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CHAPTER IX.
State of Kew Palace—Dr. Willis and his Son called in—Progress under the New Doctors—Party Spirit—The Regency Question—Attacks on the Queen—Fluctuations in the King’s State—Violence of Burke—Extraordinary Scene between the King and Miss Burney in Kew Gardens—Marked Improvement of the King—The Regency Bill postponed—The King informs Miss Burney of his Recovery—The Restoration—Demonstrations of Joy—Return to Windsor—Old Routine resumed—Reaction.

The beginning of December saw the diminished and imprisoned household suffering under an increase of apprehensions. The condition of the King became even more alarming; the Queen began to sink as she had not done before. From the outer world came sinister rumours, the duration of the malady threatening a Regency—‘a word,’ says Fanny, ‘which I have not yet been able to articulate.’ Inside, the palace at Kew was ‘in a state of cold and discomfort past all imagination.’ It had never been a winter residence, and there was nothing prepared to fit it for becoming one. Not only were the bedrooms of the Princesses without carpets, but so out of repair was the building, that a plentiful supply of sandbags had to be provided to moderate the gales that blew through the doors and windows. The parlour in which Miss Burney had to sit with the Schwellenberg was carpetless, chilly, and miserable; and even this was locked in the morning on Fanny’s admission of having used it before breakfast; Cerbera barking out that, ‘when everybody went to her room, she might keep an 231inn—what you call hotel.’ These domestic inconveniences endured for some time. By degrees, however, the worst of them were obviated. The bare boards were wholly or partially covered; the apartments allotted to the family were refurnished and redistributed; and Miss Burney was no longer exposed to the cold damps of a dark passage while awaiting the page who brought her for the Queen the first news of how the night had been passed by the patient.

Hitherto no progress had been made towards a successful treatment of the King’s malady. In the early days of December, however, even the Queen felt it useless to disguise any longer the nature of the attack, and experts in mental disease were accordingly added to the staff of physicians. Fortunately, a right choice was made at the first trial. The new advisers selected were Dr. Francis Willis, a clergyman who for twenty-eight years had devoted himself to the cure of lunacy, and his son, Dr. John Willis, who was associated with him in practice. The arrival of these two country practitioners—they came from Lincolnshire—revived the hopes which the Court physicians, by their dissensions and general despondency, had well-nigh destroyed. Though decried by the regular faculty as interlopers, if not charlatans, the Doctors Willis took the hearts of all at Kew Palace by storm. Mr. Digby pronounced them ‘fine, lively, natural, independent characters.’ Miss Burney, on making their acquaintance, heartily re-echoed this praise:

“I am extremely struck with both these physicians. Dr. Willis is a man of ten thousand; open, honest, dauntless, light-hearted, innocent, and high-minded: I see him impressed with the most animated reverence and affection for his royal patient; but it is wholly for his 232character—not a whit for his rank. Dr. John, his eldest son, is extremely handsome, and inherits, in a milder degree, all the qualities of his father; but living more in the general world, and having his fame and fortune still to settle, he has not yet acquired the same courage, nor is he, by nature, quite so sanguine in his opinions. The manners of both are extremely pleasing, and they both proceed completely their own way, not merely unacquainted with Court etiquette, but wholly, and most artlessly, unambitious to form any such acquaintance.”

The new doctors at once modified the treatment to which the King had been subject, and the effects of the change were speedily apparent:

“December 11th.—To-day we have had the fairest hopes; the King took his first walk in Kew garden! There have been impediments to this trial hitherto, that have been thought insurmountable, though, in fact, they were most frivolous. The walk seemed to do him good, and we are all in better spirits about him than for this many and many a long day past.”

It was not to be expected that the advance to restoration would proceed without break or check. On the 17th we have the entry: ‘My account this morning was quite afflictive once more;’ but under date of the 22nd we read: ‘With what joy did I carry this morning an exceeding good account of the King to my royal mistress! It was trebly welcome, as much might depend upon it in the resolutions of the House concerning the Regency, which was of to-day’s discussion;’ and in some notes summing up the remaining days of the year, we have: ‘The King went on, now better, now worse, in a most fearful manner; but Sir Lucas Pepys never lost sight of hope, and the management of Dr. Willis and his two 233sons[96] was most wonderfully acute and successful. Yet, so much were they perplexed and tormented by the interruptions given to their plans and methods, that they were frequently almost tempted to resign the undertaking from anger and confusion.’

