Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

millions of paid letters delivered in the United Kingdom during the last year of the heavy postage
with the number exceeding a thousand millions, and still increasing - delivered yearly during the last

decade; while the population has not doubled. That the Queen's own letters carried postage under the new

regime was a fact almost us highly appreciated as Her Majesty's voluntary offer at a later date to bear her

due share of the income tax.

It is well to notice how later Postmasters General, successors of Rowland Hill in that important office,
have striven further to benefit their countrymen. In particular, Henry Fawcett's earnest efforts to

encourage and aid habits of thrift are worthy of remembrance.

Again, it is during the first year of Her Majesty's reign that we find Father Mathew, the Irish Capuchin
friar, initiating his vast crusade against intemperance, and by the charm of his persuasive eloquence and

unselfish enthusiasm inducing thousands upon thousands to forswear the drink-poison that was

destroying them. In two years he succeeded in enrolling two million five hundred thousand persons on

the side of sobriety. The permanence of the good Father's immediate work was impaired by the

superstitions which his poor followers associated with it, much against his desire. Not only were the

medals which he gave as badges to his vowed abstainers regarded as infallible talismans from the hand of

a saint, but the giver was credited with miraculous powers such as only a Divine Being could exercise,

and which he disclaimed in vain - extravagances too likely to discredit his enterprise with more soberly

judging persons than the imaginative Celts who were his earliest converts. But, notwithstanding every

drawback, his action was most important, and deserves grateful memory. We may see in it the inception

of that great movement whose indirect influence in reforming social habits and restraining excess had at

least equalled its direct power for good on its pledged adherents. Though it is still unhappily true that

drunkenness slays its tens of thousands among us, and largely helps to people our workhouses, our

madhouses, and our gaols, yet the fiend walks not now, as it used to do, in unfettered freedom. It is no

longer a fashionable vice, excused and half approved as the natural expression of joviality and

good-fellowship; peers and commoners of every degree no longer join daily in the "heavy-headed revel"

whose deep-dyed stain seems to have soaked through every page of our last-century annals. And it would

appear as though the vice were not only held from increasing, but were actually on the decrease. The

statistics of the last decade show that the consumption of alcohol is diminishing, and that of true

food-stuffs proportionally rising.

There were other enterprises now set on foot, by no means directly philanthropic in their aim, which
contemplated utility more than virtue or justice - enterprises whose vast effects are yet unexhausted, and

which have so modified the conditions of human existence as to make the new reign virtually a new

epoch. As to the real benefit of these immense changes, opinion is somewhat divided; but the majority

would doubtless vote in their favour. The first railway in England, that between Liverpool and

Manchester, had been opened in 1830, the day of its opening being made darkly memorable by the

accident fatal to Mr. Huskisson, as though the new era must be inaugurated by a sacrifice. Three years

later there was but this one railway in England, and one, seven miles long, in Scotland. But in 1837 the

Liverpool and Birmingham line was opened; in 1838 the London and Birmingham and the Liverpool and

Preston lines, and an Act was passed for transmitting the mails by rail; in 1839 there was the opening of

the London and Croydon line. The ball was set fairly rolling, and the supersession of ancient modes of

communication was a question of time merely. The advance of the new system was much accelerated at

the outset by the fact that railway enterprise became the favourite field for speculation, men being

attracted by the novelty and tempted by exaggerated prospects of profit; and the mania was followed, like

other manias, with results largely disastrous to the speculators and to commerce. But through years of

 

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