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The Queen and Her First Prime Minister


When from the vantage-ground of far-distant centuries men come to look back upon the history of the British Empire, probably no figure will surpass in brilliancy and interest as that of Queen Victoria. In order to form a just idea of the strong relief in which the Queen will stand out from her predecessors, it is necessary to imagine Elizabeth known to us by the light of her own utterances and those of her contemporaries; for it is thus that the Queen is revealed to the readers of her journals, her correspondence, and the memoirs of those who have been privileged to observe closely the higher political movement of her reign. The life of the Queen has been laid open to the eyes of all who care to look. It is pure and honest and simple beyond the lives of most women, and harmonises with the fancies upon which idealists have loved to dwell. Emotional, with full play of the higher feelings, tempered by caution and sound reason, the Queen has reigned over half-a-century without making a personal enemy, without creating a political foe. It is a famous record; for the negative virtues are the rarest of all in monarchs. No act of cruelty sullies the rule of Queen Victoria, and, so far as her subjects can judge of her, she has been unjust to none of them. This alone, apart from the lofty moral atmosphere in which she has always moved, is higher praise than any of her ancestors can boast.

It was "in a palace in a garden, meet scene for youth and innocence," as one in later years to be her Minister has said, that she received the news of her accession to a throne overlooking "every sea and nations in every zone." There are but few who would deny that the sequel to her reign has proved worthy of the opening. Seldom has a woman been called upon to play a more difficult part than the young girl, hardly eighteen years old, who in June 1837 stood with bare feet, and in her night-dress, receiving the homage of the Lords who had come to announce to her that she was Queen of England.

The scene has been admirably described. William the Fourth was dead. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were despatched to inform the Princess Victoria of the fact. It was a warm night in June. The Princess was sleeping in her mother's room, her custom from childhood, and had to be summoned out of her sleep. The messengers awaited her in the long, unlofty room, separated only by folding-doors from that which was inhabited by the Duchess of Kent and her daughter. The young girl entered alone, in her night-dress, with some loose wrap thrown hastily about her. The moment she was addressed as "Your Majesty" she put out her hand, intimating that the Lords who addressed her were to kiss it, and thereby do homage. Her schooling and her instincts were admirable from the first. Self-possession combined with perfect modesty came naturally to her. A few hours later, at eleven o'clock in the morning, the child-Queen met her Council. In the corridor at Windsor there is a picture which commemorates the event. Never, it has been said by an eye-witness, was anything like the first impression she produced, or the chorus of praise and admiration which was raised about her manner and behaviour, certainly not without justice. Her extreme youth and inexperience, and the ignorance of the world concerning her - for she had lived in complete seclusion - excited interest and curiosity. Asked whether she would enter the room accompanied by the Great Officers of State, she said she would come in alone. Accordingly, when all the Lords of the Privy Council were assembled, the folding-doors were thrown open, and the Queen entered, quite plainly dressed and in mourning, and took her seat for the first time, a young girl among a crowd of men, including all the most famous and powerful of her subjects.

She bowed, and read her speech, handed to her by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, in a clear and firm voice, and then took the oath for the security of the Church of Scotland. Immediately the Privy Councillors were sworn; the royal Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex first by themselves. It was observed that as these two old men, her uncles, knelt before her swearing allegiance, she blushed up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their civil and natural relations. Her manner was very graceful and engaging, and she kissed them both, and, rising from her chair, moved towards the Duke of Sussex, who was too infirm to reach her. She spoke to no one, nor could the smallest difference in her manner be detected, though carefully scrutinised to see whether she drew distinction between Lord Melbourne and the Ministers on the one hand, or the Duke of Wellington and Sir R. Peel on the other. Occasionally, when in doubt what to do, she looked to Lord Melbourne for instruction; but this rarely occurred. No wonder he was charmed; no wonder that Sir R. Peel was amazed at her manner and behaviour, at her apparent deep sense of the situation, at her modesty and her firmness. No wonder that the Duke of Wellington was constrained to admit that if she had been his own daughter he could not have desired to see her perform her part better.

