Amazing articles on just about every subject...


British History - Mill, Darwin and the new era - Bright, Gladstone and Disraeli enfranchise the town labourer, 1866 - 7 - Gladstone's Reform Ministry, 1868 - 74 - Irish Church and land - The Education Act - University, Civil Service and Army Reform.

( Originally Published 1922 )



THE victory of the North and the death of Palmerston, together gave the signal for another era of Reform, corresponding in importance to the legislation of the Whigs during the five years after Wellington's fall. If the events connected with the second Reform Bill and its sequel were less sensational than those of the first, it was because the idea of change was no longer new and shocking, and because the supremacy of the national will had proved itself in the former battle against privilege. In 1832 the nation had been made supreme and had been so defined as to include half the middle class. In 1867 it was defined again so as to include the rest of the middle class and the working-men of the towns. The immediate con-sequence, between 1868 and 1875, was a long list of reforms, including, under the Liberals, Irish Church and Land Acts, popular education, army reform, the opening of the Civil Service and the Universities to free competition ; under the Conservatives, sanitary and municipal legislation and new laws to assist Trade Unionism; and finally, after another interval, the inclusion of the agricultural labourer in the national franchise in 1884, leading a few years later to the establishment of local self-government in the rural districts.

In this adaptation of our institutions to the new theory that Britain was a democracy no less than her own Colonies or America, Bright and Gladstone showed the way, by inspiring public opinion and directing Parliament, while Disraeli so ' educated ' the Conservative party that it offered no such resistance to these changes as it had opposed to the first Reform Bill, and even took the lead in parts of the process.

Behind the statesmen of the transition stood the philosopher, John Stuart Mill, whose writings were at the height of their influence in the 'sixties and 'seventies. He had been bred up by his father as a Benthamite of the strictest sect, but his life's work was to purify Bentham's utilitarianism of its pedantry, and to bring it up to date in an age that was gradually outgrowing laissez faire. It was Mill's doctrine that everyone ought to take part in the election not only of Parliament, but of responsible local bodies, so that the whole people should learn to take an interest in all that concerned them, from drains to foreign policy, from the village school to national finance.

But Mill knew that democratic machinery did not in itself secure good government. He desired to see specialist departments of State supervising the action of the elected local bodies, and making the knowledge acquired in one place available everywhere. ` Power,' he said, ' may be localised, but knowledge, to be most useful, must be centralised.' He brought together in a consistent theory the lessons of the administrative experience of the age of Chadwick, the dove-tailing of central with local government, the interplay of democratic impulse and specialist guidance, by which modern England more and more learnt to thrive.

Mill used his influence, when at its height, to popularise the idea of the equality of the sexes. It was not in his day carried out in politics, but even before he died (1 873) it greatly affected social thought and custom, and about that time the laws began to be reformed as regards women's property and personal rights. The only important part of Mill's political philosophy which has not been carried into effect as law, is his eager advocacy of the representation of minorities by the system known in his day as ' Mr. Hare's scheme,' and in ours as Proportional Representation.

Mill's treatise On Liberty' had many effects outside the political sphere. It was a plea for freedom of thought and discussion, which in the early Victorian era were much limited by social convention, though very little by law. Mill taught that what was needed in the England of that day was a change of attitude in the direction of freedom to express new ideas in word and action. The rising generation grew up with this creed. Jowett's influence was at war with old orthodoxy in Oxford, while the mid-Victorian literature, represented by Matthew Arnold, George Eliot, the Brownings, and Meredith, though the last was not yet recognised by the public, was instinct with the principle of freedom and experiment, always within the limits imposed by sound learning and the social sense. Victorian literature, essentially liberationist, was not revolutionary. As art, it had its own various traditions and standards distinct from those of journalism, which did not overshadow the world of letters till the Education Act of 1870 had had time to create a reading public co-extensive with the nation.

In the year that Mill's Liberty appeared, Darwin published the Origin of Species, and next year, in the famous arena of the British Association meeting at Oxford, Huxley vindicated at the expense of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce the right of science to investigate and teach, without having first to square its results with Mosaic theology. The more obvious implications of the Darwinian theory of the descent of man were slowly working themselves into common thought during the new Reform epoch.

