The beneficent changes we have briefly described were but just inaugurated, and their possible power for good was as yet hardly divined, when the young Queen entered into that marriage which we may well deem the happiest action of her life, and the most fruitful of good to her people, looking to the extraordinary character of the husband of her choice, and to the unobtrusive but always advantageous influence which his great and wise spirit exercised on our national life.

The marriage had been anxiously desired, and the way for it judiciously prepared, but it was in no sense forced on either of the contracting parties by their elders who so desired it. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, second son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the Queen's maternal uncle, was nearly of an age with his royal cousin; he had already, young as he was, given evidence of a rare superiority of nature; he had been excellently trained; and there is no doubt that Leopold, king of the Belgians, his uncle, and the Queen's, did most earnestly desire to see the young heiress of the British throne, for whom he had a peculiar tenderness, united to the one person whose position and whose character combined to point him out as the fit partner for her high and difficult destinies. What tact, what patience, and what power of self-suppression the Queen of England's husband would need to exercise, no one could better judge than Leopold, the widowed husband of Princess Charlotte; no one could more fully have exemplified these qualities than the prince in whom Leopold's penetration divined them.

The cousins had already met, in 1836, when their mutual attraction had been sufficiently strong; and in 1839, when Prince Albert, with his elder brother Ernest, was again visiting England, the impression already produced became ineffaceably deep. The Queen, whom her great rank compelled to take the initiative, was not very long in making up her mind when and how to act. Her favoured suitor himself, writing to a dear relative, relates how she performed the trying task, inviting him to render her intensely happy by making "the sacrifice of sharing her life with her, for she said she looked on it as a sacrifice. The joyous openness with which she told me this enchanted me, and I was quite carried away by it." This was on October 15th; nearly six weeks after, on November 23rd, she made to her assembled Privy Council the formal declaration of her intended marriage. There is something particularly touching in even the driest description of this scene; the betrothed bride wearing a simple morning dress, having on her arm a bracelet containing Prince Albert's portrait, which helped to give her courage; her voice, as she read the declaration clear, sweet, and penetrating as ever, but her hands trembling so excessively that it was surprising she could read the paper she held. It was a trying task, but not so difficult as that which had devolved on her a short time before, when, in virtue of her sovereign rank, she had first to speak the words of fate that bound her to her suitor.

Endowed with every charm of person, mind, and manner that can win and keep affection, Prince Albert was able, in marrying the Queen, who loved him and whom he loved, to secure for her a happiness rare in any rank, rarest of all on the cold heights of royalty. This was not all; he was the worthy partner of her greatness. Himself highly cultivated in every sense, he watched with keenest interest over the advance of all cultivation in the land of his adoption, and identified himself with every movement to improve its condition. His was the soul of a statesman - wide, lofty, far-seeing, patient; surveying all great things, disdaining no small things, but with tireless industry pursuing after all necessary knowledge. Add to these intellectual excellences the moral graces of ideal purity of life, chivalrous faithfulness of heart, magnanimous self-suppression, and fervent piety, and we have a slight outline of a character which, in the order of Providence, acted very strongly and with a still living force on the destinies of nineteenth-century England. The Queen had good reasons for the feeling of "confidence and comfort" that shone in the glance she turned on her bridegroom as they walked away, man and wife at last, from the altar of the Chapel Royal, on February 10th, 1840. The union she then entered into immeasurably enhanced her popularity, and strengthened her position as surely as it expanded her nature. Not many years elapsed before Sir Robert Peel could tell her that, in spite of the inroads of democracy, the monarchy had never been safer, nor had any sovereign been so beloved, because "the Queen's domestic life was so happy, and its example so good." Only the Searcher of hearts knoweth how great has been the holy power of a pure, fair, and noble example constantly shining in the high places of the land.

It was hinted by the would-be wise, in the early days of Her Majesty's married life, that it would be idle to look for the royally maternal feeling of an Elizabeth towards her people in a wedded constitutional sovereign. The judgment was a mistake. The formal limitations of our Queen's prerogative, sedulously as she has respected them, have never destroyed her sense of responsibility; wifehood and motherhood have not contracted her sympathies, but have deepened and widened them. The very sorrows of her domestic life have knit her in fellowship with other mourners. No great calamity can befall her humblest subjects, and she hear of it, but there comes the answering flash of tender pity. She is more truly the mother of her people, having walked on a level with them, and with "Love, who is of the valley," than if she had chosen to dwell alone and aloof.

