[Footnote 10: Queen Victoria’s Journal.]
His rule in life was to make his position entirely a part of the Queen’s, “to place all his time and powers at her command.” Every speech which he made in public was carefully considered beforehand, and then written out and committed to memory. As he had to speak in a foreign tongue, he considered this precaution absolutely necessary. At the same time it often made him feel shy and nervous when speaking before strangers, and this sometimes gave to those who did not know him a mistaken impression of coldness and reserve.
His sympathy with the working classes was sincere and practical. He was convinced that “any real improvement must be the result of the exertion of the working people themselves.” He was President of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and never lost an opportunity of pointing out that, to quote his own words, “the Royal Family are not merely living upon the earnings of the people (as these publications try to represent) without caring for the poor labourers, but that they are anxious about their welfare, and ready to co-operate in any scheme for the amelioration of their condition. We may possess these feelings, and yet the mass of the people may be ignorant of it, because they have never heard it expressed to them, or seen any tangible proof of it.”
His grasp of detail and knowledge of home and foreign political affairs astonished every one who met him, ministers and ambassadors alike. His writing-table and that of the Queen stood side by side in their sitting-room, and here they used to work together, every dispatch which left their hands being the joint work of both. The Prince corrected and revised everything carefully before it received the Queen’s signature. Considering the small amount of time at his disposal, it was remarkable how much he was able to read, and read thoroughly, both with the Queen and by himself. “Not many, but much,” was his principle, and every book read was carefully noted in his diary.
Even to the last he exerted his influence in the cause of peace. The American Civil War broke out in 1861, and Great Britain declared her neutrality. But an incident, known as ‘The Trent Affair,’ nearly brought about a declaration of war.
The Southern States, or ‘Confederates,’ as they were usually called, sent two commissioners to Europe on board the British mail steamer Trent. The Trent was fired upon and boarded by a Federal officer, who arrested the commissioners.
This was regarded as an insult to our flag, as it was a breach of international law to attack the ship of a neutral power. The Government therefore decided to demand redress, and a dispatch, worded by Palmerston, was forwarded to the Queen for her signature.
The Prince realized at once that if the dispatch were forwarded as it was written it would lead to open war between the Northern States and our country, and he suggested certain alterations to the Queen, who agreed to them. A more courteously worded message was sent, and the Northern States at once agreed to liberate the commissioners and offered an ample apology.