OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter I, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


Pages: 1 2 <3>

The following remarks, taken from the Introduction to the Collection of the Prince Consort's Speeches, considering the source from which they emanated, are peculiarly interesting: - " The Prince's marriage was singularly felicitous; the tastes, the aims, the hopes, the aspirations of the royal pair were the same; their mutual respect and confidence went on increasing. Their affection grew, if possible, warmer and more intense as the years of their married life advanced. Companions in their domestic employments, in their daily labours for the State, and, indeed, in almost every occupation, the burdens and the difficulties of life were thus lessened by more than half for each one of the persons thus happily united in this true marriage of the soul. When the fatal blow was struck, and the Prince was removed from this world, it is difficult to conceive a position of greater sorrow, and one, indeed, more utterly forlorn, than that which became the lot of the survivor - deprived of him whom she herself has described as being the ' life of her life.'

" To follow out his wishes, to realise his hopes, to conduct his enterprises to a happy issue, to make his loss as little felt as possible by a sorrowing country and fatherless children - these are the objects which since his death it has been the chief aim and intent of Her Majesty to accomplish. That strength may be given her to fulfil these flight purposes is the constant prayer of her subjects, who have not ceased, from the first moment of her bereavement, to feel the tenderest sympathy for her; and who, giving a reality to that which in the case of most sovereigns is but a phrase, have thus shown that the Queen is, indeed, in their hearts, the mother of her people."

The speeches of the late Prince Albert are interesting

remains in more senses than one. They are marked throughout with the peculiarities necessarily resulting from his anomalous position. It appears now, from the grateful acknowledgments of the Queen, which she has missed no opportunity of making in the most emphatic manner, that, in the discharge of her duties as sovereign, she was constantly guided and supported by the judgment and advice of His Royal Highness, in whom she placed unbounded trust. It follows that he enjoyed the reality of kingly power; yet he was obliged to speak and act as if he had no power at all. A position so anomalous imposed upon him continual restraint. As has been well remarked in the Introduction to his Speeches, in his case the principal elements that go to compose a great oration had often to be modified largely. " Wit was not to be jubilant, passion not predominant, dialectic skill not triumphant. There remained nothing as the staple of the speeches but supreme common sense. Looked at in this way, it is wonderful that the Prince contrived to introduce into his speeches so much that was new and interesting. It was like the movement of a man in chain armour, which, even with the strongest and most agile person, must ever have been a movement somewhat fettered by restraint." The same authority states that the leading idea of the speeches is " the beauty of usefulness." This is true, and the key-note of them all was heard in the first sentence of the speech delivered at the Lord Mayor's banquet in March, 1850, when the Prince said " I conceive it to be the duty of every educated person closely to watch and study the time in which he lives, and as far as in him lies to add his humble mite of individual exertion to further the accomplishment of what he believes Providence to have ordained." It is impossible to read those speeches without being struck with the contrast between the Prince Consort and every man who had occupied the throne of England from the time of William III. Compared with him, the Georges were a narrow-minded, bigoted, ignorant, selfish race. The times in -which they reigned were not enlightened times, but the darkest spot in England was that which surrounded the throne; whereas during the reign of Victoria it might be truly said to be the brightest; and this was due pre-eminently to the Prince Consort. No man better understood his epoch, no man gave happier expression to the spirit of his age, or sympathised more thoroughly with the best influences of civilisation by which he was surrounded, and which he so powerfully directed. No philosopher or statesman was in advance of him in any movement that was really beneficial to mankind. If he presided at a meeting for the abolition of slavery, he denounced " the atrocious traffic in human beings as the blackest stain upon civilised Europe; " and he trusted that this " great country would not relax in its efforts until it had finally and for ever put an end to a state of things so repugnant to the spirit of Christianity and of the best feelings of our nature." At the meeting of the Literary Fund he showed how he could respect the feelings of the man of letters, though struggling with poverty. "The institution," he said, " ought to command our warmest sympathies, as providing for the exigencies of those who, following the call of genius, and forgetting every other consideration, pursue merely the cultivation of the human mind and science. What can be more proper for us," he asked, " than gratefully | to remember the benefits derived from their disinterested exertions, and cheerfully to contribute to their wants? " The interest which he took in the improvement of the labouring classes was one of the most admirable features in his character. He advocated the establishment of loan funds, model lodging-houses, and allotments of ground, in which he himself set an example of what might be done by men of property for the working classes. In the counsels which lie gave on such subjects to men of rank and wealth, he always laid down some great Christian principle for their guidance. " Depend on it," he said at the meeting of the Society for the Improvement of the Labouring Classes, "the interests of classes, too often contrasted, are identical; and it is only ignorance which prevents them uniting for each other's advantage. To dispel that ignorance, to show how man can help man, notwithstanding the complicated state of civilised society, ought to be the aim of every philanthropic person; but it is more peculiarly the duty of those who, under the blessing of Divine Providence, enjoy station, wealth, and education. Let them be careful, however, to avoid any dictatorial interference with labour and employment, which frightens away capital, destroys that freedom of thought and independence of action which must remain to every one, if he is to work out his own happiness, and impairs that confidence under which alone engagements for mutual benefit are possible. God has created man imperfect, and left him with many wants, as it were to stimulate each to individual exertion, and to make all feel that it is only by united exertion and combined action that these imperfections can be supplied, and these wants satisfied. This pre-supposes self-reliance and confidence in each other."

