Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Speeches: Literary and Social by Charles Dickens

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Transcribed from the 1880 Chatto and Windus edition by David Price,
email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



[At a public dinner, given in honour of Mr. Dickens, and presided
over by the late Professor Wilson, the Chairman having proposed his
health in a long and eloquent speech, Mr. Dickens returned thanks
as follows:-]

If I felt your warm and generous welcome less, I should be better
able to thank you. If I could have listened as you have listened
to the glowing language of your distinguished Chairman, and if I
could have heard as you heard the "thoughts that breathe and words
that burn," which he has uttered, it would have gone hard but I
should have caught some portion of his enthusiasm, and kindled at
his example. But every word which fell from his lips, and every
demonstration of sympathy and approbation with which you received
his eloquent expressions, renders me unable to respond to his
kindness, and leaves me at last all heart and no lips, yearning to
respond as I would do to your cordial greeting--possessing, heaven
knows, the will, and desiring only to find the way.

The way to your good opinion, favour, and support, has been to me
very pleasing--a path strewn with flowers and cheered with
sunshine. I feel as if I stood amongst old friends, whom I had
intimately known and highly valued. I feel as if the deaths of the
fictitious creatures, in which you have been kind enough to express
an interest, had endeared us to each other as real afflictions
deepen friendships in actual life; I feel as if they had been real
persons, whose fortunes we had pursued together in inseparable
connexion, and that I had never known them apart from you.

It is a difficult thing for a man to speak of himself or of his
works. But perhaps on this occasion I may, without impropriety,
venture to say a word on the spirit in which mine were conceived.
I felt an earnest and humble desire, and shall do till I die, to
increase the stock of harmless cheerfulness. I felt that the world
was not utterly to be despised; that it was worthy of living in for
many reasons. I was anxious to find, as the Professor has said, if
I could, in evil things, that soul of goodness which the Creator
has put in them. I was anxious to show that virtue may be found in
the bye-ways of the world, that it is not incompatible with poverty
and even with rags, and to keep steadily through life the motto,
expressed in the burning words of your Northern poet -

"The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that."

And in following this track, where could I have better assurance
that I was right, or where could I have stronger assurance to cheer
me on than in your kindness on this to me memorable night?

I am anxious and glad to have an opportunity of saying a word in
reference to one incident in which I am happy to know you were
interested, and still more happy to know, though it may sound
paradoxical, that you were disappointed--I mean the death of the
little heroine. When I first conceived the idea of conducting that
simple story to its termination, I determined rigidly to adhere to
it, and never to forsake the end I had in view. Not untried in the
school of affliction, in the death of those we love, I thought what
a good thing it would be if in my little work of pleasant amusement
I could substitute a garland of fresh flowers for the sculptured
horrors which disgrace the tomb. If I have put into my book
anything which can fill the young mind with better thoughts of
death, or soften the grief of older hearts; if I have written one
word which can afford pleasure or consolation to old or young in
time of trial, I shall consider it as something achieved--something
which I shall be glad to look back upon in after life. Therefore I
kept to my purpose, notwithstanding that towards the conclusion of
the story, I daily received letters of remonstrance, especially
from the ladies. God bless them for their tender mercies! The
Professor was quite right when he said that I had not reached to an
adequate delineation of their virtues; and I fear that I must go on
blotting their characters in endeavouring to reach the ideal in my
mind. These letters were, however, combined with others from the
sterner sex, and some of them were not altogether free from
personal invective. But, notwithstanding, I kept to my purpose,
and I am happy to know that many of those who at first condemned me
are now foremost in their approbation.

If I have made a mistake in detaining you with this little
incident, I do not regret having done so; for your kindness has
given me such a confidence in you, that the fault is yours and not
mine. I come once more to thank you, and here I am in a difficulty
again. The distinction you have conferred upon me is one which I
never hoped for, and of which I never dared to dream. That it is
one which I shall never forget, and that while I live I shall be
proud of its remembrance, you must well know. I believe I shall
never hear the name of this capital of Scotland without a thrill of
gratitude and pleasure. I shall love while I have life her people,
her hills, and her houses, and even the very stones of her streets.
And if in the future works which may lie before me you should
discern--God grant you may!--a brighter spirit and a clearer wit, I
pray you to refer it back to this night, and point to that as a
Scottish passage for evermore. I thank you again and again, with
the energy of a thousand thanks in each one, and I drink to you
with a heart as full as my glass, and far easier emptied, I do
assure you.

[Later in the evening, in proposing the health of Professor Wilson,
Mr. Dickens said:-]

I have the honour to be entrusted with a toast, the very mention of
which will recommend itself to you, I know, as one possessing no
ordinary claims to your sympathy and approbation, and the proposing
of which is as congenial to my wishes and feelings as its
acceptance must be to yours. It is the health of our Chairman, and
coupled with his name I have to propose the literature of Scotland-
-a literature which he has done much to render famous through the
world, and of which he has been for many years--as I hope and
believe he will be for many more--a most brilliant and
distinguished ornament. Who can revert to the literature of the
land of Scott and of Burns without having directly in his mind, as
inseparable from the subject and foremost in the picture, that old
man of might, with his lion heart and sceptred crutch--Christopher
North. I am glad to remember the time when I believed him to be a
real, actual, veritable old gentleman, that might be seen any day
hobbling along the High Street with the most brilliant eye--but
that is no fiction--and the greyest hair in all the world--who
wrote not because he cared to write, not because he cared for the
wonder and admiration of his fellow-men, but who wrote because he
could not help it, because there was always springing up in his
mind a clear and sparkling stream of poetry which must have vent,
and like the glittering fountain in the fairy tale, draw what you
might, was ever at the full, and never languished even by a single
drop or bubble. I had so figured him in my mind, and when I saw
the Professor two days ago, striding along the Parliament House, I
was disposed to take it as a personal offence--I was vexed to see
him look so hearty. I drooped to see twenty Christophers in one.
I began to think that Scottish life was all light and no shadows,
and I began to doubt that beautiful book to which I have turned
again and again, always to find new beauties and fresh sources of

