A QUEEN'S CAREER OF SERVICE

By Walter Littlefield

from Roumania Anniversary Number
Edited by Horia I. Babes
The Society of Friends of Roumania, Inc., New York, 1935



THE motto of the Prince of Wales, "Ich dien," might well serve as Queen Marie's. For forty- three years her life has been bound up in the service of her country. It is a service that has been variously rewarded, but to her mind no more richly than by the intimate affection borne toward her by her people.

This affection was not brought to fruition by any single act of hers. It has been both cumulative and reciprocal. In her twenty-one years as Crown Princess her life had been gradually merged in theirs; as active Queen for the next thirteen she was in a position to improve their life and they to broaden hers through that experience. Both availed themselves of the circumstances, and so when the period of national agony was over there was a complete spiritual union.

Some of the signs which marked the progress toward this consummation may be mentioned here: When, early in 1893, she came to Roumania as a bride of only seventeen years, the formal wedding gifts bestowed on her by the people had expressed the nation's welcome. When she became the mother of the present King in the following October, more significant gifts were given—gifts more personal and intimate, gifts that suggested gratitude for the bestowal of a gift by her. They were the product of the home looms and family needles, ornaments carved and furniture deftly made, useful things as well, all fashioned with loving skill and artistic taste.

When King Carol I died and his heir, Crown Prince Ferdinand, took the oath to the Constitution, Marie, with singular emotion, so she has related, heard herself acclaimed as Queen. This acclaim and her tearful acknowledgment made her relations with the people still more intimate, and prepared them to meet together the days of doubt and of suffering that were to come, until finally both were to feel the exaltation of a great achievement born from mutual sacrifices.

In 1919 Greater Roumania had been achieved. On the opening of the Parliament of the united nation, the whole assembly arose and cheered Queen Marie in a manner to which an American observer of the scene thus bears significant witness:

"I have never seen more genuine enthusiasm than the wild cheering that followed the mention of her name at the opening of the first Parliament of Greater Roumania."

This acclaim was certainly more than an emotional gesture, a tribute to the Queen's work in hospitals, on the field of battle and during the torturing agonies of Iassy when she had shared the tragedy of a supreme struggle with her people driven desperate by destitution. It was the cumulative sentiment of love and sympathy that had been won by a woman of royal charm and grace during a quarter of a century. It was the climax of a career as exalted as it was to be historic. Two years later at the coronation at Alba Iulia it might almost be said to have received its apotheosis.

Queen Marie's most signal achievements are to be found recorded in the books of others, but her philosophy of life is set down in her own writings. Whether dealing with youth or age it has vast human interest. It is the result of broad and varied experience, of keen observation, of meditation, of consummate appraisals expressed through a rhetoric that is both logical and picturesque. A few extracts will suffice to show its nature and strikingly verify a familiar maxim of Buffon, "The style is the man himself":

I am not yet old (she was not quite fifty when she wrote), but I am all the same on the further slope of the hill. I walk downward, and one goes quicker downhill than up. So I face the inevitable like any other, and it depends a great deal upon myself if I make "getting old" tolerable or not.

What we do not realize when we are quite young is that we will not have the desire for the same things all the days of our life. Nature arranges that for us and man's natural development leads him onward in the wisest way if he will only let himself be led without resisting too violently.

The desire for things changes and dies down with advancing years. One pleasure is replaced by another, but so gradually that it comes without a shock to the one who is living it, and happy they who do not cling on desperately to what is no more of their age.

We want to look up to old age, to feel its superiority, its wisdom that has come with the passing years. We want to feel it kind, indulgent, and because all-knowing we want to know that it is also all-forgiving.

From the age of dolls, Marie had wistfully desired a little house all her own. This desire was natural, for all through childhood and maidenhood she had traveled about a great deal. Unlike her brother Alfred, who had been carefully groomed to succeed his father as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, she received no special training. Her father, the Duke of Edinburgh, was often absent at sea, and her mother, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, left her children to the care of governesses, which usually meant to their own devices, save when they were in the awe-inspiring presence of Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Osborne House, or Balmoral. Everywhere Marie and her sister, Victoria, who had been born at Malta in 1876, were inseparable. The family was to return to the island when the Duke of Edinburgh made it his headquarters as Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, from 1886 till 1889; there the two little girls played with his youthful midshipmen, some of whom were to become famous and one, Cousin George, King of England.


Her Majesty Queen Marie of Roumania


At the tomb of Roumania's Kings—The Royal Family after  solemn mass in the Princely Church of Curtea de Arges, ancient Wallachian capital



After the crowded years in Malta the mother and her three daughters, the latter now in longer dresses, together with their baby sister, Beatrice, went back to England. From there they made flying trips to the continent. From St. Petersburg Marie brought away memories of wonderful furs, of alluring perfumes, of curious icons, and later, from visits made as a bride, of a sad, wistful couple isolated amid imperial pomp. Elsewhere she visited the famous picture galleries and listened to good music. She learned to know what was best in art and literature.