For some years after her marriage the Queen's private life shows like a little isle of brightness in the midst of a stormy sea. Within and without our borders there was small prospect of settled peace at the very time of that marriage. We have said that Lord Melbourne was still Premier; but he and his Ministry had resigned office in the previous May, and had only come back to it in consequence of a curious misunderstanding known as "the Bedchamber difficulty." Sir Robert Peel, who was summoned to form a Ministry on Melbourne's defeat and resignation, had asked from Her Majesty the dismissal of two ladies of her household, the wives of prominent members of the departing Whig Government; but his request conveyed to her mind the sense that he designed to deprive her of all her actual attendants, and against this imagined proposal she set herself energetically. "She could not consent to a course which she conceived to be contrary to usage, and which was repugnant to her feelings." Peel on his part remained firm in his opinion as to the real necessity for the change which he had advocated. From the deadlock produced by mere misunderstanding there seemed at the time only one way of escaping; the defeated Whig Government returned to office. But Ministers who resumed power only because, "as gentlemen," they felt bound to do so, had little chance of retaining it. In September 1841, Lord Melbourne was superseded in the premiership by Sir Robert Peel, and then gave a final proof how single-minded was his loyal devotion by advising the new Prime Minister as to the tone and style likely to commend him to their royal mistress - a tone of clear straightforwardness. "The Queen," said Melbourne - who knew of what he was speaking, if any statesman then did - "is not conceited; she is aware there are many things she cannot understand, and likes them explained to her elementarily, not at length and in detail, but shortly and clearly." The counsel was given and was accepted with equal good feeling, such as was honourable to all concerned; and the Sovereign learned, as years went on, to repose a singular confidence in the Minister with whom her first relations had been so unpropitious, but whose real honesty, ability, and loyalty soon approved themselves to her clear perceptions, which no prejudice has long been able to obscure.

We are told that in later years Her Majesty referred to the disagreeable incident we have just related as one that could not have occurred, if she had had beside her Prince Albert "to talk to and employ in explaining matters," while she refused the suggestion that her impulsive resistance had been advised by any one about her. "It was entirely my own foolishness," [Footnote] she is said to have added - words breathing that perfect simplicity of candour which has always been one of her most strongly marked characteristics.

[Footnote: "Greville Memoirs," Third Part, vol. i.]

Though the matter caused a great sensation at the time, and gave rise to some dismal prophesyings, it was of no permanent importance, and is chiefly noted here because it throws a strong light on Her Majesty's need of such an ever-present aid as she had now secured in the husband wise beyond his years, who well understood his constitutional position, and was resolute to keep within it, avoiding entanglement with any party, and fulfilling with equal impartiality and ability the duties of private secretary to his Sovereign-wife.

The Melbourne Ministry had had to contend with difficulties sufficiently serious, and of these the grimmest and greatest remained still unsettled. At the outset of the reign a rebellion in Canada had required strong repression; and we had taken the first step on a bad road by entering into those disputes as to our right to force the opium traffic on China, which soon involved us in a disastrously successful war with that country. On the other hand, our Indian Government had begun an un-called-for interference with the affairs of Afghanistan, which, successful at first, resulted in a series of humiliating reverses to our arms, culminating in one of the most terrible disasters that have ever befallen a British force - the wholesale massacre of General Elphinstone's defeated and retreating army on its passage through the terrible mountain gorge known as the Pass of Koord Cabul. It was on January 13th, 1842, that the single survivor of this massacre appeared, a half-fainting man, drooping over the neck of his wearied pony, before the fort of Jellalabad, which General Sale still held for the English. He only was "escaped alone" to tell the hideous tale. The ill-advised and ill-managed enterprise which thus terminated had extended over more than three years, had cost us many noble lives, in particular that of the much-lamented Alexander Burnes, had condemned many English women and children to a long and cruel captivity among the savage foe, and had absolutely failed as to the object for which it was undertaken - the instalment of Shah Soojah, a mere British tool, as ruler of Afghanistan, in place of the chief desired by the Afghan people, Dost Mahomed. When the disasters to our arms had been retrieved, as retrieved they were with exemplary promptness, and when the surviving prisoners were redeemed from their hard captivity, it was deemed sound policy for us to attempt no longer to "force a sovereign on a reluctant people," and to remain content with that limit which "nature appears to have assigned" to our Indian empire on its north-western border. Later adventures in the same field have not resulted so happily as to prove that these views were incorrect. Our prestige was seriously damaged in Hindostan by this first Afghan war, and was only partially re-established in the campaign against the Sikhs several years later, despite the dramatic grandeur of that "piece of Indian history" which resulted in our annexation of the Punjaub in 1846 - a solid advantage balanced by the unpleasant fact that English soldiers had been proved not invincible by natives.

