Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

a long series of halcyon days. Indeed, the unexampled number and success of the various efforts to
redress injury and reform abuses, which had signalised the new reign, might almost justify those

sanguine spirits, who now wrote and spoke as though wars and oppression were well on their way to the

limbo of ancient barbarisms, and who looked to unfettered commerce as the peace-making civiliser,

under whose influence the golden age - in more senses than one might revisit the earth.

We have already referred to certain of the new transforming forces whose action tended to heighten such
hopes; there are two reforms as yet unnamed by us, distinguishing these early years, which are

particularly significant; though one at least was stoutly opposed by a special class of reformers. We refer

to the legislation dealing with mines and factories and those employed therein, with which is inseparably

connected the venerable name of the late Lord Shaftesbury; and to the abolition of duelling in the army,

secured by the untiring efforts of Prince Albert, who had enlisted on his side the immense influence of

the Duke of Wellington.

That peculiar modern survival of the ancient trial by combat, the duel, was still blocking the way of
English civilisation when Her Majesty assumed the sceptre. A palpable anachronism, it yet seemed

impossible to make men act on their knowledge of its antiquated and barbarous character; legislation was

fruitless of good against a practice consecrated by false sentiment and false ideas of honour; but when

dislodged from its chief stronghold, the army, it became quickly discredited everywhere, with the happy

result noted by a contemporary historian, that now "a duel in England would seem as absurd and

barbarous as an ordeal by touch or a witch-burning." Militarism, that mischievous counterfeit of true

soldierly spirit, could not thrive where the duel was discountenanced; and the friends of peace might

rejoice with reason.

But those peaceful agitators, the sagacious, energetic Cobden and his allies, resented rather sharply the
interference of the Lord Ashley of that day with the "natural laws" of the labour market - laws to whose

operation some of the party attributed the cruelly excessive hours of work in factories, and the

indiscriminate employment of all kinds of labour, even that of the merest infants. Undeterred by these

objections, convinced that no law which sanctioned and promoted cruelty did so with true authority, Lord

Ashley persisted in the struggle on which he had entered 1833; in 1842 he scored his first great success

in the passing of an Act that put an end to the employment of women and children in mines and

collieries; in 1844 the Government carried their Factories Act, which lessened and limited the hours of

children's factory labour, and made other provisions for their benefit. It was not all that he had striven

for, but it was much; he accepted the compromise, but did not slacken in his efforts still further to

improve the condition of the children. His career of steady benevolence far outstretched this early period

of battle and endurance; but already his example and achievement were fruitful of good, and his

fellow-labourers were numerous. Nothing succeeds like success: people had sneered at the mania for

futile legislation that possessed the "humanity-monger" who so embarrassed party leaders with his

crusade on behalf of mere mercy and justice; they now approved the practical philanthropist who had

taken away a great reproach from his nation, and glorified the age in which they lived because of its

special humaneness, while they exulted not less in the brightening prospects of the country. Sedition

overcome, law and order triumphant, the throne standing firm, prosperity returning - all ministered to

pride and hope.

In 1850 there had been some painful incidents; the death by an unhappy accident of Sir Robert Peel, and
the turbulent excitement of what are known as the "No Popery" disturbances, being the most notable: and

of these again incomparably the most important was the untimely loss to the country of the great and

 

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