B.791 VIC/A Letters of Queen Victoria 1837-1861, Volume I
Over summer, our Wohl Library intern, Rachel Moore, spent some time looking at our collections of letters relating to Queen Victoria. In this post, she looks at the publishing project inaugurated by Edward VII, Letters of Queen Victoria 1813-1861, ed. Arthur Christopher Benson, vol 1, which can be found in the first floor of the Library.
Researchers will know that these letters have been carefully selected and heavily edited, but nevertheless, they provide a wealth of insight into Victoria’s reign. According to the Preface of the text:
Her Majesty Queen dealt with her papers… in a most methodical manner; she formed the habit in early days of preserving her private letters, and after her accession to the Throne all her official papers were similarly treated, and bound in volumes (v).
Owing to the large number of letters available, the individuals charged with building the volume chose ‘to publish specimens of such documents as would serve to bring out the development of the Queen’s character and disposition, and to give typical instances of her methods in dealing with political and social matters’ (vii). It is therefore a volume of politics and public events, devoid on the surface of any more telling emotion or subjects.
Despite the edits, Victoria’s letters possess a distinct voice that is reflective, stately, and kind-hearted. This is similarly noted in the Preface:
We see one of highly vigorous and active temperament, of strong affections, and with a deep sense of responsibility, placed at an early age, and after a quiet girlhood, in a position the greatness of which is impossible to exaggerate (viii).
In the anthology, we are provided with the memoirs of Victoria herself and the fond letters of her relatives. Throughout the volume, we are introduced to and immersed in her history.
Victoria speaks fondly of visits to Windsor and Claremont, remembering visits with family as a child (Chapter II). She also describes in detail several members of her family throughout her early years (Chapters II and III). The qualities of Victoria in her youth are evident in these texts, but are also noted by the editors: ‘She was high-spirited and wilful, but devotedly affectionate, and almost typically feminine’ (27).
A few short years prior to her accession to the throne, Victoria learned a great wealth of political knowledge and advice from the King Leopold, King of the Belgians. The two individuals exchanged hundreds of letters throughout Victoria’s teenage years and beyond, and the love between them is clearly evident (chapter IV). Even after the Queen’s accession, Leopold continued to be a trusted confidante.
Upon the imminent death of King William IV, Victoria’s uncle, she wrote a letter to Leopold concerning her accession (which she refers to as “the event which it seems is likely to occur soon”). In said letter, she writes, “I am not alarmed at it, and yet I do not suppose myself quite equal to all; I trust, however, that with good will, honesty, and courage I shall not, at all events, fail” (95). This was the sentiment with which Her Majesty ruled.
By Rachel Paige Moore