The "Exhibition year," 1851, appears to our backward gaze almost like a short day of splendid summer interposed between two stormy seasons; but at the time men were more inclined to regard it as the first of a long series of halcyon days. Indeed, the unexampled number and success of the various efforts to redress injury and reform abuses, which had signalised the new reign, might almost justify those sanguine spirits, who now wrote and spoke as though wars and oppression were well on their way to the limbo of ancient barbarisms, and who looked to unfettered commerce as the peace-making civiliser, under whose influence the golden age - in more senses than one might revisit the earth.

We have already referred to certain of the new transforming forces whose action tended to heighten such hopes; there are two reforms as yet unnamed by us, distinguishing these early years, which are particularly significant; though one at least was stoutly opposed by a special class of reformers. We refer to the legislation dealing with mines and factories and those employed therein, with which is inseparably connected the venerable name of the late Lord Shaftesbury; and to the abolition of duelling in the army, secured by the untiring efforts of Prince Albert, who had enlisted on his side the immense influence of the Duke of Wellington.

That peculiar modern survival of the ancient trial by combat, the duel, was still blocking the way of English civilisation when Her Majesty assumed the sceptre. A palpable anachronism, it yet seemed impossible to make men act on their knowledge of its antiquated and barbarous character; legislation was fruitless of good against a practice consecrated by false sentiment and false ideas of honour; but when dislodged from its chief stronghold, the army, it became quickly discredited everywhere, with the happy result noted by a contemporary historian, that now "a duel in England would seem as absurd and barbarous as an ordeal by touch or a witch-burning." Militarism, that mischievous counterfeit of true soldierly spirit, could not thrive where the duel was discountenanced; and the friends of peace might rejoice with reason.

But those peaceful agitators, the sagacious, energetic Cobden and his allies, resented rather sharply the interference of the Lord Ashley of that day with the "natural laws" of the labour market - laws to whose operation some of the party attributed the cruelly excessive hours of work in factories, and the indiscriminate employment of all kinds of labour, even that of the merest infants. Undeterred by these objections, convinced that no law which sanctioned and promoted cruelty did so with true authority, Lord Ashley persisted in the struggle on which he had entered 1833; in 1842 he scored his first great success in the passing of an Act that put an end to the employment of women and children in mines and collieries; in 1844 the Government carried their Factories Act, which lessened and limited the hours of children's factory labour, and made other provisions for their benefit. It was not all that he had striven for, but it was much; he accepted the compromise, but did not slacken in his efforts still further to improve the condition of the children. His career of steady benevolence far outstretched this early period of battle and endurance; but already his example and achievement were fruitful of good, and his fellow-labourers were numerous. Nothing succeeds like success: people had sneered at the mania for futile legislation that possessed the "humanity-monger" who so embarrassed party leaders with his crusade on behalf of mere mercy and justice; they now approved the practical philanthropist who had taken away a great reproach from his nation, and glorified the age in which they lived because of its special humaneness, while they exulted not less in the brightening prospects of the country. Sedition overcome, law and order triumphant, the throne standing firm, prosperity returning - all ministered to pride and hope.

In 1850 there had been some painful incidents; the death by an unhappy accident of Sir Robert Peel, and the turbulent excitement of what are known as the "No Popery" disturbances, being the most notable: and of these again incomparably the most important was the untimely loss to the country of the great and honest statesman who might otherwise have rendered still more conspicuous services to the Sovereign and the empire. The sudden violent outburst of popular feeling, provoked by a piece of rash assumption on the part of the reigning Pope, was significant, indeed, as evidencing how little alteration the "Catholic revival" had worked in the temper of the nation at large; otherwise its historic importance is small. At the time, however, the current of agitation ran strongly, and swept into immediate oblivion an event which three years before would have had a European importance - the 'death of Louis Philippe, whose strangely chequered life came to an end in the old palace of Claremont, just before the "papal aggressions" - rash, impolitic, and mischievous, as competent observers pronounced it, but powerless to injure English Protestantism - had thrown all the country into a ferment, which took some months to subside. We are told that Her Majesty, though naturally interested by this affair, was more alive to the quarter where the real peril lay than were some of her subjects; but in the universal distress caused by the death of Peel none joined more truly, none deplored that loss more deeply, than the Sovereign, who would willingly have shown her value for the true servant she had lost by conferring a peerage on his widow - an honour which Lady Peel, faithful to the wishes and sharing the feeling of her husband, felt it necessary to decline.

