THE LETTERS OF QUEEN VICTORIA.—II.* WE dwelt last week on the general soundness of the Queen's judgment, especially as regards individuals. But though good judgment is the rule, there are several notable exceptions.
For example, the Queen's first judgment of Peel was unques- tionably hasty and unjust. Although her prejudice was
ultimately overcome, and she came to regard Peel with the strongest feelings of confidence and admiration, she began by a distinct sense of aversion. She began by distrusting Napoleon III., and ended by being, for a time at any rate, completely fascinated by the great adventurer. In other words, her second thoughts were wise in the one case and unwise in the other. Again, we cannot without courtiersbip justify the position she assumed towards Italian unity and the deliverance of Italy from the yoke of Austria. Here her policy was, we venture to think, neither liberal in the wider sense, nor in the interests of her country. In fact, she allowed her judgment to be swayed too much by her dynastic and by her German sympathies. There was a similar error of judgment as to Hungarian affairs. But though, for the reasons just suggested, we hold the Queen to have been in the wrong on the merits in her quarrel with Palmerston, it is difficult not to sympathise with her in many of the details of the quarrel. With her high moral standards, she might well be excused for disliking her cynical and not over- scrupulous Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and it must cer- tainly have been very exasperating for the Queen to find that though her Minister would acknowledge in theory the rule as to the drafts of despatches being submitted to her, he habitually broke the rule in practice. Incidentally, one may remark that Lord John Russell does not seem to have come very well out of these transactions. Partly, no doubt, because he disliked his colleague, and partly because it was disagreeable to stand up to the Queen, he does not always appear to have shown that complete loyalty which ought to be expected from a Prime Minister towards all the members of his Cabinet. It seems to us that be should either have defended Palmerston more vigorously, or else have called for his resignation. What emphasises this point is the fact that Lord John Russell was, of course, on the main issue entirely with Lord Palmerston both as regards the Austrians and their action in Hungary and Italy. There is a story told of Lord John which, if true, shows that he came into direct conflict with the Queen on this point. It is said that the Queen once asked Lord John whether he really held the opinion that the people of a country had a right to get rid of their legitimate Sovereign. "What other opinion could I hold as a loyal subject of the House of Hanover ?" is said to have been Lord John's reply. Whether these words were actually used or not, they certainly go to the root of the matter. If the Queen had been a little less human in her
impulses, and a little more of a political philosopher, she must have realised how impossible it was for her to uphold the dynastic principle in the abstract, and yet remain Sovereign under the Act of Settlement.
We have alluded to the Queen's change of view in regard to the Emperor Napoleon. A Memorandum written by her on May 2nd, 1855, gives a powerful and striking sketch— and, we venture to think, a very just sketch—of the Emperor at a time when the Queen's view of him was, as it were, in the balance :—
" In reflecting on the character of the present Emperor Napoleon and the impression I have conceived of it, the following thoughts present themselves to say mind: That he is a very extraordinary man, with great qualities there can be no doubt—I might almost say a mysterious man. Ho is evidently possessed of indomitable courage, unflinching firmness of purpose, se(c-reliance, perseverance, and great secrecy ; to this should be added, a great reliance on what he calls his Star, and a belief in omens and incidents a connected with his future destiny, which is almost romantic—and at the same time he is endowed with wonderful self-control, great calmness, even gentleness, and with a power of fascination, the effect of which upon all those who become more .intimately acquainted with him is most sensibly felt. How far he is actuated by a strong moral sense of right and wrong is difficult to say. On * Ths Letters of Queen Victoria: a Selection front her Majesty's Correspondence, ismrsol. Edited by Arthur Christopher Benson and Viscount Esher, G.C.V.O. With numerous Photogravures. 3 Yobs. London: John Murray. [53 33. net.] the one hand, his attempts at.Strassburg and Boulogne, and this last after having given a solemn promise never to return or make a similar attempt—in which he openly called on the subjects of the then King of France to follow him as the successor of Napoleon, the Coup d'Etat of December 1851, followed by great severity, and the confiscation of the property of the unfortunate Orleans family, would lead one to believe that he is not. On the other hand, his kindness and gratitude towards all those, whether high or low, who have befriended him or stood by him through life, and his straightforward and steady conduct towards us throughout the very difficult and anxious contest in which we have been engaged for a year and a half, show that he is possessed of noble and right feelings. My impression is, that in all these apparently inexcusable acts he has invariably been guided by the belief that he is fulfilling a destiny which God has imposed upon him, and that, though cruel or harsh in themselves, they were necessary to obtain the result which he considered himself as chosen to carry out, and not acts of wanton cruelty or injustice ; for it is impossible to know him, and not to see that there is much that is truly amiable, kind, and honest in his character. Another remarkable and important feature in his composition is, that everything he says or expresses is the result of deep reflection and of settled purpose, and not merely des phrases de politesse. Consequently when we read the words used in his speech made in the City, we may feel sure that he means what he says ; and therefore I would rely with confidence on his behaving honestly and faith- fully towards us. I am not able to say whether he is deeply versed in History—I should rather think not, as regards it generally, though he may be, and probably is, well informed in the history of his own country, certainly fully so in that of the Empire, he having made it his special study to contemplate and reflect upon all the acts and designs of his great uncle. He is very well read in German literature, to which he seems to be very partial. It is said, and I am inclined to think with truth, that he reads but little, even as regards despatches from his own foreign Ministers, he having expressed his surprise at my reading them daily. He seems to be singularly ignorant in matters not connected with the branch of his special studies, and to be ill informed upon them by those who surround him."
