British History - Macadamising - Highways and horses - Hunting, shooting, boxing - Sports and athletics - Public Schools - The Army and the nation - Canada and the American War of 1812 - Castlereagh's American policy, 1817-18.
( Originally Published 1922 )
IT has been pointed out in an early chapter that the way for the Industrial Revolution had been prepared by an improvement in roads. About 1750, private Turnpike Companies with Parliamentary powers began on a large scale to perform the neglected duties of the parish authorities, who had from time immemorial been charged in vain with the maintenance of the highways. The Turnpikes did so well that wheeled traffic began to oust the pack-horse, and distant markets were opened up, rendering possible a new economic regime. Half a century later, business men were becoming increasingly impatient of the continued badness of many of the roads. Trans-port was the life-blood of the new agriculture and of the new industry, and although heavy goods could on certain routes go part of their journey by the new canals, there were as yet no railways.
John Loudon Macadam was a public-spirited Scottish gentleman, living in the west of England, who devoted his energies to the improvement of English roads during the first thirty years of the nineteenth century. He invented and applied a method of solidifying the road with hard, small stone, in which the hopeful part of the public saw the secret of new markets, wider activities and unbounded wealth. ` Macadamising' was not only, in its literal sense, a practical work of great public utility; it became the symbol of all progress, and was metaphorically used in common parlance for any aspects of the new age where improved and uniform scientific methods were in demand. The fact that the word suggested Scotland made it specially appropriate in the days of Brougham and the Edinburgh philosophers.
The Board of Agriculture, anxious to bring the produce of the new farming to the new urban markets, supported Macadam in his endeavours to combine and reform the innumerable and largely inefficient Turnpike Trusts of the day. Backed by public opinion, this policy had a great measure of success. It is remarkable that local government was not, at this period, chosen as the machinery of road reform: the Parish had failed because it was too small an area for the purpose, and the time for effective and popular county administration was still far distant.
The Post Office rivalled the Board of Agriculture in its zeal for the improvement of roads. It was indeed a change, prophetic of much in the new century, that two public departments should take the initiative in schemes for the public welfare. The Post Office employed the engineer, Thomas Telford, a Scottish shepherd's son, to construct the road to Holyhead. The pontifex maximus, as Telford was called, to the wonder of the world threw an iron suspension bridge across the Menai Straits to Anglesey. It was the crowning performance of a new movement in bridge-building which made use of the abundant iron produced by the coal furnaces. Telford, besides making canals and aqueducts in England, had made many roads in his native land, which proved even more useful than his most famous achievement, the Caledonian Canal. The combined result of Telford's roads and Scott's romances was that tourists and sportsmen poured every summer into the Highlands.
When Macadam and Telford had covered the island with a network of hard, smooth roads, trimly-built stage-coaches galloped where their heavy predecessors had crawled. The coach had its brief day of glory and perfection, from those proud summer mornings when, hung with laurels, it left behind the news of fresh victories in Spain, as it careered with-out a halt through cheering villages, to the time when its daily message on the fortunes of the Reform Bill was no less eagerly awaited by assembled multitudes, staring down the road for its coming. When Sir Walter Scott was a young man, the coaches still crawled; when he died, they were on the point of being eclipsed, at the height of their speed and glory, by the steam-engine. But during that one generation, the inn-yard whence they started was the microcosm of the national life. And the ` coaching days,' from Waterloo to Pickwick, still stand in popular imagination for the last era of ` old England,' jovial, self-reliant, matter-of-fact, but still as full of romance, colour, character and incident as the world of Chaucer's pilgrims who rode so slowly along the green tracks so many centuries before.
Until the coming of the railway, the macadamised roads made the horse more than ever the cynosure of English eyes. To ride him had been the chief delight for centuries; to drive him was now no less desired. The aspiration of youth was to sit beside the mail-coachman on the box, or to keep a gig and bowl along the highroad among the post-chaises.' The breed of horses was improved to meet the new opportunities for speed that Macadam had created.
