« PreviousContinue »
imitation. Our makers learnt much from the foreigners. If the foreigners got any lessons in return, they were of a sort that could not be put in practice at once. Later on we found that not one side only could profit by knowing how the other worked; at the time the benefit was all our own.
The inauguration of an age of commercialism may or may not have been an unmixed blessing; anyhow, the exhibition inaugurated such an age. We learnt from it the value of applied' art and applied' science; and since its time we have always estimated any new advance in art, any fresh discovery in science, not as an addition to the sum of human knowledge, but as a means of making human life in some fashion better or happier than it was. The new method is not wholly bad any more than it is wholly good. We should now regard Galileo not as a visionary fanatic, but as a potential benefactor of his kind; instead of locking him up we should lionise him and get up a company to sell his telescopes. Now this state of affairs is distinctly more comfortable for Galileo, and it is better, too, for ourselves.
The first notable results of the Exhibition were its commercial results. It brought in a lot of business to the shop. This was plain to other nations. There was, of course, no reason why these advantages should be left to England alone. France—who, if there is any credit in the matter, may justly claim the credit of having invented industrial exhibitions !_soon followed with the Exposition Universelle of 1855; but the considerable financial deficit did little to encourage other countries. We ourselves may be said to have had a share in the loss, for the expenditure of the British Commission was so lavish that it is believed to have caused a determination at the Treasury never again to allow large sums, and very seldom to allow any sums at all, to be spent in upholding British credit in foreign exhibitions. At the close of the ten-year period from 1851 we had our second exhibition. Surrounding circumstances, however, were unfavourable, and the promoters were only saved from a deficit by the liberality of the contractors, Messrs. Kelk & Lucas, who made over to the Commissioners a very large sum of money
in order to prevent a call upon the guarantors. Great international exhibitions were also held at Vienna in 1873, at Philadelphia in 1876, and in Paris in 1878. Sydney (1879), Melbourne (1880), and Calcutta (1883) have also held international exhibitions, but not on quite so large a scale.
· The first National Exhibition appears to have been held in Paris in 1798. It was succeeded by many others, in France and elsewhere. In England the Society of Arts commenced to hold small exhibitions of British arts and manufactures in 1846, and from these started the idea of the 1851 Exhibition. The French had discussed and discarded the idea of making their national exhibitions international, but when the question was submitted for decision to the Prince Consort he at once decided that the industries of all nations' should be included.
When the second period of ten years from 1851 was approaching its close, the question of holding a third great exhibition in London came up for consideration. The proposal, however, was soon decided to be impracticable. The narrow escape from financial failure in 1862 rendered the successful raising of a guarantee fund problematical. It was doubtful how far manufacturers, tired of spending money on foreign exhibitions, and with their thirst for medals assuaged, if not entirely satiated, would support a large scheme. Under these circumstances Mr. Cole, ever fruitful of resource and ready with suggestion, came forward with a proposal for a series of annual exhibitions to extend over a period of ten years. Each exhibition was to deal with certain industries or arts, and a scheme was drafted, allotting to each one its share of the work. The Commissioners of 1851 guaranteed 100,0001.; the remaining buildings from the 1862 exhibition ? were assigned for the purposes of the scheme; and in 1871 the first of the series was opened with much pomp and ceremony. It was not wholly unsuccessful. At all events it paid its way. Its successors were less fortunate; each was a heavier loss than the one before it; and in 1874 the series was brought to an end, after the fourth had been held.
