The Greville Memoirs Volume III Part 31

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In the morning I met Sir Robert Peel in the Park, and talked with him about the beginning of the new reign. He said that it was very desirable that the young Queen should appear as much as possible emancipated from all restraint, and exhibit a capacity for the discharge of her high functions; that the most probable as well as the most expedient course she could adopt, would be to rely entirely upon the advice of Melbourne, and she might with great propriety say that she thought it incumbent on her to follow the example which had been set by her two uncles, her predecessors, William IV. having retained in office the Ministers of his brother, and George IV., although his political predilections were known to lean another way, having also declined to dismiss the Government of his father. Peel said that he concluded King Leopold would be her great adviser. If Leopold is prudent, however, he will not hurry over here at the very first moment, which would look like an impatience to establish his influence, and if he does, the first result will be every sort of jealousy and discord between him and the Duchess of Kent. The elements of intrigue do not seem wanting in this embryo Court. Besides the Duchess of Kent and Leopold, and Conroy of course, Caradoc[8] is suspected of a design and an expectation to become a personage; and Lord Durham is on his way home, and his return is regarded with no little curiosity, because he may endeavour to play a great political part, and materially to influence the opinions, or at least the councils, of the Queen. What renders speculation so easy, and events uncertain, is the absolute ignorance of everybody, without exception, of the character, disposition, and capacity of the Princess. She has been kept in such jealous seclusion by her mother (never having slept out of her bedroom, nor been alone with anybody but herself and the Baroness Lehzen), that not one of her acquaintance, none of the attendants at Kensington, not even the Duchess of Northumberland, her governess, have any idea what she is, or what she promises to be. It is therefore no difficult matter to form and utter conjectures which nobody can contradict or gainsay but by other conjectures equally uncertain and fallacious. The Tories are in great consternation at the King's approaching death, from the advantage which they foresee their opponents must derive from it as far as the extension of their term of power is concerned, and they prognosticate, according to their custom, all sorts of dismal consequences, none of which, of course, will come to pass. _Nothing_ will happen, because, in this country, _nothing_ ever does. The Whigs, to do them justice, behave with great decency; whatever they may really feel, they express a very proper concern, and I have no doubt Melbourne really feels the concern he expresses. The public in general don't seem to care much, and only wonder what will happen.

[8] [Colonel Caradoc, afterwards Lord Howden: died in 1873.]

June 17th, 1837 {p.403}

Yesterday the King was better, so as to promise a prolongation of his existence, though not his recovery. An intimation came from Windsor, that it was desired prayers should be offered up in the Churches for him; so the Privy Council assembled to order this, but on assembling the Bishop of London objected to the form which had been used upon the last and other occasions (an order made by the Lords to the Archbishop of Canterbury to prepare a form of prayer), asserting that _the Lords_ had no power to make such an order, and it was even doubted by lawyers whether the King himself had power to order alterations in the Liturgy, or the use of the particular prayers; and admitting that he had, it was in virtue of his prerogative, and as Head of the Church, but that _the Lords of the Council_ had no power whatever of the kind.

They admitted that he was correct in this view of the case, and consequently, instead of an order to the Archbishop, his Majesty's pleasure that prayers should be offered up was conveyed to the Council, and a communication to that effect was directed to be made to the Archbishop. The King's pleasure being thus conveyed, it is his duty to obey, and the Bishops have power to direct their clergy to pray for the King. The Bishop of London would have preferred that a prayer for his recovery as for a sick person, but mentioning him by name, should have been adopted, but the Archbishop was prepared with his form of prayer, and it was directed to be used.

June 18th, 1837 {p.404}

The King lingers on; yesterday he sent for the Archbishop of Canterbury to administer the Sacrament to him.

[Page Head: LORD PONSONBY AT CONSTANTINOPLE.]

An attack (but a feeble one) was made upon Palmerston the other night, about Sir Charles Vaughan's appointment to relieve Lord Ponsonby at Constantinople, to which he made, as usual, a feeble and inefficient answer, but the real story did not come out. The whole history of Lord Ponsonby is a remarkable example of what a man in favour or with powerful protection may do with impunity, and it is the more striking because Palmerston is the most imperious of official despots, and yet has invariably truckled to Lord Grey's brother-in-law. When Ponsonby was appointed Ambassador at Constantinople, the affairs of the East were in a most critical state, notwithstanding which nothing would induce him to repair to his post, and he loitered away several months at Naples, while Russia was maturing her designs upon Turkey, and when the presence of an English Ambassador was of vital importance. This was overlooked, because to Lord Grey's brother-in-law everything was permitted. The appointment of Mr.

