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little world of passengers admiring and applauding his proficiency in letters for our young friend could read!
This is the record, how well remembered, of a day's travel, 'tis sixty years since. There was, of course, in those days also a coach between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I know not why the canal was chosen instead,-probably as being less constrained for the child; perhaps it was cheaper; at all events it was no unusual mode of travel. And thus resignedly, cold and patient, we all moved about the country, not dreaming of anything better, much consoled when the circumstances were more favourable and the boat painted brightly in red and green.
A kindred scene occurs to me, a little companion picture, which illustrates another feature in the days that are no more. A kind observer walking about the quays -was it of the Broomielaw, was it of the Liverpool landing-places? I forget which- -saw on several occasions a little girl older than our hero of the canal - boat, a bright-faced maiden of ten or twelve, seated patiently on a bench against the wall, sometimes for hours together. Having seen her on two or three occasions, and perceived that this was no idle gazer, but a little woman with a purpose, he took the trouble to watch and find out what that purpose was. Her station was close to the spot at which the steamboat arrived which made periodical journeys between Glasgow and Liverpool. The little girl sat waiting often for some time: a spark of pleasure lighted up in her eye when the steamer came, with much churning of water and flapping of paddles (for screwsteamers were not as yet), to the quay, but she kept still until the bustle of arrival was over, and
the passengers and their goods disembarked. Then there would appear at the top of the cabin stairs a white-capped head, which was the signal for our maiden to board the steamboat in her turn, coming back triumphant with a small brown-paper parcel, with which, all smiles and waving wings of happy childish speed, she hurried home. Who could imagine in 1897 what it was she received so joyfully and had waited for so long? The brown-paper parcel
contained a letter from an absent son to the mother, and this young messenger was no better than a smuggler carrying a contraband article which ought to have paid some two shillings for conveyance from one country to another by her Majesty's Post-office. The humble transaction had been accomplished by a private bargain between the poor lady, whose son was absent, and the stewardess of the boat, who had pitied her tears when she saw him go. I presume that the shillings of this poor lady were few, and the letters were precious. The post would have charged double or treble for the long outpourings of family news and affection which were so unrestrained in the snug bosom of the brownpaper parcel. The stewardess had a little present from time to time in acknowledgment of her kindness. The child, too young to take any harm, drew in the fresh air from the sea, and many a gleam of shining horizons, which were a possession to her for ever. She was a young contrabandist, but she was not aware of it, for nobody thought it wrong in those days to cheat the Post.
For the whole system of franks was also of course invented for the sole purpose of cheating the Post. People who might perhaps consider themselves above the minis
trations of a stewardess and the help of a brown - paper parcel (though there was nobody who despised the advantage of "a private hand") moved heaven and earth to obtain franks. The theory of these strange and authorised encroachments upon the revenue was no doubt that the public officials, peers and members of Parliament, to whom the privilege was granted, had so much correspondence on public business, that it was only just to relieve them of the cost of it. The result really was that half the correspondence of the country was carried on by this means. The name of one of those privileged persons scrawled on the outside of a sheet was dear above all things, specially to the female bosom. People delayed the most intimate communications from week to week until they could obtain a frank; they made all sorts of shifts to use the precious signature twice over, advising their correspondents how to refold the paper that it might be used again. They apologised for the presumption of writing by the post; it was vanity to imagine that a letter from you could be considered worth paying postage for. A wealthy man I have heard of had his Indian mails sent under
cover to a post-office official, by whom it was forwarded by frank, though he had sons in India, and this occasioned a delay of two or three days. The charge was heavy indeed, but it is almost inconceivable now that one should subject one's correspondence to such delays for the sake of the postage: yet that was not the general idea then. What a school for patience, and how natural it must have seemed to wait, and how long the silences must have been! There were no envelopes in those days. These
handy articles arose like a flight of birds in a moment when cheap postage came in; but sixty years since if there was an enclosure the charge was doubled. From this arose the large paper which we still call Post, as a survival of the period when that square sheet was your only letter paper, carefully folded so as to obtain the largest possible amount of space, every flap to the very edge of the sheet being written over, if not crossed. What a curious fundamental change of habit is implied in such a small revolution as this. Other ingenious modes of communication were also current to cheat the exacting revenue. Newspapers were sometimes sent in the place of letters, your safe arrival at the end of a journey being often intimated by this dumb messenger; which sometimes also was made to speak by means of pencil lines under various words. But this last expedient was considered, I think, with less favour, as touching the edge of the unlawful. As for the others, the much-used franks, the brown-paper parcels, nobody's conscience was in the least touched by such devices.
