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LONDON [Vol. II]
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did not immediately close his eyes in slumber.
Although his education had been miserably neglected, he
possessed good natural abilities; and his reflections at times were of a far
more philosophical nature than could have been anticipated.
The gorgeous scenes which he had just witnessed now led
him to meditate upon the horrible contrasts which existed elsewhere, not only in
the great metropolis, but throughout the United Kingdom, and many,
very many of which he himself had seen with his own eyes, and felt with his own
At that moment when festivity was highest, and pleasure
was most exciting in the regal halls, there were mothers in naked attics, dark
cellars, or even houseless in the open streets, mothers who
pressed their famished little ones to their bosoms, and wondered whether a
mouthful of food would ever pass their lips again.
While the royal table groaned beneath the weight the
golden vessels and the choicest luxuries which earth's fruitfulness, heaven's
bounty, or man a ingenuity could supply, while the raciest produce
of fertile vineyards sparkled in the crystal cups, at that same
period, how many thousands of that exalted lady's subjects moistened their sorry
crust with tears wrung from them by the consciousness of ill-requited toil and
the pinching gripe of bitter poverty!
Delicious music here, and the cries of starving children
there; silver candelabra pouring forth a flood of lustre in a
gorgeous saloon, and a flickering rushlight making visible the naked and
damp-stained walls of a wretched garret; silks and satins, rags
and nudity; luxurious and pampered indolence; crushing and
ill-paid labour; homage and reverence, ill-treatment and
oppression; the gratification of every whim, the absence of every
necessary; not a care for to-morrow here, not a hope for to-morrow
there; a certainty of a renewal of this day's plenty, a total
ignorance whence the next day's bread can come; mirth and
laughter, moans and sorrowing; a palace for life on one hand, and
an anxiety lest even the wretched hovel may not be changed for a workhouse
to-morrow; these are the appalling contrasts which our social
sphere presents to view!
Of all this Holford thought as he lay concealed in the
lumber-room of the royal dwelling.
But at length sleep overtook him.
It was still dark when he awoke. At first he thought
that he must have slumbered for many hours that a day had passed,
and that another night had come; but he felt too little refreshed
to remain many instants in that opinion. Moreover, as he watched the window, he
observed a faint, faint gleam of light or rather a mitigation of
the intenseness of the gloom without-slowly appearing; and he knew that the dawn
was at hand.
He was nearly frozen in that cheerless room where he had
slept: his teeth chattered his limbs were benumbed. He longed for
some new excitement to elevate his drooping spirits, and thus impart physical
warmth to his frame.
Suddenly a thought struck him: he would penetrate into
the royal breakfast-room! He knew that the Queen and Prince Albert frequently
partook of the morning meal together; and he longed to listen to their
conversation when thus tκte-ΰ-tκte.
Scarcely had he conceived this project when he resolved
to execute it. The interior of the palace even to its most private
apartments and chambers-was as we have before stated, perfectly familiar to him.
Stealing from the place where he had slept, he proceeded with marvellous caution
to the point of his present destination; and in about ten minutes he reached the
breakfast-room in safety.
The twilight of morning had now penetrated through the
windows of this apartment; for the heavy curtains were drawn aside, a cheerful
fire burnt in the grate, and the table was already spread.
A friendly sofa became Holford's hiding-place.
Shortly after eight o'clock a domestic entered with the
morning Ministerial paper, which he laid upon the table, and then withdrew.
Five minutes elapsed, when the door was thrown open, and
the Queen entered, attended by two ladies. These were almost immediately
dismissed; and Victoria seated herself near the fire, to read the journal. But
scarcely had she opened it, ere Prince Albert made his appearance, followed by a
gentleman in waiting, who humbly saluted her Majesty and retired.
Servants immediately afterwards entered, and [-198-]
placed upon the table the materials for a sumptuous breakfast, having performed
which duty they immediately left the room.