It will thus appear that there was not too much that was glorious or encouraging in our external affairs in these early years; but the internal condition of the country was never less reassuring. The general discontent of the English lower orders was taking shape as Chartism - a movement which could not have arisen but for the fierce suspicion with which the working classes had learnt to regard those who seemed their superiors in wealth, in rank, or in political power, and which the higher orders retaliated in dislike and distrust of the labouring population, whom they considered as seditious enemies of order and property. The demon of class hatred was never more alive and busy than in the decade which terminated in 1848.

"The Charter," which was the watchword of hope to so many, and the very war-note of discord to many more, comprised six points, of which some at least were sufficiently absurd, while others have virtually passed into law, quietly and naturally, in due course of time; and if the universal Age of Gold which ignorant Chartists looked for has not ensued, at least the anarchy and ruin which their opponents associated with the dreaded scheme are equally non-existent. So fast has the time moved that there is now a little difficulty in understanding the passionate hopes with which the Charter was associated on the one side, and the panic which it inspired on the other; and there is much to move wondering compassion in the profound ignorance which those hopes betrayed, and the not inferior misery amid which they were cherished. Few persons are now so credulous as to expect that annual Parliaments or stipendiary members would insure the universal reign of peace and justice; the people have already found that vote by ballot and suffrage all but universal have neither equalised wealth nor abrogated greed and iniquity; and though there be some dreamers in our midst to-day who look for wonderful transformations of society to follow on possible reforms, there is not even in these dreamy schemes the same amazing disproportion of means to be employed and end to be attained as characterised the Chartist delusion.

In Ireland men were reposing unbounded faith in another sort of political panacea for every personal and social evil - the Repeal of the Union with England, advocated by Daniel O'Connell, with all the power of his passionate Celtic eloquence, and supported by all his extraordinary personal influence. Apparently he hoped to carry this agitation to the same triumphant issue as that for Catholic emancipation, in which he had taken a conspicuous part; but the new movement did not, like the old one, appeal immediately and plausibly to the English sense of fair play and natural justice. A competent and not unfriendly observer has remarked that O'Connell's "theory and policy were that Ireland was to be saved by a dictatorship entrusted to himself." Whether any salvation for the unhappy land did lie in such a dictatorship was a point on which opinion might well be divided. English opinion was massively hostile to it; but for years all the political enthusiasm of Ireland centred in O'Connell and the cause he upheld. The country might be on the brink of ruin and starvation, but the peril seemed forgotten while the dream lasted. The agitator was wont to refer to the Queen in terms of extravagant loyalty, and it would seem that the feeling was largely shared by his followers. However futile and vainglorious his scheme and methods may appear, we must not deny to him a distinction, rare indeed among Irish agitators, of having steadily disclaimed violence and advocated orderly and peaceable proceedings. He thought his cause would be injured, and not advanced, by such outrages as before and since his day have too often disgraced party warfare in Ireland. His favourite maxim was that "the man who commits a crime gives strength to the enemy." This opinion was not heartily endorsed by all his followers. When it became clear that his dislike of physical force was real, when he did not defy the Government, at last stirred into hostile action by the demonstrations he organised, there was an end of his power over the fiercer spirits whom he had roused against the rule of "the Saxon" - luckless phrase with which he had enriched the Anglo-Irish controversy, and misleading as luckless. O'Connell died, a broken and disappointed man, on his way to Rome in 1847; but the spirit he had raised and could not rule did not die with him, and the younger, more turbulent leaders, who had outbid him for popular approval, continued their anti-English warfare with growing zeal until the year of fate 1848.

