HL Deb 17 December 1878 vol 243 cc945-8

My Lords, when last I had the honour of addressing your Lordships it was in the warm controversy of public life. I little thought then that before we dispersed I should have again to appeal to your Lordships. The subject to which I have to refer on this occasion is one on which there will be unanimity—but, alas, it is the unanimity of sorrow. My Lords, you are too well aware that a great calamity has fallen on the Royal Family of this realm. A Princess, who loved us though she left us, and who always revisited her Fatherland with delight—one of those women the brightness of whose being adorns society and inspires the circle in which she lives—has been removed from this world, to the anguish of her family, her friends, and her subjects. The Princess Alice—for I will venture to call her by that name, though she wore a Crown—afforded one of the most striking instances that I can remember of richness of culture and rare intelligence combined with the most pure and refined domestic sentiments. You, my Lords, who knew her life well, can recall those agonizing hours when she attended the dying bed of her illustrious Father, who had directed her studies and formed her tastes. You can recall, too, the moment at which she attended her Royal Brother at a time when the hopes of England seemed to depend on his life, and now you can remember too well how, when the whole of her own family were stricken by a malignant disease, she had been to them the angel in the house till at last her own vital power perhaps exhausted, she has herself fallen. My Lords, there is something wonderfully piteous in the immediate cause of her death. The physicians who permitted her to watch over her suffering family enjoined her under no circumstances whatever to be tempted into an embrace. Her admirable self-restraint guarded her through the crises of this terrible complaint in safety. She remembered and observed the injunctions of her physicians. But it became her lot to break to her son, quite a youth, the death of his youngest sister, to whom he was devotedly attached. The boy was so overcome with misery that the agitated mother to console him clasped him in her arms—and thus received the kiss of death. My Lords, I hardly know an incident more pathetic. It is one by which poets might be inspired, and in which the artist in every class, whether in picture, in statue, or in gem, might find a fitting subject of commemoration. My Lords, we will not dwell at this moment on the sufferings of the husband whom she has left behind and of the children who were so devoted to her; but our immediate duty is to offer our condolence to one whose happiness and whose sorrows always excite and command the loyalty and affectionate respect of this House. Upon Her Majesty a great grief has fallen which none but the Queen can so completely and acutely feel. Seventeen years ago Her Majesty experienced the crushing sorrow of her life, and then she was particularly sustained by the Daughter whom she has now lost, who assisted her by her labours, and aided her by her presence and counsel. Her Majesty now feels that the cup of sorrow was not then exhausted. No language can express the consolation we wish to extend to our Sovereign in her sorrow—such suffering is too fresh to allow of solace; but, however exalted, there are none but must be sustained by the consciousness that they possess the sympathy of a nation. My Lords, with these feelings I beg to propose for your Lordships' acceptance the following Motion:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to express the deep concern of this House at the great loss which Her Majesty has sustained by the death of Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Hesse, Princess Alice of Great Britain and Ireland, second daughter of Her Majesty the Queen, and to condole with Her Majesty on this melancholy occasion. To assure Her Majesty that this House will ever feel the warmest interest in whatever concerns Her Majesty's domestic relations; and to declare the ardent wishes of this House for the happiness of Her Majesty and of her family.


My Lords, I feel your Lordships will expect, and indeed wish, me to join in the declaration which the noble Earl has made with so much feeling of the heartfelt loyalty and deep sorrow with which we all desire to approach our gracious Sovereign on the occasion of this Address. My Lords, the accidents of a political career gave me some opportunity of observing the domestic life of the Royal Family during the course of eleven years. At the beginning of that period Princess Alice was a singularly attractive child of seven years old. I doubt whether any childhood or youth was ever more joyous and bright, or ever gave a livelier promise of that which was afterwards so amply fulfilled. At the end of that time I had the honour of proposing an Address in this House on Her Royal Highness's marriage—a marriage which seemed founded upon all the best securities for wedded happiness. The child had grown into womanhood with all those personal, moral, and mental qualities which the noble Earl has so well described. The principal characteristics of the married life of the Grand Duchess appear to have been—first, absolute devotion to her husband and children; next, a course not merely of benevolence, but of unceasing thoughtful beneficence to all depending upon her; and, lastly, a remarkable talent for acquiring the sympathy and attracting the regard of some of the most gifted of the intellectual country which she had adopted, and to whose interests she was devoted without ever breaking a link in the chain of memories and associations which bound her to the country of her birth. The noble Earl has already alluded to the singular coincidence of three dates which will never pass from the pages of English history. My Lords, I trust that neither the writer nor your Lordships will think it indiscreet if, instead of trusting to my own language to impress your feelings as to the loss which has on this last 14th of December befallen the Royal Families of England and Darmstadt, I read to you a few words extracted from a letter written on the day of the sad tragedy by a brother passionately devoted to his sister, and who left England last night to pay the last sad tribute of affection and respect to her beloved memory— So good, so kind, so clever. We had gone through so much together—my father's illness, then my own; and she has succumbed to the pernicious malady which laid low her husband and children, whom she nursed and watched with unceasing care and attention. … The Queen bears up bravely, but her grief is deep beyond words. My Lords, I will add nothing. I only ask to be allowed to second the Motion which has been made.

On Question, agreed to, nemine dissentiente.

Ordered, That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, to Thursday the 13th of February next, a quarter before Five o'clock.