One may take her constant interest in the Staffordshire Potteries as a type of her kindliness. Wedgwood, in his diaries, is always referring to the trouble taken by the duke and duchess when at Trentham to further his work. She had her dairy lined entirely with Wedgwood cream-ware tiles. A head of the duke was executed - one of the first of the afterwards famous portrait medallions. Parties of visitors from London were always taken over the works, and, of course, orders resulted.
The cause of freedom always appealed to the daughter of Lady Carlisle. It was at Stafford House that the gigantic petition of the women of England against slavery was organised, which was afterwards sent over to New England, with half a million signatures. Anti-slavery workers were always sure of a welcome from the duchess. Mrs. Beecher Stowe stayed with her at Dunrobin, and afterwards put on record her impressions of the rare and beautiful character of her hostess. All who saw her remembered her with pleasure and affection. When Italy was struggling for a national existence, of course the duchess felt warmly sympathetic. When Garibaldi came to England, he was feted like a king at Stafford House, which at that time was the principal centre of every kind of society. Old Rogers the poet said Stafford House was a fairy palace, and the duchess was the good fairy.
Creevey, who always dipped his pen in vitriol when he could, and was one of those people who come into the world with a cynical mental squint, could not find much to say against the duchess. He did his little best, but the most he could manage was a jibe at her frock and the story of how she was once late for dinner at Buckingham Palace, and Queen Victoria asked her to see that it did not happen again.
The duchess had a great power of appreciation. She did not want to write or paint or sing herself, she just devoted herself to encouraging others till they did their very best. She had a strong sense of humour, and an unusually deep capacity for affection. Her large family was brought up with a fine mingling of freedom and restraint, and there was never any lack of that friendship between parents and children which was too often absent from the early Victorian home. Her daughters were so beautiful that they were known as "the Sutherland-shire Witches." They afterwards became the Duchesses of Argyll, Westminster, and Leinster, and Lady Blantyre.
Here is a little story of the duchess. Two American girls arrived at Dunrobin to stay. They were rather late, and, before they could be dressed for dinner, the bell had rung, and the company was assembled in the drawing-room. The duchess had said, on their arrival, that she would send for them that they might be shown the way to the drawing-room. One can imagine the feelings of two young girls, on their first appearance in a ducal house, forced by. circumstances to make a state entry all by themselves! And one can imagine how they felt to the duchess when she herself appeared at their door, and led them downstairs, taking them into the room one on each arm, and thus averting the awful ordeal of a lonely entry.
The duchess spent much time at Cliveden, and she also loved Chiswick very much, where her beautiful grandmother had lived for many years.
As for Queen Victoria, what she would have done without the duchess in the early years of her reign it is difficult to say. Amid all the perplexities and difficulties of her accession, amid all the empty forms and ceremonies, she found this true and ardent friend, this great heart, to whom she could confide all, with certainty of understanding. The duchess drove with her to her coronation, stood just behind her at the ceremony, and was present at every state ceremonial of the kind up to the marriage of the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII. She was three times Mistress of the Robes, and after the Prince Consort's death she was the Queen's close companion for many weeks.
It was she who was the innocent cause of the celebrated Bedchamber Crisis of 1839. When Peel was asked to form a Government, he rather naturally wanted those Ladies of the Bedchamber who were closely related to his political opponents to be dismissed. The Queen was very young, furiously Whig, a great admirer of Melbourne, an ardent foe of Peel, and her closest friend was the Duchess of Sutherland, her Mistress of the Robes, and one of the two principal ladies whom Peel wanted dismissed. The Queen said of the Tories that they were "people who would sacrifice every personal feeling and instinct of the Queen's to their bad party purposes." The monarchy would fall if our sovereign used such party language today. At any rate, the Queen stuck to her Ladies, and all the more because Peel said he would resign if she did not yield. She wanted nothing better than that Peel should resign, and that she might keep Lord Melbourne's Administration, so she naturally persisted in her refusal and had her way.
The duchess had a very great admiration for the Prince Consort, and this naturally increased the Queen's affection for her. His speeches and plans received from her an approval which prejudice prevented the public from giving for many years. She was one of those women who always had time and will for one enthusiasm more. Giving devoted service to the Queen, she was also a perfect wife and mother.
Throughout her life she seems to have remained unchanged, her fine qualities never faltering, even under the influence of a life of great social brilliance and immense personal adulation. Her speech to the Volunteers, when she visited Dunrobin for the first time after the duke's death, was most touching - a mingling of deep feeling and fortitude. That was in 1864. Four years later she died, and in 1872 Queen Victoria laid the first stone of a beautiful memorial cross to her at her beloved Dunrobin. Such was the good and beautiful life of this beautiful woman, whose body and mind both expressed the same noble qualities. She reminded people of the Venus of Milo in her expression of serious tenderness. Only to look at her was pleasure. To remember her is still the greatest privilege of some still living.