Urquhart as Secretary of the Embassy at Constantinople greatly displeased Lord Ponsonby, who resolved to hold no communication with him, and accordingly the Chancellerie at Constantinople has presented the amusing spectacle of an Ambassador and Secretary of Embassy who do not speak to each other, and the latter of whom has had no functions whatever to discharge. A short time ago Lord Ponsonby applied for leave of absence, which was given to him, and the Government here hoped that when he came home he would not think of returning, and secretly resolved that if they could help it he should not. But as Mr. Urquhart had been placed in this strange position, and besides, since his appointment, they had found reason to doubt whether he was altogether fit for such a trust, it was impossible to leave him at Constantinople as _charge d'affaires_ during his chief's absence, so they got Sir Charles Vaughan to go out on what was called a special mission, though there was nothing more in it than to meet this difficulty.

Sir Charles was directed to proceed to Malta, and from thence to send a steamer to Constantinople, which was to announce his arrival and bring back Lord Ponsonby. Sir Charles, accordingly, sent his Secretary of Embassy to announce him, who, when he arrived off Constantinople, was met by an absolute prohibition from Ponsonby to land at all, and a flat refusal on his part to stir. The Secretary had nothing to do but to return to his principal and report his reception, and he in his turn had nothing to do but report his ridiculous position to his employers at home, and await their orders. The result has been that Sir Charles is ordered home, and Lord Ponsonby remains, so that Palmerston has knocked under. Ponsonby has carried his point, and Vaughan has had a _giro_ to Malta and back, for which the public has to pay.

June 19th, 1837 {p.405}

Yesterday the King was sinking fast; the Sacrament was administered to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, 'This is the 18th of June; I should like to live to see the sun of Waterloo set.' Last night I met the Duke, and dined at the Duchess of Cannizzaro's, who after dinner crowned him with a crown of laurel (in joke of course), when they all stood up and drank his health, and at night they sang a hymn in honour of the day. He asked me whether Melbourne had had any communication with the Princess Victoria. I said I did not know, but thought not. He said, 'He ought. I was in constant communication with the present King for a month before George IV. died. George IV. was for a month quite as bad as this King, and I sent the Duke of Clarence the bulletins every day, and besides wrote to him the private accounts I received, and what is very odd, I had a quarrel with him in the course of this. He constantly wrote to me, and in one of his letters he told me he meant to make me his Minister. I felt this was a very awkward subject for me to enter upon, and that I could not, being the Minister of the King, with any propriety treat with his successor, so I resolved to take no notice whatever of this part of his letter, and I did not. He was very indignant at this, and complained to his friends (to Lord Cassilis, for instance) that I had behaved very rudely to him.

When I met him--for I met him constantly at Windsor, and in the King's room--he was very cold in his manner, but I took no notice, and went on as before.'

June 21st, 1837 {p.406}

[Page Head: FIRST COUNCIL OF QUEEN VICTORIA.]

The King died at twenty minutes after two yesterday morning, and the young Queen met the Council at Kensington Palace at eleven.

Never was anything like the first impression she produced, or the chorus of praise and admiration which is raised about her manner and behaviour, and certainly not without justice. It was very extraordinary, and something far beyond what was looked for. Her extreme youth and inexperience, and the ignorance of the world concerning her, naturally excited intense curiosity to see how she would act on this trying occasion, and there was a considerable assemblage at the Palace, notwithstanding the short notice which was given. The first thing to be done was to teach her her lesson, which for this purpose Melbourne had himself to learn. I gave him the Council papers, and explained all that was to be done, and he went and explained all this to her. He asked her if she would enter the room accompanied by the Great Officers of State, but she said she would come in alone. When the Lords were assembled the Lord President informed them of the King's death, and suggested, as they were so numerous, that a few of them should repair to the presence of the Queen and inform her of the event, and that their Lordships were assembled in consequence; and accordingly the two Royal Dukes, the two Archbishops, the Chancellor, and Melbourne went with him. The Queen received them in the adjoining room alone. As soon as they had returned the proclamation was read and the usual order passed, when the doors were thrown open and the Queen entered, accompanied by her two uncles, who advanced to meet her. She bowed to the Lords, took her seat, and then read her speech in a clear, distinct, and audible voice, and without any appearance of fear or embarrassment. She was quite plainly dressed, and in mourning. After she had read her speech and taken and signed the oath for the security of the Church of Scotland, the Privy Councillors were sworn, the two Royal Dukes[9] first, by themselves; and as these two old men, her uncles, knelt before her, swearing allegiance and kissing her hand, I saw her blush up to the eyes, as if she felt the contrast between their civil and their natural relations, and this was the only sign of emotion which she evinced. Her manner to them was very graceful and engaging; she kissed them both, and rose from her chair and moved towards the Duke of Sussex, who was farthest from her and too infirm to reach her. She seemed rather bewildered at the multitude of men who were sworn, and who came one after another to kiss her hand, but she did not speak to anybody, nor did she make the slightest difference in her manner, or show any in her countenance, to any individual of any rank, station, or party. I particularly watched her when Melbourne and the Ministers and the Duke of Wellington and Peel approached her. She went through the whole ceremony, occasionally looking at Melbourne for instruction when she had any doubt what to do, which hardly ever occurred, and with perfect calmness and self-possession, but at the same time with a graceful modesty and propriety particularly interesting and ingratiating. When the business was done she retired as she had entered, and I could see that nobody was in the adjoining room.

