by George T. B. Davis
from A Real Queen's Fairy Tales by Carmen Sylva, Davis and Company, Chicago, 1901


The beautiful and brilliant Queen of Roumania is one of the most remarkable women of modern times, and the story of her life is as strange and wonderful as an Oriental legend.

She is almost a fairy creature by birth, for she was born a Princess, in a romantic castle on the Rhine, just four days after Christmas. In the same castle her ancestors had lived for nearly a thousand years. They were the heroic Princes of Wied, famous alike in scholarship, war, and religion. Surrounding the castle on three sides was a great forest, and as the Princess grew to girlhood it was her chief delight to roam about under the giant trees, accompanied only by two large Danish dogs.

The Princess proved to possess a mind worthy her noble ancestry. At nine she composed verses; at eleven she attempted to write a novel; at fourteen she composed dramas, and acted them, with the aid of her companions and dolls; at fifteen   she studied three newspapers daily, and took a keen interest in politics; at eighteen she had the reputation of being the best educated Princess in Europe. Throughout her teens she was called "The Princess of the Wild Rose," because of her rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and love of forest roaming.

Just when Elizabeth was entering womanhood a young German Prince was exciting the admiration of all Europe by his military courage and skill. He was Prince Charles of Hohenzollern, whom the great powers of Europe had just rewarded by placing upon the throne of Roumania, which was then vacant, as the first ruler of a new dynasty.

Now Prince Charming having become possessed of a throne, naturally began looking about to find the Princess Beautiful to help him govern the country. And what more fitting and in accordance with all the laws of fairyland and romance, than that he should ask the most accomplished and vivacious Princess in Europe to be his bride? Such indeed was the case, and they were shortly married, and entered Bucharest, the capital of Roumania, amid such rejoicings and splendid fête as had rarely if ever been seen in the land.

Immediately the young bride plunged into her new duties with all the energy that made her remarkable as a girl and young woman. She quickly learned the Roumanian language, and by her overflowing love and sympathy, and by hard work, had soon completely won the hearts of her subjects. And to-day, after over thirty years on the throne, she is the idol of all her people.

However, into the midst of the Queen's triumphs a great sorrow has come. A year after her arrival in Roumania, Her Majesty's life was gladdened by the birth of a daughter. All the wealth of her rich, affectionate nature was poured out upon the child; and when four years later a fever, which carried off hundreds of children in Bucharest also claimed the Princess Marie as a victim, the Queen suffered a blow which threatened for a time to end her life. She recovered, however, and her grief only served to make her character richer and stronger, and she devoted herself more than ever to developing the individual and national character of the Roumanian people. Out of her private purse she established schools, built hospitals, and founded asylums.

When, in 1877, the war between Turkey and Russia broke out, and her husband was at the front with his troops playing a heroic part in battle, Elizabeth remained behind playing an equally heroic part in superintending the hospital arrangements for the sick and wounded. Then a wonderful sight was witnessed in Roumania. The Queen cast aside her royal robes and toiled by day and by night, scarcely securing any sleep. She did for Roumania what Florence Nightingale did for England, and what Clara Barton has done for America. And so fascinating and magnetic was the personality of this queen-nurse that it is said the sick were often cured of their fevers through her visits, and the wounded would endure the most painful operations without flinching when their adored Muma Ranitilor—Mother of the Wounded—was present. At the close of the war the wives of the army officers, as a token of their gratitude and admiration, erected in a public square in Bucharest a marble statue of the Queen, representing her, with a red cross on her arm, stooping down and giving a drink of water to a wounded soldier.

It was not until after this war that the Queen began to write for publication, although she had written verses secretly, and pasted them in a large scrapbook, from early childhood. Her first book was written in a peculiar manner. One day the national superintendent of schools came to her and said he wanted a book to offer as a prize at the end of the year to certain Roumanian school children, and suggested that Her Majesty write one. The Queen entered into the plan with enthusiasm, and in three weeks had written a book of fairy tales, taking old Roumanian legends as the foundation for her stories.

The volume was such a success, and creating it gave the Queen such pleasure, that she turned to writing in earnest, and volume after volume has appeared, bearing the name "Carmen Sylva" on its title-page. One day in each month is now devoted to reading the Queen's books in the public schools of Roumania, and they have been translated and retranslated into divers tongues until her pen has exceeded her scepter in power, and her fame as a writer has passed above her fame as a Queen.