Amid these agitations, inferior far to many that had preceded them, the year 1850 ran out, and 1851 opened - the year in which Prince Albert's long-pursued project of a great International Exhibition of Arts and Industries was at last successfully carried out. The idea, as expounded by himself at a banquet given by the Lord Mayor, was large and noble. "It was to give the world a true test, a living picture, of the point of industrial development at which the whole of mankind had arrived, and a new starting-point from which all nations would be able to direct their further exertions." The magnificent success, unflawed by any vexatious or dangerous incident, with which the idea was carried out, had made it almost impossible for us to understand the opposition with which the plan was greeted, the ridicule that was heaped upon it, the foolish fears which it inspired; while the many similar Exhibitions in this and other countries that have followed and emulated, but never altogether equalled, the first, have made us somewhat oblivious of the fact that the scheme when first propounded was an absolute novelty. It was a fascination, a wonder, a delight; it aroused enthusiasm that will never be rekindled on a like occasion.

Paxton's fairy palace of glass and iron, erected in Hyde Park, and canopying in its glittering spaces the untouched, majestic elms of that national pleasure-ground as well as the varied treasures of industrial and artistic achievement brought from every quarter of the globe, divided the charmed astonishment of foreign spectators with the absolute orderliness of the myriads who thronged it and crowded all its approaches on the great opening day. Perhaps on that day the Queen touched the summit of her rare happiness. It was the 1st of May - her own month - and the birthday of her youngest son, the godchild and namesake of the great Duke. She stood, the most justly popular and beloved of living monarchy, amid thousands of her rejoicing subjects, encompassed with loving friends and happy children, at the side of the beloved husband whose plan was now triumphantly realised; and she spoke the words which inaugurated that triumph and invited the world to gaze on it.

"The sight was magical," she says, "so vast, so glorious, so touching...God bless my dearest Albert! God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day! One felt so grateful to the great God, Who seemed to pervade all and to bless all. The only event it in the slightest degree reminded me of was the coronation, but this day's festival was a thousand times superior. In fact, it is unique, and can bear no comparison, from its peculiar beauty and combination of such striking and different objects. I mean the slight resemblance only as to its solemnity; the enthusiasm and cheering, too, were much more touching, for in a church naturally all is silent."

The Exhibition remained open from the 1st of May to the 11th of October, continuing during all those months to attract many thousands of visitors. It had charmed the world by the splendid embodiment of peace and peaceful industries which it presented, and men willingly took this festival as a sign bespeaking a yet longer reign of world-tranquillity. It proved to be only a sort of rainbow, shining in the black front of approaching tempest. When 1854 opened, the third year from the Exhibition year, we were already committed to war with Russia; and the forty years' peace with Europe, finally won at Waterloo, was over and gone.

In the interval another great spirit had passed away. The Duke of Wellington died, very quietly and with little warning, at Walmer Castle, on the 14th of September, 1852, "full of years and honours." He was in his eighty-fourth year, and during the whole reign of Queen Victoria he had occupied such a position as no English subject had ever held before. At one time, before that reign began, his political action had made him extraordinarily unpopular, in despite of the splendid military services which no one could deny; now he was the very idol of the nation, and at the same time was treated with the utmost respect and reverent affection by the Sovereign - two distinctions how seldom either attained or merited by one person! But in Wellington's case there is no doubt that the popular adoration and the royal regard were worthily bestowed and well earned. He had never seemed stirred by the popular odium, he never seemed to prize the popular praise, which he received; it was not for praise that he had worked, but for simple duty; and his experience of the fickleness of public favour might make him something scornful of it. To the honours which his Sovereign delighted to shower on him - honours perhaps never before bestowed on a subject by a monarch - he was sensitive. The Queen to him was the noblest personification of the country whose good had ever been, not only the first, but the only object of his public action: and with this patriotic loyalty there mingled something of a personal feeling, more akin to romance in its paternal tenderness than seemed consistent with the granite-hewn strength and sternness of his general character. A thorough soldier, with a soldier's contempt for fine-spun diplomacy, he had been led into many a blunder when acting as a chief of party and of State; but his absolute single-minded honesty had more than redeemed such errors; "integrity and uprightness had preserved him," and through him the land and its rulers, amid difficulties where the finest statecraft might have made shipwreck of all.