This was not language assumed, like the putting on of a court dress, for state occasions. It was the sincere expression of honest convictions. The Prince was a truly conscientious and earnest man, who gave his whole mind to the solution of social problems, and his whole heart to the performance of his duties. What can be more beautiful, as an illustration of this habit of mind, than the speech which he made at the Servants' Provident and Benevolent Society? " Whose heart," he asked, " would fail to sympathise with those who minister to us in all the wants of daily life, attend us in sickness, receive us on our first appearance in this world, and even extend their cares to our mortal remains - who live under our roof, form our household, and are a part of our family? And yet, upon inquiry, we find that in this metropolis the greater part of the inmates of the workhouses are domestic servants. I am sure that this startling fact is no proof, either of a want of kindness and liberality in masters towards their servants, or of vice in the latter, but is the natural consequence of that peculiar position in which the domestic servant is placed, passing periods during his life in which he shares in the luxuries of an opulent master, and others in which he has not even the means of earning sufficient to sustain him through the day. It is I on that account that I rejoice at this meeting, and have gladly consented to take the chair at it, to further the objects of the Servants' Provident and Benevolent Society. I conceive that this society is founded upon a right principle, as it follows out the dictates of a correct appreciation of human nature, which requires every man by personal exertion, according to his own choice, to work out his own happiness - which prevents his valuing - nay, even his feeling satisfaction at - the prosperity which others have made for him. It is founded upon a right principle, because it endeavours to trace a plan according to which, by providence, by present self-denial and perseverance, not only will the servant be raised in his physical and moral condition, but the master also will be taught how to direct his efforts in aiding the servant in his labour to secure to himself resources in cases of sickness, old age, and want of employment."

The Prince evinced the same kind, genial, sympathetic spirit with reference to the highest order of intellectual workers. He said, at the dinner of the Royal Academy, that " the production of all works in art or poetry requires in their conception and execution, not only an exercise of the intellect, skill, and patience, but particularly a concurrent warmth of feeling and a free flow of imagination. This renders them most tender plants, which will thrive only in an atmosphere calculated to maintain that warmth; and that atmosphere is one of kindness- kindness towards the artist personally as well as towards his production. An unkind word of criticism passes like a cold blast over their tender shoots, and shrivels them up, checking the flow of the sap when it was rising to produce, perhaps, multitudes of flowers and fruit. But still criticism is absolutely necessary to the development of art, and the injudicious praise of an inferior work becomes an insult to superior genius."

Surely, never royal personage was more at home at a literary or scientific meeting. Speaking at the Midland Institute, he gave an admirable exposition of the laws of social advancement, showing that no human pursuits make any material progress until science is brought to bear upon them. " We have seen, accordingly," he said, " many of them slumbering for centuries and centuries; but from the moment that Science has touched them with her magic wand, they have sprung forward, and taken strides which amaze and almost awe the beholder. Look at the transformation which has gone on around us since the laws of gravitation, electricity, magnetism, and the expansive power of heat, have become known to us. It has altered our whole state of existence - one might say, the whole face of the globe. We owe this to Science, and to Science alone; and she has other treasures in store for us, if we will but call her to our assistance."

