Occasionally, there were little diversions: the evening might be spent at the opera or at the play. Next morning the royal critic was careful to note down her impressions. "It was Shakespeare's tragedy of Hamlet, and we came in at the beginning of it. Mr. Charles Kean (son of old Kean) acted the part of Hamlet, and I must say beautifully. His conception of this very difficult, and I may almost say incomprehensible, character is admirable; his delivery of all the fine long speeches quite beautiful; he is excessively graceful and all his actions and attitudes are good, though not at all good-looking in face... I came away just as Hamlet was over." Later on, she went to see Macready in King Lear. The story was new to her; she knew nothing about it, and at first she took very little interest in what was passing on the stage; she preferred to chatter and laugh with the Lord Chamberlain. But, as the play went on, her mood changed; her attention was fixed, and then she laughed no more. Yet she was puzzled; it seemed a strange, a horrible business. What did Lord M. think? Lord M. thought it was a very fine play, but to be sure, "a rough, coarse play, written for those times, with exaggerated characters." "I'm glad you've seen it," he added. But, undoubtedly, the evenings which she enjoyed most were those on which there was dancing. She was always ready enough to seize any excuse--the arrival of cousins--a birthday--a gathering of young people--to give the command for that. Then, when the band played, and the figures of the dancers swayed to the music, and she felt her own figure swaying too, with youthful spirits so close on every side--then her happiness reached its height, her eyes sparkled, she must go on and on into the small hours of the morning. For a moment Lord M. himself was forgotten.
The months flew past. The summer was over: "the pleasantest summer I EVER passed in MY LIFE, and I shall never forget this first summer of my reign." With surprising rapidity, another summer was upon her. The coronation came and went--a curious dream. The antique, intricate, endless ceremonial worked itself out as best it could, like some machine of gigantic complexity which was a little out of order. The small central figure went through her gyrations. She sat; she walked; she prayed; she carried about an orb that was almost too heavy to hold; the Archbishop of Canterbury came and crushed a ring upon the wrong finger, so that she was ready to cry out with the pain; old Lord Rolle tripped up in his mantle and fell down the steps as he was doing homage; she was taken into a side chapel, where the altar was covered with a table-cloth, sandwiches, and bottles of wine; she perceived Lehzen in an upper box and exchanged a smile with her as she sat, robed and crowned, on the Confessor's throne. "I shall ever remember this day as the PROUDEST of my life," she noted. But the pride was soon merged once more in youth and simplicity. When she returned to Buckingham Palace at last she was not tired; she ran up to her private rooms, doffed her splendours, and gave her dog Dash its evening bath.
Life flowed on again with its accustomed smoothness--though, of course, the smoothness was occasionally disturbed. For one thing, there was the distressing behaviour of Uncle Leopold. The King of the Belgians had not been able to resist attempting to make use of his family position to further his diplomatic ends. But, indeed, why should there be any question of resisting? Was not such a course of conduct, far from being a temptation, simply "selon les regles?" What were royal marriages for, if they did not enable sovereigns, in spite of the hindrances of constitutions, to control foreign politics? For the highest purposes, of course; that was understood. The Queen of England was his niece--more than that--almost his daughter; his confidential agent was living, in a position of intimate favour, at her court. Surely, in such circumstances, it would be preposterous, it would be positively incorrect, to lose the opportunity of bending to his wishes by means of personal influence, behind the backs of the English Ministers, the foreign policy of England.
He set about the task with becoming precautions. He continued in his letters his admirable advice. Within a few days of her accession, he recommended the young Queen to lay emphasis, on every possible occasion, upon her English birth; to praise the English nation; "the Established Church I also recommend strongly; you cannot, without PLEDGING yourself to anything PARTICULAR, SAY TOO MUCH ON THE SUBJECT." And then "before you decide on anything important I should be glad if you would consult me; this would also have the advantage of giving you time;" nothing was more injurious than to be hurried into wrong decisions unawares. His niece replied at once with all the accustomed warmth of her affection; but she wrote hurriedly--and, perhaps, a trifle vaguely too. "YOUR advice is always of the GREATEST IMPORTANCE to me," she said.
