Punch, 49 (1865), 236–37.
A Wonderful Shillingsworth!
Exhibitions, Display, Amusement, Machinery, Lecturing, Science Communication, Electricity, Magnetism, Instruments, Electromagnetism, Cultural Geography
Benjamin Franklin , William R Grove , John H Pepper
The author describes in great detail a visit to the Royal Polytechnic Institution. He begins by explaining that the shilling entrance fee prompted him to accept his friend's invitation to visit the institution. Proceeds to describe the myriad moving machinery on display, the bustle of the crowds, and the commercial aspects of the exhibition, including 'electrical eels wriggling', 'spinning jennies hard at it, a glass-blower in a paroxysm of scientific joy over a hot gas-light', 'scientific sponge cakes' for sale, and 'civil officials [...] running up and down stairs for no apparent reason'. Explains how the 'Cosmoramic views' provided welcome relief from this intense movement, and laments the absence of the diving bell and diver that was once a key attraction in the exhibition. Describes how all the commotion ceased when a siren sounded and 'a stout, amiable lecturer', standing behind a counter, began to speak to the crowd. Presents a report of the lecture on the 'Thermal Battery', which notes only the key words and phrases that the author was able to hear, and the responses of the audience to the lecturer's remarks and practical demonstrations. The report suggests that the lecture began with a brief history of electricity leading up to the thermal battery and then, much to the audience's disappointment, the lecturer announced that his large electrostatic machine 'will not work' owing to the excessively damp weather. Subsequently, audience members begin to drift away and the lecturer's apparently tedious discussion of electromagnetism only captures the audience's attention when he hits a stone with a piece of iron. After discussing galvanic batteries, the lecturer successfully reclaims his audience with talk of 'one of Pharoah's serpents' and concludes his performance. The author describes a choral concert and a performance of comic dialogue held in a room that he associates with scientific and engineering instruments. Later he notes that 'two French gentlemen' had visited the institution under the impression that it was 'The Literary and Scientific Institution of England' but discovered that 'they'd made a mistake'. After an interval, the institution's lecturer presented 'an ingenious optical illusion' comprising the apparent disappearance of a 'feeble old person called the Curator'. (236) After describing the lecturer's narration of a ghost story, the author concludes by emphasising the continuing popularity of the institution and noting his friend's desire to save up his 'Christmas boxes in order to visit the Institution regularly'.
© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005-07
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