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mentioned here. Two forces, above all others, were driving England forward on her course:
1. The advance of Democracy, with the spread of popular education and the great increase in the number of readers, which naturally accompanied it.
2. The advance of Science, with all those changes in the belief and in the daily life of the people which it brought about.
With these two motive-forces of the time, we may associate a third great feature of the reign of a different character:
3. The growth in the extent and importance of the British Empire, or, as it is often called, “The Expansion of England.”
These three important factors in Victorian England were not altogether new things; they began to affect English life during the latter half of the preceding century. Nor were they separate or independent; all three worked together and combined to push the nation on new paths. For the sake of clearness, however, we shall consider them separately.
1. The Advance of Democracy. -- During the Victorian era the people gained more and more power until before its close they took an important part in governing the nation. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, England, although a monarchy in name, was really governed by neither the King nor the common people, but by the large landowners, or landed gentry, as they were called, --- the men of the upper classes. The franchise, or the right to vote, was confined to comparatively few, and even the few among the poorer classes who could vote, were generally tenants of some large landowner, and were expected to vote as he should direct.
The members of the House of Commons were consequently not the free choice of the people, and they represented a limited class, and not the voters as a whole. As a natural result of this, the landed gentry, the privileged class, held most of the government offices, and the interests of the people were often disregarded by Parliament. This state of affairs was completely changed by the passage of three Reform Bills, the first (already mentioned) in 1832, the second in 1867, and the third, in 1884. By these three acts a larger and larger number were given the right to vote, until now, while it has a king, there is probably as much freedom in England as in any country on earth.
The influences of this tremendous change, which we may think of as a peaceable and legal revolution, were felt in many directions. The rise of the people in power and importance has helped gradually to lessen the distance between one class and another, to better the conditions of the laborer, especially the workers in mines and factories, and to give increased opportunities for popular education. The number of readers, which had been growing since the days of Addison and Defoe, was now rapidly and wonderfully increased. Education, like political power, was no longer largely confined to a single class. A great many cheap books were published; many newspapers were established throughout the country; penny magazines and cheap encyclopedias were started to meet the popular needs. The introduction of the railroad and the telegraph, which brought the country close to the town and broke up the provincial stagnation of the remote districts, contributed to the same result. There were some, perhaps there were many, who felt the importance of popular education. As early as 1828 Lord Brougham, a famous statesman,
had declared "The schoolmaster is abroad, and I trust to him armed with his primer against the soldier in his military array."
2. The Advance of Science. — While political power was thus quietly passing from the favored few into the hands of the people, scientific inventions were revolutionizing the everyday life of England, and scientific theories were changing men's old ideas about the world. This change in the ordinary life of a people so fond of old ways as the English is one of the most remarkable facts in their history. We all know the general nature of this change, but we are so accustomed to modern machinery, to the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, and the countless other inventions of modern times, that we find it hard to imagine how people lived without them, or to notice how recent they are. In the early part of the nineteenth century the streets of London were dimly lit by oil lamps, a method instituted during the reign of Charles II. Then London had no omnibuses, no cabs, and of course no steam cars or street railways. Hackney coaches could be had, but people still often went from place to place by way of the Thames, as they did in Shakespeare's day, and “watermen still stood at the different 'stairs' (or wharves) which led past the narrow streets to the river.” Longer journeys were still made by coach, and ten or twelve miles an hour was considered a reckless and an almost incredible speed. So late as 1830, although new methods of transportation were coming into use, the glory had not yet departed from the old coach-roads; the great roadside inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling faces of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose ostlers; the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedge-cutter
or the rick-thatcher might still know the exact hour by the unfailing yet otherwise meteoric apparition of the pea-green Tally-ho or the yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony chaises, had not yet ceased to remark that times were finely changed since they used to see the pack-horses and hear the tinkling of their bells on this very highway.”
In these days before the railroad and the telegraph, while village or country life was often narrow, prejudiced, and monotonous, it was free from outside distractions. The restricted life of the village in this bygone age, when men dozed on in the old ways, hating change, is thus described by Tennyson in his poem of Aylmer's Field:
“A land of hops and poppy-mingled corn,
Little about it stirring save a brook!
Science and democracy, new inventions, new industries, and new thought had changed all this before the reign of Queen Victoria was over. After some years of experimenting, the steam-engine began to take the place of the coach; in 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad went into operation, and six or seven years later England entered upon a great era of railroad building. The first electric telegraph in England was put in operation in 1837, the year of Victoria's accession, and steam communication with the United States was begun in the following year. The effect of such changes upon England has been thus summed up by
one of the great writers of the Victorian age: “Under the benignant influence of peace and liberty, science has flourished, and has been applied to practical purposes on a scale never before known. The consequence is that a change to which the history of the old world furnishes no parallel has taken place in our country. Could the England of 1685 be, by some magical process, set before our eyes, we should not know one landscape in a hundred or one building in ten thousand. The country gentleman would not recognize his own fields. The inhabitant of the town would not recognize his own street. Everything has been changed but the great features of nature, and a few massive and durable works of human art.”
Science and Belief. -- Besides changing men's way of living by its many inventions, science, by its investigations of the world of nature, was changing the old ideas about the physical universe. As the number of thoughtful readers was much greater than it had ever been before, these new scientific theories entered into or affected the popular thought and imagination even more quickly and powerfully than the announcement of the Copernican theory had done in the sixteenth century. Geology showed that the earth was much older than man had believed, and that the life of our race, instead of extending over a period of some six thousand years, stretched back through the past for countless ages. The thought of the insignificance of our earth, in the midst of the lonely vastness of space, profoundly affected the imagination, and found voice in the poetry of the time. Above all, the theory of evolution, which held that life as it now exists on the earth had been slowly evolved or developed out of lower or simpler forms, roused a storm of controversy, and