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


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


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