Great Britain and Her Queen

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There was threatening distress, too, in some parts of the manufacturing districts; in others a tolerably high level of wages indicated prosperity. But even in the more favoured districts there was needless suffering. The hours of work, unrestricted by law, were cruelly long; nor did there exist any restriction as to the employment of operatives of very tender years. "The cry of the children" was rising up to heaven, not from the factory only, but from the underground darkness of the mine, where a system of pitiless infant slavery prevailed, side by side with the employment of women as beasts of burden, "in an atmosphere of filth and profligacy." The condition of too many toilers was rendered more hopeless by the thriftless follies born of ignorance. The educational provision made by the piety of former ages was no longer adequate to the needs of the ever-growing nation; and all the voluntary efforts made by clergy and laity, by Churchmen and Dissenters, did not fill up the deficiency--a fact which had only just begun to meet with State recognition. It was in 1834 that Government first obtained from Parliament the grant of a small sum in aid of education. Under a defective system of poor-relief, recently reformed, an immense mass of idle pauperism had come into being; it still remained to be seen if a new Poor Law could do away with the mischief created by the old one.

Looking at the earliest years of Her Majesty's rule, the first impulse is to exclaim:

"And all this trouble did not pass, but grew."

It seemed as if poverty became ever more direful, and dissatisfaction more importunate. A succession of unfavourable seasons and failing crops produced extraordinary distress; and the distress in its turn was fruitful first of deepened discontent, and then of political disturbances. The working classes had looked for immediate relief from their burdens when the Reform Bill should be carried, and had striven hard to insure its success: it had been carried triumphantly in 1832, but no perceptible improvement in their lot had yet resulted; and a resentful feeling of disappointment and of being victims of deception now added bitterness to their blind sense of misery and injury, and greatly exasperated the political agitation of the ten stormy years that followed.

No position could well be more trying than that of the inexperienced girl who, in the first bloom of youth, was called to rule the land in this wild transitional period. Her royal courage and gracious tact, her transparent truthfulness, her high sense of duty, and her precocious discretion served her well; but these young excellences could not have produced their full effect had she not found in her first Prime Minister a faithful friend and servant, whose loyal and chivalrous devotion at once conciliated her regard, and who only used the influence thus won to impress on his Sovereign's mind "sound maxims of constitutional government, and truths of every description which it behoved her to learn." The records of the time show plainly that Lord Melbourne, the eccentric head of William IV's last Whig Administration, was not generally credited with either the will or the ability to play so lofty a part. His affectation of a lazy, trifling, indifferent manner, his often-quoted remonstrance to impetuous would-be reformers, "Can't you let it alone?" had earned for him some angry disapproval, and caused him to be regarded as the embodiment of the detested _laissez-faire_ principle. But under his mask of nonchalance he hid some noble qualities, which at this juncture served Queen and country well.

Considered as a frivolous, selfish courtier by too many of the suffering poor and of their friends, he was in truth "acting in all things an affectionate, conscientious, and patriotic part" towards his Sovereign, "endeavouring to make her happy as a woman and popular as a Queen," [Footnote] telling her uncourtly truths with a blunt honesty that did not displease her, and watching over her with a paternal tenderness which she repaid with frank, noble confidence. He was faithful in a great and difficult trust; let his memory have due honour.

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