Rather more than one mortal lifetime, as we average life in these later days, has elapsed since that June morning of 1837, when Victoria of England, then a fair young princess of eighteen, was roused from her tranquil sleep in the old palace at Kensington, and bidden to rise and meet the Primate, and his dignified associates the Lord Chamberlain and the royal physician, who "were come on business of state to the Queen" - words of startling import, for they meant that, while the royal maiden lay sleeping, the aged King, whose heiress she was, had passed into the deeper sleep of death. It is already an often-told story how promptly, on receiving that summons, the young Queen rose and came to meet her first homagers, standing before them in hastily assumed wrappings, her hair hanging loosely, her feet in slippers, but in all her hearing such royally firm composure as deeply impressed those heralds of her greatness, who noticed at the same moment that her eyes were full of tears. This little scene is not only charming and touching, it is very significant, suggesting a combination of such qualities as are not always found united: sovereign good sense and readiness, blending with quick, artless feeling that sought no disguise - such feeling as again betrayed itself when on her ensuing proclamation the new Sovereign had to meet her people face to face, and stood before them at her palace window, composed but sad, the tears running unchecked down her fair pale face.

That rare spectacle of simple human emotion, at a time when a selfish or thoughtless spirit would have leaped in exultation, touched the heart of England deeply, and was rightly held of happy omen. The nation's feeling is aptly expressed in the glowing verse of Mrs. Browning, praying Heaven's blessing on the "weeping Queen," and prophesying for her the love, happiness, and honour which have been hers in no stinted measure. "Thou shalt be well beloved," said the poetess; there are very few sovereigns of whom it could be so truly said that they have been well beloved, for not many have so well deserved it. The faith of the singer has been amply justified, as time has made manifest the rarer qualities joyfully divined in those early days in the royal child, the single darling hope of the nation.

Once before in the recent annals of our land had expectations and desires equally ardent centred themselves on one young head. Much of the loyal devotion which had been alienated from the immediate family of George III. had transferred itself to his grandchild, the Princess Charlotte, sole offspring of the unhappy marriage between George, Prince of Wales, and Caroline of Brunswick. The people had watched with vivid interest the young romance of Princess Charlotte's happy marriage, and had bitterly lamented her too early death - an event which had overshadowed all English hearts with forebodings of disaster. Since that dark day a little of the old attachment of England to its sovereigns had revived for the frank-mannered sailor and "patriot king," William IV; but the hopes crushed by the death of the much-regretted Charlotte had renewed themselves with even better warrant for Victoria. She was the child of no ill-omened, miserable marriage, but of a fitting union; her parents had been sundered only by death, not by wretched domestic dissensions. People heard that the mortal malady which deprived her of a father had been brought about by the Duke of Kent's simple delight in his baby princess, which kept him playing with the child when he should have been changing his wet outdoor garb; and they found something touching and tender in the tragic little circumstance. And everything that could be noticed of the manner in which the bereaved duchess was training up her precious charge spoke well for the mother's wisdom and affection, and for the future of the daughter.

It was indeed a happy day for England when Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, was wedded to Victoria of Saxe-Coburg, the widowed Princess of Leiningen - happy, not only because of the admirable skill with which that lady conducted her illustrious child's education, and because of the pure, upright principles, the frank, noble character, which she transmitted to that child, but because the family connection established through that marriage was to be yet further serviceable to the interests of our realm. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was second son of the Duchess of Kent's eldest brother, and thus first cousin of the Princess Victoria - "the Mayflower," as, in fond allusion to the month of her birth, her mother's kinsfolk loved to call her: and it has been made plain that dreams of a possible union between the two young cousins, very nearly of an age, were early cherished by the elders who loved and admired both.

The Princess's life, however, was sedulously guarded from all disturbing influences. She grew up in healthy simplicity and seclusion; she was not apprised of her nearness to the throne till she was twelve years old; she had been little at Court, little in sight, but had been made familiar with her own land and its history, having received the higher education so essential to her great position; while simple truth and rigid honesty were the very atmosphere of her existence. From such a training much might be hoped; but even those who knew most and hoped most were not quite prepared for the strong individual character and power of self-determination that revealed themselves in the girlish being so suddenly transferred "from the nursery to the throne." It was quickly noticed that the part of Queen and mistress seemed native to her, and that she filled it with not more grace than propriety. "She always strikes me as possessed of singular penetration, firmness, and independence," wrote Dr. Norman Macleod in 1860; acute observers in 1837 took note of the same traits, rarer far in youth than in full maturity, and closely connected with the "reasoning, searching" quality of her mind, "anxious to get at the root and reality of things, and abhorring all shams, whether in word or deed." [Footnote]

[Footnote: "Life of Norman Macleod, D.D." vol. ii.]

