THE year 1860 was on the whole a happy one for the Princess Royal. It
brought her a long visit from her parents and the birth of her eldest
daughter, but on the other side of the account the relations between
her two countries, England and Prussia, became perceptibly worse.
For the New Year her father sent her one of his customary letters of sagacious counsel, in which may be detected a certain note of uneasiness as to the development of his daughter's powers of selfcontrol:
"You enter upon the New Year with hopes, which God will surely graciously suffer to be fulfilled, but you do also with good resolutions, whose fulfilment lies within your own hand and must necessarily contribute to your success, also happiness, in this suffering and difficult world. Hold firmly by these resolutions, and evermore cherish the determination, with which comes also the strength, to exercise unlimited control over yourself, that the moral law may govern and the propensity obey, - the end and aim of all education and culture, as we long ago discovered and reasoned out together."
It is remarkable that early in this year Prince Frederick William appears to have been for a time the centre of the hopes of the reactionary party. The Junkers actually planned to bring about the resignation of the Prince Regent, and to induce Prince Frederick William to assume the supreme power and govern without a constitution, which formed the great obstacle to their military ambitions. This scheme argued an extraordinary misapprehension, not only of Prince Frederick William's honest, straightforward character, but also of all his political ideals. He was, especially at this period of his life, a pure Constitutionalist, with a profound admiration for the free polity of England; and it would be difficult to imagine any form of government which would have seemed both to him and to his wife more immoral, as well as more certain to entail a counter-revolution, than a military dictatorship. It is perhaps not without significance that in March a British warship was launched at Portsmouth and was named Frederick William by way of compliment to the husband of the Princess Royal.
In June there was a parade at the Königsberg garrison, at which the Prince Regent said to his son, "Fritz, I appoint you to the First Infantry Regiment, the oldest Corps in the service," and about a month afterwards the young commander was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General.
The Princess Royal's eldest daughter was born on July 24, and was christened Victoria Augusta Charlotte, being known as Princess Charlotte till her marriage in 1878 to the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen. Queen Victoria records the news of the baby's birth in her usual vivid style
"Soon after we sat down to breakfast came a telegram from Fritz - Vicky had got a daughter at 8.10, and both were well! What joy! Children jumping about - everyone delighted - so thankful and relieved."
Only the day before there had come a letter from the Princess Royal containing the intelligence that Prince Louis of Hesse was ardently desirous of paying his addresses to Princess Alice, the Princess Royal's much-loved sister and companion of her childhood. To this Prince Albert refers in writing to his daughter:
Only two words of hearty joy can I offer to the dear newly-made mother, and these come from an overflowing heart. The little daughter is a kindly gift from heaven, that will (as I trust) procure for you many a happy hour in the days to come. The telegraph speaks only of your doing well; may this be so in the fullest sense!
"Upon the subject of your last interesting and most important letter, I have replied to Fritz, who will communicate to you as much of my answer as is good for you under present circumstances. Alice is very grateful for your love and kindness to her, and the young man behaves in a manner truly admirable."
A few days later the anxious father writes to the young mother one of his curious medical homilies:
"I hope you are very quiet, and keep this well in mind, that although you are well, and feel yourself well, the body has to take on a new conformation, and the nervous system a new life. Only rest of brain, heart, and body, along with good nourishment, and its assimilation by regular undisturbed digestion, can restore the animal forces. My physiological treatise should not bore you, for it is always good to keep the GREAT PRINCIPLES in view, in accordance with which we have to regulate our actions."
But it was not all physiological treatise that was despatched from Osborne to Berlin. The Prince has an amusing reference to the busy importance with which the little Princess Beatrice, who was then three and a quarter years old, regarded the arrival of her first niece:
"The little girl must be a darling. Little maidens are much prettier than boys. I advise her to model herself after her Aunt Beatrice. That excellent lady has now not a moment to spare. 'I have no time,' she says, when she is asked for anything, 'I must write letters to my niece.'
"It will make you laugh, if I tell you that I have christened a black mare Ayah (as black nurse). I lately asked the groom what was the horse's name, which I had forgotten. 'Haya,' was the answer. 'What ?' I asked. 'We spell it Hay, Why, Hay.' You should call your Westphalian nurse, 'Hay, Why, Hay!'"
It had been arranged that the Queen and Prince Albert should pay their visit to their daughter and son-in-law at Coburg at the end of September. By a most unfortunate chance there had occurred about the middle of the month one of those "incidents " which are sometimes, when mishandled by officialdom and magnified by offended national pride, allowed to exercise an influence ludicrously disproportionate to their real triviality. The Macdonald affair, as it was called, at one moment threatened to bring about a serious breach between England and Prussia, and as it was unquestionably one of the causes of the dislike and suspicion with which the Princess Royal was to be regarded by a section of the Prussians, it is worth while to record it in some detail.
