An unexpected consequence of the war was a complete change in the relations between the royal pair and Palmerston. The Prince and the Minister drew together over their hostility to Russia, and thus it came about that when Victoria found it necessary to summon her old enemy to form an administration she did so without reluctance. The premiership, too, had a sobering effect upon Palmerston; he grew less impatient and dictatorial; considered with attention the suggestions of the Crown, and was, besides, genuinely impressed by the Prince's ability and knowledge. Friction, no doubt, there still occasionally was, for, while the Queen and the Prince devoted themselves to foreign politics as much as ever, their views, when the war was over, became once more antagonistic to those of the Prime Minister. This was especially the case with regard to Italy. Albert, theoretically the friend of constitutional government, distrusted Cavour, was horrified by Garibaldi, and dreaded the danger of England being drawn into war with Austria. Palmerston, on the other hand, was eager for Italian independence; but he was no longer at the Foreign Office, and the brunt of the royal displeasure had now to be borne by Lord John Russell. In a few years the situation had curiously altered. It was Lord John who now filled the subordinate and the ungrateful role; but the Foreign Secretary, in his struggle with the Crown, was supported, instead of opposed, by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless the struggle was fierce, and the policy, by which the vigorous sympathy of England became one of the decisive factors in the final achievement of Italian unity, was only carried through in face of the violent opposition of the Court.
Towards the other European storm-centre, also, the Prince's attitude continued to be very different to that of Palmerston. Albert's great wish was for a united Germany under the leadership of a constitutional and virtuous Prussia; Palmerston did not think that there was much to be said for the scheme, but he took no particular interest in German politics, and was ready enough to agree to a proposal which was warmly supported by both the Prince and the Queen--that the royal Houses of England and Prussia should be united by the marriage of the Princess Royal with the Prussian Crown Prince. Accordingly, when the Princess was not yet fifteen, the Prince, a young man of twenty-four, came over on a visit to Balmoral, and the betrothal took place. Two years later, in 1857, the marriage was celebrated. At the last moment, however, it seemed that there might be a hitch. It was pointed out in Prussia that it was customary for Princes of the blood royal to be married in Berlin, and it was suggested that there was no reason why the present case should be treated as an exception. When this reached the ears of Victoria, she was speechless with indignation. In a note, emphatic even for Her Majesty, she instructed the Foreign Secretary to tell the Prussian Ambassador "not to ENTERTAIN the POSSIBILITY of such a question... The Queen NEVER could consent to it, both for public and for private reasons, and the assumption of its being TOO MUCH for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess Royal of Great Britain in England is too ABSURD to say the least. . . Whatever may be the usual practice of Prussian princes, it is not EVERY day that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England. The question must therefore be considered as settled and closed." It was, and the wedding took place in St. James's Chapel. There were great festivities--illuminations, state concerts, immense crowds, and general rejoicings. At Windsor a magnificent banquet was given to the bride and bridegroom in the Waterloo room, at which, Victoria noted in her diary, "everybody was most friendly and kind about Vicky and full of the universal enthusiasm, of which the Duke of Buccleuch gave us most pleasing instances, he having been in the very thick of the crowd and among the lowest of the low." Her feelings during several days had been growing more and more emotional, and when the time came for the young couple to depart she very nearly broke down--but not quite. "Poor dear child!" she wrote afterwards. "I clasped her in my arms and blessed her, and knew not what to say. I kissed good Fritz and pressed his hand again and again. He was unable to speak and the tears were in his eyes. I embraced them both again at the carriage door, and Albert got into the carriage, an open one, with them and Bertie... The band struck up. I wished good-bye to the good Perponchers. General Schreckenstein was much affected. I pressed his hand, and the good Dean's, and then went quickly upstairs."
Albert, as well as General Schreckenstein, was much affected. He was losing his favourite child, whose opening intelligence had already begun to display a marked resemblance to his own--an adoring pupil, who, in a few years, might have become an almost adequate companion. An ironic fate had determined that the daughter who was taken from him should be sympathetic, clever, interested in the arts and sciences, and endowed with a strong taste for memoranda, while not a single one of these qualities could be discovered in the son who remained. For certainly the Prince of Wales did not take after his father. Victoria's prayer had been unanswered, and with each succeeding year it became more obvious that Bertie was a true scion of the House of Brunswick. But these evidences of innate characteristics only served to redouble the efforts of his parents; it still might not be too late to incline the young branch, by ceaseless pressure and careful fastenings, to grow in the proper direction. Everything was tried. The boy was sent on a continental tour with a picked body of tutors, but the results were unsatisfactory. At his father's request he kept a diary which, on his return, was inspected by the Prince. It was found to be distressingly meagre: what a multitude of highly interesting reflections might have been arranged under the heading: "The First Prince of Wales visiting the Pope!" But there was not a single one. "Le jeune prince plaisit a tout le monde," old Metternich reported to Guizot, "mais avait l'air embarrasse et tres triste." On his seventeenth birthday a memorandum was drawn up over the names of the Queen and the Prince informing their eldest son that he was now entering upon the period of manhood, and directing him henceforward to perform the duties of a Christian gentleman. "Life is composed of duties," said the memorandum, "and in the due, punctual and cheerful performance of them the true Christian, true soldier, and true gentleman is recognised... A new sphere of life will open for you in which you will have to be taught what to do and what not to do, a subject requiring study more important than any in which you have hitherto been engaged." On receipt of the memorandum Bertie burst into tears. At the same time another memorandum was drawn up, headed "confidential: for the guidance of the gentlemen appointed to attend on the Prince of Wales." This long and elaborate document laid down "certain principles" by which the "conduct and demeanour" of the gentlemen were to be regulated "and which it is thought may conduce to the benefit of the Prince of Wales." "The qualities which distinguish a gentleman in society," continued this remarkable paper, "are:--
(1) His appearance, his deportment and dress. (2) The character of his relations with, and treatment of, others. (3) His desire and power to acquit himself creditably in conversation or whatever is the occupation of the society with which he mixes."