The Queen and her consort were now alone or
at least, supposed themselves to be so; and their conversation soon flowed
But such an empire-such a despotism does the habitual
etiquette of Courts establish over the natural freedom of the human mind, that
even the best and most tender feelings of the heart are to a certain extent
subdued and oppressed by that chilling influence. The royal pair were
affectionate to each other: still their tenderness was not of that lively,
unembarrassed, free, and cordial nature which subsists at the domestic hearth
elsewhere. There seemed to be a barrier between the frank and open interchange
of their thoughts; and even though that barrier were no thicker than gauze,
still it existed. Their words were to some degree measured scarcely
perceptibly so, it is true nevertheless, the fact was
apparent in the least, least degree; and the effect was also in the least, least
The Queen was authoritative in the enunciation of her
opinion upon any subject; and if the Prince differed from her, he expressed
himself with restraint. In fact, he did not feel himself his wife's equal. Could
a listener, who did not see them as they spoke, have deadened his ear to those
intonations of their voices which marked their respective sex, and have judged
only by their words, he would have thought that the Queen was the husband,
and the Prince the wife.
The Prince appeared to be very amiable, very
intelligent; but totally inexperienced in the ways of the world. The Queen
exhibited much natural ability and an elegant taste: nevertheless, she also
seemed lamentably ignorant of the every-day incidents of life. We mean that the
royal pair manifested a reluctance to believe in those melancholy occurrences
which characterize the condition of the industrious millions. This was not the
result of indifference, but of sheer ignorance. Indeed, it would necessarily
seem difficult for those who were so surrounded by every luxury, to conceive
that such a fearful contrast as literal starvation could possibly exist.
But let us hear that illustrious pair converse: their
language will to some extent serve as an index to their minds.
"Melbourne informed me last evening," said the
Queen, "that he trembles for the safety of his Cabinet during the
approaching session. The Carlton Club is particularly active; and the
Conservative party has acquired great strength during the recess."
"What would be the consequence of a Ministerial
defeat?" Inquired Prince Albert.
"A dissolution, of course," answered the
Queen. "I must candidly confess that I should regret to see the
Conservative party succeed to power. All the principal lords and ladies of our
household would be immediately changed. The Whigs, however, have certainly grown
unpopular; and there appears to be some distress in the country. The very first
article on which my eyes rested when I took up this newspaper ere now, is headed
'Dreadful Suicide through Extreme Destitution.' Beneath, in the same
column, is an article entitled 'Infanticide, and Suicide of the Murderess,
through Literal Starvation.' The next column contains a long narrative which
I have not had time to read, but which is headed 'Suicide through Dread of
the Workhouse.' On this page." continued the Queen, turning the paper
upon the table, "there is an article entitled 'Death from Starvation;'
another headed 'Dreadful Condition of the Spitalfields' Weavers;' a third
called 'Starving State of the Paisley Mechanics;' a fourth entitled 'Awful
Distress in the Manufacturing Districts;' and I perceive numerous short
paragraphs all announcing similar calamities."
"The English papers are always full of such
accounts," observed the Prince.
"And yet I would have you know that England is the
richest, most prosperous, and happiest country on the face of the earth,"
returned the Queen, somewhat impatiently. "You must not take these accounts
literally as you read them. My Ministers assure me that they are greatly
exaggerated. It appears as the matter has been explained to
me that the persons who furnish these narratives are remunerated
according to quantity; and they therefore amplify the details as much as
"Still those accounts must be, to a certain extent,
based on truth?" said Prince Albert, half inquiringly.
"Not nearly so much as you imagine. My Ministers
have satisfied me on that head; and they must know better than you. Take, for
instance, the article headed 'Dreadful Condition of the Spitalfields'
Weavers.' You may there read that the weavers are in an actual state of
starvation. This is only newspaper metaphor: the writer means his readers to
understand that the weavers are not so well off as they would wish to be.
Perhaps they have not meat every day perhaps only three or four
times a week: but they assuredly have plenty of bread and potatoes because
bread and potatoes are so cheap!"
"I thought that you intended to discountenance the
importation of foreign silks, by ordering all the ladies of the Court to wear
dresses of English material!" observed Prince Albert, after a pause.