A Scottish gentleman, a certain Captain Macdonald, had a dispute about a seat in a railway carriage at Bonn. He knew no German, was ignorant of Prussian law, and very likely behaved, or was considered by the authorities to have behaved, in an autocratic manner. However that may be, he was not only ejected from the carriage but was committed to prison, where he remained from September 12 to 18. On the 18th he was tried and fined twenty thalers and costs. The English residents at Bonn warmly espoused his cause, and Captain Macdonald seems, apart from the original dispute, to have had reason to complain of violence used to him and also of his treatment while in prison. It was also particularly unfortunate that at the trial the Staatsprocurator, or public prosecutor, should have denounced the behaviour when abroad of English people generally. "The English residing and travelling," he said, "are notorious for the rudeness, impudence, and boorish arrogance of their conduct."
This accusation, whether well founded or not, naturally seemed to English lawyers and the English public a piece of gratuitous irrelevance, intended merely to excite prejudice against Captain Macdonald. It is impossible now to apportion the blame for the way in which the incident was allowed to embitter public opinion in both countries. The affair dragged on for months - indeed, it was not finally disposed of till the following May. There were questions in Parliament, Lord Palmerston was extremely angry, and an article in the Times served to pour oil on the flame.
In the circumstances the incident inevitably rather dashed the joy of the happy family party at Coburg. The Queen conferred with Lord John Russell, then Foreign Secretary, whom she had brought with her, and she alludes in her journal to "the ejection and imprisonment (unfairly, it seems) of a Captain Macdonald, and the subsequent offensive behaviour of the authorities. It has led to ill blood, and much correspondence, but Lord John is very reasonable about it, and not inclined to do anything rash. These foreign governments are very arbitrary and violent, and our people apt to give offence, and to pay no regard to the laws of the country."
The Queen and Prince Albert arrived at Coburg on September 25, and the Princess Royal delighted in visiting with her father the scenes of his boyhood. She went with the guns to a drive of wild boars, and almost every day there was an expedition to some interesting place in all the relief of incognito. One day Prince Albert had a narrow escape. He was alone in an open carriage when the horses ran away. With great presence of mind, he jumped out, and happily got off with nothing worse than a few cuts and bruises. Gustav Freytag, the distinguished German novelist and dramatist, was received, and the Queen records that there was much conversation with him after dinner. As we shall see later, Freytag was admitted to the confidence of the Princess Royal and her husband, and he repaid their kindness in strange fashion.
It was on this visit that the Queen saw her eldest grandchild for the first time. Writing on September 25, she says
"Our darling grandchild was brought. Such a little love! He came walking in at Mrs. Hobbs's [his nurse's] hand, in a little white dress with black bows, and was so good. He is a fine, fat child, with a beautiful white soft skin, very fine shoulders and limbs, and a very dear face, like Vicky and Fritz, and also Louise of Baden. He has Fritz's eyes and Vicky's mouth, and very fair curly hair. We felt so happy to see him at last!"
This was the beginning of an enduring friendship between grandmother and grandson, and no one with any historical imagination can help recalling the last scene of that friendship, when this fine little boy, grown to be a mighty Emperor, hastened to share the grief of the English people at the death-bed of their great Queen.
The Queen was evidently much attracted by the already characteristic energy of the little Prince, for there are references to him all through her records of this visit:
"Dear little William came to me as he does every morning. He is such a darling, so intelligent." "Dear little Wilhelm as usual with me before dinner - a darling child." "The dear little boy is so intelligent and pretty, so good and affectionate." " Had a last visit from dear Stockmar. Towards the end of his stay, dear little William came in and played about the room." "The darling little boy with us for nearly an hour, running about so dearly and merrily." "At Cologne our darling little William was brought into our carriage to bid good-bye. I felt the parting deeply."
Prince Albert wrote to the Duchess of Kent: "Your great-grandson is a very pretty, clever child - a compound of both parents, just as it should be."
Mrs. Georgina Hobbs, the nurse mentioned above, first went to Germany as a maid in the service of the Princess Royal on her marriage, and was afterwards promoted to be chief nurse to the Royal children. Prince William and his brother and sisters were devotedly attached to "Hobbsy," as they called her, and it was from "Hobbsy" that they learnt English, for their parents always talked German to one another.
