THE Prince Consort's opinion that the Prince of Wales had
"no interest for things, but all the more for persons"remained true. But this interest became a merit, more useful than the books and "things," in helping the Prince to fit into the great social changes and startling experiments of the 'sixties and 'seventies. The Prince who had treated the pillars and sculptures of Egypt with "well-bred courtesy," was the natural leader of the new, pleasure loving society that flourished in his time.
Unlike the Queen, the Prince was not shy with men of talent. He seemed to believe that a jovial temper makes most men kin; so he included artists and writers in his circle of friends. They were not the painters, fed on poverty and genius and dreams, of less luxurious times. The rich industrialists bought big paintings at big prices, and Landseer and Frith were selling their pictures for six and seven thousand pounds apiece. Holman Hunt, who had painted the scene at London Bridge during the Prince's wedding procession, left a revealing record of their meeting, which shows how easy it was for these Victorian painters and their Prince to speak the same language. The Prince apparently went to Holman Hunt's studio to see the painting of the London crowd.
"I know that man,"he said, pointing to one of the mass of faces, no bigger than a sixpence.
"I have seen him in the hunting field with Lord Macclesfield's hounds. He rides a clever pony about fourteen hands high, and his beard blows over his shoulders."The Prince went on, recalling every detail, ending with the man's name. Thus Holman Hunt's talent for painting a true likeness and the Prince's talent for remembering a face and a name, were both satisfied.
If there was less talk of Etruscan art and more of horses, in the drawing rooms of Sandringham and Marlborough House, there was a compensating spirit of boisterousness and lack of censure in the host. Some years later, in 1882, the Prince wrote to Lord Granville,1
" I may have many faults . . . but I have held one great principle in life from which I will never waver, and that is loyalty to one's friends, and defending them if possible when they get into trouble."
In spite of the Queen's disapproval, the Prince and Princess of Wales created a society that eschewed the conventions and barriers enjoyed