Skip to main content


Textual Feature Appearance
Whitman's hand blue double overline and underline
Highlighting yellow background with top and bottom border
Paste-on gray box with black borders
Laid in white box with black borders
Erasure white text with dark gray background
Overwritten brown with strikethrough
[begin surface 1] [begin surface 2]

  Physical Great Britain  
  of the date of about  


land, Lord High [illegible] Cromwell, Earl of [illegible] surer. There, to [illegible] whom nature and [illegible] their bounties in [illegible] grace, genius, royal [illegible] conducted to an ear [illegible] Not far off sleep [illegible] house of Howard, [illegible]

[illegible]ilip, eleventh Earl of Arun- [illegible]ere, among the thick graves [illegible] aspiring statesmen, lie [illegible]ferers; Margaret of Salis- [illegible]se two fair Queens who [illegible]ealous rage of Henry. Such [illegible]h which the dust of Mon- [illegible]



The British empire is acknowledged to be one of the greatest which exist, or ever existed, on the face of the earth. Its territories are of vast extent; embracing England, Ireland, and Scotland, which constitute what is termed the mother country, and a range of colonies and dependencies in all quarters of the world.

England may be considered the central and principal portion of the empire. With Wales, it contains fifty-two counties, or thirty-seven millions of acres, and a population of about fifteen millions. Scotland, which was incorporated with England in 1707, contains thirty three counties, or twenty millions of acres and a population of about two and a half millions. Ireland, which was annexed to the English crown at an early period, but not united under the same legislative system till 1800, contains thirty-two counties, or twenty millions of acres, and a population of eight millions.

The metropolis of the British empire is London, and here are situated the palaces of the Queen and royal family, the Houses of Parliament, the chief law courts, and numerous institutions of national importance. Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and Dublin, the capital of Ireland, have been only of secondary importance since the union of those countries with England.

England is esteemed a beautiful country. Excepting in the western parts, which are mostly hilly, the surface is either level or composed of gentle slopes, bearing rich crops, and adorned with trees and hedgerows. The country abounds in noblemen and gentlemen's seats of handsome architecture, old castles, cathedrals, and churches, and its cottages The Press, the  
  most important of the  
  modern "estates", is  
  left out—
are more neat and attractive than those of any other nation. From the general absence of hard stone near the surface, the towns are mostly built of brick.

Scotland, or the northern part of Britain, is more rugged and hilly than England, and is much indented with arms of the sea. Its naturally inferior soil has been prodigiously improved by art in modern times, and the surface greatly beautified by plantations and the operations of the agriculturist. It is allowed that Scotland, latterly, has advanced in social and physical improvement at a more rapid pace than any other part of the civilised world, some of the states of the North American Union alone excepted.

Ireland, which, from the introduction of steam-navigation, is now within a few hours' sail of the west coast of Great Britain, is a moderately hilly and beautiful green island. It has many excellent harbours, and is finely situated for trade, either with the continent of Europe or America. Possessing all the advantages of a connexion with Britain, and going along with it in great commercial undertakings, it cannot be doubted that Ireland will ultimately enjoy a degree of prosperity equal to that of any part of the empire.

The oldest existing colonies of Britain are those of the West Indies, chiefly consisting of a series of islands stretching across the great bay which nearly divides North from South America. Jamaica, the largest and most important of these islands, contains about four hundred thousand inhabitants, of whom only about thirty-seven thousand are white people, the rest being negroes, most of whom were originally slave labourers. Barbadoes, Trinidad, and the other West India colonies, are less populous, the full amount being in each case divided in the same proportions between blacks and whites.

[begin surface 3] 678 CHAMBERS.

the Cabinet Ministers, and responsible for the advice they give.

The two Houses of Parliament usually sit, during a considerable portion of every year, in deliberation upon the affairs of the country, and for the enactment of new, or the repeal of old laws. Any member of either house may propose a new law; but this duty is chiefly undertaken by the king's ministers, and it is to the Lower or Commons House that new laws are usually first proposed. When a proposed law has been introduced in the shape of a bill, and sanctioned in one House, it passes on to another, which may receive, reject, or modify it. If it passes both, it is submitted to the king, who may give or withhold his approbation. When it has received the sanction of all the three branches of the legislature, it is called an Act of Parliament, and becomes part of the laws of the country. The bills for the pecuniary supplies necessary for the public service, are introduced exclusively by the House of Commons: they may be rejected by the House of Lords; but for that house to alter them, or to introduce any bill which involves pecuniary supply to the government, is considered a breach of the privileges of the Lower House.

The public revenue of the United Kingdom is derived principally from four sources, namely—customs duties, excise duties, stamp duties, and assessed taxes.

Customs duties are charged on most articles imported into, or exported from, the country. Excise duties are charged on certain commodities produced or manufactured at home.

Stamp duties are mostly laid on the parchment or paper on which certain deeds, receipts, newspapers, etc., are written or printed, and derive their name from the parchment or paper being impressed with a stamp, stating the amount of the duty.


