Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

measure of reform was the abolition of purchase in the army, carried in the face of a reluctant House of
Lords by means of a sudden exercise of royal prerogative under advice of the Government; the Premier

announcing "that as the system of purchase was the creation of royal regulation, he had advised the

Queen to take the decisive step of cancelling the royal warrant which made purchase legal" - a step

which, however singular, was undoubtedly legal, as was proved by abundant evidence.

A measure which may not improbably prove to have affected the fortunes of this country more
extensively than any of those already enumerated was the Education Bill introduced by Mr. Forster in

1870, and designed to secure public elementary education for even the humblest classes throughout

England and Wales. Hitherto the teaching of the destitute poor had been largely left to private charity or

piety, and in the crowded towns it had been much neglected, with the great exception of the work done in

Ragged Schools - those gallant efforts made by unpaid Christian zeal to cope with the multitudinous

ignorance and misery of our overgrown cities. It was very slowly that the national conscience was

aroused to the peril and sin of allowing the masses to grow up in heathen ignorance; but at last the

English State shook off its sluggish indifference to the instruction of its poor, and became as active as it

had been supine. Mr. Forster's Bill is the measure which indicates this turning of the tide. We do not

propose now to discuss the provisions of this Act, which were sharply canvassed at the time, and which

certainly have not worked without friction; but we may say that the stimulus then given to educational

activity, if judged by subsequent results, must be acknowledged to have been advantageous. The system

of schools under the charge of various religious bodies, which existed before the Education Act, has not

been superseded; that indeed would have been a deep misfortune, for it is more needed than ever; the

masses of the population have been, to an appreciable extent, reached and instructed; and we shall not

much err in connecting as cause and effect the wider instruction with the diminution of pauperism and

crime which the statistics of recent years reveal.

The same member who honoured himself and benefited his country by this great effort to promote the
advance of the "angel Knowledge" also introduced, in 1871, the Ballot Bill, designed to do away with all

the violence and corruption that had long disgraced Parliamentary elections in this free land, and that

showed no symptom of a tendency to reform themselves. The new system of secret voting which was

now adopted has required, it is true, to be further purified by the recent Corrupt Practices Bill and its

stringent provisions; but no one, whose memory is long enough to recall the tumultuous and discreditable

scenes attendant on elections under the old system, will be inclined to deny that much that was flagrantly

disgraceful as well as dishonest has been swept away by the reforming energy of our own day.

It is to the same period, made memorable by these internal reforms, that we have to refer the final
settlement of the long-standing controversy between Great Britain and the United States as to the

Alabama
claims. We have already referred to these claims and the peaceful though very costly
manner of their adjustment. That the award on the whole should go against us was not very grateful to

the English people; but when the natural irritation of the hour had time to subside, the substantial justice

of the decision was little disputed. While England was thus busied in strengthening her walls and making

straight her ways, her great neighbour and rival was passing through a very furnace of misery. The

colossal-seeming Empire, whose head was rather of strangely mingled Corinthian metal than of fine

gold, and whose iron feet were mixed with miry clay, was tottering to its overthrow, and fell in the wild

days of 1870 with a world-awakening crash. Again it was a dispute concerning the throne of Spain which

precipitated the fall of a French sovereign. It would seem as if interference with the affairs of its

Southern neighbour was ever to be ominous of evil to France. The first great Napoleon had had to rue

such interference; it had been disastrous to Louis Philippe; now Louis Napoleon, making the candidature

 

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