Science was not yet a part of the established order. In the past, most investigation had been done by individuals like Priestley or Darwin working at their own expense and on their own account, and this era of private initiative was only gradually passing into the new era of endowed and organised research. In the 'fifties the Natural Sciences Tripos had been set up at Cambridge, largely owing to the intelligent patronage of the Chancellor of the University, the Prince Consort, whose royal presence was able to charm away opposition to newfangled learning in just those academic. quarters which were usually most obscurantist. In the 'sixties science was making itself felt as a power in the land. And so long as it was still struggling for freedom and recognition, with the word ' evolution ' inscribed on its banners militant, it could not fail to exert an influence favourable in a broad sense to liberal reform.

The Whig-Liberal majority which Palmerston's name had helped to secure at the General Election in the summer, became in the autumn the inheritance of his surviving colleagues. Russell, who had lately withdrawn to the Upper House as an earl, succeeded to the premiership, but the moving force in the Cabinet and in the Commons was Glad-stone, in alliance with Bright below the gangway. ` Gladstone will soon have it all his own way,' Palmerston had prophesied; ' whenever he gets my place we shall have strange doings.' Even before Palmerston's death, Gladstone had in 1864 sent a shudder through the country houses of England by the following declaration on the franchise :

I contend that it is on those who say it is necessary to exclude forty-nine fiftieths of the working classes that the burden of proof rests. Every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or political danger, is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution.'

No wonder that Disraeli said his rival had ' revived the doctrine of Tom Paine.' No wonder that at the General Election next year Gladstone lost his seat for Oxford University, and went instead to a Lancashire constituency, ' unmuzzled,' as he significantly declared. The links with his past were snapping one by one.

But the ex-Palmerstonian majority which he had now to lead in the Commons contained a ' tail ' of young men of fashion, the scions of great Whig houses who might just as well have been the scions of great Tory houses so far as their opinions were concerned.1 When therefore Gladstone introduced a Reform Bill, lowering the Ten Pound voting qualifications in the boroughs to Seven Pounds, even this very moderate measure, which fell far short of the household suffrage of Bright's programme, was regarded by these elements in the party as too advanced. The revolt of this section, which Bright nicknamed ' the Cave of Adullam,' because everyone who was discontented or in distress resorted there, was led with sincerity and oratorical power by Robert Lowe. But the prudence of a great leader was a gift denied to him. He turned the controversy into a class question, by contending that working-men as such ought to be excluded from the franchise on account of their moral and intellectual unfitness. Lowe's rash tactics converted a decorous discussion on a measure of' bit-by-bit Reform ' into a battle over first principles that let loose throughout the country the passions of rival classes.

The working-men, at first indifferent to the fate of a Bill which only proposed to enfranchise a small fraction of their number, were stung to fury by the character of Lowe's opposition to it, and a great franchise agitation, led by John Bright, soon aroused feelings which could never be satisfied by so half-hearted a measure as the Bill of i 866. The Conservative party, under Disraeli's guidance, would very probably have let the Bill pass through both Houses if they had not been carried away by the example of the white-haired champion on the ministerial benches opposite. Lowe had., besides, offered them a chance of throwing out the government. A combination of the Conservatives with forty Whigs from ' the Cave ' defeated the Bill in Committee, and the Russell Ministry resigned.

The cause of working-class enfranchisement gained in the end by this apparent disaster. A Bill that was at best only a half-measure was cleared out of the way. And the incoming Conservative government of Lord Derby, with Disraeli for its moving spirit, had now to deal with a situation of the utmost gravity of their own making. They were in a minority in the Commons, yet they dared not appeal to the country. They had to settle the franchise question, which was now raging like a fever in the nation's blood. The new Government was indeed in a position, if it so wished, to pass a much stronger measure than that of Russell and Gladstone, because it could ensure the acquiescence of Conservative opinion in both Houses. If the party would abandon its former convictions, stultify the vote by which it had just gained office, and throw over Robert Lowe, and if Disraeli would pass ' the doctrine of Tom Paine ' into law, a signal service could be rendered to the Empire, such as Peel had rendered over Catholic Emancipation and the Corn Laws.

The Conservative party was well disciplined. The decision would be that of its chiefs, and their counsels were dominated by the transcendent abilities of a man singularly open-minded both as to the main political chance and as to the best interests of the community. Disraeli, looking with a foreigner's eyes on England, often saw things that were not the most evident to the natives. He had put together in youth a collection of political ideas, known to the public through the characteristic medium of his novels. These ideas were, like himself, a mixture of extravagance and penetration, of sentimentality and realism. He specially delighted in combinations which seemed paradoxes to that age: he believed in the Jews and in the Church of England; in the political influence of the Crown; in the ' territorial aristocracy,' that is, in the Tory part of it; and finally, giving the middle classes a skip, he believed in the working-men. It is true that he ended his career as the idol of the despised middle classes, but that was still in the future.

