Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

The Greatest Lady in the land The history of the sixty years has made it evident that they which have passed since the Prinneither dull the faculties nor chill cess Victoria ascended the throne the heart, and that life may burn of these realms is one as full of with as warm an ardour in feeling, questions, controversies, changes, in interest, in sympathy, on those almost revolutions, as any age frost-bound summits as in the

The frame of Europe softest of the valleys below. Nay, has been shaken once and again might we not say more? the valleys to its foundations, great countries care for themselves, for their cul- have changed their constitutions, tivation, their vine and their fig- their boundaries, almost their tree, and the prosperity of their character, even their names, in flocks and herds. But on the the strain and stress of movemountain - tops there is no har- ment; not to speak of the changes vest to be gathered : all further made by science, by knowledge, achievement is impossible, the by colonial development, by the point is reached at which human growth of new worlds, and the endeavour stands still. Feeling, dismemberment of the old. When Interest, Sympathy: these are not Sir Walter Scott wrote the words things that affect a man for him- 'Tis Sixty years since at the head self. We say feeling for, inter- of his first great romance, it was est in, sympathy with—the wel- no doubt his opinion that his fare of others is suggested in every country could not in the nature word. I do not know how other of things see any other such people may feel, but it seems to complete alteration in manners me that the sight of an old Queen, and customs as that which he to whom all the world would agree recorded. A land one portion of in according every ease, every com- which was occupied by the primfort, that are within the reach of itive tribal rule, and where whole man, yet upon whom at the same communities of men obeyed the time all the world calls clamorous will of a petty chieftain, even when for a look, for a word, a personal in opposition to all the laws of the attention-setting forth in her country, was indeed a wonder to triumph through the dingy streets the sober and law-abiding nation of the Borough, that the last of which had gradually broken the her people may not miss the great clans to pieces, and set up its trispectacle, the pageant of the end- bunals, its peaceful magistrates, ing century, is such a thing as and steadfast order within the farbrings the water to one's eyes. thest rocks of its dominion. We Were it Beauty and Youth and have made no such inherent and Hope which set out on that pro- fundamental change. Yet I wongress, how much less, by dint of der whether Sir Walter, if he could being so much more, would it not communicate his opinion, would be ! But the great Monarch who not marvel over the state of goes forth in weariness and pain- affairs now, as he did over the fulness, with many an ache of changes which had taken place memory and many a pang of loss, then, feeling, along with some with her white hair and care-lined sober satisfaction, no small amount face, in profound humility of great- of regret? He would not have ness to visit the poorest and the loved a world in which all distincmeanest, is such a spectacle as tions tend to grow less and less, never was seen before.

ever was.

where the Scot differs but little

from the Englishman, and much sciousness of the little traveller, picturesque circumstance has been full of the sensation of movement, swept ruthlessly away. He would the half-dreamy half-exciting mixhave been deafened by the clam- ture of change and of monotony our, hurried off his feet by the which make up a child's idea of a speed. Many of our expedients journey: and it was dark again for smoothing life, which also vul- with scattered wind-blown lights garise it, would have been odious about the quay when he arrived. to him; and what such an observer How well he remembered all his would think of all our glory of life the transition from the earlier railways and telegraphs, who can part of the voyage, which must say? He saw the clans out, not have been accomplished in a bad without approval : would he see boat, cold, without means of getthe old parish schools out, which ting warm, muddy with passengers, were the making of Scotland in dark and dismal, to the better conmodern times, with equal satisfac- veyance at the end. Does any one tion? Probably he would think remember what it was to have cold the difference greater in our, than feet at six years old ? The sensain his, sixty years.

tion of discomfort becomes a state, It is curious and whimsical that, a period in life, the Ice