The new year opened amid the same alternations of progress and relapse. In society, the war of politics took a new departure from the King’s derangement. Supporters of the Administration were confident of his speedy recovery; the Opposition were indefatigable in spreading the belief that his disorder was incurable. The animosity on both sides rose to a height which had not been equalled even at Pitt’s first entrance into office. ‘It is a strange subject,’ wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘for party to insist upon, and disgraceful to the country that it should be so; but so it is.’ Uneasiness and uncertainty prevailed everywhere. Some of Miss Burney’s best friends began to be dismayed at her position, and at the prospect before her. Her sister Charlotte, now Mrs. Francis, wrote from Norfolk, urging that Dr. Burney’s consent should be obtained to her resignation, and offering her, on behalf of Mr. Francis and herself, a permanent residence in their house. Evidently, Fanny’s family regarded her as a helpless person, requiring to be looked after and taken care of. Her faith, however, in the comforting predictions of the Willises and Sir Lucas Pepys remained unshaken, and she would not hear of quitting her post.

A fresh trouble had by this time arisen. The Queen could not escape becoming involved in the strife of parties. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York were naturally impatient to push their afflicted father from his seat. 234What they wanted in brains was amply supplied by the combined genius of the Whig leaders—by Fox, and Burke, and Sheridan—all embittered at having been so often checkmated by the young statesman whom they had flouted as a mere boy. What the Princes lacked in tenacity of purpose was driven into them by the incessant cry of myriad place-hunters, yelling like famished wolves. The first thought of the faction was how to clutch power as soon as might be; their second, how to engross it as exclusively as possible. No scruple was made of declaring that all places would be vacated and refilled, even if the Regency were to last only a single day.[97] That there would be a complete change of Administration was a matter of course. But beyond this, changes were meditated in the army, and other departments of the State, which it was known must grievously offend the King, should they come to his knowledge. Among other promotions, every colonel in favour with the Prince or the Duke was to be raised to the rank of Major-General. Mrs. Fitzherbert, it was said, was to be created a Duchess.[98]

Next to Pitt and his colleagues, the chief obstacle to the speedy execution of these notable projects was Queen Charlotte. It was not to be expected that a wife would be as ready as the heir-apparent to believe in the confirmed insanity of the head of the house. It was excusable, to say the least, that one who for more than twenty-eight years had filled, without reproach, the station of Queen Consort, should object to be effaced with her lord, until the necessity for his seclusion was unmistakably demonstrated. And when discord raged in the medical council, when Dr. Warren pronounced the King 235to be ‘rather worse’ than he had been at Windsor, while to Sir Lucas and the specialists, as well as to ordinary observers, his condition appeared most hopeful, she might surely be pardoned for leaning to the favourable view. Partisans, however, were too excited to listen to reason. The clergyman from Lincolnshire was denounced in the Opposition newspapers as a mere empiric and creature of Pitt. The most scurrilous abuse was heaped upon the Queen. Both in the press, and in the House of Commons, she was accused of being in league with Willis to misrepresent the state of the King’s health, in order to prevent the Prince, her son, from being invested with the authority of Regent. Pitt, having no option but to propose a Regency, was proceeding with the utmost caution, and seeking to lay on the expectant Viceroy several restrictions, which his character seemed to call for, and which assuredly have not been disapproved by the judgment of posterity. Besides limiting the Prince’s power to confer peerages and pensions, and to alienate royal property, the Premier recommended that the care and management of the King’s person, as well as the appointments in the household, should be entrusted to the Queen. Perhaps no part of the Government’s plan aroused more angry hostility than this. ‘How would the King on his recovery,’ demanded Burke in Parliament, ‘be pleased at seeing the patronage of the Household taken from the Prince of Wales, his representative, and given to the Queen? He must be shocked at the idea.’ Allusions to these attacks on one who so little deserved them occur in Miss Burney’s Diary about this time:

“January 10th.—The King again is not so well; and new evidences are called for in the House, relative to his state. My poor Royal Mistress now droops. I grieve—grieve 236to see her!—but her own name and conduct called in question! Who can wonder she is shocked and shaken? Was there not enough before, firmly as she supported it?

