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Occasionally the monotony of princely intercourse was varied for the inmates of Warwick House by such scenes as the following. After a birthday dinner at Sandhurst
“The Prince did not speak to Princess Charlotte, the Duchess, or me, but looked as if he wished to annihilate us.
When the Queen was about to depart, the Prince Regent was not to be found, and we afterwards learned that he, with the Duke of York, Prince of Orange (the father), and many others, were under the table. The Duke of York hurt his head very seriously against the cellaret. In short, it was a sad business.'
Yet, coarse and unfeeling as the Prince may be deemed in his conduct to his child, it is justice to his memory to say that even the narrative of the resentful Miss Knight does not ascribe to him anything amounting to cruelty. His behaviour was by turns overbearing, sulky, jealous, querulous—everything but what it should have been where the object was to conciliate and to restrain; but of intentional cruelty there is no evidence.
Of the associates in the same service whom Miss Knight encountered at Warwick House, she gives the following hopeful picture :
"The Bishop of Salisbury used to come three or four times a week, and “ do the important” as Her Royal Highness's “preceptor." He had expressed great satisfaction at my coming into her service, and had, I know, wished it many years before ; but however willing I was to be on the best terms with the Bishop, and to induce Princess Charlotte to treat him with attention, I could not but see how narrow his views, how strong his prejudices, and how unequal his talents were to the charge with which he had been entrusted by the good old King, much against the Prince's inclination. The Bishop's first points were to arm Princess Charlotte against the encouragement of Popery and Whig principles (two evils which he seemed to think equally great), and to appear himself a man of consequence.
The Bishop had been preceptor to the Duke of Kent, and living much at Windsor, where he was formerly a canon, had imbibed the bad style of manners belonging to that place' [this is an accusation against the Collegiate Chapel which we never heard of before] ; "and as it was not grafted on any natural or acquired elegance, he was in that respect also unfit for his situation ; added to which his temper was hasty, and his manner easily ruffled.'—voli. p.
233. We by no means accept all poor Miss Knight's jaundiced views of the personages about the Princess; but it seems clear enough, from all we know of him, that Bishop Fisher, whatever his episcopal merits may have been, was about as fit to direct the intellect. and control the temper of a young and sorely perplexed girl as he would have been to nurse a child of a year old. Under the
Bishop were ‘Dr. Short, sub-preceptor, a good sort of Devonshire man, with some classical knowledge, very little taste, an honest heart, but over-cautious temper, fearful of offending ;' Mr. Sterkey? minister of the Swiss church, who read French with the Princess,' strangely described as “a man of good manners for his station, and of a very pliant disposition, ready to do anything not absolutely wicked ; and Küper, the German preceptor, suspected of being a spy. Then there was the good Duchess of Leeds (governess), who had no inclination to quarrel with anybody, and really seems to have been the most sensible and cleanest of the party :
* Provided that she might ride two or three times a week at Hall's, a second-rate riding-school, on an old quiet horse, for exercise, get into her shower-bath, and take calomel when she pleased, dine out,
go to all parties when invited, shake hands with everybody, and touch her salary, she cared for nothing more, except when mischievous people to plague her, or curious people to know what was going on, talked to her about Princess Charlotte's petticoats being too short, of Her Royal Highness nodding instead of bowing, or talking to the maids of honour at chapel between the prayers and the sermon.' None of them perhaps quite what the disappointed lady-companion paints them, but evidently a wretchedly inferior set of attendants, from whom the proud and clever Princess instinctively withdrew herself into a state of mental insulation.
Such was the muddy whirlpool into which the unfortunate Miss Knight plunged herself, and in which, after an ineffectual struggle or two, she went, as we shall see, to the bottom. Unfortunately she did not enter the household as an impartial person. All its inmates naturally took one side or the other, the mother's or the father's ; she had taken the former beforehand. This is plain on her own statement. • When Lord Moira was endeavouring to persuade me to accept the place offered me,' she says, “ I told him my sole motive then was to assist in rescuing a noble young creature from surrounding persecution, to give her room to show what she really was, misunderstood as she appeared to be, and certainly capable of becoming a blessing to her country or the reverse; and more to the same effect. This passage really affords the key to her subsequent narrative. After reading it, one feels that her protestations of impartiality and a simple desire to perform a difficult duty must go for nothing. All her actions were subject to a bias, and so is her narrative. She soon lost favour with the Prince Regent, and to lose favour with him was to become the object of a kind of effeminate, spiteful, and wayward hostility. Unfortunately she did not gain it with the Princess; and this was the crowning disappointment of her life.
The Princess evidently had confidence in her steadiness, and wished, in her way, to be kind to her and to love her ; but she did not love her, nor even like her; and the efforts went against the grain. We collect this from the general tenor of the Autobiography, as well as from Lady Charlotte Bury's express statement. But, with the natural feeling of unsuccessful candidates for the attachment of a superior, Miss Knight could not ascribe this failure to any demerits of her own, and attributed it throughout to the ill offices of another. And here commences the most objectionable part of the narrative. The person on whom Miss Knight fixed as the subject of her jealousy was Miss Mercer Elphinstone. To her she ascribes, sometimes by assertion, more often by insinuation, almost every disappointment which occurred to herself. Miss Mercer was perhaps the only one of the Princess's few intimates who was the choice of her own heart. Some years older than the latter, she was able at once to be her adviser and her bosom friend. And although herself no favourite of the Regent, nor partial to him-in fact, involved in his general dislike of the damned ladies'-she seems to have exercised that influence, on all important occasions, in order to persuade her friend into submission to her father. That such unpalatable advice should have been given and received without any interruption of their cordial relations, does honour to both. Accordingly, in the Princess of Wales's circle, Miss Mercer was regarded as one of those who set the mother against the daughter ;'* and Miss Knight probably shared the feelings of the Connaught House party S
About this time,' she says (March, 1813), Miss Mercer Elphinstone came to town, and Princess Charlotte wrote to ask the Regent's permission for seeing her. It was evident that this had been arranged beforehand, and that the conditions were that Miss Mercer, who had more influence than any one with Princess Charlotte, should open her eyes to her mother's imprudence, and break the confidential intimacy between them.'-vol. i. p. 225.
