Title: American Exhibition

Periodical: Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art

Date: May 14, 1887

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FAVOURED by fine weather, and in the presence of an immense assemblage of spectators, the American Exhibition at West Brompton was formally opened to the public on Monday afternoon last. It would be unkind to pronounce a judgment now on the Exhibition upon which Canon Farrar invoked a special blessing of Providence, for the simple reason that it is not half completed. The building has an empty appearance, and the majority of the exhibits already in their places are not of paramount public interest. But goods are daily pouring in, and doubtless in a fortnight matters will assume a totally different aspect. Unfortunately, no less than two shiploads full of exhibits failed to enter the docks in time, and among these is a fine collection of pictures from Boston. Even now the Exhibition contains a variety of ingenious trifles in the invention of which the Americans excel. The gardens also are unfinished. Although intersected by two lines of railroads, masked by high wooden palings, they are picturesque; for here and there stand a few trees, relics of some garden of the past, and also a quantity of pear and apple trees laden with blossoms, which until a recent date grew in a well-known market garden. The grounds, too, are undulating, and when illuminated by thousands of coloured lamps and Chinese lanterns, present an exceedingly pretty effect. Here there is a "Switch-back railway," which is already "doing a roaring trade." Close by this is a Toboganning slide, already immensely popular; and independently of these there are band-stands, a club-house in course of erection, and in a few days will be completed the grand cyclorama of New York, as seen from the harbour, executed by M. Bartholdi. But all these varied amusements are mere sketches of what we hear they will be before very long. The Art Gallery, when in a more advanced state, promises to be exceedingly interesting, and already contains some truly fine works. When it is considered that the Exhibition is purely due to private enterprise, Mr. John R. Whitley and his colleagues must be allowed to deserve great credit for their energy.

But it is the "Wild West," after all, which will prove the great attraction of this Exhibition. Nobody has ever been more thoroughly "boomed" than Buffalo Bill, and there is no doubt that he merits a great deal of the fame and popularity he has achieved. One curious fact connected with this circus—for such it really is—is the extensive republication which is going on of Fenimore Cooper's novels. It seems as if everybody who has paid a visit to the "Wild West" at Earl's Court must forthwith form the acquaintance of The Last of the Mohicans, Leather Stocking, and The Pathfinder. In common justice, Captain Mayne Reid [1] should have his share of the luck. We need not inquire too closely into the accuracy of detail as displayed in the costumes of the inhabitants of the singular camp at West Brompton. They are real Indians, of that there is no doubt, and they wear Indian dresses; but these are touched up and supplemented with a view to theatrical effect, which is evidently pleasing to Indian vanity. Their bead-work, however, is real, and extremely beautiful. A more orderly set of people it would be difficult to find. Their chief occupation, between the hours of the two daily performances, seems apparently to consist of sleeping, eating, and sitting on a wall which overlooks the railroad, in remarkably picturesque groups. The little Indian children trot about, and shake hands with the visitors with much good nature. On Monday last the spectacle presented of a leading judge being lassoed by a papoose was one not likely to be forgotten by those who had the supreme pleasure of beholding it.

The crowd assembled on Monday at the initial performance was one which only London can produce. There were at least twenty thousand persons present. When Mr. Levy had trumpeted on his cornet "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the Americans had waved their handkerchiefs and the English had clapped their hands, a very picturesque procession of the whole dramatis personæ passed round the vast arena; and then came the hero of the day, galloping gallantly on his white steed to the front. Then the programme was gone through from beginning to end without interruption and most successfully. It dragged a little, and decidedly needed compression; but it is a "big thing in shows," as the Americans say, and its like has never been seen before on this side of the Atlantic. The war-dance, the bloodthirsty attacks on the little log hut in the centre of the arena and on the lumbering old coach, are things which have been described within the past few weeks in every paper in England; so there is no need to repeat what has been so often said. "Buck Taylor," however, has not quite received the amount of credit due to him. He is a splendid rider, and the grace with which he will pick up a handkerchief or a glove whilst galloping past on his wiry mustang is alone worth going to Brompton to see. The sight of the immense arena when filled is remarkable, and there is a sufficient atmosphere of danger in the sports to give a tone of genuine excitement to the spectators, hence the spontaneity of the applause.

Note 1: Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883), an Irish-born author best known for his tales of adventure set in the American West. [back]