“11TH.—This morning Dr. John gave me but a bad account of the poor King. His amendment is not progressive; it fails, and goes back, and disappoints most grievously; yet it would be nothing were the case and its circumstances less discussed, and were expectation more reasonable.

“12TH.—A melancholy day: news bad both at home and abroad. At home, the dear, unhappy King still worse; abroad, new examinations voted of the physicians! Good Heaven! what an insult does this seem from Parliamentary power, to investigate and bring forth to the world every circumstance of such a malady as is ever held sacred to secrecy in the most private families! How indignant we all feel here no words can say.”

Macaulay is very severe on poor Miss Burney for the want of correct constitutional principles shown in this last entry. He cites the passage to prove that the second Robe-Keeper’s ‘way of life was rapidly impairing her powers of reasoning and her sense of justice;’ that, as he elsewhere says, this existence was as incompatible with health ‘of mind as the air of the Pomptine Marshes with health of body.’ The critic is perfectly right in stating that the motion which roused indignation at Kew was made by Mr. Pitt, who was regarded as the King’s champion, though he should have added that it was brought forward in response to a challenge from the Opposition. But Miss Burney felt as a woman, and wrote as a woman, not as a politician. Had she been a politician, she would still have been entitled to the indulgence 237which was being claimed and abused by every speaker and journalist on the side opposed to the Court. Consider the debates and the scandalous charges that she read daily in the newspapers. And if she erred, she erred in company with a large number of other heretics who should have been far better fortified in sound doctrine than herself. If the atmosphere of the palace was unwholesome, it was much less contaminating than the malaria of Carlton House. If the novelist was wrong in thinking that the House of Commons ought not to concern itself with the details of the King’s illness, what is to be said of the eminent Whigs who maintained that the Legislature had nothing to do with any question relating to the disposition of the regal authority? What shall be said for Alexander Wedderburn, then Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and afterwards Lord Chancellor, who advised the Prince of Wales to seize on the Regency without consulting either House of Parliament? Or what can be urged for Fox himself, who asserted his patron’s right to take this course, in the very face of the assembled Commons? ‘It is melancholy,’ says Macaulay, ‘to see genius sinking into such debasement.’ What words, then, shall we apply to Edmund Burke, who scandalized both sides of the House by declaring that ‘the Almighty had hurled the monarch from his throne, and plunged him into a condition which drew down upon him the pity of the meanest peasant in his kingdom’? Miss Burney, still feeling and writing as a woman, could not accuse her old friend Burke of being debased, though she sadly laments over him as ‘that most misguided of vehement and wild orators.’[99] Such was the virulence engendered in a spectator of the misery at Court by associating with Leonard Smelt and Colonel Digby.
238

“Kew Palace, Monday, February 2nd.—What an adventure had I this morning! one that has occasioned me the severest personal terror I ever experienced in my life.

“Sir Lucas Pepys still persisting that exercise and air were absolutely necessary to save me from illness, I have continued my walks, varying my gardens from Richmond to Kew, according to the accounts I received of the movements of the King. For this I had her Majesty’s permission, on the representation of Sir Lucas.

“This morning, when I received my intelligence of the King from Dr. John Willis, I begged to know where I might walk in safety. ‘In Kew Gardens,’ he said, ‘as the King would be in Richmond.’

“‘Should any unfortunate circumstance,’ I cried, ‘at any time, occasion my being seen by his Majesty, do not mention my name, but let me run off without call or notice.’

“This he promised. Everybody, indeed, is ordered to keep out of sight.

“Taking, therefore, the time I had most at command, I strolled into the gardens. I had proceeded, in my quick way, nearly half the round, when I suddenly perceived, through some trees, two or three figures. Relying on the instructions of Dr. John, I concluded them to be workmen and gardeners; yet tried to look sharp, and in so doing, as they were less shaded, I thought I saw the person of his Majesty!

“Alarmed past all possible expression, I waited not to know more, but turning back, ran off with all my might. But what was my terror to hear myself pursued!—to hear the voice of the King himself loudly and hoarsely calling after me, ‘Miss Burney! Miss Burney!’