It has often been asked, now that a series of special exhibitions has been so successfully carried out, how it was that a similar experiment in 1871 was so dismal a failure. The reasons are simple enough. The building was unsuitable. It was practically one enormous passage, running round a central square garden. Visitors were sick of its interminable length before they had got half round it; it was by no means well adapted for the exhibition of goods; there was no main building or central hall; and as for any general coup d'ail, it was out of the question. Then the Exhibition authorities and the Horticultural Society got to loggerheads, and in the later exhibitions the gardens were absolutely closed to the visitors to the Exhibition. Finally, the administration was not all that could have been desired. Nothing so soon strangles an exhibition as red tape, and the place was managed as if it were a Government department. There was a good deal of military routine and an utter absence of that suave geniality which we have got of late years to associate with the management of exhibitions. Mr. Cole, one of the ablest and most powerful men of his generation, a wonderful organiser, and (with some deficiencies) a most capable administrator, was not popular, and seemed never to know what the public would like ; perhaps he never greatly cared. He generally had his way, bending to his will all with whom he had to deal; but he got his way by bearing down opposition in a fashion which by no
? Certain of these buildings were of a permanent character. They include the arcades of the Horticultural Gardens, and generally the buildings surrounding the Gardens on the east, west, and south sides, now used for the most part for housing certain the South Kensington Museum collections.
means endeared him to those whose opinions he overrode. Everybody who has an honest liking for a strong man must admire and respect Henry Cole. He always knew what he wanted, and he generally got it. Nothing stopped him. He carried out his views with the most absolute disregard for the abuse and contumely which was poured upon him by his enemies. No criticism, no ridicule, made him swerve for an instant from the line he chose to take. He would collect and show to his friends the most bitter caricatures of himself and his associates, and was pleased, when a savage onslaught was made on him by a newspaper, at the attention therehy drawn to his proposals. He was absolutely fearless, a terror to his superiors, but respected, and for the most part liked, by his subordinates. But he was not a good man to reconcile conflicting interests, or to pacify discontented exhibitors. Here, probably, was the principal reason why the excellent series of exhibitions which he proposed did not prosper under his management.
The failure of this scheme was thought to have put a stop to exhibitions in this country, at all events for a long time. In other countries they were held with success, and English manufacturers found it worth their while to contribute. Here they were by many people said to be dead. Their multiplication is not popular with manufacturers. The man who has made his reputation is quite content to let matters rest, and until there has grown up a sufficient number of rivals who would like to make their reputations too, bis natural objection to exhibitions meets with no opponents. The enormous and unwieldy size of a universal exhibition was an objection, the force of which was felt more and more with each succeeding show. It was evident that if exhibitions were to be held at all they must be limited in scope, and, despite the failure of the 1871 series, Mr. Cole's ideas were far from being dead. How successful a special exhibition might be was indeed shown by the Manchester Fine Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, an experiment which has since remained unrivalled, though an attempt has been made to imitate it in the not very successful collection at Folkestone
Putting this aside, we may reckon the Loan Collection of scientific apparatus shown in 1876 at South Kensington as the first special exhibition of importance. As nothing of the sort is perfect, opportunities for criticism were not wanting. The expenditure was somewhat lavish; the arrangement and cataloguing left something to be desired. Unfortunately it happened that some of the more active promoters were the objects of bitter personal hostility to the members of another class of scientific men, and, as some of these latter had great influence in the press, the exhibition came in for a good deal of abuse really intended for its organisers. The class to which it appealed, the class of scientific students, was a small one, and no attempt was made to attract the general public. A few years later, in the early days of the telephone and the electric light, it would have been as popular among sightseers as it was valued among scientific men. As it was the public did not care for it, and the students of science were not numerous enough to support it.
That the Loan Collection was a little before its time was proved by the success of the special Electrical Exhibitions in Paris (1881), Vienna (1883), and Philadelphia (1884). These were of a strictly scientific character, but they dealt with a subject which was popular for the moment, and so they attracted that attention from the general public without which no enterprise of the sort can possibly prosper.
Another example of an exhibition dealing with a special subject was the Smoke Abatement Exhibition of 1882. This was practically a private speculation, and is understood to have cost its publicspirited promoters a good deal of money. It certainly did much in educating the public as to the best and most economical methods of using fuel, and a very distinct improvement in our grates and ranges may be traced to it.
