Witness to History
Sarah remained in mourning for William Meredith for several months. After losing not only her one chance for romantic love but also her one prospect for a life in which she might gain fulfillment through her own actions, she at first showed little inclination to continue with her existence. Then, toward the end of the year, she abruptly cast off her sadness and with a new determination turned her attention again to the affairs of the world. She found renewed joy in the presence of her brother. She discovered that his voyage to the East had not only restored his physical health but also inspired in him a powerful urge to win a name for himself in history. Having visited the domains of ancient emperors, kings, and patriarchs, having contemplated their past glory, Benjamin became filled with the desire that his own name and deeds be equally remembered and honored by future generations. Would he achieve his fame in politics or literature or as the champion of a noble cause? At the moment, Benjamin was not sure. Sarah did not know either; but whichever it was, she would be there with him.
Throughout his journey, Sarah had kept Benjamin closely informed about domestic politics. His months in the East corresponded with the new Whig government's introduction of the Great Reform Bill. Although the first draft had been thrown out by the reactionary House of Lords, the public clamor for a major expansion of the right to vote had become so great by the winter of 1831 that many people feared a violent revolution if it was not granted soon. As he watched the stormy birth of a new age in British history, Benjamin decided that the time might now be propitious for a career in Parliament.
The Whigs and Tories who had controlled the Parliament Benjamin wished to enter since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 bore little resemblance to modern political parties. Rather, they were loose alliances of semi-independent factions. Responsible before 1832 to only four percent of the male population, neither