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Historical Characters in the Reign of Queen Anne

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THE reign of Queen Anne is one of the most illustrious in English history. In literature it has been common to call it the Augustan age. In politics it has all the interest of a transition period, less agitating, but not less important, than the actual era of revolution. In war, it is, with the exception of the great European wars of the beginning of this century, the most glorious for the English arms of any that have elapsed since Henry V. set up his rights of conquest over France. Opinions change as to the advantage of such superiorities; and, still more, as to the glory which is purchased by bloodshed; yet, according to the received nomenclature, and in the language of all the ages, the time of Marlborough cannot be characterized as anything but glorious. A great general, statesmen of eminence, great poets, men of letters of the first distinction—these are points in which this period cannot easily be excelled. It pleases the fancy to step historically from queen to queen, and to find in each a center of national greatness knitting together the loose threads of the great web. “The spacious times of great Elizabeth” bulk larger and more magnificently in history than those of Anne, but the two eras bear a certain balance which is agreeable to the imagination. And we can scarcely help regretting that the great age of Wordsworth and Scott, Byron and Wellington, should not have been deferred long enough to make the reign of Victoria the third noblest period of modern English history. But time has here balked us. This age is not without its own greatness, but it is not the next in national sequence to that of Anne, as Anne’s was to that of Elizabeth. In the reigns of both these queens this country was trembling between two dynasties, scarcely yet removed from the convulsion of great political changes, and feeling that nothing but the life of the sovereign on the throne stood between it and unknown rulers and dangers to come. The deluge, in both cases, was ready to be let loose after the termination of the life of the central personage in the state. And thus the reign of Anne, like that of Elizabeth, was to her contemporaries the only piece of solid ground amid a sea of evil chances. What was to come after was clear to none.

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