It was not only by her appearance and manner that the Queen made her charm felt. She acted in difficult circumstances with every sort of good taste and good feeling, as well as good sense. To the Queen Dowager her behaviour was perfect. She wrote to her in the kindest terms, begging her to consult only her health and convenience, and to remain at Windsor as long as she pleased. This much any tenderhearted woman might have done; but her thoughtfulness for the feelings of others already was apparent in the smallest and least expected details. When about to go down to visit the Queen Dowager at Windsor, to Lord Melbourne's great surprise she told him that the flag on the Round Tower was flying half-mast high, and that as they would probably elevate it on her arrival, it would be better to send orders beforehand not to do so. He had never thought of the flag, nor did he know anything about it. Attention to details, which some would consider trifles, but which differentiate more than great actions the thoughtful from the thoughtless mind, has from her youth upwards been characteristic of the Queen. Of her good sense and caution ample proof was soon given in her treatment of those who had been about her since childhood. Upon none of them did she exclusively rely. Conroy she dismissed at once, with a pension, from her immediate surroundings. The Baroness Lehzen remained as before her companion. It was noticed that whenever she was asked to decide upon some difficult matter she invariably said she would think it over and reply on the morrow. Men, knowing to what extent she relied upon the advice of Lord Melbourne, imagined that in everything she consulted him. He, however, declared that to many of his questions a similar reply was given. The Minister was quickly absorbed by the novel and exciting duty which had fallen to him. No human relation could be more fascinating than that in which he stood to the Queen. Perhaps no man before or since has quite filled the place that Lord Melbourne occupied in the life of a girl who was not his wife or his daughter. For four years he saw the Queen every day. He was formed, as an acute observer noticed, to ingratiate himself with her. The unbounded consideration and respect with which he treated her, his desire to consult her tastes and wishes, the ease of his frank and natural manners, his quaint epigrammatic turn of mind, all helped to charm the girl who was his sovereign, but who also stood to him in statu pupillari. The excitement - for it could have been no less to him, a man of the world, with a romantic bias, as well as a keen practical intelligence - of having to guide and direct such a pupil can be well imagined.

He never betrayed his responsibility nor presumed upon his position. It was a piece of rare good fortune which found him Minister at the King's death. With all the immense powers of head and heart which the Queen came later to discover in Sir R. Peel, it is more than doubtful if he could have fulfilled in the summer of 1837 - duties so easily assumed by his rival.

Lord Melbourne's life had been chequered by curious experiences. In the sphere of politics he had found himself on pleasant lines; but in private his lot had been cast with that of a woman versed in all the wearing secrets of romantic passion. To turn from the memory of his wife's wild excesses in thought and language, to the pure-hearted and simple girl whom the Fates had given him as a Queen and a daughter must have touched him to the quick.

Varied as is the business of a Prime Minister, full as his mind must necessarily be of State affairs, Lord Melbourne's absorbing interest became the blossoming of this youthful character under his watchful eye and careful guardianship.

He was no longer young, but he was not old. At the Coronation, after the heroic figure of the Duke of Wellington, it was to Lord Melbourne that the attention of onlookers was mainly-directed.

His head was a truly noble one [wrote Leslie, no mean judge]. I think, indeed, he was the finest specimen of manly beauty in the meridian of life I ever saw; not only were his features eminently handsome, but his expression was in the highest degree intellectual. His laugh was frequent, and the most joyous possible, and his voice so deep and musical, that to hear him say the most ordinary things was a pleasure; but his frankness, his freedom from affectation, and his peculiar humour rendered almost everything he said, though it seemed perfectly natural, yet quite original.

Chantrey's bust and the beautiful portraits in the corridor at Windsor - one taken when he was but a boy, the other in middle life - corroborate the view of his contemporaries. His memory was prodigious, and he read voraciously. In classical attainments, including a neat talent for verse, he was up to the high average level of the educated men of his time. In knowledge of history and of politics he was not surpassed by any; and no living Englishman was by age, character, and experience so well qualified for the task which lay under his hand.