Even the Principality of Wales had its own peculiar form of agitation, sometimes accompanied by outrage, during these wild opening years. The farmers and labourers in Wales were unprosperous and poor, and in the season of their adversity they found turnpikes and tolls multiplying on their public roads. They resented what appeared a cruel imposition with wrathful impatience, and ere long gave expression to their anger in wild deeds. A text of Scripture suggested to them a fantastic form of riot. They found that it was said of old to Rebecca, "Let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them," and ere long "Rebecca and her children," men masking in women's clothes, made fierce war by night on the "gates" they detested, destroying the turnpikes and driving out their keepers. These raids were not always bloodless. The Government succeeded in repressing the rioting, and then, finding that a real grievance had caused it, did away with the oppressive tolls, and dealt not too hardly with the captured offenders; leniency which soon restored Wales to tranquillity.

A peaceful, strictly constitutional, and finally successful agitation ran its steady course in England for several years contemporaneously with those we have already enumerated. The Anti-Corn-Law League, with which the names of Cobden and Bright are united as closely as those two distinguished men were united in friendship, had in 1838 found a centre eminently favourable to its operations in Manchester. Its leaders were able, well-informed, and upright men, profoundly convinced that their cause was just, and that the welfare of the people was involved in their success or failure. They were men of the middle class, acquainted intimately with the needs and doings of the trading community to which they belonged, and therefore at once better qualified to argue on questions affecting commerce, and less directly interested in the prosperity of agriculture, than the more aristocratic leaders of the nation. Both persuasive and successful speakers, one of them supremely eloquent, they were able to interest even the lowest populace in questions of political economy, and to make Free Trade in Corn the idol of popular passion. Their mode of agitation was eminently reasonable and wise; but it was an agitation, exciting wild enthusiasm and fierce opposition, and must be reckoned not among the forces tending to quiet, but among those that aroused anxious care in the first nine years of the reign. And it was a terrible calamity that at last placed victory within their grasp. The blight on the potato first showed itself in 1845 - a new, undreamed-of disaster, probably owing to the long succession of unfavourable seasons. And the potato blight meant almost certainly famine in Ireland, where perhaps three-fourths of the population had no food but this root. The food supply of a whole nation seemed on the point of being cut off. A loud demand was made for "the opening of the ports." By existing laws the ports admitted foreign grain tinder import duties varying in severity inversely with the fluctuating price of home-grown grain; thus a certain high level in the cost of corn was artificially maintained. These regulations, though framed for the protection of the native producer, did not bear so heavily on the consumer as the law of 1815 which they replaced; and the principle represented by them had a large following in the country. But now the argument from famine proved potent to decide the wavering convictions of some who had long been identified with the cause of Protection. The champions of Free Trade were sure of triumph when Sir Robert Peel became one of their converts; and the Corn Bill which he carried in the June of 1846, granting with some little reserve and delay the reforms which the Anti-Corn-Law League had been formed to secure, brought that powerful association to a quiet end. But the threatening Irish famine and the growing Irish disturbances remained, to embarrass the Ministry of Lord John Russell, which came into power within less than a week of that great success of the Tory Minister, defeated on a question of Irish polity on the very day when his Corn Bill received the assent of the House of Lords.

We must not omit, as in passing we chronicle this singular fortune of a great Minister, to notice the grief with which Her Majesty viewed this turn of events. Amid all the anxiety of the period, amid her distress at the cruel sufferings of her servants in India, in Britain, in Ireland, and her care for their relief, she had had two sources of consolation: the pure and simple bliss of her home-life, and the assistance of two most valued counsellors - her husband and her Prime Minister. One was inseparably at her side, but one must now leave it; and she and the Prince met their inevitable loss with the dignified outward acquiescence that was fitting, but with sorrow not less real. The Queen would have bestowed on Peel as distinguished an honour as she could confer - the Order of the Garter; Peel deemed it best to decline it gratefully. "He was from the people and of the people," and wished so to remain, content if his Queen could say, "You have been a faithful servant, and have done your duty to the country and to myself."

