Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

good fortune and of bad fortune the iron network has continued to spread itself, until all the land lies
embraced in its ramifications; and it is spreading still, like some strange organism the one condition of

whose life is reproduction, knitting the greatest centres of commerce with the loneliest and remotest

villages that were wont to lie far out of the travelled ways of men, and bringing Ultima Thule

into touch with London.

Meanwhile the steam service by sea has advanced almost with that by land. In 1838 three steamships
crossed the Atlantic between this country and New York, the Great Western, sailing from Bristol,

and Sirius, from Cork, distinguished themselves by the short passages they made, - of fifteen

days in the first case, and seventeen days in the second, - and by their using steam power alone to

effect the transit, an experiment that had not been risked before. It was now proved feasible, and in a year

or two there was set on foot that regular steam communication between the New World and the Old,

which ever since has continued to draw them into always closer connection, as the steamers, like

swift-darting shuttles, weave their multiplying magic lines across the liquid plain between.

The telegraph wires that run beside road and rail, doing the office of nerves in transmitting intelligence
with thrilling quickness from the extremities to the head and from the head to the extremities of our

State, are now so familiar an object, and their operations, such mere matters of every day, that we do not

often recall how utterly unfamiliar they were sixty years ago, when Wheatstone and Cooke on this side

the Atlantic, and Morse on the other, were devising their methods for giving signals and sounding alarms

in distant places by means of electric currents transmitted through metallic circuits. Submarine

telegraphy lay undreamed of in the future, land telegraphy was but just gaining hearing as a practicable

improvement, when the crown was set on Her Majesty's head amid all that pomp and ceremony at

Westminster. A modern English imagination is quite unequal to the task of realising the manifold

hindrances that beset human intercourse at that day, when a journey by coach between places as

important and as little remote from each other as Leeds and Newcastle occupied sixteen mortal hours,

with changes of horses and stoppages for meals on the road, and when letters, unless forwarded by an

"express" messenger at heavy cost, tarried longer on the way than even did passengers; while some

prudent dwellers in the country deemed it well to set their affairs in order and make their wills before

embarking on the untried perils of a journey up to town. These days are well within the memory of many

yet living; but if the newer generations that have arisen during the present reign would understand what it

is to be hampered in their movements and their correspondence as were their fathers, they must seek the

remoter and more savage quarters of Europe, the less travelled portions of America or of half-explored

Australia; they must plunge into Asian or African wilds, untouched by civilisation, where as yet there

runs not the iron horse, worker of greater marvels than the wizard steeds of fairy fable, that could,

transport a single favoured rider over wide distances in little time. The subjugated, serviceable

nature-power Steam, with its fellow-servant the tamed and tutored Lightning, has wonderfully contracted

distance during these fifty years, making the earth, once so vast to human imagination, appear as a globe

shrunken to a tenth of its ancient size, and bringing nations divided by half the surface of that globe

almost within sound of each other's speech.

That there is damage as well as profit in all these increased facilities of intercourse must be apparent,
since there is evil as well as good in the human world, and increased freedom of communication implies

freer communication of the evil as of the good. But we may well hope that the cause of true upward

progress will be most served by the vast inevitable changes which, as they draw all peoples nearer

together, must deepen and strengthen the sense of human brotherhood, and, as they bring the deeds of all

within the knowledge of all, must consume by an intolerable blaze of light the once secret iniquities and

 

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