In the first half of Queen Victoria's reign, the position of a Conservative leader who believed in the working classes was bizarre, like so much else in Disraeli's outfit. But genius can afford to be odd. And now, by the defeat and resignation of the Russell Ministry, a situation had suddenly arisen in which a Conservative leader who believed in the working classes could become the man of the hour, and deliver the nation from a position that might soon be one of considerable danger.

Yet even Disraeli would not have ventured to ' dish the Whigs' and to take the famous ' leap in the dark' of working-class enfranchisement, but for the agitation in the country over which Bright presided in the autumn of 1866. The usual order of proceedings was that in each of the great centres of industry in the North and Midlands, the bulk of the male population of all classes, including the Trade Unionists marshalled under their banners, would march past Bright in a monster review, some two hundred thousand strong, generally on a moor near the city. In the evening he would address a mass meeting in words of classical eloquence and Radical vigour, that were reported at full in the papers next day. That was all, but it was enough.1 It was different from Chartism, because it was based on class union instead of class division. The middle and working classes, the one under-represented, the other scarcely represented at all, had come together to demand the franchise. In vain the country houses were filled that Christmas with ladies and gentlemen abusing Bright. In their hearts they were afraid, with that wise old English fear of their countrymen when thoroughly roused, which has done as much to save England as many more heroic virtues.

One keen-eyed watchman was drawing his own conclusions. Disraeli, ' always an opportunist on Reform,' as his biographer tells us, ` would not admit in the autumn that the success of the agitation which Bright was conducting showed that the country had determined to obtain Reform ; but in January [1867] he found the evidence conclusive. As soon as Disraeli reached that point he acted with promptitude and decision.

It was characteristic of Disraeli's determination to solve the problem in a spirit above that of party, that at the beginning of the session of 1867 he privately consulted Bright as to what measure of Reform would lay the question to rest. The counties, he said, did not matter ; it was an affair of the industrial working class.

Disraeli had many years before told the world that industrialism had created a new ' nation ' cut off from contact with the governing class. At length he was convinced that it could no longer with safety be left outside the Parliamentary system. In the last twenty years it had increased enormously in numbers and prosperity. It was becoming the most characteristic part of modern England. Now that the Cleveland iron deposits had been opened up, the output of British steel exceeded that of all the rest of the world together, and the yearly export of British goods, which twenty years before had been under sixty millions, was now three times as great. Such a country, Disraeli perceived, could no longer be governed by the ' territorial aristocracy ' on whom he had once pinned his faith, and since he had never shared the Whig idealisation of the middle class, he was reduced to admit the political claims of the artisan.

In seeking a logical basis on which the new borough franchise could rest, Disraeli rejected the idea of another make-shift lowering of the money standard of ten pounds. He preferred to give the vote boldly to every householder who paid rates a principle that would sound large enough to satisfy Reformers, and respectable enough to please Conservatives. But the ratepaying franchise, in the form in which he first introduced it to the House, was so hedged round with ' securities ' that it was not in fact at all a large measure of enfranchisement. Reformers regarded the new Bill as worse than useless. But in the course of Committee, the position was reversed once more. There was still a Liberal majority in the House, skilfully led by Gladstone and Bright, and its pressure gradually forced the not wholly unwilling Disraeli into dropping the ` securities ' one by one.1

When the Bill left Committee it was to all intents and purposes household franchise for the boroughs. Being sent up to the Lords by a Conservative government it passed at once into law. Lord Cranborne, formerly Lord Robert Cecil and afterwards the great Lord Salisbury, in vain denounced the betrayal. There was no one capable of playing the young Disraeli to the old Disraeli's Peel.

The upshot of these

purposes mistook
Fallen on the inventors' heads,

these confused Parliamentary operations of which no one of the statesmen concerned had quite foreseen the issue, was that the governing classes had recognised the needs of the new era with a wise alacrity, when once they were brought up against the facts, while the rising democracy had asserted its claims with singular dignity and good sense.

