Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852 - Chapter 20 - The Crystal Palace

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CHAPTER XX. 

THE CRYSTAL PALACE.

THE OPENING.

    WE shall only attempt a very brief sketch of that wonder of the present century - the World's Exhibition of 1851. For were we to do it justice, we should occupy a volume whereas our aim has been a different one - to give the reader a lively impression of many of the distinguished men, and things, and places, in London.
    We saw the first sods removed in Hyde Park, on the spot where was raised the wonderful, the magnificent structure of Mr: Paxton - saw it gradually rise to glorious completeness - saw the thousands of mechanics who built it - heard the music of their hammers - and, when the Crystal Palace was finished, entered and saw the world arranging its wares in it for exhibition. This sight was a wonderful one, as we entered the Palace two or three days before it was open to the world, and the exhibitors of Asia, Europe and America were busy in spreading out their wonders to the best possible advantage.
    The building was opened on the first day of May. The morning was a chilly one, yet very early all the avenues leading to Hyde Park were crowded almost to suffocation, with masses of enthusiastic people. Business was generally suspended throughout London, and all those parts not contiguous to Hyde Park wore an air of loneliness and desertion. The [-319-] shops all shut, few people to be seen, the streets silent - strange sight for London But the Park itself was one huge sea of human faces - everywhere near it, in all directions, there were great crowds of people, all eager and anxious to get a sight of the Crystal Palace and the Queen, who was soon to enter it.
    The holders of season tickets alone were admitted that day, and at an early hour they flocked to the doors of the building in such force, that a Company of Sappers and Miners were called in to enforce order. By half-past eleven o'clock, twenty-five thousand persons had arrived and were seated under the crystal roof of the Palace of Exhibition then the doors were closed. The view of these thousands in that wondrous interior was splendid beyond description. The elite of the world was there-the flower of England Men of rank, and intellect, and wealth;- renowned on the field and in the workshop. There was the Duke of Wellington - it was his eighty-second birth-day - looking hale and vigorous yet. There was the venerable Archbishop of Canterbury; Paxton, the designer of the beautiful structure, in the prime of manhood there were beautiful women too, from England, and France, and Russia, and America!
    The view outside of the building was one of grandeur too. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered up closely around the walls of glass ; and the Park and the streets reaching out in every direction, were densely packed with the multitude.
    A little before twelve o'clock there was a smart shower of' rain, which however had no effect upon the enthusiasm of the outside millions. In a few minutes the glorious sun burst forth, the clouds vanished, and the Crystal Palace glittered like a "mountain of light." Then from across the river Serpentine was heard the flourish of trumpets - the Queen was coming! Then burst forth the cheers, and shouts, and thunderous hurrahs of that mighty assemblage.
    [-320-] The carriage drew up before the northern transept, and Her Majesty and Prince Albert entered. The thousands congregated there arose to greet her becomingly, and she took her seat upon the throne, under a beautiful silken canopy.
    The Royal Commissioners read their Report;-the Queen made, a gracious reply;-then the Archbishop of Canterbury offered up a fervent and beautiful prayer. The choir joined in singing a grand Hallelujah Chorus; and some idea of the effect of the performance may be gained from the fact that it was composed of the entire vocal strength of the Chapel Royal, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and St George's Chapel of Windsor! A massive organ accompanied them, and the vast building vibrated with the majestic harmonies which filled it.
    Thus closed the impressive opening exercises, and the crowd of people followed the Queen as she made a tour of the Exhibition.

THE EXHIBITION.