“I protest I was ready to die. I knew not in what 239state he might be at the time; I only knew the orders to keep out of his way were universal; that the Queen would highly disapprove any unauthorised meeting, and that the very action of my running away might deeply, in his present irritable state, offend him. Nevertheless, on I ran, too terrified to stop, and in search of some short passage, for the garden is full of little labyrinths, by which I might escape.

“The steps still pursued me, and still the poor hoarse and altered voice rang in my ears:—more and more footsteps resounded frightfully behind me,—the attendants all running, to catch their eager master, and the voices of the two Doctor Willises loudly exhorting him not to heat himself so unmercifully.

“Heavens, how I ran! I do not think I should have felt the hot lava from Vesuvius—at least, not the hot cinders—had I so run during its eruption. My feet were not sensible that they even touched the ground.

“Soon after, I heard other voices, shriller, though less nervous, call out, ‘Stop! stop! stop!’

“I could by no means consent: I knew not what was purposed, but I recollected fully my agreement with Dr. John that very morning, that I should decamp if surprised, and not be named.

“My own fears and repugnance, also, after a flight and disobedience like this, were doubled in the thought of not escaping: I knew not to what I might be exposed, should the malady be then high, and take the turn of resentment. Still, therefore, on I flew; and such was my speed, so almost incredible to relate or recollect, that I fairly believe no one of the whole party could have overtaken me, if these words, from one of the attendants, had not reached me, ‘Doctor Willis begs you to stop!’

“‘I cannot! I cannot!’ I answered, still flying on, 240when he called out, ‘You must, ma’am; it hurts the King to run.’

“Then, indeed, I stopped—in a state of fear really amounting to agony. I turned round, I saw the two Doctors had got the King between them, and three attendants of Dr. Willis’s were hovering about. They all slackened their pace, as they saw me stand still; but such was the excess of my alarm, that I was wholly insensible to the effects of a race which, at any other time, would have required an hour’s recruit.

“As they approached, some little presence of mind happily came to my command: it occurred to me that, to appease the wrath of my flight, I must now show some confidence: I therefore faced them as undauntedly as I was able, only charging the nearest of the attendants to stand by my side.

“When they were within a few yards of me, the King called out, ‘Why did you run away?’

“Shocked at a question impossible to answer, yet a little assured by the mild tone of his voice, I instantly forced myself forward to meet him, though the internal sensation, which satisfied me this was a step the most proper to appease his suspicions and displeasure, was so violently combated by the tremor of my nerves, that I fairly think I may reckon it the greatest effort of personal courage I have ever made.

“The effort answered: I looked up, and met all his wonted benignity of countenance, though something still of wildness in his eyes. Think, however, of my surprise, to feel him put both his hands round my two shoulders, and then kiss my cheek!

“I wonder I did not really sink, so exquisite was my affright when I saw him spread out his arms! Involuntarily, I concluded he meant to crush me: but the Willises, 241who have never seen him till this fatal illness, not knowing how very extraordinary an action this was from him, simply smiled and looked pleased, supposing, perhaps, it was his customary salutation!

“I believe, however, it was but the joy of a heart unbridled, now, by the forms and proprieties of established custom and sober reason. To see any of his household thus by accident, seemed such a near approach to liberty and recovery, that who can wonder it should serve rather to elate than lessen what yet remains of his disorder!

“He now spoke in such terms of his pleasure in seeing me, that I soon lost the whole of my terror; astonishment to find him so nearly well, and gratification to see him so pleased, removed every uneasy feeling, and the joy that succeeded, in my conviction of his recovery, made me ready to throw myself at his feet to express it.

“What a conversation followed! When he saw me fearless, he grew more and more alive, and made me walk close by his side, away from the attendants, and even the Willises themselves, who, to indulge him, retreated. I own myself not completely composed, but alarm I could entertain no more.

“Everything that came uppermost in his mind he mentioned; he seemed to have just such remains of his flightiness as heated his imagination without deranging his reason, and robbed him of all control over his speech, though nearly in his perfect state of mind as to his opinions.