[In proposing the memory of the late Sir David Wilkie, Mr. Dickens

Less fortunate than the two gentlemen who have preceded me, it is
confided to me to mention a name which cannot be pronounced without
sorrow, a name in which Scotland had a great triumph, and which
England delighted to honour. One of the gifted of the earth has
passed away, as it were, yesterday; one who was devoted to his art,
and his art was nature--I mean David Wilkie. {1} He was one who
made the cottage hearth a graceful thing--of whom it might truly be
said that he found "books in the running brooks," and who has left
in all he did some breathing of the air which stirs the heather.
But however desirous to enlarge on his genius as an artist, I would
rather speak of him now as a friend who has gone from amongst us.
There is his deserted studio--the empty easel lying idly by--the
unfinished picture with its face turned to the wall, and there is
that bereaved sister, who loved him with an affection which death
cannot quench. He has left a name in fame clear as the bright sky;
he has filled our minds with memories pure as the blue waves which
roll over him. Let us hope that she who more than all others
mourns his loss, may learn to reflect that he died in the fulness
of his time, before age or sickness had dimmed his powers--and that
she may yet associate with feelings as calm and pleasant as we do
now the memory of Wilkie.


[In presenting Captain Hewett, of the Britannia, {2} with a service
of plate on behalf of the passengers, Mr. Dickens addressed him as

Captain Hewett,--I am very proud and happy to have been selected as
the instrument of conveying to you the heartfelt thanks of my
fellow-passengers on board the ship entrusted to your charge, and
of entreating your acceptance of this trifling present. The
ingenious artists who work in silver do not always, I find, keep
their promises, even in Boston. I regret that, instead of two
goblets, which there should be here, there is, at present, only
one. The deficiency, however, will soon be supplied; and, when it
is, our little testimonial will be, so far, complete.

You are a sailor, Captain Hewett, in the truest sense of the word;
and the devoted admiration of the ladies, God bless them, is a
sailor's first boast. I need not enlarge upon the honour they have
done you, I am sure, by their presence here. Judging of you by
myself, I am certain that the recollection of their beautiful faces
will cheer your lonely vigils upon the ocean for a long time to

In all time to come, and in all your voyages upon the sea, I hope
you will have a thought for those who wish to live in your memory
by the help of these trifles. As they will often connect you with
the pleasure of those homes and fire sides from which they once
wandered, and which, but for you, they might never have regained,
so they trust that you will sometimes associate them with your
hours of festive enjoyment; and, that, when you drink from these
cups, you will feel that the draught is commended to your lips by
friends whose best wishes you have; and who earnestly and truly
hope for your success, happiness, and prosperity, in all the
undertakings of your life.


[At dinner given to Mr. Dickens by the young men of Boston. The
company consisted of about two hundred, among whom were George
Bancroft, Washington Allston, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The toast
of "Health, happiness, and a hearty welcome to Charles Dickens,"
having been proposed by the chairman, Mr. Quincy, and received with
great applause, Mr. Dickens responded with the following address:]

Gentlemen,--If you had given this splendid entertainment to anyone
else in the whole wide world--if I were to-night to exult in the
triumph of my dearest friend--if I stood here upon my defence, to
repel any unjust attack--to appeal as a stranger to your generosity
and kindness as the freest people on the earth--I could, putting
some restraint upon myself, stand among you as self-possessed and
unmoved as I should be alone in my own room in England. But when I
have the echoes of your cordial greeting ringing in my ears; when I
see your kind faces beaming a welcome so warm and earnest as never
man had--I feel, it is my nature, so vanquished and subdued, that I
have hardly fortitude enough to thank you. If your President,
instead of pouring forth that delightful mixture of humour and
pathos which you have just heard, had been but a caustic, ill-
natured man--if he had only been a dull one--if I could only have
doubted or distrusted him or you, I should have had my wits at my
fingers' ends, and, using them, could have held you at arm's-
length. But you have given me no such opportunity; you take
advantage of me in the tenderest point; you give me no chance of
playing at company, or holding you at a distance, but flock about
me like a host of brothers, and make this place like home. Indeed,
gentlemen, indeed, if it be natural and allowable for each of us,
on his own hearth, to express his thoughts in the most homely
fashion, and to appear in his plainest garb, I have a fair claim
upon you to let me do so to-night, for you have made my home an
Aladdin's Palace. You fold so tenderly within your breasts that
common household lamp in which my feeble fire is all enshrined, and
at which my flickering torch is lighted up, that straight my
household gods take wing, and are transported there. And whereas
it is written of that fairy structure that it never moved without
two shocks--one when it rose, and one when it settled down--I can
say of mine that, however sharp a tug it took to pluck it from its
native ground, it struck at once an easy, and a deep and lasting
root into this soil; and loved it as its own. I can say more of
it, and say with truth, that long before it moved, or had a chance
of moving, its master--perhaps from some secret sympathy between
its timbers, and a certain stately tree that has its being
hereabout, and spreads its broad branches far and wide--dreamed by
day and night, for years, of setting foot upon this shore, and
breathing this pure air. And, trust me, gentlemen, that, if I had
wandered here, unknowing and unknown, I would--if I know my own
heart--have come with all my sympathies clustering as richly about
this land and people--with all my sense of justice as keenly alive
to their high claims on every man who loves God's image--with all
my energies as fully bent on judging for myself, and speaking out,
and telling in my sphere the truth, as I do now, when you rain down
your welcomes on my head.