On the hunting-field, as on the road, the breed of horses had altered with the pace. Though hunting has survived coaching, we still look back on that period as the great days when the red coat, not of the soldier, ruled in the island that Wellington had saved. During the eighteenth century, fox-hunting had expelled stag-hunting, and had itself gradually expanded from a sedate watching of the hounds from horse-back on the village common and inside a gentleman's own estate, to a break-neck gallop across the county, which, having been largely cleared of its bogs and woodlands, presented the hedges and channelled watercourses of the new enclosures under the cheerful aspect of innumerable ' jumps.' The Pytchley under Lord Althorp set the standard of Shire hunting; many country gentlemen in the Midlands shut up their own houses for the season and came with their families to live at Pytchley.
Shooting had, during the preceding century, entirely re-placed hawking. The change induced an insatiate demand for more birds and hares, and ever stricter preservation of wild animals in a famishing country-side. Artificial pheasant-breeding and battues were only beginning to come in, and it was not yet common to drive the birds. To shoot pheasants, part-ridges or grouse over dogs was the ordinary day's business, involving hard exercise, field-craft, and Spartan habits. It was a fine sport, and helped to inspire the class that then set the mode in everything from poetry to pugilism, with an intimate love and knowledge of woodland, hedgerow and moor, and a strong preference for country over town life which is too seldom found in the leaders of fashion in any age or land.
Indirectly, therefore, the passion for shooting game did much for what was best in our civilisation. But it was unfortunately connected, as fox-hunting was not, with the poaching war and all manner of unneighbourliness. The legislation affecting ' game ' was exclusive and selfish, not only towards the poor but towards everyone except an aristocratic few. It was illegal for anyone to buy or sell game;--with the result that prices obtainable by poachers were much increased; and it was illegal for anyone who was not a squire or a squire's eldest son to kill game even at the invitation of the owner. This inconvenient law was indeed sometimes evaded by a process known as ' deputation.' And it was abolished by the Whig legislators of i 831, in spite of the opposition of the Duke of Wellington, who was convinced that these extraordinary restrictions were the only means of keeping game in the countryside. The event proved that he was too pessimistic.
It was characteristic of the early years of the century that, although savage punishments were meted out to poachers if they were poor men, ` gentleman poachers ' used to shoot with impunity over other people's estates in the open day, deceiving the gamekeepers by elaborate artifices or barefaced lying, and in some cases by threats of violence.
In all sports save those connected with ` game,' the upper class appeared as the patrons of the popular enthusiasm, pleased to share a common emotion which did much to unite a deeply divided society, and to keep its hereditary leaders popular as sportsmen, if they were ceasing always to please as politicians. Coaching, horse-racing, fox-hunting, boxing, cock-fighting, furnished the hourly thoughts of multitudes. The prize-ring in its ' most high and palmy state' was thus de-scribed by that soul of chivalry and honour, Lord Althorp, speaking in his old age to a friend:
` He said his conviction of the advantages of boxing was so strong, that he had been seriously considering whether it was not a duty he owed to the public to go and attend every prize-fight which took place. In his opinion cases of stabbing arose from the manly habit of boxing having been discouraged. He gave us an account of prize-fights he had attended, how he had seen Mendoza knocked down for the first five or six rounds by Humphreys, and seeming almost beat, till the Jews got their money on; when, a hint being given him, he began in earnest and soon turned the tables. He described a fight between Gully and the Chicken. How he rode down to Brickhill, how he was loitering about the inn door, when a barouche-and-four drove up with Lord Byron and a party, and Jackson the trainer, how they all dined together, and how pleasant it had been. Then the fight next day; the men strip-ping, the intense excitement, the sparring; then the first round, the attitude of the men, it was really worthy of Homer.'
The professional prize-ring, as Althorp here indicates, had two aspects. Some of the champions whom it bred were as fine Englishmen as ever stepped, but it was no more a school of virtue than the race-course, and indeed it eventually lost patronage because it was so dishonestly conducted.
