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THE language contains not many better pieces of
writing than the few lines of prose prefixed by
Dryden, at a time of much actual disaster and worse
anticipation, to the first edition of his "Annus
Mirabilis." He addresses himself to London as to the
most renowned and late flourishing city; deplores what
she has suffered from exhausting war, consuming
pestilence, and more consuming fire; casts around her
temporary decline the incense of a regal flattery, and
ends by laying his poem at her feet. "Heaven never
made so much piety and virtue to leave it miserable.
I have heard, indeed, of some virtuous persons who
have ended unfortunately, but never of any virtuous
nation. Providence is engaged too deeply when the
cause becomes so general."

At the commencement of a year which has opened
with too much of the prospect of another Annus
Mirabilis, the old poet's remark may help the reader to a
somewhat easier digestion of the not very inviting
fare served up in our narrative of the month. As he
contemplates the aspect of affairs abroad and at home,
as his eye wanders over the neighbouring shores of
France or through the distant bush-land of Caffraria,
as he reads of Hungary, of Germany, of Italy, and
seems to see everywhere the clouds gathering more
and more darkly, let him still derive comfort from
the thought that "Providence is engaged too deeply
when the cause becomes so general." That such is
the instinct of a people themselves when they find
themselves in such circumstances, would seem to be
beyond a doubt. When we penetrate beneath the
surface of any apparently general calamity, nothing is
so strange as to find the ordinary currents of human
life moving on with little suffering or disturbance.
The student of our great civil wars is continually startled
in this way; and every one knows with what an appetite
Mr. Pepys and his friends, "all of us, to dinner,
upon a good venison pasty, and mighty merry," amid
London half-depopulated by the great plague, and
more than half consumed by the great fire.

It is not many months since a jocose representation
was made in this Narrative of the various evil signs
and tokens which, at that time, taking particular facts
to justify general conclusions, seemed to announce
the near dissolution of all order and society throughout
the three kingdoms. Yet it may now be admitted
in more sober seriousness that the mishaps which
have signalised the opening of 1852 bear with a
gloomier portent of disaster on the general interests
and common welfare. Take as an illustration of this
the five or six several topics, which, in gloomy
succession, were the subject of editorial comment,
in that single number of the leading journal which was
published on the seventh morning of the new year.

First came the announcement that certain ruin
impended over us unless the country could find a
stronger government than that which has present
possession of Downing Street, and after it an
elaborate disquisition to prove that the state of parties
was such as to render any stronger government
absolutely impossible. The incapacity of each was
shown to be complete. The Protectionists had a
millstone round their necks, with which even a show
of action and progress was not compatible; the
Manchester men laboured under the disadvantage of
professions in advance of opinions, as well as of opinions
decidedly in advance of facts; and not only were the
Peelites in the painful dilemma of having a personal
position at war with their public one, but, with too
few followers to form a ministry, of having too many
leaders to act with one. The inevitable conclusion
presented itself, that there was nobody but Lord
John for the place, but that Lord John was not strong
enough for it, and that the good ship the State would
soon be helpless among the breakers. Passing from
this with saddened thoughts, the reader would next
observe, by the subject which next invited his attention,
that, not content with leaving our wooden walls
to the dry-rot of inefficient superintendence, our
public men had by careless and profligate ignorance
exposed large bodies of our seamen to be poisoned by
provisioning the navy with preserved meats unfit for
human use. Then he would take note, that, such
being our treatment of the navy, our treatment of the
army had of late proceeded on the not less absurd as
well as cruel principle of providing, by means of
aimless muskets, awkward accoutrements, and scarlet
coats, that they should always miss and never be
missed by the enemy. Thoroughly disheartened by
these unpalatable truths about the two great
services, our student of the times might then
pass with something like hope (short-sighted man!)
to the next topic that awaited him, perceiving
that it related to a branch of civil life and peaceful
industry, in which British skill is confessedly
pre-eminent, and of which the British Islands possess
almost a monopoly. But here, alas! he would find,
that, an unhappy dispute having arisen between the
master engineers and their workmen, no less than
thirty thousand of the best machinists and practical
artisans in the world were just about to be turned
adrift without employment, with a certain result of
misery to the men and of distress to the masters
incalculable, as well perhaps as of ruin irremediable to
the machinists' trade, and a total destruction of the
fund out of which engineering labour should in future
have looked to be remunerated. Nor, though he
might reasonably suppose himself by this time to
have had his fill of doleful news for one day, would
the lamentable record spare him even yet. Still there
awaited him the announcement of a terrible fire at
sea, unequalled in the records of such calamity; and,
on the same woe-fraught page, the miserable tidings
of new disgrace to our army in South Africa, and
lamentations for the deaths of several officers high
in the service of England, in a mean and unworthy
conflict with hordes of untutored savages.

Such being the character of the day's comment in a
single journal on the news of a single day, it would
be useless to attempt, by any amount of smiling