Our President has alluded to those writings which have been my
occupation for some years past; and you have received his allusions
in a manner which assures me--if I needed any such assurance--that
we are old friends in the spirit, and have been in close communion
for a long time.

It is not easy for a man to speak of his own books. I daresay that
few persons have been more interested in mine than I, and if it be
a general principle in nature that a lover's love is blind, and
that a mother's love is blind, I believe it may be said of an
author's attachment to the creatures of his own imagination, that
it is a perfect model of constancy and devotion, and is the
blindest of all. But the objects and purposes I have had in view
are very plain and simple, and may be easily told. I have always
had, and always shall have, an earnest and true desire to
contribute, as far as in me lies, to the common stock of healthful
cheerfulness and enjoyment. I have always had, and always shall
have, an invincible repugnance to that mole-eyed philosophy which
loves the darkness, and winks and scowls in the light. I believe
that Virtue shows quite as well in rags and patches, as she does in
purple and fine linen. I believe that she and every beautiful
object in external nature, claims some sympathy in the breast of
the poorest man who breaks his scanty loaf of daily bread. I
believe that she goes barefoot as well as shod. I believe that she
dwells rather oftener in alleys and by-ways than she does in courts
and palaces, and that it is good, and pleasant, and profitable to
track her out, and follow her. I believe that to lay one's hand
upon some of those rejected ones whom the world has too long
forgotten, and too often misused, and to say to the proudest and
most thoughtless--"These creatures have the same elements and
capacities of goodness as yourselves, they are moulded in the same
form, and made of the same clay; and though ten times worse than
you, may, in having retained anything of their original nature
amidst the trials and distresses of their condition, be really ten
times better;" I believe that to do this is to pursue a worthy and
not useless vocation. Gentlemen, that you think so too, your
fervent greeting sufficiently assures me. That this feeling is
alive in the Old World as well as in the New, no man should know
better than I--I, who have found such wide and ready sympathy in my
own dear land. That in expressing it, we are but treading in the
steps of those great master-spirits who have gone before, we know
by reference to all the bright examples in our literature, from
Shakespeare downward.

There is one other point connected with the labours (if I may call
them so) that you hold in such generous esteem, to which I cannot
help adverting. I cannot help expressing the delight, the more
than happiness it was to me to find so strong an interest awakened
on this side of the water, in favour of that little heroine of
mine, to whom your president has made allusion, who died in her
youth. I had letters about that child, in England, from the
dwellers in log-houses among the morasses, and swamps, and densest
forests, and deep solitudes of the far west. Many a sturdy hand,
hard with the axe and spade, and browned by the summer's sun, has
taken up the pen, and written to me a little history of domestic
joy or sorrow, always coupled, I am proud to say, with something of
interest in that little tale, or some comfort or happiness derived
from it, and my correspondent has always addressed me, not as a
writer of books for sale, resident some four or five thousand miles
away, but as a friend to whom he might freely impart the joys and
sorrows of his own fireside. Many a mother--I could reckon them
now by dozens, not by units--has done the like, and has told me how
she lost such a child at such a time, and where she lay buried, and
how good she was, and how, in this or that respect, she resembles
Nell. I do assure you that no circumstance of my life has given me
one hundredth part of the gratification I have derived from this
source. I was wavering at the time whether or not to wind up my
Clock, {3} and come and see this country, and this decided me. I
felt as if it were a positive duty, as if I were bound to pack up
my clothes, and come and see my friends; and even now I have such
an odd sensation in connexion with these things, that you have no
chance of spoiling me. I feel as though we were agreeing--as
indeed we are, if we substitute for fictitious characters the
classes from which they are drawn--about third parties, in whom we
had a common interest. At every new act of kindness on your part,
I say to myself "That's for Oliver; I should not wonder if that was
meant for Smike; I have no doubt that is intended for Nell;" and so
I become a much happier, certainly, but a more sober and retiring
man than ever I was before.

Gentlemen, talking of my friends in America, brings me back,
naturally and of course, to you. Coming back to you, and being
thereby reminded of the pleasure we have in store in hearing the
gentlemen who sit about me, I arrive by the easiest, though not by
the shortest course in the world, at the end of what I have to say.
But before I sit down, there is one topic on which I am desirous to
lay particular stress. It has, or should have, a strong interest
for us all, since to its literature every country must look for one
great means of refining and improving its people, and one great
source of national pride and honour. You have in America great
writers--great writers--who will live in all time, and are as
familiar to our lips as household words. Deriving (as they all do
in a greater or less degree, in their several walks) their
inspiration from the stupendous country that gave them birth, they
diffuse a better knowledge of it, and a higher love for it, all
over the civilized world. I take leave to say, in the presence of
some of those gentleman, that I hope the time is not far distant
when they, in America, will receive of right some substantial
profit and return in England from their labours; and when we, in
England, shall receive some substantial profit and return in
America for ours. Pray do not misunderstand me. Securing to
myself from day to day the means of an honourable subsistence, I
would rather have the affectionate regard of my fellow men, than I
would have heaps and mines of gold. But the two things do not seem
to me incompatible. They cannot be, for nothing good is
incompatible with justice; there must be an international
arrangement in this respect: England has done her part, and I am
confident that the time is not far distant when America will do
hers. It becomes the character of a great country; FIRSTLY,
because it is justice; SECONDLY, because without it you never can
have, and keep, a literature of your own.