One distinct part of the nation had been left out of the reckoning the field labourer.2 Though agriculture was still flourishing, and the farmers' daughters were buying pianos, little of this prosperity percolated through to the labourer's cottage. The continued refusal of enfranchisement to the tiller of the soil, after it had been extended to the town worker, the continued absence of local self-government in the counties for half a century after the towns were self-governing, the suppression of Joseph Arch's attempts to form an Agricultural Labourers' Union, when other Unions were increasing in power and prosperity, strengthened the growing impression that the agricultural world was a back-water, and not a part of the forward stream of modern British life. The best of the field labourers desired more than ever to get away from social and economic helotage to the freedom and opportunity of city life, and the drift to the towns was strong among the best men. When, some ten years after the second Reform Bill, corn prices fell and agricultural depression set in, the rural community, socially and politically behind the times, and sullenly divided against itself, was incapable of dealing with its own distress.


The first effect of the new franchise was the return at the General Election of 1868 of a Liberal majority from which the old Whig element had disappeared. The newly enfranchised working-men chose no representatives of their own class as such, but greatly strengthened the Radical element in the Liberal party. The demand for domestic reform, made stronger by the delay which Palmerston had imposed on it in every department except finance, had behind it the mind and spirit of the new age. Since the days of Peel the load of economic misery had been lifted, and most even of the poorer sections of industrial society were enjoying a prosperity which neither their fathers nor grandfathers had ever known. Partly for this reason there was a singular absence of class antagonism. The bulk of the working and middle classes and of the leaders of the professional and academic world were united in demanding religious equality, educational opportunities, and the release of the public services from aristocratic control. In 1868 Conservatism and Socialism were both temporarily in abeyance. It was a mood not likely to last for long, but the use made of it by Gladstone in his first and greatest Ministry went far to equip the country with modern services and institutions, without which it would have been ill-prepared to face the social and imperial problems of days to come.

Even before the General Election, while Disraeli as Prime Minister was still nominally holding the power which his own Reform Bill had undermined, Gladstone secured the assent of both Houses to the abolition of compulsory Church rates, and so laid to rest one constant source of sectarian bitterness.' In the autumn, the General Election took place; it was fought on the specific issue of Irish Church disestablishment, and more generally on the merits of the new Liberalism, which might be defined as old Radicalism made presentable. The elections were also a vote of confidence in Gladstone as the man of the hour. When the results were announced, Disraeli resigned, and his rival formed his First Ministry. The Liberal-Radical alliance was sealed by the entry of Bright into the Cabinet, though his presence there was of little more than symbolic importance, owing to the breakdown of his health and the permanent decline of his powers. Russell had already retired, full of years and honour, while the hirsute and eminently unaristocratic figure of W. E. Forster, whom Gladstone put in charge of education, made visible the fact that government by the Whig families was not to be revived.

Gladstone, now close on sixty years old, was approaching the climacteric and brief perfection of his political genius. After thirty-seven years of Parliamentary life he had reached the end of the long bridge conducting him from the old Toryism to the new Liberalism. Now, as he touched solid ground once more, he shook off the embarrassment and suspicion that had handicapped his career as a ' Liberal-Conservative.' Nor had he yet developed the aptitude for miscalculating forces and mismanaging men which marked his more amazing but less fortunate old age. Incomparable as a legislator, he was second to none as a Parliamentarian and as an orator. He had all Bright's power of idealist appeal to the new electorate and to an age not yet disillusioned, all Peel's traditions of the honest and indefatigable public servant. His advent to power quickened the pulse of national life. Against him was set a man, his counterpart in political genius, dramatically his opposite in every point of mind and character. Since Pitt and Fox there had been no such rivals on the famous floor. Owing not a little to the personalities of Gladstone and Disraeli, the historic glamour and prestige of the British House of Commons were heightened during the first generation of real democracy, and for a while Parliamentary life had a stronger hold than ever on the imagination of every class.

The great operation of 1869 was the disestablishment and partial disendowment of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Ireland. England and Gladstone had both changed their minds on this question since the day, thirty-five years back, when Russell had broken up a Whig Government by an injudicious remark to the effect that the revenue of the Irish Church was larger than was required. It was now held no sacrilege to sever the connection of this same Irish Church with the State, and to leave it as a self-governing corporation with the ample provision of less than half its former revenue. The rest was to be devoted, not to religious purposes of other communions, but ' to the relief of unavoidable calamity and suffering not touched by the poor law.' This complicated measure, affecting so many interests and susceptibilities, was drawn up and handled by Gladstone with consummate care and skill.

