This royal throne of kings,
this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
In Tennyson’s Princess we find an echo of these words, where the poet, in contrasting England and France, monarchy and republic—much to the disadvantage of the latter—says:
God bless the narrow sea which
keeps her off,
And keeps our Britain, whole within herself,
A nation yet, the rulers and the ruled.
But at a later date, in an “Epilogue to the Queen,” at the close of the Idylls of the King, Tennyson has said farewell to his narrow insular views, and speaks of
Our ocean-empire with her
For ever-broadening England, and her throne
In our vast Orient, and one isle, one isle,
That knows not her own greatness: if she knows
And dreads it we are fall’n.
He had come to recognize the necessity for guarding and maintaining the Empire, with all its greatness and all its burdens, as part of this country’s destiny.
It is a little difficult to realize that the British Empire, as we now know it, has been created within only the last hundred years. Beaconsfield, in his novel Contarini Fleming, describes the difference between ancient and modern colonies. “A modern colony,” he says, “is a commercial enterprise, an ancient colony was a political sentiment.” In other words, colonies were a matter of ‘cash’ to modern nations, such as the Spaniards: in the time of the ancients there was a close tie, a feeling of kinship, and the colonist was not looked upon with considerable contempt and dislike by the Mother Country.
Beaconsfield believed that there would come a time, and that not far distant, when men would change their ideas. “I believe that a great revolution is at hand in our system of colonization, and that Europe will soon recur to the principles of the ancient polity.”
This feeling of pride in the growth and expansion of our great over-seas dominions is comparatively new, and there was a time when British ministers seriously proposed separation, from what they considered to be a useless burden.
The ignorance of all that concerned the colonies in the early years of Victoria’s reign was extraordinary, and this accounted, to a great extent, for the indifference with which the English people regarded the prospect of drifting apart.