The Princess Royal, perhaps naturally, preferred to have her children's nursery arranged and conducted on the English rather than on the German model, but who can doubt that in this, as in other matters of even less importance, she would have done better to have studied the susceptibilities of her adopted country? Indeed, Dr. Hinzpeter, who was afterwards appointed the tutor of her sons, bears witness that her nursery management became a great subject of gossip among the Berliners, and stories were even current of corporal punishment administered before the Court to princes with dirty faces. It is true that Dr. Hinzpeter describes these stories as mythical, but the fact that they were circulated and believed helps to account for the Princess's growing unpopularity.
At this period Prince Albert was seriously disturbed by the attacks which the Times was constantly making on Prussia and everything Prussian. In an article in the Saturday Review, recommended by him to his daughter, it was said: "The only reason the Times ever gives for its dislike of Prussia, is that the Prussian and English Courts are connected by personal ties, and that British independence demands that everything proceeding from the Court should be watched with the most jealous suspicion."
The Prince was honestly indifferent to the insinuations against himself by which these attacks were frequently pointed, but he was reasonably anxious about the bad effect they would have in Germany. Writing to his daughter on October 24, after his return to England, he refers to the Macdonald affair, which had already become acute:
"What abominable articles the Times has against Prussia! That of yesterday upon Warsaw and Schleinitz is positively too wicked. It is the Bonn story which continues to operate, and a total estrangement between the two countries may ensue, if a newspaper war be kept up for some time between the two nations. Feelings, and not arguments, constitute the basis for actions. An embitterment of feeling between England and Prussia would be a great misfortune, and yet they are content in Berlin to make no move in the Bonn affair."
It was only too true that the Prussian Government was in no hurry to settle the Macdonald affair. The bitterness which it engendered did not die out till long after its formal termination in May of the following year, and undoubtedly it contributed far more than was suspected at the time to increase the delicacy and difficulty of the Princess Royal's position. It was actually thought in Germany that she inspired the attacks in the British Press. "This attitude of the English newspapers preys upon the Princess Royal's spirits and materially affects her position in Prussia," so wrote Lord Clarendon.
This autumn and winter Prince Albert, in spite of many political and other anxieties and a sharp attack of illness, faithfully continued to instruct his daughter in the art of government. It does not seem ever to have crossed his mind that such instruction, though admirable in itself, was ill-advised in view of his pupil's position. The ideal woman in Prussia was then, and still is to a large extent, one who, conscious of her intellectual inferiority, contents herself with managing her household and children. If this view obtained with regard to women in private stations, much more was it considered to be the duty of princesses of the Royal House to abstain from any active interest in public affairs. But either Prince Albert did not appreciate this, or it is possible that he thought his daughter to be freed by her exceptional ability from the ordinary restrictions and limitations of her rank. There is yet a third possibility - that he did not altogether trust his son-in-law's political judgment, and was anxious to give him, in the troublous times that seemed impending, an help-meet who could influence him in the right, that is in the Coburg, direction. Whatever may have been the reason, the Prince certainly continued to the end of his life to cultivate his daughter's knowledge and grasp of public affairs.
In December, 1860, the Prince Consort received from Berlin a memorandum upon the advantages of a law of Ministerial responsibility. Its object was to remove the apprehensions entertained in high quarters at the Prussian Court as to the expediency of a measure of this kind. This memorandum was the work of the Princess Royal, and it is easy to imagine what a storm of indignation would have arisen in Prussia if by any accident or indiscretion the knowledge that the Princess had written such a paper had leaked out.
Still, it was undoubtedly an able piece of work. Sir Theodore Martin says that it would have been remarkable as the work of an experienced statesman; and, as the fruit of the liberal political views in which the Prince had been at pains to train its author, it must have filled his mind with the happiest auguries for her fulfilment of the great career which lay before her. "It would have delighted your heart to read it," were his words in writing to Baron Stockmar.
To his daughter he sent a long and flattering reply beginning: "It is remarkably clear and complete, and does you the greatest credit. I agree with every word of it, and feel sure it must convince everyone who is open to conviction from sound logic, and prepared to follow what sound logic dictates."
This pathetic faith in the potency of logic in political affairs is hard to reconcile with the Prince Consort's earlier and sounder dictum that feelings, not arguments, constitute the basis for actions. It is evident from the rest of the letter that the Princess had laid it down that the responsibility of his advisers does not in fact impair the monarch's dignity and importance, but is really for him the best of safeguards. She had gone on to discuss the proposition that the patriarchal relation in which the monarchs of old were supposed to stand towards their people was preferable to the constitutional system which interposes the Minister between the sovereign and his subjects. Her father's comments on this would have seemed to many Prussians most heretical doctrine to be imparted to their future Queen.