It was well for England that its young Sovereign could exemplify virile strength as well as womanly sweetness; for it was indeed a cloudy and dark day when she was called to her post of lonely grandeur and hard responsibility; and to fill that post rightly would have overtasked and overwhelmed a feebler nature. It is true that the peace of Europe, won at Waterloo, was still unbroken. But already, within our borders and without them, there were the signs of coming storm. The condition of Ireland was chronically bad; the condition of England was full of danger; on the Continent a new period of earth-shaking revolution announced itself not doubtfully.

It would be hardly possible to exaggerate the wretched state of the sister isle, where fires of recent hate were still smouldering, and where the poor inhabitants, guilty and guiltless, were daily living on the verge of famine, over which they were soon to be driven. Their ill condition much aggravated by the intemperate habits to which despairing men so easily fall a prey. The expenditure of Ireland on proof spirits alone had in the year 1829 attained the sum of L6,000,000.

In England many agricultural labourers were earning starvation wages, were living on bad and scanty food, and were housed so wretchedly that they might envy the hounds their dry and clean kennels. A dark symptom of their hungry discontent had shown itself in the strange crime of rick-burning, which went on under cloud of night season after season, despite the utmost precautions which the luckless farmers could adopt. The perpetrators were not dimly guessed to be half-famished creatures, taking a mad revenge for their wretchedness by destroying the tantalising stores of grain, too costly for their consumption; the price of wheat in the early years of Her Majesty's reign and for some time previously being very high, and reaching at one moment (1847) the extraordinary figure of a hundred and two shillings per quarter.

There was threatening distress, too, in some parts of the manufacturing districts; in others a tolerably high level of wages indicated prosperity. But even in the more favoured districts there was needless suffering. The hours of work, unrestricted by law, were cruelly long; nor did there exist any restriction as to the employment of operatives of very tender years. "The cry of the children" was rising up to heaven, not from the factory only, but from the underground darkness of the mine, where a system of pitiless infant slavery prevailed, side by side with the employment of women as beasts of burden, "in an atmosphere of filth and profligacy." The condition of too many toilers was rendered more hopeless by the thriftless follies born of ignorance. The educational provision made by the piety of former ages was no longer adequate to the needs of the ever-growing nation; and all the voluntary efforts made by clergy and laity, by Churchmen and Dissenters, did not fill up the deficiency - a fact which had only just begun to meet with State recognition. It was in 1834 that Government first obtained from Parliament the grant of a small sum in aid of education. Under a defective system of poor-relief, recently reformed, an immense mass of idle pauperism had come into being; it still remained to be seen if a new Poor Law could do away with the mischief created by the old one.

Looking at the earliest years of Her Majesty's rule, the first impulse is to exclaim:

"And all this trouble did not pass, but grew."

It seemed as if poverty became ever more direful, and dissatisfaction more importunate. A succession of unfavourable seasons and failing crops produced extraordinary distress; and the distress in its turn was fruitful first of deepened discontent, and then of political disturbances. The working classes had looked for immediate relief from their burdens when the Reform Bill should be carried, and had striven hard to insure its success: it had been carried triumphantly in 1832, but no perceptible improvement in their lot had yet resulted; and a resentful feeling of disappointment and of being victims of deception now added bitterness to their blind sense of misery and injury, and greatly exasperated the political agitation of the ten stormy years that followed.

No position could well be more trying than that of the inexperienced girl who, in the first bloom of youth, was called to rule the land in this wild transitional period. Her royal courage and gracious tact, her transparent truthfulness, her high sense of duty, and her precocious discretion served her well; but these young excellences could not have produced their full effect had she not found in her first Prime Minister a faithful friend and servant, whose loyal and chivalrous devotion at once conciliated her regard, and who only used the influence thus won to impress on his Sovereign's mind "sound maxims of constitutional government, and truths of every description which it behoved her to learn." The records of the time show plainly that Lord Melbourne, the eccentric head of William IV's last Whig Administration, was not generally credited with either the will or the ability to play so lofty a part. His affectation of a lazy, trifling, indifferent manner, his often-quoted remonstrance to impetuous would-be reformers, "Can't you let it alone?" had earned for him some angry disapproval, and caused him to be regarded as the embodiment of the detested laissez-faire principle. But under his mask of nonchalance he hid some noble qualities, which at this juncture served Queen and country well.