The origin of the magnificent series of exhibitions now just brought to a close at South Kensington is interesting, and affords a good illustration of the difficulty of forecasting the issue of such enterprises. The holding of several successful fishery exhibitions in Germany and France induced some gentlemen to start a similar exhibition at Norwich. The success of this attempt suggested a repetition of the exhibition on a larger scale in London. At first the thing hung fire for a bit, as such schemes will, but it was taken up by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, influential support was found for it, and the proposal became popular. A start was made; the enterprise grew bigger and bigger until it got to be a little too big for amateur hands. The assistance of Sir Philip Cunliffe-Owen was called in, and his long experience of such affairs soon enabled the Fisheries Exhibition to be organised on a scale far beyond the original intentions of its promoters. He was ably supported by those who had started the idea, and some of them not only gave their time and their labour, but took upon themselves the heavy pecuniary risks involved in an enterprise of such magnitude. . The Prince of Wales, besides lending his influence, gave the benefit of his advice and his special knowledge of exhibitions. Popular tastes were consulted to an extent never before attempted at any exhibition, and provision made for the amusement, as well as the instruction, of visitors. The best part of the Horticultural Gardens was given up for promenaders, bands were provided, and of an evening the garden was illuminated. Success was complete. London had got what it had long wanted—an outdoor lounge at once pleasant and respectable ; Vauxhall or Cremorne without the doubtful
characteristics of either. Everything went well, and the result was a considerable financial surplus.
So successful an experiment could not fail to be repeated. The Prince of Wales was now thoroughly interested, and, after due consideration, he announced a series of three exhibitions to be held under his direction. Carried out on the lines of the Fisheries, the Health, Inventions, and Colonial and Indian Exhibitions have been each in its own way an advance upon its predecessor. The Health made a surplus, after paying its expenses. The Inventions--more costly in arrangement and maintenance-after using up the balance from the Health, left certain liabilities to be discharged by the Colonies. Together, the three will doubtless turn out to have paid their way. That those who are responsible for the management should feel anxious for the financial solvency of their organisation is but natural; but, considering what these three exhibitions have done for Londoners—to say nothing of others than Londoners--the opinion may fairly be expressed that it does not matter a pin whether they result in a moderate deficit or a large surplus. In any other country the balance would be paid by the Government as a matter of course. Here we administer by purely private enterprise a concern the revenue of which is 100,000l. per annum. That is about what an exhibition costs. Carefully managed, there may be a surplus of 5,0001.-five per cent. Treat the public a little more liberally, give them a little more for their money, and the surplus is gone. The proper object of the managers of an exhibition should be—and the object of the managers of these exhibitions has been-not to make a profit, but to dispense all their income without getting into debt; to sail as near the wind as possible. This ought to be understood; and if the guarantors should be called upon to pay up-say five to ten per cent. of the guarantee—they ought not, and they probably would not, grumble at the notion. For this series of exhibitions has been a real gain to London. It has provided a cheap, harmless, and pleasant source of recreation to many thousands. It has formed a
3 The surplus of the Fisheries (amounting to 15,0001.) was devoted to the establishment of a Home for Fishermen's Orphans. The finances of the other three exhi. bitions were so far treated in common that the profits of any of them were arranged to be available against the losses of any other. The ill-natured statements occasionally made as to misappropriations of funds are pure invention, though it may perhaps be a matter for regret that the publication of the accounts of each exhibition has been delayed till the conclusion of the series. There is no reason to suppose that such separate publication would have caused any confusion or inconvenience, and it would have prevented a good deal of raiher spiteful criticism.
* The total number of visitors to the whole of the series may be taken as fifteen and a half millions. It is not possible to judge how many individuals this means. The same person paying ten visits counts of course as ten. It was calculated at one of the exhibitions that each season-ticket holder went on an average twenty-five times. A very large proportion can only have paid a single visit. Supposing that on an average everybody who went to any of the exhibitions at all went twice to each, we should get a total of nearly two million individuals who had been amused and instructed.