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The Great Exhibition








The idea of a "great exhibition of the Works and Industries of all
Nations" was Prince Albert's. The scheme when first proposed in 1849
was coldly received in this country. It was intended, to use the
Prince's own words, "To give us a true test and a living picture of
the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived
in this great task, and a new starting-point from which all nations
will be able to direct their further exertions."

The Times led the attack against the proposed site in Hyde Park,
and the public was uneasy at the thought of large numbers of
foreigners congregating in London, and at the expected importation
of foreign goods.

As showing the absurd things which 'John Bull' could say at this time
in his jealousy and dislike of foreigners the Prince wrote: "The
strangers, they give out, are certain to commence a thorough
revolution here, to murder Victoria and myself, and to proclaim the
Red Republic in England; the Plague is certain to ensue from the
confluence of such vast multitudes, and to swallow up those whom
the increased price of everything has not already swept away. For
all this I am to be responsible, and against all this I have to make
efficient provision."

Punch pictured the young Prince begging, cap in hand, for
subscriptions:

Pity the sorrows of a poor, young Prince
Whose costly schemes have borne him to your door;
Who's in a fix, the matter not to mince,
Oh! help him out, and Commerce swell your store!

Such constant worry and anxiety affected the Prince's health, but
the support of Sir Robert Peel and of many great firms gradually wore
down the opposition.

The building was designed by Paxton, who had risen from being a
gardener's boy in the Duke of Devonshire's service to the position
of the greatest designer of landscape-gardening in the kingdom.

He took his main ideas for the Crystal Palace from the great
conservatories at Kew and Chatsworth. It was like a huge greenhouse
in shape, nearly one thousand feet long and ninety feet high, with
fountains playing in the naves and a great elm-tree in full leaf under
the roof.

On May 1, 1851, the opening day, everything went well. The crowds
in the streets were immense, and there were some 34,000 visitors
present in the building during the opening ceremony.

Lord Macaulay was much impressed with the Exhibition, for he wrote
after the opening: "I was struck by the numbers of foreigners in the
streets. All, however, were respectable and decent people. I saw none
of the men of action with whom the Socialists were threatening
us. . . . I should think there must have been near three hundred
thousand people in Hyde Park at once. The sight among the green boughs
was delightful. The boats, and little frigates, darting across the
lake; the flags; the music; the guns;--everything was exhilarating,
and the temper of the multitude the best possible. . . .

"I made my way into the building; a most gorgeous sight; vast;
graceful; beyond the dreams of the Arabian romances. I cannot think
that the Caesars ever exhibited a more splendid spectacle. I was
quite dazzled, and I felt as I did on entering St Peter's. I wandered
about, and elbowed my way through the crowd which filled the nave,
admiring the general effect, but not attending much to details."

And again on the last day he wrote: "Alas! alas! it was a glorious
sight; and it is associated in my mind with all whom I love most.
I am glad that the building is to be removed. I have no wish to see
the corpse when the life has departed."

The Royal Party were received with acclamation all along the route.
"It was a complete and beautiful triumph,--a glorious and touching
sight, one which I shall ever be proud of for my beloved Albert and
my country," wrote the Queen. Six million people visited the Great
Fair during the time it remained open.

In one respect, however, it could scarcely be considered a triumph
for this country. It was still an ugly, and in some respects a vulgar,
age. The invention of machinery had done little or nothing to raise
the level of the public taste for what was appropriate and beautiful
in design. That an article cost a large sum of money to manufacture
and to purchase seemed sufficient to satisfy the untrained mind.

Generally speaking, the taste of the producers was uneducated and
much inferior to that of the French. Most of the designs in carpets,
hangings, pottery, and silks were merely copies, and were often
extremely ugly. England, at this time the first among the Industrial
Nations, had utterly failed to hold her own in the Arts.

Machinery had taken the place of handwork, and with the death of the
latter art and industry had ceased to have any relation. Public taste
in architecture was equally bad. A 'revival' of the art of the Middle
Ages resulted only in a host of poor imitations. "Thirty or forty
years ago, if you entered a cathedral in France or England, you could
say at once, 'These arches were built in the age of the
Conqueror--that capital belonged to the earlier Henrys.' . . . Now
all this is changed. You enter a cathedral, and admire some iron work
so rude you are sure it must be old, but which your guide informs
you has just been put up by Smith of Coventry. You see . . . some
painted glass so badly drawn and so crudely coloured it must be
old--Jones of Newcastle."[9]

[Footnote 9: Fergusson, History of Modern Styles of Architecture.]

John Ruskin, who was in many ways the greatest art teacher of his
age, was the first to point out the value and the method of correct
observation of all that is beautiful in nature and in art.

In an address on "Modern Manufacture and Design," delivered to the
working men of Bradford, he declared: "Without observation and
experience, no design--without peace and pleasurableness in
occupation, no design--and all the lecturings, and teachings, and
prizes and principles of art, in the world are of no use, so long
as you don't surround your men with happy influences and beautiful
things. . . . Inform their minds, refine their habits, and you form
and refine their designs; but keep them illiterate, uncomfortable,
and in the midst of unbeautiful things, and whatever they do will
still be spurious, vulgar, and valueless."

At the time, however, the Exhibition proved a great success, and the
Duke of Coburg carried most favourable impressions away with him.
He says: "The Queen and her husband were at the zenith of their
fame. . . . Prince Albert was not satisfied to guide the whole affair
only from above; he was, in the fullest sense of the word, the soul
of everything. Even his bitterest enemies, with unusual unreserve,
acknowledged the completeness of the execution of the scheme."