"Such was my intention," answered the Queen;
"but the ladies about me dropped so many hints on the subject, that I was
compelled to rescind the command. I must confess that I was not sorry to find an
excuse for so doing; for I greatly prefer French silks and French dressmakers.
But let me make an observation upon this article which headed 'Suicide
through Dread of the Workhouse. I spoke to the Secretary of State a few days
ago upon the subject of workhouses; and he assured me that they are very
comfortable places. He declared that the people do not know when they are well
off, and that they require to be managed like refractory children. He quite
convinced me that all he said was perfectly correct; and I really begin to think
that the people are very obstinate, dissatisfied, and insolent."
"They are most enthusiastic in their demonstrations
towards their sovereign," remarked the Prince.
"And naturally so," exclaimed Victoria.
"Am I not their Queen? are they not my subjects? do I not rule over them?
All the happiness, prosperity, and enjoyments which they possess emanate from
the throne. They would be very ungrateful if they did not reverence nay,
adore their sovereign."
"Oh, of course!" said Prince Albert. "In
Germany, any individual who exhibits the least coldness towards his sovereign is
immediately marked as a traitor."
"And in this country the Home Secretary keeps [-199-]
a list of disaffected persons," observed the Queen; "but, thank God!
their number is very limited at least, so I am assured. My
Ministers are constantly informing me of the proofs of loyalty and devotion
which the people manifest towards me. If this were a Roman Catholic nation, they
would no doubt place my image next to the Virgin in their chapels; and if it
were an idolatrous country, my effigy would assuredly stand amongst the gods and
goddesses. It is very pleasant, Albert, to be so much loved by my subjects to
be positively worshipped by them."
The Prince replied with a compliment which it is not
worth while to record. -
The Queen smiled, and continued:-
"You remember the paragraph which the Secretary of
State pointed out a few days ago: it was in the Morning Post, if you
recollect. That journal which, by the bye, circulates entirely
amongst the upper servants of the aristocracy, and nowhere else declared
'that so great is the devotion of my loyal subjects that, were such a
sacrifice necessary, they would joyfully throw themselves beneath the wheel, of
my stage-carriage, even as the Indians cast themselves under the car of
Juggernaut.'*[-*Such a disgustingly fulsome, and
really atrocious paragraph did actually appear in the Morning Post three
or four years ago -] I never in my life saw but that one number of the Post:
its circulation, I am told, is confined entirely to the servants of the
aristocracy; still it seems in that instance to express the sentiments of the
entire nation. You smile, Albert?"
"I was only thinking whether the paragraph to which
you have alluded, was another specimen of newspaper metaphor," answered the
Prince, with some degree of hesitation.
"Not at all," returned the Queen, quickly;
"the Editor wrote precisely as he thought. He must know the real sentiments
of the people, since he is a man of the people himself. I have been assured that
he was once the head-butler in a nobleman's family: hence his success in
conducting a daily newspaper exclusively devoted to the interests and capacities
"I thought that English Editors were generally a
better class of men?" observed the Prince.
"So they are for the most part," replied the
Queen: "graduates at the Universities barristers and
highly accomplished gentlemen. But in the case of the Morning Post there
seems to be an exception. We were, however, conversing upon the distress in the
country for there certainly is some little distress here and
there; although the idea of people actually dying of starvation in a Christian
land is of course absurd. I am really bewildered, at times, with the reasons of,
and the remedies proposed for, that distress. If I ask the Home Secretary, he
declares that the people are too obstinate to understand what comfortable places
the workhouses are; if I ask the Colonial Secretary, he assures me
that the people are most wilfully blind to the blessings of emigration: If I ask
the Foreign Secretary, he labours to convince me that the distracted state of
the East reacts upon this country; and if I ask the Bishop of London he
expresses his conviction that the people require more churches."
