London - An Audience with Queen Victoria
( Originally Published 1903 )
WHILE I was in London, I discovered that it would be very difficult for an obscure American boy, without influential friends, to gain the favor of a private audience with Queen Victoria. Her Majesty was receiving people daily during the Jubilee season, but they were usually persons of importance from foreign lands, or members of the British nobility, who were presented at the drawing-rooms. I witnessed the ceremony which was observed at the approaches to Buckingham Palace while the Queen was in London, and I began to think that I stood a very poor chance of ever seeing her at close range. I was neither a member of the nobility, nor rich, nor distinguished, so I had no excuse for asking for an invitation to the receptions. I was quite unknown to the American Ambassador, so it is hardly to be expected that he would introduce me, and altogether my case seemed quite hopeless.
But I never forgot my ambition to see Queen Victoria. It was one of the things I had planned to do when I started from Chicago, and I had faith that if I waited long enough there would surely be some way for me to do so. I realized that many of the difficulties mentioned by Englishmen were greatly exaggerated. The average Briton would no more think of trying to speak with Queen Victoria than he would try to reach the moon, so it was very natural that none of my friends in London should think my chances worth considering.
Glimpses of the Queen
I was several times able to get a glimpse of the Queen as she drove out in the royal borough of Windsor, but such passing views were far from satisfactory. Any one could look at royalty in that way; what I wanted was the favor of a presentation.
When I visited Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden, I had almost given up my desire to see the most famous ruler of the century. - There appeared to be no way in which I could make progress with it, and so there was nothing to do but give it up. My experience at Hawarden, however, revived my courage. I learned that great personages are often very easy to see if one can only go about it in the right way, and I thought to myself that my success with Mr. Gladstone ought to be of assistance at Windsor. When I was about to leave the library in which my interview took place, the Grand Old Man said that if he could help me in any way while I was in England I must not fail to let him know. He seemed so sincere, that I mustered up courage and described my ambition to see Queen Victoria, telling of the various efforts I had made. " If I can only see the Queen," I said, " I will return home happy, and satisfied with my trip in every particular."
Mr. Gladstone smiled at my eagerness. " That is a very high ambition," he said, " and one that a great many people have. You probably have no realization of the number of people who are always seeking audiences; it would be quite impossible for the authorities to grant all of the requests. I think, however, that if her Majesty knew of some of your adventures, she might see you as a curiosity." Then the great man smiled again, and seemed to thoughtfully consider the possibilities. Finally he called me to sit down again. " I'll give you a note to the Chamberlain," he said, " and if anyone can arrange for your admission he is the man." I took my seat trembling with excitement. I had no doubt whatever that now that Mr. Gladstone had interested himself in my behalf the audience was as good as accomplished, for I knew that his recommendation would be a powerful aid. What I had most needed was a sponsor, and now I had the best in the land.
The Lord Chamberlain
When I returned to the metropolis, and was settled once more in the little inn, I lost no time in presenting my letter to the Chamberlain. I found him to be an elderly man, very stern and dignified in appearance, and when he was reading the letter my heart fell within me. He didn't look like a man who would feel very kindly toward a boy who presumed to seek an audience with royalty. When he had finished reading, he merely told me to return in three days' time. " I will be able to let you know at that time whether your request can be granted," he said. There was nothing in his manner to encourage me, and I went away feeling that it was hardly worth while for me to go back again. I thought that if there was any chance of my success the Chamberlain would surely have been more friendly.
Those three intervening days were far from happy. I spoke with some of the frequenters of the inn, and when I told them that I hoped to see Queen Victoria they laughed uproariously. " The very idea," said one fellow, who had a cousin who was a stable-boy to the Prince of Wales, " do you suppose they'd let a youngster like you into Windsor Castle? They'd as soon think of giving audience to a bootblack." I was quite unable to argue the question. I had no proof that I would be admitted, and in fact I hadn't much confidence in my success. It is very easy to grow depressed when everyone laughs at your ambition.
I had no intention, however, of remaining away from the Chamberlain's office. If the answer was unfavorable I was quite prepared to receive it, and if it proved to be satisfactory, I would be very glad I had gone. So when the third day came round I presented myself at the appointed time, and was shown at once into the presence of his Lordship. I was again asked to be seated, and I realized at once, from various signs, that my request had been favorably received at the castle. I had to answer a great many questions about my experiences since I had been in England, and I had to tell the Chamberlain all about my life at home and my connections in America. Finally he seemed satisfied with what he had learned, and when his Lordship arose I understood that I was soon to know my fate. " If you can be at Windsor to-morrow afternoon at two o'clock," said the Chamber-lain, "I think you can be permitted an introduction to her Majesty. At the last minute it may be impossible, and you must be prepared for disappointment. Ask for me when you arrive, and present this card."