Thus an ecclesiastical revolution, the largest since Tudor times, was proposed by one of the most devoted Churchmen in the British Islands, and met with singularly little opposition. The English bishops were the reverse of truculent. The Queen was anxious above all to prevent a constitutional deadlock. The country had just voted upon the question at the polls. The Lords therefore did not throw the Bill out on second reading, and their amendments were not insisted upon to the breaking point. Indeed, throughout Gladstone's first Ministry, the House of Lords destroyed far less Liberal legislation than either before or after. The work that: the country expected from Gladstone was done the more quickly, and the Conservative reaction was the less long in coming.

In the age of Palmerston, all British classes and parties had been singularly uninformed and indifferent with regard to Ireland. Since the famine, little had been heard of the stricken island, and Englishmen vaguely hoped that the great emigration was solving her obscure problems. There was then no active Irish party at Westminster, such as later, under Parnell, laid an embargo on the time and attention of the House. The Irish representatives were still usually attached to one or other of the great English parties. This age of indifference was brought to an end by the Fenian outrages.

Fenianism was the first reaction of the new Irish America upon the British Isles. It was the return of the emigrant ships of the famine, a quicker return than that of the Mayflower ! The end of every great war leaves a certain proportion of the combatants in an unsettled state, prepared for any project of violence. And so, when the armies were disbanded after the American Civil War, many of the late Irish conscripts devoted their military experience to attacks upon England in both hemispheres. The Americans, alienated by the recent attitude of our Press and Government during their own difficulties, looked on with mingled feelings while their new fellow-citizens, for whom indeed they had no particular love, attempted armed raids across the Canadian border. Then followed Fenian out-rages in Ireland and England. Police barracks were attacked in Ireland. At Clerkenwell a gunpowder explosion killed a dozen people and injured a hundred more. But the most famous case was that of the so-called ' Manchester martyrs ' in 1867. Two Fenian prisoners were rescued from a prison van in the streets of Manchester, and the policeman in charge was shot dead. The perpetrators were hanged, but some sympathy was felt for them even in England, the more so as they declared that they had not intended to kill their victim. But upon the whole there was a fierce and alarming contrast between the views of the general public in the two islands. To the average Englishman the Fenians were simply rebels and assassins. To the average Irishmen they were simply idealists and martyrs.

Gradually, under the tutoring of Fenianism, the British awoke to the fact that there was still an Irish problem. Gladstone was the first of British Prime Ministers who gave it his full and sympathetic attention. When, in December 1868, a telegram from Windsor had first indicated that he was about to be called to the head of the counsels of the British Empire, the message had found him at his favourite recreation, cutting down large trees on his Hawarden estate. ' After a few minutes,' wrote an eye-witness, the blows ceased, and Mr. Gladstone, resting on the handle of his axe, looked up and with deep earnestness in his voice and with great intensity in his face, exclaimed : " My mission is to pacify Ireland." He then resumed his task, and never said another word till the tree was down.'

In the first year of his premiership, by the disestablishment of the ' alien Church,' he removed one of the branches of the ' upas tree,' as he himself called it, of Irish woe. That part of the national grievance which arose from unjust religious privilege became a thing of the past. But in the second of his Irish labours, the agrarian question, he met more stubborn resistance from vested interests in Ireland, and was supported by less understanding and sympathy in Great Britain. For, in our island, while the movement of the hour both in Nonconformist and intellectual circles was all against religious inequality, a landlord's rights of free contract in England and Scotland were as yet scarcely challenged. Nor were there many, except Gladstone himself, who understood the vast difference between a rural landlord in England and his counterpart in Ireland the former putting money into the land and making improvements for the tenants ; the latter merely drawing rack-rent which he often spent in England, leaving the tenants to do everything for themselves, and often evicting them wholesale without compensation for their improvements or consideration for their sufferings. In the rural England of that day the man who suffered was the labourer employed by the farmer; the tenant farmer himself was a man of substance and consideration. In Ireland, on the other hand, the tenant farmer was the helpless victim of a system, nominally of free contract, actually of grave oppression.

