Queen Victoria (Browne)

CHAPTER XIV: Stress and Strain

        Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

The greatest Revolutions are not always those which are accompanied by riot and bloodshed. England's Revolution was peaceful, but it worked vast and almost incredible changes.

We find, in the first place, that after the great Napoleonic Wars and during the 'forty years' peace' a new class, the 'Middle Class,' came into being. It had, of course, existed before this time, but it had been unable to make its power felt. The astonishing increase of trade and consequently of wealth, the application of steam power with special influence upon land and sea transit, transformed England into "the Workshop of the World."

By the year 1840 railways were no longer regarded as something in the nature of an experiment, which might or might not prove a success; they had, indeed, become an integral part of the social life of the nation. In 1840 the Railway Regulation Act was passed, followed in 1844 by the Cheap Trains Act, which required that passengers must be carried in covered waggons at a charge of not more than one penny a mile and at a speed of not less than twelve miles an hour.

From 1844 onward the construction of railways proceeded apace, until by the year 1874 no less than 16,449 miles had been laid. Ocean traffic under steam progressed equally rapidly; in 1812 the first steamer appeared upon the Clyde, and in 1838 the famous Great Western steamed from Bristol to New York.

The quickening and cheapening of transport called for new and improved methods of manufacture; small business concerns grew into great mercantile houses with interests all over the face of the globe. Everywhere movement and expansion; everywhere change. A powerful commercial class came into existence, and power—that is, voting power—passed to this class and was held by it until the year 1865. From this year, roughly speaking, the power passed into the hands of the democracy.

Education, which had been to a great extent a class monopoly, gradually penetrated to all ranks and grades of society. In 1867 the second Reform Act was passed; a very large proportion of the urban working classes were given the power of voting, and it was naturally impossible to entrust such powers for long to an illiterate democracy. Therefore, in 1870, Mr Forster's Education Act was passed, which required that in every district where sufficient voluntary schools did not exist a School Board should be formed to build and maintain the necessary school accommodation at the cost of the rates. By a later Act of 1876 school attendance was made compulsory. Every effort was made in succeeding years to raise the level of intelligence among present and future citizens. Education became national and universal.

During the period 1865-85 the population of the kingdom increased, and the emigration to the British colonial possessions reached its maximum in the year 1883, when the figures were 183,236.

The rapid rise in population of the large towns drew attention more and more urgently to the question of public health. Every city and every town had its own problems to face, and the necessity for solving these cultivated and strengthened the sense of civic pride and responsibility. We find during this period an ever-growing interest throughout the country in the welfare, both moral and mental, of the great mass of the workers. Municipal life became the training-ground where many a member of Parliament served his apprenticeship.

Municipalities took charge of baths and washhouses, organized and built public markets, ensured a cheap and ample supply of pure water, installed modern systems of drainage, provided housing accommodation at low rents for the poorer classes, built hospitals for infectious diseases, and, finally, carried on the great and important work of educating its citizens.

The power of Labour began, at last, to make itself felt. The first attempt at co-operation made by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 stimulated others to follow their example, and in 1869 the Co-operative Union was formed. The Trade Unions showed an increased interest in education, in forming libraries and classes, and in extending their somewhat narrow policy as their voting power increased. Out of this movement sprang Working Men's Clubs attached to the Unions and carrying on all branches of work, educational and beneficial, amongst its members.

The standard of society was continually rising, and it was already a far cry to the Early Victorian England described in an earlier chapter.

The world was growing smaller—that is to say, communications between country and country, between continent and continent, were growing more easy. The first insulated cable was laid in 1848, across the Hudson River, from Jersey City to New York, and in 1857 an unsuccessful attempt was made to connect the New and the Old World. In 1866 the Great Eastern, after two trials, succeeded in laying a complete cable. The expansion of the powers of human invention led to a great increase in the growth of comfort of all classes. To take only a few striking examples: at the beginning of the century matches were not yet invented, and only in 1827 were the 'Congreve' sulphur matches put on the market; they were sold at the rate of one shilling a box containing eighty-four matches! In the year 1821 gas was still considered a luxury; soap and candles were both greatly improved and cheapened. By the withdrawal of the window tax in 1851 obvious and necessary advantages were gained in the building of houses.

In 1855 the stamp duty on newspapers was abolished. In these days of cheap halfpenny papers with immense circulations it is difficult to realize that at a date not very far distant from us, the poor scarcely, if ever, saw a newspaper at all. Friends used to club together to reduce the great expense of buying a single copy, and agents hired out copies for the sum of one penny per hour. The only effect of the stamp duty had been to cut off the poorer classes from all sources of trustworthy information.

In 1834 not a single town in the kingdom with the exception of London possessed a daily paper. The invention of steam printing, and the introduction of shorthand reporting and the use of telegraph and railways, revolutionized the whole world of journalism.