In hapless Ireland, torn by agitation and scourged by pestilence and famine, the general misery had reached a point where no fiscal measures, however wise, could at once alleviate it. The potato famine held on its dreadful way, and the darkest moment of Irish history seemed reached in the year when one hundred and seventy thousand persons perished in that island by hunger or hunger-bred fever. The new plague affected Great Britain also; but its suffering was completely overshadowed by the enormous bulk of Irish woe, which the utmost lavishness of charity seemed scarcely to lessen. That there should be turbulence and even violence accompanying all this wretchedness was no way surprising; but in most men's minds the wretchedness held the larger place, and deservedly so, for the sedition, when ripe enough, was dealt with sharply, though not mercilessly, in such a way that ere long all reasonable dread of a civil war being added to the other horrors, had passed away; and the country had leisure for such recovery as was possible to a land so desolate.

There was contemporaneous distress enough and to spare in Great Britain: failures in Lancashire alone to the amount of L16,000,000; failures equally heavy in Birmingham, Glasgow, and other great towns; capital was absorbed by the mad speculations in railway shares; and even Heaven's gift of an abundant harvest, by at once lowering the price of corn, helped to depress commerce. Many banks stopped payment, and even the Bank of England seemed imperilled, saving itself only by adopting a bold line of policy advised by Government. At the same time, the Chartist movement was gathering the strength which was to expend itself in the futile demonstrations of 1848.

But as if it were not enough for every department of political or commercial life to be so seriously affected, there was now arising within the English National Church itself a singular movement, destined to affect the religious history of the land as powerfully, if not as beneficially, as did the Evangelical revival of the last century; and the National Kirk of Scotland, after long and stern contention on the crucial point of civil control in things spiritual, was ready for that rending in twain from which arose the Free Kirk; while other religious bodies were torn by the same keen spirit of strife, the same revolt against ancient order, as that which was distracting the world of politics. The bitterness of the disruption in Scotland is well-nigh exhausted, though the controversy enlisted at the time all the fervid power of a Chalmers; men honour the memory of the champions, while hoping to see the once sharp differences composed for ever. But the "Catholic Revival," initiated under the leadership of Newman, Pusey, and Keble, has proved to be no transient disturbance: and no figure has in relation to the Church history of the half-century the same portentous importance as that of John Henry Newman, whose powerful magnetism, as it attracted or repelled, drew men towards Romanism or drove them towards Rationalism, his logical art, made more impressive by the noble eloquence with which he sometimes adorned it, seeming to leave those who came under his spell no choice between the two extremes. When he finally decided on withdrawing himself from the Anglican and giving in his adhesion to the Roman communion, he set an example that has not yet ceased to be imitated, to the incalculable damage of the English Establishment. Happily the massive Nonconformity of the country was hardly touched either by his influence or his example.

It is pleasant to turn from scenes of doubt and discord, of strife and sorrow, to that bright domestic life which was now vouchsafed to the Sovereign, as if in direct compensation for the storms that raved and beat outside her home - a home now brightened by the presence of five joyous, healthy children. It is a charming picture of the royal pair and of the manner of life in the palace - styled by one foreigner "the one really pleasant, comfortable English house, in which one feels at one's ease " - that is given us by the finely discerning Mendelssohn, invited by the Prince to "come and try his organ" before leaving England in 1842, on which occasion the Queen joined her husband and his guest at the instrument, enjoying and aiding in their musical performance, and singing, "quite faultlessly and with charming feeling and expression," a song written by the great master who was now paying a farewell visit, with nothing of ceremony in it, to English royalty. With a few touches Mendelssohn makes us see the delightful ease and comfort of this royal interior, the Queen gathering up the sheets of music strewn by the wind over the floor - the Prince cleverly managing the organ-stops so as to suit the master while he played - the mighty rocking-horse and the two birdcages beside the music-laden piano in the Queen's own sitting-room, beautiful with pictures and richly-bound books - the pretty difficulty about her finding some of Mendelssohn's own songs to sing to him, since her music was packed up and taken away to Claremont - her naive confession that she had been "so frightened" at singing before the master, - all are chronicled with not less zest and affection than the graceful gift of a valuable ring "as a remembrance" to the artist from the Queen, through Prince Albert. It is a much more pleasing impression that we thus obtain than can be given by details of State ceremonial and visits from other sovereigns. Of these last there was no lack, and the princely visitors were entertained with all due pomp and splendour; but neither on account of these costly entertainments nor on behalf of the royal children did the Sovereign ask the nation for so much as a shilling, the Civil List sufficing for every unlooked-for outlay, now that Prince Albert, by dint of persevering effort, had succeeded in putting the arrangements of the royal household on a satisfactory footing, sweeping away a vast number of time-honoured, thriftless expenses, and rendering a wise and generous economy possible.