Gladstone grasped the essential differences between the English and Irish land systems which lay concealed under an identical nomenclature and almost identical laws. In 1870 his first Irish Land Act began the long series of measures by which the British Parliament interfered with the ' free con-tract' of Irish landlord and tenant. The most that could be done in the then state of opinion in England was Glad-stone's Act, which gave the force of law to the custom prevalent in some parts of Ireland known as ' Ulster tenant right ' of compensation for disturbance and for unexhausted improvements. But it did not protect the tenant against raised rent, nor did it give him security of tenure. It did some little good in itself, but it was chiefly important because it was the first of a great series of Irish agrarian laws. This new effort on the part of England to remedy social injustice in Ireland did not cease till the landlords were bought out on a vast scale, and the agrarian grievance wholly removed in the early years of our own century. But unfortunately the change was much slower than the realisation of religious equality, and the agrarian agitation had time, in the intervening years, to poison still further the sentiment of the Irish peasant towards England.

The same year, 1870, was the year of the great Education Bill. Hitherto primary education had been supplied by voluntary schools, the majority conducted on Church principles, aided by a small State grant.1 Only about half the children of the country were educated at all, and most of these very indifferently. England, for all her wealth, lagged far behind Scotland and several foreign countries. Germany, who had conquered Austria in 1866, and was now engaged in conquering France, was in the forefront of all men's thoughts that year, and she attributed her successes to the schoolmaster as well as to the drill-sergeant. It was characteristic of the two nations that whereas the German people already enjoyed good schools but not self-government, the rulers of England only felt compelled to ' educate their masters ' when the working-men were in full possession of the franchise. It was felt that for so important a purpose as voting for Parliament, if for nothing else, it was good that a man should be able to read.

One reason why our statesmen had so long shrunk from attempting to set up a national system of education, was that any proposal on the subject which the wit of man could devise, must involve its authors in the fiercest sectarian controversy. Before the second Reform Bill a national system would almost certainly have been arranged on lines very favourable to the Church, though not without violent protest from her opponents. Now, however, it was expected that the opposite would be the case. The middle and working class Nonconformists who formed so important a part of Gladstone's electoral supporters, looked to see the establishment of a system of publicly con-trolled schools supported from public funds. Such schools, they expected, would in the course of time replace the Church schools, to which it was assumed that no increased public grant would be given. Such a measure would no doubt have aroused the strongest opposition from the Church and the latent Conservative forces of the country, and would not improbably have been thrown out by the Lords. The actual course of events was, however, very different. Contrary to expectation the Liberal Government steered not against Scylla, but into Charybdis.

The Bill of 1870 was the work of W. E. Forster, a Churchman, though of Quaker origin. He doubled the State grant to the existing Church schools so as to enable them to become a permanent part of the new system, while he introduced publicly controlled schools only to fill up the large gaps in the educational map of the country. These new schools were to be paid for out of the local rates and governed by popularly elected School Boards.

Gladstone welcomed Forster's Bill, glad to find that someone not himself had shouldered the responsibility of giving such generous terms to the Church.1 Important concessions were made to the Nonconformists in Committee, particularly the famous ` Cowper-Temple ' clause prohibiting denominational teaching in the publicly controlled schools. But the breach between Gladstone and many of his most ardent sup-porters was irreparable. It led to angry scenes in the House of Commons, and convulsed the constituencies. It was in protest against the Bill that Joseph Chamberlain, a Unitarian manufacturer, emerged into national prominence as the leader of midland Radicalism. His hold on Birmingham was already growing at the expense of that of Bright, who was too unwell to protest against the Education Act until it was too late to affect the issue.

Liberal disunion was still unhealed at the election of 1874, when Gladstone paid the penalty of having alienated the Church over the Irish and University questions, while at the same time losing the support of her enemies over education. He had performed his various tasks as national legislator without too nicely considering the electoral consequences.

England had obtained, better late than never, a system of education, without which she must soon have fallen to the rear among modern nations. A school had been placed within the reach of every child, at a very low charge, and the local authority might, if it wished, make attendance compulsory. Between 1870 and 1890 the average school attendance rose from one and a quarter millions to four and a half millions, while the cost per child was doubled. In 1880 primary education was made compulsory for all, and in 1891 it was offered free of all expense.

Meanwhile secondary and higher education were gradually emerging from the shameful state in which they had lain when the century began. The Charity Commission had now been active for many years, and the Endowed Schools Bill of 1869 carried still further the work of putting ancient funds to modern uses and abolishing sectarian tests.

The higher education of women at last began to receive attention. In the course of the 'seventies, a group of wise enthusiasts in this cause founded women's colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. The academic authorities soon invited women to attend the lectures and compete in the examinations, though not to become members of the University. This new move greatly stimulated women's education elsewhere.