He had his human failings; yet the moral grandeur of his whole career cast such faults into the shade, and justified entirely the universal grief at his not untimely death. The Queen deplored him as "our immortal hero" - a servant of the Crown "devoted, loyal, and faithful" beyond all example; the nation endeavoured by a funeral of unprecedented sumptuousness to show its sense of loss; the poet laureate devoted to his memory a majestic Ode, hardly surpassed by any in the language for its stately, mournful music, and finely faithful in its characterisation of the dead hero -

          "The man of long-enduring blood, 
     The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute, 
     Whole in himself, a common good;... 
     ...The man of amplest influence, 
     Yet clearest of ambitious crime, 
     Our greatest yet with least pretence, 
     Great in council and great in war, 
     Foremost captain of his time, 
     Rich in saving common-sense. 
     And, as the greatest only are. 
     In his simplicity sublime;... 
     Who never sold the truth to serve the hour, 
     Nor paltered with Eternal God for power; 
     Who let the turbid streams of rumour flow 
     Through either babbling world of high and low; 
     Whose life was work, whose language rife 
     With rugged maxims hewn from life; 
     Who never spoke against a foe; 
     Whose eighty winters freeze with one rebuke 
     All great self-seekers trampling on the right: 
     Truth-teller was our England's Alfred named; 
     Truth-lover was our English Duke; 
     Whatever record leap to light 
     He never shall be shamed."

When, within so short a period after Wellington's death, the nation once more found itself drawn into a European war, there were many whose regret for his removal was quickened into greater keenness. "Had we but the Duke to lead our armies!" was the common cry; but even his military genius might have found itself disastrously fettered, had he occupied the position which his ancient subordinate and comrade, Lord Raglan, was made to assume. It may be doubted if Wellington could have been induced to assume it.

Whether there ever would have been a Crimean war if no special friendliness had existed between France and England may be fair matter for speculation. The quarrel issuing in that war was indeed begun by France; but it would have been difficult for England to take no part in it. The apple of discord was supplied by a long-standing dispute between the Greek and Latin Churches as to the Holy Places situated in Palestine - a dispute in which France posed as the champion of the Latin and Russia of the Greek right to the guardianship of the various shrines. The claim of France was based on a treaty between Francis I and the then Sultan, and related to the Holy Places merely; the Russian claim, founded on a treaty between Turkey and Catherine II, was far wider, and embraced a protectorate over all Christians of the Greek Church in Turkey, and therefore over a great majority of the Sultan's European subjects. Such a construction of the treaty in question, however, had always been refused by England whenever Russia had stated it; and its assertion at this moment bore an ominous aspect in conjunction with the views which the reigning Czar Nicholas had made very plain to English statesmen, both when he visited England in 1844 and subsequently to that visit. To use his own well-known phrase, he regarded Turkey as "a sick man" - a death-doomed man, indeed - and hoped to be the sick man's principal heir. He had confidently reckoned on English co-operation when the Turkish empire should at last be dismembered; he was now to find, not only that co-operation would be withheld, but that strong opposition would be offered to the execution of the plan, for which it had seemed that a favourable moment was presenting itself. The delusion under which he had acted was one that should have been dispelled by plain English speech long before; but now that he found it to be a delusion, he did not recede from his demands upon the Porte: he rather multiplied them. The upshot of all this was war, in spite of protracted diplomatic endeavours to the contrary; and into that war French and English went side by side. Once before they had done so, when Philip Augustus and Richard Coeur de Lion united their forces to wrest the Holy Places from the Saracens; that enterprise had been disgraced by particularly ugly scandals from which this was free; but in respect to glory of generalship, or permanent results secured, the Crimean campaign has little pre-eminence over the Fourth Crusade.