That the young Queen should have become attached with almost filial regard to her Minister is not surprising, and that he admirably fulfilled his duty was never questioned by those who knew the truth. Sir R. Peel, his chief political opponent, admitted that the Queen could not do better than take his advice and abide by his counsel; and the Duke of Wellington, then Leader of the Opposition to him in the House of Lords, declared publicly that Lord Melbourne had rendered the greatest possible service by making the Queen acquainted with the mode and policy of government, initiating her into the laws and spirit of the Constitution, and teaching her to preside over the destinies of the country.

The initiation of the Queen into the spirit of the Constitution even Lord Melbourne's political foes felt could not be in better hands; and although the Times, then a party journal, declared the all but infant and helpless Queen to be delivered up into the hands of the Whig Minister, and evidently anticipated the worst results from it, these prognostications were happily falsified. Her uncle, the King of the Belgians, and his curious mentor, the physician Stockmar, from the first endeavoured to instil into the Queen's mind her responsibilities as a constitutional sovereign, and the supreme importance of holding an impartial balance between the two great political parties. Had Lord Melbourne been a degree less loyal, had he been an office-seeker, had he possessed an exaggerated belief in his own infallibility, the Queen might not have responded so readily to the wise advice of her relative and of Stockmar. She has allowed the admission to be made on her behalf that between her accession and her marriage, in spite of Lord Melbourne's daily lessons, in reality because of their charm, she had drifted insensibly into political partisanship. Had it been otherwise she would not have been human; but it is to the credit of Lord Melbourne that neither by precept, nor hint, nor suggestion did he encourage his sovereign's bias towards the Whig party. He taught her the duties of queenship in their widest sense.

No pedagogue could have done this [says one of the most fascinating of biographers]; a professor from one of the universities might have taught her the letters of the Constitution in a course of morning lessons, but he would probably have failed to convey along with it that informing and quickening spirit without which the letter profiteth nothing, or leads to mischief.

He was, as he has been called, a Regius Professor, but with no professional disqualifications; and if to political Crokers, spell the word as you will, his influence seemed dangerous, the Tory leaders recognised the indispensable nature of his task, and acquiesced in his performance of it. He was a Whig, no doubt, says his biographer, but at any rate he was an honest-hearted Englishman, in no merely conventional sense a gentleman, on whose perfect honour no one hesitated to place reliance. He lived at Windsor Castle, and had constant access to the Queen. In the morning he carried and explained to her letters and despatches. After luncheon he rode with her, taking his place next to her. Or he rode by her side when she drove, with the Duchess of Kent, in a low carriage drawn by four white ponies, attended by grooms in scarlet, and a number of gentlemen riding in attendance. Or perhaps it was a review of troops in the park, when her Minister would stand and watch his charge as she rode between the lines, in the Windsor uniform riding-habit, with the blue ribbon of the Garter, and a smart schako trimmed with gold lace, returning the salutes of her troops by raising her hand to her cap in true military fashion. "The most fascinating thing ever seen," veteran officers would declare; and can there be any doubt that Lord Melbourne agreed with them in his hearty way? Or he would be still prouder of her when, after bidding farewell to departing relatives, and about to leave the ship, the captain and officers betrayed their anxiety to assist her down the tall side of the vessel, she looked up with the greatest spirit, and said quite loud in her silvery voice, "No help, thank you; I am used to this," and descended, as an eye-witness noticed, "like an old boatswain." It is not, perhaps, astonishing that Lord Melbourne should have joined in the enthusiastic cheers of her sailors. Or he accompanied her on those Sunday afternoons, from four to five, when the band played upon the incomparable terrace at Windsor; and there are those who still remember the crowds of people, thick-set rows of men, women, and Eton boys, pressing round the child-Queen as she walked, her courtiers hardly able to cleave a passage through them, and Lord Melbourne walking half a pace behind her, on her right, stooping a little so as to be quite within earshot; a fascinating sight; the homage of a protector.