“What did he not say!—He opened his whole heart to me,—expounded all his sentiments, and acquainted me with all his intentions.

“The heads of his discourse I must give you briefly, as I am sure you will be highly curious to hear them, and as no accident can render of much consequence what a man says in such a state of physical intoxication.

242“He assured me he was quite well—as well as he had ever been in his life; and then inquired how I did, and how I went on? and whether I was more comfortable?

“If these questions, in their implication, surprised me, imagine how that surprise must increase when he proceeded to explain them! He asked after the coadjutrix, laughing, and saying, ‘Never mind her!—don’t be oppressed—I am your friend! don’t let her cast you down!—I know you have a hard time of it—but don’t mind her!’

“Almost thunderstruck with astonishment, I merely curtseyed to his kind ‘I am your friend,’ and said nothing.

“Then presently he added, ‘Stick to your father—stick to your own family—let them be your objects.’

“How readily I assented!

“Again he repeated all I have just written, nearly in the same words, but ended it more seriously: he suddenly stopped, and held me to stop too, and putting his hand on his breast, in the most solemn manner, he gravely and slowly said, ‘I will protect you!—I promise you that—and therefore depend upon me!’

“I thanked him; and the Willises, thinking him rather too elevated, came to propose my walking on. ‘No, no, no!’ he cried, a hundred times in a breath; and their good humour prevailed, and they let him again walk on with his new companion.

“He then gave me a history of his pages, animating almost into a rage, as he related his subjects of displeasure with them, particularly with Mr. Ernst,[100] who, 243he told me, had been brought up by himself. I hope his ideas upon these men are the result of the mistakes of his malady.

“Then he asked me some questions that very greatly distressed me, relating to information given him in his illness, from various motives, but which he suspected to be false, and which I knew he had reason to suspect: yet was it most dangerous to set anything right, as I was not aware what might be the views of their having been stated wrong. I was as discreet as I knew how to be, and I hope I did no mischief; but this was the worst part of the dialogue.

“He next talked to me a great deal of my dear father, and made a thousand inquiries concerning his ‘History of Music.’ This brought him to his favourite theme, Handel; and he told me innumerable anecdotes of him, and particularly that celebrated tale of Handel’s saying of himself, ‘While that boy lives, my music will never want a protector.’ And this, he said, I might relate to my father.

“Then he ran over most of his oratorios, attempting to sing the subjects of several airs and choruses, but so dreadfully hoarse that the sound was terrible.

“Dr. Willis, quite alarmed at this exertion, feared he would do himself harm, and again proposed a separation. ‘No, no, no!’ he exclaimed, ‘not yet; I have something I must just mention first.’

“Dr. Willis, delighted to comply, even when uneasy at compliance, again gave way.

“The good King then greatly affected me. He began upon my revered old friend, Mrs. Delany; and he spoke of her with such warmth—such kindness! ‘She was my friend!’ he cried, ‘and I loved her as a friend! I have made a memorandum when I lost her—I will show it you.’

244“He pulled out a pocket-book, and rummaged some time, but to no purpose.

“The tears stood in his eyes—he wiped them, and Dr. Willis again became very anxious. ‘Come, sir,’ he cried, ‘now do you come in and let the lady go on her walk,—come, now, you have talked a long while,—so we’ll go in—if your Majesty pleases.’

“‘No, no!’ he cried, ‘I want to ask her a few questions;—I have lived so long out of the world, I know nothing!’

“This touched me to the heart. We walked on together, and he inquired after various persons, particularly Mrs. Boscawen, because she was Mrs. Delany’s friend! Then, for the same reason, after Mr. Frederick Montagu, of whom he kindly said, ‘I know he has a great regard for me, for all he joined the Opposition.’ Lord Grey de Wilton, Sir Watkin Wynn, the Duke of Beaufort, and various others, followed.

“He then told me he was very much dissatisfied with several of his State officers, and meant to form an entire new establishment. He took a paper out of his pocket-book, and showed me his new list.

“This was the wildest thing that passed; and Dr. John Willis now seriously urged our separating; but he would not consent; he had only three more words to say, he declared, and again he conquered.