Outside the prize-ring, men and boys were in the habit of settling their differences with their fists. It was a national custom of which everyone was proud, and it united and equalised all classes. The coachman could challenge his fare, if he ` handled his fives well.' The more aristocratic and bloody custom of the duel, disapproved as impious by Evangelicals, and as foolish and wrong by the rising middle class, was gradually dying out among gentlemen, who had long ceased to wear swords, and many of whom had not even learnt to fence. Duelling by pistol had none of the artistic interest and antique romance of the foils, ` the immortal passado ! the punto reverso ! the hay !' To pit human life on the vagaries of a bullet offended the common-sense spirit of the age, although there was a curiously large number of such encounters between eminent statesmen, Pitt against Tierney, Canning against Castlereagh, and Wellington against Lord Winchilsea as late as 1829.
Boxing helped the duel to die out by substituting another field of honour, suited to a more democratic age. Keats as a schoolboy was more devoted to pugilism than to poetry, and when he grew to manhood attacked and defeated a butcher whom he found ill-treating an animal. In 1825 the Hon. F. A. Cooper, a brother of the future philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, was killed at the age of fourteen in a two hours' fight of sixty rounds with another Eton boy, a nephew of the Marquis of Londonderry, a large part of the school looking on. Young swells about town would figure as popular heroes by knocking down at fisticuffs the last generation of old-fashioned watch-men, and carrying off their rattles and staves as trophies, before the advent of Sir Robert Peel's ' police ' made such pranks unsafe. Strong self-will and eccentricity were the qualities admired in that age of individualism. The leaders of sporting and fashionable circles sought to be eccentric and were not afraid to be literary, from Lord Byron and Lord Barrymore down to Thurtell, the murderer, who talked and acted as if he were always on the stage.
Thurtell's murder of Weir was the event that created most popular interest between the Queen's trial and the Reform Bill. Because he was a ` sporting character,' of strong personality, well known in boxing and theatrical circles, Thurtell's vogue with a large public survived the proof that he had committed a peculiarly horrid murder of a man he suspected of having cheated him at cards. After his execution, children were known to write as their copy-book exercises the amazing sentiment : ' Thurtell was a murdered man.' Sir Walter Scott, who had too much sense to take this view, collected the popular literature of the trial as assiduously as the minstrelsy of the Border.'
While interest in ` sporting events and characters ' was almost universal, organised games and athletics did not play what we should now consider a large part in the life of the ordinary Englishman, or even of the English schoolboy. Cricket had been for the last hundred years slowly rising to its local fame on the village green. Football, though a far older game in various primitive forms, had not yet obtained its modern rules or its modern popularity. The upper class public schools, whence the passion for organised athletics afterwards spread to the adult democracy, were not yet dominated by cricket and football, nor were the exuberant energies of boyhood channelled off into athletic routine.
In the ill-regulated boarding-houses to which a certain number of the upper class were bold enough to entrust their sons, some boys used their ample leisure, which was larger then than now, for scholarship, promiscuous reading and poetic or botanic rambles in the country; but among the normal features of public school life were fighting, bullying, poaching, rough practical joking, drunkenness, gambling and disorder of every sort, with no monitorial system to keep them within bounds. The masters lived apart from the boys, whom they regarded as their ` natural enemies,' and generally treated as such in the matter of flogging. Public school ' rebellions ' had on more than one occasion to be suppressed by the military forces of the Crown !
The beginning of reform in upper class boarding-schools was at Rugby, during the head mastership of Dr. Thomas Arnold. The example which Rugby set to other such schools led to improved discipline and humaner life, secured partly on a closer relation of the masters to their pupils, and partly on self-government among the boys through selected monitors or prefects. But it would not be accurate to ascribe to Arnold's own wishes the undue predominance of athletics, which by the end of the century had become the bane of the reformed public school, as well as the means of spreading the athletic gospel to other grades of society, and to humbler schools where a modicum of organised athletics has been of untold value. Arnold did nothing directly for athletics at Rugby. He only put a stop to certain other ways in which boys spent their time decidedly less well. For the rest he occasionally ` stood on the touch-line and looked pleased.' Compulsory athletics and the glorified athlete were not in his scheme of things. But the spread of Rugby football, which dates from his era, and of Public School and University athletics in all their subsequent extent and influence, came as a natural development, as soon as boys and men turned away in boredom and disapproval from pugilism, rowdyism, dog and cock fighting, and other ` sporting events ' in which their fathers had delighted in the age of Byron.