So far from there being a loss upon the undertaking there was actually
half a million of profit. The proceeds were devoted to securing
ground at South Kensington upon which a great National Institute
might be built. This undertaking (the purchase of the ground) was
not carried through without great difficulty and anxiety. The
Queen's sympathy and encouragement were, as always, of the greatest
help to her husband, and he quoted a verse from a German song, to
illustrate how much he felt and appreciated it:

When man has well nigh lost his hope in life,
Upwards in trust and love still looks the wife,
Towards the starry world all bright with cheer,
Faint not nor fear, thus speaks her shining tear.

The Great Exhibition was sufficient proof--if any had been
needed--of how the Prince with his wife laboured incessantly for the
good of others. Without his courage, perseverance, and ability there
is no doubt that this great undertaking would never have been carried
through successfully. He recognized the fact that princes live for
the benefit of their people; his desire for the improvement in all
classes was never-ending, and from him his wife learnt many lessons
which proved of the greatest value to her in later life when she stood
alone and her husband was no longer there to aid her with his
unfailing wise advice.

A second Exhibition was held in 1862, and so far as decorative art
was concerned there were distinct signs of improvement. 'Art
manufacture' had now become a trade phrase, but manufacturers were
still far from understanding what 'Art' really meant. As an instance
of this, one carpet firm sent a carpet to be used as a hanging on
which Napoleon III is depicted presenting a treaty of Commerce
to the Queen. Particular attention had apparently been paid to the
'shine' on Napoleon's top boots and to the Queen's smile!

The Prince's great wish was to restore to the workman his pride in
the work of his hands, to relieve the daily toil of some of its
irksomeness by the interest thus created in it, and, where the work
was of a purely mechanical nature, and individual skill and judgment
were not called for, he wished the worker to understand the
principles upon which the machine was built and the ingenuity with
which it worked.

His schemes for the building and equipment of Museums of Science and
Art were arranged with the purpose in view that both rich and
poor should have equal opportunities of seeing what improvements had
been made throughout the ages, and how vast and far-reaching the
effects of such improvements were on the lives of the whole nation.

It was under his direction that the pictures in the National Gallery
were first arranged in such a manner as to show the history and
progress of art. In his own words: "Our business is not so much to
create, as to learn to appreciate and understand the works of others,
and we can never do this till we have realized the difficulties to
be overcome. Acting on this principle myself, I have always tried
to learn the rudiments of art as much as possible. For instance, I
learnt oil-painting, water-colours, etching, lithography, etc., and
in music I learnt thorough bass, the pianoforte, organ, and
singing--not, of course, with a view of doing anything worth looking
at or hearing, but simply to enable me to judge and appreciate the
works of others."

It is interesting to note how closely the views of the Prince agreed
with those of John Ruskin in matters of art and literature. Ruskin
declared that it was the greatest misfortune of the age that, owing
to the wholesale introduction of machinery, the designer and maker
were nearly always different people instead of being one and the same
person. He declared that no work of art could really be 'living' or
capable of moving us to admiration as did the masterpieces of the
Middle Ages unless the maker had thought out and designed it himself.

It was largely owing to his teachings that the 'Arts and Crafts'
movement under William Morris and Walter Crane arose--a movement
which has since that time spread over the whole civilized world.

In 1862, together with some of his friends, Morris formed a company
to encourage the use of beautiful furniture and to introduce 'Art
in the House.' Morris himself had learnt to be a practical
carpet-weaver and dyer, and had founded the Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings.

All the work of this firm was done by hand as far as possible; only
the best materials were to be used and designs were to be original.
They manufactured stained glass, wall paper, tapestry, tiles,
embroidery, carpets, etc., and many of the designs were undertaken
by Edward Burne-Jones.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poet-painter, Holman Hunt (best
remembered by his famous picture "The Light of the World ") and others,
formed what was known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to instruct
public taste in creative work in art and literature. At the Kelmscott
Press some of the most beautiful printed books of their kind were
produced under the direction of Morris.

Ruskin, like so many others of his time, was greatly influenced by
Carlyle, and his views on the 'condition of England' question were
practically the same. He bewailed the waste of work and of life, the
poverty and the 'sweating.' He urged employers to win the goodwill
of those who worked for them as the best means of producing the best
work. He preached the 'rights' of Labour--that high wages for good
work was the truest economy in the end, and that beating down the
wages of workers does not pay in the long run. He declared that the
only education worth having was a 'humane' education--that is, first
of all, the building of character and the cultivation of wholesome
feelings. "You do not educate a man by telling him what he knew not,
but by making him what he was not," was the theory which he
endeavoured to put into practice by experiments such as an attempt
to teach every one to "learn to do something well and accurately with
his hands."

In common with Wordsworth Ruskin held that the love of Nature was
the greatest of educators. He believed that

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

The beauty and the everlasting marvel of Nature's works were, to him
as to the poet of the Lakes, the real road to knowledge:

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

An education of not the brain alone, but of heart and hand as well,
all three working in co-operation, was necessary to raise man to the
level of an intelligent being.

Ruskin's teachings fared no better than those of Carlyle at first,
and though he is spoken of sometimes as being 'old-fashioned,' yet
his lesson is of the old-fashioned kind which does live and will live,
for, like Dickens, he knew how to appeal to the hearts of his readers.
He is one of the most picturesque writers in the language, a man of
great nobility of character and generous feelings, who had a
tremendous belief in himself and knew how to express his thoughts
in the most beautiful language. Some of his books, for example
Sesame and Lilies and Unto this Last, are probably destined for
immortality.





Next: Albert The Good

Previous: Balmoral



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