The thought occurs as we write that probably this extreme reluctance to pay postage indicates even a profounder change in our habits than anything connected with the Post alone. Is it the fact that in these sixty years we have come to be less careful what we spend, less concerned about our shillings, less narrow in our views of legitimate expenditure? Were it possible that the postal system could be changed again, and a letter cost a shilling instead of a penny, should we all go back to those old devices, the private hand, the brown-paper parcel, the much-used frank, if that were procurable? We think not, at least
to anything like the same degree. The shilling would be a great grievance, and the hottest of agitations would be got up against it; but though we might blaspheme, we should pay. As a matter of fact a private family contributes, we have little doubt, quite as much to the Post-office revenue now as it would have done had it paid all its letters in the days when 1s. 11d. was the postage from England to Scotland. A penny stamp is nothing, and few people consider how many of them are used daily. There is not a little maid-of-all-work nowadays who does not nobly spend her pence on stamps. Does this mean that we are richer than we were generally not the rich, who in such matters do not count, but the comparatively and the really poor? I think it must mean at least that those who have nothing to speak of are better off, and not kept so severely destitute of the little superfluities of life: and that there is a less exacting standard of frugality, an easier atmosphere in respect to money, and the small expenditures of every day. But this is a digression, and does not come in at present to the question of the changes that have happened in these sixty years.
The age of Victoria, in many ways so full of light, was not within doors and in its domestic centres a bright age when it began. Gas had, indeed, come into the world to light the streets, and more or less the shops, in great thoroughfares; but in our homes the lights were few. The primitive cruse of oil, with its rough wick and smoky flame, at once feeble and wavering, gave a very dim aid to the fire-light on a cottage hearth, and in the homes of middle-class respectability a mild
twilight lingered, with deep darkness in every corner. Dans l'intimité, when there was no company, a pair of candles, flanked by a snuffer-tray, was considered sufficient for ordinary family purposes. Lamps came slowly, and were troublesome, and when the inventor reached the sober excellence of the Moderator there was a long pause, as if the climax of good lighting had been obtained. The twinkle of wax candles, many of them surrounding a room in pretty clusters, was the ideal of perfect domestic illumination (and a very good one): but this was only for gala nights, except in those ineffable houses of the great which we spoke of with bated breath, but did not attempt to emulate. And there was one particular of this deprivation that left its impress upon the mind and also upon the literature of the generations. The children of the present day must, for example, find it difficult to understand the terror of the children of an elder age for the dark passages along which so many little heroes and heroines in the old story books made a breathless dart with their hearts in their mouths, not knowing what frightful danger might lurk behind this or that black corner. We remember well the excuses for another moment's delay in the drawingroom, which by comparison seemed so bright, or the nursery, in which perhaps one candle on the mantelpiece was an illumination, in comparison with the awful blackness of the passages between. There was one dread corner where we seemed to hear something breathing in the gloom, a door of a dark closet, from which we were certain one time or other something would dart forth upon us, fatal, horrible. How many blood-curdling thoughts, how many awful
possibilities, lurked on the way! and with what a sensation of heavenly relief we arrived safe at one end or another-a relief shadowed by the terrible fact that we should have to go back; though there was always the hope that some one with a candle might be caught up and followed on the return journey!
There are no dark passages now. One wonders how many people now existing realise what a wonderful difference that makes. Ghosts have gone wholly out of fashion with the children, and nobody under fifteen is afraid of them. Fifteen is the earliest age at which we can imagine a romantic apprehension of these bygone terrors to begin. The children are impervious to such fears; they don't know what a dark passage means.