Considered as a frivolous, selfish courtier by too many of the suffering poor and of their friends, he was in truth "acting in all things an affectionate, conscientious, and patriotic part" towards his Sovereign, "endeavouring to make her happy as a woman and popular as a Queen," [Footnote] telling her uncourtly truths with a blunt honesty that did not displease her, and watching over her with a paternal tenderness which she repaid with frank, noble confidence. He was faithful in a great and difficult trust; let his memory have due honour.

[Footnote: C. C. F. Greville: "A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria."]

Under Melbourne's pilotage the first months of the new reign went by with some serenity, though the political horizon remained threatening enough, and the temper of the nation appeared sullen. "The people of England seem inclined to hurrah no more," wrote Greville of one of the Queen's earliest public appearances, when "not a hat was raised nor a voice heard" among the coldly curious crowd of spectators. But the splendid show of her coronation a half-year later awakened great enthusiasm - enthusiasm most natural and inevitable. It was youth and grace and goodness, all the freshness and the infinite promise of spring, that wore the crimson and the ermine and the gold, that sat enthroned amid the ancient glories of the Abbey to receive the homage of all that was venerable and all that was great in a mighty kingdom, and that bowed in meek devotion to receive the solemn consecrating blessing of the Primate, according to the holy custom followed in England for a thousand years, with little or no variation since the time when Dunstan framed the Order of Coronation, closely following the model of the Communion Service. Some other features special to this coronation heightened the national delight in it. Its arrangements evidently had for their chief aim to interest and to gratify the people. Instead of the banquet in Westminster Hall, which could have been seen only by the privileged and the wealthy, a grand procession through London was arranged, including all the foreign ambassadors, and proceeding from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey by a route two or three miles in length, so that the largest possible number of spectators might enjoy the magnificent pageant. And the overflowing multitudes whose dense masses lined the whole long way, and in whose tumultuous cheering pealing bells and sounding trumpets and thundering cannon were almost unheard as the young Queen passed through the shouting ranks, formed themselves the most impressive spectacle to the half-hostile foreign witnesses, who owned that the sight of these rejoicing thousands of freemen was grand indeed, and impossible save in that England which, then as now, was not greatly loved by its rivals. An element which appealed powerfully to the national pride and the national generosity was supplied by the presence of the Duke of Wellington and of Marshal Soult, his old antagonist, who appeared as French ambassador. Soult, as he advanced with the air of a veteran warrior, was followed by murmurs of admiring applause, which swelled into more than murmurs for the hero of Waterloo bending in homage to his Sovereign. A touch of sweet humanity was added to the imposing scene within the Abbey through what might have been a painful accident. Lord Rolle, a peer between seventy and eighty years of age, stumbling and falling as he climbed the steps of the throne, the Queen impulsively moved as if to aid him; and when the old man, undismayed, persisted in carrying out his act of homage, she asked quickly, "May I not get up and meet him?" and descended one or two steps to save him the ascent. The ready natural kindliness of the royal action awoke ecstatic applause, which could hardly have been heartier had the applauders known how true a type that act supplied of Her Majesty's future conduct. She has never feared to peril her dignity by descending a step or two from her throne, when "sweet mercy, nobility's true badge," has seemed to require such a descent. And her queenly dignity has never been thereby lessened. "She never ceases to be a Queen," says Greville a propos of this scene, "and is always the most charming, cheerful, obliging, unaffected Queen in the world."

That "the people" were more considered in the arrangements for this coronation than they had been on any previous occasion of the sort was a circumstance quite in harmony with certain other signs of the times. "The night is darkest before the dawn," and amid all the gloom which enshrouded the land there could be discerned the stir and movement that herald the coming of the day. Men's minds were turning more and more to the healing of the world's wounds. Already one great humane enterprise had been carried through in the emancipation of the slaves in British Colonies; already the vast work of prison reform had been well begun, through the saintly Elizabeth Fry, whose life of faithful service ended ere the Queen had reigned eight years. The very year of Her Majesty's accession was signalised by two noteworthy endeavours to put away wrong. We will turn first to that which seems the least immediately philanthropic, although the injustice which it remedied was trivial in appearance only, since in its everyday triviality it weighed most heavily on the most numerous class - that of the humble and the poor.