In 1873, under the inspiration of Professor Stuart of Cambridge, University Extension began, that is to say, the Universities sent out some of their best men to lecture to audiences at a distance from their walls. This movement stimulated local demands for higher education, led to the formation of some of the local University Colleges, and ultimately assisted the formation of those new Universities in great industrial centres which so strongly differentiate the higher education of our day from that with which our fathers had to be content. The Extension Lectures also led, in the twentieth century, to the further development of tutorial classes for working-men, and to the Workers' Educational Association.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, with the exception of the new Universities of London 1 and Durham, Oxford and Cambridge held their old monopoly in the English academic world. Their eighteenth-century slumbers 2 had been broken, and movements of reform inside the two Universities had set up a system of vigorous competition in examinations for a number of subjects. But the advantages of Oxford and Cambridge were closed to half the nation by religious tests imposed in the interest of the Established Church, while the clerical and !celibate character imposed on College Fellows, the almost complete supersession of the University by the individual Colleges, the close character of the elections to Fellowships, and the prevalence of absenteeism and sinecurism, rendered them incapable of meeting the demands of the new age, particularly in non-classical subjects, humane or scientific. Such impotence in the higher spheres of intellect and research must eventually have ruined the country in peace and in war, when matched against foreign rivals who valued scientific and educational progress. The timely reform of Oxford and Cam-bridge by Act of Parliament saved the situation.

This great work was accomplished in three stages, spread over a period of thirty years (1850 - 82). The impulse came partly from an intelligent minority in the Universities themselves, men like Jowett at Oxford and Henry Sidgwick at Cambridge, partly from the public demand that the national Universities should be open to all the nation. Great political interest was taken in academic questions during this epoch, partly because religious and sectarian questions were involved.

The first stage, in the 'fifties, marked the initial victory over a strong and indignant opposition, offered in both Universities to the principle of parliamentary interference. When once the right of interference had been established in fact, the work of all subsequent inquiry and legislation was rendered more easy. The turning-point in this first crisis was the Oxford Act of 1854, passed by the Whig-Peelite Government, by the help of Gladstone's local knowledge, energy and mastery of the art of legislation.

The second stage, the Tests Act of 1871, was the work of Gladstone's own Ministry. It did that which he would bitterly have opposed only a few years before. It opened College Fellowships and academic posts generally to men of all varieties of religious profession.1 When once the sectarian question was laid to rest, controversy about academic reform escaped from the atmosphere of party politics in which it had previously moved. Indeed, the third stage of the movement, by which Parliament provided Oxford and Cambridge with their modern statutes, was initiated by a speech in the House of Lords by Salisbury, as the representative of a Conservative Government, dwelling on ' idle Fellowships ' and other academic abuses with a radical vigour. By the ensuing legislation of 1877 - 82 the college system, peculiar in its full development to the two senior Universities of England, was still preserved, but was so modified and regulated as no longer to impede the progress and freedom of academic studies.

During the first half of the century, the permanent Civil Service had been jobbed. The offices at Whitehall had been the happy hunting-ground of Taper and Tadpole. Whig and Tory Ministers looked on all such patronage as the recognised means of keeping political supporters in good humour.

The public services were filled with the nominees of peers and commoners who had votes in Parliament or weight in the constituencies. Since the privileged families were specially anxious to provide maintenance at the public expense for those of their members who were least likely to make their own way in life, the reputation of Whitehall for laziness and incompetence was proverbial. Heavy swells with long whiskers lounged in late and left early. It was only possible to carry on administration with any degree of efficiency by supplying the departments with able chiefs brought in from outside.

Long after the more shameless and direct forms of parliamentary bribery prevalent under Walpole and George III had been suppressed, Civil Service jobbing was regarded as an indispensable attribute of government. Indeed, when Peel in his political purism discontinued the lavish distribution of honours and peerages on which Pitt had relied,1 the Civil Service was the only field even of modified corruption left to Victorian statesmen. It is all the more credit to them and to their age that they were induced to give it up.

The Indian Civil Service, which had even in the days of ' old corruption ' been more carefully selected than the Home Service, was in 1853 thrown open to all by the way of competitive examination.2 But England in the days of Palmerston followed suit more slowly as regards the departments of White-hall. Sir Charles Trevelyan, a public servant of great zeal and of long experience first in India and then as permanent head of the Treasury, made himself the protagonist of the new system. Competitive examination, derided at first as a pedantic eccentricity, proved its practical value by results, till at length it came to be generally regarded as the best means of avoiding

jobbery and securing able men. From 1855 onwards it was introduced into Whitehall by slow degrees, a subject of acute controversy at every stage. At length in 1870 Gladstone's great axe fell. Patronage was abolished in almost all the public offices, and the normal entrance to a career in the Home Civil Service was made to depend upon open competition.

