Extract from Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s London Travel Diary
|Monday. 7th January. |
Yesterday was a dark, turbid day. I staid at home and wrote a long letter to Mrs Gorham. Sunday in London is perfectly quiet. The stillness of the streets is remarkable, and more striking from the contrast with the six week days which are noisy & bustling enough. Capt. Wormeley called and Mr Coolidge walked out with him. They called on Mrs Searle who had been dining at Mrs Atkinson’s. She there met Mr Charles Sumner whom she thought much elated by his success in fashionable society and very full of conceit.
In the evening after seeing my boy in bed I went to pass an hour with Mrs Stevenson. I found Mr S. & herself alone. She gave me an account of their visit to Windsor. They arrived at the Castle at half past five P.M. were received by some members of the household and ushered into their own apartments, which consisted of two handsome drawing rooms & two bedchambers with dressing rooms. Having rested and changed their dresses Mrs Stevenson was conducted by Miss Murray, one of the maids of honour, to the drawing room, where in about fifteen minutes, the Queen made her appearance very elegant and gracious. She welcomed Mrs Stevenson to Windsor and offered her hand to be respectfully touched not shaken. Who ever heard of shaking hands with a Queen! It was signified to Mr Stevenson that he was expected to lead her Majesty to dinner. He did so, and was seated by her, the Duchess of Kent being on his other hand. A high post of honour between an illustrious pair. Before the conclusion of the dinner the Queen’s health was drunk, all standing but herself. Presently her Majesty rose and left the room followed by the ladies. She tarried a while in the drawing room and then retired to her private apartments all being at liberty to do the same. After some time the company re-assembled, card tables were laid at one of which the Duchess of Kent seated herself, Mrs Stevenson was invited to play chess with Miss Murray, and the Queen took her place on a sofa with Lord Melbourne at her side and a small lap dog between them, whose pretty ears her Majesty amused herself by pulling whilst she conversed with Lord Melbourne, calling him by the familiar name of Melly. After an evening of elegant formality, the party broke up. Mrs Stevenson was suffering from a very bad cold and the Queen sent a kind message to say that she must take care of her cough and not trouble herself to come out to breakfast, with some other gracious expressions of interest, very commendable and of course very commonplace. In the morning however, Mrs Stevenson perhaps moved by curiosity, was ready for breakfast. The Marchioness of Tavistock did the honours of this informal repast, at which the Queen never appears, nor yet does her Majesty lunch in public—It must be a blessed relief this little interval of rest from state and representation.
After breakfast Mr & Mrs Stevenson were conducted over the Castle through the private apartments, the plate-room &c &c. Luncheon succeeded, the Queen then appeared equipped for riding. Mr Stevenson was invited to accompany her, whilst Mrs Stevenson with the Ladies Tavistock & Albemarle in a carriage visited Virginia Water. The Queen rides well and went farther & faster than altogether suited a middle aged gentleman of diplomatic habits, whose excursions from Portland place to the Foreign Office, are generally made in an easy chariot. Another toilette and another dinner followed the out-door exercise. The Queen this day wore the Order of the Garter and a suit of magnificent pearls “as large,” says Mrs Stevenson, “as gooseberries.” During dinner Lord Melbourne addressed Mr Stevenson. “I believe” said his Lordship, “that Jefferson is a great name on the other side of the Atlantic, is it not?” “It is my Lord.” “His principles being democratic makes him popular among a democratic people; he is not one of my favorites. I consider Hamilton as your great man.” “Of course your Lordship would prefer a man who desired a Presidency for life and a septennial Congress &c. &c. &c.”1
My grandfather can never be a favorite with the few, being himself the friend of the many. There is a perpetual opposition between the rich and the poor which makes an advocate for the one always appear an opponent of the other; but this is temporary; posterity, although divided into the same classes, judges with less “esprit de corps” the actions of past times, and tardy justice is done, even by the priviledged classes, to the merit and the memory of their adversaries. Even English Lords of the present day reserve all their acrimony for contemporary republicans & reformers. They are willing to commend those of past ages. Their own honours and emoluments are secure from Cincinnatus or the Gracchi, & Publicola cannot interfere with their titles or rent roles. The hatreds of an Aristocracy are like those of a Priesthood directed against the living or the recently dead, for their privileges are endangered by none other.
The last day of Mr & Mrs Stevenson’s stay at Windsor they were present at a Stag hunt and returned in the afternoon to London.
I have just seen a funeral pass down Regent St. A Hearse with four black horses, crowned with immense plumes of black Ostrich feathers—Mourning coaches, mourners &c followed. The effect to me was not solemn but burlesque. I do not like it. It is making a Puppet shew of Death. These parade funerals, the Hearse & it’s plumes, the hired mourners with their crape bands & faces of assumed grief, are out of character with the times. It is the pageantry of a past age, a mere antiquated sham, with nothing real about it but it’s absurdity. The plumed Hearse is like an Owl flying abroad in daylight. Is it by perseverance in such senseless customs, (that is customs which whatever sense they may originally have had, have lost it now,) that stanch conservatives hope to stay the tide of innovation?