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Inaugural Lecture, the General Bearing of the Great Exhibi
tion on the Progress of Art and Science.* By WILLIAM WHEWELL, D.D., F.R.S., Master of Trinity.
It seems to me as if I were one of the persons who have the least right of any to address an audience like this on the subject of the Great Exhibition of the Art and Industry of All Nations, of which the doors have so lately closed ; inasmuch as I have had no connection with that great event, nor relation to it, except that of a mere spectator-one of the many millions there. The eminent and zealous men in whose wide views it originated, by whose indomitable energy and perseverance the great thought of such a spectacle was embodied in a visible, material shape; those who, from our own countries or from foreign lands, supplied it with the treasures and wonders of art; those who, with scrutinizing eye and judicial mind, compared those treasures and those wonders, and stamped their approval on the worthiest ; those who can point to the glories of the Exhibition, and say, “quorum pars magna fui ;"—those persons may well be considered as having a right to express to you the thoughts which have been suggested by the scenes in which they have thus had to live: but of these I am not one. I have been in the Exhibition, as I have said, a mere spectator. Nevertheless, the Council of the Society of Arts have done me the
copy of this very important Lecture was presented to us by its illustrious author, who read it at the meeting of the London Society of Arts in the end of November 1851. VOL. LII. NO. CIII.- JANUARY 1852.
honour to express a wish that I should offer to you such reflections as the spectacle of the Great Exhibition has suggested to me; and, in deference to their wishes, and especially as a token of my admiration of the truly royal mind, which saw clearly, in despite of the maxims of antiquity, that there was such a Royal Road to knowledge, I shall venture to offer you a few remarks,—which, precisely on account of the circumstances which I have stated, may be considered as representing the views of an unconnected spectator of the great spectacle.
To write or speak the Epilogue after any great and grand Drama, is by no means an easy task. We see the confession of the difficulty in the very incongruity of the manner in which the task is sometimes attempted : as, when after the curtain has fallen upon a deep and solemn tragedy, some startling attempt at wit and pleasantry is uttered to the audience ; it may be by one of the characters whose deep sorrows or lofty aims we have been following with the profoundest interest. You will, at least, on the present occasion, not have the difficulty of the task shewn in this manner. Nor, indeed, is it my office, in any sense, to speak an epilogue at all. Perhaps such remarks as I have to make may rather be likened to the criticism which comes after the drama. For, as you know, Criticism does come after Poetry. ; the age of Criticism after the age of Poetry ; Aristotle after Sophocles, Longinus after Homer. And the reason of this has been well pointed out in our time that words, that human language, appear in the form in which the poet utters them, and works with them for his purposes, before they appear
in the form in which the critic must use them : language is picturesque and affecting, first; it is philosophical and critical afterwards :—it is first concrete, then abstract: -it acts first, it analyses afterwards. And this is the case, not with words only, but with works also. The Poet, as the Greeks called him, was the Maker, as our English fathers, also, were wont to call him. And man's power of making may shew itself not only in the beautiful texture of language, the grand machinery of the epic, the sublime display of poetical imagery; but in those material works which supply the
originals from which are taken the derivative terms which I have just been compelled to use: in the Textures of soft wool, or fine linen, or glossy silk, where the fancy disports itself in wreaths of visible flowers ; in the Machinery mighty as the thunderbolt to rend the oak, or light as the breath of air which carries the flower-dust to its appointed place ; in the Images which express to the eye beauty and dignity, as the poet's verse does to the mind ; so that it is difficult to say whether Homer or Phidias be more truly a poet. That mighty building, then, along the aisles of which we have wandered day after day in past months, full as it was of the works of man, contained also the works of many who were truly makers;—who stamped upon inatter, and the combinations of matter, that significance and efficacy which makes it a true exponent of the inward activity of man. The objects there, the symbols, instruments, and manifestations of beauty and power, were utterances,-articulate utterances of the human mind, no less than if they had been audible words and melodious sentences. There were expressed in the ranks of that great display many beautiful and many powerful thoughts of gifted men of our own and of other lands. The Crystal Palace was the cabinet in which were contained a vast multitude of compositions not of words, but of things, which we who wandered along its corridors and galleries might con, day by day, so as to possess ourselves, in some measure and according to our ability, of their meaning, power, and spirit. And now, that season of the perusal of such a collection of works being past; those days of wonderment at the creations of such a poetry being gone by; the office of reading and enjoying being over; the time for criticism seems to have arrived. We must now consider what it is that we have admired, and why; must try to analyse the works which we have thus gazed upon, and to discover the principles of their excellence. As the Critic of literary art endeavours to discern the laws of man's nature by which he can produce that which is beautiful and powerful, operating through the medium of language, so the Critic of such art as we have had here presented to us—of material art, as we may term itendeavours to discern the laws of material nature; to learn
how man can act by these, operating through the medium of matter, and thus produce beauty, and utility, and power. This kind of criticism appears to be the natural and proper sequel to such a great burst of production and exhibition as we have had to witness ;--to discover what the laws of operative power are, after having had so great a manifestation of what they do.