Formerly the great officers of the Crown were charged with the oversight of the commonest domestic business of the palace. Being non-resident, these overseers did no overseeing, and the actual servants were practically masterless. Hence arose numberless vexations and extravagant hindrances. In 1843 this objectionable form of the division of labour was brought to an end, and one Master of the household who did his work replaced the many officials who, by a fiction of etiquette, had been formerly supposed to do everything while they did and could do nothing. The long-needed reform could not but be pleasing to the Queen, being quite in harmony with the upright principles that had always ruled her conduct, she having begun her reign by paying off the debts of her dead father - debts contracted not in her lifetime nor on her account, and which a spirit less purely honourable might therefore have declined to recognise.

Thanks to the Prince's able management, the royal pair found it in their power to purchase for themselves the estate of Osborne, in the Isle of Wight - a charming retreat all their own, which they could adorn for their delight with no thought of the thronging public; where the Prince could farm and build and garden to his heart's content, and all could escape from the stately restraints of their burdensome rank, and from "the bitterness people create for themselves in London." Before very long they found for themselves that Highland holiday home of Balmoral which was to be so peculiarly dear, and in which Her Majesty - whose first visit to the then discontented Scotland was deemed quite a risky experiment - was so completely to win for herself the admiring love of her Scottish subjects.

At Balmoral Mr. Greville saw them some little time after their acquisition of the place, and witnesses to the "simplicity and ease" with which they lived, to the gay good humour that pervaded their circle - "the Queen running in and out of the house all day long, often going out alone, walking into the cottages, sitting down and chatting with the old women," the Prince free from trammels of etiquette, showing what native charm of manner and what high, cultivated intelligence were really his. The impression is identical with that conveyed by Her Majesty's published Journal of that Highland life; and, though lacking the many graceful details of that record, the testimony has its own value. Happy indeed was the Sovereign for whom the black cloud of those years showed such a silver lining! Other potentates were less happy, both as regarded their private blessings and their public fortunes.

It would be agreeable to English feelings, but not altogether consonant with historic truth, if we could leave unnoticed the scandalous attempts on the Queen's life which marked the earliest period of her reign and have been renewed in later days. The first attacks were by far of the most alarming character, but Her Majesty, whose escape on one occasion seemed due only to her husband's prompt action, never betrayed any agitation or alarm; and her dauntless bearing, and the care for others which she manifested by dispensing with the presence of her usual lady attendants when she anticipated one of these assaults, immensely increased the already high esteem in which her people held her. The first assailant, a half-crazy lad of low station named Oxford, was shut up in a lunatic asylum. For the second, a man named Francis, the same plea could not be urged; but the death-sentence he had incurred was commuted to transportation for life. Almost immediately a deformed lad called Bean followed the example of Francis. Her Majesty, who had been very earnest to save the life of the miserable beings attacking her, desired an alteration in the law as to such assaults; and their penalty was fixed at seven years' transportation, or imprisonment not exceeding three years, to which the court was empowered to add a moderate number of whippings - punishments having no heroic fascination about them, like that which for heated and shallow brains invested the hideous doom of "traitors." The expedient proved in a measure successful, none of the later assaults, discreditable as they are, betraying a really murderous intention. It has been remarked as a noteworthy circumstance that popular English monarchs have been more exposed to such dangers than others who were cordially disliked. It is not hatred that has prompted these assassins so much as imbecile vanity and the passion for notoriety, misleading an obscure coxcomb to think

                     "His glory would be great 
   According to her greatness whom he quenched."