Lord Lansdowne insisted upon being declared President of the Council (and I was obliged to write a declaration for him to read to that effect), though it was not usual. The speech was admired, except by Brougham, who appeared in a considerable state of excitement. He said to Peel (whom he was standing near, and with whom he is not in the habit of communicating), '_A_melioration, that is not English; you might perhaps say _me_lioration, but improvement is the proper word.' 'Oh,' said Peel, 'I see no harm in the word; it is generally used.' 'You object,' said Brougham, 'to the sentiment, I object to the grammar.' 'No,' said Peel, 'I don't object to the sentiment.' 'Well, then, she pledges herself to the policy of _our_ Government,' said Brougham. Peel told me this, which passed in the room and near to the Queen. He likewise said how amazed he was at her manner and behaviour, at her apparent deep sense of her situation, her modesty, and at the same time her firmness. She appeared, in fact, to be awed, but not daunted, and afterwards the Duke of Wellington told me the same thing, and added that if she had been his own daughter he could not have desired to see her perform her part better. It was settled that she was to hold a Council at St. James's this day, and be proclaimed there at ten o'clock, and she expressed a wish to see Lord Albemarle, who went to her and told her he was come to take her orders. She said, 'I have no orders to give; you know all this so much better than I do, that I leave it all to you. I am to be at St. James's at ten to-morrow, and must beg you to find me a conveyance proper for the occasion.' Accordingly, he went and fetched her in state with a great escort. The Duchess of Kent was in the carriage with her, but I was surprised to hear so little shouting, and to see so few hats off as she went by. I rode down the Park, and saw her appear at the window when she was proclaimed. The Duchess of Kent was there, but not prominent; the Queen was surrounded by her Ministers, and curtsied repeatedly to the people, who did not, however, hurrah till Lord Lansdowne gave them the signal from the window. At twelve she held a Council, at which she presided with as much ease as if she had been doing nothing else all her life, and though Lord Lansdowne and my colleague had contrived between them to make some confusion with the Council papers, she was not put out by it. She looked very well, and though so small in stature, and without much pretension to beauty, the gracefulness of her manner and the good expression of her countenance give her on the whole a very agreeable appearance, and with her youth inspire an excessive interest in all who approach her, and which I can't help feeling myself. After the Council she received the Archbishops and Bishops, and after them the Judges. They all kissed her hand, but she said nothing to any of them, very different in this from her predecessor, who used to harangue them all, and had a speech ready for everybody.

[9] The Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex. The Duke of Cambridge was in Hanover.

[Page Head: QUEEN VICTORIA PROCLAIMED.]

Conyngham, when he came to her with the intelligence of the King's death, brought a request from the Queen Dowager that she might be permitted to remain at Windsor till after the funeral, and she has written her a letter couched in the kindest terms, begging her to consult nothing but her own health and convenience, and to remain at Windsor just as long as she pleases. In short, she appears to act with every sort of good taste and good feeling, as well as good sense, and as far as it has gone nothing can be more favourable than the impression she has made, and nothing can promise better than her manner and conduct do, though it would be rash to count too confidently upon her judgment and discretion in more weighty matters. No contrast can be greater than that between the personal demeanour of the present and the late sovereigns at their respective accessions. William IV. was a man who, coming to the throne at the mature age of sixty-five, was so excited by the exaltation, that he nearly went mad, and distinguished himself by a thousand extravagances of language and conduct, to the alarm or amusement of all who witnessed his strange freaks; and though he was shortly afterwards sobered down into more becoming habits, he always continued to be something of a blackguard and something more of a buffoon. It is but fair to his memory at the same time to say that he was a good-natured, kind-hearted, and well-meaning man, and he always acted an honourable and straightforward, if not always a sound and discreet, part. The two principal Ministers of his reign, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Grey (though the former was only his Minister for a few months), have both spoken of him to me with strong expressions of personal regard and esteem. The young Queen, who might well be either dazzled or confounded with the grandeur and novelty of her situation, seems neither the one nor the other, and behaves with a decorum and propriety beyond her years, and with all the sedateness and dignity the want of which was so conspicuous in her uncle.

The Greville Memoirs Volume III Part 31

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