Page images
PDF
EPUB

had not proved worthy of its part in the great drama. We have no divine sanctions nowadays, but the precedents of history tend all in one way. The whole continent trembles, the shadows break up from every side, the ancient inhabitants fight or flee. It is from the abodes of cruelty, the temples of blood, that they are disturbed; but, notwithstanding, it is the same process which has been carried on as long as we know what has happened in the world. Already the Queen's empire has been extended indefinitely in a new world, which was virtually undiscovered when she began to reign; but what will be the end of these agitations who can tell? When, sixty years hence, new chroniclers continue the tale of what has happened, no doubt they will have a story to tell which will excel in wonder, at least so far as concerns that portion of the earth's surface, all that has gone before. They will look back, and wonder at the chaos out of which is surging darkly a new Africa. They will drill their armies and mint their coin and take their railway-tickets with amused comments upon all that was and was not sixty years since. We may believe we know, but we will not attempt to predict, what that may be.

We must now come to a more intimate circle, and attempt to record something of the changes that have happened in this particular home of our own during the Queen's reign. It is too delicate a matter to enter at any length into the questions of the Church, so important, but so intricate and unfit for the touch of a lay hand. What we call the Low Church was then uppermost in England: what we call the High Church is dominant now. The differences belong

to a historical region in which we have no standing-ground and which has many notable exponents. In Ireland the Protestant Episcopal Church has perished altogether, so far as its connection with the State is concerned. In Scotland the national Presbyterian Establishment has been rent in two. But the Church everywhere being more venerable than the State, is subject to revolutions of its own, which do not work as in the outside world, but roll on in successive waves, altering the exterior but never the inner allegiance, which remains intact through all convulsions. Costumes and ceremonies, organisations and rituals, wax and wane, but Faith and Piety stand fast, we hope and believe, for ever. Any discussion, however, of ecclesiastical matters would be quite inappropriate in our hands.

But we hope that true religion has not suffered either in one kingdom or in another; and there can be no doubt that the amount of energy and devotion to Christian work has by all practical tests increased. The Churches have more to do, and do more, than perhaps they ever have done. We believe we are justified in saying there is scarcely a slum anywhere, certainly not in London, where there is not a trained and eager band, lay and clerical, knowing everybody and everything, and fighting for all they know, for all they are worth, according to the happy slang of the moment, for the help of the wretched. If charity covereth a multitude of sins, let us rejoice to think that the peccadilloes of the ecclesiastical classes, which they have no doubt like other people, are hidden under a glistening mantle of goodwill to men.

As for Education, it may be said that there was none in the be

lege of forgetting it as soon as learned, of which we cannot deprive him-a privilege of which many take advantage; but except in this way the mandate of the State cannot be resisted, and every child must learn something.

ginning of the reign. Except in Scotland, where we believe the old system of parish schools stood the test as well as its scanty means permitted till it was swallowed up in a larger scheme, everything was of the most haphazard description. It was not till the forties (we think) that there was any system of school inspection or organised attempt to keep so important a branch of imperial business under any supervision or control; but the whole Victorian age since then has been marked by one continuous effort after improvement and efficiency in this department. Whether the steps taken have been uniformly wise, and the result arrived at all that could be desired, is a very different matter; but-which is all that mortal exertions are able to compass-the endeavour has never been dropped, and has come at last to a level never reached before, a most strenuous attempt to teach everybody and beat ignorance, the legitimate Ignorance for which, in England at least, most people have a sneaking kindness, off from our shores. No prejudice against education, so far as we know, has ever existed in Scotland, perhaps because the advantages of it have been so forcibly impressed on the mind of that poorer country from an early period; but even in this age of enlightenment there are many in England who hanker after the old times in which children picked up a great deal of knowledge by their five (or was it seven?) senses, and letters were little known. Now, however, the child, who could contentedly grow up without a notion of his alphabet in the early Victorian days, would have to fight as for his life against all the powers of the law if he would avoid a certain amount of instruction now. He has in his This revolution has gone secure possession the glorious privi- throughout the land into every