Recent disclosures, which have shown that Lord Aberdeen's Ministry was not rightly reproached with "drifting" idly and recklessly into this disastrous contest, have also helped to clear the English commander's memory from the slur of inefficiency so liberally flung on him at the time, while it has been shown that his action was seriously hampered by the French generals with whom he had to co-operate. From whatever cause, such glory as was gained in the Crimea belongs more to the rank and file of the allied armies than to those highest in command. The first success won on the heights of the Alma was not followed up; the Charge of the Six Hundred, which has made memorable for ever the Russian repulse at Balaklava, was a splendid mistake, valuable chiefly for the spirit-stirring example it has bequeathed to future generations of English soldiers, for its illustration of death-defying, disciplined courage; the great fight at Inkerman was only converted from a calamitous surprise into a victory by sheer obstinate valour, not by able strategy; and the operations that after Lord Raglan's death brought the unreasonably protracted siege of Sebastopol to a close did but evince afresh how grand were the soldierly qualities of both French and English, and how indifferently they were generalled.

If the allies came out of the conflict with no great glory, they had such satisfaction as could be derived from the severer losses and the discomfiture at all points of the foe. The disasters of the war had been fatal to the Czar Nicholas, who died on March 2nd, 1855, from pulmonary apoplexy - an attack to which he had laid himself open, it was said, in melancholy recklessness of his health. His was a striking personality, which had much more impressed English imaginations than that of Czar or Czarina since the time of Peter the Great; and the Queen herself had regarded the autocrat, whose great power made him so lonely, with an interest not untouched with compassion at the remote period when he had visited her Court and had talked with her statesmen about the imminent decay of Turkey. At that time the austere majesty of his aspect, seen amid the finer and softer lineaments of British courtiers, had been likened to the half-savage grandeur of an emperor of old Rome who should have been born a Thracian peasant. It proved that the contrast had gone much deeper than outward appearance, and that his views and principles had been as opposed to those of the English leaders, and as impossible of participation by such men as though he had been an imperfectly civilised contemporary of Constantine the Great. Since then he had succeeded in making himself more heartily hated, by the bulk of the English nation, than any sovereign since Napoleon I; for the war, into which the Government had entered reluctantly, was regarded by the people with great enthusiasm, and the foe was proportionately detested.

Many anticipated that the death of the Czar would herald in a triumphant peace; but in point of fact, peace was not signed until the March of 1856. Its terms satisfied the diplomatists both of France and England; they would probably have been less complacent could they have foreseen the day when this hard-won treaty would be torn up by the Power they seemed to be binding hand and foot with sworn obligations of perdurable toughness; least of all would that foresight have been agreeable to Lord Palmerston, Premier of England when the peace was signed, and quite at one with the mass of the people of England in their deep dislike and distrust of Russia and its rulers.

The political advantages which can be clearly traced to this war are not many. Privateers are no longer allowed to prey on the commerce of belligerent nations, and neutral commerce in all articles not contraband of war must be respected, while no blockade must be regarded unless efficiently and thoroughly maintained. Such were the principles with which the plenipotentiaries who signed the Treaty of Paris in 1856 enriched the code of international law; and these principles, which are in force still, alone remain of the advantages supposed to have been secured by all the misery and all the expenditure of the Crimean enterprise.

