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Lytton Strachey on the Great Exhibition

Lytton Strachey broke into prominence with ``Eminent Victorians'' (1918), which departed from traditional biography with a dramatic, analytical approach often echoed still. The following passage, from his ``Queen Victoria'' (1921), refers to Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Crystal Palace planned by Prince Albert. The enormous glass edifice rose higher and higher, covering acres and enclosing towering elm trees beneath its roof: and then the fury of its enemies reached a climax. The fashionable, the cautious, the Protectionists, the pious, all joined in the hue and cry. It was pointed out that the Exhibition would serve as a rallying point for all the ruffians in England, for all the malcontents in Europe; and that on the day of its opening there would certainly be a riot and probably a revolution. It was a sserted that the glass roof was porous, and that the droppings of fifty million sparrows would utterly destroy every object beneath it. Agitated nonconformists declared that the Exhibition was an arrogant and wicked enterprise which would infallibly bring down God's punishment upon the nation. Colonel Sibthorpe, in the debate on the Address, prayed that hail and lightning might descend from heaven on the accursed thing. The Prince, with unyielding perseverance and infinite patience, pressed on to his goal. . . .

The volume of his labours grew more prodigious every day; he toiled at committees, presided over public meetings, made speeches, and carried on communications with every corner of the civilised world -- and his efforts were rewarded. On May 1, 1851, the Great Exhibition was opened by the Queen before an enormous concourse of persons, amid scenes of dazzling brilliancy and triumphant enthusiasm.

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Victoria herself was in a state of excitement which bordered on delirium. She performed her duties in a trance of joy, gratitude, and amazement, and, when it was all over, her feelings poured themselves out into her journal in a torrential flood. The day had been nothing but an endless succession of glories -- or rather one vast glory -- one vast radiation of Albert. Everything she had seen, everything she had felt or heard, had been so beautiful, so wonderful that even the royal underlinings broke down

under the burden of emphasis, while her remembering pen rushed on, regardless, from splendour to splendour -- the huge crowds, so well-behaved and loyal -- flags of all the nations floating -- the inside of the building, so immense, with myriads of people and the sun shining through the roof -- a little side room, where we left our shawls -- palm-trees and machinery -- dear Albert -- the place so big that we could hardly hear the organ -- thankfulness to God -- a curious assemblage of political and disting uished men -- the March from Athalie -- God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country!

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