The public schools of the Waterloo era had either to be reformed or to give place to some entirely new system that could pass muster with a more humane and critical age. The improvements effected by Dr. Arnold met the case. And if reform had stopped where its originator intended, it might all have been pure gain. But in later years the leisure and initiative of the individual boy were increasingly sacrificed to meet the demands of the athletic time-table, with the organised mass-opinion of the boys and often of the masters to enforce obedience to a stereotyped ideal of games and ` good form.'
It may well be that this was one among many causes why after two generations of ` steady progress,' although the aver-age perhaps rose, genius and strong individual characters were less common at the end of the nineteenth century than they had been in pre-reform days. An examination of the facts will show that the great men of letters, science and politics who made the fame and fortune of the early and middle Victorian age, had been brought up with more variety and freedom, either at home, or at day schools, or in small academies or grammar schools, or else in the unreformed public schools, where the wheat and tares were for better and worse allowed to grow up, each in their own way, until the harvest.
One thing that boisterous old England decisively was not - it was not militarist. The race that had conquered on the fields of the Peninsula and Waterloo had martial instincts but not military ideals. Foreign observers, coming over at the peace from a Continent that had just exchanged the rule of French for the rule of German officers, were struck with the absence of military display in the victor island, and the absence of military habits of thought even among the dominant aristocracy. That aristocracy consisted of rural squires, some of them with a turn for books, and nearly all of them with a turn for sport, administration and politics. Their younger sons supplied the Church, the Army and the Navy.1 The English gentry had on these terms proved far better able to stand up for their order than the French noblesse, who had lost all during the very years when the English squires were gaining more land, and more power over the land, at the expense of the peasantry. But the English squires established their power not, like the Prussian Junkers, by identifying their class with the Army and the Army with the State, but by taking the lead in politics, justice, administration, agriculture, sport, and in the patronage of art and letters, as well as by fighting their country's battles on land and sea.
The tradition of the Tory squires was anti-militarist, beginning with the reaction against Cromwell and continuing through the Whig wars against Louis XIV. The original Tories had made a favourite of the Navy as against the Army. And so in these later wars, which were pre-eminently Tory wars, all classes and parties were agreed in regarding the Army not as the master of the State, but as one of its servants.
It was a fact of historic importance that England's greatest soldier was the least militaristic of men. His example was effective in perpetuating the custom of getting into mufti at the earliest possible moment off duty, a practice which has fostered the peculiarly English idea that an army officer is only a gentleman engaged on a special public service. After Waterloo, Wellington covered the operation of disarmament with the shield of his unrivalled authority.2 When the Duke of York died in 1827, he could not be given a military funeral, because, as Wellington reported, there were not enough troops in England to bury a field-marshal ! The Tories at home, like the Holy Alliance abroad, stood for ' peace and order.' ' Order ' was sometimes a euphemism for oppression, but ` peace ' really meant peace.' And the Tory peace was used to reduce armaments and so to get rid of a large portion of the taxes, with the unpopularity and distress that they implied. Before the creation of an effective police, the military force maintained was barely enough to secure public tranquillity in time of riot. The general belief that it would be incapable of putting down a determined rising of the middle and lower classes together did much towards the peaceable solution of the crisis of 1832.
Wellington was a typical Tory. He wished England to be governed by her gentlemen, not by her generals. This attitude on his part did much to secure the peaceful development of our institutions in a new age with which he was in many respects out of sympathy.
The plantation of Upper Canada by loyalist refugees from the revolted Colonies had led Pitt to divide this new English-speaking province from Lower Canada with its French-Catholic civilisation, and at the same time to establish in both provinces the rudiments of Parliamentary institutions, though not yet responsible self-government.