Gentlemen, I thank you with feelings of gratitude, such as are not
often awakened, and can never be expressed. As I understand it to
be the pleasant custom here to finish with a toast, I would beg to
give you: AMERICA AND ENGLAND, and may they never have any
division but the Atlantic between them.


Gentlemen,--To say that I thank you for the earnest manner in which
you have drunk the toast just now so eloquently proposed to you--to
say that I give you back your kind wishes and good feelings with
more than compound interest; and that I feel how dumb and powerless
the best acknowledgments would be beside such genial hospitality as
yours, is nothing. To say that in this winter season, flowers have
sprung up in every footstep's length of the path which has brought
me here; that no country ever smiled more pleasantly than yours has
smiled on me, and that I have rarely looked upon a brighter summer
prospect than that which lies before me now, {4} is nothing.

But it is something to be no stranger in a strange place--to feel,
sitting at a board for the first time, the ease and affection of an
old guest, and to be at once on such intimate terms with the family
as to have a homely, genuine interest in its every member--it is, I
say, something to be in this novel and happy frame of mind. And,
as it is of your creation, and owes its being to you, I have no
reluctance in urging it as a reason why, in addressing you, I
should not so much consult the form and fashion of my speech, as I
should employ that universal language of the heart, which you, and
such as you, best teach, and best can understand. Gentlemen, in
that universal language--common to you in America, and to us in
England, as that younger mother-tongue, which, by the means of, and
through the happy union of our two great countries, shall be spoken
ages hence, by land and sea, over the wide surface of the globe--I
thank you.

I had occasion to say the other night in Boston, as I have more
than once had occasion to remark before, that it is not easy for an
author to speak of his own books. If the task be a difficult one
at any time, its difficulty, certainly, is not diminished when a
frequent recurrence to the same theme has left one nothing new to
say. Still, I feel that, in a company like this, and especially
after what has been said by the President, that I ought not to pass
lightly over those labours of love, which, if they had no other
merit, have been the happy means of bringing us together.

It has been often observed, that you cannot judge of an author's
personal character from his writings. It may be that you cannot.
I think it very likely, for many reasons, that you cannot. But, at
least, a reader will rise from the perusal of a book with some
defined and tangible idea of the writer's moral creed and broad
purposes, if he has any at all; and it is probable enough that he
may like to have this idea confirmed from the author's lips, or
dissipated by his explanation. Gentlemen, my moral creed--which is
a very wide and comprehensive one, and includes all sects and
parties--is very easily summed up. I have faith, and I wish to
diffuse faith in the existence--yes, of beautiful things, even in
those conditions of society, which are so degenerate, degraded, and
forlorn, that, at first sight, it would seem as though they could
not be described but by a strange and terrible reversal of the
words of Scripture, "God said, Let there be light, and there was
none." I take it that we are born, and that we hold our
sympathies, hopes, and energies, in trust for the many, and not for
the few. That we cannot hold in too strong a light of disgust and
contempt, before the view of others, all meanness, falsehood,
cruelty, and oppression, of every grade and kind. Above all, that
nothing is high, because it is in a high place; and that nothing is
low, because it is in a low one. This is the lesson taught us in
the great book of nature. This is the lesson which may be read,
alike in the bright track of the stars, and in the dusty course of
the poorest thing that drags its tiny length upon the ground. This
is the lesson ever uppermost in the thoughts of that inspired man,
who tells us that there are

"Tongues in the trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

Gentlemen, keeping these objects steadily before me, I am at no
loss to refer your favour and your generous hospitality back to the
right source. While I know, on the one hand, that if, instead of
being what it is, this were a land of tyranny and wrong, I should
care very little for your smiles or frowns, so I am sure upon the
other, that if, instead of being what I am, I were the greatest
genius that ever trod the earth, and had diverted myself for the
oppression and degradation of mankind, you would despise and reject
me. I hope you will, whenever, through such means, I give you the
opportunity. Trust me, that, whenever you give me the like
occasion, I will return the compliment with interest.

Gentlemen, as I have no secrets from you, in the spirit of
confidence you have engendered between us, and as I have made a
kind of compact with myself that I never will, while I remain in
America, omit an opportunity of referring to a topic in which I and
all others of my class on both sides of the water are equally
interested--equally interested, there is no difference between us,
I would beg leave to whisper in your ear two words: INTERNATIONAL
COPYRIGHT. I use them in no sordid sense, believe me, and those
who know me best, best know that. For myself, I would rather that
my children, coming after me, trudged in the mud, and knew by the
general feeling of society that their father was beloved, and had
been of some use, than I would have them ride in their carriages,
and know by their banker's books that he was rich. But I do not
see, I confess, why one should be obliged to make the choice, or
why fame, besides playing that delightful REVEIL for which she is
so justly celebrated, should not blow out of her trumpet a few
notes of a different kind from those with which she has hitherto
contented herself.