How would the Englishman of to-day endure the former exactions of the Post Office? The family letters of sixty years ago, written on the largest sheets purchasable, crossed and crammed to the point of illegibility, filled with the news of many and many a week, still witness of the time when "a letter from London to Brighton cost eightpence, to Aberdeen one and threepence-halfpenny, to Belfast one and fourpence"; when, "if the letter were written on more than one sheet, it came under the operation of a higher scale of charges," and when the privilege of franking letters, enjoyed and very largely exercised by members of Parliament and members of the Government, had the peculiar effect of throwing the cost of the mail service exactly on that part of the community which was least able to bear it. The result of the injustice was as demoralising as might have been expected. The poorer people who desired to have tidings of distant friend or relative were driven by the prohibitory rates of postage into all sorts of curious, not quite honest devices, to gratify their natural desire without being too heavily taxed for it. A brother and sister, for instance, unable to afford themselves the costly luxury of regular correspondence, would obtain assurance of each other's well-being by transmission through the post at stated intervals of blank papers duly sealed and addressed: the arrival of the postman with a missive of this kind announced to the recipient that all was well with the sender, so the unpaid "letter" was cheerfully left on the messenger's hands. Such an incident, coming under the notice of Mr. Rowland Hill, impressed him with a sense of hardship and wrong in the system that bore these fruits; and he set himself with strenuous patience to remedy the wrong and the hardship. His scheme of reform was worked out and laid before the public early in 1837; in the third year of Her Majesty's reign it was first adopted in its entirety, with what immense profit to the Government we may partly see when we contrast the seventy-six or seventy-seven millions ofpaid letters delivered in the United Kingdom during the last year of the heavy postage with the number exceeding a thousand millions, and still increasing - delivered yearly during the last decade; while the population has not doubled. That the Queen's own letters carried postage under the new regime was a fact almost us highly appreciated as Her Majesty's voluntary offer at a later date to bear her due share of the income tax.

It is well to notice how later Postmasters General, successors of Rowland Hill in that important office, have striven further to benefit their countrymen. In particular, Henry Fawcett's earnest efforts to encourage and aid habits of thrift are worthy of remembrance.

Again, it is during the first year of Her Majesty's reign that we find Father Mathew, the Irish Capuchin friar, initiating his vast crusade against intemperance, and by the charm of his persuasive eloquence and unselfish enthusiasm inducing thousands upon thousands to forswear the drink-poison that was destroying them. In two years he succeeded in enrolling two million five hundred thousand persons on the side of sobriety. The permanence of the good Father's immediate work was impaired by the superstitions which his poor followers associated with it, much against his desire. Not only were the medals which he gave as badges to his vowed abstainers regarded as infallible talismans from the hand of a saint, but the giver was credited with miraculous powers such as only a Divine Being could exercise, and which he disclaimed in vain - extravagances too likely to discredit his enterprise with more soberly judging persons than the imaginative Celts who were his earliest converts. But, notwithstanding every drawback, his action was most important, and deserves grateful memory. We may see in it the inception of that great movement whose indirect influence in reforming social habits and restraining excess had at least equalled its direct power for good on its pledged adherents. Though it is still unhappily true that drunkenness slays its tens of thousands among us, and largely helps to people our workhouses, our madhouses, and our gaols, yet the fiend walks not now, as it used to do, in unfettered freedom. It is no longer a fashionable vice, excused and half approved as the natural expression of joviality and good-fellowship; peers and commoners of every degree no longer join daily in the "heavy-headed revel" whose deep-dyed stain seems to have soaked through every page of our last-century annals. And it would appear as though the vice were not only held from increasing, but were actually on the decrease. The statistics of the last decade show that the consumption of alcohol is diminishing, and that of true food-stuffs proportionally rising.

