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Saturday, 22 January 2011

THE TIMES, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23, 1901.

The dreaded blow has fallen, and a world-wide Empire mourns its irreparable loss. Our beloved QUEEN, full of years and of honour, has passed to her rest. There are no words to express the general grief, the universal sense of national and personal bereavement, awakened by the event which it is our melancholy duty to chronicle to-day.

For nearly sixty-four years Queen Victoria has watched, at first with conscientious diffidence, later with ever-maturing experience, but always with the sympathetic insight of a sensitive yet finely-balanced nature, over every development of national policy and destiny. Through that long period she has commanded the esteem of those who direct the affairs of the world, and has won the affection and the confidence of the vast majority, whose judgment must be formed upon general and external indications of character.
Only a rare combination of sweetness and strength, only a subtle blending of the highest qualities of head, and heart, can achieve that double success. This generation can never know, save in the most general and imperfect way, the extent of the beneficent influence wielded by the Queen at once over the great and over the lowly ones of the earth. The earlier years of her reign have so far passed into history that we know much of the inner life of politics which remains secret while the principal actors are alive. As regards the later portion of her reign we have no such materials, yet it was in that portion that her experience was ripest, her contribution to government most valuable, and her influence with the Sovereigns and statesmen who rule the world most firmly established.

The condition of Europe when she ascended the Throne was one of extreme instability. A few years later it became one of turmoil and confusion, in which dynasties were overthrown and high potentates had to seek asylum. That the British Throne came through that troublous time, not merely unscathed, but with added prestige and security, must be held due in no small measure to the character of its occupant. Our own country by no means escaped the infection of the ideas that convulsed the Continent; nor was it exempt from the grave economic and social evils that formed a legitimate ground for discontent. There are few among us who can recall the attitude of the people towards the Monarchy in the thirties and forties, but all have material enough to show them how striking is the contrast presented by the state of public opinion at the present day.
We must not forget that many causes combined to effect a fundamental amelioration of the social conditions, and that many minds contributed to the triumph of larger and nobler conceptions of government. But, if we have had orderly evolution where other nations have gone through devastating internal conflicts, if the Monarchy held its own while new buttresses were being built for its support, and if it now stands not only broad-based upon the people's will, but strong in the affections of kindred nations over sea, we owe these results, to a degree which it is hardly possible to over estimate, to the womanly sweetness, the gentle sagacity, the utter disinterestedness, and the unassailable rectitude of the QUEEN.

  The nation owes her much more, though, for the reasons just alluded to, the proofs are not yet available in their fullness. Though always scrupulously careful not to overstep the limits marked out for her by the Constitution, the Queen has never forgotten the rights and duties that the Constitution confers and imposes. She has always played her part in Government as the Chief Magistrate of the nation, and has known how, when occasion demanded, to assert the rights of the Throne against a too autocratic Minister.
By the extent of her family connexions and the friendly correspondence she maintained with Continental monarchs, she brought to bear upon international questions a kind of information which Ministers do not always possess, and a knowledge of personal equations which British Ministers, in the opinion of many, are not sufficiently careful to seek. The confidence inspired by her personal character enabled her on many occasions to use her intimate knowledge with effect in smoothing the rugged places of international relations, or in modifying a policy which through sheer inadequacy of information would have led to undesirable and undesired friction. History alone can do justice to her influence over the politics of Europe, but enough is known even now to assure us that, both by her informed criticism at home and by the deference paid to her abroad, she rendered from time to time very valuable services alike to her own country and to the peace of the world.

There are yet other ways in which a Sovereign may profoundly affect, for good or bad, the fortunes of a nation. We have to thank the Queen for an influence of the most potent kind, consistently and vigorously used to enforce high ideals of social and personal virtue, of religious faith, and of the Christian life. Her own life was by choice, and as far as the necessities of her position would permit, one of almost austere simplicity and homeliness. Her Court has been absolutely unsullied by the vices which had come to be regarded as the inseparable concomitants of Courts, and if society at large has not quite-reached her standard, at least it cannot plead the want of a shining example.
In a yet larger sense the Queen has conferred an incalculable boon upon the nation. Her whole life, public and private, has been one great and abiding lesson upon the paramount importance of character. No lesson is more needed in days when superficial cleverness, or real ability untrammelled by scruples, too often fills the public eye by the meretricious aid of the self advertisement which the Queen abhorred. Her triumphs have been won by sheer force of character. Though richly endowed with saving common sense, and with that sanity of judgment which is the highest of intellectual gifts, the Queen was not especially remarkable for high development of any specialized intellectual force. It was by the combination of sanity of judgment with inflexible integrity and unwavering grasp of the fundamental principles of conduct that she attained results far beyond the reach of the most brilliant intellectual endowments wanting that basis of character.

Epochs sometimes find names that do not very accurately fit them, but we can speak with singular accuracy of the Victorian age. So far as any period in the development of a nation can be taken out of its context and treated as a chapter by itself, the period covered by the reign of Queen Victoria can be so treated with quite unusual felicity. Her reign coincides very accurately with a sort of second renaissance, an intellectual movement accomplishing in a brief term more than had been done in preceding centuries. Since the days of Elizabeth there has been no such awakening of the mind of the nation, no such remarkable stride in the path of progress, no such spreading abroad of the British race and British rule over the world at large, as in the period covered by the reign whose end we now have to deplore.
In art, in letters, in music, in science, in religion, and, above all, in the moral and material advancement of the mass of the nation, the Victorian age has been a time of extraordinary activity. It is not easy without some concentration of thought to picture the transformation that has been wrought in the habits, ideas, and circumstances of the people of Great and Greater - Britain since the Queen ascended the Throne. Nor is it easy, though the task is well worth attempting, to realize with any adequacy how differently that transformation might have worked out but for the personal character and example of the Queen, and the beneficence of the silent, persistent influence she exerted upon those who in turn influenced the shaping of events.
There is much in what we see around us that we 'may easily and rightly wish to see improved. The laudator temporis acti may even contend that we have lost some things that had better have been preserved. But no permissible deductions can obscure the fact that the period in question has been one of intellectual upheaval, of enormous social and economic progress, and, upon the whole, of moral and spiritual improvement. It is also true, unfortunately, that the impetus has to some extent spent itself. At the close of the reign we are finding ourselves somewhat less secure of our position than we could desire, and somewhat less abreast of the problems of the age than we ought to be, considering the initial advantages we secured. 

The "condition of England question" does not present itself in so formidable a shape as at the beginning of the reign, but it does arouse the attention of those who try to look a little ahead of current business.
Others have learned our lessons and bettered our instructions while we have been too easily content to rely upon the methods which were effective a generation or two ago. In this way the Victorian age is defined at its end as well as at its beginning. The command of natural forces that made us great and rich has been superseded by newer discoveries and methods, and we have to open what may be called a new chapter.
But "the first of the new in our race's story beats the last of the old." If we now enter upon our work in the spirit embodied in the untiring vigilance and the perpetual openness of mind that distinguished the Queen, if, like her, we reverence knowledge and hold duty imperfectly discharged until we have brought all attainable knowledge to bear upon its performance, her descendants will witness advance not less important than that of her long and glorious reign.

 

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