Charles Dickens, on the occasion of his presiding, in May 1865, at the second annual dinner of the Newspaper Press Fund, gave his hearers an idea of what newspaper reporters were and what they suffered in the early days. "I have pursued the calling of a reporter under circumstances of which many of my brethren here can form no adequate conception. I have often transcribed for the printer, from my shorthand notes, important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was required, and a mistake in which would have been to a young man severely compromising, writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post-chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, and through the dead of the night, at the then surprising rate of fifteen miles an hour. . . . I have worn my knees by writing on them on the old back-row of the old gallery of the old House of Commons; and I have worn my feet by standing to write in a preposterous pen in the old House of Lords, where we used to be huddled together like so many sheep—kept in waiting, say, until the woolsack might want re-stuffing. Returning home from exciting political meetings in the country to the waiting press in London, I do verily believe I have been upset in almost every description of vehicle known in this country. I have been, in my time, belated on miry by-roads, towards the small hours, forty or fifty miles from London, in a wheelless carriage, with exhausted horses and drunken post-boys, and have got back in time for publication, to be received with never-forgotten compliments by the late Mr Black, coming in the broadest of Scotch from the broadest of hearts I ever knew."

During these later years England came to look upon her duties and responsibilities toward her colonial possessions in quite a different light. Imperialism became a factor in the political life of the nation.

The builders of Empire in the time of Queen Elizabeth took a very narrow view of their responsibilities; they were not in the least degree concerned about the well-being of a colony or possession for its own sake. The state of Ireland in those days spoke for itself. The horrors of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 was the first lesson which opened England's eyes to the fact that an Empire, if it is to be anything more than a name, must be a united whole under wise and sympathetic guidance.

The rebellion proved to be the end of the old East Indian Company. England took over the administration of Indian affairs into her own hands. An "Act for the better Government of India" was passed in 1858, which provided that all the territories previously under the government of the Company were to be vested in Her Majesty, and all the Company's powers to be exercised in her name. The Viceroy, with the assistance of a Council, was to be supreme in India.

In 1867 a great colonial reform was carried out, the Confederation of the North American Provinces of the British Empire. By this Act the names of Upper and Lower Canada were changed respectively to Ontario and Quebec. The first Dominion Parliament met in the autumn of the same year, and lost no time in passing an Act to construct an Inter-Colonial Railway affording proper means of communication between the maritime and central provinces.

In 1869 the Hudson Bay territory was acquired from the Company which held it, and after the Red River Insurrection, headed by a half-breed, Louis Riel, had been successfully crushed by the Wolseley Expedition, the territory was made part of the Federation. In 1871 British Columbia became part of the Dominion, on condition that a railway was constructed within the following ten years which should extend from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains and connect with the existing railway system.

The great Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, opening out the West to all-comers.

The rise and growth of the Imperialistic spirit has been greatly influenced by the literature on the subject, which dated its commencement from Professor Seeley's Expansion of England in 1883. This was followed by an immense number of works by various writers, the chief of whom, Rudyard Kipling, has popularized the conception of Imperialism and extended its meaning:

Never was isle so little, never was sea so lone,
But over the scud and the palm-trees an English flag was flown.

The Empire was not, however, to be consolidated without war and bloodshed, for relations with the two Boer Republics, the Transvaal and the Orange River, became more and more strained as years went on. The last years of the Queen's life were destined to be saddened by the outbreak of war in South Africa.

The facts which led to the outbreak were briefly these, though it is but fair to state that there are, even now, various theories current as to the causes. The discovery and opening up of the gold mines of the Transvaal had brought a stream of adventurous emigrants into the country, and it was these 'Outlanders' of whom the Dutch were suspicious. The Transvaal Government refused to admit them to equal political rights with the Dutch inhabitants. It was certain, however, that the Outlanders would never submit to be dependent on the policy of President Kruger, although the Dutch declared that they had only accepted the suzerainty of Great Britain under compulsion.

Negotiations between the two Governments led to nothing, as neither side would give way, and at last, in 1899, following upon an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of British troops from the borders of the Republic, war broke out. It had undoubtedly been hastened by the ill-fated and ill-advised raid in 1896 of Dr Jameson, the administrator of Rhodesia.

It is scarcely necessary to review the details of this war at any length. It proved conclusively that the Government of this country had vastly underrated the resisting powers of the Boers. For three years the British army was forced to wage a guerilla warfare, and adapt itself to entirely new methods of campaigning.

On May 28, 1900, the Orange Free State was annexed under the name of the Orange River Colony. In June Lord Roberts entered Pretoria, but the war dragged on until 1902, when a Peace Conference was held and the Boer Republics became part of the British Empire. Very liberal terms were offered to and accepted by the conquered Dutch. But long before this event took place Queen Victoria had passed away. She had followed the whole course of the war with the deepest interest and anxiety, and when Lord Roberts returned to this country, leaving Lord Kitchener in command in South Africa, the Queen was desirous of hearing from his own lips the story of the campaign.

The public was already uneasy about the state of her health, and on January 20th it was announced that her condition had become serious. On Tuesday, January 22, she was conscious and recognized the members of her family watching by her bedside, but on the afternoon of the same day she peacefully passed away. One of the last wishes she expressed was that her body should be borne to rest on a gun-carriage, for she had never forgotten that she was a soldier's daughter.

On the day of the funeral the horses attached to the gun-carriage became restive, and the sailors who formed the guard of honour took their place, and drew the coffin, draped in the Union Jack, to its last resting-place.

Through the streets of London, which had witnessed two great Jubilee processions, festivals of rejoicing and thanksgiving, the funeral cortège passed, and a great reign and a great epoch in history had come to an end.

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