, age, if you in looking back over this long like, never ending, rolling on for stretch of life, it is an incident of slow hours which might as well the minutest kind which comes to have been centuries. He feels the mind of the writer, very small, them now, though 'tis sixty years very unimportant, yet not unin- since. But at Falkirk (I think) structive in respect to the differ- the party changed into another ences which have come over the boat, which was lively with green world during these sixty years. and red paint, and in which a This rude little frontispiece to the warm stove was alight, throwing survey represents the first journey in comparison a genial atmosphere of a little pilgrim who since then around. The Ice age was over, has tramped many a weary mile the sudden paradise of the fire over hill and dale. The Queen lighted up a new period. Warmth was at that time about ascending stole into the little blue toes, curlthe throne, and the little travellering into life again, and growing must have been six years old, on pink in front of that genial glow. the edge of conscious recollection, To warm his soul as well as his not very well aware what had body there were also those lines happened to him before that first of paint, -none of your drab tints, conscious act in his career. He but primitive glories of blazing was going from Edinburgh to Glas- red, and green scarcely less warm, gow, a journey which I believe is which the young hero could trace now made in about an hour. The with his finger in a blessedness journey was by canal-boat, and the beyond speech. There was also a lamps were still lit along the long table covered with newspapers. line of Princes Street, a gold threadDo not suppose that there were as he said, in the dark of the win- picture papers in those days: a try morning, when he was carried Penny Magazine with a print of along to the embarkation. I do a steam - engine was the highest not know how many hours were effort of the periodical press. But occupied by the journey, but it the journey all the same ended in was a long, long day to the con- triumph and happiness, all the little world of passengers admiring the passengers and their goods and applauding his proficiency in disembarked. Then there would letters—for our young friend could appear at the top of the cabin read!

stairs a white-capped head, which This is the record, how well was the signal for our maiden to remembered, of a day's travel, board the steamboat in her turn, 'tis sixty years since. There was, coming back triumphant with a of course, in those days also a small brown - paper parcel, with coach between Edinburgh and which, all smiles and waving wings Glasgow. I know not why the of happy childish speed, she hurried canal was chosen instead,-prob- home. Who could imagine in ably as being less constrained for 1897 what it was she received so the child; perhaps it was cheaper; joyfully and had waited for so at all events it was no unusual long? The brown - paper parcel mode of travel. And thus re- contained a letter from an absent signedly, cold and patient, we all son to the mother, and this young moved about the country, not messenger was no better than a dreaming of anything better, much smuggler carrying a contraband consoled when the circumstances article which ought to have paid were more favourable and the boat some two shillings for conveyance painted brightly in red and green. from one country to another by her

A kindred scene occurs to me, Majesty's Post-office. The humble a little companion picture, which transaction had been accomplished illustrates another feature in the by a private bargain between the days that are no more. A kind poor lady, whose son was absent, observer walking about the quays and the stewardess of the boat, —was it of the Broomielaw, was who had pitied her tears when it of the Liverpool landing places? she saw him go. I presume that I forget which-saw on several the shillings of this poor lady were occasions a little girl older than few, and the letters were precious. our hero of the canal - boat, à The post would have charged bright - faced maiden of ten or double or treble for the long outtwelve, seated patiently on a bench pourings of family news and affecagainst the wall, sometimes for tion which were so unrestrained hours together. Having seen her in the snug bosom of the brownon two or three occasions, and per- paper parcel. The stewardess had ceived that this was no idle gazer, a little present from time to time but a little woman with a purpose, in acknowledgment of her kindhe took the trouble to watch and The child, too young to find out what that purpose was. take any harm, drew in the fresh Her station was close to the spot at air from the sea, and many a which the steamboat arrived which gleam of shining horizons, which made periodical journeys between were a possession to her for ever. Glasgow and Liverpool. The little She was a young contrabandist, girl sat waiting often for some but she was not aware of it, for time: a spark of pleasure lighted nobody thought it wrong in those up in her eye when the steamer days to cheat the Post. came, with much churning of water For the wholo system of franks and flapping of paddles (for screw- was also of course invented for the steamers were not as yet), to the sole purpose of cheating the Post. quay, but she kept still until the People who might perhaps conbustle of arrival was over, and sider themselves above the minis

ness,

trations of a stewardess and the bandy articles arose like a flight help of a brown - paper parcel of birds in a moment when cheap (though there was nobody who postage came in; but sixty years despised the advantage of "a since if there was an enclosure private hand”) moved heaven and the charge was doubled. From earth to obtain franks. The this arose the large paper which theory of these strange and au- we still call Post, as a survival of thorised encroachments upon the the period when that square sheet revenue was no doubt that the

