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Chapter III, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

The International Exhibition of 1862: Its Origin: Erection of the Building1 at Brompton: Description of its Principal Features: Comparison of it with the Building of 1851: Ceremonial at the Opening - Multifarious Contents of the Exhibition - Number of Exhibitors, British and Foreign - The French Department - Collection of Pictures - Close of the Exhibition - Number of Persons that had visited it.
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The year 1862 was marked by a second grand display, on a scale of colossal magnitude, of the products of the material and artistic civilisation of our age, contributed by the industry of all countries, but especially by that of England and her colonies.

The origin of the Exhibition of 1862 is involved in some obscurity. Though such is undoubtedly the case, several conjectures were diligently offered upon the subject; most of these conjectures, however, were so very far-fetched, that serious consideration of them is quite out of the question. A cynical writer in the Saturday Review, writing two days after the opening, could see in it nothing but a " gigantic advertisement," a " gigantic joint-stock show-room," the " Palace of Puffs." On the other hand, a writer in the Illustrated London News, after severely condemning the levity or malice of his weekly contemporary, proceeds to refer the Exhibition to conceptions and motives which, however sublime they may be, are a little vague. " Looking," he says, " at this magnificent International Exhibition in the light of the high motives which originally suggested it, we see in it, first of all, a rich and multiform display of that Supreme beneficence which over-arches, if we may so express ourselves, the destinies of our race." The project of a second Exhibition has been often attributed to the Prince Consort, but it was said at the time, and on better authority, that so far from having initiated the Exposition of this year, he gave a somewhat reluctant assent to its being carried out, and was rather desirous of allowing his fame in connection with enterprises of this kind to rest on the undoubted success of that of 1851. But sufficient light is thrown on the subject for our purpose by the statement contained in the address presented at the opening of the building by the Royal Commissioners. From this it appears that the Society of Arts, " a body through whose exertions the Exhibition of 1851 in great measure originated," began to take preliminary measures in 1858 and 1859 for the purpose of ascertaining whether a sufficiently strong feeling existed in the country in favour of decennial repetitions of that great experiment to justify the prosecution of the scheme. The continental war of 1859 caused a temporary suspension of proceedings; but on peace being restored, the Society resumed the consideration off the question, although at a period too late to allow of the Exhibition being ready by the year 1861, which was their original desire. The Society obtained decisive proof of the existence of a general desire for a second Great Exhibition in the most satisfactory form - namely, the signatures of upwards of 1,100 individuals for various sums of from £100 to £10,000, and amounting in the whole to no less than £450,000, to a guarantee deed for raising the funds needed for the conduct of the Exhibition. The scheme having thus been started, the Commissioners for the- Exhibition of 1851, in the most liberal spirit, placed at the disposal of the managers of the new undertaking, free of all charge, a space of nearly seventeen acres on their Kensington Gore Estate, and subsequently, when the original area was found insufficient, an additional plot of eight acres, being all the land which could be made available for the purpose. In this way was the scheme originated, the cost of the necessary buildings provided for, and an eligible site obtained.

The contractors for the greater part of the work were Messrs. Kelk and Lucas, and it could not have been in abler hands. But for the eastern dome the contract was taken by the Thames Iron Company. This dome was begun long before that on the western side; but a "generous rivalry" sprang up between the builders, which resulted in something like a neck-and-neck race between them at last. The work was commenced in the latter part of 1861, and the contractors were bound to deliver the shell of the building, complete, to the Royal Commissioners on the 12th February, 1862. To do this they had to carry on the works by night as well as by day, and an interesting picture executed at the time represents the night effect of the western dome, as seen from the Horticultural Society's Gardens - the moonbeams from behind struggling to pierce through the network of ribs, rafters, and elaborate scaffolding of which the dome then consisted, and workmen swarming in all the galleries of the vast building, carrying on their work by artificial light. The contract was kept, and the building handed over on the 12th February. Applications for space from exhibitors were then invited, and the fitting up of the courts and galleries proceeded with; but with such numerous and varied interests and claims to adjust, the commissioners could not ensure the same rapid progress as that made in the erection of the building; and a large part of the edifice was still in confusion, heaped up with packing-cases and litter, when the Exhibition was opened on the 1st May.

