Thursday, October 04, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007 12:04 am by M. in    3 comments
The Museum of Strange and Wondrous Things posts about the 1851 Great Exhibition of London. Charlotte Brontë's opinion is quoted:
“Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it thus, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from a distance.”

— Charlotte Brontë A visit to the Crystal Palace, 1851. The Brontës' Life and Letters, by Clement Shorter (1907)
The description belongs to a letter from Charlotte Brontë to her father of 9 June 1851. A few days later, Charlotte Brontë visited the Great Exhibition once again accompanied by the eminent physicist Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), inventor of the kaleidoscope. (Check Margaret Smith's Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Vol. 2)

David Brewster is the subject of an article in ELH (English Literary History) published in the Spring issue:
Groth, Helen.
Kaleidoscopic Vision and Literary Invention in an "Age of Things": David Brewster, Don Juan and "A Lady's Kaleidoscope"
ELH - Volume 74, Number 1, Spring 2007, pp. 217-237
In the article the opinion of David Brewster on Charlotte can be read:
It was that of Miss Bronte, the authoress of Jane Eyre and Shirley, a little, pleasing-looking woman of about forty, modest and agreeable. I went through the Exhibition with her yesterday.
Picture: The front entrance of the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World's Fair. Contemporary engraving. Source



  1. I wonder what Charlotte would of though when her escort described her as "pleasing-looking". From my limited understanding, Charlotte was a very self-criticial of her physical appearance. It would of been interesting to see how the these two great minds interacted as they went through the Great Exhibition. Would Mr. Brewster tried to go into the science of the exhibits with Charlotte and from the letter posted Charlotte understanding the larger implication of what was being shown.

  2. To add to my previous post, I do not think Charlotte would of appreciated being described as being "about forty" when she was 35 at the time of the visit.

  3. Ever since she was very young Charlotte saw herself as an 'old spinster', and a five-year difference in age calculation doesn't seem so much to me. So I don't think she would have made much of it.