“He now spoke of my father, with still more kindness, and told me he ought to have had the post of Master of the Band, and not that little poor musician Parsons, who was not fit for it: ‘But Lord Salisbury,’ he cried, ‘used your father very ill in that business, and so he did me! However, I have dashed out his name, and I shall put your father’s in,—as soon as I get loose again!’

“This again—how affecting was this!

245“‘And what,’ cried he, ‘has your father got, at last? nothing but that poor thing at Chelsea? O fie! fie! fie! But never mind! I will take care of him! I will do it myself!’

“Then presently he added, ‘As to Lord Salisbury, he is out already, as this memorandum will show you, and so are many more. I shall be much better served; and when once I get away, I shall rule with a rod of iron!’

“This was very unlike himself, and startled the two good doctors, who could not bear to cross him, and were exulting at my seeing his great amendment, but yet grew quite uneasy at his earnestness and volubility.

“Finding we now must part, he stopped to take leave, and renewed again his charges about the coadjutrix. ‘Never mind her!’ he cried, ‘depend upon me! I will be your friend as long as I live!—I here pledge myself to be your friend!’ And then he saluted me again just as at the meeting, and suffered me to go on.

“What a scene! how variously was I affected by it! but, upon the whole, how inexpressibly thankful to see him so nearly himself—so little removed from recovery!

“I went very soon after to the Queen, to whom I was most eager to avow the meeting, and how little I could help it. Her astonishment, and her earnestness to hear every particular, were very great. I told her almost all. Some few things relating to the distressing questions I could not repeat; nor many things said of Mrs. Schwellenberg, which would much, and very needlessly, have hurt her.”

About February 6, a further improvement in the King’s state took place, which proved to be decisive. From this time, not only were his equerries allowed to attend him again in the evening, but the Queen was once more 246admitted to his chamber. Singularly enough, the progress of his recovery coincided exactly with the progress of the Regency Bill. The latter was brought into the House of Commons on the 5th, and on the following day a printed copy was shown to Fanny. “I shuddered,” she writes, “to hear it named.” On the 10th she reports: “The amendment of the King is progressive, and without any reasonable fear, though not without some few drawbacks. The Willis family were surely sent by Heaven to restore peace, and health, and prosperity to this miserable house!” On the 12th the Regency Bill passed the Commons, and was carried up to the House of Lords; it was there subsequently read a second time, went through Committee, and was ordered for a third reading. But that stage was not to arrive. Miss Burney writes on the 13th: “Oh, how dreadful will be the day when that unhappy Bill takes place! I cannot approve the plan of it; the King is too well to make such a step right. It will break his spirits, if not his heart, when he hears and understands such a deposition.

“Saturday, 14th.—The King is infinitely better. Oh that there were patience in the land, and this Regency Bill postponed!”

Macaulay, quoting part of the entry for the 13th, leaves it to be inferred that the writer disapproved of ‘Pitt’s own Bill’ under any circumstances; he carefully omits the words which show that her objection was to the plan being proceeded with when the King’s recovery was so far advanced as to render it inapplicable. The Ministry speedily made it plain that they were of the same mind as Miss Burney. On the 17th, the Peers, on the motion of the Lord Chancellor, adjourned the further consideration of the Regency Bill; and a week later the measure was finally abandoned.

247“What a different house,” says the Diary of the 19th, “is this house become!—sadness and terror, that wholly occupied it so lately, are now flown away, or rather are now driven out; and though anxiety still forcibly prevails, ’tis in so small a proportion to joy and thankfulness, that it is borne as if scarce an ill!” Before the month ended, Miss Burney had an assurance of the King’s entire restoration from his own mouth. “The King I have seen again—in the Queen’s dressing-room. On opening the door, there he stood! He smiled at my start; and, saying he had waited on purpose to see me, added, ‘I am quite well now—I was nearly so when I saw you before; but I could overtake you better now.’”