In the course of this remarkable State Paper the Queen goes on to compare Napoleon with his predecessor, Louis Philippe. The great difference, she notes, between the two
was that "the poor King was thoroughly French in character, possessing all the liveliness and talkativeness of that people, whereas the Emperor is as unlike a Frenchman as possible, being much more German than French in character." The Queen next proceeds to ask how it is that Napoleon III.
should show such great powers of government, and such wonderful tact in his conduct and manners, a tact which "many a King's son, nurtured in palaces and educated in the midst of affairs, never succeeds in attaining." He would be
incapable, too, she thinlcs, of the tricks and overreachings practised by Louis Philippe, and yet "I believe that the
Emperor Napoleon would not hesitate to do a thing by main force, even if in itself unjust and tyrannical, should he con- sider the accomplishment of his destiny demanded it."
Altogether, the character of Napoleon as sketched by the Queen at this period is a singularly able and statesmanlike piece of analysis. It must be compared, however, with what the Queen writes later of the Emperor, after her visit to Paris.
Here the Queen's judgment seems to have been swept away by a wave of sympathy. She evidently came to feel a real sense of affection for the Emperor and Empress which over- bore her usual strong common-sense in the region of politics.
What we have been able to say as to the three volumes of the Queen's letters is, we realise, in many ways wholly inadequate. They are so packed with matters of moment and interest that the task of selecting typical examples causes a sense of despair.
We feel, however, that what we have written would not ring true to the character of the Queen if we ended on a political rather than a personal note. For, after all, the Queen's personality was the greatest thing about her. It seems almost too conventional to say that she was a woman of intense nobility of character, and yet not to say this would be to miss the point. Nowhere does nobility of character show more conspicuously than in times of sorrow. The Queen's letter to her uncle the King of the Belgians telling him of the death of Prince Albert is almost too poignant to print, yet it must be quoted in order to show how natural and how soundly human was the Queen's grief. There is something inexpressibly touching in the way in which the Queen, who had never known a father's love, and whose relations towards her mother had not been of the happiest, turns with the heart-cry of a daughter to the wise and kindly old King who had been a friend and protector throughout her life :—
" My own dearest kindest Father—For as such have I ever loved you! The poor fatherless baby of eight months is now the utterly broken-hearted and crushed widow of forty-two ! My life as a happy one is ended! the world is gone for met If I must live on (and I will do nothing to make me worse than I am), it is henceforth for our poor fatherless children—for my unhappy country, which has lost all in losing him—and in only doing what I know and feel he would wish, for he is near me— his spirit will guide and inspire me ! But oh! to be cut off in the prime of life—to see our pure, happy, quiet, domestic life, which alone enabled me to bear my much disliked position, cut off at forty-two—when I had hoped with such instinc- tive certainty that God never would part us, and would let us grow old together (though he always talked of the shortness of life) is too awful, too cruel And yet it must be for his good, his happiness ! His purity was too great, his aspira- tion too high for this poor miserable world ! His great soul is now only enjoying that for which it was worthy. And I will not envy him—only pray that mine may be perfected by it and fit to be with him eternally, for which blessed moment I earnestly long. Dearest, dearest Uncle, how kind of you to come! It will be an unspeakable comfort, and you can do much to tell people to do what they ought to do. As for my own good, personal servants —poor Phipps in particular—nothing can be more devoted, heart- broken as they are, and anxious only to live as he wished ! Good Alice has been and is wonderful. The 26th will suit me per- fectly.—Ever your devoted, wretched Child, VICTORIA B."
It will probably be many years before it is thought possible to give the rest of the Queen's letters to the world. We may, however, be sure that, when the record of the next forty years comes, it will show as noble a picture—it could not show a nobler—of true womanhood and of devotion to public duty.