It was the best arrangement for both parts of Canada at that stage of their development. But it implied a difficult period of transition, with friction between an executive still nominated by the Crown and a legislative with as little power as an early Stuart Parliament. The official class, sent out by the inefficient Colonial Office of the day as a result of party jobs or personal favour, was justly unpopular in all the Colonies, which were made the dumping ground for worn-out general officers, and cousins of peers with boroughs. Canada was no exception to this bad rule. The French Canadians complained that they had no representatives among the officials, who, whether English or Canadian born, spent their time in trying to turn the Governor against the French majority. The English-speaking Canadians found the same officials corrupt and snobbish, a pinchbeck aristocracy, keeping itself loftily apart from a democratic community of backwoodsmen which thoroughly despised them in return. The governors themselves had too often lost the ` Carleton touch ' of confidence in the people.
But in spite of all this, Carleton and the two Pitts had built on the rock, and when the flood came in 1812 the house stood firm.
The war between Great Britain and the United States was the result of a dispute over two questions arising out of our conduct of the war with Napoleon : the enforcement of the Orders in Council restricting neutral commerce with the Continent, and the search of American vessels for deserters from the British Navy. On both counts there was much to be said for and against both sides. It was a case for compromise, and war or peace really depended on the mutual goodwill of the disputants. Unfortunately neither Government deserved well of posterity. The Tory Cabinet shared the aristocratic con-tempt felt by their party for the federation of rebel States, which had arisen by defying George III, and which was expected speedily to demonstrate by its dissolution the impracticable nature of democracy. On the other side, President Madison catered for an equally unintelligent anti-British tradition, against which President Washington had striven with success when faced by a similar crisis in 1793. But it was of good augury for the future that the British middle classes, led by Brougham, made their first appearance in nineteenth-century politics by compelling the Government to withdraw the Orders in Council, so as to avoid war with Americans Unfortunately the concession came just too late, for that week America had declared war. It was equally of good omen that the war was unpopular in New England. In 1814 the Northern States began to talk of secession if peace were not made. Although it was the merchants and sailors of New England who suffered from the grievances on the high seas that were the pretext of the war, yet it was New England that protested against the war policy of the Southern democrats.
The pacificism of New York and Massachusetts, the states that could have made the earliest and most formidable attack on Canada if they had been so minded, saved us from a desperate strait. When war broke out there were only 4500 regular troops in the whole of Canada. The French Canadians, though they had no wish to be swallowed up in the United States, disliked British rule. And in Upper Canada itself, alongside of the United Empire Loyalists, there was a large recent immigration of men from over the border whose emotional allegiance was uncertain. Never before or since has the independence of Canada been in greater danger than in the summer of 1812.
Fortunately there was a man capable of meeting the crisis. Isaac Brock, the very best type of British soldier, then acting both as Governor and General in Upper Canada, determined to take the offensive as the likeliest means to rouse a national spirit. He captured Detroit with a force inferior in numbers to the enemy. Though he was killed in battle two months later, his bold policy and the ability and success with which he had carried it through, had put both Anglo-Saxons and French on their mettle, and encouraged them to hold out in the following year when the Americans pushed into Canada in much greater force. This middle period of the war included a series of naval actions on the Great Lakes, in which the superior numbers of the American ships gave them the upper hand. But the con-quest of Canada failed. After the first fall of Napoleon, the Peninsular troops were hurried across the Atlantic and all danger passed away.
Meanwhile, on the open sea, the frigates of the small American Navy had unexpected successes in single combats with British ships of their own size. The lords of the ocean were so seriously annoyed by these reverses that when the tide turned and the Chesapeake was defeated in June 1813 by H.M.S. Shannon outside Boston harbour, the event won a place in song and history out of all proportion to its importance. The net result of the naval war was that the American mercantile marine suffered very severely, but a tradition of mutual respect was established between the two English-speaking navies that in later years developed into friendship.
The last stage of the war had better have been omitted.
