Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

court-suit, had to kneel, Cumberland says, and was so fat and so tight that he could not get up again. “Kneel, sir, kneel!" cried my lord in waiting to a country mayor who had to read an address, but who went on with his compliment standing. “Kneel, sir, kneel !” cries my lord, in dreadful alarm. “I can't !” says the mayor, turning round; “ don't you see I have got a wooden leg ?” In the capital “Burney Diary and Letters," the home and court life of good old King George and good old Queen Charlotte are presented at portentous length. The King rose every morning at six: and had two hours to himself. He thought it effeminate to have a carpet in his bedroom. Shortly before eight, the Queen and the royal family were always ready for him, and they proceeded to the King's chapel in the castle. There were no fires in the passages : the chapel was scarcely alight ; princesses, governesses, equerries grumbled and caught cold: but cold or hot, it was their duty to go: and, wet or dry, light or dark, the stout old George was always in his place to say amen to the chaplain.

The Queen's character is represented in “ Burney” at full length. She was a sensible, most decorous woman; a very grand lady on state occasions, simple enough in ordinary life; well read as times went, and giving shrewd opinions about books; stingy, but not unjust ; not generally unkind to her dependants, but invincible in her notions of etiquette, and quite angry if her people suffered ill-health in her service. She gave Miss Burney a shabby pittance, and led the poor young woman a life which well-nigh killed her. She never thought but that she was doing Burney the greatest favour, in taking her from freedom, fame, and competence, and killing her off with languor in that dreary court. It was not dreary to her. Had she been servant instead of mistress, her spirit would never have broken down : she never would have put a pin out of place, or been a moment from her duty. She was not weak, and she could not pardon those who were. She was perfectly correct in life, and she hated poor sinners with a rancour such as virtue sometimes has. She must have had awful private trials of her own : not merely with her children, but with her husband, in those long days about which nobody will ever know anything now; when he was not quite insane ; when his incessant tongue was babbling folly, rage, persecution; and she had to smile and be respectful and attentive under this intolerable ennui. The Queen bore all her duties stoutly, as she expected others to bear them. At a State christening, the lady who held the infant was tired and looked unwell, and the Princess of Wales asked permission for her to sit down. “Let her stand,” said the Queen, flicking the snuff off her sleeve. She would have stood, the resolute old woman, if she had had to hold the child till his beard was grown. “I am seventy years of age," the Queen said, facing a mob of ruffians who stopped her sedan : “I have been fifty years Queen of England, and I never was insulted before.” Fearless, rigid, unforgiving little queen! I don't wonder that her sons revolted from her.

Of all the figures in that large family group which surrounds George and his Queen, the prettiest, I think, is the father's darling, the Princess Amelia, pathetic for her beauty, her sweetness, her early death, and for the extreme passionate tenderness with which her father loved her. This was his favourite amongst all the children: of his sons, he loved the Duke of York best. Burney tells a sad story of the poor old man at Weymouth, and how eager he was to have this darling son with him. The King's house was not big enough to hold the Prince ; and his father had a portable house erected close to his own, and at huge pains, so that his dear Frederick should be near him. He clung on his arm all the time of his visit: talked to no one else ; had talked of no one else for some time before. The Prince, so long expected, stayed but a single night. He had business in London the next day, he said. The dulness of the old King's court stupefied York and the other big sons of George III. They scared equerries and ladies, frightened the modest little circle, with their coarse spirits and loud talk. Of little comfort, indeed were the King's sons to the King.

But the pretty Amelia was his darling; and the little maiden, prattling and smiling in the fond arms of that old father, is a sweet image to look on. There is a family picture in Burney, which a man must be very hard-hearted not to like. She describes an after-dinner walk of the royal family at Windsor :-" It was really a mighty pretty procession," she says. “ The little Princess, just turned of three years old, in a robe-coat covered with fine muslin, a dressed close cap, white gloves, and fan, walked on alone and first, highly delighted with the parade, and turning from side to side to see everybody as she passed ; for all the terracers stand up against the walls, to make a clear passage for the royal family the moment they come in sight. Then followed the King and Queen, no less delighted with the joy of their little darling. The Princess Royal leaning on Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave, the Princess Augusta holding by the Duchess of Ancaster, the Princess Elizabeth led by Lady Charlotte Bertie, followed. Office here takes place of rank,” says Burney, — to explain how it was that Lady E. Waldegrave, as lady of the bedchamber, walked before a duchess ; — “General Bude, and the Duke of Montague, and Major Price as equerry, brought up the rear of the procession.” One sees it; the band playing its old music, the sun shining on the happy, loyal crowd ; and lighting the ancient battlements, the rich elms, and purple landscape, and bright greensward ; the royal standard drooping from the great tower yonder; as old George passes, followed by his race, preceded by the charming infant, who caresses the crowd with her innocent smiles.

