SO MUCH INTEREST has been shown in my article about Princess Alice and her memories of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, that I am returning to the great Queen this week "the Blessed One", as she was always known in my family.
As 1 attempted to show a fortnight ago, the popular "image" of Queen Victoria as grim, dour and humourless could not be further from the facts. She was gay, amusing, full of life and fun, and until bereavement floored her had an immense appetite for experience.
Her high spirits and independence appeared early. Whe she was three, her teacher noted in his diary: "May 20, 1823. When I came away dinner had just been announced to the little Princess.
"I said I hoped she would be good, and that she would attend to her book and read a good lesson. 'Yes', she said, 'and I will eat a good dinner'."
This story gives a more accurate picture of the Queen's character than the betterknown remark she made when first told of her position as heir presumptive: "I will be good." She also 'knew how to please. As a young girl she visited her uncle, King George IV, at Windsor. "Now Victoria," said the King as they entered his drawing room hand in hand, "the band is in the next room and shall play any tune you please. What shall it be?" The Princess at once replied: "Oh Uncle King, I should like 'God Save the King'."
It was as a child that she first contracted her lifelong dislike for bishops. She found their black aprons and great powdered wigs oppressive. She had, as she herself confessed "a horror of them."
The feelings were still there when she celebrated her diamond jubilee and the bishops turned up to present their loyal greetings.
After their visit she went out for her usual afternoon drive with her lady-in-waiting and there was a long silence, eventually broken by a single phrase from the Queen: "A very ugly party". Then came the judgement: "I do not like bishops." "But," protested her lady-in-waiting "you like the Bishop of Winchester" (Randall Davidson,. who later became Archbishop of Canterbury). The Queen was not to be deflected from her pet aversion: "Yes I like the man but not the bishop." Linked with this was her sharp rejection of any form of Sabbatarianism. She disliked what Lord Melbourne said she described as "a Sunday face."
Once she wrote to her daughter in Berlin, who was married to the Empetor Frederick: "You know that I am not at all an admirer or approver of our very dull Sundays, for I think the absence of innocent amusement for the poor people a misfortune-and an encouragement to vice."
When it was proposed to stop Sunday postal deliveries the Queen sent a decisive dispatch to the Prime Minister: "The Queen thinks it a very False notion of obeying God's will to do what will be a cause of much annoyance and possibly of great distress t.0 private families.'
I wonder what she would have thought of our own generation, which has done much worse and stopped Sunday collections. Almost the only thing she disliked about Scotland was the Sabbatarianism by which the people were infected.
The Queen had a robust commonsense. When her daughter the Princess Royal wrote to her in raptures about her pregnancy, the Queen sent her a downto-earth reply: "What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul, is very fine, dear, but now I cannot enter into that.
"I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments; when our poor nature becomes so very animal and uneestatic, but for you dear, if you are sensible and reasonable, not in ecstasy nor spending your day with nurses
and wet nurses, which is the ruin of many a refined and intellectual young lady, without adding to her real maternal duties, a child will be a great resource."
Yet she was not immune from the prudishness of the Victorian period. She was once scandalised by the shortness of her son Prince Arthur's short frock: he was aged four at the time!
She was even more em6arrassed, during a royal domestic visit, when one of Lord Abercorn's young sons, who was wearing a kilt, insisted on standing on his head to sliow off in front of the company. Despite this she and Albert regularly exchanged nude photographs, but only of suitably artistic subjects:
Yet she was very angry with the Kaiser, her grandson, when he was banished under the table for had behaviour as a young boy and came out stark naked. Later, however, she recounted the incident as a joke.
The Queen had no time for pretension or cant: after the death of the Prince Consort, when a well-meaning ,clergyman comforted her with the thought that she was now a bride of Christ, she commented: "Now that is what I call twaddle," I wonder whether she said it in those.musical tones which so entranced the great Ellen Terry, who described her voice as "like a silver stream flowing Over golden stones." If so, it would have robbed the rebuke of its sting.
A very happy and holy Easter to all readers of this column.