Had he, possibly, gone too far? He could not be certain; perhaps Victoria HAD been hurried. In any case, he would be careful; he would draw back--"pour mieux sauter" he added to himself with a smile. In his next letters he made no reference to his suggestion of consultations with himself; he merely pointed out the wisdom, in general, of refusing to decide upon important questions off-hand. So far, his advice was taken; and it was noticed that the Queen, when applications were made to her, rarely gave an immediate answer. Even with Lord Melbourne, it was the same; when he asked for her opinion upon any subject, she would reply that she would think it over, and tell him her conclusions next day.
King Leopold's counsels continued. The Princess de Lieven, he said, was a dangerous woman; there was reason to think that she would make attempts to pry into what did not concern her, let Victoria beware. "A rule which I cannot sufficiently recommend is NEVER TO PERMIT people to speak on subjects concerning yourself or your affairs, without you having yourself desired them to do so." Should such a thing occur, "change the conversation, and make the individual feel that he has made a mistake." This piece of advice was also taken; for it fell out as the King had predicted. Madame de Lieven sought an audience, and appeared to be verging towards confidential topics; whereupon the Queen, becoming slightly embarrassed, talked of nothing but commonplaces. The individual felt that she had made a mistake.
The King's next warning was remarkable. Letters, he pointed out, are almost invariably read in the post. This was inconvenient, no doubt; but the fact, once properly grasped, was not without its advantages. "I will give you an example: we are still plagued by Prussia concerning those fortresses; now to tell the Prussian Government many things, which we SHOULD NOT LIKE to tell them officially, the Minister is going to write a despatch to our man at Berlin, sending it BY POST; the Prussians ARE SURE to read it, and to learn in this way what we wish them to hear. Analogous circumstances might very probably occur in England. I tell you the TRICK," wrote His Majesty, "that you should be able to guard against it." Such were the subtleties of constitutional sovereignty.
It seemed that the time had come for another step. The King's next letter was full of foreign politics--the situation in Spain and Portugal, the character of Louis Philippe; and he received a favourable answer. Victoria, it is true, began by saying that she had shown the POLITICAL PART of his letter to Lord Melbourne; but she proceeded to a discussion of foreign affairs. It appeared that she was not unwilling to exchange observations on such matters with her uncle. So far so good. But King Leopold was still cautious; though a crisis was impending in his diplomacy, he still hung back; at last, however, he could keep silence no longer. It was of the utmost importance to him that, in his manoeuvrings with France and Holland, he should have, or at any rate appear to have, English support. But the English Government appeared to adopt a neutral attitude; it was too bad; not to be for him was to be against him, could they not see that? Yet, perhaps, they were only wavering, and a little pressure upon them from Victoria might still save all. He determined to put the case before her, delicately yet forcibly--just as he saw it himself. "All I want from your kind Majesty," he wrote, "is, that you will OCCASIONALLY express to your Ministers, and particularly to good Lord Melbourne, that, as far as it is COMPATIBLE with the interests of your own dominions, you do NOT wish that your Government should take the lead in such measures as might in a short time bring on the DESTRUCTION of this country, as well as that of your uncle and his family." The result of this appeal was unexpected; there was dead silence for more than a week. When Victoria at last wrote, she was prodigal of her affection." It would, indeed, my dearest Uncle, be VERY WRONG of you, if you thought my feelings of warm and devoted attachment to you, and of great affection for you, could be changed--nothing can ever change them"--but her references to foreign politics, though they were lengthy and elaborate, were non-committal in the extreme; they were almost cast in an official and diplomatic form. Her Ministers, she said, entirely shared her views upon the subject; she understood and sympathised with the difficulties of her beloved uncle's position; and he might rest assured "that both Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston are most anxious at all times for the prosperity and welfare of Belgium." That was all. The King in his reply declared himself delighted, and re-echoed the affectionate protestations of his niece. "My dearest and most beloved Victoria," he said, "you have written me a VERY DEAR and long letter, which has given me GREAT PLEASURE AND SATISFACTION." He would not admit that he had had a rebuff.
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