Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Imperial and Royal Visitors in 1814 - Visit to Oxford*

Of the mob of kings, and princes, and foreign generals whom the events of 1814 brought to London, I believe I did not miss seeing one, nor had I ever an opportunity of doing more than staring at them.

Upon the whole, though the appearance of the theatre at Oxford was most striking, still, the scene which made the deepest impression upon my mind, was the entrance of Louis XVIII. into London. We stood on Lord Dudley's balcony; there were few there, and those few not inclined to talk: so one had time to muse over all the strange occurrences of the day, and of all the historical recollections it naturally suggested.

I cannot say that I quite liked to see the British Guards decorated with the white cockade. I was amused at seeing the Prince Regent sitting backwards in the landau. He had, of course, given the front seat to Louis and the Duchesse d'Angouleme. I wondered how a position so unusual would agree with him; since the days of absolute childhood, when he might have gone with the king and queen, he never could have found himself in such a one, and I thought of the possibility of an interruption most undignified to the procession.

The reception of James II. by Louis XIV. was certainly far more splendid; but I am inclined to doubt whether, to a feeling heart, the magnificence of St. Germains — which, by-the-bye, I believe from what remains could have existed only in the imagination of Frenchmen—could be nearly as gratifying as the popular feeling so powerfully excited and so freely expressed on this occasion. I was then, or rather soon after, very much astonished to hear from Lord Arthur Hill, who was in the balcony with us, and afterwards at Paris, how much more tranquil, more tame, had been the entrance of Louis into his own capital. I had then taught myself to believe the French a very demonstrative race, and did not know how much more difficult it is to excite popular feeling among the mercurial Frenchmen than among the phlegmatic English.**

I was not well enough to go to the drawing-room which Louis held at Trillion's Hotel, but I went one evening to the Duchesse d'Angouleme's, in Monsieur's dark two-roomed house in South Audley Street.*** It was literally hardly possible to see across the room, and the whole thing was, if one could have entertained such a feeling, a burlesque upon royalty. The sour, ill-tempered, vulgar countenance of the blear-eyed Duchess was a great damp to the interest one was prepared to feel in one whose fate had been more melancholy than that of any heroine of romance.

The little crumpled Duchess de Sirent might easily be fancied the good fairy whose wand had produced the wondrous change; but she had not, like the godmother of Cinderella, changed the dusty dirty abode into a palace, or even converted into cloth of gold the dingy brown dress of her protege. 'Waverley' was not yet published**** but when I read there the account of Charles Edward’s drawing-room at Edinburgh, I could think of nothing but the dark rooms in South Audley Street.

At Oxford it seemed to me that there was a great want of dignity of manner among the assembled grandees. Even the dandy Alexander seemed to want it; though he was much better than any of his compeers, excepting, perhaps, our own king when he happened to be in good humour, which was not always the case during his visit to Oxford. As to the King of Prussia, he looked as stupid and as vulgar as I believe be really is. When complimented, he never could look otherwise than embarrasse de sa personne, bored to death, and could not even make a tolerably gentleman-like bow.

His two sons looked fine animated boys; the eldest was said to have accompanied the army, and, it was added, had scarcely been prevented by those around him from exposing himself most gallantly. They seemed to look at everything with the genuine happy feelings of their age, and are said to have expressed great delight when the measles seemed likely to prove an impediment to their quitting this country, but they got well much sooner than they wished.

It did not at that time occur to me as possible that these sovereigns might not understand one syllable of the elegant classical orations made in compliment to them. I have since heard from Dr. Crichton—a Scotch physician belonging to the household of the Empress dowager, who accompanied one of her grandsons, the brother of Alexander—that neither this young prince nor any one of a numerous suite, excepting one man, understood a word of Latin or Greek.

I think the illumination of the High Street of Oxford was by far the finest sight of the kind I ever beheld. From the difficulty of getting a sufficient number of coloured lamps, they were obliged to put candles in every window and on every part of every building which would bear them. By this means, the light, instead of intersecting and twisting through all the ornamental part of the architecture, followed the fine broad line to gave a magnificent contrast of light and shadow, and made that which is naturally so beautiful, much more so.

One church was illuminated. It seems very difficult to find an inscription short enough to be read in lamps; if it is long, the beginning is burnt out before the end is lighted. The difficulty was much increased by this necessity of making this appropriate to a church. I never heard who had the merit of suggesting the beautifully simple ' Our prayers are heard.'

The night was beautiful, uncommonly calm and warm. From my window, which looked down upon the High Street, it seemed as if one could really have walked upon the moving mass of heads. In one moment, almost without any previous notice, at least without any that could call the attention of the mob which was so fully occupied, a tremendous storm of thunder and rain came on. The effect was really more like the dissolving of the enchanted spell and the changes of scene in a pantomime, than anything I ever did see or ever expect to see again in real life.

The High Street, which was one blaze of light, and one unceasing hum of happiness, became in the course of five. minutes quite dark and quite deserted: nothing was heard but the thunder and the torrents of rain. Where all the multitude could find shelter, I never discovered. I heard afterwards that many who had walked miles from their abodes to see the show, slept upon chairs and tables in the small houses in the suburbs of Oxford.

Amidst that crowd in the High Street were, I am told, Alexander and the Grand Duchess*****, who, as soon as they could get away from the great dinner in the Radcliffe library, went out to walk incog.

This was on the 14th of June. It is curious to remember that the Season was so backward that on this day there was the greatest difficulty in procuring one small dish of strawberries to deck the royal banquet, the forced strawberries being all over and the natural not ripe.

Editor's Notes
* To bring together her reminiscences of historic personages, Miss Wynn passes on at once to 1814, when London was crowded with them. It will be remembered that the exiled royal family in France had frequently partaken of the splendid hospitality of Stowe, and that she went to Oxford in the suite of her uncle Lord Grenville, the Lord High Chancellor of the University.
** Miss Wynn has here lost sight of the fact that the popular feeling was far from favourable to the restored dynasty.
*** No. 72. Madame d'Arblay gives a curious account of the confusion that prevailed both there and at Grillion's during the royal receptions. (Diary, vol. 7, p. 22-39.) In a letter of July 9th, 1814, Sir Walter Scott writes : ‘The Duke of Buccleugh told me yesterday of a very good reply of Louis to some of his attendants, who proposed shutting the doors of his apartments to keep out the throng of people. "Open the door," he said, "to John Bull; he has suffered a good deal in keeping the door open to me." '
**** Waverley was published in 1814.
***** The Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, who attracted great attention by her showy person and dress. The Oldenburg bonnet (described in ' The Fudge Family') speedily became the rage—
A charming new bonnet, set high up and poking,
Like a pot that is set to keep chimneys from smoking.

By way of caricaturing it in the pantomime, Grimaldi appeared with one of the old-fashioned coalscuttles on his head and a chimney-pot on the top. When the restored princes re-entered Paris in 1814, the Duchess of Augouleme gave offence by her quiet style of dress and flat bonnet, supposed to be a servile adoption of English fashions.

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