The closing days of 1859 were made memorable by the death of Lord Macaulay. We have already in this book borne tribute to the services which Macaulay had rendered to many a great political cause. But he will be remembered in English history as the literary man rather than as the politician. He was, undoubtedly, a great success as a speaker in the House of Commons, in spite of a somewhat defective manner and an unattractive, uninspiring presence. His success as an orator was due chiefly to the literary charms of his style, to the vividness of his illustrations and his sarcasm, to his happy allusions and his inexhaustible wealth of citation. It is a commonly received dogma that a spoken essay never succeeds in the House of Commons; but Macaulay's speeches, although they were spoken essays undoubtedly, were at the time a complete success there; and it is positively affirmed by those who can remember the events that no man ever filled the House of Commons more certainly than Macaulay did when he rose to take part in a debate. He is now remembered, however, not as the Member of Parliament but as the essayist, the historian, and the ballad-writer. Towards the close of his life he was raised to the peerage; and his friends confidently hoped that he would be able to take a commanding part in the debates of the House of Lords. But his health broke down almost suddenly; he had overtasked himself, and probably his four years' residence in India, where he held the post of legal adviser to the Supreme Council, was not without injurious effect on his physical condition. He was only in his sixtieth year when he died on the 28th of December, 1859, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey during the first week of 1860.
The 23rd of June, 1860, is fairly entitled to be called a remarkable day in modern English history. It was the occasion of the Great Review by the Queen and the Prince Consort of the whole newly-formed army of Volunteers in Hyde Park. The Volunteer companies, numbering about twenty thousand men, were reviewed by her Majesty in the presence of several members of the Royal Family and the King of the Belgians. A vast crowd of people assembled in the Park to see this splendid spectacle, and the whole day passed off without a single serious accident. About fourteen thousand of the Volunteers belonged to the metropolis itself, and about six thousand to the provinces. The movement at that time was only in what might be called its infancy. Like many other movements in modern English history, it owed its existence to events which were going on in France. The sudden rise of Louis Napoleon and the warlike policy which France, under its new Bonapartist government seemed likely to pursue, filled the minds of many influential Englishmen with a sense of the pressing necessity of a defensive organisation in England. A circular was issued on May 12, 1859, by General Peel, brother of the great Sir Robert Peel, and Secretary for War at that time, proposing the organisation of a National Volunteer Association. Out of this grew the whole Volunteer Association as we have since known it. Volunteer corps had been established from time to time in earlier days for defensive purposes; but the Volunteer system, which is still in growth and has already assumed vast dimensions, and is a part of the regular military defence of the country, owes its origin to the movement of 1859.
In March, 1860, appeared the volume called "Essays and Reviews," by six clergymen and one layman of the Church of England, a book which was destined to create something like a commotion among the religious denominations and also among the freethinkers of these countries. The book was a series of essays on religious Subjects, and among its writers were the Rev. Dr. Temple, now Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Mark Pattison, and Professors Jowett and Baden Powell. The volume was condemned by Convocation and was the occasion of prolonged proceedings in ecclesiastical courts.
Another agitation which had to do with religious subjects was created by the introduction of the Census Bill in 1860. According to the ordinary course since 1801 the census of the United Kingdom is taken every ten years. An Act of Parliament authorising the census is passed in the Parliamentary Session preceding the year in which the census is actually taken. This is almost always merely a work of routine and excites no opposition, but in the Census Bill of 1860 the Government introduced a clause making religious profession a part of the return which every person was called upon to supply. A strong objection was made to this clause by many of the dissenting bodies, and indeed by large numbers of persons who were not dissenters, on the ground that to compel people to disclose their religious profession was an interference with liberty of conscience. The Government yielded to pressure, the clause was withdrawn, and the census was taken in the usual form.
On the 14th of December, 1861, the Prince Consort died of typhoid fever at Windsor Castle. The news came not only as a national shock, for that it would have been in any case, but as a surprise also, for the public in general did not know how dangerous was the malady, or suspect how near was the end. The Prince Consort had been a most devoted husband and a model father. His position in England had been one of considerable difficulty, for there were critics inclined to find fault if he made himself too prominent in public life, and there were others equally ready to find fault with him if he showed a desire to hold himself too far aloof. He bore himself, however, with admirable discretion on the whole, and was as blameless in public as in private life. It was well said of him that he would have made an unequalled Minister of Public Education in perpetual office. The cause of international peace lost a true friend in him. He died, indeed, at a moment when the country could ill have spared him. The great Civil War in the American Republic had just broken out. Something like a quarrel had arisen between this country and the Federal Government in consequence of the seizure of the Confederate envoys on board the English steamer Trent by the United States sloop of war San Jacinto. The quarrel was settled in the end, but in the meantime there was much ill-feeling caused in the Federal States by the knowledge that the great majority of those who constitute what in England is called "society" were, for some reason or other, impassioned partisans of the Southern or rebel States.