Assessed taxes include the duties on windows, servants, horses, carriages, etc. There are some other inferior sources of revenue, such as the Post-office.

The revenue of the United Kingdom amounted in the year ending January 5, 1839, to upwards of 51,000,000 and the expenditure to nearly the same.

The public expenditure is made up of a vast variety of items, the most important of which is the interest of the National Debt. The amount of the debt in 1839 was L841,000,000, chiefly composed of various stocks, or loans at certain rates of interest. Lenders of money to the public are called stock or fund holders. The interest payable on the debt in 1839 was L29,000,000.

The home territories of the empire are alone concerned in maintaining and controlling the government. It is known that an attempt to raise taxes in the colonies of North America, which sent no parliamentary representatives to join in imposing them, was the means of separating those colonies from the parent state. Since then, no similar attempt has been made in any other colonies of Great Britain. The most important of these, exclusive of India, are managed under the supreme direction of the British government, by governors appointed by the king, and by legislative bodies, raised within themselves, and resembling the British Parliament. The revenue of the home country is nevertheless employed in protecting and fostering these dependencies, which have been ascertained to cost considerably more, year by year, than any direct profit which can be derived from the commerce which they carry on with British merchants.

The army of Great Britain has always maintained a high reputation for valour, good conduct, and fortitude; and her navy, unequalled in the annals of the world, has afforded the means of protecting her commerce, and securing her possessions in the most distant quarters of the globe. The number of land forces at home and abroad during the year 1836—7 was 101,089; and the charge for their maintenance was L3,330,420. Of these forces, one fifih was employed in the East Indies; and the rest in the United Kingdom and foreign stations.

The navy of Great Britain in 1835 consisted of 443 ships of various descriptions, namely, 15 ships of the first rate, 19 of the second, 55 of the third, 22 of the fourth, 81 of the fifth, 26 of the sixth, and 225 small vessels. The number of seamen and marines was 26,500, and the charge 4,245,723 pd. st.

Ships of the first rate are all three-decked and carry at least 100 guns, and 800 men; those of the second rate carry at least 80 guns, and 700 men; the third, at least 70 guns, and 600 men; the fourth, at least 50 guns, and 400 men; the fifth, at least 36 guns, and 250 men; and the sixth, at least 24 guns, and under 250 men.

[begin surface 4] 679 CHAMBERS.

The navy employed in peace is composed of only 10 or 12 ships of the line, and twice as many frigates, sloops, and other vessels.

A distinguishing feature in the organisation of the British army and navy, is the care taken of the men. Few nations so generously clothe, feed, pay, and otherwise render comfortable their soldiers and sailors, as the British.

Justice, civil and criminal, is administered in England and Ireland according to laws and forms which took their rise in the former country, and were in time extended to the latter. The English law, as it is comprehensively termed, is of two kinds-written or statu˄ e law, consisting of the laws established by acts of Parliament—and consuetudinary law, consisting of customs which have existed from time immemorial, and have received the sanction of the judges. Consuetudinary law is again divided into common law and equity; the former is administered by courts which profess to adhere strictly to the old laws of England, except in as far as they are altered by statu˄ e; the latter was founded upon the principle that the king, in cases of hardship, was entitled to give relief from the strictness of the common law. Equity, though thus originated, has now become also a fixed kind of law, and is administered in courts which decide according to established rules.

The principal court for civil suits, is the Court of Common Pleas. The Court of King's (or Queen’s) Bench, which was at first only a criminal tribunal, and the Court of Exchequer, which was designed only to decide in cases concerning the revenue, have become civil courts by means of fictions in their respective modes of procedure. The court of Chancery, presided over by the Lord Chancellor, administers the law of equity. Courts under these designations sit both in Westminster and in Dublin: there are also courts of assize, which, in England, perform six provincial circuits, in some instances once, and in others twice a-year. Minor cases, criminal as well as civil, are judged by bodies of provincial magistracy, who meet in every county once every quarter of a year. Besides the civil and criminal tribunals, there are Ecclesiastical Courts, which have jurisdiction in matters connected with marriage, wills, etc. and adopt the principles of the old canon law. There are also Courts of Admiralty, which decide questions between persons of different nations, according to the code of civil law recognised throughout Europe.

Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and other small islands in the British Channel, which politically belong to the United Kingdom, possess a variety of peculiar privileges and legal usages. The Isle of Man, situated in the sea between England and Ireland, likewise possesses certain peculiar privileges.

In Scotland, laws peculiar to itself founded upon the principles of the Roman and the Feudal law, are administered by a supreme civil tribunal, denominated the Court of Session, which remains fixed at Edinburgh, and by a criminal tribunal, named the Court of Justiciary, which not only sits in the same city, but makes circuits through the provinces. Minor civil and criminal cases are also judged in Scotland by the sheriffs of the various counties, and the magistrates of the boroughs.