To discover the laws of operative power in literary works, though it claims no small respect under the name of Criticism, is not commonly considered the work of a science. But to discover the laws of operative power in material productions, whether formed by man, or brought into being by Nature herself, is the work of a science, and is indeed what we more especially term Science: and thus, in the case with which we have to do, we have, instead of the Criticism which naturally comes after the general circulation of Poetry, the Science which naturally comes after a great exhibition of Art: two cases of succession connected by a very close and profound analogy. That this view of the natural and general succession of science to art, as of criticism to poetry, is not merely fanciful and analogical, we may easily convince ourselves by looking for an instant at the progress of art and of science in past times. For we see that, in general, art has preceded science. Men have executed great, and curious, and beautiful works before they had a scientific insight into the principles on which the success of their labours was founded. There were good artificers in brass and iron before the principles of the chemistry of metals were known; there was wine among men before there was a philosophy of vinous fermentation ; there were mighty masses raised into the air, cyclopean walls and cromlechs, obelisks and pyramids--probably gigantic Doric pillars and entablatures,-before there was a theory of the mechanical powers. The earlier generations did ; the later explained that it had been possible to do. Art was the mother of Science: the vigorous and comely mother of a daughter of far loftier and serener beauty. And as it had been in the period of scientific activity in the ancient world, so was it again in the modern period in which Science began her later growth. The middle ages produced or im
proved a vast body of arts. Parchment and paper, printing and engraving, glass and steel, compass and gunpowder, clocks and watches, microscopes and telescopes, not to speak of the marvels of architecture, sculpture, and painting, all had their origin and progress, while the sciences of recent times were in their cradle, or were unborn. The dawn of the sixteenth century presented, as it were, a Great Exhibition of the works which men had been producing from the time of the downfall of Roman civilization and skill. There, too, might be seen, by him who travelled from land to land, beautiful textures, beautiful vessels of gold and bronze, of porcelain and glass, wonderful machines, mighty fabrics ; and from that time, stimulated by the sight of such a mass of the works of human skill, --stimulated still more by the natural working of those powers of man from which such skill had arisen,-men were led to seek for science as well as art; for science as the natural complement of art, and fulfilment of the thoughts and hopes which art excites ;-for science as the fully developed blossom, of which art is the wonderfully involved bud. Stimulated by such influences, the scientific tendencies of modern Europe took their starting impulse from the Great Exhibition of the productions of the middle ages which had accumulated in the sixteenth century; and have ever since been working onwards, with ever-increasing vigour, and in an ever-expanding sphere.
As the successful scientific speculations of the last three centuries have been the natural sequel to the art-energies of the preceding ages, so must the newest scientific speculations of our contemporaries and their successors, in order to be successful, be the result and consequence of the powers, as yet often appearing in the undeveloped form of art alone, which exist among us at the present day. And thus a great spectacle of the works of material art ought to carry with it its scientific moral. And the opportunities which we have lately had of surveying the whole of the world in which art reigns, and of appreciating the results of its sway, may well be deemed too valuable to be let slip for the purposes of that scientific speculation which is the proper sequence of such occasions. So it has seemed to those who have from the be