A Glorious Prospect
I left the room in a daze. It seemed almost too good to be true that I was at last to see the greatest living monarch, and I went home without noticing what streets I traversed. Once in my little room, I began to realize that the interview might not be an unmixed joy. Before I visited the Chamberlain, I had determined to ask his Lordship about the clothing to be worn and the rules to be observed when I went to Windsor; but in the excitement I had forgotten to ask anything of the sort, and now I was in a dilemma regarding what I had better do. All that I knew about court etiquette I had read in fairy tales and other books, and how was I to know how to conduct myself when in the presence of royalty. Would I stoop and kiss the hem of her Majesty's gown, as in the fairy tales, or would I merely sit on a chair and talk as if she were our next door neighbor at home? I had read somewhere that people customarily kissed the Queen's hand on presentation, but might it not be considered rude if I did such a thing as that? It was silly, of course, for me to concern myself about these things, but I was only six-teen, and it was an unusual position for a boy of that age to be in.
My concern was finally so great that I betook myself to the Guildhall Library and asked for a book on etiquette at court. They handed me a monster volume of closely printed pages, which told what should be done on all sorts of special occasions. I soon found that it would be quite impossible for me to carry out such rules without practice and without someone to advise me, and I finally gave up in despair. I decided to go out to Windsor dressed in the only decent suit I had, and trust to fate that I would look all right.
A Day to be Remembered
When I arose on the morning of the eventful day, I hurried through with my chores at the inn, and then went up to my attic room to prepare for the journey. I brushed and brushed, and scrubbed and scrubbed, and looked in the mirror every minute to see if everything was right. I wanted to look as well as it is possible to look in a five-dollar, department-store suit, and I spent a long time in dressing. Then I started for Windsor at about eleven o'clock, for though I wasn't expected at the castle until two, I wanted to make sure that I would be in time. When I reached the picturesque little city it was only twelve o'clock. I purchased some bread and cheese for luncheon, and walked about the castle grounds eating it, and trying to imagine the Queen at luncheon within the royal residence.
As soon as the town clock struck two, I presented myself at the appointed entrance, and my card gained for me immediate attention from the footman. I found the Chamberlain expecting me, and he was exceedingly friendly and pleasant in his manner. " Everything is all right," he said, " and I think you can be received at once. I hope you appreciate this high honor which you are about to enjoy?" I told him that no person could appreciate it more. His Lordship said he was glad I had made no effort at ceremony. " The Queen is interested in you as a plucky boy," he said, " and it would have been quite out of place for you to have tried to observe the etiquette of the court." I said that I was rather surprised at the absence of ceremony within the castle, and the Chamberlain laughed. " I suppose you expected to find me in uniform? " he said, and I confessed that that had been my expectation.
I followed my guide through a great many large rooms and hallways, which were more beautifully furnished than any I had ever seen before, and finally we reached a small antechamber, where his Lordship asked me to be seated, and excused himself for a few minutes. When he returned, he opened a door and asked me to step inside.
In the Presence of Royalty
The occurrences of the next few minutes were not easy for me to remember in detail. When I passed through the door I had no idea that I was to find myself at once in the presence of royalty, and I was struck dumb when I noticed the Queen seated near one of the windows, with a book in her lap. There was no mistaking her appearance. I knew that this short, stout old lady, with a sweet, grandmotherly expression, was none other than the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and the Empress of India, mightiest of earthly sovereigns. I was so surprised at finding myself at once in her presence that I stopped immediately inside the door, and the Chamberlain beckoned me to go forward. The Queen looked up then, for the first time, and without waiting for any introduction she spoke to me. " Come nearer, my boy," she said, " I cannot talk to you so far away."
I obeyed with alacrity, and came near stumbling over a rug as I approached.
The Chamberlain then presented me in a very informal way, " This is the boy," he said, and I understood that he must have been with the Queen just previously and told her that I was outside. I was so occupied in looking at her Majesty that I hadn't noticed the other occupants of the room, and the Queen called my attention to the Princess Henry of Battenberg and the Princess Victoria of Wales.