But other benefits, not of a political nature, arose out of the hideous mismanagement which had disgraced the earlier stages of the war. It is a very lamentable fact that of the 24,000 good Englishmen who left their bones in the Crimea, scarce 5,000 had fallen in fair fight or died of wounds received therein. Bad and deficient food, insufficient shelter and clothing, utter disorganisation and confusion in the hospital department, accounted for the rest. These evils, when exposed in the English newspapers, called forth a cry of shame and wrath from all the nation, and stirred noble men and women into the endeavour to mitigate at least the sufferings of the unhappy wounded. Miss Florence Nightingale, the daughter of a wealthy English gentleman, was known to take a deep and well-informed interest in hospital management; and this lady was induced to superintend personally the nursing of the wounded in our military hospitals in the East. Entrusted with plenary powers over the nurses, and accompanied by a trained staff of lady assistants, she went out to wrestle with and overcome the crying evils which too truly existed, and which were the despair of the army doctors. Her success in this noble work, magnificently complete as it was, did indeed "multiply the good," as Sidney Herbert had foretold: we may hope it will continue so to multiply it "to all time." The horrors of war have been mitigated to an incalculable extent by the exertions of the noble men and women who, following in the path first trodden by the Crimean heroines, formed the Geneva Convention, and have borne the Red Cross, its most sacred badge, on many a bloody field, in many a scene of terrible suffering - suffering touched with gleams of human pity and human gratitude; for the courageous tenderness of many a soft-handed and lion-hearted nursing sister, since the days of Florence Nightingale, has aroused the same half-adoring thankfulness which made helpless soldiers turn to kiss that lady's shadow, thrown by her lamp on the hospital wall.

The horrors thus mitigated have become more than ever repugnant to the educated perception of Christendom, because of the merciful devotion which, ever toiling to lessen them, keeps them before the world's eye. In every great war that has shaken the civilised world since the strife in the Crimea broke out, the ambulance, its patients, its attendants, have always been in the foreground of the picture. Never have the inseparable miseries of warfare been so well understood and so widely realised, thanks in part to that new literary force of the Victorian age, the war correspondent, and chiefly, perhaps, to the new position henceforth assumed by the military medical and hospital service. To the same source we may fairly attribute the great improvements wrought in the whole conduct of that distinctively Christian charity, unknown to heathenism, the hospital system: the opening of a new field of usefulness to educated and devoted women of good position, as nurses in hospitals and out; and the vast increase of public interest in and public support of such agencies. Even the Female Medical Mission, now rising into such importance in the jealous lands of the East, may be traced not very indirectly to the same cause.

The Queen, whose enthusiasm for her beloved army and navy was very earnest, and frankly shown, who had suffered with their sufferings and exulted in their exploits, followed with a keen, personal, unfaltering interest the efforts made for their relief. "Tell these poor, noble wounded and sick men that no one takes a warmer interest, or feels more for their sufferings, or admires their courage and heroism more than their Queen. So does the Prince," was the impulsive, heart-warm message which Her Majesty sent for transmission through Miss Nightingale to her soldier-patients. Her deeds proved that these words were words of truth. Not content with subscribing largely to the fund raised on behalf of those left orphaned and widowed by the war, she took part in the work of providing fitting clothing for the men exposed to all the terrors of a Russian winter; and her daughters, enlisted to aid in this pious work, began that career of beneficence which two of them were to pursue afterwards to such good purpose, amid the ravages of wars whose colossal awfulness dwarfed the Crimean campaign in the memories of men.

Many of the injured being invalided home while the war was in progress, Her Majesty embraced the opportunity to testify her sympathy and admiration, giving to them in public with her own hands the medals for service rendered at Alma, at Balaklava, and at Inkerman. It would not be easy to say whether the Sovereign or the soldiers were more deeply moved on this occasion. Conspicuous among the maimed and feeble heroes was the gallant young Sir Thomas Troubridge, who, lamed in both feet by a Russian shot at Inkerman, had remained at his post, giving his orders, while the fight endured, since there was none to fill his place. He appeared now, crippled for life, but declared himself "amply repaid for everything," while the Queen decorated him, and told him he should be one of her aides-de-camp. Her own high courage and resolute sense of duty moved her with special sympathy for heroism like this; and she obeyed the natural dictates of her heart in conspicuously rewarding it. With a similar impulse, on the return of the army, she made a welcoming visit to the sick and wounded at Chatham, and testified the liveliest appreciation of the humane services of Miss Nightingale, to whom a jewel specially designed by the Prince was presented, in grateful recognition of her inestimable work. The new decoration of the Victoria Cross, given "for valour" conspicuously shown in deeds of self-devotion in war time, further proved how keenly the Queen and her consort appreciated soldierly virtue. It was the Prince who first proposed that such a badge of merit should be introduced, the Queen who warmly accepted the idea, and in person bestowed the Cross on its first wearers, thereby giving it an unpurchasable value.