We have throughout declined the aid of statistics in a simple review of the Queen's reign, which pretends to no scientific accuracy. The things which have passed under our own eyes are all that we have attempted to comment upon-and in nothing more than the facilities of education are these changes to be found. Little dames' schools, humble classes in which the teacher knew little more than the pupils, every kind of chance agency without supervision or guarantee; a few National Schools, so called; some of the British and Foreign or other Societies of a similar character; a vast number of private adventures, without test or standard,-in these haphazard ways were English children of the poorer classes inoculated, for it was scarcely more, with a little vague instruction at the beginning of the reign. Now it is a problem how any child can escape from the wide-reaching system, or any father or mother, except by the most elaborate precautions and an unremitting fight, withdraw him from the necessity of learning, or seeming to learn. We suppose that if a Duke should make up his mind to bring up his son in ignorance of the arts of reading and writing he might succeed in his purpose, for the privacy of a ducal household is hard to break; but it would be difficult for any one of less importance to achieve that feat, except by an amount of clever scheming much out of proportion to the effect to be attained.

corner it is one that has turned many things upside down, and changed the very lines of being to whole classes of men. No such change accomplishes everything that is looked for from it; and we doubt whether the general level of intelligence has been as much elevated as it ought to have been: but we hope it is true that it has reduced the number of criminals, though that is a matter of statistics of which we cannot help feeling a deep distrust. One thing is certain that new readers have called forth a mass of literature so-called, which cannot be in any way considered an advantage either to the language or to the public. Books by millions, which have no right to be called books, and depreciate instead of elevating the intellectual taste of the multitude, have come into being. We must, as the French say, accept along with all the virtues les défauts des ses qualités. And this is certainly a great drawback to the universal reading and writing which is now characteristic of our time. But, at the same time, the opening of these gates of knowledge to all is in itself an enormous thing. To read alone is of itself to receive a new birthright, to enter a new world. Even the 'Family Herald' (we believe a most respectable publication, though too fond of the aristocracy, like most of its kind) must make an opening in the spheres, when bad weather, or bad trade, or sickness leave the toilers of humble life in languor and idleness: and there will always be some who will rise to better things. It is said that foolish boys are taught by much of this cheap literature to make a hero of a burglar and emulate him in his adventures. But we put little faith in these reports: for it is certain that the tendency of all

the books and stories for the million is moral in the highest degree, and nowhere is the villain painted so black as in a penny publication-the villain whom Sadler's Wells, and indeed Drury Lane, hiss instinctively from the first moment of his appearance : which it may be presumed is accepted by those important members of the theatrical fraternity as the highest applause.

We have already said something of the extraordinary advance of surgical Science in the Victorian age. Not Medicine: we believe that the art of curing disease is almost as empirical as ever. Its methods change from one ten years to another, so that the panaceas of yesterday are considered quite untrustworthy, if not dangerous, to-day. And we confess that there is something loathsome in the newest medicaments of all, the decoctions made from diseased animals, which are supposed to be about to revolutionise the Science. Concerning such cures we hesitate and doubt in the face of the most confident asseverations. The vaccine lymph is different. It is no hell's broth of corruption and disease. But, fortunately, it is not our business to give any opinion in such recondite matters. Surgery, however, instead of the beneficent but bloody agent it used to be, the dealer of dreadful strokes, and wounds worse than a battle, has now become, of all Sciences in the world, the kindest, the truest ministrant to the suffering. It is said that it was a sudden perception of "the gay motes that people the sunbeams which suggested to the mind of Lord Lister-or was it a dreaming predecessor?-the treatment which is called antiseptic, and means the rigorous shutting out of every possible or impossible germ from the

[ocr errors]

broken skin or open wound in which it might lodge and breed harm. If it were so, that sudden gleam of the sun was certainly a ray direct from heaven, and more to be remembered still than the singing kettle which made so great a suggestion to the brain of Watt. The sunshine had done nothing but point out this for hundreds of ages, how the air teemed with every kind of invisible life, and how expedient it was to watch lest that dust of organisation might have particles in it of harm. But till the eye comes that can see, what matter how Nature opens her secrets!

