CHAPTER X. PROGRESS OF THE EMPIRE FROM 1887 TO 1897.
Resuming our pen after an interval of ten years, we have thought it well, not only to carry on our story of the Sovereign and her realm to the latest attainable point, but also to give some account of the advance made and the work accomplished by the Methodist Church, which, youngest of the greater Nonconformist denominations, has acted more powerfully than any other among them on the religious and social life, not only of the United Kingdom and the Empire, but of the world. This account, very brief, but giving details little known to outsiders, will form a valuable pendant to the sketch of the general history of Victoria's England that we are now about to continue.
Many thousands who rejoiced in the Queen's Jubilee of 1887 are glad to-day that the close of the decade should find the beloved Lady of these isles, true woman and true Queen, still living and reigning.
On September 23, 1896, Queen Victoria had reigned longer than any other English monarch, and the desire was general for some immediate celebration of the event; but, by the Queen's express wish, all recognition of the fact was deferred until the sixtieth year should be fully completed, and the nation prepared to celebrate the "Diamond Jubilee" on June 22, 1897, with a fervour of loyalty that should far outshine that of the Jubilee year of 1887.
In the personal history of our Queen during those ten years we may note with reverent sympathy some events that must shadow the festival for her. The calm and kindly course of her home-life has again been broken in upon by bereavement. All seemed fair in the Jubilee year itself, and the Queen was appearing more in public than had been her wont - laying the foundations of the Imperial Institute; unveiling in Windsor Park a statue of the Prince Consort, Jubilee gift of the women of England; taking part in a magnificent naval review at Spithead. But a shadow was already visible to some; and early in 1888 sinister rumours were afloat as to the health of the Crown Prince of Germany, consort of the Queen's eldest daughter. Too soon those rumours proved true. Even when the prince rode in the splendid Jubilee procession, a commanding figure in his dazzling white uniform, the cruel malady had fastened on him that was to slay him in less than a year, proving fatal three months after the death of his aged father had called him to fill the imperial throne. The nation followed the course of this tragedy with a feverish interest never before excited by the lot of any foreign potentate, and deeply sympathised with, the distress of the Queen and of the bereaved empress.
But the year 1892 held in store a blow yet more cruelly felt. The English people were still rejoicing with the Queen over the betrothal of the Duke of Clarence, eldest son of the Prince of Wales, to his kinswoman Princess May of Teck, when the death of the bridegroom elect in January plunged court and people into mourning. That the Queen was greatly touched by the universal sympathy with her and hers was proved by the pathetic letter she wrote to the nation, and by the frank reliance on their affection which marked the second letter in which, eighteen months later, she asked them to share her joy in the wedding of the Duke of York, now heir-presumptive, to the bride-elect of his late brother. This union has been highly popular, and the Queen's evident delight in the birth of the little Prince Edward of York in June, 1894, touched the hearts of her subjects, who remembered the deep sorrow of 1892.
Once more they were called to grieve with her, when the husband of her youngest daughter Beatrice, Prince Henry of Battenberg, who for years had formed part of her immediate circle, died far from home and England, having fallen a victim to fever ere he could distinguish himself, as he had hoped, in our last expedition to Ashanti. The pathos of such a death was deeply felt when the prince's remains were brought home and laid to rest, in the presence of his widow and her royal mother, in the very church at Whippingham that he had entered an ardent bridegroom. Not all gloom, however, has been Her Majesty's domestic life in these recent years; she has taken joy in the marriages of many of her descendants; and the visits of her grandchildren - of whom one, Princess Alice of Hesse, daughter of the well-beloved Alice of England, became Czarina of Russia only the other day - are a source of keen interest to her.
But there is no selfish absorption in her own family affairs, no neglect of essential duty. The Prince of Wales and "the Princess" relieve the Queen of many irksome social functions; but she does not shun these when it is clear to her that her people wish her to undertake them. Witness her willingness to take part in the Jubilee Thanksgiving services and pageant, despite the feebleness of her advanced age.
We need not dwell long on the rather stormy Parliamentary history of the last decade, on the divisions and disappointments of the Irish Home Rule party, once so powerful, or on the various attacks aimed at the Welsh and Scottish Church establishments and at the principle of "hereditary legislation" as embodied in the House of Lords. Some useful legislation has been accomplished amid all the strife. We may instance the Act in 1888 creating the new system of County Councils, the Parish Councils Act, the Factory and Workshops Amendment Act, and the Education Act of 1891 - measures designed to protect the toiling millions from the evils of "sweating," and to assure their children of practically free education.