Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant.

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3 1822 02469 5611

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3 1822 02469 5611

Social Sciences & Humanities Library

University of California, San Diego
Please Note: This item is subject to recall.

Date Due


SEP 7 2000

OCT ^^2000

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"the web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill
together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped


—A/l's IVell tfiat Ends Well.




The Right of TiaJislalian is resented











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There is something in the position of sovereign
which seems to develop and call forth the qualities of
a woman beyond that of any other occupation. The
number of reigning women has no doubt been very
limited, but it is curious to note how kindly the femi-
nine mind takes to the trade of ruling whenever the
opportunity occurs to it. It is, perhaps, the only
branch of mental work in which it has attained a
true and satisfactory greatness. The only queen-
regnant we know of who was nobody was our own
placid Queen Anne. Such names as those of Isa-
bella of Castile, of Elizabeth, and Maria Theresa, are
very illustrious examples of this fact. The historian
cannot regard those princely personages with the
condescending approbation which critics in every
other branch of science and art extend to women.
They are great monarchs, figures that stand fully out
against the background of history in the boldest and
most forcible lines ; and that in very absolute con-


tradiction to all conventional theories. The name at
the head of this page is not that of a historical per-
sonage of the first eminence ; but it is that of a very
remarkable woman, who holds no insignificant rank
in the long line of English sovereigns. The period is
called the reign of George II.; but so long as her life
lasted, it was Caroline who was the Queen.

The Guelph family, at least in its beginning, does
not furnish us with any very interesting or dramatic
group. The first Georges are historical characters
only because they cannot help themselves — fate and
the Protestant succession having been too many for
them. They would without doubt have been more
honoured, more respectable, more at their ease in
every way, had the prickly circlet, of which the fifth
Harry complained, never been placed upon their
homely brows. It was no doubt a painful metamor-
phosis for the German "Lairdie," the obscure Elector,
whom nobody expected to cope with a Grand Mon-
arque, or take up the traditions of an imperial court,
to emerge out of his jolly little uncleanly Teutonic
paradise, and submit himself to the caustic inspection
of Whig wits and Jacobite sneers. It was the greatest
sacrifice of comfort to grandeur that has been made
in modern times. These royal gentlemen have been
weighed in a great many balances of late years, and
the result has not been flattering to them, though it
has not left them altogether without credit. We do
not propose to reopen the record. The little monarch,
with "his right leg well forward," and his "eyes a


fleur de tite',' and the "dapper George" who succeeded
him, have had more than their share of discussion.
But from the year 1727 to 1737 there was another
monarch in England whose name was not George — a
woman not unfit to take her place among the reign-
ing princesses. Queen Caroline is even a greater
contradiction to every ordinary theory which ordinary
men frame about women, than are the other sovereigns
who have proved the art of government to be one of
the arts within a woman's powers. Every ideal of a
good wife which has ever been conceived by man
makes out the model woman to be furiously jealous
and vindictive over the mere suspicion of infidelity in
her husband. Has not some one said that every wife
is a Queen Eleanor in her heart } — and it is not only
the good woman who is subject to this infirmity:
the light-minded, the careless, even the guilty, show
the same ruling passion. She who sins herself is
not made indulgent thereby to her partner's iniquity.
It is the one fault which no woman forgives. And
again, the popular imagination supposes that mater-
nity destroys all power of discrimination in a mother.
She may be wounded, injured, insulted by her chil-
dren ; she may see them do everything that is base
and miserable ; she may watch them sink into the
lowest depths of degradation ; but she will love and
believe in them still. To these two fundamental
principles of a woman's nature, there is scarce a
creature in Christendom who would not seal his or
her adhesion. They lie beyond or above all argu-


ment. They are proved, and over again proved,
every day.

Queen Caroline gives a dead contradiction to both.
She was an admirable wife ; but her husband made
her the confidante of his amours, and told her about
his Rosamonds, and yet she never poisoned, nor
thought of poisoning, one of them. She does not
even seem to have been jealous. Her historians,
moved by the utter impossibility, according to all
preconceived notions, of such extraordinary philo-
sophy, pick out here and there the faint little snub
bestowed upon " my good Howard," to show that
in her heart this instinct of nature existed warmly
enough, though in constant control. But the ex-
amples do not bear out the suggestion : for it is hard
if a lady, not to say a queen, may not snub her bed-
chamber-woman for her pleasure without any deeper
motive. And she despised and disliked her son. We
are aware that to say these words is as much as to
give her cause over before every domestic tribunal.
Monster ! does not every one say .'' Yet Caroline
was no monster. She was a woman and a foreigner,
and yet she was more actively and urgently Queen of
England than any other except Elizabeth : she was a
wife, and yet she varied the form of conjugal wicked-
ness by almost encouraging her husband in his infi-
delities : she was a mother, yet gave up, despised, and
opposed her son. For the first of her contradictory
qualities, that of power, she sins in company with
other illustrious exceptions to the common theory ;


