Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/238

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Albert
Albert
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curtailment of the prince's income was in a great measure due to the support he had given to Colonel Sibthorp's motion the previous year. But the prince at once removed this feeling by the way he met him. Peel quickly formed a very high idea of the prince's powers, and in 1841 told Mr. Pemberton, afterwards Lord Kingsdown, that he would 'find him one of the most extraordinary young men he had ever met with.' This Lord Kingsdown records he found to be more than verified : 'His aptitude for business was wonderful ; the dullest and most intricate matters did not escape or weary his attention ; his judgment was very good, and his temper admirable.

Peel placed the prince at the head of the royal commission appointed (October 1841) to inquire whether advantage might not be taken of the rebuilding of the houses of parliament to promote and encourage the fine arts in the United Kingdom. The commission included men of the first distinction in politics, art, and literature ; and this was regarded by the prince himself as his real initiation into public life, by bringing him into intimate relations with so many leading public men. The secretary of the commission was Sir Charles Eastlake, who was surprised at the wide and accurate practical knowledge as well as the highly cultivated taste of the prince.

On 9 Nov. 1841 the Prince of Wales was born. King Frederick William of Prussia, who was one of his sponsors, came to England to attend the christening on 25 Jan., and during his stay the foundation was laid of a friendship with the queen and prince, which was cemented by the confidential correspondence of future years.

The prince very early impressed Sir Robert Peel and Lord Aberdeen, as he had impressed Lord Melbourne, with the idea that his capacity and strong practical judgment would make his assistance to the queen in her political duties of the utmost value. This assistance her majesty showed that she thoroughly appreciated, and they saw with pleasure that the prince was determined to use the influence which he had gained with extreme modesty and within strictly constitutional limits. To secure his services to the state seemed to the ministry so important, that even at this early period (1842) his appointment as commander-in-chief, in the event of the Duke of Wellington's death, was privately contemplated by them. On the project being mooted by them to Baron Stockmar he decidedly set his face against it, for much the same reasons as were advanced by the prince when the acceptance of the office was pressed upon him by the duke himself in 1850. Stockmar seems to have known the English people better than their rulers did, and to have understood with what jealousy the appointment of a prince of foreign blood, of whom as yet they knew so little, to such an office would have been regarded. The prince himself knew well that time and accumulated evidence of what he was were needed to win for him the confidence of the nation. Among his first objects was to establish order, economy, and integrity in the royal household, where, under the loose administration of former sovereigns, these qualities had been too much neglected. At the same time he set himself, in concert with the queen, to raise the character of the court. It was not enough that his life was pure and blameless. He took care to make it impossible for gossiping malignity to throw a semblance of suspicion upon it. He never stirred abroad unless in company with an equerry. He paid no visits in general society. All his leisure was given to visits to the studios of artists, to museums of science or art, to institutions for good and benevolent purposes, or to rides to parts of London where either improvements were in progress or were chiefly needed, especially such as might ameliorate the condition or minister to the pleasure of the labouring classes. The life of unintermitting study and toil which was henceforth to be his was already entered upon, and in the palace, as well as in the outer world, the presence of a strong master hand was steadily making itself felt.

His study of politics was unremitting, and, availing himself of the rare advantage of having at command all the information which is accessible to the sovereign, his judgment upon men and things very early placed him on an equality with the most experienced observers and statesmen of his time. In April 1843 Baron Stockmar writes of him : 'He is rapidly showing what is in him. He is full of practical talent, which enables him at a glance to seize the essential points of a question, like the vulture that pounces on his prey and hurries off with it to his nest.' This practical talent was ever at work, whatever the subject. Speaking, for example, of the education of the poor, he writes thus to warn the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg of the danger of giving an education not in accordance with the circumstances and probable future of the child, and tells her not to forget 'that education is the preparation for the future life, and that, if it be not consistent with the pupil's prospects, he may have to pay for the pleasure which his education gives you with the happiness of his whole life, as nothing is more certain to insure an unhappy future than disappointed expectations.'

In this year (1843-4) the prince was mainly