Sir Edwin Arnold, in his book about the Queen's reign, mentions another little matter of much importance to daily life, which amid larger things is apt to be forgotten. He tells how on his way home, a child with his nurse, from one of the pageants of the Accession, he saw "a man in the street selling, evidently as a singular novelty, lucifer matches at a halfpenny apiece. He held up the little sticks, one at a time, and then drawing them through a folded piece of sand-paper, produced an instantaneous flame, to the intense amazement of the passers-by." Sir Edwin adds that there was nothing but the ancient expedient of flint and steel to strike a light before this. fancy, but cannot specify, that there was something which came in between, but the first match was unquestionably such a wonder as might have convulsed the world. How calmly we have all taken such discoveries! Before the lucifer match there were, we recollect,
little bundles of sticks tipped by a smudge of brimstone; but their quality was only that of lighting quickly at a fire or candle. In Scotland they were called spunks. The new matches when they came were objected to (as were also the spunks) for their bad smell. Indeed it must be added that all the new inventions which have added so greatly to our comfort were received without enthusiasm-from the railway, on which a cow errant was supposed to be capable of proving a serious embarrassment, to the matches which had a bad smell. When candles were made which wanted no snuffing, though it was manifestly a great convenience, there were revilings-it being supposed at first that they were not so bright as the old smoky flame!
There was but a scanty budget of letters on the breakfast-table in those days, and perhaps, except in London, no newspaper at all. Only in London did such a thing as a daily paper exist. The greatest of provincial towns had not progressed beyond a bi-weekly, as they were called, and once a-week satisfied most people. The kinds of news were those which came by ordinary channels of communication
by ship, by road, no quicker than other travellers. A bearer of despatches to the Foreign Office was probably the most rapid of agencies; and across the Continent the ways were still more interrupted than in this country the few lines of railways breaking short off here and there, leaving posthorses, or a little steamboat on a river, as the quickest method of travel. But no one knew how slow and imperfect were those methods of information, for there was nothing else with which to compare them, and they were accepted as the course of nature.
From America news was still more difficult to obtain, for Steam was slow of adventuring over the Atlantic. And India was months away in the beginning of the reign. Commotions in Canada, Maori wars, the constant little conflicts going on with one people or another in India, must have been the occasion of greater agony than any war need cause now; for one mail might bring the news of a battle, and only in the slow course of the next and following ships would the list of killed and wounded come home; so that the friends of those who were safe had many an unnecessary pang, and those who had suffered many an intolerable hope to go through, before definite news put a period to their misery. Thus dim at home and clouded with dreadful shadows abroad was the life of Great Britain in the earlier Victorian days. We had not half the alleviations of life which we have now. When accident happened to us we had little more than the primitive brutal methods to tear off a leg or an arm-humanity hurrying the operator's hand, that at least the anguish he inflicted should be as short as possible, and no harmless agency known to mitigate the pain. Men suffer always and in all ages. There will probably never be a time when they will escape to any general degree the ills that flesh is heir to; but we have learnt now to soften suffering in a way undreamed of sixty years ago. That one amelioration of life is worth more than all the millions of increase that have come since to the British Crown.
What a strange difference in morals as well as in facts should this sterner fashion of living have developed! Men who knew that, should any surgical operation be
performed upon them, it would be at the cost of indescribable agony; women to whom there was no escape from the inevitable pangs of nature and no softening of their violence; people who had to wait perforce, sometimes for long months, ere they could hear what had befallen those who were most dear to them-if suffering is an improving process, as people say, what patience, what resignation, what courage, ought to have been theirs! But human nature is of a tough fibre, which resists many influences. Our grandfathers were not aware that they were so much worse off, any more than we are generally aware how much better off we are.
It is seldom, however, by modifications of human feeling that we can trace the revolutions of history. Those which have happened in our age, especially the two great agencies which changed all the circumstances of our life, have nothing at all to do with our higher nature, except in so far as they are the offspring of that genius which creates and invents, and which is as truly genius as that which touched the harp of Shakespeare. The Victorian age is like one of those Magicians of eastern story who caught and bound to the accomplishment of their will some of the great Genii, Afreets, Jins, whatever name Oriental fancy may have given them, whose force infinitely transcended every human force, yet who were at the mercy of the wise man who knew how to secure and train them. It is difficult to believe when one sees a great Steam - engine at work, filling the atmosphere with clamour, steam, and smoke, that there is not some volition in the great irresponsible monster in addition to that temporary meaning which the directing finger of a man gives to its superlative