Visitors at Windsor were struck with the Minister's manner to the Queen. The mixture of parental anxiety and respectful deference was naturally responded to by her, and she gave him her entire confidence. Greville remarked that he had no doubt Melbourne was passionately fond of her, as he might be of a daughter if he had one, and the more so because he was a man with a great capacity for loving without having anything in the world to love. As they are the impressions of an eye-witness, and a man of discrimination, it is worth while to quote Greville's Journal of the 15th December 1838:

Went on Wednesday to a Council at Windsor, and after the Council was invited to stay that night; rode with the Queen, and after riding, Melbourne came to me and said her Majesty wished me to stay the next day also. This was very gracious and very considerate, because it was done for the express purpose of showing that she was not displeased at my not staying when asked on a former occasion, and as she can have no object whatever in being civil to me, it was a proof of her good nature and thoughtfulness about other people's little vanities, even those of the most insignificant. Accordingly I remained till Friday morning, when I went with the rest of her suite to see the hounds throw off, which she herself saw for the first time. The Court is certainly not gay, but it is perhaps impossible that any Court should be gay where there is no social equality; where some ceremony and a continual air of deference and respect must be observed, there can be no ease, and without ease there can be no real pleasure. The Queen is natural, good-humoured, and cheerful, but still she is Queen, and by her must the social habits and the tone of conversation be regulated, and for this she is too young and inexperienced. She sits at a large round table, her guests around it, and Melbourne always in a chair beside her, where two mortal hours are consumed in such conversation as can be found, which appears to be, and really is, very uphill work. This, however, is the only bad part of the whole; the rest of the day is passed without the slightest constraint, trouble, or annoyance to anybody; each person is at liberty to employ himself or herself as best pleases them, though very little is done in common, and in this respect Windsor is totally unlike any other place. There is none of the sociability which makes the agreeableness of an English country house; there is no room in which the guests assemble, sit, lounge, and talk as they please and when they please; there is a billiard-table, but in such a remote corner of the Castle that it might as well be in the town of Windsor; and there is a library well stocked with books, but hardly accessible, imperfectly warmed, and only tenanted by the librarian: it is a mere library, too, unfurnished, and offering none of the comforts and luxuries of a habitable room. There are two breakfast-rooms, one for the ladies and the guests, and the other for the equerries; but when the meal is over everybody disperses, and nothing but another meal reunites the company, so that, in fact, there is no society whatever, little trouble, little etiquette, but very little resource or amusement.

