CHAPTER VII. CHANGES GOOD AND EVIL.
From these glimpses of the joys and troubles affecting the household that is cherished in the heart of England, we return to the more stormy records of our public doings. A sort of link between the two exists in the long and very successful tour which the Prince of Wales, some time after his restoration to health, made of the vast Indian dominions of the crown. Extensive travels and wide acquaintance with the great world to which Britain is bound by a thousand ties have entered largely into the royal scheme of education for the future King. No princes of England in former days have seen so much of other lands as the sons of Queen Victoria; and this particular journey is understood to have had an excellent political effect.
Mr. Gladstone's five years' lease of power, which had been signalised by so many important changes, came to an end in 1874, just before the time when Sir Garnet Wolseley, sent to bring the savage King of Ashantee to reason, returned successful to England, having snatched a complete victory "out of the very jaws of approaching sun and fever" on the pestilent West Coast of Africa in the early days of 1874. The last Ministry of Mr. Disraeli, who now assumed office, was marked by several noticeable events: the proclamation of the Queen as "Empress of India," in formal definite recognition of the new relation between little England and the gigantic, many-peopled realm which through strange adventure has come directly under our Sovereign's sway; the Russo-Turkish war, following on the evil doings in Turkey known as the "Bulgarian atrocities," and terminating in a peace signed at Berlin, with which the English Premier, now known as Lord Beaconsfield, had very much to do; and the acquisition by England of the 176,000 shares in the Suez Canal originally held by the Khedive of Egypt - a transaction to which France, also largely interested in the Canal, was a consenting party. To this period belong the distressful Afghan and Zulu wars, the latter unhappily memorable by the tragic fate that befell the young son of Louis Napoleon, a volunteer serving with the English army. Deep sympathy was felt for his imperial mother, widowed since 1873, and now bereaved of her only child; and by none was her sorrow more keenly realised than by the Queen, who herself had to mourn the loss of the beloved Princess Alice, the first of her children to follow her father into the silent land. The death of the Prince Louis Napoleon at the hands of savage Zulus was severely felt by the still strong Bonapartism of France; but Englishmen, remembering the early melancholy death of the heir of the first Napoleon, were struck by the fatal coincidence, while they could honestly deplore the premature extinction of so much youth, gallantry, and hope-fulness, cast away in our own ill-starred quarrel.
An agitation distinctly humanitarian and domestic had been going on during the early years of this Ministry, which resulted in the passing of the Merchant Shipping Bill, intended to remedy the many wrongs to which our merchant seamen were subject, a measure almost entirely procured by the fervent human sympathy and resoluteness of one member of Parliament, Samuel Plimsoll; and other measures belonging to this period, and designed to benefit the toilers of the land principally, were initiated by the energy of the Home Secretary, Mr. Cross. But neither the imposing foreign action of Lord Beaconsfield's Government, nor the domestic improvements wrought during its period of power, could maintain it in public favour. There was great and growing distress in the country; depression of trade, severe winters, sunless summers, all produced suffering, and suffering discontent. An appeal to the country, made in the spring of 1880, shifted the Parliamentary majority from the Conservative to the Liberal side. Lord Beaconsfield resigned, and Mr. Gladstone returned to power.
The history of the Gladstone Ministry does not come well within the scope of this work. Certain very memorable events must be touched upon; there are dark chapters of our national story, stains and blots on our great name, which force themselves upon us. But to follow the Government through its years of struggle with the ever-growing bulk of Irish difficulty, and to track it through its various enactments designed still further to improve the condition of the English people, would require a small volume to itself. England still remembers the thrill, half fury, half anguish, which ran through her at the tidings that the new Chief Secretary for Ireland, charged with a message of peace and conciliation, had been stabbed to death within twenty-four hours of his landing on that unhappy shore. She cannot forego the deep instinctive feeling - so generally manifested at the time of Lincoln's murder - that the lawless spilling of life for any cause dishonours and discredits that cause; nor have various subsequent efforts made to terrorise public opinion here been differently judged.