The principal features of the building, when completed, are described in the following terms by a writer in the "Annual Register." They consisted " of two vast domes of glass, 250 feet high and 160 feet in diameter - larger (that is, broader across, but, of course, nothing like so high) than the dome of St. Peter's - connected by a nave 800 feet long, 100 feet high, and 85 feet wide; with a closed roof, and lighted by a range of windows after the manner of the clerestory of a Gothic cathedral. The domes opened laterally into spacious transepts; and the nave into a wide central avenue and interminable side aisles and galleries, which, being roofed with glass, much resembled the crystal inclosure of the Exhibition of 1851. These domes, naves, transepts, and corridors formed the main building, and covered sixteen acres of ground; but in addition were two annexes, of unpretending ugliness, which covered or inclosed seven and a half acres; the whole area occupied by the building was twenty-four and a half acres." Of the two annexes, the eastern was devoted to agricultural implements of all kinds; the western to the display of machinery, both at rest and in motion. The courts and compartments in which the majority of the articles displayed were contained were on the ground floor; among the galleries above, those which constituted one of the greatest, perhaps the; greatest, attraction of the Exhibition were the long picture galleries, admirably lighted, containing an immense collection of the chief productions of modern English art, in painting and sculpture; and also a similar collection, though, of course, much less complete, of the modern painting and sculpture of foreign nations.

The same writer does but echo the general opinion of all those who witnessed the Exhibition of 1851, and could therefore compare the two buildings, when he makes the result of such a comparison unfavourable to the building of 1862. " Although none could deny," he says, " that the building of 1862 was greatly superior in extent, loftiness, and elegance, both of constructive detail and of decoration, to the Crystal Palace of 1851, yet the general impression seemed to be that there was a magical charm about the latter which was wanting to its successor. The distinctive difference probably was that the crystalline walls and roof of the Palace of 1851 admitted such an universally-diffused light that the idea of " inclosure " did not present itself; while in the building of 1862 the solid roof and rayless walls of the nave, lighted by Gothic windows in the clerestory, gave the unavoidable impression that you were within a building. The two great domes were certainly much inferior in effect to the glorious transept of 1851; nor was there within the whole structure any one spot which offered that unconfined coup d'œil - that sensation of space to be felt but not described - which could be obtained from several points of vantage in its predecessor. The long avenue of the nave gave unquestionably a grand prospect; but it was so packed with ' trophies ' and other large and unmanageable objects, that it suggested a confined and crowded feeling." The internal colour-decoration was committed to Mr. Crace, and was upon the whole successful. The pillars in the nave appeared alternately a dark olive and a red chocolate, with gilded capitals and a line of gold round the base. The columns in the courts were coloured a green bronze, with dark red capitals and bases, and a similar dark line ran along the girders. The roof was decorated with gilt ornaments, and these, in connection with the scarlet and gold capitals of the pillars, though delicate, and perhaps too minute, were still, on a bright sunny day, on the whole agreeable to the eye. The walls of the picture galleries were painted a sage green - a colour well adapted for throwing the pictures into relief, but giving a somewhat gloomy aspect to the rooms. Connoisseurs were disposed to charge the style of decoration, generally, with a lack of boldness and inventiveness; however, as we have said, the effect was at least pleasing.