It was well observed the other night by a beautiful speaker, whose
words went to the heart of every man who heard him, that, if there
had existed any law in this respect, Scott might not have sunk
beneath the mighty pressure on his brain, but might have lived to
add new creatures of his fancy to the crowd which swarm about you
in your summer walks, and gather round your winter evening hearths.

As I listened to his words, there came back, fresh upon me, that
touching scene in the great man's life, when he lay upon his couch,
surrounded by his family, and listened, for the last time, to the
rippling of the river he had so well loved, over its stony bed. I
pictured him to myself, faint, wan, dying, crushed both in mind and
body by his honourable struggle, and hovering round him the
phantoms of his own imagination--Waverley, Ravenswood, Jeanie
Deans, Rob Roy, Caleb Balderstone, Dominie Sampson--all the
familiar throng--with cavaliers, and Puritans, and Highland chiefs
innumerable overflowing the chamber, and fading away in the dim
distance beyond. I pictured them, fresh from traversing the world,
and hanging down their heads in shame and sorrow, that, from all
those lands into which they had carried gladness, instruction, and
delight for millions, they brought him not one friendly hand to
help to raise him from that sad, sad bed. No, nor brought him from
that land in which his own language was spoken, and in every house
and hut of which his own books were read in his own tongue, one
grateful dollar-piece to buy a garland for his grave. Oh! if every
man who goes from here, as many do, to look upon that tomb in
Dryburgh Abbey, would but remember this, and bring the recollection

Gentlemen, I thank you again, and once again, and many times to
that. You have given me a new reason for remembering this day,
which is already one of mark in my calendar, it being my birthday;
and you have given those who are nearest and dearest to me a new
reason for recollecting it with pride and interest. Heaven knows
that, although I should grow ever so gray, I shall need nothing to
remind me of this epoch in my life. But I am glad to think that
from this time you are inseparably connected with every recurrence
of this day; and, that on its periodical return, I shall always, in
imagination, have the unfading pleasure of entertaining you as my
guests, in return for the gratification you have afforded me to-


[At a dinner presided over by Washington Irving, when nearly eight
hundred of the most distinguished citizens of New York were
present, "Charles Dickens, the Literary Guest of the Nation,"
having been "proferred as a sentiment" by the Chairman, Mr. Dickens
rose, and spoke as follows:]

Gentlemen,--I don't know how to thank you--I really don't know how.
You would naturally suppose that my former experience would have
given me this power, and that the difficulties in my way would have
been diminished; but I assure you the fact is exactly the reverse,
and I have completely baulked the ancient proverb that "a rolling
stone gathers no moss;" and in my progress to this city I have
collected such a weight of obligations and acknowledgment--I have
picked up such an enormous mass of fresh moss at every point, and
was so struck by the brilliant scenes of Monday night, that I
thought I could never by any possibility grow any bigger. I have
made, continually, new accumulations to such an extent that I am
compelled to stand still, and can roll no more!

Gentlemen, we learn from the authorities, that, when fairy stories,
or balls, or rolls of thread, stopped of their own accord--as I do
not--it presaged some great catastrophe near at hand. The precedent
holds good in this case. When I have remembered the short time I
have before me to spend in this land of mighty interests, and the
poor opportunity I can at best have of acquiring a knowledge of,
and forming an acquaintance with it, I have felt it almost a duty
to decline the honours you so generously heap upon me, and pass
more quietly among you. For Argus himself, though he had but one
mouth for his hundred eyes, would have found the reception of a
public entertainment once a-week too much for his greatest
activity; and, as I would lose no scrap of the rich instruction and
the delightful knowledge which meet me on every hand, (and already
I have gleaned a great deal from your hospitals and common jails),-
-I have resolved to take up my staff, and go my way rejoicing, and
for the future to shake hands with America, not at parties but at
home; and, therefore, gentlemen, I say to-night, with a full heart,
and an honest purpose, and grateful feelings, that I bear, and
shall ever bear, a deep sense of your kind, your affectionate and
your noble greeting, which it is utterly impossible to convey in
words. No European sky without, and no cheerful home or well-
warmed room within shall ever shut out this land from my vision. I
shall often hear your words of welcome in my quiet room, and
oftenest when most quiet; and shall see your faces in the blazing
fire. If I should live to grow old, the scenes of this and other
evenings will shine as brightly to my dull eyes fifty years hence
as now; and the honours you bestow upon me shall be well remembered
and paid back in my undying love, and honest endeavours for the
good of my race.

Gentlemen, one other word with reference to this first person
singular, and then I shall close. I came here in an open, honest,
and confiding spirit, if ever man did, and because I felt a deep
sympathy in your land; had I felt otherwise, I should have kept
away. As I came here, and am here, without the least admixture of
one-hundredth part of one grain of base alloy, without one feeling
of unworthy reference to self in any respect, I claim, in regard to
the past, for the last time, my right in reason, in truth, and in
justice, to approach, as I have done on two former occasions, a
question of literary interest. I claim that justice be done; and I
prefer this claim as one who has a right to speak and be heard. I
have only to add that I shall be as true to you as you have been to
me. I recognize in your enthusiastic approval of the creatures of
my fancy, your enlightened care for the happiness of the many, your
tender regard for the afflicted, your sympathy for the downcast,
your plans for correcting and improving the bad, and for
encouraging the good; and to advance these great objects shall be,
to the end of my life, my earnest endeavour, to the extent of my
humble ability. Having said thus much with reference to myself, I
shall have the pleasure of saying a few words with reference to
somebody else.

