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Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge


 

 

VICTORIA—QUEEN OF ENGLAND

"Far away beyond her myriad coming changes earth will be

Something other than the wildest modem guess of you or me."

—TENNYSON.

GREECE had fought for and won her independence, and the Bavarian boy-king Otho, had reigned for four years, when an event of great importance took place in England.

After a short reign, King William IV. died in 1837, leaving his niece, the Princess Victoria, heir to the throne. The Princess was but eighteen. She had been carefully trained by her widowed mother for the great position she would one day fill. She was taught to be "self-reliant, brave, and systematical." She learnt prudence and economy, as though she were born to be poor. The story [17] of her accession is well known, but it must be told yet again. It was early in the morning hours of June 20, when the old king died at Windsor, and messengers were soon hurrying off to Kensington Palace in London to carry the tidings to the young princess. They reached the palace about five o'clock in the morning. All was still within. "They knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time, before they could arouse the porter at the gate. They were again kept waiting in the courtyard, then turned into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed forgotten by everybody. They rang the bell and desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform her Royal Highness, that they requested an audience on business of importance. After another delay, and another ringing to inquire the cause, the attendant was summoned, who stated that the princess was in such a sweet sleep, that she could not venture to disturb her."

"But we are come on business of state to the queen, and even her sleep must give way to that," they said.

And a few moments later, the new queen entered the room in a "loose white nightgown and shawl, her nightcap thrown off and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified."

So the Princess Victoria became Queen of England, and a new era opened for her country.

[18] The opening of the new reign found some of the greatest discoveries and inventions, which make for civilisation, forcing their way into daily use. Time had dispelled the vague fears of travelling by trains at a speed of over five miles an hour. Stephenson had run the first passenger train in the north of England in 1825. It had reached the alarming speed of twelve miles an hour! Not only was it the first passenger train in England; it was the first in the world. Stephenson was the pioneer. He lightly over-rode all objections.

"Suppose now," said a member of Parliament to him one day—"Suppose now one of your engines, to be going at a speed of ten miles an hour along the railroad, and that a cow were to stray upon the line and get in the way of the engine, would not that be very awkward?"

"Yes," answered the great engineer, with a twinkle in his eye, "very awkward—for the coo."

The year after the queen's accession, railways were opened all over the country, and it was noted as a triumph of human energy and skill, over time and space, that an engine had travelled at the speed of twenty-seven miles an hour. Since the year 1819, when the first historic steamer, the Savannah, had made its way across the Atlantic, from New York to Liverpool in four weeks, more and more sailing ships had been fitted with steam-engines. The year after the queen's accession, [19] the famous Great Western crossed the ocean from Bristol to New York in fifteen days. Regular service was now established with the New World, and Liverpool rose year by year in importance, till she became one of the greatest ports, not only in England, but in Europe.

Yet another means of bridging over time and space, was now established in England, to spread later over the whole world. Up to this time, letter writing had been the luxury of the rich, the cost of postage being too much for poor people to afford. This story is always told concerning the origin of the penny post in England. Coleridge, the English poet, was one day walking through the Lake district in the north, when he saw the postman deliver a letter to a poor woman at her cottage door. The woman turned it over and examined it, and then returned it, saying she could not afford to pay the postage, which was one shilling. Hearing that the letter was from her brother, Coleridge insisted on paying the postage, in spite of evident unwillingness on the part of the woman. As soon as the postman had ridden off, she showed Coleridge how his money had been wasted. The sheet inside the envelope was blank. They had agreed together, that as long as all went well with him, he should send a blank sheet once a quarter, and thus she had tidings without the expense of postage.

Coleridge told this story to an official in the [20] Post Office, named Rowland Hill. It struck him at once that something must be wrong in a system, which drove a brother and sister to cheat, in order to hear of one another. He at once worked out a scheme of reform. London had had a penny post for years. Could this be extended to the country? Rowland Hill was laughed at. "Of all the wild and extravagant schemes I have ever heard of, this is the wildest and most extravagant," cried the Postmaster-General, while others denounced the idea as "nonsense."

Rowland Hill fought on, and at last made things possible by the introduction of a cheap stamp, since adopted throughout the civilised world. To him also thanks are due, for the introduction of the book-post and money orders, none of which were possible, till after the queen's accession.

Another and yet faster means of communication was now burst upon the astonished world. This was the electric telegraph, first opened for use in 1842. The word telegraph explains itself (tele, far off, and grapho, I write). It was the result of long years of patient toil. But by a curious coincidence, an American and an Englishman in the same year discovered, how the electric current could be brought into practical use for "sounding alarms in distant places."

Thus the very year of the queen's accession, a line of telegraph was constructed on a railway in the north of England, for the use of railway signals; [21] and a little later, it was taught to print the messages it carried, as it does to-day.

Thus science and speed played their great part in the history of England and in the history of the world. Men and countries were no longer cut off from one another. Knowledge grew from more to more; commerce increased by leaps and bounds; colonies grew nearer to the mother country, for the long sea-passage was robbed of half its terrors.

"Not in vain the distance beacons.

Forward, forward let us range,

Let the great world spin for ever

down the ringing grooves of change."


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