Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

one that could not have occurred, if she had had beside her Prince Albert "to talk to and employ in
explaining matters," while she refused the suggestion that her impulsive resistance had been advised by

any one about her. "It was entirely my own foolishness," [Footnote] she is said to have added - words

breathing that perfect simplicity of candour which has always been one of her most strongly marked

characteristics.

[Footnote: "Greville Memoirs," Third Part, vol. i.]

Though the matter caused a great sensation at the time, and gave rise to some dismal prophesyings, it was
of no permanent importance, and is chiefly noted here because it throws a strong light on Her Majesty's

need of such an ever-present aid as she had now secured in the husband wise beyond his years, who well

understood his constitutional position, and was resolute to keep within it, avoiding entanglement with

any party, and fulfilling with equal impartiality and ability the duties of private secretary to his

Sovereign-wife.

The Melbourne Ministry had had to contend with difficulties sufficiently serious, and of these the
grimmest and greatest remained still unsettled. At the outset of the reign a rebellion in Canada had

required strong repression; and we had taken the first step on a bad road by entering into those disputes

as to our right to force the opium traffic on China, which soon involved us in a disastrously successful

war with that country. On the other hand, our Indian Government had begun an un-called-for interference

with the affairs of Afghanistan, which, successful at first, resulted in a series of humiliating reverses to

our arms, culminating in one of the most terrible disasters that have ever befallen a British force - the

wholesale massacre of General Elphinstone's defeated and retreating army on its passage through the

terrible mountain gorge known as the Pass of Koord Cabul. It was on January 13th, 1842, that the single

survivor of this massacre appeared, a half-fainting man, drooping over the neck of his wearied pony,

before the fort of Jellalabad, which General Sale still held for the English. He only was "escaped alone"

to tell the hideous tale. The ill-advised and ill-managed enterprise which thus terminated had extended

over more than three years, had cost us many noble lives, in particular that of the much-lamented

Alexander Burnes, had condemned many English women and children to a long and cruel captivity

among the savage foe, and had absolutely failed as to the object for which it was undertaken - the

instalment of Shah Soojah, a mere British tool, as ruler of Afghanistan, in place of the chief desired by

the Afghan people, Dost Mahomed. When the disasters to our arms had been retrieved, as retrieved they

were with exemplary promptness, and when the surviving prisoners were redeemed from their hard

captivity, it was deemed sound policy for us to attempt no longer to "force a sovereign on a reluctant

people," and to remain content with that limit which "nature appears to have assigned" to our Indian

empire on its north-western border. Later adventures in the same field have not resulted so happily as to

prove that these views were incorrect. Our prestige was seriously damaged in Hindostan by this first

Afghan war, and was only partially re-established in the campaign against the Sikhs several years later,

despite the dramatic grandeur of that "piece of Indian history" which resulted in our annexation of the

Punjaub in 1846 - a solid advantage balanced by the unpleasant fact that English soldiers had been

proved not invincible by natives.

It will thus appear that there was not too much that was glorious or encouraging in our external affairs in
these early years; but the internal condition of the country was never less reassuring. The general

discontent of the English lower orders was taking shape as Chartism - a movement which could not have

arisen but for the fierce suspicion with which the working classes had learnt to regard those who seemed

their superiors in wealth, in rank, or in political power, and which the higher orders retaliated in dislike

 

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