It sometimes happens that Ministries which are least conspicuous by the brilliancy of their career or the talents of those who compose them, nevertheless confer the most lasting benefits on the nation. The crowning achievement of the Melbourne administration originated neither with a Minister, nor with one of those permanent officials upon whom Ministers rely to make up for their own inexperience of departmental work, but with a humble school teacher. Nobody at this day connects penny postage with the name of Mr. Spring Rice, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who paved the way for it in the Budget of 1839.



Interior, showing sorters at work, and exterior with net extended for taking in mails, and bag hung ready for delivery while the train is in motion.

The wildest enthusiasts can never have contemplated what have been the actual results as revealed by the Post Office returns of 1895-6. In 1837 there were 80,000 letters and 44,000 newspapers delivered through the Post Office in the United Kingdom - a total of 124,000 deliveries. In the twelve months of 1895- 6 the returns show that the deliveries (exclusive of telegrams) amounted to the stupendous figure of 3,031,553,196, representing 2,248 times the volume of business transacted in 1837, and producing a nett profit of £3,632,122. Certain races of primitive savages, it is said, have never acquired the art of counting beyond two ; everything beyond a pair being reckoned as " plenty." Such figures as those quoted above baffle even ordinary civilised powers of calculation ; very few persons are able to apprehend the idea of a million ; much less can they grasp the reality of growth represented in thousands of millions. Perhaps, the magnitude of the Post Office business at the present day can be best illustrated by its miscarriages. The value of property found in letters opened in the Returned Letter Offices in 1896 amounted to £580,000.


This building, completed in 1895, is occupied by the official, financial, and clerical
staffs of the Post Office.

The Penny Post, then, endures as the single masterpiece of the Melbourne Ministry, affording another example, if one were wanting, how men become famous for the achievements on which they pride themselves least. Macaulay, having returned from India at this time, had re-entered Parliament as member for Edinburgh, and joined the Cabinet as Secretary for War. Greville quotes him as having declared that he wished he could destroy all that he had written up to that date, for he thought " his time had been thrown away upon opuscula unworthy of his talents." He had resolved to apply himself to serious work - The History of England. But much of his literary renown rests on these opuscula : most people esteem Macaulay the essayist far more highly than Macaulay the historian or Macaulay the Minister. Greville himself, in relating this anecdote, unconsciously illustrates the inability of men to judge of their own performances. Speculating what Macaulay might have been "if he had wasted his time and frittered away his intellect as I have done mine," the diarist proceeds, " if I had been carefully trained and subjected to moral discipline, I might have acted a creditable and useful part." Possibly ; but in that case the journal, by which alone Greville is remembered, had never been written.

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