This change has perhaps done as much for the efficiency and good government of the British Empire as many more renowned political measures. At last the career was open to talents. Machinery had been set up for a partial solution of the problem so often stated by Carlyle how to find the ablest men to govern, though the sage himself had now taken to cursing and nothing would please him. To select men for practical careers on the report of examiners showed also a belief in higher education, which was something new in England. Instead of social qualifications or wealthy friends, trained intellect was to be a young man's best passport. The Universities and the cause of higher teaching benefited greatly by the change.

In the following year a measure inspired by the same spirit, and advocated largely by the same group of men, opened promotion in the army to gentlemen of moderate means. The custom which made it necessary for an officer to purchase his commission from his predecessor at every step, forbidden by William III, had been permitted again by Queen Anne, and regulated by her successors by Royal Warrant. But the ' regulation prices ' were unlawfully exceeded, and an officer, having bought his commission, had in practice the right to sell it for what he could get from some one of Ls subordinates. The result was that poor men were passed over. They had no chance of promotion, except occasionally in time of war, since commissions vacated by death could not be sold). The army chiefs, even when they wished to make promotions by merit, had not the power to promote a man who could not purchase his step.

The Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge, was not, perhaps, temperamentally over-zealous in the cause of promotion by merit. His influence, and that of the Queen his cousin, were strong against the abolition of Purchase, and it was argued that the regulation of the army was in some special sense a prerogative of the Crown. Against this reading of the constitution Gladstone and his able War Minister, Cardwell, tactfully but successfully contended. The Queen, who never forgot Melbourne's early lessons, gave way with a good sense which her strong opinions and personal bias rendered the more admirable. Cardwell's army reforms were carried through, but by way of compromise the Duke of Cambridge, who heartily disliked them, was left as Commander-in-Chief until 1895.

The opinion not only of the Court and the Duke of Cam-bridge, but of the vocal part of the army also was against the change. Public opinion, however, was aroused against Purchase during the Franco-Prussian war, when the state of our fighting forces caused anxiety. As soon as the war ended the army was again forgotten, but the Government by that time stood committed. The abolition of Purchase was put through by Royal Warrant, after the House of Lords had prevented it from passing in the form of a statute. The House of Commons had voted compensation for existing holders of purchased commissions : the nation, said Gladstone, must buy back its own army from its own officers.

Edward Cardwell was one of the public men whom Peel had trained. It fell to him to transform the British Army from what Wellington had left it, to what it was at the close of the century. In his reforms of 1869 - 71 he managed to combine increased efficiency with the economy for which Gladstone's Ministry was famous, by reducing the Colonial garrisons, a step which made for the ultimate military strength of the Empire by throwing upon Canada and Australasia the right and duty of self-defence. He abolished the system of dual control of the army, by which responsibility was divided between the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary for War. The former was now definitely subordinated to the Minister.

Above all, Cardwell introduced the short-service system of twelve years three or six with the colours and nine or six in the reserve. The long-service system, though loved by the Duke of Wellington, had grave defects. There were not enough young men in the ranks ; there was no proper reserve to call out in time of war; and since men left the army too late to have any chance of taking up civilian life with advantage, the prospects of a common soldier's career were so unattractive that in nine cases out of ten necessity alone drove men to enlist. Cardwell's short-service system was a lesson learnt from the Prussian victory in 1866, which had proved that two or three years' training sufficed to make good soldiers, and that large reserve classes were essential.

The change helped both directly and indirectly the better prospect opening before the British soldier. His lot was slowly but steadily improving from the time of the Napoleonic wars to the outbreak of the struggle with Germany in our own day. Before the century closed Lord Roberts could say of the men whom he commanded in South Africa, ` they bore themselves like heroes on the battlefield and like gentlemen on all other occasions.' It was not a dictum that would ever have passed the lips of the Iron Duke.' If a history were compiled de-scribing the changes of one hundred years in the treatment of our soldiers and sailors, and in the regard entertained for them by their own officers and by the rest of the community, it would be an epitome of the nation's general progress in humanity, efficiency and social solidarity. For it was the century not only of hope but of solid- achievement.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com