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The activity of the present day chiefly developes itself in commercial industry, and it is in accordance with the spirit of the age that the nations of the world have now collected together their choicest productions. It may be said without presumption, that an event like this Exhibition could not have taken place at any earlier period, and perhaps not among any other people than ourselves. The friendly confidence reposed by other nations in our institutions; the perfect security for property; the commercial freedom, and the facility of transport, which England pre-eminently possesses, may all be brought forward as causes which have operated in establishing the Exhibition in London. Great Britain offers a hospitable invitation to all the nations of the world, to collect and display the choicest fruits of their industry in her Capital; and the invitation is freely accepted by every civilized people, because the interest both of the guest and host is felt to be reciprocal.
But the consideration of the wide moral agencies which have contributed to produce the present Exhibition must be postponed, and we proceed at once to trace the course of the more direct influences which have lead to its establishment. Fairs, which are one sort of exhibitions of works of industry, have been established for centuries, in every part of the United Kingdom; but exhibitions resembling the present institution, in which the race is for excellence, and direct commerce is not the primary object, have taken place only during the last century, and have been originated by individuals, or societies, independently of any Government assistance. As early as the years 1756-7 the Society of Arts of London offered prizes for specimens of manufactures, tapestry, carpets, porcelain, &c, and exhibited the works which were offered in competition. About the same period, the Royal Academy, as a private society, patronized by the Sovereign, more in a personal capacity than as representing the head of the Legislature, had organized its exhibitions of painting, sculpture, and engraving.
The first exhibition of industrial productions in France, recognised as a national institution, occurred in 1798, a second took place in 1801, a third in 1802, and it fourth in 1806. But it was not until the year 1819, that the expositions of French industry have taken place systematically; and it is only since that time that the influence of them has been markedly felt in Europe.
During the last thirty years, in each of the metropolitan cities of the United L«»i Eiuution Kingdom, and the most important manufacturing towns, one or more exhibi- aim." t ions of machinery and manufactures have been held; and it may be recorded that,
as early as 1829, the Royal Dublin Society had founded an exhibition of works of art, science, and manufacture, to be held triennially, to which, however, Irish productions only were admitted until the year 1850. But the local exhibition of Birmingham, held in the autumn of the year 1849—originating with individuals, self-supporting in its management, and comprehensive in the scope of the objects exhibited—may be said to have most nearly resembled the Exhibition of the present year. All similar exhibitions, in fact, have been essentially of a private and local character, none of them receiving any kind of Government or national sanction, if we except the exhibition of manufactures applicable to the decoration of the Houses of Parliament, which was instituted by the Fine Arts Commissioners.
To follow the links of the chain which have connected the present Exhibition with the national sympathies and support, we must revert to the French exposition in 1844. The great success of that exposition caused several representations to be made to members of the Cabinet, of the benefit which a similar exhibition would be likely to confer on the industry of the United Kingdom, and some efforts were made to obtain the assistance of the Government, but with no apparent results. No hopes whatever were held out that the Government would undertake any pecuniary liabilities in promoting such an exhibition. It may be mentioned that, even so late as the year 1848, a proposal to establish a self-supporting exhibition of British industry, to be controlled by a Royal Commission, was submitted to His Royal Highness the Prince Albert, and by him laid before the Government; still the Government hesitated to take up the subject, and it became quite evident to those parties who were most desirous of witnessing the establishment of a national exhibition, that if such an event should ever take place, it would have to be carried out independently of any Government assistance.
It is a marking feature in all the institutions and great works of our country, that they are the consequences of popular wishes. It is not until wants become national, and that combined action becomes essential to success, that the people seek the aid of the Government. The great constitutional freedom which this country enjoys, may be ascribed in some measure to the reluctance which the Government always shows to act on behalf of the people in any case where it is possible they can act for themselves. A great part of the success which has attended the institution of this Exhibition, may be attributed to its independence of the Government; and it may be the boast of our countrymen that the Exhibition was originated, conducted, and completed independently of any Government aid whatever, except its sanction. Assistance has only been sought from the Government when it was indispensable, as in correspondence with foreign countries, the provision of a site for the building, the organization of police, &C. ; and wherever such assistance, when granted, would have entailed expense, the cost of it has been defrayed from the funds of the Exhibition. Exhibition of the Step by step, the subject of a national exhibition, and the means of realsocwiyo . .^^ it, ixcaxQe connected with the Society of Arts. In June, 1845, a committee of members of that Society was formed to carry out an exhibition of national industry, and funds were subscribed by the individuals forming the committee to meet the preliminary expenses. An inquiry was set on foot to ascertain the disposition of manufacturers to support the exhibition, but the attempt failed and was abandoned. In 1847 the Council of the Society substituted action for theory, and, in the midst of discouragement, established a limited exhibition of manufactures, professedly as the beginning of a series. V
The success of this exhibition determined the Council to persevere, and to hold similar exhibitions annually. Accordingly in the next year the experiment was repeated with such greatly increased success, that the Council felt warranted in announcing their intention of holding annual exhibitions, as a means of establishing a quinquennial Exhibition of British Industry, to be held in 1851. Having proceeded thus far, the Council sought to connect the Schools of Design, located in the centres of manufacturing industry, with the proposed exhibitions, and obtained the promised co-operation of the Board of Trade, through the President, Mr. Labouchere; moreover, with a view to prepare a suitable building, they secured the promise of a site from the Earl of Carlisle, then Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, who offered either the central area of Somerset House, or some other Government ground. In the year 1849 the exhibition, still more successful than any preceding, consisted chiefly of works in the precious metals, some of which were graciously contributed by Her Majesty. To aid in carrying out their intention of holding a National Exhibition in the year 1851, the Council of the Society caused a report on the French Exposition, held in 1849, to be made for them and printed. A petition was also presented by the Council to the House of Commons, praying that they might have the use of some public building for the exhibition of 1851, which was referred to the Select Committee on the School of Design.
His Eoyal Highness The Prince Albert, as President of the Society, had J^JJ^^J, of course been fully informed, from time to time, of all these proceedings, which had received His Royal Highness's sanction and approval; but immediately after the termination of the session of 1849, the Prince took the subject under his own personal superintendence. He proceeded to settle the general principles on which the proposed exhibition for 1851 should be conducted, and to consider the mode in which it should be carried out.
His Royal Highness has himself fully expressed the views which prompted m« Roy*1 »'8hhim to take the lead in carrying out the Exhibition, and on the occasion of the banquet to promote the Exhibition, given by Mr. Farncomb, the Lord Mayor of London, to the municipal authorities of the United Kingdom, His Royal Highness declared these views in the following terms:—
It must, indeed, be most gratifying to me, to find that a suggestion which I had thrown out, as appearing to me of importance at this time, should have met with such universal concurrence and approbation; for this has proved to me that the view I took of the peculiar character and requirements of our age was in accordance with the feelings and opinions of the country. Gentlemen, I conceive it to be the duty of every educated person closely to watch and study the time in which he lives; and, as far as in him lies, to add his humble mite of individual exertion to further the accomplishment of what he believes Providence to have ordained. Nobody, however, who has paid any attention to the particular features ot our present era, will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to the accomplishment of that great end to which, indeed, all history points—the realization of the unity of mankind. Not a unity which breaks down the limits, and levels the peculiar characteristics of the different nations of the earth, but rather a unity the result and product of those very national varieties and antagonistic qualities. The distances which separated the different nations and parts of the globe are gradually vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their acquirements placed within the reach of everybody; thought is communicated with the rapidity and even by the power of lightning. On the other hand, the great principle of division of labour, which may