We believe this to be altogether false. No conditions whatever were made with Miss Mercer ; the permission was simply given to her father, who was in the Prince's household. However, we are told in the very next page :
* I soon perceived the change, and also some difference of conduct towards myself. Princess Charlotte left off shaking hands with me when we met in the morning and parted at night; a circumstance trifling in itself, and unnecessary where people live in the same house together, but it was accompanied by hints that when she had an establishment her ladies should be kept at a distance; and a short time after, that her ladies ought to be peeresses or of the highest connexions. I could easily guess whence all this was derived, but said nothing.'
* Lady Charlotte Bury's Diary, i. 249. See also Moore's Diary, vol. iii. p. 112.
establishment * When dressed for the evening, says Miss Knight, with excusable partiality, she was the handsomest woman in the room.'
Soon after, on a similar occasion, 'I burst into tears, and was obliged to remain in my room that evening. Next day Princess Charlotte hinted something about jealousy, of which I took no notice; but I perceived her mind had been poisoned.' All this—and there is much more of such stuff-seems to have been in truth the mere prompting of the 'green-eyed monster.' Miss Mercer and Miss Knight were on the most friendly outward terms, and the former seems to have known nothing of what was rankling in the mind of the poor lady-companion.
These petty tracasseries were soon to give way to intrigues and annoyance of a more serious description. No young lady of great prospects, let alone her being
• The loveliest maid, besides,
That ever heir'd a crown,'* can escape rumours of flirtations; and so long as the world goes on in its present way, such will be borne on every breeze. In the case of the Princess Charlotte, these began early enough. Already, when Miss Knight joined the household, talk was busy about Captain Fitzclarence, the late Lord Munster, whom, as we have been informed, the Princess scarcely knew by sight. Her father wished her to marry the young Prince of Orange, just restored to his Dutch expectations by the fall of Napoleon. The project was taken up very strongly by the Regent, partly from exceeding desire to get rid of the additional embarrassment occasioned by his daughter in his unhappy relations with his wife. The scheme did no discredit to its promoters: the Prince's character stood high, the marriage was in consonance with the then British policy; but, somehow, Orange matches (notwithstanding the instance of the great Deliverer) have seldom been popular in England. At all events, the Princess could not abide him. As soon as she discovered what was in store for her, she seems to have been anxious to escape from persecution by some other union-she had scarcely considered what. She wanted to marry some one of the Princes of Prussia —she wanted to marry the Duke of Gloucester; and however the idea may provoke a smile from those who remember that kind-hearted Prince in later days, it was not thought so preposterous in 1813. Attachment to him she had not formed; but he had touched her feelings by words of friendly encouragement proffered in her deep troubles. One of her truest-hearted advisers, Lord Grey, did not disapprove of the idea. Lord Grey was a strong party man, and one whose judgment was as subject in general to be warped by party considerations as that of others; but not on a matter appealing so closely to the higher principles of his nature as the confidence of an almost friendless girl, and she the heiress of the throne. He seems, as far as we can judge, to have advised her in the spirit of a friend interested in her welfare alone, and at the same time free from that over-sensitive regard to her rank and position which affected the judgment of others :
About this time' (August, 1813), writes Miss Knight, 'Her Royal Highness, by the advice of Miss Mercer, with whom she constantly communicated, entered into another correspondence which promised great utility. Politics were not concerned in it, and nothing could be more correct than the advice given with respect to her filial duty, as well as other points of her conduct. To this friend she communicated what had passed with her father; and the advice was, if possible, to comply with his wishes with regard to the Prince of Orange ; but, if resolved to marry the Duke of Gloucester, to wait patiently until the age of twenty-one, when more efficacious measures could be pursued. This adviser professed himself the friend of the Duke, but certainly was fair and impartial in the manner in which he wrote.'
A stranger notion than this seems to have entered the heads of some less authorised intermeddlers—that of marrying her to the Duke of Devonshire, then the rising star of the world of fashion. Miss Knight repeats an “ill-natured story' that Miss Mercer encouraged the Duke's expectations in this direction, in hopes that, if repulsed, he might fall back on herself. “I heard this story,' she kindly says, 'from every one, but did not believe it.'(Vol. i., p. 243.) It gave rise, however, to the only smart saying we have seen attributed to Miss Knight, which is in Lally C. Bury's Diary: “There was hung (in a room at Warwick House) one portrait, amongst others, that very much resembled the Duke of Devonshire. I asked Miss Knight whom it repre sented; she said that was not known: it had been supposed a likeness of the Pretender when young.'
All these ideas, however, evaporated, and the disagreeable reality pressed on. The young Princess did her best to comply with the general wish. She consented to marry the Prince of Orange, and then she withdrew her consent. High and low puzzled their brains to explain that inexplicable thing the bent of woman's fantasy.' Lord Castlereagh's solution was curt and characteristic: 'Faction had been busy at work upon
the Princess Charlotte's mind.'—Correspondence,' vol. x., p. 61.)