[So…no invitation to the London festivities in today’s’ mail. I am truly bereft and forlorn. Nonetheless, here’s the story I promised.]
The Future Author of “Little Women” Looks Out A Boston Window
|The Crowd on the Common - 18 Oct 1860|
It was the early afternoon of October 18, 1860. The aspiring young writer Louisa May Alcott was in Boston with her friend Fanny W. at the open window of a house overlooking the Boston Common. Outside, on the grass and on the roadway, there were thousands of people milling about, many in full military dress, while other gentlemen in top hats and morning coats chatted with ladies in billowing black dresses. There were horses everywhere, the smell and noise of them rising up to the open windows of the genteel houses surrounding the Common.
The young Miss Alcott took it all in. She was, in a word or two, entranced and enchanted with the whole affair.
Later on, Miss Alcott recounted the event in her journal. She wrote, “I went to B[oston] and saw the Prince of Wales trot over the Common with his train at a review. A yellow-haired laddie very like his mother.”
A line later she noted, “Fanny W. and I nodded and waved as he passed, and he openly winked his boyish eye at us, for Fanny with her yellow curls and wild waving, looked rather rowdy, and the poor little prince wanted some fun. We laughed, and thought that we had been more distinguished by the saucy wink than by a stately bow. Boys are always jolly, - even princes.”
That “yellow-haired laddie” with the saucy wink was Queen Victoria’s 18 year old son and heir apparent, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and the first heir to the British throne to make a proper North American tour since the Revolution.
In time, after his mother’s demise, Albert Edward would ascend the throne to become “King Edward VII, By The Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions Beyond the Seas, King Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.”
|The Young Prince|
This boy-prince and future King – and on this crisp October morning, the “jolly boy” delight of Boston – was also the great-great-great grandfather of HRH the Prince William, the young man who will wed Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey on Friday.
But first, back to 1860 Boston a day earlier…
The Prince Arrives By Train and All Boston’s Aflutter
The Prince had arrived by train from Albany the day before and was staying with his retinue on several floors of the Revere House in Boston’s Bowdoin Square – at the time, the best hotel in the city that was called the “Athens of North America.” The hotel manager Paran Stevens – known far and wide for his meticulous attention to detail - made certain that the prince’s every want and desire was taken care of, even before the prince himself knew that he wanted or desired it.
The prince had already “done” Canada, Washington, New York and Albany. He dedicated things and presided over things. He appeared at numerous public and social events, nodding sagely over things that held little interest, clapping when appropriate and waltzing at balls with besmitten women three times his age.
|The Prince at Niagara Falls|
Like other well-heeled visitors “doing” the grand North American tour, he had seen Niagara Falls and the mighty Hudson, visited Mount Vernon with President Buchanan, slept at the White House and visited the usual tourist sites. Boston and Portland, Maine were at the end of his whirlwind schedule.
Because the prince was not a head of state, this was not an official state visit, even though the crowds that turned out for him in both Canada and the United States behaved as though it were. He traveled and registered in hotels under the name “Baron Renfrew” – one of his minor titles – but still, he was the Prince of Wales and everyone knew it and behaved accordingly.
Albert Edward Plays His Assigned Role
His mother the Queen had sent the trusted Henry Pelham Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, to watch over the prince and ensure that he behaved himself as a future king should. The Duke, in his last letter to Queen Victoria from North America, dated four days before the prince arrived in Boston, wrote, “There can be no doubt that the most important results will ensue from this happy event, and such as the ablest diplomatist could not have brought about in a quarter of a century.”
The young future king was playing his role according to plan.
The 18th of October 1860 was a big day for Boston and a big day for the Prince. In the morning he met briefly with the venerable Ralph Farnham of Acton, Maine, reputed to be 105 years old (probably an exaggeration) and also reputed to be the last survivor of the Battle of Bunker Hill (also probably an exaggeration.)
Then, there was the visit to the Massachusetts State House, followed by a parade led by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and then followed by the gargantuan military review on the Common noted by Miss Alcott in her journal.
After that, the prince and his entourage headed off to an entertainment by a choir of 1200 or so Boston public school children at the Music Hall, with the singing children all waving handkerchiefs and performing a piece entitled “Our Father’s Land”, whose words were written specially for the occasion by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston’s celebrated poet-physician.
Finally, as the day drew to a close, there was the ball. Not just any ball, but the “ball of balls” – the mother of all social events - , designed by the Boston Brahmin luminaries to outstrip anything the young prince had heretofore experienced in North America. This was Boston, after all.
The Ball To Outshine All Balls
There would be an extravaganza of gastronomic delights. There would be all the luminaries of Boston society and their very eligible daughters, nieces and grand-daughters. There would be nearly three thousand ticketed guests, all dressed to the nines and all dressed to impress, certain to leave the young prince secure in the knowledge that Boston was the true seat of the universe west of London and Paris.
The ball would be the Prince’s last major social event in North America and the organizers made sure in their planning that it would be a night to remember for many years to come.
Of course, the New York City ball six days earlier was, in its own way, a night to remember. At that ball, part of the temporary dance floor constructed specially for the event collapsed because of the weight of the guests.
[Note: Tomorrow, it will all come together. The Boston Ball, the “Kevin Bacon-like” genealogical connection, the whole ball o’ wax. Just in time to get ready for the Windsor – Middleton nuptials … my invitation to which still has not yet arrived.]