Great Britain and Her Queen

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[Illustration: Elizabeth Fry]

That "the people" were more considered in the arrangements for this coronation than they had been on any previous occasion of the sort was a circumstance quite in harmony with certain other signs of the times. "The night is darkest before the dawn," and amid all the gloom which enshrouded the land there could be discerned the stir and movement that herald the coming of the day. Men's minds were turning more and more to the healing of the world's wounds. Already one great humane enterprise had been carried through in the emancipation of the slaves in British Colonies; already the vast work of prison reform had been well begun, through the saintly Elizabeth Fry, whose life of faithful service ended ere the Queen had reigned eight years. The very year of Her Majesty's accession was signalised by two noteworthy endeavours to put away wrong. We will turn first to that which _seems_ the least immediately philanthropic, although the injustice which it remedied was trivial in appearance only, since in its everyday triviality it weighed most heavily on the most numerous class--that of the humble and the poor.

[Illustration: Rowland Hill]

How would the Englishman of to-day endure the former exactions of the Post Office? The family letters of sixty years ago, written on the largest sheets purchasable, crossed and crammed to the point of illegibility, filled with the news of many and many a week, still witness of the time when "a letter from London to Brighton cost eightpence, to Aberdeen one and threepence-halfpenny, to Belfast one and fourpence"; when, "if the letter were written on more than one sheet, it came under the operation of a higher scale of charges," and when the privilege of franking letters, enjoyed and very largely exercised by members of Parliament and members of the Government, had the peculiar effect of throwing the cost of the mail service exactly on that part of the community which was least able to bear it. The result of the injustice was as demoralising as might have been expected. The poorer people who desired to have tidings of distant friend or relative were driven by the prohibitory rates of postage into all sorts of curious, not quite honest devices, to gratify their natural desire without being too heavily taxed for it. A brother and sister, for instance, unable to afford themselves the costly luxury of regular correspondence, would obtain assurance of each other's well-being by transmission through the post at stated intervals of blank papers duly sealed and addressed: the arrival of the postman with a missive of this kind announced to the recipient that all was well with the sender, so the unpaid "letter" was cheerfully left on the messenger's hands. Such an incident, coming under the notice of Mr. Rowland Hill, impressed him with a sense of hardship and wrong in the system that bore these fruits; and he set himself with strenuous patience to remedy the wrong and the hardship. His scheme of reform was worked out and laid before the public early in 1837; in the third year of Her Majesty's reign it was first adopted in its entirety, with what immense profit to the Government we may partly see when we contrast the seventy-six or seventy-seven millions of _paid_ letters delivered in the United Kingdom during the last year of the heavy postage with the number exceeding a thousand millions, and still increasing--delivered yearly during the last decade; while the population has not doubled. That the Queen's own letters carried postage under the new regime was a fact almost us highly appreciated as Her Majesty's voluntary offer at a later date to bear her due share of the income tax.

It is well to notice how later Postmasters General, successors of Rowland Hill in that important office, have striven further to benefit their countrymen. In particular, Henry Fawcett's earnest efforts to encourage and aid habits of thrift are worthy of remembrance.

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