48. Victoria, A.D. 1837—1855
The Princess Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent, was but eighteen years old when she was Queen of England.
She went with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, to live, sometimes at Buckingham Palace and sometimes at Windsor Castle, and the next year she was crowned in state at Westminster Abbey. Everyone saw then how kind she was, for when one of the lords, who was very old, stumbled on the steps as he came to pay her homage, she sprang up from her throne to help him.
Three years later she was married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, a most excellent men, who made it his whole business to help her in all her duties as sovereign of the great country, without putting himself forward. Nothing ever has been more beautiful than the way those two behaved to one another; she never forgetting that he was her husband and she only his wife, and he always remembering that she was really the queen, and that he had no power at all. He had a clear head and good judgment that everyone trusted to, and yet he always kept himself in the background, that the queen might have all the credit of whatever was done.
He took much pains to get all that was good and beautiful encouraged, and to turn people's minds to doing things not only in the quickest and cheapest, but in the best and most beautiful way possible. One of these plans that he carried out was to set up what he called an International Exhibition, namely—a great building, to which every country was invited to send specimens of all its arts and manufactures. It was called the World's Fair. The house was of glass, and was a beautiful thing in itself. It was opened on the 1st of May, 1851; and, though there have been many great International Exhibitions since, not one has come up to the first.
People talked as if the World's Fair was to make all nations friends; but it is not showing off their laces and their silks, their ironwork and brass, their pictures and statues, that can keep them at peace; and, only two years after the Great Exhibition, a great war broke out in Europe—only a year after the great Duke of Wellington had died, full of years and honors.
The only country in Europe that is not Christian is Turkey; and the Russians have always greatly wished to conquer Turkey, and join it on to their great empire. The Turks have been getting less powerful for a long time past, and finding it harder to govern the country; and one day the Emperor of Russia asked the English ambassador, Sir Hamilton Seymour, if he did not think the Turkish power a very sick man who would soon be dead. Sir Hamilton Seymour knew what this meant; and he knew the English did not think it right that the Russians should drive out the Sultan of Turkey—even though he is not a Christian; so he made the emperor understand that if the sick man did die, it would not be for want of doctors.
Neither the English nor the French could bear that the Russians should get so much power as they would have, if they gained all the countries down to the Mediterranean Sea; so, as soon as ever the Russians began to attack the Turks, the English and French armies were sent to defend them; and they found the best way of doing this was to go and fight the Russians in their own country, namely—the Crimea, the peninsula which hangs as it were, down into the Black Sea. So, in the autumn of the year 1854, the English and French armies, under Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud, were landed in the Crimea, where they gained a great victory on their first landing, called the battle of the Alma, and then besieged the city of Sebastopol. It was a very long siege, and in the course of it the two armies suffered sadly from the cold and damp, and there was much illness; but a brave English Lady, named Florence Nightingale, went out with a number of nurses to take care of the sick and wounded, and thus she saved a great many lives. There were two more famous battles. One was when six hundred English horsemen were sent by mistake against a whole battery of Russian cannon, and rode on as bravely as if they were not seeing their comrades shot down, till scarcely half were left. This was called the Charge of Balaklava. The other battle was when the Russians crept out, late in the evening of November 5, to attack the English camp: and there was a dreadful fight by night and in the early morning on the heights of Inkerman; but at last the English won the battle, and gave the day a better honor that it had had before. Then came a terrible winter of watching the city and firing at the walls; and when at last, on the 18th of June, 1855, it was assaulted, the defenders beat the attack off; and Lord Raglan, worn out with care and vexation, died a few days after. However, soon another attack was made, and in September half the city was won. The Emperor of Russia had died during the war, and his son made peace, on condition that Sebastopol should not be fortified again, and that the Russians should let the Turks alone, and keep no fleet in the Black Sea.
In this war news flew faster than ever it had done before. You heard how Benjamin Franklin found that electricity—that strange power of which lightning is the visible sign—could be carried along upon metal wire. It has since been made out how to make the touch of a magnet at one end of these wires make the other end move so that letters can be pointed to, words spelt out and messages sent to any distance with really the speed of lightning. This is the wonderful electric telegraph, of which you see the wires upon the railway.