THE CHANGING SCENE
DICKENS lived through the years which saw the making of modern England, and of the middle-class oligarchy which is its government. His boyhood ended with the struggles for Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill: his writing life coincided almost exactly with the rule of the Ten-Pound Householders. Middle- class government then meant middle-class reform-- the assault on obsolete privileges and procedure, the abolition of restraints on trade, industry, and acquisitiveness, and the painful construction of a legal and administrative system adapted to the conditions which gave the middle classes their power.
The technical achievements of the years between 1812 and 1870 had a far greater effect on those who saw them than any such achievements since: railways altered the whole pattern of the country's life more deeply than cars or aeroplanes. For us, accustomed to ever-accelerating change, it is difficult to recover the mood of mixed utilitarian satisfaction and emotional excitement with which railway, telegraph, and submarine cable were greeted. Our grandfathers were enthralled by such books as Lardner's on the steam-engine and his Museum of Science and Art 'illustrated by engravings on wood'. The cuts of cranks and valves provoked them to something like aesthetic enthusiasm; the titbits of astronomy1 and geology made them think____________________