All England had been intent on the little palace at Kew, where distress was now turned into rejoicing. To none of his subjects was the recovery of the royal patient a matter of indifference. To a limited party it was a source of bitter disappointment and chagrin. To the immense majority it brought unbounded satisfaction. It was the engrossing topic of the day. ‘Nobody,’ said an observer, ‘talks, writes, thinks, or dreams of anything else.’ On the 1st of March thanksgivings for the happy event were offered in all the churches of the capital. On the 10th the physicians took their departure from Kew. On the same day Parliament was opened by Commission under the sign manual. At sunset began a spectacle worthy of the occasion. ‘London,’ wrote Wraxall, ‘displayed a blaze of light from one extremity to the other; the illuminations extending, without any metaphor, from Hampstead and Highgate to Clapham, and even as far as Tooting; whilst the vast distance between Greenwich and Kensington presented the same dazzling appearance. The poorest mechanics contributed their proportion, and 248instances were exhibited of cobblers’ stalls decorated with one or two farthing candles.[101]

The Queen carried all the Princesses, except the youngest, up to town, to feast their eyes on streets as brilliant and crowded as Vauxhall on a gala night. It may cool our historic fervour to remember that the blaze of light which astonished our ancestors was produced by nothing more luminous than oil-lamps, and that the crowds of 1789 would pass for a sorry muster in the huge Babylon of to-day; but, after all, the scene exhibited in London, when even the cobblers’ stalls were illuminated, was not without its significance on the eve of the meeting of the States General at Versailles. Cowper, usurping the functions of Thomas Warton, then poet-laureate, sang of Queen Charlotte’s private expedition:
‘Glad she came that night to prove,
A witness undescried,
How much the object of HER love
Was loved by ALL beside.’

Miss Burney describes how the festive evening was spent at Kew. The Queen, at her own expense, had arranged for an illumination of the palace and courtyard as a surprise to her consort. Biagio Rebecca, by her order, had painted a grand transparency, displaying representations of “the King, Providence, Health, and Britannia, with elegant devices. When this was lighted and prepared, the Princess Amelia went to lead her papa to the front window; but first she dropped on her knees, and presented him a paper,” containing some congratulatory verses which, at the Queen’s desire, the narrator “had scribbled in her name for the happy occasion,” and which concluded with a postscript:
‘The little bearer begs a kiss
From dear papa for bringing this.’

249“I need not, I think, tell you,” continues Fanny, “that the little bearer begged not in vain. The King was extremely pleased. He came into a room belonging to the Princesses, in which we had a party to look at the illuminations, and there he stayed above an hour: cheerful, composed, and gracious; all that could merit the great national testimony to his worth this day paid him.” When at one o’clock in the morning the Queen returned to Kew, she found the King standing bare-headed at the porch, ready to hand her from the coach, and eager to assure himself of her safety. So far from being dissatisfied with anything that she had done during his illness, his affection for her was confirmed by the zeal with which she had watched over his interests.

On the 14th of March the Court left Kew for Windsor. “All Windsor,” says the Diary, “came out to meet the King. It was a joy amounting to ecstasy. I could not keep my eyes dry all day long. A scene so reversed! Sadness so sweetly exchanged for thankfulness and delight!” But the period of excitement was now over. The old routine of duty recommenced, with few incidents to relieve its monotony: there was an entertainment or two for the suite in the royal borough to celebrate the restoration; then one by one the friends and acquaintances who were assembled round the household in the early days of March dispersed to their homes; no society remained at the Upper Lodge but Cerbera and the gentlemen-in-waiting—who did not include Colonel Digby; hardly any change marked the succession of days, save an occasional visit to Kew, and now and then a journey to town for a drawing-room. In the Public Thanksgiving, held at St. Paul’s on the 23rd of April, Fanny appears to have had no part, though she received as mementoes of the occasion a medal of green and gold, 250and a fan ornamented with the words: Health restored to one, and happiness to millions. Once, when in London, she had a visit from Miss Gunning, who called to inquire after the Queen’s health, and who ‘looked serious, sensible, interesting,’ though she said but little, and in that little managed to introduce the name of Mr. Digby. Degree by degree, Fanny’s spirits sank to the point of actual despondency, till she writes, ‘A lassitude of existence creeps sensibly upon me.’ A fit of illness did not assist to restore her cheerfulness. Thus ended March, and thus passed April, May, and the greater part of June. The King had raised some alarm by declaring his intention of going to Germany in the summer, but, to the satisfaction of the suite in general, and of one of the Queen’s Robe-Keepers in particular, when the time came, the physicians advised a stay at an English watering-place in preference.


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