The patriarchal relation, he says, is pretty much like the idyllic life of the Arcadian shepherds - a figure of speech, and not much more. It was the fashionable phrase of an historical transition-period. Monarchy in the days of Attila, of Charlemagne, of the Hohenstaufen, of the Austrian Emperors, of Louis XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, &c., was as little like a patriarchal relation as anything could be. On the contrary it was sovereignty based upon spoliation, war, murder, oppression, and massacre. That relation was sedulously developed in the small German States, whose rulers were little more than great landed proprietors, during a short period in the eighteenth century, and was cherished out of a sentimental feeling. It then gave way before the Voltairean philosophy during the reigns of Frederick II, Joseph II, Louis XVI, &c., was turned topsy-turvy by the French Revolution, and finally extinguished in the military despotism of Napoleon.
The Prince went on to say that in the great war of liberation the people and their princes stood by one another in struggling for the establishment of civic freedom, first against the foreign oppressor, and then as citizens in their own country; and the treaties of 1815, as well as the appeal to the people in 1813, decreed constitutional government in every country. The charter was granted in France, and special constitutions were promised in all the States; even to Poland the promise of one was made, although there, as well as in Prussia and Austria, that promise was not kept. Then came the Holy Alliance and introduced reaction into Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, by dint of sword and Congress (in 1817-1823). Once more the patriarchal relation was fostered with the sentimentalism of the Kotzebue school, and the betrayed peoples were required to become good children, because the Princes styled themselves good fathers! The July Revolution, and all that has taken place since then, sufficiently demonstrate that the peoples neither will nor can play the part of children.
As for the personal government of absolute Sovereigns, Prince Albert declared that to be a pure illusion. Nowhere does history present us with such cases of government by Ministers and favourites as in the most absolute monarchies, because nowhere can the Minister play so safe a game. A Court cabal is the only thing he has to fear, and he is well skilled in the ways by which this is to be strangled. History is full of examples. Recent instances have occurred where the personal discredit into which the Sovereign has fallen makes the maintenance of the monarchy, not as a form of government, but as an effective State machine, all but impossible. When, as in the case of the King of Naples, this result has arisen, all that people are able to say in defence is, " He was surrounded by a bad set, he was badly advised, he did not know the state the country was in." To what purpose, then, is personal government, if a man in his own person knows nothing and learns nothing?
The Sovereign should give himself no trouble, said the Prince in conclusion, about details, but exercise a broad and general supervision, and see to the settlement of the principles on which action is to be based. This he can, nay, must do, where he has responsible Ministers, who are under the necessity of obtaining his sanction to the system which they pursue and intend to uphold in Parliament. This the personally ruling Sovereign cannot do, because he is smothered in details, does not see the wood for the trees, and has no occasion to come to an agreement with his Ministers about principles and systems, which to both him and them can only appear to be a great burden and superfluous nuisance.
How these doctrines would have been regarded by probably the majority of Prussians appears from another letter which the Prince wrote a fortnight later. His daughter had sent him an article from the Conservative Kreuz-Zeitung, and on it he comments:
"The article expresses in plain terms the view that Monarchy as an institution has for that party a value only so long as it is based upon arbitrary will; and so these people arrive at precisely the same confession of faith as the Red democrats, by reason of which a Republic is certain to prove neither more nor less than an arbitrary despotism. Freedom and order, which are set up as political antitheses, are, on the contrary, in fact, synonymous, and the necessary consequences of legality. 'The majesty of the law' is an idea which upon the Continent is not yet comprehended, probably because people cannot realise to themselves a dead thing as the supreme power, and seek for personal power in government or people. And yet virtue and morality are also dead things, which nevertheless have a prerogative and a vocation to govern living men - divine laws, upon which our human laws ought to be moulded."
Christmas brought the customary exchange of loving gifts. Prince Louis of Hesse, now the betrothed of Princess Alice, joined the family circle in England, and Prince Albert writes to his daughter in Berlin:
"Oh! if you, with Fritz and the children, were only with us! Louis was an accession. He is a very dear good fellow, who pleases us better and better daily. In my abstraction I call him 'Fritz.' Your Fritz must not take it amiss, for it is only the personification of a beloved, newly-bestowed, full-grown son.
"But to return to the dear Christmas festival! Your gifts which were there have caused the highest delight, and those we have yet to expect will be looked for with impatience. To the latter belong Wilhelm's bust, Fritz's boar's head - for which in the meantime I beg you will give the lucky huntsman my hearty thanks. Wilhelm shall be placed in the light you wish when he issues (I hope unbroken) from his dusty box. The album, which arrived yesterday morning, is very precious to us, as it enables us to live altogether beside you - in imagination.
"Prejudice walking to and fro in flesh and blood is my horror, and, alas, a phenomenon so common; and people plume themselves so much upon their prejudices, as signs of decision of character and greatness of mind, nay of true patriotism; and all the while they are simply the product of narrowness of intellect and narrowness of heart."