Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

most valued counsellors - her husband and her Prime Minister. One was inseparably at her side, but one
must now leave it; and she and the Prince met their inevitable loss with the dignified outward

acquiescence that was fitting, but with sorrow not less real. The Queen would have bestowed on Peel as

distinguished an honour as she could confer - the Order of the Garter; Peel deemed it best to decline it

gratefully. "He was from the people and of the people," and wished so to remain, content if his Queen

could say, "You have been a faithful servant, and have done your duty to the country and to myself."

In hapless Ireland, torn by agitation and scourged by pestilence and famine, the general misery had
reached a point where no fiscal measures, however wise, could at once alleviate it. The potato famine

held on its dreadful way, and the darkest moment of Irish history seemed reached in the year when one

hundred and seventy thousand persons perished in that island by hunger or hunger-bred fever. The new

plague affected Great Britain also; but its suffering was completely overshadowed by the enormous bulk

of Irish woe, which the utmost lavishness of charity seemed scarcely to lessen. That there should be

turbulence and even violence accompanying all this wretchedness was no way surprising; but in most

men's minds the wretchedness held the larger place, and deservedly so, for the sedition, when ripe

enough, was dealt with sharply, though not mercilessly, in such a way that ere long all reasonable dread

of a civil war being added to the other horrors, had passed away; and the country had leisure for such

recovery as was possible to a land so desolate.

There was contemporaneous distress enough and to spare in Great Britain: failures in Lancashire alone to
the amount of L16,000,000; failures equally heavy in Birmingham, Glasgow, and other great towns;

capital was absorbed by the mad speculations in railway shares; and even Heaven's gift of an abundant

harvest, by at once lowering the price of corn, helped to depress commerce. Many banks stopped

payment, and even the Bank of England seemed imperilled, saving itself only by adopting a bold line of

policy advised by Government. At the same time, the Chartist movement was gathering the strength

which was to expend itself in the futile demonstrations of 1848.

But as if it were not enough for every department of political or commercial life to be so seriously
affected, there was now arising within the English National Church itself a singular movement, destined

to affect the religious history of the land as powerfully, if not as beneficially, as did the Evangelical

revival of the last century; and the National Kirk of Scotland, after long and stern contention on the

crucial point of civil control in things spiritual, was ready for that rending in twain from which arose the

Free Kirk; while other religious bodies were torn by the same keen spirit of strife, the same revolt against

ancient order, as that which was distracting the world of politics. The bitterness of the disruption in

Scotland is well-nigh exhausted, though the controversy enlisted at the time all the fervid power of a

Chalmers; men honour the memory of the champions, while hoping to see the once sharp differences

composed for ever. But the "Catholic Revival," initiated under the leadership of Newman, Pusey, and

Keble, has proved to be no transient disturbance: and no figure has in relation to the Church history of

the half-century the same portentous importance as that of John Henry Newman, whose powerful

magnetism, as it attracted or repelled, drew men towards Romanism or drove them towards Rationalism,

his logical art, made more impressive by the noble eloquence with which he sometimes adorned it,

seeming to leave those who came under his spell no choice between the two extremes. When he finally

decided on withdrawing himself from the Anglican and giving in his adhesion to the Roman communion,

he set an example that has not yet ceased to be imitated, to the incalculable damage of the English

Establishment. Happily the massive Nonconformity of the country was hardly touched either by his

influence or his example.

 

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