Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

not been rendered any fairer by the discovery of the great Diamond Fields, and the rush of all sorts and
conditions of men to profit thereby. Into the entangled history of our doings in relation to Cape Colony -

originally a Dutch settlement - and all our varied and often disastrous dealings with the Dutch-descended

Boers and the native tribes in its neighbourhood, we cannot well enter. Our missionary action has the

glory of great achievement in Southern Africa; of our political action it is best to say little.

A more encouraging scene is presented if we turn to the Fijian Isles, whose natives, once a proverb of
cannibal ferocity, have been humanised and Christianised by untiring missionary effort, and by their own

free-will have passed under British domination and are ruled by a British governor. The extraordinary

change worked in the people of these isles, characterised now, as even in their heathen days, by a certain

bold manliness, that hitherto has escaped the usual deterioration, is so great and unmistakable that critics

predisposed to unfriendliness do not try to deny it.

In consequence of the immensely increased facilities of communication that we now enjoy, our own
great food-producing dependencies and the vast corn-growing districts of other lands can pour their

stores into our market - a process much aided by the successive removal of so many restrictions on

commerce, and by the practical science which has overcome so many difficulties connected with the

transport of slain meat and other perishable commodities. England seems not unlikely to become a

wonderfully cheap country to live in, unless some new turn of events interferes with the processes which

during the last two decades have so increased the purchasing power of money that, as is confidently

stated, fifteen shillings will now buy what it needed twenty shillings to purchase twenty years ago. To

this result, as a matter of course, the enormous development of our manufacturing and other industries

has also contributed.

There is another side to the medal, and not so fair a one. The necessaries of life are cheaper; wages are
actually higher, when the greater value of money is taken into account; more care is taken as to the

housing of the poor; the workers of the nation have more leisure, and spend not a little of it in travelling,

being now by far the most numerous patrons of the railway; the altered style of the conveyances provided

for them is a sufficient testimony to their higher importance. All this is to the good; so, too, is the

diminution in losses by bankruptcy and in general pauperism, the increasing thrift shown by the records

of savings banks, the lengthening of life, the falling off in crime, which is actually - not proportionally -

rarer than ten years ago, to go no further back.

Against this we have to set the facts that the terrible malady of insanity is distinctly on the increase -
whether due to mere physical causes, to the high pressure at which modern society lives, or to the

prevalent scepticisms which leave many wretched men so little tranquillising hope or faith, who shall

say? - that all trades and professions are more or less overcrowded; and that there is a terrible amount,

not of pauperism, but of hard-struggling poverty, massed up in the crowded, wretched, but high-priced

tenements of great towns, and maintaining a forlorn life by such incessant, cruel labour as is not exacted

from convicted criminals in any English prison. London, where this kind of misery is inevitably at its

height, receives every week an accession of a thousand persons, who doubtless, in a great majority of

cases, simply help to glut the already crowded labour market and still further lower the wages of the

workers; and the other great towns in like manner grow, while the rural population remains stagnant or

lessens. Agricultural distress, which helps to keep the tide of emigration high, also accounts in part for

this singular, undesirable displacement of population; while recent testimony points to the fact that the

terribly unsanitary and inefficient housing of the rural poor does much to drive the best and most

laborious members of that class away from the villages and fields which might otherwise be the homes of

 

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