The life which the Queen leads is this: she gets up soon after eight o'clock, breakfasts in her own room, and is employed the whole morning in transacting business; she reads all the despatches and has every matter of interest and importance in every department laid before her. At eleven or twelve Melbourne comes to her and stays an hour, more or less, according to the business he may have to transact. At two she rides with a large suite (and she likes to have it numerous); Melbourne always rides on her left hand, and the equerry-in-waiting generally on her right; she rides for two hours along the road, and the greater part of the time at a full gallop; after riding she amuses herself for the rest of the afternoon with music and singing, playing, romping with children, if there are any in the Castle (and she is so fond of them that she generally contrives to have some there), or in any other way she fancies. The hour of dinner is nominally half-past seven o'clock, soon after which time the guests assemble, but she seldom appears till near eight. The lord-in-waiting comes into the drawing-room and instructs each gentleman which lady he is to take to dinner. When the guests are all assembled the Queen comes in, preceded by the gentlemen of her household, and followed by the Duchess of Kent and all her ladies; she speaks to each lady, bows to the men, and goes immediately into the dining-room. She generally takes the arm of the man of the highest rank, but on this occasion she went with Mr. Stephenson, the American Minister (though he has no rank), which was very wisely done. Melbourne invariably sits on her left, no matter who may be there; she remains at table the usual time, but does not suffer the men to sit long after her, and we were summoned to coffee in less than a quarter of an hour. In the drawing-room she never sits down till the men make their appearance. Coffee is served to them in the adjoining room, and then they go into the drawing-room, when she goes round and says a few words to each, of the most trivial nature, all, however, very civil and cordial in manner and expression. When this little ceremony is over, the Duchess of Kent's whist table is arranged, and then the round table is marshalled, Melbourne invariably sitting on the left hand of the Queen, and remaining there without moving till the evening is at an end. At about half-past eleven she goes to bed, or whenever the Duchess has played her usual number of rubbers, and the band have performed all the pieces on their list for the night. This is the whole history of her day: she orders and regulates every detail herself, she knows where everybody is lodged in the Castle, settles about the riding or driving, and enters into every particular with minute attention. But while she personally gives her orders to her various attendants, and does everything that is civil to all the inmates of the Castle, she really has nothing to do with anybody but Melbourne, and with him she passes (if not in tete-a-tete yet in intimate communication) more hours than any two people, in any relation of life, perhaps ever do pass together besides. He is at her side for at least six hours every day - an hour in the morning, two on horseback, one at dinner, and two in the evening. This monopoly is certainly not judicious; it is not altogether consistent with social usage, and it leads to an infraction of those rules of etiquette which it is better to observe with regularity at Court. But it is more peculiarly inexpedient with reference to her own future enjoyment, for if Melbourne should be compelled to resign, her privations will be the more bitter on account of the exclusiveness of her intimacy with him. Accordingly, her terror when any danger menaces the Government, her nervous apprehension at any appearance of change, affect her health, and upon one occasion during the last session she actually fretted herself into an illness at the notion of their going out. It must be owned that her feelings are not unnatural, any more than those which Melbourne entertains towards her. His manner to her is perfect, always respectful, and never presuming upon the extraordinary distinction he enjoys; hers to him is simple and natural, indicative of the confidence she reposes in him, and of her lively taste for his society, but not marked by any unbecoming familiarity. Interesting as his position is, and flattered, gratified, and touched as he must be by the confiding devotion with which she places herself in his hands, it is still marvellous that he should be able to overcome the force of habit so completely as to endure the life he leads. Month after month he remains at the Castle, submitting to this daily routine; of all men he appeared to be the last to be broken in to the trammels of a Court, and never was such a revolution seen in anybody's occupations and habits. Instead of indolently sprawling in all the attitudes of luxurious ease, he is always sitting bolt upright; his free and easy language, interlarded with "damns," is carefully guarded and regulated with the strictest propriety, and he has exchanged the good talk of Holland House for the trivial, laboured, and wearisome inanities of the Royal circle.

Greville noticed that the Queen never ceased to be Queen, and that all her naivete, kindness, and good-nature were combined with the propriety and dignity demanded by her lofty station.

Lord Melbourne had been in public life for many years, and since 1835 - had been Prime Minister; but as leader of the Whig party, and as a statesman, although he had exhibited skill, and occasionally power, he had never shown himself to be indispensable, or to be filling an office that could not have been equally well filled by half-a-dozen of his contemporaries. Now, however, all was changed. The importance of his work, as is commonly the case, was at the time not fully appreciated. Doubtless far more interest was felt in the controversial questions of domestic politics which then divided parties; and the respective attitudes of Lord Durham and Lord Brougham were thought to have far deeper influence on public affairs than the relation of the Queen to her Minister.

In reality, however, the inevitable Irish question, troubles in Egypt, missions to Afghanistan, Persian wars, all important in their way, sink into insignificance beside the great political event which was exclusively controlled by Lord Melbourne when he undertook to form the political character of the Queen.

It is difficult to over-estimate the value to England and to the Empire of the four years of teaching which the Queen received at Lord Melbourne's hands.

It is possible to exaggerate the effect produced by such admirable letters as those of the King of the Belgians, and the sound dogmatising of Baron Stockmar; but Lord Melbourne's daily culture of the Queen's mind, his careful pruning away of extraneous growths harmful in a constitutional sovereign, his respectful explanation of her duties, cannot have failed to have rendered her more fit to receive and profit by the closer friend and guide who was to follow, and whose teaching was in a great degree a variation upon the text of the Whig Minister.