With the same comprehensive and enlightened views he enlarged on this theme at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he was chosen president in 1859. If he had devoted his whole life to the study and teaching of science, and had occupied a professor's chair, he could not have spoken more to the point, or more in the spirit of philosophy. But it was in connection with the Great Exhibition of 1851, with which his name will be for ever associated in history, that he became more especially the exponent of social progress. On the 21st of March, 1850, the Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Farncomb, gave a banquet to Her Majesty's Ministers, the Foreign Ambassadors, the Royal Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851, and the mayors of 180 towns. In responding to the toast of his health on that occasion, the Prince said: " Nobody who has paid any attention to the peculiar features of our present era, will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end to which, indeed, all history points - the realisation of the unity of mankind: not»a unity which breaks down the limits and levels the peculiar characteristics of the different nations of the earth, but rather a unity the result and product of those very national varieties and antagonistic qualities. The distances which separated the different nations and parts of the globe are rapidly vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their requirements placed within the reach of everybody; thought is communicated with the rapidity, and even by the power, of lightning. On the other hand, the great principle of the division of labour, which may be called the moving power of civilisation, is being extended to all branches of science, industry, and art.... So man is approaching a more complete fulfilment of that great and sacred mission which he has to perform in this world. His reason being created after the image of God, he has to use it to discover the laws by which the Almighty governs his creation; and by making these laws his standard of action, to conquer Nature to his use, himself a Divine instrument."

Nor was the Prince less enlightened or less earnest as a Christian man than as a philosopher and a political economist. Referring, on one occasion, to dissensions in the Church, he said: " I have no fear, however, for her safety and ultimate welfare, so long as she holds fast to what our ancestors gained for us at the Reformation - the Gospel and the unfettered right of its use." Again, at the anniversary of the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy, in 1854, he remarked: " When our ancestors purified the Christian faith, and shook off the yoke of a domineering priesthood, they felt that the key-stone of that wonderful fabric which had grown up in the dark times of the Middle Ages was the celibacy of the clergy, and shrewdly foresaw that their reformed faith and newly-won religious liberty would, on the contrary, only be secure in the hands of a clergy united with the people by every sympathy - national, personal, and domestic. This nation has enjoyed for 300 years the blessing of a church establishment which rests upon this basis, and cannot be too grateful for the advantages afforded by the fact that Christian ministers not only preach the doctrines of Christianity, but live among their congregations, an example for the discharge of every Christian duty, as husbands, fathers, and masters of families, themselves capable of fathoming the whole depth of human feelings, desires, and difficulties." Alluding on the same occasion to the progress of civilisation, the Prince remarked: " And this civilisation rests on Christianity - could only be raised on Christianity - can only be maintained by Christianity! " In a History of England for the People, we cannot better close this sketch of the Prince's character than by quoting the concluding sentences of his speech on national education. After eloquently enforcing the duty of every man to develop his faculties, and place himself in harmony with the Divine prototype, so as to attain that happiness which is offered to him on earth, to be completed hereafter in entire union with him, through the mercy of Christ, he said: " But he can also leave these faculties unimproved, and miss his mission on earth. He will then sink to the level of the lower animals, forfeit happiness, and separate from his God, whom he did not know how to find. I say man has no right to do this; he has no right to throw off the task which is laid upon him for his happiness; it is his duty to fulfil his mission to the utmost of his power; but it is our duty, the duty of those whom Providence has removed from this awful struggle, and placed beyond this fearful danger, manfully, unceasingly, and untiringly to aid, by advice, assistance, and example, the great battle of the people, who, without such aid, must almost inevitably succumb to the difficulty of their task. They will not cast from them the aiding hand, and the Almighty will bless the labours of those who work in his cause."

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 2 <3>

Pictures for Chapter I, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3

Order of Star of India
Order of Star of India >>>>
The Prince Consort
The Prince Consort >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About