I was so greatly embarrassed that I had neglected to bow, as the Chamberlain had instructed me to do, for I felt a rebuke in the voice of the Queen as she spoke to me.
The Princess Beatrice smiled at me in the most cordial way, and I felt that she, at any rate, would do her best to make me feel at ease. Her Royal Highness began at once to question me, and I told them all about my experience at washing dishes and being sick, and how I had thought of visiting England in the first place. When the Princess learned that I had been seasick she was all sympathy. She explained that she had once crossed the Atlantic to visit Canada, and had been unable to get up on any day of the voyage. " I can't imagine," she said, " how any person could wash dishes and be seasick at the same time, and certainly you have my sympathy."
What We Talked About
I was asked about my life in London, and where I was staying there. The Princess Beatrice desired to know what famous places I visited in the metropolis, and I felt so much at ease that I related frankly my opinions of London " sights." I soon observed that all three of my listeners were laughing at my sincerity, but I insisted on telling what I objected to, as well as what I liked. I stated that I was pleased, on the whole, with what I had seen of England. " But you would rather live in America, wouldn't you ? " said the Princess Beatrice, smiling at the Queen.
Most certainly," I said, for I was born there, and that is my home."
" Bravo," said the Princess, laughing.
The Queen herself said very little during the interview, though she listened with evident interest to the conversation. I was surprised at finding her Majesty so feeble, and I was surprised, also, at finding her so pleasant in appearance. The majority of her portraits show Queen Victoria with a stern and rather homely facial expression, and I am sure that no one could have looked more beautiful than the Queen did when she smiled. It is unfortunate that the royal photographs have not been more successful in catching the smile in her Majesty's portraits.
Of course I couldn't remember the exact length of the interview, but it probably lasted not more than ten or twelve minutes. As I moved to leave, in response to the Chamberlain's motion, the Queen spoke a few words of congratulation. " You have made a brave start," she said " and I hope you will continue to succeed." I assured them that if I was received with such friendliness else-where as I had experienced at Windsor I couldn't help but win. I also said that I purposed writing a book when my travels were finished, and asked the Queen's permission to print an account of the interview. It was readily given, with the proviso that I forward a copy of the book to the castle.
A Dignified Departure
I managed to bow myself out of the royal apartment without falling, and once in the antechamber I sat down to collect myself. The Chamberlain smiled at my evident nervousness, and encouraged me by saying that I had conducted myself very well indeed. He asked me if I had been disappointed with my view of royalty, and I answered emphatically that I had not. Queen Victoria could not have been called beautiful in 1897, but certainly no one could have been more impressive. Her face wore an expression of kindliness which would be creditable to any American grandmother, and I afterward thought that she would probably have been recognized anywhere as a great personage. There was an indescribable something in her manner and bearing which stamped her as born to rule. Both she and the royal princesses were attired in very simple costumes. The Queen, of course, wore black, with just a touch of white at the throat and in the quaint old lady's cap. Her face showed lines of sorrow, and when I noticed the portrait of the Prince Consort in her sitting-room I remembered their probable. reason.
Return to the Little Inn
After the audience I was permitted to view some of the more interesting rooms in the castle, and there was so much to see that I was loath to leave the place at all. When I left the great building at last I went to see St. George's Chapel, where the royal family attend divine service, and then I took an evening train for London. It was bedtime when I reached the inn, but I had no thought of sleep. I had to tell the dear old landlady all about the day's experiences, and she listened with mouth wide open. She said she had never before seen anyone who had talked with the Queen, and she henceforth treated me as a curiosity. All my London friends were vastly surprised when they learned that I had succeeded at last in my cherished ambition, and they never tired of asking about the experience. It was hard for them to understand that perseverance sometimes wins where wealth and social position have been of no effect, and that boys can sometimes win where men have failed. My youth was the one great thing in my favor. If I had been older, Mr. Gladstone and the Queen would have been less willing to aid me; it was the fact of my being alone in a strange land which won their interest.
Having seen the Queen, I felt that I had accomplished the two principal objects of my trip to Europe, and I now had plenty to write about for the American newspapers. I found it pleasant to think of the surprise of the doubtful editors when they learned of my success, and I loved also to think how pleased the folks at home would be. Every one would now agree that it had been a good idea for me to visit Europe, after all, and henceforth I would have all the encouragement I needed. Since I had seen two of the greatest personages in the world, I knew that there would be fewer difficulties in the way of my accomplishing other interviews, and, altogether, I seemed to have entered upon one of the most pleasant periods of my trip.