    The finest interior view of the Crystal Palace was from the centre, as we entered from the Southern Central transept. The vast proportions of the building the reader knows - how that it covered eighteen acres of Hyde Park - but he cannot imagine the astonishing grandeur of that view from the centre - looking north and south, and still farther east and west. A lusty oak-tree rejoicing in its foliage stood at our left; the crystal fountain was playing in the centre, throwing its jets of pure water aloft for the sunshine to make beautiful; a blaze of light and beauty assailed our eyes from every quarter; and we could see at the extreme eastern department the American eagle, and the stars and stripes floating with majestic gracefulness.
    A grand aisle or transept ran from east to west through the entire building, in the centre, and also north and south at [-321-] right angles. In this grand aisle the chef-d'oeuvres were placed, both of industry and art. The British department consisted of the entire western half of the building, with the exception of a place for the machinery of all nations. In the grand aisle of this department there were some fine specimens of art -  models of bridges - telescopes - lighthouses, and docks. On the left hand, going west, first there was a fine collection of cottons, wools, seeds, native arms, and artillery from the British East Indies. Next the exhibition of Australia and the Canadas - next to that an exhibition of English hardware agricultural implements, and woven fabrics. On the right hand, going west, we saw many specimens of British Fine Arts, of minerals, and a splendid collection of carriages.
    In the department for machinery there were cotton-mills in full operation ; printing presses striking off impressions of newspapers ; and all kinds of curious machines requiring steam motive power.
    We were once more by the central Fountain, and walked down the grand transept, east, towards the American department. The Koh-i-noor diamond first arrested our attention- then a piece of sculpture from Germany, entitled "The Mazeppa Group ;"-then a stained window from Milan-and still farther on "The Amazon and Tiger," a piece of sculpture.
    On the right hand side, going east, was the exhibition of Tunis and China, and the Brazils, consisting principally of costumes, tapestry, screens and carpets.
    Switzerland followed with embroidery, silks, musical instruments, watches, linens, and straw plaitings.
    Then came France with her mirrors, sofas, libraries, bronzes, tapestry, gold and silversmith's work, laces, blondes, artificial flowers and statuary.
    Belgium was next in order with woolen manufactures, flannels, damasks, zincs, iron and flax. 
    [-322-] Austria was there with toys, boots and shoes, and a fine collection of statuary. Germanv with type-machine, electric telegraph, embroideries, carpet-work, and shawls ; the Zollverein with minerals ;-Russia principally with raw produce.
    On the left, going east, we first came to the Turkish and Axabian collection of brocades, silks, muslins and furs. Spain and Portugal followed with leather, linens and produce. On the extreme left, France exhibited locomotives and various machines. In the Italian department there were mosaic tables, bronze castings, raw silks and statuary.
    Holland furnished wools Russia, on this side of the grand aisle, porcelain vases, ornamental cabinet-work, Florentine mosaics, and Caucasian arms.
    The extreme eastern portion of the Palace was given up to the United States, and over it the eagle kept watch with careful eye. The first - aye, and the last - object we gazed at, was " The Greek Slave," the master-piece of Hiram Powers. It stood alone in the Crystal Palace - unapproachcd by any other piece of statuary there. The reaping-machine at first did not attract much attention, but after its merits were shown, a crowd always surrounded it. There was always, too, a crowd of admirers around the piece of sculpture, by Powers. The collection of agricultural implements was good, there were excellent specimens of our raw produce ; fine daguerreotypes; an ingenious bridge by Remington; and other things of real value ; and yet we speak the opinion of every American who visited the Crystal Palace, when we say that the United States were not well and thoroughly represented there. No fair idea could be gained of our resources, of our manufactures and inventions, by the collection exhibited in the Palace. There were manly circumstances, which contributed to render our collection meagre. The distance was great ; the movement was not a popular one in all the States, and the Government did not move with sufficient alacrity [-323-] about the matter. But it has now passed away, and it is useless to regret that over which we have no control.
    We have given the merest bird's-eye view of the contents of the Crystal Palace - only mentioning the prominent things which were exhibited in each department. We now hasten to the termination of the great exhibition.

THE CLOSE.

    On a somewhat cheerless day of October, with few ceremonies and little circumstance, the Great Exhibition was closed. The trees in Hyde Park had begun to shed their leaves, and there were approaching signs in every direction of the coming gloom of winter. The interior of the great Palace looked sad ; the very branches of the old trees there, which, during the summer, had been blessed with such royal society, looked forlorn. The Royal Commissioners were there, surrounded by about ten thousand people. Prince Albert read a report; the Earl of Granville ditto ; the white-haired Archbishop of Canterbury murmured a prayer in a faint voice; the great organs thundered forth one final Hallelujah ; and the wondrous Exhibition, which had attracted the world together, which for many months had been the theme of converse in all cities and countries, from Tahiti to Hindostan, was brought to an end.
    There was no pageantry, no pomp - and no one of all the thousands there seemed to desire it. Upon every countenance there was a shade of solemn sadness, as if the moral of that day's scenic had found its way to the heart; that all in this world of ours, however gorgeous, however costly and beautiful, must come to an end. Yes, the scene was a striking one, but not more so than the moral which every one could not fail to draw from it. The world had tried its utmost, and built a palace of wondrous beauty, and filled it with its grand-[-324-]est, its proudest achievements. The summer passed away in gloryings, and rejoicings, in splendid revelry - and yet here was the end. And while standing there, to how many hearts came the recollection of those sublime lines of Shakspeare, which we have quoted in another place, but which will bear separating here:

"The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherits, shall dissolve,
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Leave not a wreck behind.

    And now that the Exhibition is closed, we may remark that during the summer of 1851, from the American department, Europe (and especially England), cannot have failed to learn that --it is not wise to laugh too soon. America, in May, was the laughing-stock of Europe ; the journals of Paris and London went into convulsions of merriment at our expense; Punch jeered, and the Times thundered forth its sarcasm; and the people laughed. The same America in September was the envy of Europe. Then even the Times gave us the first position, in the Crystal Palace, and out of it; Mr. Punch's wit was suddenly in our favor ; and this time, America laughed. We had triumphed on the water and on the land. Our yacht shot past all her competitors, and our reaping-machine became the wonder of England.
    Yet America could not exhibit there those characteristics which really make her superior to the rest of the world. Our universal suffrage, education, absence of poverty, universal industry and morality - we could not exhibit these in the Crystal Palace. But they are "fixed facts" in America, and - nowhere else. Our village churches, supported by no cruel ecclesiastical laws, our millions of school-houses, our cottage-homes., were not at the Exhibition. And we are justly prouder of them than of aught at the Crystal Palace. These are the things which really distinguish us from the rest of the world, and we should not be afraid to avow to the world that we would ten thousand times rather (it we must make a choice) stand first inn education, happiness and morality, than in manufactures or the fine arts.

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David Bartlett, London by Day and Night, 1852