DURING the nineteenth century, that age to which the twentieth century is apt to look back rather- wistfully, continental nations were torn asunder by revolutions and trampled on by foreign armies, but Great Britain enjoyed the most peaceful period in her long history. She had small colonial wars, but her army-very fortunately for her military prestige-only once met a European enemy in the localised Crimean War of 1854-56. Internal politics were lively, but there was common ground between the parties. In the thirties and forties there were riots which were mild by contrast with the tamest of the frequent demonstrations that Paris, for instance, saw.
Great Britain was certainly more prosperous and content than continental countries. She had no thwarted national aspirations, her constitution was the pattern for advanced continental Liberals, and, according to current standards, her population lived well. Political progress was slow, but overdue reforms were sooner or later carried out. The International Exhibition of 1851 might show that the Continent was rapidly catching up in certain branches of industry, but substantially England remained not only the workshop but also the bank of the world. The rigid caste system of pre-revolutionary France which survived into the nineteenth century in Prussia, Austria, and Russia, with its military proclivities and feudal relations to peasants, had died out in England; England's castes were fluid. Its oligarchy courted popular esteem, hat in hand, at parliamentary elections, earned applause in manly sports and, when necessary, surrendered something by due form of law. The security conferred by the narrow seas and the unquestioned supremacy of the Royal Navy prevented any military gang from trading on national apprehension, as they could do abroad. And despite periods of distress, especially 1815-46, real wages and the standard of living were rising throughout the century.