England, London, Thursday, May 1, 1851.

LONDON, Thursday, May 1, 1851.

Our Human Life is either comic or tragic, according to the point of view
from which we regard it. The observer will be impelled to laugh or to
weep over it, as he shall fix his attention on men’s follies or their
sufferings. So of the Great Exhibition, and more especially its Royal
Inauguration, which I have just returned from witnessing. There can be
no serious doubt that the Fair has good points; I think it is a good
thing for London first, for England next, and will ultimately benefit
mankind. And yet, it would not be difficult so to depict it (and truly),
that its contrivers and managers would never think of deeming the
picture complimentary.

But let us have the better side first by all means. The show is
certainly a great one, greater in extent, in variety, and in the
excellence of a large share of its contents, than the world has hitherto
seen. The Crystal Palace, which covers and protects all, is better than
any one thing it contains, it is really a fairy wonder, and is a work of
inestimable value as a suggestion for future architecture. It is not
merely better adapted to its purpose than any other edifice ever yet
built could be, but it combines remarkable cheapness with vast and
varied utility. Depend on it, stone and timber will have to stand back
for iron and glass hereafter, to an extent not yet conceivable. The
triumph of Paxton is perfect, and heralds a revolution.

The day has been very favorable–fair, bland and dry. It is now 4 P. M.
and there has been no rain since daylight, but a mere sprinkle at noon
unregarded by us insiders–the longest exemption from “falling weather”
I have known since I left New York, and I believe the daily showers or
squalls in this city reach still further back. True, even this day would
be deemed a dull one in New York, but there was a very fair imitation of
sunshine this morning, and we enjoy rather more than American moonlight
still, though the sky is partially clouded. [How can they have had the
conscience to tax _such_ light as they get up in this country?] Of
course the turn out has been immense; I estimate the number inside of
the building at thirty thousand, and I presume ten times as many went
out of their way to gaze at the Procession, though that was not much. Our
New York Fire Department could beat it; so could our Odd-Fellows.–Then
the most perfect order was preserved throughout; everything was done in
season and without botching; no accident occurred to mar the festivity,
and the general feeling was one of hearty satisfaction. If it were a new
thing to see a Queen, Court and aristocracy engaged in doing marked honor
to Industry, they certainly performed gracefully the parts allotted them,
and with none of the awkwardness or blundering which novel situations are
expected to excuse. But was the play well cast?

The Sovereign in a monarchy is of course always in order: to be honored
for doing his whole duty; to be honored more signally if he does more
than his duty. Prince Albert’s sphere as the Sovereign’s consort is very
limited, and he shows rare sense and prudence in never evincing a desire
to overstep it. I think few men live who could hold his neutral and
hampered position and retain so entirely the sincere respect and esteem
of the British Nation. His labors in promoting this Exhibition began
early and have been arduous, persistent and effective. Any Inauguration
of the Fair in which he did not prominently figure would have done him
injustice. The Queen appears to be personally popular in a more direct
and positive sense. I cannot remember that any one act of her public
life has ever been condemned by the public sentiment of the Country.
Almost every body here appears to esteem it a condescension for her to
open the Exhibition as though it were a Parliament, and with far more of
personal exertion and heartiness on her part. And while I must regard
her vocation as one rather behind the intelligence of this age and
likely to go out of fashion at no distant day, yet I am sure that change
will not come through _her_ fault. I was glad to see her in the pageant
to-day, and hope she enjoyed it while ministering to the enjoyment of
others.

But let us reverse the glass for a moment. The ludicrous, the dissonant,
the incongruous, are not excluded from the Exhibition: they cannot be
excluded from any complete picture of its Opening. The Queen, we will
say, was here by Right Divine, by right of Womanhood, by Universal
Suffrage–any how you please. The ceremonial could not have spared her.
But in inaugurating the first grand cosmopolitan Olympiad of Industry,
ought not Industry to have had some representation, some vital
recognition, in her share of the pageant? If the Queen had come in state
to the Horse-Guards to review the _élite_ of her military forces, no one
would doubt that “the Duke” should figure in the foreground, with a
brilliant staff of Generals and Colonels surrounding him. So, if she
were proceeding to open Parliament her fitting attendants would be
Ministers and Councillors of State. But what have her “Gentleman Usher
of Sword and State,” “Lords in Waiting,” “Master of the Horse,” “Earl
Marshal,” “Groom of the Stole,” “Master of the Buckhounds,” and such
uncouth fossils, to do with a grand Exhibition of the fruits of
Industry? What, in their official capacity, have these and theirs ever
had to do with Industry unless to burden it, or with its Products but
to consume or destroy them? The “Mistress of the Robes” would be in
place if she ever fashioned any robes, even for the Queen; so would the
“Ladies of the Bedchamber” if they did anything with beds except to
sleep in them. As the fact is, their presence only served to strengthen
the presumption that not merely their offices but that of Royalty itself
is an anachronism, and all should have deceased with the era to which
they properly belonged. It was well indeed that Paxton should have a
proud place in the procession; but he held it in no representative
capacity; he was there not in behalf of Architecture but of the Crystal
Palace. To have rendered the pageant expressive, congruous, and really a
tribute to Industry, the posts of honor next the Queen’s person should
have been confided on this occasion to the children of Watt, of
Arkwright and their compeers (Napoleon’s _real_ conquerors;) while
instead of Grandees and Foreign Embassadors, the heirs of Fitch, of
Fulton, of Jacquard, of Whitney, of Daguerre, &c., with the discoverers,
inventors, architects and engineers to whom the world is primarily
indebted for Canals, Railroads, Steamships, Electric Telegraphs, &c.,
&c., should have been specially invited to swell the Royal cortege. To
pass over all these, and summon instead the descendants of some dozen
lucky Norman robbers, none of whom ever contemplated the personal doing
of any real work as even a remote possibility, and any of whom would
feel insulted by a report that his father or grandfather invented the
Steam Engine or Spinning Jenny, is not the fittest way to honor
Industry. The Queen’s Horticulturists, Gardeners, Carpenters,
Upholsterers, Milliners, &c., would have been far more in place in the
procession than her “gold stick,” “silver stick,” and kindred
absurdities.