There were other enterprises now set on foot, by no means directly philanthropic in their aim, which contemplated utility more than virtue or justice - enterprises whose vast effects are yet unexhausted, and which have so modified the conditions of human existence as to make the new reign virtually a new epoch. As to the real benefit of these immense changes, opinion is somewhat divided; but the majority would doubtless vote in their favour. The first railway in England, that between Liverpool and Manchester, had been opened in 1830, the day of its opening being made darkly memorable by the accident fatal to Mr. Huskisson, as though the new era must be inaugurated by a sacrifice. Three years later there was but this one railway in England, and one, seven miles long, in Scotland. But in 1837 the Liverpool and Birmingham line was opened; in 1838 the London and Birmingham and the Liverpool and Preston lines, and an Act was passed for transmitting the mails by rail; in 1839 there was the opening of the London and Croydon line. The ball was set fairly rolling, and the supersession of ancient modes of communication was a question of time merely. The advance of the new system was much accelerated at the outset by the fact that railway enterprise became the favourite field for speculation, men being attracted by the novelty and tempted by exaggerated prospects of profit; and the mania was followed, like other manias, with results largely disastrous to the speculators and to commerce. But through years of good fortune and of bad fortune the iron network has continued to spread itself, until all the land lies embraced in its ramifications; and it is spreading still, like some strange organism the one condition of whose life is reproduction, knitting the greatest centres of commerce with the loneliest and remotest villages that were wont to lie far out of the travelled ways of men, and bringing Ultima Thule into touch with London.

Meanwhile the steam service by sea has advanced almost with that by land. In 1838 three steamships crossed the Atlantic between this country and New York, the Great Western, sailing from Bristol, andSirius, from Cork, distinguished themselves by the short passages they made, - of fifteen days in the first case, and seventeen days in the second, - and by their using steam power alone to effect the transit, an experiment that had not been risked before. It was now proved feasible, and in a year or two there was set on foot that regular steam communication between the New World and the Old, which ever since has continued to draw them into always closer connection, as the steamers, like swift-darting shuttles, weave their multiplying magic lines across the liquid plain between.

The telegraph wires that run beside road and rail, doing the office of nerves in transmitting intelligence with thrilling quickness from the extremities to the head and from the head to the extremities of our State, are now so familiar an object, and their operations, such mere matters of every day, that we do not often recall how utterly unfamiliar they were sixty years ago, when Wheatstone and Cooke on this side the Atlantic, and Morse on the other, were devising their methods for giving signals and sounding alarms in distant places by means of electric currents transmitted through metallic circuits. Submarine telegraphy lay undreamed of in the future, land telegraphy was but just gaining hearing as a practicable improvement, when the crown was set on Her Majesty's head amid all that pomp and ceremony at Westminster. A modern English imagination is quite unequal to the task of realising the manifold hindrances that beset human intercourse at that day, when a journey by coach between places as important and as little remote from each other as Leeds and Newcastle occupied sixteen mortal hours, with changes of horses and stoppages for meals on the road, and when letters, unless forwarded by an "express" messenger at heavy cost, tarried longer on the way than even did passengers; while some prudent dwellers in the country deemed it well to set their affairs in order and make their wills before embarking on the untried perils of a journey up to town. These days are well within the memory of many yet living; but if the newer generations that have arisen during the present reign would understand what it is to be hampered in their movements and their correspondence as were their fathers, they must seek the remoter and more savage quarters of Europe, the less travelled portions of America or of half-explored Australia; they must plunge into Asian or African wilds, untouched by civilisation, where as yet there runs not the iron horse, worker of greater marvels than the wizard steeds of fairy fable, that could, transport a single favoured rider over wide distances in little time. The subjugated, serviceable nature-power Steam, with its fellow-servant the tamed and tutored Lightning, has wonderfully contracted distance during these fifty years, making the earth, once so vast to human imagination, appear as a globe shrunken to a tenth of its ancient size, and bringing nations divided by half the surface of that globe almost within sound of each other's speech.

That there is damage as well as profit in all these increased facilities of intercourse must be apparent, since there is evil as well as good in the human world, and increased freedom of communication implies freer communication of the evil as of the good. But we may well hope that the cause of true upward progress will be most served by the vast inevitable changes which, as they draw all peoples nearer together, must deepen and strengthen the sense of human brotherhood, and, as they bring the deeds of all within the knowledge of all, must consume by an intolerable blaze of light the once secret iniquities and oppressions abhorrent to the universal conscience of mankind. The public conscience in these realms at least is better informed and more sensitive than it was in the year of William IV's death and of Victoria's accession.