BUT nineteenth-century England, especially during its characteristic period between 1830 and 1880, had its ugly sides. There was great self-congratulation over the perfection of her constitution, industries, social life, and moral principles. It was punctuated by criticism from almost every one whose opinion we now value. Dickens's contemporary novels were full of angry satire and sentimental denunciation:
Matthew Arnold in his prose works harped more fastidiously on the same string. Carlyle and Ruskin advocated fantastic alternatives to the grubby ideals of their generation. It was a pleasant land for those of ample means and strong nerves. For the great mass of people who were poor, and the smaller number who disliked ugly buildings, hypocrisy and pompous absurdity, it was less pleasant. Still, in most respects it compared favourably with the Continent.
Without attempting to describe the events of 1815-1914 chronologically, we shall sketch their general tendency in Great Britain under five headings-economic development; political changes; social development; the new British Empire; and finally (the black exception to the general prosperity) the story of Ireland.
Railways, originated by the great Trevithick and made practicable by George Stephenson in 1821-30, slowly spread over England. Vested interests opposed them and were bought out at a price; speculators saw to it that the usual semi-fraudulent features of a "boom" were not absent;
and the stiff English objection to planning development ahead and to interfering with everybody's right to do as he pleased with his property had not yet been curbed. So railways remained in the hands of a large number of private companies, and at first there was much waste in competition, and adequate reserves were not accumulated.
In almost all matters there was complete (and fallacious) faith that the operations of supply and demand would cause enterprising producers to meet the needs of discriminating consumers for goods and services, with cash as the universal lubricant. In this spirit private companies were allowed to project schemes for canals, often impracticable and expensive, with insufficient and unstandardised width and depth, so that frequent changes of boat made costs excessive. The railways were allowed to buy up the canals and discouraged traffic on competing routes.
However, communications in general became very good. The stage coaches died out and for many years (about 1850-1900) there was very little road traffic, except local horse traffic, with cycle traffic from the seventies onwards. The Royal Mail began to convey letters for a penny in 1840--the charge had been formerly a shilling or so-and the telegraph made faint beginnings about the same time. Motor travel began in the eighties. All this time railway services improved in speed, comfort, and frequency.