Earlier than that great discovery, and more wonderful still, was that other of Sir James Simpson, by which pain was charmed away altogether, and it was found that the most dreadful operations might be accomplished in the human body while the owner of that body lay as in a pleasant dream. Most amazing and most blessed of all the discoveries! As his nephew and successor has recently told us, in a very touching commemorative address: "Sir William Fergusson was well within the mark when he said, 'It was at least fortunate for anesthesia that Simpson took it up.' Ere humanity could reap the benefit of the discovery, a hard battle had to be fought against ignorance, apathy, and prejudice, and James Simpson was the protagonist in the scene. He did not cease his efforts until he had seen the importance of anesthesia fairly recognised, and such an impetus given to surgical progress as it had never before received, and such as has only been rivalled since when Lister praised be the Queen who has raised him to the peerage!-inaugurated the Antiseptic Era." Where can we find honour enough to bestow

on those who, pondering, brooding, investigating, experimenting, brought at last those angelic arts to light? A peerage! Folly ! the recompense of men who cut other men to pieces, not of those who, with a patience almost divine, a preoccupation that swept away every other thought, laboured and combined and were silent until the great work of Charity came softly into being, touching with soothing hands every quivering nerve, making even the sharp steel blade a benediction, keeping every adverse breath at arm's length. This has been done before our eyes. It is another glory, perhaps the highest, of the reign of Victoria, the victor's age, triumphant over so many demons, economist of so many sufferings, the mother age more tender of human pain than ever age has been before it, the era of our Queen.

To tell all the additions which have been made to our material greatness during this wonderful reign, the extension of our trade, the improvement of our manufactures, the vicissitudes in everything, would again require the figures which we have avoided, and such calculations as we have no desire to enter upon. The reader will find them at every hand, and may know in half an hour what is the increase in our shipping, and in our commercial transactions of all kinds, our exports and our imports, our army and our navy. There is one diminution, however, which everybody must mourn, even among those who regard the cause of it as a good thing. It is hard to allow that there is a decrease in anything that is good in this benignant reign. But it is so. The fields of golden grain that once were our pride, clothe

no longer in the luxuriance of old the slopes and hollows. We have plenty of bread, and no arbitrary want of the kind occasioned by absence of supply; but our abundance is in very small degree from the English farmer's furrows. Must there not be something wrong in that State where it is waste and loss to grow corn, and the tillers of the fields cannot live by the labour which gives bread to other men? This seems almost one of the maxims which are mathematical, with which reason cannot interfere. Whatever can be said or done, it cannot be right that we should grow less corn year after year. In the choice of evils, a transgression of those theories which have been received as economic laws would be better than such a practical misfortune. But this is one of the questions into which it is not our business

to enter.

Does the reader remember the little picture we attempted to give him of an early Victorian room, belonging say to a member of the professional classes, not rich but comfortable enough, with the two candles on the table, the one weekly newspaper, the anxious look-out for franks, the occasional journey in a stuffy coach or slow canal boat? We should like to tell him a little more about the interior of the house, through which, he will remember, persons passing from one room to another carried a candle, and little children not trusted with such aids flew breathless with beating hearts, every run from the parlour to the nursery being haunted with horror, through the dark passages. When the Queen came to the throne most of the rooms were furnished with black haircloth covering their chairs and sofas, blocks of mahogany, sideboards,

catafalques, against the walls. Moreen curtains, stiff as so many boards, hung straight over the windows. Social critics nowadays are apt to talk of Rep as the great invention of the Philistines; but if they clearly knew what they meant they would not use that word. Rep is not a lovely manufacture, yet it is capable of a fold here and there. What they would describe is the older and more awful fabric of Moreen. Who invented that extinct material we know not, any more than who invented black haircloth; but in the forties they were both in full possession of the domestic hearth. We believe the atrocious invention of "anti-macassars" (still surviving under the more human title of chair-backs) arose from a despairing attempt to soften the horror of the black haircloth sofa, which pricked the cheek of any one who ventured to repose upon it, and the so-called easy-chairs which peopled with blackness the unhappy room. Anti-macassars in their native loveliness as they appeared in the first years of the Queen-for they were, poor things, a sort of clumsy avant-coureurs, attempts at something of unskilful decoration-may still be seen in seaside lodgings, and farmhouse parlours, and other belated places, horrible webs of crochet, white, starched, and glistening, or, worse still, in coloured wool, dingy and terrible, collecting and retaining the dust of years. Young ladies executed with pride these awful works in the early days of Victoria. The catafalque in the dining-room which was called a sideboard was not the solid thing it seemed. It looked massive enough to stand a siege, but it was really all veneer and French polish, thin slips of mahogany covering a fabric made of common

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »