The period of English history which begins with the Great Exhibition of 1851 and ends with the second Reform Bill of 1867 is one of the least studied and least understood chapters in English history. . . . On the one side, there are the sharp conflicts of the 1840's, when contemporaries talked openly of class war and imminent revolution, and, on the other, there are the bitter struggles of the 1880's, when Irish nationalism molded English history. . . . The middle years of the century form a great plateau bounded on each side by deep ravines and dangeroous precipices. (Asa Briggs, Victorian People, 1)
Of all decades in our history, a wise man whould choose the eighteen-fifties to be young in. (G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age)
The England of 1852-67 . . . was not the same England as that of 1842 or 1872. Something of the passions, of the ingenuous and romantic emotions, which had found expression in Chartism, in Tractarianism, in the bitter controversies over the corn laws and the sugar duties, in dozens of utopian schems, had abated. . . . [T]here was less of that single-minded vehemence which had characterized and perhaps nearly destroyed an earlier England. But in 1867, though there had been trmors and vibrations, the suface of things could seen as almost intact. (R. L. Burn, The Age of Equipoise, 15-16).
[Palmerston's] dominance coincided with Britannia ruling the waves and London ruling the exchanges, with Britain dominating world trade, enjoying economic growth at a rate unknown before or since, and finding in social peace, political equilibrium and deepening prosperity grounds for the optimism so often wrongly thought characteristic of the whole Victorian era. (Donald Southgate, "The Most English Minister . . .": The Policies and Politics of Palmerston, xxiv).
 was a year of such excitement that many young Victorians looked back on it with nostalgia for the rest of their lives, and many old Georgians regarded it as the climax of English history. The symbol of the Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, dominates the whole period from 1851-1867. (Asa Briggs, Victorian People, 14).
God send that we all meet in 1851 under the shadow of some huge, newly-invented machine. I mean to exhibit four three-volume novels--all failures--which I look upon as a great proof of industry. Dullness is our line, as cleverness is that of the French. Woe to the English people if they ever forget that. (Anthony Trollope, q. in Asa Briggs, Victorian People, 113).
I have always had an instinctive feeling against the Exhibition, of a faint inexplicable sort. (Charles Dickens, Letters, 27 July 1851, vol. 6, p. 448).