Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Private and confidential: The International Exhibition

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The International Exhibition.
sir mowbray mount edgecombe to the reader.

I am a gentleman,—of fortune—and with a taste for fine things,—and goodness in guns, clothes, jewels, laces,—

A dandy of sixty, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in collars, cuirasses, and lace.”

Some one—I think it was that radical Hone—wrote this rhyme about the Regent, of whom, in his liking for finery, I am, perhaps, a type. Am I better or worse?—’tis not for me to say. But I have many kind friends, whose judgment, learning, and experience I value, and on which I know I can rely;—I trust I write with proper diffidence—so that with their aid I can make a very interesting narrative of what I see at the Exhibition at Kensington, where “Emulation’s thousand sons, who one by one pursue,” are just now holding their superb fair—festival—International show, &c. What I see to please me, perhaps I should rather say: and I shall begin with “The Diamonds,” as I think every one acquainted with my long-cherished habits will agree that I should.

In the Creation, and in the wonderful narrative of it, surely the most imposing command is—“Let there be light.” So amid all the myriad riches of the sullen mine, its gold, silver, platina, ore, and quartz, and silica, and pyrites, and the heaps of products from the uses of the pickaxe, spade, and shovel,—how strange that ’tis the rudest labour, delving and digging as in the primæval days, which works most ably and successfully in the lately discovered auriferous regions—amid all the wonders and splendours, I say, dug from the bowels of the harmless earth, this Diamond, on which “light” plays, sparkles, and shines, as though the precious gem were itself “light” solidified and fixed, transcends everything that has grown up, far or near, in its neighbourhood.

And, that you may understand how keenly this strange beauty of the Diamond affects even those whose business it is to cut, polish, refine, and remove from its grosser covering or incrustation, the stone which is perhaps one day to be “a king’s ransom,” take the following fact. The artist who was employed to cut the Koh-i-noor was months at his task. With such veneration did he set himself to his work, that if his hand trembled in the morning when he rose before continuing his responsibility of shaping or thinning this magnificent treasure, he stayed work for the day. Long he pondered whether he should venture to thin or diminish the size of this delight of his eyes,—whether he should dare to lessen its weight, even though he increased its brilliancy. But he went on as a great workman, loving and honouring what he had to do, and the jewel was thinned and pared somewhat, and became the magnificence and glory we now see it. I can well believe and estimate this Oriental worship for “The Diamond,” and can understand an artist’s sacrifices for quality instead of quantity, as my dogged friend at my elbow suggests. Will it be considered childish for me to aver, moreover, that I thoroughly relish the allegory of Sinbad the Sailor’s adventures in the valley of Diamonds, and his account of the merchants’ stratagem to obtain the jewels.

In Mr. Lane’s very interesting notes to his translation of Sinbad’s story in the Arabian Nights, “El-Kazweenee” relates that—“To the place in which the diamond is found, no one can gain access. It is a valley in the land of India, the bottom of which the sight reacheth not; and in it are venomous serpents, which no one seeth but he dieth; and they have a summer abode for six months, and a winter abode where they hide themselves for a like period. El-iskender (either Alexander the Great or the first Zu-l-karneyn) commanded to take some mirrors and throw them into the valley, that the serpents might see in them their forms and die in consequence. It is said also that he watched for the time of their absenting themselves, or returning into their winter quarters, and, threw down pieces of meat, and diamonds stuck to these: then the birds came from the sky, and took pieces of that meat, and brought them up out of the valley: whereupon El-iskender ordered his companions to follow the birds, and to pick what they could of the meat.”

I fear I ramble and am discursive, but anon shall be able to show that I can make use of the solid facts which are promised me by friends about “The Diamonds of the Exhibition.” And presently I shall from my gossip-wallet deliver stories about the hand-guns, rifles, and sporting small-arms, in which Mr. Whitworth, Messrs. Houllier, Blanchard, Durisme, L. Bernard, Custine Renette, Le Page Moutier, and the well-known Liege firms have all distinguished themselves. And you shall know the true and complete detail of the “wroughting” of the superb wedding present by the City of Berlin to the Crown Prince of Prussia, and our own dear Princess Royal, and “why” Vollgold and Sohn had the order for such a trophy of art. Then again, for a topic, there’s the gorgeous memorial or testimonial, commemorative of a very varied and honourable career, the grand silver and gold gift-piece to De Brouckere. You can see it just by the western dome, before you ascend the dais or platform on the northern side. And, by the-bye, I shall have to record the richness of Mr. Wertheimer’s exquisite furniture, at which all Belgravia raves with admiration, though presently I shall take pains to interest my readers and myself with details of its cost and the finish of the whole of the work. Oh! and again by the-bye, there is the tale of that glorious monster of a tiger, “shot in the Deyrah Dhoon in March, 1860, by Colonel Charles Reid, C.B., of H.M. 2nd Goorkahs (Sirmoor Rifles),” measuring, I should think, eight feet and a half from his nose to the end spine! How oddly one digresses. I feel I am getting from the “Diamonds,” but I promise faithfully to treat of them in the next number.

And if my gentle readers will but accept this discursive small introduction as a reverence or preliminary bow—preface, the authors call it—I am sure that more suitably in the next amount of space kindly permitted me by the Editor of Once a Week, I shall be able to tell them very interesting and peculiar points of attraction about the “mountain of light,” and the lesser brilliancies, round which a throng of crinoline holds its court daily.