There is in this city a gentleman who, at the reception of one of
my books--I well remember it was the Old Curiosity Shop--wrote to
me in England a letter so generous, so affectionate, and so manly,
that if I had written the book under every circumstance of
disappointment, of discouragement, and difficulty, instead of the
reverse, I should have found in the receipt of that letter my best
and most happy reward. I answered him, {5} and he answered me, and
so we kept shaking hands autographically, as if no ocean rolled
between us. I came here to this city eager to see him, and [laying
his hand it upon Irving's shoulder] here he sits! I need not tell
you how happy and delighted I am to see him here to-night in this

Washington Irving! Why, gentlemen, I don't go upstairs to bed two
nights out of the seven--as a very creditable witness near at hand
can testify--I say I do not go to bed two nights out of the seven
without taking Washington Irving under my arm; and, when I don't
take him, I take his own brother, Oliver Goldsmith. Washington
Irving! Why, of whom but him was I thinking the other day when I
came up by the Hog's Back, the Frying Pan, Hell Gate, and all these
places? Why, when, not long ago, I visited Shakespeare's
birthplace, and went beneath the roof where he first saw light,
whose name but HIS was pointed out to me upon the wall? Washington
Irving--Diedrich Knickerbocker--Geoffrey Crayon--why, where can you
go that they have not been there before? Is there an English farm-
-is there an English stream, an English city, or an English
country-seat, where they have not been? Is there no Bracebridge
Hall in existence? Has it no ancient shades or quiet streets?

In bygone times, when Irving left that Hall, he left sitting in an
old oak chair, in a small parlour of the Boar's Head, a little man
with a red nose, and an oilskin hat. When I came away he was
sitting there still!--not a man LIKE him, but the same man--with
the nose of immortal redness and the hat of an undying glaze!
Crayon, while there, was on terms of intimacy with a certain
radical fellow, who used to go about, with a hatful of newspapers,
wofully out at elbows, and with a coat of great antiquity. Why,
gentlemen, I know that man--Tibbles the elder, and he has not
changed a hair; and, when I came away, he charged me to give his
best respects to Washington Irving!

Leaving the town and the rustic life of England--forgetting this
man, if we can--putting out of mind the country church-yard and the
broken heart--let us cross the water again, and ask who has
associated himself most closely with the Italian peasantry and the
bandits of the Pyrenees? When the traveller enters his little
chamber beyond the Alps--listening to the dim echoes of the long
passages and spacious corridors--damp, and gloomy, and cold--as he
hears the tempest beating with fury against his window, and gazes
at the curtains, dark, and heavy, and covered with mould--and when
all the ghost-stories that ever were told come up before him--amid
all his thick-coming fancies, whom does he think of? Washington

Go farther still: go to the Moorish Mountains, sparkling full in
the moonlight--go among the water-carriers and the village gossips,
living still as in days of old--and who has travelled among them
before you, and peopled the Alhambra and made eloquent its shadows?
Who awakes there a voice from every hill and in every cavern, and
bids legends, which for centuries have slept a dreamless sleep, or
watched unwinkingly, start up and pass before you in all their life
and glory?

But leaving this again, who embarked with Columbus upon his gallant
ship, traversed with him the dark and mighty ocean, leaped upon the
land and planted there the flag of Spain, but this same man, now
sitting by my side? And being here at home again, who is a more
fit companion for money-diggers? and what pen but his has made Rip
Van Winkle, playing at nine-pins on that thundering afternoon, as
much part and parcel of the Catskill Mountains as any tree or crag
that they can boast?

But these are topics familiar from my boyhood, and which I am apt
to pursue; and lest I should be tempted now to talk too long about
them, I will, in conclusion, give you a sentiment, most
appropriate, I am sure, in the presence of such writers as Bryant,
Halleck, and--but I suppose I must not mention the ladies here -


She well knows how to do honour to her own literature and to that
of other lands, when she chooses Washington Irving for her
representative in the country of Cervantes.


[This address was delivered at a soiree of the members of the
Manchester, Athenaeum, at which Mr. Dickens presided. Among the
other speakers on the occasion were Mr. Cobden and Mr. Disraeli.]

Ladies and gentlemen,--I am sure I need scarcely tell you that I am
very proud and happy; and that I take it as a great distinction to
be asked to come amongst you on an occasion such as this, when,
even with the brilliant and beautiful spectacle which I see before
me, I can hail it as the most brilliant and beautiful circumstance
of all, that we assemble together here, even here, upon neutral
ground, where we have no more knowledge of party difficulties, or
public animosities between side and side, or between man and man,
than if we were a public meeting in the commonwealth of Utopia.