Scotland possesses the advantage of public prosecution of offences, the injured party being only a complainer to the public prosecutor. The chief public prosecutor is the Lord Advocate; the inferior public prosecutors, in connexion with the various minor courts, are termed procurators-fiscal. The whole expense of prosecution is defrayed by the national exchequer.

The peculiar boast of the criminal law of the British Empire, is the Jury. In England and Ireland, where the principle of the criminal law requires the injured party or his representative to prosecute, he can only do so by permission of a jury of accusation, called the Grand Jury; another jury sits for the purpose of deciding if the evidence against the accused has established the guilt. These juries consist in England and Ireland of twelve men, whose verdict must be unanimous; in Scotland, the jury upon the charge consists of fifteen men, who decide by a plurality of votes. The jury is an institution of Scandinavian origin, transmitted to Britain through the Saxons, and it is justly considered as a most efficient protection of the subject from the vindictiveness of power. Civil cases, turning upon matters of fact, are also decided in all parts of the United Kingdom by juries.

The House of Lords, as the great council of the king, acts as a court of last appeal from the civil tribunals of Britain and Ireland. Practically, the business of hearing these appeals is undertaken by some law

[begin surface 5] 680 CHAMBERS.

lord, such as the Lord Chancellor, who, as there must be three persons present, is usually accompanied by a temporal peer and a bishop. Before deciding, the House sometimes demands the opinions of the English judges.

The laws and judicial usages of England and Ireland are extended to most of the colonial possessions, along with all the rights and privileges which are common to British subjects. Hence, the inhabitants of the most distant part of the empire, whatever be their origin, rank, or colour, are entitled by the constitution to enjoy the same degree of civil and religous liberty, and the same careful protection of life and property, as their fellow-subjects in the mother country. This is an invaluable boon, for in no nation do the people practically enjoy greater liberty of speech or action (without licentiousness), and in none is the press more unshackled. Next in point of value to the privilege of trial by jury, the British subject places the right of petition to the Houses of Parliament, either for an improvement in the laws or a redress of grievances. As this involves the right of assembling publicly in a peaceful manner, or of meeting constitutionally, to discuss measures of government and legislation, it is allowed to form the impregnable bulwark of British political freedom.

All classes of religious thinkers receive toleration from the British government, except those who openly offend against public decency and the public peace. In England and Ireland, the Protestant Episcopalian form of church government and worship is established in intimate alliance with the state, the king being its supreme head, with a hierarchy composed of archbishops, bishops, deans, and sub-deans; in Scotland, the established religion is the Protestant Presbyterian, the clergy of which are all equal, and have no authorities but those which they form collectively in their own courts.

In England, the established church comprehends nearly twelve thousand places of worship. The church in Ireland numbers thirteen hundred and eighty-five benefices, distributed over two thousand three hundred and forty-eight parishes; while the Scottish Presbyterian establishment embraces eleven hundred churches, in about one thousand parishes. The established clergy of the three kingdoms are supported by public funds, chiefly arising from the fruits of the earth; and hence their congregations in general enjoy their ministrations gratuitously. Nevertheless, a large proportion of the middle and lower classes of the people in the three kingdoms prefer supporting, by direct contribution, religious ministrations more accordant with their peculiar opinions.

In England and Scotland the dissenters are chiefly Protestants, acknowledging the same points of faith with the members of the established churches, but disapproving of their alliance with the state. The Protestant Dissenters of England have nearly eight thousand places of worship; those of Scotland nearly eight hundred. In England and Scotland, the Catholic places of worship amount to about four hundred and seventy. In Ireland, the population is divided into seven hundred and fifty-two thousand persons in connexion with the established church, about a hundred thousand Methodists, six hundred and forty-two thousand Presbyterians, and nearly six millions and a half of Catholics.

According to the constitution, wherever Britain establishes her civil authority, there also is established the Protestant Episcopalian form of church government and worship, except in cases where provision to the contrary has been made by terms of capitulation. Practically , however, there is perfect freedom in the exercise of religious belief and worship in all parts of the empire. In Lower Canada and Malta, Roman Catholicism; in Hindustan, Brahminism and Mahommedanism; and in Ceylon, the religion of Buddha—prevail. The Protestant Presbyterian form of church govement and worship, similar to that of Scotland, predominates in the Cape of Good Hope, according to agreement with the former Dutch occupants.

The chief institutions for education in England are the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the London University, and King’s College, in the metropolis; various free grammar-schools of ancient date, and a vast number of ordinary schools, supported by endowments, by private charity, or by the fees of the scholars.

The chief educational establishment in Ireland is Trinity College in Dublin. Ireland has other important seminaries of learning; and possesses a large variety of

elementary schools. Chief educational establishments  
  in Scotland are the universities of Edinbu[cut away] 
  Glasgow, Aberdeen, & St. Andrews— 
  Every parish is also provided with an 
  elementary school supported by endowm[cut away]
Back to top