IT has been my privilege to know Queen Elisabeth of Roumania, widely known as Carmen Sylva, many years, during which period I have enjoyed a continued correspondence and passed many days at her palace in Bucharest.
Born Princess of Wied, December 29, 1843, in a famous castle on the Rhine, which had been the home of her ancestors for a thousand years, married to the Hohenzollern Prince Carlos in 1869, crowned first Queen of Roumania in 1881, she possesses, after all these years of active life, full intellectual vigor, and is one of the most incessant workers among the sovereigns of the world. Knowing well many persons who for years have been intimately connected with the court life of the Queen, I have yet to hear the first criticism of any act or to meet one who did not love her.
Elisabeth has given to the world the example of a pure Court where intellectual life abounds—where high thoughts are spoken and noble plans developed. Her Maids of Honor are women of exemplary lives, who visit the hospitals, look after the poor, and plan with the Queen during every hour of every day for the best interests of the Roumanian people. No one believes more firmly in the value of time than this industrious Queen. While the Royal Orchestra, which is excellent, and often led by her, plays afternoons in the magnificent music-hall, whose walls are lined with books, her Majesty writes poetry which during the interlude she recites to the accompaniment of the harp. At the same time the ladies, young and old, occupy themselves in embroidering and various tasks. I cannot enumerate, in the brief space allotted me, all the characteristics and accomplishments of this marvelous woman. Certainly her least title to greatness is the fact that she wears a crown.
Carmen Sylva is one of the first poets of the Balkans, and its most talented writer of fairy tales. Her first drama was produced at sixteen, and the tragedy of "Master Manole," written in 1892, was accorded the highest praise by the most eminent critics. Her operas have been successfully presented in Munich and other cities of Europe. In collaboration with the brilliant Mademoiselle Vacaresco, she wrought the Roumanian legends into "The Tales of the Dimbovitza," which for beauty of expression remains unrivaled among folk-lore tales. A bibliography of her writings would include over thirty books, besides hundreds of magazine articles. Her book of aphorisms, "The Thoughts of a Queen," was accorded a medal of honor by the French Academy. Such diversified literary talent, powerful in every phase, is rarely found.
Her work begins at four every morning, and often lasts until midnight. She embroiders exquisitely, paints miniatures on ivory, is a fine musician, having been a pupil of Rubinstein and Clara Schumann, a brilliant conversationalist, an accomplished linguist, speaking fluently six languages and understanding as many more. A poem written in native German is often read by her in English or French before an audience without previous preparation of translation. Founding schools, opera-houses, hospitals, and asylums, encouraging the peasant women to embroider and the men to cultivate the mulberry-tree, a liberal patron of the arts, an architect and adviser of a nation, Elisabeth has known no rest in her reign of twenty-four years.
Although the national religion is Greek, the Queen has been foremost in building a German Lutheran Church. By nature deeply religious, her devotion is shown in acts as much as by formal attendance at divine services. The walls and stained-glass windows of the church are covered with inscriptions all written by the royal hand.
All her revenues, except those required for necessities, even the large sums received from the work of her versatile pen, are devoted to charities.
The ideal charity carried on at this time is Segenhaus, the ancestral castle on the Rhine, which, with its magnificent forest, was inherited by the Queen from her mother, who died some two years since. This historic place has been refitted as a home for the weary, but only educated people, who have devoted their lives to good and meritorious work in art, literature, or philanthropy, are invited to its shelter.
Having reached the highest position which the ambitions of a woman could desire, Elisabeth shows no vainglory in being Queen. She continues to wear a crown only in an endeavor to consummate the plans for the advancement of her adopted country. No portion of Europe is richer in fertile soil and natural resources. This Queen would renounce her throne, live in a peasant's hut, attend the flocks among the Carpathians, if thereby she might bring happiness and prosperity to her people.
She lost heart when her only child, the Princess Marie, was borne to eternal rest in the beautiful park of Cotroceni. Her ardent poetic nature was centered in the lovely idol whose sweet presence she enjoyed for only four years, and she was crushed with unutterable grief, which has expressed itself in all her poetry and every subsequent action of life. But duty, love of humanity, loyalty to the King, whose genius, industry, and heroism she admires, incited her to the accomplishment of the manifold works which have enriched her life. She was at Plevna when the heroic Carlos led the armies of Russia and Roumania against Turkey in an engagement which won the admiration of the world. In those trying hours she was in the field of carnage administering to the wants of the dying, and from her private purse providing for the care of hundreds.
Is it any wonder that throughout the kingdom her loyal subjects call her "Mama Regina"? How a Queen of Northern blood, born in another land, educated to a life more Occidental than a residence in Roumania could possibly inspire, can be so devoted to an adopted people is a mystery. Yet she loves Roumania more than her fatherland.
Endowed with a commanding presence, a perfect figure, a face which wears a smile of ineffable sweetness, with mild gray eyes, with a heart so tender that it bleeds for the distressed, Elisabeth is the ideal of a majestic Queen.