Ladies and gentlemen, upon this, and upon a hundred other grounds,
this assembly is not less interesting to me, believe me--although,
personally, almost a stranger here--than it is interesting to you;
and I take it, that it is not of greater importance to all of us
than it is to every man who has learned to know that he has an
interest in the moral and social elevation, the harmless
relaxation, the peace, happiness, and improvement, of the community
at large. Not even those who saw the first foundation of your
Athenaeum laid, and watched its progress, as I know they did,
almost as tenderly as if it were the progress of a living creature,
until it reared its beautiful front, an honour to the town--not
even they, nor even you who, within its walls, have tasted its
usefulness, and put it to the proof, have greater reason, I am
persuaded, to exult in its establishment, or to hope that it may
thrive and prosper, than scores of thousands at a distance, who--
whether consciously or unconsciously, matters not--have, in the
principle of its success and bright example, a deep and personal

It well becomes, particularly well becomes, this enterprising town,
this little world of labour, that she should stand out foremost in
the foremost rank in such a cause. It well becomes her, that,
among her numerous and noble public institutions, she should have a
splendid temple sacred to the education and improvement of a large
class of those who, in their various useful stations, assist in the
production of our wealth, and in rendering her name famous through
the world. I think it is grand to know, that, while her factories
re-echo with the clanking of stupendous engines, and the whirl and
rattle of machinery, the immortal mechanism of God's own hand, the
mind, is not forgotten in the din and uproar, but is lodged and
tended in a palace of its own. That it is a structure deeply fixed
and rooted in the public spirit of this place, and built to last, I
have no more doubt, judging from the spectacle I see before me, and
from what I know of its brief history, than I have of the reality
of these walls that hem us in, and the pillars that spring up about

You are perfectly well aware, I have no doubt, that the Athenaeum
was projected at a time when commerce was in a vigorous and
flourishing condition, and when those classes of society to which
it particularly addresses itself were fully employed, and in the
receipt of regular incomes. A season of depression almost without
a parallel ensued, and large numbers of young men employed in
warehouses and offices suddenly found their occupation gone, and
themselves reduced to very straitened and penurious circumstances.
This altered state of things led, as I am told, to the compulsory
withdrawal of many of the members, to a proportionate decrease in
the expected funds, and to the incurrence of a debt of 3,000
pounds. By the very great zeal and energy of all concerned, and by
the liberality of those to whom they applied for help, that debt is
now in rapid course of being discharged. A little more of the same
indefatigable exertion on the one hand, and a little more of the
same community of feeling upon the other, and there will be no such
thing; the figures will be blotted out for good and all, and, from
that time, the Athenaeum may be said to belong to you, and to your
heirs for ever.

But, ladies and gentlemen, at all times, now in its most thriving,
and in its least flourishing condition--here, with its cheerful
rooms, its pleasant and instructive lectures, its improving library
of 6,000 volumes, its classes for the study of the foreign
languages, elocution, music; its opportunities of discussion and
debate, of healthful bodily exercise, and, though last not least--
for by this I set great store, as a very novel and excellent
provision--its opportunities of blameless, rational enjoyment, here
it is, open to every youth and man in this great town, accessible
to every bee in this vast hive, who, for all these benefits, and
the inestimable ends to which they lead, can set aside one sixpence
weekly. I do look upon the reduction of the subscription, and upon
the fact that the number of members has considerably more than
doubled within the last twelve months, as strides in the path of
the very best civilization, and chapters of rich promise in the
history of mankind.

I do not know whether, at this time of day, and with such a
prospect before us, we need trouble ourselves very much to rake up
the ashes of the dead-and-gone objections that were wont to be
urged by men of all parties against institutions such as this,
whose interests we are met to promote; but their philosophy was
always to be summed up in the unmeaning application of one short
sentence. How often have we heard from a large class of men wise
in their generation, who would really seem to be born and bred for
no other purpose than to pass into currency counterfeit and
mischievous scraps of wisdom, as it is the sole pursuit of some
other criminals to utter base coin--how often have we heard from
them, as an all-convincing argument, that "a little learning is a
dangerous thing?" Why, a little hanging was considered a very
dangerous thing, according to the same authorities, with this
difference, that, because a little hanging was dangerous, we had a
great deal of it; and, because a little learning was dangerous, we
were to have none at all. Why, when I hear such cruel absurdities
gravely reiterated, I do sometimes begin to doubt whether the
parrots of society are not more pernicious to its interests than
its birds of prey. I should be glad to hear such people's estimate
of the comparative danger of "a little learning" and a vast amount
of ignorance; I should be glad to know which they consider the most
prolific parent of misery and crime. Descending a little lower in
the social scale, I should be glad to assist them in their
calculations, by carrying them into certain gaols and nightly
refuges I know of, where my own heart dies within me, when I see
thousands of immortal creatures condemned, without alternative or
choice, to tread, not what our great poet calls the "primrose path"
to the everlasting bonfire, but one of jaded flints and stones,
laid down by brutal ignorance, and held together, like the solid
rocks, by years of this most wicked axiom.

Would we know from any honourable body of merchants, upright in
deed and thought, whether they would rather have ignorant or
enlightened persons in their own employment? Why, we have had
their answer in this building; we have it in this company; we have
it emphatically given in the munificent generosity of your own
merchants of Manchester, of all sects and kinds, when this
establishment was first proposed. But are the advantages derivable
by the people from institutions such as this, only of a negative
character? If a little learning be an innocent thing, has it no
distinct, wholesome, and immediate influence upon the mind? The
old doggerel rhyme, so often written in the beginning of books,
says that

"When house and lands are gone and spent,
Then learning is most excellent;"

but I should be strongly disposed to reform the adage, and say that

"Though house and lands be never got,
Learning can give what they canNOT."