Various points of the American seaboard were attacked by our regular forces from Europe, including the flower of the Peninsular Army. In one of these raids, up Chesapeake Bay, the public buildings of Washington were burned, in reprisals for the burning the year before of Toronto, then called York.
The unsuccessful British attack on Fort McHenry, on the same expedition, inspired the words of ` The Star-Spangled Banner.' The last and biggest battle of the war was fought two weeks after peace, unknown to the combatants, had been signed in Europe. This action was the defence of New Orleans against another British raid from the sea, when 6000 Americans, chiefly backwoodsmen of Tennessee and Kentucky, under Andrew Jackson, held a line of strong entrenchments against 6000 British infantry, and killed and wounded a third of their number.
The self-defence of the two Canadas against invasion, and the historical traditions that the infant nation thus acquired, were an important result of the war. Otherwise it had been fought in vain. It solved none of the disputed questions out of which it arose. The treaty signed at Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814, very wisely did not even attempt to decide the embittered controversies on blockade and right of search. But one of the causes of war, the belief of the Southern democrats that Canada could easily be annexed, received its quietus. On the other hand anti-British tradition had obtained a fresh lease of life in the United States, whose orators now had the theme of a second war against Britain as the second romantic period of their national history.
The Tory Cabinet cannot be praised for the management of affairs that led to this breach of the peace. But Castlereagh's dealings with the United States after the war was over were a model of pacific statesmanship, reciprocated by the Government of Washington and its representatives over here, John Quincy Adams and Rush. Before Castlereagh's career as Foreign Secretary ended, the fortunes of Anglo-American peace had been established on the sound basis of disarmament along the Canadian border, enabling future generations to weather many fierce storms, and to settle a frontier problem that no other two Great Powers would have been able to decide without war.
The problem before Great Britain and Canada on one side and the United States on the other was nothing less than to fix a frontier of four thousand miles, which, except in the region of the Lakes, was not indicated by any natural boundary. It was perhaps the greatest operation that has ever been achieved in the interest of peace, and it took many years and many statesmen to accomplish and perfect it. But the most important stage of the whole proceeding came in 1817, when, after a sharp struggle inside the British Cabinet, the British and American Governments agreed to abolish their navies on the Great Lakes, and forthwith dismantled, sold or sank the war-ships on Erie and Ontario. Those fleets have never been re-constructed. From that moment forward ` the long, invisible, unguarded line ' that divides Canada from her neighbour has been successfully defended by the sole garrison of trust and good will, even during the frequently recurring periods of acrimonious dispute as to its whereabouts. If there had been armaments, there would some time have been war. And if the nations concerned had not spoken the same language and felt a half-conscious sympathy underlying their traditional feuds, disarmament would not have been adhered to for long. It helped greatly that the Americans and Canadians both disliked standing armies and navies and had no place or provision for them in their scheme of things, and that for some time after Waterloo the Tories at home had a strong and consistent policy of retrenchment based on disarmament and peace.
In 1818, the year after the scrapping of the navies on the Great Lakes, the first step was taken by Castlereagh towards the determination of the boundary westward. It was agreed that from the Lake of the Woods to the summit of the Rockies the frontier should follow the forty-ninth degree of latitude. With equal wisdom it was agreed to postpone negotiations as to the Pacific Coast. Beyond the Rockies lay the region then called ' Oregon,' a name at that time covering the vast territory between latitude 42° and 54.° 40', which subsequently became British Columbia and the States of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The whole of this wilderness, joining what was then Russian Alaska to what was then Mexican California, had been saved from Spain by Pitt in the Nootka Sound dispute,1 and in Castlereagh's time was claimed both by Great Britain and the United States. But though British and American fur traders had stations along the coast, neither side could as yet make any decisive show of occupation or settlement. The days of the immigrants and the ` Oregon trail ' across the great prairies were yet to come. The arrangement made in 1818 for the ' joint occupation of Oregon ' postponed a dangerous dispute, not yet ripe for adjudication. A generation later, Sir Robert Peel was able to settle it by compromise, in the same pacific spirit that Castlereagh had introduced into our dealings with the New World.