“On sight of Mrs. Delany, the King instantly stopped to speak to her; the Queen, of course, and the little Princess, and all the rest, stood still.

They talked a good while with the sweet old lady, during which time the King once or twice addressed himself to me. I caught the Queen's eye, and saw in it a little surprise, but by no means any displeasure, to see me of the party. The little Princess went up to Mrs. Delany, of whom she is very fond, and behaved like a little angel to her. She then, with a look of inquiry and recollection, came behind Mrs. Delany to look at me. 'I am afraid,' said I, in a whisper, and stooping down, 'your Royal Highness does not remember me?' Her answer was an arch little smile, and a nearer approach, with her lips poạted out to kiss me."

The Princess wrote verses herself, and there are some pretty plaintive lines attributed to her, which are more touching than better poetry :

“ Unthinking, idle, wild, and young,

I laughed, and danced, and talked, and sung :
And, proud of health, of freedom vain,
Dreamed not of sorrow, care, or pain ;
Concluding, in those hours of glee,
That all the world was made for me.

“ But when the hour of trial came,

When sickness shook this trembling frame,
When folly's gay pursuits were o'er,
And I could sing and dance no more,
It then occurred, how sad 'twould be,
Were this world only made for me."

The poor soul quitted it—and ere yet she was dead the agonized father was in such a state, that the officers round about him were obliged to set watchers over him, and from November, 1810, George III. ceased to reign. All the world knows the story of his malady : all history presents no sadder figure than that of the old man, blind and deprived of reason, wandering through the rooms of his palace, addressing imaginary parliaments, reviewing fancied troops, holding ghostly courts. I have seen his picture as it was taken at this time, hanging in the apartment of his daughter, the Landgravine of Hesse Hombourg — amidst books and Windsor furniture, and a hundred fond reminiscences of her English home. The poor old father is represented in a purple gown, his snowy beard falling over his breast—the star of his famous Order still idly shining on it. He was not only sightless : he became utterly deaf. All light, all reason, all sound of human voices, all the pleasures of this world of God, were taken from him. Some slight lucid moments he liad ; in one of which, the Queen, desiring to see him, entered the room, and found him singing a hymn, and accompanying himself at the harpsichord. When he had finished, he knelt down and prayed aloud for her, and then for his family, and then for the nation, concluding with a prayer for himself, that it might please God to avert his heavy calanity from him, but if not, to give him resignation to submit. He then burst into tears, and his reason again fled.

What preacher need moralize on this story; what words save the simplest are requisite to tell it? It is too terrible for tears. The thought of such a misery smites me down in submission before the Ruler of kings and men, the Monarch Supreme over empires and republics, the inscrutable Dispenser of life, death, happiness, victory. “O brothers,” I said to those who heard me first in America—“O brothers ! speaking the same dear mother tongue-0 comrades ! enemies no more, let us take a mournful hand together as we stand by this royal corpse, and call a truce to battle ! Low he lies to whom the proudest used to kneel once, and who was cast lower than the poorest : dead, whom millions prayed for in vain. Driven off his throne; buffeted by rude hands; with his children in revolt; the darling of his old age killed before him untimely; our Lear hangs over her breathless lips and cries, Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little !'

• Vex not his ghost-oh! let him pass-he hates him
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer !'

Hush ! Strife and Quarrel, over the solemn grave! Sound, trumpets, a mournful march. Fall, dark curtain, upon his pageant, his pride, his grief, his awful tragedy."

« VorigeDoorgaan »