A minute and detailed analysis of these subheadings followed, filling several pages, and the memorandum ended with a final exhortation to the gentlemen: "If they will duly appreciate the responsibility of their position, and taking the points above laid down as the outline, will exercise their own good sense in acting UPON ALL OCCASIONS all upon these principles, thinking no point of detail too minute to be important, but maintaining one steady consistent line of conduct they may render essential service to the young Prince and justify the flattering selection made by the royal parents." A year later the young Prince was sent to Oxford, where the greatest care was taken that he should not mix with the undergraduates. Yes, everything had been tried--everything... with one single exception. The experiment had never been made of letting Bertie enjoy himself. But why should it have been? "Life is composed of duties." What possible place could there be for enjoyment in the existence of a Prince of Wales?
The same year which deprived Albert of the Princess Royal brought him another and a still more serious loss. The Baron had paid his last visit to England. For twenty years, as he himself said in a letter to the King of the Belgians, he had performed "the laborious and exhausting office of a paternal friend and trusted adviser" to the Prince and the Queen. He was seventy; he was tired, physically and mentally; it was time to go. He returned to his home in Coburg, exchanging, once for all, the momentous secrecies of European statecraft for the little-tattle of a provincial capital and the gossip of family life. In his stiff chair by the fire he nodded now over old stories--not of emperors and generals--but of neighbours and relatives and the domestic adventures of long ago--the burning of his father's library--and the goat that ran upstairs to his sister's room and ran twice round the table and then ran down again. Dyspepsia and depression still attacked him; but, looking back over his life, he was not dissatisfied. His conscience was clear. "I have worked as long as I had strength to work," he said, "and for a purpose no one can impugn. The consciousness of this is my reward--the only one which I desired to earn."
Apparently, indeed, his "purpose" had been accomplished. By his wisdom, his patience, and his example he had brought about, in the fullness of time, the miraculous metamorphosis of which he had dreamed. The Prince was his creation. An indefatigable toiler, presiding, for the highest ends, over a great nation--that was his achievement; and he looked upon his work and it was good. But had the Baron no misgivings? Did he never wonder whether, perhaps, he might have accomplished not too little but too much? How subtle and how dangerous are the snares which fate lays for the wariest of men! Albert, certainly, seemed to be everything that Stockmar could have wished--virtuous, industrious, persevering, intelligent. And yet--why was it--all was not well with him? He was sick at heart.
For in spite of everything he had never reached to happiness. His work, for which at last he came to crave with an almost morbid appetite, was a solace and not a cure; the dragon of his dissatisfaction devoured with dark relish that ever-growing tribute of laborious days and nights; but it was hungry still. The causes of his melancholy were hidden, mysterious, unanalysable perhaps--too deeply rooted in the innermost recesses of his temperament for the eye of reason to apprehend. There were contradictions in his nature, which, to some of those who knew him best, made him seem an inexplicable enigma: he was severe and gentle; he was modest and scornful; he longed for affection and he was cold. He was lonely, not merely with the loneliness of exile but with the loneliness of conscious and unrecognised superiority. He had the pride, at once resigned and overweening, of a doctrinaire. And yet to say that he was simply a doctrinaire would be a false description; for the pure doctrinaire rejoices always in an internal contentment, and Albert was very far from doing that. There was something that he wanted and that he could never get. What was it? Some absolute, some ineffable sympathy? Some extraordinary, some sublime success? Possibly, it was a mixture of both. To dominate and to be understood! To conquer, by the same triumphant influence, the submission and the appreciation of men--that would be worth while indeed! But, to such imaginations, he saw too clearly how faint were the responses of his actual environment. Who was there who appreciated him, really and truly? Who COULD appreciate him in England? And, if the gentle virtue of an inward excellence availed so little, could he expect more from the hard ways of skill and force? The terrible land of his exile loomed before him a frigid, an impregnable mass. Doubtless he had made some slight impression: it was true that he had gained the respect of his fellow workers, that his probity, his industry, his exactitude, had been recognised, that he was a highly influential, an extremely important man. But how far, how very far, was all this from the goal of his ambitions! How feeble and futile his efforts seemed against the enormous coagulation of dullness, of folly, of slackness, of ignorance, of confusion that confronted him! He might have the strength or the ingenuity to make some small change for the better here or there--to rearrange some detail, to abolish some anomaly, to insist upon some obvious reform; but the heart of the appalling organism remained untouched. England lumbered on, impervious and self-satisfied, in her old intolerable course. He threw himself across the path of the monster with rigid purpose and set teeth, but he was brushed aside. Yes! even Palmerston was still unconquered--was still there to afflict him with his jauntiness, his muddle-headedness, his utter lack of principle. It was too much. Neither nature nor the Baron had given him a sanguine spirit; the seeds of pessimism, once lodged within him, flourished in a propitious soil. He