By a great effort, the executive staff of the Exhibition were enabled to present the building to the royal and other visitors on the day fixed for the opening ceremonial, May 1st, in a state of tolerable forwardness. Thirty thousand persons witnessed the spectacle. Beneath the western dome there was a raised dais, on which was erected a lofty throne, hung with crimson velvet and satin, and powdered with gilded roses and stars. On each side of a rich overhanging canopy were placed large marble busts of Her Majesty and the Prince Consort. From this platform, looking down the nave, the vista was charming, and would have been much more effective but for the interposition of two huge and hideous '£ trophies," one of which was an exhibition of candles, the other " a curtained erection, which looked like an exaggerated four-post bedstead." Thus was the sordid side of commercialism allowed to obtrude itself at a time and place when no considerations except those of aesthetic grandeur and beauty should have been entertained for a moment. The procession of the Queen's Commissioners for opening the Exhibition was formed at Buckingham Palace, and proceeded, fortunately under a bright and sunny sky, to the entrance of the building in Cromwell! Road. As was to be expected, neither the Queen nor any! of her children were present; but the royal family was ably represented by the Duke of Cambridge, supported by the Crown Prince of Prussia, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other august personages. The Lord Mayor of London lent his gorgeous and historical presence to grace the ceremonial, coming "in great state, with a suite of aldermen, common-councilmen, and city officers, in seventy carriages." When all were in their places, the Duke of Cambridge standing on the raised dais in front of the throne, Earl Granville, as the representative of the Commissioners having charge of the Exhibition, stepped forward, and presented an address to the Duke, as the Chief Commissioner for the opening. In this address allusion was made to the loss which the Queen had recently sustained, in the following appropriate terms: -

" And, first of all, it is our melancholy duty to convey to Her Majesty the expression of our deep sympathy with her in the grievous affliction with which it has pleased the Almighty to visit Her Majesty and the whole people of this realm in the death of her Royal Consort. We cannot forget that this is the anniversary of the opening of the first great International Exhibition, eleven years ago, by Her Majesty, when His Royal Highness, the President of the Commissioners of that Exhibition, addressed Her Majesty in words that will not be forgotten.... When we commenced our duties, and until a recent period, we ventured to look forward to the time when it might be our great privilege to address Her Majesty in person this day, and to show to Her Majesty within these walls the evidence which this Exhibition affords of the opinion originally entertained by His Royal Highness - evidence furnished alike by the increased extent of the Exhibition, by the eagerness with which all classes of the community have sought to take part in it, and by the large expenditure incurred by individual exhibitors for the better display of their produce and machinery. We can now only repeat the assurance of our sympathy with Her Majesty in that bereavement which deprives the inaugural ceremony of her royal presence."

After the Duke of Cambridge, in the name of the Commissioners for opening the Exhibition, had made a suitable reply, the procession was reformed, and passed down the nave to the eastern dome. It was here that the great mass of persons invited to be present at the opening were seated; for here the finest and most delightful part of the day's programme was to be performed. The renowned maestro, Meyerbeer, had composed an "Ouverture en forme de marche " expressly for the occasion; the Poet Laureate had written a beautiful ode, which Stern- dale Bennett, the Cambridge Professor of Music, had wedded to appropriate strains; and a grand march by Auber (which proved to be a work of extraordinary spirit and verve) completed the programme of this grand concert.

When the music was over, the Bishop of London stepped forward and " delivered a fervent prayer suited to the occasion," which does not appear to have been anywhere reported. After that, the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel's " Messiah," was performed with great power, and on its conclusion the National Anthem was again sung. Then the Duke of Cambridge rose, and in a loud voice proclaimed: - " By command of the Queen, I now declare the Exhibition open." This declaration was followed by a loud blast of the trumpets and great cheering from all present.

The logic of narration would seem now to require from us, that after having described the origin of the Exhibition, shown how the building was erected, described its principal features, and recounted the ceremony of its opening, we should proceed to give an account of what was in it. But just here is our difficulty; it is so hard to say what was not in it. It was like an enormous bazaar, containing everything which the fancy and invention, not of our country only, but of all countries, had at any time taxed themselves to produce for the use and the enjoyment of men. Take one single department of the Exhibition, the western annexe, for machinery at rest and in motion; when we have said that you might, see there (and also hear, for the din was terrific) locomotives of many descriptions, Nasmyth hammers, marine engines, planing machines, weaving and spinning machines, brick-making machines, hydraulic cranes, and centrifugal pumps, we have, after all, indicated but a small part of the bewildering variety of machines that the annexe contained. The same may be said of all the other departments in that portion of the Exhibition which represented the industrial arts. A few particulars respecting the number of exhibitors will enable the reader to judge in some degree what this multiplicity must have been: we quote them from an article written at the time: -

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Pictures for Chapter III, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

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