« AnteriorContinuar »
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE CONSORT
WITH PORTRAITS AND VIEWS
VOLUME THE FIRST
MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.
I have now the satisfaction of placing in Your Majesty's hands the first portion of the narrative of the Life of the Prince Consort, which I have had the honour to prepare in compliance with Your Majesty's desire. In doing so, may I be permitted to say a few words in explanation of the principles by which I have been guided in its composition ?
Your Majesty is aware of the extreme diffidence-I might even say reluctance—with which I accepted the honourable task, most unexpectedly pressed upon me, of continuing the Life of the Prince which had been begun by General Grey. To me, biography, while one of the most fascinating, has always appeared one of the most difficult branches of literature. How difficult, the few masterpieces in that kind, of either ancient or modern time, are enough to show. To present a faithful picture of even the simplest life and character, moving in scenes with which we are ourselves familiar, working in channels in which we have ourselves worked, demands rare qualities of imaginative sympathy and perception. A life of action, which has swayed great movements or stamped
its impress upon great events, may be presented in strong outlines, and under such forcible contrasts of light and shade, as will stimulate the imagination, and make the hero or the statesman a vivid reality for the reader. But where the inner life has to be portrayed, a subtler touch is demanded. We are a mystery to ourselves; how much more, then, must we be a mystery to a stranger? There is infinite sacredness in all noble lives, such as alone merit the consecration of biography. Before it those will bow with the greatest reverence to whom these lives are most intimately known; for to such the fact is sure to have been brought most closely home, which Keble has beautifully expressed, that,
Not even the tenderest heart, and next our own,
How grave, then, must be his responsibility who ventures to draw for the world a portrait of any of its heroes, which shall be at once warmly sympathetic and austerely just !
Such, and no less, I felt the portrait of the Prince Consort ought to be. But who might paint it? I had not the happiness or the honour to know him personally ; but it was apparent at a glance that there must be unusual difficulty in dealing with a life consecrated to duty as his had been, and marked by that 'silent, collected posture' to which he was restricted by the peculiar circumstances of his position. Of much that the Prince had done for England no further record was needed. It lived in the institutions he had encouraged, in the impulses he had given to social improvement, the force of which continues to be daily felt. Of his influence both on domestic and European politics much was surmised. It was difficult to compute how much could be fully told, while events were yet recent, and many of the actors in them still alive. Of the man, as he was known in his home and among his friends, the charming glimpses, which had been vouchsafed in The Leaves from a Journal, and in General Grey's volume, seemed to leave little that could be added to the picture.