Speculation staggers at the prospect of what might have occurred if Queen Victoria had exhibited the obstinacy of her grandfather, or the partisanship of Queen Anne, or the unconscientious neglect of duty so conspicuous in George the Fourth. Those first four years of her reign were crucial in their importance to the formation of her character as a sovereign and a woman. From their novelty and excitement they must have left the young girl in a mental state only too ready to receive lifelong impressions of good or evil. The Queen has said that they were years full of peril for her, and has expressed her gratitude that none of her children have had to run the risk she believes herself to have incurred. It was England's good fortune as well as the Queen's that at such a moment Lord Melbourne's guiding hand was held out to her.

In spite of all that he could do to inure her to the idea, it soon became clear that the Queen viewed with dismay a change of Ministers which would deprive her of his advice and companionship; her feelings, when strongly stirred, have always been but partially under control; and when the crisis of his ministerial fate arrived in May 1839, Lord Melbourne's earnest endeavour to smooth the way for Sir Robert Peel was not altogether successful.

The "Bedchamber Question" seems by the light of subsequent years to have admitted of only one proper solution; and that Lord Melbourne showed want of foresight in not preparing the Queen's mind for the inevitable change in the personnel of her Court, and want of resolution in advising her to yield to Sir Robert Peel's strong representations, has never in recent years been denied. The temptation was strong to support her in her maidenly desire not to part with the Duchess of Sutherland and other ladies who had been around her since her accession while party tacticians derived hopeful satisfaction from the capital which they hoped to make of Ministerial devotion to the person of the youthful sovereign, and of self-immolation upon the altar of her natural feelings. As is obvious from his subsequent life. Lord Melbourne, when the moment of parting came, was singularly loth to leave his pupil while any chance remained which enabled him to continue to live the engrossing life of the past two years. It came to pass, however, that the Princess of nineteen was strong enough to overturn a great Ministerial combination; that in doing so she was supported by the Whig party; that the phrase, "I have stood by you: you must now stand by me," in the mouth of a sovereign, successfully appealed to one of the house of Russell; that the charming petulance of the cry, " They wish to treat me like a girl, but I will show them I am Queen of England," went unchallenged at a Whig Cabinet; and that the doctrine that the principle was not maintainable, but that they were bound as gentlemen to support the Queen, actually decided a Whig Government to continue to enjoy for two years a further term of office. Such is the force of the human element in great affairs, to the confusion of doctrinaires, and of unfortunate devotees of science.

Possibly some kind divinity interposed to assist the Queen at this moment, pregnant as it was with a change vital to her reign, as well as to her personal happiness; for in a few short months it was to Lord Melbourne, a real friend of comparative long standing, rather than to a stranger, however kindly disposed, that she came to announce her intention of asking Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg to become her consort; and it was not from formal lips, but from the heart of her Minister and friend, that the words of approval and congratulation flowed. No one else could have said to her in homely language, "You will be very much more comfortable, for a woman cannot stand alone for any time, in whatever position she may be;" and no one during the trying months that followed, in which the joys of a love-match were curiously blended with painful discussions in Parliament, and hateful but necessary public arrangements, could have filled adequately Lord Melbourne's place in the eyes of the fatherless girl who stood alone, without a male friend or protector of any kind. It is not surprising that at the Council, when she announced her approaching marriage, her nervousness should have permitted her to notice only the kindly face of her Prime Minister, and still less wonderful is it that in that momentary glance she should have seen that his eyes were full of tears. The prevision of work well-nigh accomplished must have rushed upon him with full and saddening force, and the feeling of pleasure in the Queen's happiness must have been shot with sorrow at the thought of the fascinating tutelage which was about to end.