It was not till August, 1895, that the Duke of Edinburgh left the British Navy and began to reside at Gotha. By that time Marie had been married eight months and was a Roumanian by nationality. Since her wedding she had not seen her mother and sisters, nor was she to see them until in the following October they came to Roumania for the birth of her eldest son.

Here Marie as a young bride at first felt remote from the world to which she had been accustomed. But with her first born she became conscious that she had realized the hopes of both dynasty and people. She decided to abide by her fate, and by her own individuality to fashion it in accordance with a strange and novel environment, with sympathetic understanding of her intimates and with a lively appreciation of the increasingly frequent signs that the people were taking her to their hearts. Thus she was to become, as time passed, a link between the formal Hohenzollern court of King Carol and his Latin people; and this role of the Queen, particularly toward the end of the King's life, ameliorated disappointments that had beset his inflexible nature.

She had never been very intimate with her Russian mother, and all through her girlhood she feverishly yearned for those confidences between mother and daughter which she observed in other families with whom she came in contact. But under the discipline of that Hohenzollern court many maternal precepts came back to her to comfort and guide her; she realized that her mother's apparent lack of sympathy was a mere matter of personal idiosyncrasy, and that her bringing up had been shaped after that maintained for generations in the Russian imperial family, whose seeming austerity and severity were a curtain to hide family life from the public gaze. She now realized that the discipline of life to which she was required to conform was innately of the family and that the manifestations of it beyond the family were intended to emphasize that fact. Moreover, in the curtsies of the women, the salutes of the men, their stiff bows from the waist as they bent low over her hand, she recognized a sort of codified Victorianism to whose formulas she gradually became reconciled.

Not without an occasional revolt, however: In a carriage, on one occasion, she had placed her lady-in-waiting facing her instead of at her side, and the lady-in-waiting had resigned. King Carol was induced to regard this as a breach of royal etiquette and rebuked his niece; but when that niece appealed to the Prime Minister, the King was indulgent enough to drop the matter, and henceforth the Crown Princess was permitted to arrange the etiquette of her own entourage to suit herself.

Otherwise she took life pretty much as she found it and threw herself heartily into the task of transforming herself into a Roumanian, which neither uncle nor aunt nor even husband had tried to do.

Her aunt by marriage, Queen Elisabeth, known to the world as "Carmen Sylva" for twenty years exercised a profound intellectual influence on Crown Princess Marie. It was one of Her Majesty's maids-of-honor, Mite Kremnits, who first encouraged the Princess to write for publication. Her first effort, The Lily of Life, drawn from the folklore she had absorbed while learning the Roumanian language, was written for her daughters, Elisabeth and Marie; then, inspired from the same source, but with a more or less modern symbolical significance, came The Wicked Queen, The Stealers of Light, The Dreamer of Dreams, and Minola, the story of a sad little queen; Peeping Pansy, the story of an indiscreet, curious little girl, The Lost Princess, and The Magic Doll of Roumania. These are all children's books.

During the World War Queen Marie wrote articles in French for Le Figaro and Revue de Paris, and in Roumanian for the Iassy daily paper, Romānia; at this period and also in the language of her adopted country she wrote a series of legends and short stories which were brought out in inexpensive editions for the soldiers. These books have never been translated into English.

Since the war she has written in English two descriptive books about Roumania, My Country, and The Country that I Love, and a play, Ilderim, which was staged in 1931. Then there is a legendary story, Why, brought out in a privately printed edition by Ira Nelson Morris. She had also written the preface to a volume of translated Roumanian stories published in 1921 by John Lane of London.

With the years her style has been more and more tinged by the poetry and romance, the toil and patience of Roumanian life as she has come to know and to love it. A contrast is to be found in her volumes of memoirs, three in the English edition and two in the American. Here she reveals herself as a finished woman of letters with a scrupulous observance of approved literary form, with a style that matures with her life as she portrays it, and with the gift of knowing what to say and of saying it with greatest effectiveness.

Roumanians are grateful for her constant effort to understand their life and to impart her impressions and convictions of it to the world, for in large part she has helped to make the world aware of Roumania. They are thankful for her interest in extending this acquaintance, as through her patronage of the publication in which this sketch appears and which commemorates her sixtieth birthday—October 29.

The gracious patronage of many Roumanian movements has endeared Queen Marie to Roumanians, particularly to the women. Through her efforts and those of her daughters the world has learned to appreciate the peasant arts and crafts of Roumania. She has done much toward causing a revival of the home manufacture of Roumanian textiles and ceramics which, just before the war, were being replaced by German aniline dyes and Austrian pottery. She has also encouraged the women to wear the native dress on all occasions, and has so persistently ignored the Paris fashions for them and for herself that she has become thoroughly identified with the alluring Roumanian background, whether it be that of the modern interior of her Bucharest palace or of some humble monastic retreat amid the groves of the Carpathians.

A biographer of contemporary royal women, if he pursue comparisons of personal attributes, can hardly fail to realize the plethora of them possessed by Queen Marie and the realities among her achievements. Others with fewer gifts have given the illusion of having performed greater things. But of her winning the love of a nation and preserving it through mutual sympathy and esteem there can be no possible illusion. It is a reality which has left its mark on the history of Greater Roumania.