British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782-1901)


During the last hundred and fifty years, the rate of progress in man's command over nature has been ten times as fast as in the period between Caesar and Napoleon, a hundred times as fast as in the slow prehistoric ages. Tens of thousands of years divided man's first use of fire from his first application of it to iron. Even in the civilised era, when literature, science and philosophy were given us by Greece, the art of writing preceded the printing-press by tens of centuries. In those days each great invention was granted a lease of many ages in which to foster its own characteristic civilisation, before it was submerged by the next. But in our day, inventions, each implying a revolution in the habits of man, follow each other thick as the falling leaves. Modern history, beginning from the England of 1780, is a series of dissolving views. In each generation a new economic life half obliterates a predecessor little older than itself.

One example will suffice, that of inland transport. In the reign of George III the civilisation of the riding-horse and the pack-horse gave way to that of the coach, the waggon and the barge, because the soft road was at length superseded by the hard road, flanked by the canal. But no time was given to develop a new civilisation on that basis; Macadam had not yet taught Lord Eldon and the Duke of Wellington that they were living in a new world, before Stephenson's locomotive in its turn replaced the barge, the waggon and the coach. And then, before the society based on steam has worked out its peculiar destiny, petrol in our own day gives a new life to the old roads, and opens out the pathways of the air.

The changes going on during the same period in sea-traffic, in manufacture, and in the transmission of messages, tell the same story of a series of economic civilisations rapidly superimposed one on another.

Under these conditions, new in the history of man, races set apart for æons of time have been suddenly thrust together, not always in fraternal embrace. The vast, unvisited interior of Africa has been not only explored but overrun by Europe.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • London
Publication year:
  • 1922


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