"For my part, I do not like to interfere in these
matters," said the Prince; "and therefore I never ask any questions
"And you act rightly, Albert, for you certainly
know nothing of English politics. I observe by the newspapers that the country
praises your forbearance in this respect. You are a Field-Marshal, and Chief
Judge of the Stannaries Court and-"
"And a Knight of the Garter," added the
"Yes-and a Learned Doctor of Laws," continued
the Queen: "any thing else?"
"Several things but I really forget
them all now," returned the Prince.
"Never mind," exclaimed the Queen. " I
intend to obtain for you higher distinctions yet. I do not like the mere title
of Prince, and the style of Royal Highness: you shall be King-Consort and Your
Majesty. Then, when a vacancy occurs, you must be appointed
"I feel deeply grateful for your kind
intentions," returned the Prince, with a smile; "but you are well
aware that I am totally ignorant of every thing connected with the army."
"That is of no consequence in England,"
replied the Queen. "You will have subordinates to do your duty. I must
speak to Melbourne about all this. And now, as I intend to take these steps in
your behalf, pray be a little more cautious relative to your private amusements;
and let me hear of no more burying of dogs with funeral honours. That little
affair of the interment of Eos at Windsor has attracted the notice of the
press, I understand. It was indiscreet."
"If I adapt my conduct entirely according to the
English notions," returned the Prince, "I should be compelled to give
up those battues to which I am so devotedly attached."
"We must consult Melbourne on that head,"
observed the Queen.
The royal pair then conversed upon a variety of topics
which would afford little interest to the reader; and shortly after nine her
Prince Albert remained in the room to read the
Henry Holford had listened with almost breathless
attention to the conversation which we have recorded.
The Prince had drawn his chair more closely to the fire,
after the Queen left the room; and he was now sitting within a couple of yards
of the sofa beneath which Holford lay concealed.
The pot-boy gently drew aside the drapery which hung
from the framework of the sofa to the floor, and gazed long and intently on the
Prince. His look was one in which envy, animosity, and admiration were strangely
blended. He thought within himself, "Why are you so exalted, and I so
abased? And yet your graceful person your intelligent
countenance-your handsome features, seem to fit you for such an elevated
position. Nevertheless, if I had had your advantages of education-"
The meditations of the presumptuous youth were suddenly
and most disagreeably checked: the Prince abruptly threw aside the
paper, and his eyes fell on the human countenance that was gazing up at him from
beneath the sofa.
His Royal Highness uttered an exclamation of
surprise not altogether unmingled with alarm; and his first
impulse was to stretch out his hand towards the bell-rope. But, yielding to a
second thought, he advanced to the sofa, exclaiming, "Come forth whoever
you may be."
[-200-] Then the miserable
pot-boy dragged himself from lie biding-place, and in another moment stood, pale
and trembling, in the presence of the Prince.
"Who are you?" demanded his Royal Highness in
a stern tone: "what means this intrusion? how came you hither?"
Henry Holford fell at the feet of the Prince, and
confessed that, urged by an invincible curiosity, he had entered the palace on
the preceding evening; but he said nothing of his previous visits.
For a few moments Prince Albert seemed uncertain how to
act: he was doubtless hesitating between the alternatives of handing the
intruder over to the officers of justice, or of allowing him to depart
After a pause, he questioned Holford more closely, and
seemed satisfied by the youth's assurance that he had really entered the palace
through motives of curiosity, and not for any dishonest purpose.
The Prince accordingly determined to be merciful.
"I am willing," he said, "to forgive the
present offence; you shall be suffered to depart. But I warn you that a
repetition of the act will lead to a severe punishment. Follow me."
The Prince led the way to an ante-room where a domestic
was in waiting.
"Conduct this lad as privately as you can from the
palace," said his Royal Highness. "Ask him no questions-and mention
not the incident elsewhere."
The Prince withdrew; and the lacquey led Henry Holford
through various turnings in the palace to the servants' door opening into
Thus was the pot-boy ignominiously expelled from the
palace; and never never in his life had he felt more thoroughly
degraded more profoundly abased more contemptible in
his own eyes, than on the present occasion!
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