was your only letter paper, carepublic officials, peers and mem- fully folded so as to obtain the bers of Parliament, to whom the largest possible amount of space, privilege was granted, had every flap to the very edge of the much correspondence on public sheet being written over, if not business, that it was only just to crossed. What a curious fundarelieve them of the cost of it. mental change of habit is implied The result really was that half in such a small revolution as this. the correspondence of the country Other ingenious modes of comwas carried on by this means. munication were also current to The name of one of those privi- cheat the exacting revenue. Newsleged persons scrawled on the out- papers were sometimes sent in the side of a sheet was dear above all place of letters, your safe arrival things, specially to the female at the end of a journey being bosom. People delayed the most often intimated by this dumb intimate communications from messenger; which sometimes also week to week until they could was made to speak by means of obtain a frank; they made all pencil lines under various words. sorts of shifts to use the precious But this last expedient was consignature twice over, advising sidered, I think, with less favour, their correspondents how to refold as touching the edge of the unthe paper that it might be used lawful. As for the others, the again. They apologised for the much-used franks, the brown-paper presumption of writing by the parcels, nobody's conscience was in post; it was vanity to imagine the least touched by such devices. that a letter from you could be The thought occurs as we write considered worth paying postage that probably this extreme refor. A wealthy man I have heard luctance to pay postage indicates of had his Indian mails sent under even a profounder change in our cover to a post-office official, by habits than anything connected whom it was forwarded by frank, with the Post alone. Is it the though he had sons in India, and fact that in these sixty years we this occasioned a delay of two or have come to be less careful what three days. The charge was heavy we spend, less concerned about indeed, but it is almost inconceiv- our shillings, less narrow in our able now that one should subject views of legitimate expenditure? one's correspondence to such delays Were it possible that the postal for the sake of the postage: yet system could be changed again, that was not the general idea then. and a letter cost a shilling instead What a school for patience, and of a penny, should we all go back how natural it must have seemed to those old devices, the private to wait, and how long the silences hand, the brown paper parcel, the must have been! There were no much-used frank, if that were proenvelopes in those daye. These curable? We think not, at least

As a

а

to anything like the same degree. twilight lingered, with deep darkThe shilling would be a great ness in every corner. Dans l'ingrievance, and the hottest of agi- timité, when there was no company, tations would be got up against a pair of candles, flanked by a it; but though we might blas- snuffer-tray, was considered suffipheme, we should pay.

cient for ordinary family purposes. matter of fact a private family Lamps came slowly, and were contributes, we have little doubt, troublesome, and when the inquite as much to the Post-office ventor reached the sober excellence revenue now as it would have done of the Moderator there was had it paid all its letters in the long pause, as if the climax of days when ls. 11d. was the postage good lighting had been obtained. from England to Scotland. A The twinkle of wax.c

x-candles, many penny stamp is nothing, and few of them surrounding a room in people consider how many of them pretty clusters, was the ideal of are used daily. There is not a perfect domestic illumination (and little maid-of-all-work nowadays a very good one): but this was only who does not nobly spend her for gala nights, except in those pence on stamps. Does this mean ineffable houses of the great which that we are richer than we were we spoke of with bated breath, generally ?—not the rich, who in but did not attempt to emulate. such matters do not count, but And there was one particular of the comparatively and the really this deprivation that left its impoor? I think it must mean at press upon the mind and also upon least that those who have nothing the literature of the generations. to speak of are better off, and not The children of the present day kept so severely destitute of the must, for example, find it difficult little superfluities of life : and that to understand the terror of the there is a less exacting standard children of an elder age for the of frugality, an easier atmosphere dark passages along which so many in respect to money, and the little heroes and heroines in the small expenditures of every day. old story books made a breathless But this is a digression, and does dart with their hearts in their not come in at present to the mouths, not knowing what frightquestion of the changes that have ful danger might lurk behind this happened in these sixty years.

or that black corner. We remem

ber well the excuses for another The age of Victoria, in many moment's delay in the drawingways so full of light, was not room, which by comparison seemed within doors and in its domestic so bright, or the nursery, in which centres a bright age when it be- perhaps one candle on the mantelgan. Gas had, indeed, come into piece was an illumination, in comthe world to light the streets, and parison with the awful blackness more or less the shops, in great of the passages between. There thoroughfares; but in our homes was one dread corner where we the lights were few. The primi- seemed to hear something breathtive cruse of oil, with its rough ing in the gloom, a door of a dark wick and smoky flame, at once closet, from which we were cerfeeble and wavering, gave a very tain one time or other something dim aid to the fire-light on a cot- would dart forth upon us, fatal, tage hearth, and in the homes of horrible. How many blood-curdmiddle-class respectability a mild ling thoughts, how many awful

« VorigeDoorgaan »