In a number of the “Illustrated News,” not long since, there was what professed to be a view of Manchester. It represented a thousand tall factory-chimneys rising out of a gray mist, and surmounted by a heavy, drifting cloud of smoke. And in truth a view not very different from this was presented to any one who, standing at the entrance of the Palace of the Exhibition of Art Treasures, turned and looked back before going within. Two miles off lies the body of the great workshop-city, already stretching its begrimed arms in the direction of the Exhibition. The vast flat expanse of brick walls, diversified by countless chimneys and occasional steeples, now and then interrupted by the insertion of a low shed or an enormous warehouse, offers no single object upon which the eve or the imagination can rest with pleasure. Such a view was never to be seen in the world before this century; a city built merely by trade, built for the home of labor, of machines, and of engines, and for the dwelling-place (one cannot call it the home) of crowds of human beings, whose value is, for the most part, estimated according to the development of their machine-like qualities. Beauty is not consulted here. In those places in or near the city, where Nature, reluctant to be driven utterly away, still tries to keep a foothold, she is parched and scorched by the feverish breath of forges and furnaces. Standing here, one may see the cloud of smoke, which waves in the wind like a pall over the city, slowly moving and settling down upon the land. One may almost hear the roar of the continual fires, the throb of the engines, the heavy beat of the trip-hammers, and the rattle of the spindles, by which the work of the world is done; and their noises, blended by the distance into one monotonous sound, seem like the voice of the restless, hard-working, unsettled spirit of gain. Manchester is built and is worked for profit, not for pleasure; beauty is driven away from her as a thing at variance with practical life; and even the sky above her and the fields around her yield only at rare moments and for short seasons those precious and gracious shows of beauty which are the free and blessed gift of love to all the world. Smoke, steam, coal-dust, blackened walls, and bare fields lie outside the Exhibition and now let us go within.
The world could show no sharper and more affecting contrast. Outside, all suggests the competitions and struggles of trade, the crowded street, the bustle of the exchange, the cold and dry elements of purely unimaginative life. Inside, all suggests the quietness and composure of solitary and delightful labor, the silence of the studio, the resort to nature, and the frequenting of the springs of poetry. From the present, one is suddenly transferred to the past; from the near, to the remote. In place of the blank, black factory wall, there is the low wall of some Italian Campo Santo, its painted sides more precious than marbles or gold could have made them; in place of the dull and heavy stone of the Exchange, the glowing mosaics of some southern cathedral; in place of the factory bell and the rush into the steaming and dirty workroom, the bell of a convent on Fiesole, and the slow walk through its cool cloisters; in place of the dead files of uniform ugly houses, Venetian palaces, with the water at their base, reflecting the colors which Giorgione and Titian, housepainters at Venice, left upon their stones; in place of the racket of the street, the quiet greenness of an English lane, or the inaccessible ice and glory of a far-off mountain summit; in place of the burnt waste of fields covered with ashes and coal-dust, the burning stretch of the desert with the Sphinx looking out over it century after century; in place of the shower coming down through the dirty air to wash the dirty roofs, a storm breaking over the sea-shore rocks, or beating down on the broken wreck; instead of the drabbled calico of the factory girl and her face old before its time, the satins of Vandyck’s beauties, and the fair looks of Sir Peter Lely’s heroines; instead of Manchester mayors and masters of factories, Tintoret’s noble Venetian counsellors and doges, and Titian’s Shakspearian men. It was a bold thought thus to bring pictures and statues into one great collection at Old Trafford, and to set off the art of the world against the manufactures of Manchester.