Intro Book VIII


Introduction to Book VIII

THE eighth volume is much more fully represented here than its predecessors and needs the less Introduction. Its great event is Lady Frederick’s engagement and marriage. The last volume gave us her first meetings with Lord Frederick. He does not appear in this till she goes to stay at Chatsworth in December 1863 ; when, on the first night, she records that ” at dinner I got into an argument with Lord Frederick Cavendish on the Church which excited and interested me.” It seems to have interested him, or, at any rate, not to have interfered with another sort of interest. For things begin to move fast almost at once. He followed her immediately to Hawarden, where he again ” discussed Church questions ” with her, and where his presence evidently had something to do with her having ” the most delightful ball I have ever had ” ; and on December 14th she enters in her Diary : ” I feel in something of a dream.” She wrote at the same time to her sister Mrs. Talbot : ” I could not help having my head turned by Lord Frederick seeming rather to like me. He is so very pleasant that this did put me into a state of mind. I know this may be stupid and that it may all come to an end : but Oh dear ! ” The sage sister evidently replied that there probably was nothing in it, for the second letter justifies herself and tells Meriel of various marked attentions he had paid her, one of which, very marked in that house, was that, when asked by Mrs. Gladstone to buy some photographs (probably of the great man) for a charity, he had demanded one of Miss Lucy Lyttelton ! She was evidently already in love with him, and almost sure that he was in love with her. But her strong religious faith keeps her calm and peaceful during the period of uncertainty. On December 31st she enters in the Diary : ” There is much in my heart to make me thankful, and to give me a sort of awe, in looking forward ; and if it were not for my trust—a faithful trust, though so weak and blind—in the Heavenly Guidance, I should be full of restlessness and excitement. And as it is, I fear I shall be, sooner or later.” So, when she goes to London in April, ” this going away from home fills me with awe and anxiety. But I can’t write about it. ‘ Lead Thou me on.’ ” Mrs. Gladstone was, of course, in the secret ; and her niece had not been in Downing Street many hours before she saw Lord Frederick who came to dinner the very day she arrived. That was on April 6th ; after that they met almost every day till he proposed to her at the Stafford House party in honour of Garibaldi on April 13th. She had a few doubts and fears, but on April 21st she notes : ” We are engaged, and my doubts and fears have all been absorbed in the wonderful happiness and peace.” The marriage took place on June 7th in Westminster Abbey. It was one of the happiest man and woman have ever known, during all the eighteen years it lasted. To the end, whenever they had a time alone together, it seemed to them another honeymoon.

The two other things which, after her engagement and marriage, do most to fill this volume are the coming of age of her eldest brother, afterwards Lord Cobham, which she describes in great detail : and her experiences at Court as a Maid-of-Honour, which she got to enjoy very much. When she left Osborne in January 1864 she writes : ” After the kindest good-byes from every¬body, off I went with my heart rather full ; and I don’t think I shall be again heard lamenting that I am a Maid-of-Honour.” When she first got to Windsor in September 1863 she had written to her sister that the Household dinner ” was not quite so bad as it might be. To be sure we all spoke below our breaths, but this was not much worse than Cliveden [FN: When she had stayed with the Duchess of Sutherland.] ; and we had a good deal of murmured conversation, considering.” And she is relieved to find that her ” scrambled-into dress is correct : black with black gloves but gold ornaments ; and green leaves and lilac flowers are allowed.” But still she feels like a servant at her first place, that ” cold, forlorn sensation ” which servants call ” feeling strange.” But a few months later at Osborne she has already discovered that ” the Household is composed of all the nicest people in England.” She is particularly delighted with the Queen’s Ladies ; and says of Lady Churchill that she is ” without an exception the most highbred person I ever saw : just like a gazelle : tall and dignified and graceful, with a small, noble head and a kind, simple, unaffected manner.”

And she has nothing but praise to write of the Queen and her family. All seem to have been very kind to her, and Princess Louise got into trouble by taking her out riding, instead of a governess, without leave. She had always been much impressed with the smallness of the Queen’s sons, as former volumes show. Here she writes of Prince Arthur, now the Duke of Con¬naught, the last survivor of them : ” Prince Arthur is a charming little fellow, full of bright courtesy and pleasant talk, and more of a John Bull than the others. A handsome face but such a tiny mortal for 14 ! ”

There is not much else which calls for note. Of small facts which now seem odd perhaps the most curious are that she notes that bonnets are being given up for bridesmaids ; and that the process of reducing corpulence, now known as ” banting,” was invented by a gentleman of that name who wrote a pamphlet on the subject. How many to-day, even of those who ” bant,” ever heard of Mr. Banting ?