never consent to Home Rule, nor would Lords Spencer, Carlingford, and Kimberley, I am sure."
Yet Lord Spencer and Lord Kimberley did accept Home Rule. Mr. Gladstone, of course, failed to carry his Bill, but if he had carried that comparatively moderate measure the Irish question would probably have been settled years before it was. We admit that the loyalists of the North had the right to stand out from Home Rule, but they could have established their claim not less easily then than they did thirty years later. Some of us make this admission to-day with humility:
When all has been said it must be remembered that Mr. Gladstone himself had spoken of the Irish Nationalists as marching through rapine and slaughter to the dismemberment of the Empire, that the question of Home Rule split those who professed a Liberal policy from top to bottom, and that the Queen was devoutly convinced that in denouncing that policy she was not impeding progress but was stemming nothing short of an Imperial revolution.