CHAPTER VI. THE BEGINNINGS OF SORROWS.
This false colouring at first given to the contest had mischievous results. English feeling was embittered by the great distress in our manufacturing districts, directly caused up the action of the Northern States in blockading the Southern ports, and thus cutting off our supply of raw material in the shape of cotton. On its side the North, which had calculated securely on English sympathy and respect, and was profoundly irritated by the many displays of a contrary feeling; and the exasperation on both sides more than once reached a point which made war appear almost inevitable - a war above all others to be deprecated. First came the affair of the Trent - the English mail-steamer from which two Southern envoys were carried off by an American naval commander, in contempt of the protection of the British flag. The action was technically illegal, and on the demand of the English Government its illegality was acknowledged, and the captives were restored; but the warlike and threatening tone of England on this occasion was bitterly resented at the North, and this resentment was greatly increased when it became known that various armed cruisers, in particular the notorious Alabama, designed to prey on the Northern commerce, were being built and fitted by English shipbuilders in English dockyards under the direction of the Southern foe, while the English Government could not decide if it were legally competent for Her Majesty's Ministers to interfere and detain such vessels. The tardy action at last taken just prevented the breaking out of hostilities. Out of these unfortunate transactions a certain good was to ensue at a date not far distant, when, after the restoration of peace, America and England, disputing as to the compensation due from one to the other for injuries sustained in this matter, gave to the world the great example of two nations submitting a point so grave to peaceful arbitration, instead of calling in the sword to make an end of it - an example more nearly pointing to the possible extinction of war than any other event of the world's history.
Yet another hopeful feature may be noted in connection with this time of trouble. While the Secession war lasted, "the cotton famine" had full sway in Lancashire; unwonted and unwelcome light and stillness replaced the dun clouds of smoke and the busy hum that used to tell of fruitful, well-paid industry; and the patient people, haggard and pale but sadly submissive, were kept, and just kept, from starving by the incessant charitable effort of their countrymen. Never had the attitude of the suffering working classes shown such genuine nobility; they understood that the calamity which lay heavy on them was not brought about by the careless and selfish tyranny of their worldly superiors, but came in the order of God's providence; and their conduct at this crisis proved that an immense advance had been made in kindliness between class and class, and in true intelligence and appreciation of the difficulties proper to each. It was significant of this new temper that when at last peace returned, bringing some gleam of returning prosperity, the workers, who greeted with joyful tears the first bales of cotton that arrived, fell on their knees around the hopeful things and sang hymns of thanksgiving to the Author of all good.
Such were the fruits of that new policy of care and consideration for the toilers and the lowly which had increasingly marked the new epoch, and which had been sedulously promoted by the Queen, in association with her large-thoughted and well-judging husband.
It was in the midst of the troubles which we have just attempted to recall that a new and greater calamity came upon us, affecting the royal family indeed with the sharpest distress, but hardly less felt, even at the moment, by the nation.
The year 1861 had already been darkened for Her Majesty by the death in the month of March, of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, to whose wise guardianship of the Queen's youth the nation owed so much, and who had ever commanded the faithful affection of this her youngest but greatest child, and of all her descendants. This death was the first stroke of real personal calamity to the Queen; it was destined to be followed by another bereavement, even severer in its nature, before the year had closed. The Prince Consort's health, though generally good, was not robust, and signs had not been wanting that his incessant toils were beginning to tell upon him. There had been illnesses, transitory indeed, but too significant of "overwork of brain and body." In addition to personal griefs, such as the death of the Duchess of Kent and of a beloved young Coburg prince and kinsman, the King of Portugal, which had been severely felt, there were the unhappy complications arising out of "the affair of the Trent," which the Prince's statesmanlike wisdom had helped to bring to a peaceful and honourable conclusion. That wisdom, unhappily, was no longer at the service of England when a series of negligences and ignorances on the part of England's statesmen had landed us in the Alabama difficulty.