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Then, seeing that sons and daughters are being torn from their parents, sisters from their brothers, and husbands from their wives, I thought it would be helpful if I could find in our own history the perfect mother, father, husband, wife, sister, and brother, whose behaviour might be an example to the parents, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers of our own times.
The characters I have chosen are not remote from us. All of them except two (Lord Melbourne, who died in 1848, and Charles Lamb, who died in 1834) survived into the lifetime of my mother, who is still alive. With the exception of Queen Victoria and Gladstone, they lived through the Napoleonic wars, when the menace of Napoleon foreshadowed the menace of Hitler, and the period of distress which followed. Thus their lives have an affinity with ours.
Queen Victoria's reign was not a period of unbroken peace and plenty, as some of the modern generation suppose. Its early years coincided with acute and widespread misery among the people, and the list of her wars is formidable. She was left a widow at forty-two, with nine fatherless children, and the enormous task of governing the British Empire. Gladstone throughout much of his life was engaged in bitter political controversy, through his endeavour to give Home Rule to Ireland.
The men and women whose biographies make up this book did not live easy lives, though most of them were great and powerful. Since they had been given much, much was required of them, and, as Disraeli wrote of Queen Victoria, they never quailed. Hence we find Palmerston, when turned eighty, climbing the tall railings at Brocket to test his strength for the session of Parliament he would never live to see, and Queen Victoria, her heart in her husband's grave, grappling faithfully with her colossal destiny.