Her literary work is by no means confined to fairy tales, but includes a number of novels, several volumes of poems, numerous dramas, a book of proverbs, a philosophical treatise, and an opera libretto. However, the Queen finds her greatest delight and inspiration in writing fairy tales, and it is worthy of note, as a proof, of her world-wide popularity, that the present volume of tales will be published simultaneously this fall in six or eight different countries!

This will probably break the world's record for the first publication of any book in so many lands at the same time.

The Queen is also a skilled painter and musician. She paints portraits and landscapes, sometimes makes the drawings for her own stories, and with wonderful dexterity and rapidity illuminates huge tomes with curious and beautiful designs in the style of the mediæval monks. Though her love for painting is great, her love for music far surpasses it. She will often sit for hours in the gathering twilight at the great pipe-organ in the palace music-room improvising melodies to suit the passing mood—now low and soft as a summer zephyr, now loud and fierce as a midwinter storm. In her girlhood she was a pupil of Clara Schumann and of Rubenstein, and the latter has dedicated to Her Majesty one of his finest compositions, "The Sulamite."

The Queen's capacity for work seems boundless. It is her daily custom while residing in the royal palace in Bucharest during the winter months to rise at four or five o'clock in the morning. A little later she enters the great writing-room—which, with its large palms and towering ferns of various kinds set in urns, its profusion of flowers and its murmuring fountain, resembles a garden more than a room—where, seated at a small desk, she works at some new poem or tale as earnestly as might an author in a garret. She creates and writes rapidly, and makes few changes in her manuscript.

At eight o'clock she breakfasts with King Charles, a little later receives her maids of honor in the spacious reception-room, and during the remainder of the day devotes herself entirely to the welfare of her people—receiving subjects of high and low degree, and personally adjudicating cases and relieving want and poverty. In the evening an elaborate dinner is served in the state dining-room, at which several distinguished guests and a bevy of stylishly gowned Roumanian ladies are usually present. The nights are generally occupied with some public or private reception or ball, of which the gayety-loving Roumanians never tire. Rarely is it possible for the Queen to retire until after midnight, yet she declares that her early morning literary work, instead of depleting her strength, gives her fresh power and mental poise to cope with the varied cares of the day.

The summers of the Queen are spent in very different fashion. With the first advent of hot weather in Bucharest she flits away, accompanied by her maids of honor, to Castle Pelesch, the royal summer residence, high up in the Carpathian Mountain. Castle Pelesch is a marvel of architecture containing one hundred rooms and halls. It stands far up on the mountain-side, the materials for its erection having been brought up at an enormous cost—it is said that three hundred thousand dollars were expended in laying the foundation alone—and with its many gables, spires, and towers makes a reality scarcely less remarkable and beautiful than Aladdin's magic palace. The chief feature of the interior decoration is wood-carving in imitation of the sixteenth century. The stained-glass windows of the music-room represent scenes from the poems of the Roumanian national poet, Alexandri, and paintings on the walls of the huge salon depict scenes from the Queen's own fairy tales. Her Majesty's private apartments are adorned with costly paintings and statuary, and hung with rich fabrics of gorgeous design from the Orient; and everywhere are heaps and masses of flowers.

The castle is located in the center of miles of well-kept drives, sylvan paths, and rustic retreats. One of these retreats is the Queen's own poet-house. It is a small but most beautiful bower built of reeds and covered allover during the summer months with roses, and shaded by tall, sentinel-like trees. As one enters the charming little hut a score of caged birds brought from many lands salute the ear with a musical medley of welcome, and dazzle the eye with their gorgeous plumage. Scattered about the room are soft couches and reclining-chairs; but most ingenious and delightful of all its appointments is a perfumed fountain in one corner which gently murmurs all day long, apparently doing its utmost to lull the listener into a condition of poetic inspiration.

To this castle in the clouds the Queen often invites leading authors, artists, and musicians, and devises the most brilliant and original entertainments to while away the evenings and rainy days when the visitors are not enjoying the delights of mountain drives or walks. And on special occasions the guests are given a rare treat the form of a concert by the Queen's own orchestra—the only orchestra in the world having a Queen as its conductor! The Queen is a charming hostess and brilliant conversationalist. She will talk with the knowledge of an expert and with enthusiasm—and probably in half a dozen different languages in the course of a few minutes—to each guest about the thing in which he or she is most interested.

When King Edward visited Castle Pelesch a few years ago the Queen superintended a series of gorgeous tableaux given in his honor, resenting the thirteen letters in "Prince of Wales."

The late Empress of Austria was so delighted and astonished during her stay at the castle that upon leaving it she exclaimed, "I cannot imagine anything more ideal on earth than the life and surroundings of Roumania's Carmen Sylva!"