but in her other faults she stands alone, or almost

It is a difficult task to apologise for or explain such
wonderful incongruities. They contradict at once
the conclusions of experience and those certainties
which are intuitive and above discussion. If a woman
in fiction had been created with such failings, even
had she been the highest heroine of tragedy, she
would have been flouted as an impossible creature.
She would be false to nature. But the real woman
is very true in fact, and takes no heed about being
true to nature. It is the one great advantage which
fact has over invention, and the historic over every
other Muse. There are no unities, no consistencies,
no rule of probability, to bind the free current of real
life. What a poet dare not dream of, existence pro-
duces calmly, contradicting its own laws, setting aside
the very principles on which its continuance and sta-
bility are founded. But the character in which such
extraordinary contradictions exist cannot be a simple
or superficial one. And the office of the historical
student is not to defend, notwithstanding the general
rage for rehabilitation, which has changed or attempted
to change so many of our landmarks, but only to re-
cord, and if possible to explain.

Caroline was born the daughter of a Duke of Ans-
pach, one of the cluster of little houses to
which, for so many generations, we have owed our
royal wives and husbands. She was brought up under
the care of a princess of the house of Brunswick, the


mother of Frederick the Great, and the daughter of
the old Electress Sophia, of a stock to all appearance
both sweeter and stronger in its feminine branches
than it has ever been in its men. The first event in
her life is as contradictory at the first glance to all
its future tenor, as the strange qualities which dis-
tinguished her in after-life are contradictory to her
womanhood. It is said that she was chosen by the
King of Spain as his bride, under condition of aban-
doning the Protestant faith and becoming a Catholic.
Such a change was (and indeed we suspect is) no such
dreadful matter in the German matrimonial market,
where princesses are trained to bless the world. And
Caroline, far from being a bigot, or disposed to ex-
aggerate the importance of religious distinctions,
shows few symptoms of any religious conviction
whatever. She refused, however, this advantageous
bargain. Her faith, such as it was, seems to have
been more to her than the unlucky but then splendid
crown which was laid at her feet. " She could not be
prevailed on to buy a crown at so dear a rate," says
Bishop Burnet. Perhaps at that early period of her
existence some lingerings of childish devoutness
might be in the mind of the young princess ; but
there can have been very little piety round her, and
she showed small sign of any in her after-life. The
real cause of her resistance probably was, that her
mind, though not religious, was essentially Protestant,
as a great many minds are, especially in Germany.
The Protestant intellect still exists and flourishes,


though not always in distinct connection with a Pro-
testant faith ; and is a far less conquerable thing than
any system of doctrine. In such a constitution, a
determined dislike to submit to authority, to bind
the spirit down to obedience, or even to profess sub-
jection in matters with which the intellect has so
much to do, is infinitely stronger than the faculty of
belief Caroline, we suspect, would have been very
vague in any confession of her faith ; but it is easy to
perceive how difficult the profession of Catholicism
would be to a woman of such a character and mind.

" Her pious firmness," adds the bishop-historian,
" is likely to be rewarded even in this life with a
much better crown than that which she rejected."

It was to make Great Britain happy, as all the
poets twittered, that the choice was made ; and she
married her George shortly after, and lived with him,
, in the most singular version of married life perhaps
ever set before the world, for more than thirty years.
To judge it or her by the rules current among our-
selves at the present day would be both unjust and
foolish ; but happily the chroniclers of the time have
left us in little doubt about the manners and customs
of that babbling and talkative age. It is painful to
think how little of the same kind of pleasure our
descendants, a hundred years hence, will get out of
• us. Thanks to Sir Rowland Hill (and many thanks
to him), we, as a nation, write letters no more. And
somehow, notwithstanding the contradiction which
statistics would throw in our face did we venture on


such an assertion, there do not seem to be so many
of us afloat in the world nowadays as there were in
the period when Horace Walpole corresponded with
his friends. There is no such hum as of a crowd
breathing out of the mingled mass of society where
fashion and politics rival and aid each other. In the
days of the great Horace the buzz filled the air ;
quiet people heard it miles off, counties off; now a
great boiirdonnement, filling their ears like the sound
of the waves of life in the City when you stand within
the silent aisles of St Paul's, and listen ; — now scraps
of distinct talk, like those you catch by intervals on
the skirts of every assembly ; now an opening of the
crowd as some one comes or goes — now a gathering
of the countless mass, as some pageant forms within
its enclosure. We are more listless now, and speak
lower, and don't enjoy it. It is a polite whisper, or it
is a slow funeral drawl, the words dropping dolefully,
and at intervals, like signal guns, which alone reaches
us out of the crowd. And somehow there does not
seem so many people about ; they are climbing the
Alps, and crossing the seas, and lecturing at Me-
chanics' Institutes, and writing pretty books — per-
haps ; or perhaps they are only of a lower vitality,
and make less noise, like the good children. When
our great-grandsons write our history, they will feel
the difference ; for the newspapers, which none of us
much believe in, will probably have made themselves
utterly incredible by that time, and have ceased to be
referred to. Let us hope that the New Zealander


will bring over with him some old packets of yellow
letters written to the first colonists. In these, and in
the big mails that go to India, the budgets of news
for the boys who are out in the world, lie our only
hope of domestic records in the present silent age.

The Court of George II., however, lies open in a
full flood of light. Not only do everybody's letters
contribute towards its illumination, but the curious
Memoirs of Lord Hervey, unique in history, present
it before us with a remorseless and impartial distinct-
ness. To say that we know it as well as if we had
lived in it, is little. We know it infinitely better.
We know what everybody said when the royal
doors were closed, and minister or bishop discussed
the most important of national afiairs with king or
queen. Had we but been about Court at the mo-
ment, the extent of our observation could not have
gone further than to remark how Sir Robert looked
when he left the royal presence, or if Bishop Hoadley
was cheerful after his audience. And it is not a
pleasant spectacle. The age was not one in which
man believed in man, nor in woman either, for that
matter. If wits were not sharper, the tongue at least
was less under restraint. And morality, as we under-
stand it nowadays, does not seem to have had any
existence. Most people behaved badly, and nobody
was ashamed of it. To be sure, a great many people
behave badly at all times ; but, at least, the grace of
concealment, of decent hypocrisy, of outward de-
corum, is general in the world. There was no con-


cealment in those days. The ruling classes lived
coarsely, spoke coarsely, sinned coarsely, without any
illusion on the subject. The innocent and virtuous
were little less indecent than the gross and wicked.
Good wives, and even spotless maidens, discussed,
without any pretence of shame or attempt at secrecy,
the nasty adventures going on around them. The
age was depraved, but it was more than depraved —
it was openly unclean. And yet many notable figures
circulate in this wicked and gossiping and unsavoury
crowd. The wickedness and unsavouriness have been
largely discussed and set forth to the fullest vantage ;
yet there are higher matters to discuss, into which it
is possible to enter without falling absolutely into the
mire. It is hideous to hear the old King talking of
his favourites to his wife's unoffended ears ; but the
story of their life together — of her rule, of her wis-
dom, her extraordinary stoicism and patience, her
good sense and infinite reasonableness — is a very
curious, almost unique, and often most touching

There is one thing to be remarked to begin with,
as a circumstance which explains much in the life of
Caroline. It is only after she had attained the fullest
maturity of mind that she takes her place in history.
Such a hapless passionate existence as that of Mary
Stuart is over and closed for ever before the age at
which Caroline begins to be fully apparent to us.
Therefore, naturally, her virtues and her faults are
both of a different kind from those which are likely


to distinguish the earlier half of life. This of itself
throws a certain light upon her wonderful conjugal
tolerance. She was above forty when she came to
the throne of Great Britain. Before a woman comes
to that age she has learned much which seems impos-
sible to youth. In a barren soil, it is true, cultivation
can do but little, and there is many a woman who is as
much a fool at forty as if she had still the excuse of
being in her teens. But with the greater portion of
reasoning creatures maturity makes a difference. It
teaches patience first of all ; it teaches the absolute
want of perfection that exists everywhere, even in one's
self. It makes the human soul aware of its incapacity
to enter altogether into another, and to be possessed
of its most intimate motives ; and it exalts the great
objects of family peace, honour, and union, of pros-
perity and general respect, and sober duty, above
those enthusiasms of love and perfectness which are
natural and seemly in youth. A young woman who
had been as tolerant as Caroline would have been
simply a monster. But a royal soul, on the heights
of middle age, having lived through all the frets and
passions of youth, without becoming a whit less nat-
ural, separates itself from much that once seemed
necessary to its existence. Far be it from us to say
that love perishes in the growth and progress of the
mind. But love changes. It demands less, it gives
more. Its gifts are not always flattering to the re-
ceiver, because it is — alas ! — impossible that it should
always retain the fairy glamour in its eyes, and think


all excellence centred in the object of its regard. It
is a favourite theory with young people, and chiefly
with young women, though one to which common life
gives the lie daily, that when respect is gone love dies.
Love, let us be thankful, is a much more hardy and
vigorous principle ; it survives everything — even im-
becility, even baseness. Its gifts, we repeat, are not
always flattering to the receiver ; instead of the sweet
thoughts, the sweet words, the tender caresses, and
admiring enthusiasm of its earlier days, it often comes
to be pity, indulgence, even endurance, which it gives;
and that with a terrible disinterestedness — "all for
love, and nothing for reward," with no farther ex-
pectation of the recompense without which young
love breaks its heart and dies. Old Love, by long
and hard training, finds out that it cannot die; it
discovers that it can live on the smaller and ever
smaller footing which experience leaves it. Like a
drowning creature on its one span of rock, it lives
and sees the remorseless tide rising round it. It
survives ill-usage, hardship, injury of every kind,
even — and this is a mystery and miracle, which
few can understand — in some strange way it sur-
vives contempt. Men and women continue steadily
— as the evidence of our own eyes and ears will tell
us — to love women and men upon whom they cannot
possibly look but with a certain scorn. They are
disenchanted, their eyes are opened, no halo hangs
any longer over the feeble or foolish head which once
looked like that of a hero. His wife has to shield


the man from other people's contempt, from blame,
and the penalties of misdoing. She cannot, standing
so near him, shield him from her own ; but her love,
changed, transfigured, embittered, exists and warms
him still.

The only distinct incident of Caroline's youth
which has escaped oblivion is that about the offered
crown which she would not buy with the sacrifice of
her Protestant birthright. History is silent as to her
early married life, and perhaps it is as well. How
she may have struggled against her fate we cannot
tell ; and probably it would not be an edifying tale.
She came to England in 17 14, a young mother with
her children, and not till some years after does she
even appear as a centre of society in her new country.
When the quarrel between her husband and his
father broke out openly, the Princess of Wales began
her individual career. The pair did what so many
heirs-apparent have done — they set up their Court in
avowed opposition to the elder Court, which rarely
holds its own in such a struggle. In this case it had
less than the usual chance. The elder Court was
dull, and coarse, and wicked. It had no legitimate
queen ; and no charm, either of wit or beauty, recom-
mended its feminine oracles, who were destitute of
any claim on the respect of the nation, and were
openly sneered and jeered at by high and low. On
the other hand, the Court of " the Waleses," to quote
the familiar phraseology of the nineteenth century,
was young, gay, and bright, full of pretty women and


clever men. The Princess herself was in the bloom
of her age, handsome, accomplished, and agreeable.
Among her attendants were some of the heroines of
the time — the " fair Lepell," the sweet Mary Bellcn-
den, the " good Howard," whose names are still as
familiar as if they had been shining yesterday upon
an admiring world. " The apartments of the bed-
chamber-woman in waiting," says Walpole, " became
the fashionable evening rendezvous of the most dis-
tinguished wits and beauties." Pleasure of every
kind and complexion was the occupation of this royal
household. It had little influence in public affairs,
and no place in the national economy. It was free
to enter into all the gaieties of a private house, with
all the splendour of a palace. Such a position, un-
official, unrestrained, without the curb either of filial
or public duty, is in most cases more pleasant than

But the breach between the father and son was too
desperate to give the Prince any power of mischief,
so far as the affairs of the country were concerned.
And he was not more depraved than it seems to have
been considered his princely duty to be, as a man
equal to the responsibilities of his position. He had
a " favourite," because, in the abominable code of the
time, such an appendage was thought necessary; and
George's dull sense of his duty in this respect would
be whimsical if it was not vile. But, strangely
enough, he was all the time a man under the most
perfect domestic management. And, more strange


still, the woman who was his mistress gives even a
prejudiced inquirer an impression of genuine good-
ness, sweetness, and truth, which it is hard to recon-
cile with her miserable position. For ten years a
racket of pleasuring was kept up at Leicester Fields.
The laughing Opposition jeered and jested, and
made epigrams, and made love. The saucy maids
of honour laughed at the little Prince to his face.
They indulged in all kinds of obsolete merry-makings.
They hated the King and his Dutch Queens, and his
powerful Minister. When the old George ended,
and the new George began, what change was to be
in the universe ! Other laws, other policy, a different
regime, with everybody in place who was out, and
everybody out who was in, and a general reversal and
delightful jumble of heaven and earth. So every-
body believed, and so the Prince of Wales fully
intended in his choleric soul. But master and ser-
vants alike reckoned without their Princess. While
the racket went on around her, while her naughty
little husband made love before her face, and his
courtiers laughed in their sleeves, wise Caroline kept
her bright eyes open — those eyes of which Walpole
says, " that they expressed whatever she had a mind
they should " — and looked on and pondered. She
was " cette diablcsse Madame la Princesse " to her
charming father-in law. She was in opposition, like
the rest, naturally set against the powers that were.
From her, even more than from her husband, might
have been expected a desire to cross, and thwart, and


run in the face of everything that had been before
her. Nous allons changer tout cela. What other
sentiment could be expected to rise in the breast of
a clever and impatient woman, as she stood by for
years and watched the Germans at St James's buying
and selling, and the old King who had driven herself
out of his palace, and kept her daughters as hostages,

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret) OliphantHistorical sketches of the reign of George Second (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 25)