Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

The Exhibition remained open from the 1st of May to the 11th of October, continuing during all those
months to attract many thousands of visitors. It had charmed the world by the splendid embodiment of

peace and peaceful industries which it presented, and men willingly took this festival as a sign

bespeaking a yet longer reign of world-tranquillity. It proved to be only a sort of rainbow, shining in the

black front of approaching tempest. When 1854 opened, the third year from the Exhibition year, we were

already committed to war with Russia; and the forty years' peace with Europe, finally won at Waterloo,

was over and gone.

In the interval another great spirit had passed away. The Duke of Wellington died, very quietly and with
little warning, at Walmer Castle, on the 14th of September, 1852, "full of years and honours." He was in

his eighty-fourth year, and during the whole reign of Queen Victoria he had occupied such a position as

no English subject had ever held before. At one time, before that reign began, his political action had

made him extraordinarily unpopular, in despite of the splendid military services which no one could

deny; now he was the very idol of the nation, and at the same time was treated with the utmost respect

and reverent affection by the Sovereign - two distinctions how seldom either attained or merited by one

person! But in Wellington's case there is no doubt that the popular adoration and the royal regard were

worthily bestowed and well earned. He had never seemed stirred by the popular odium, he never seemed

to prize the popular praise, which he received; it was not for praise that he had worked, but for simple

duty; and his experience of the fickleness of public favour might make him something scornful of it. To

the honours which his Sovereign delighted to shower on him - honours perhaps never before bestowed on

a subject by a monarch - he was sensitive. The Queen to him was the noblest personification of

the country whose good had ever been, not only the first, but the only object of his public action: and

with this patriotic loyalty there mingled something of a personal feeling, more akin to romance in its

paternal tenderness than seemed consistent with the granite-hewn strength and sternness of his general

character. A thorough soldier, with a soldier's contempt for fine-spun diplomacy, he had been led into

many a blunder when acting as a chief of party and of State; but his absolute single-minded honesty had

more than redeemed such errors; "integrity and uprightness had preserved him," and through him the

land and its rulers, amid difficulties where the finest statecraft might have made shipwreck of all.

He had his human failings; yet the moral grandeur of his whole career cast such faults into the shade, and
justified entirely the universal grief at his not untimely death. The Queen deplored him as "our immortal

hero" - a servant of the Crown "devoted, loyal, and faithful" beyond all example; the nation endeavoured

by a funeral of unprecedented sumptuousness to show its sense of loss; the poet laureate devoted to his

memory a majestic Ode, hardly surpassed by any in the language for its stately, mournful music, and

finely faithful in its characterisation of the dead hero -

"The man of long-enduring blood,
The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute,

Whole in himself, a common good;...

...The man of amplest influence,

Yet clearest of ambitious crime,

Our greatest yet with least pretence,

Great in council and great in war,

Foremost captain of his time,

Rich in saving common-sense.

And, as the greatest only are.

In his simplicity sublime;...

 

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