During the eighteen months that followed the 10th of February 1840, when the Queen was married, to the 31st of August 1841, when Sir Robert Peel was sent for by the Queen, her Minister was engaged in the task of providing himself with a successor. For it was only in a limited sense that Peel took his predecessor's place, and the real successor to Lord Melbourne, in influence, in authority, and in guidance, was Prince Albert, a mere boy in years, but who had been so carefully trained, and was happily endowed with such singular powers of self-control in one so young, that he from the first seemed to experience no difficulty in taking Lord Melbourne's place at the side of the Queen. It was as though a guardian had relinquished his trust; and with the fall of the Melbourne Government the reign of the Queen may be said to have come of age.

For some time the end of the Administration was seen to be approaching, and abnormal perception in reading political signs was not required to forecast the result of an appeal to the country whenever it should take place; but Lord Melbourne's fall, though generally welcomed, carried with it an unusual degree of personal pain to the Sovereign and her Minister. Notwithstanding his regret, Lord Melbourne took leave of the Queen with his usual cheerful smile, although the pathos of parting from something more cherished than political power rings in the almost familiar words of farewell which she herself has recorded. He pretended that his principal sorrow was for her, but in reality his was the heavier burden. "For four years I have seen you every day; but it is so different now to what it would have been in 1839." Different, no doubt, and it was Lord Melbourne above all who was about to feel the quality of the difference.

During the leave-taking the Queen admits that she was much affected, and that the separation from her old friend was a trying time for her, when all the consolation which her husband could give her was required. This was freely bestowed, and the exigencies of her great position speedily reinvolved her in affairs of State, clouding regrets in the dust of strenuous and constant duty.

To Lord Melbourne, however, the end of life had come. He was sixty-three, still young as the days of statesmen are now counted, but his work was done and his mission fulfilled. He had placed the sceptre and globe in the hands of the youthful Sovereign, and there was no further need for him in the world.

The truth seemed to strike him with overwhelming force, and although he tried to simulate a continued interest in public affairs, and to persuade himself that he was yet in full career, the melancholy of hopelessness gradually enveloped him, and threw into deep shadow the remaining years of his life. To resume old habits, to turn to the classics, to books, to old friends anxious to welcome him, or to new ones eager for his society, seemed alike impossible. The reaction was too great, and the difference between what was and what had been too profound.

Into a solitary and loveless life the most thrilling human element had been accidentally introduced, and, like Silas Marner, who, expectant of mere gold coin, suddenly found the golden head of a child, so Lord Melbourne, in the lottery of political life, obtained not only the first place, but a prize from which the wifeless and childless man could not find himself bereft without complete loss of mental balance. It is painful to lift the veil from those last sad years, when at Brocket, the home of his youth, the ex-Minister slowly sank into the grave.

Hearts break oftener than is generally supposed, and they are cleft upon curious and unnoticed angles. Many attempts were made, by the Queen herself and others, to rouse the drooping spirit of one whose name is associated with a nature almost reckless in its insouciance and gaiety; but they were fruitless. When the end finally came, no one grieved more deeply than the Lady whose debt to him was so heavy, and was so fully recognised. It was some consolation to feel that during the last "melancholy years of his life" his pupil and her husband had been often the "chief means of giving him" fitful gleams of pleasure; and no one can doubt the sincerity of the passage in the Queen's Journal which records how "truly and sincerely" she deplored "the loss of one who was a most kind and disinterested friend of mine, and most sincerely attached to me" - one who was, "for the first two years and a half of my reign, almost the only friend I had." It may be the tendency of modern times to look less upon individual character than upon vast masses of nameless men as the determining factor in great public affairs, so that hereafter Englishmen may come to view the history of their race much as some of us gaze upon the stars, with an indefinite and confused sense of glory, the riddle of which we cannot read; but it is impossible that those who look back to the reign of Queen Victoria should not pause for a moment, held in thrall by the moving figure of the girl-Queen, stepping as it were from innocent sleep, with bare feet and dazzled eyes, upon the slippery steps of her throne, supported by the tender and respectful hand of the first of her long series of Prime Ministers.

Source:
The Yoke of Empire: Sketches of the Queen's Prime Ministers
By Reginald B. Brett, 1896
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