Classic History Books

Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

which swelled into more than murmurs for the hero of Waterloo bending in homage to his Sovereign. A
touch of sweet humanity was added to the imposing scene within the Abbey through what might have

been a painful accident. Lord Rolle, a peer between seventy and eighty years of age, stumbling and

falling as he climbed the steps of the throne, the Queen impulsively moved as if to aid him; and when the

old man, undismayed, persisted in carrying out his act of homage, she asked quickly, "May I not get up

and meet him?" and descended one or two steps to save him the ascent. The ready natural kindliness of

the royal action awoke ecstatic applause, which could hardly have been heartier had the applauders

known how true a type that act supplied of Her Majesty's future conduct. She has never feared to peril

her dignity by descending a step or two from her throne, when "sweet mercy, nobility's true badge," has

seemed to require such a descent. And her queenly dignity has never been thereby lessened. "She never

ceases to be a Queen," says Greville a propos of this scene, "and is always the most charming,

cheerful, obliging, unaffected Queen in the world."

That "the people" were more considered in the arrangements for this coronation than they had been on
any previous occasion of the sort was a circumstance quite in harmony with certain other signs of the

times. "The night is darkest before the dawn," and amid all the gloom which enshrouded the land there

could be discerned the stir and movement that herald the coming of the day. Men's minds were turning

more and more to the healing of the world's wounds. Already one great humane enterprise had been

carried through in the emancipation of the slaves in British Colonies; already the vast work of prison

reform had been well begun, through the saintly Elizabeth Fry, whose life of faithful service ended ere

the Queen had reigned eight years. The very year of Her Majesty's accession was signalised by two

noteworthy endeavours to put away wrong. We will turn first to that which seems the least

immediately philanthropic, although the injustice which it remedied was trivial in appearance only, since

in its everyday triviality it weighed most heavily on the most numerous class - that of the humble and the


How would the Englishman of to-day endure the former exactions of the Post Office? The family letters
of sixty years ago, written on the largest sheets purchasable, crossed and crammed to the point of

illegibility, filled with the news of many and many a week, still witness of the time when "a letter from

London to Brighton cost eightpence, to Aberdeen one and threepence-halfpenny, to Belfast one and

fourpence"; when, "if the letter were written on more than one sheet, it came under the operation of a

higher scale of charges," and when the privilege of franking letters, enjoyed and very largely exercised

by members of Parliament and members of the Government, had the peculiar effect of throwing the cost

of the mail service exactly on that part of the community which was least able to bear it. The result of the

injustice was as demoralising as might have been expected. The poorer people who desired to have

tidings of distant friend or relative were driven by the prohibitory rates of postage into all sorts of

curious, not quite honest devices, to gratify their natural desire without being too heavily taxed for it. A

brother and sister, for instance, unable to afford themselves the costly luxury of regular correspondence,

would obtain assurance of each other's well-being by transmission through the post at stated intervals of

blank papers duly sealed and addressed: the arrival of the postman with a missive of this kind announced

to the recipient that all was well with the sender, so the unpaid "letter" was cheerfully left on the

messenger's hands. Such an incident, coming under the notice of Mr. Rowland Hill, impressed him with

a sense of hardship and wrong in the system that bore these fruits; and he set himself with strenuous

patience to remedy the wrong and the hardship. His scheme of reform was worked out and laid before the

public early in 1837; in the third year of Her Majesty's reign it was first adopted in its entirety, with what

immense profit to the Government we may partly see when we contrast the seventy-six or seventy-seven


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