Prince Albert on the Great Exhibition
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Prince Albert on the Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition was an international trade fair that took place in 1851. It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.

The Great Exhibition was an international trade fair that took place in 1851. It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The most industrially advanced nations and their empires participated, making the 'Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations' the largest exhibition ever held. The exhibits came from Britain and its colonies. Foreign countries also took part. Despite its international scope, the exhibition was really intended to demonstrate British superiority in design and industry. The exhibition was held in a purpose-built hall called the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.

Prince Albert gave a speech at a banquet at the Mansion House on 21 March 1849:

'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 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 peculiar features of our present era, will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end, to which, indeed, all history points -- the realisation 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 rapidly vanishing before the achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their acquirement 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 be called the moving power of civilisation, is being extended to all branches of science, industry, and art.

Whilst formerly the greatest mental energies strove at universal knowledge, and that knowledge was confined to the few, now they are directed on specialities, and in these, again, even to the minutest points; but the knowledge acquired becomes at once the property of the community at large; for, whilst formerly discovery was wrapt in secrecy, the publicity of the present day causes that no sooner is a discovery or invention made than it is already improved upon and surpassed by competing efforts. The products of all quarters of the globe are placed at our disposal, and we have only to choose which is the best and the cheapest for our purposes, and the powers of production are intrusted to the stimulus of competition and capital.

So man is approaching a more complete fulfilment of that great and sacred mission which he has to perform in this world. His reason being created after the image of God, he has to use it to discover the laws by which the Almighty governs His creation, and, by making these laws his standard of action, to conquer nature to his use; himself a divine instrument.

Science discovers these laws of power, motion, and transformation; industry applies them to raw matter, which the earth yields us in abundance, but which becomes valuable only by knowledge. Art teaches us the immutable laws of beauty and symmetry, and gives to our productions forms in accordance with them. Gentlemen, -- the Exhibition of 1851 is 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.

I confidently hope that the first impression which the view of this vast collection will produce upon the spectator will be that of deep thankfulness to the Almighty for the blessings which He has bestowed upon us already here below; and the second, the conviction that they can only be realised in proportion to the help which we are prepared to render each other; therefore, only by peace, love, and ready assistance, not only between individuals, but between the nations of the earth.'

Six million people visited the exhibition: this was equivalent to a third of Britain’s population. It was one of the first mass spectacles of the modern age and established the template for today’s mass culture. Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of the capitalist fetishism of commodities, and it anticipated the consumer culture we’re now immersed in. The Great Exhibition changed the cultural landscape of London. It made a profit of £186,437, which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, all in Kensington. These formed a cultural complex so extensive it was known as ‘Albertopolis’.

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Comments (8)

Great and interesting presentation

Very interesting.

Ranked #4 in Architecture

Fascinating series of articles on the Great Exhibition.

Ranked #11 in Architecture

I am with John Smitter Michael.

Wonderful article, I've always admired Prince Albert. He seemed like a very forward-thinking man and a nice gentlemen.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, everyone.

What a difference 160 years make. You coudn't even buy a studio apartment in Kensington with the total profits of the Great Exhibition today, yet somehow they funded the creation of three huge museums.

Informative piece and very nicely executed, too. Thanks for sharing Voted