And this I know, that the first unpurchasable blessing earned by
every man who makes an effort to improve himself in such a place as
the Athenaeum, is self-respect--an inward dignity of character,
which, once acquired and righteously maintained, nothing--no, not
the hardest drudgery, nor the direst poverty--can vanquish. Though
he should find it hard for a season even to keep the wolf--hunger--
from his door, let him but once have chased the dragon--ignorance--
from his hearth, and self-respect and hope are left him. You could
no more deprive him of those sustaining qualities by loss or
destruction of his worldly goods, than you could, by plucking out
his eyes, take from him an internal consciousness of the bright
glory of the sun.

The man who lives from day to day by the daily exercise in his
sphere of hands or head, and seeks to improve himself in such a
place as the Athenaeum, acquires for himself that property of soul
which has in all times upheld struggling men of every degree, but
self-made men especially and always. He secures to himself that
faithful companion which, while it has ever lent the light of its
countenance to men of rank and eminence who have deserved it, has
ever shed its brightest consolations on men of low estate and
almost hopeless means. It took its patient seat beside Sir Walter
Raleigh in his dungeon-study in the Tower; it laid its head upon
the block with More; but it did not disdain to watch the stars with
Ferguson, the shepherd's boy; it walked the streets in mean attire
with Crabbe; it was a poor barber here in Lancashire with
Arkwright; it was a tallow-chandler's son with Franklin; it worked
at shoemaking with Bloomfield in his garret; it followed the plough
with Burns; and, high above the noise of loom and hammer, it
whispers courage even at this day in ears I could name in Sheffield
and in Manchester.

The more the man who improves his leisure in such a place learns,
the better, gentler, kinder man he must become. When he knows how
much great minds have suffered for the truth in every age and time,
and to what dismal persecutions opinion has been exposed, he will
become more tolerant of other men's belief in all matters, and will
incline more leniently to their sentiments when they chance to
differ from his own. Understanding that the relations between
himself and his employers involve a mutual duty and responsibility,
he will discharge his part of the implied contract cheerfully,
satisfactorily, and honourably; for the history of every useful
life warns him to shape his course in that direction.

The benefits he acquires in such a place are not of a selfish kind,
but extend themselves to his home, and to those whom it contains.
Something of what he hears or reads within such walls can scarcely
fail to become at times a topic of discourse by his own fireside,
nor can it ever fail to lead to larger sympathies with man, and to
a higher veneration for the great Creator of all the wonders of
this universe. It appears to his home and his homely feeling in
other ways; for at certain times he carries there his wife and
daughter, or his sister, or, possibly, some bright-eyed
acquaintance of a more tender description. Judging from what I see
before me, I think it is very likely; I am sure I would if I could.
He takes her there to enjoy a pleasant evening, to be gay and
happy. Sometimes it may possibly happen that he dates his
tenderness from the Athenaeum. I think that is a very excellent
thing, too, and not the least among the advantages of the
institution. In any case, I am sure the number of bright eyes and
beaming faces which grace this meeting to-night by their presence,
will never be among the least of its excellences in my

Ladies and gentlemen, I shall not easily forget this scene, the
pleasing task your favour has devolved upon me, or the strong and
inspiring confirmation I have to-night, of all the hopes and
reliances I have ever placed upon institutions of this nature. In
the latter point of view--in their bearing upon this latter point--
I regard them as of great importance, deeming that the more
intelligent and reflective society in the mass becomes, and the
more readers there are, the more distinctly writers of all kinds
will be able to throw themselves upon the truthful feeling of the
people and the more honoured and the more useful literature must
be. At the same time, I must confess that, if there had been an
Athenaeum, and if the people had been readers, years ago, some
leaves of dedication in your library, of praise of patrons which
was very cheaply bought, very dearly sold, and very marketably
haggled for by the groat, would be blank leaves, and posterity
might probably have lacked the information that certain monsters of
virtue ever had existence. But it is upon a much better and wider
scale, let me say it once again--it is in the effect of such
institutions upon the great social system, and the peace and
happiness of mankind, that I delight to contemplate them; and, in
my heart, I am quite certain that long after your institution, and
others of the same nature, have crumbled into dust, the noble
harvest of the seed sown in them will shine out brightly in the
wisdom, the mercy, and the forbearance of another race.


[The following address was delivered at a soiree of the Liverpool
Mechanics' Institution, at which Mr. Dickens presided.]

Ladies and gentlemen,--It was rather hard of you to take away my
breath before I spoke a word; but I would not thank you, even if I
could, for the favour which has set me in this place, or for the
generous kindness which has greeted me so warmly,--because my first
strong impulse still would be, although I had that power, to lose
sight of all personal considerations in the high intent and meaning
of this numerous assemblage, in the contemplation of the noble
objects to which this building is devoted, of its brilliant and
inspiring history, of that rough, upward track, so bravely trodden,
which it leaves behind, and that bright path of steadily-increasing
usefulness which lies stretched out before it. My first strong
impulse still would be to exchange congratulations with you, as the
members of one united family, on the thriving vigour of this
strongest child of a strong race. My first strong impulse still
would be, though everybody here had twice as many hundreds of hands
as there are hundreds of persons present, to shake them in the
spirit, everyone, always, allow me to say, excepting those hands
(and there are a few such here), which, with the constitutional
infirmity of human nature, I would rather salute in some more
tender fashion.

When I first had the honour of communicating with your Committee
with reference to this celebration, I had some selfish hopes that
the visit proposed to me might turn out to be one of
congratulation, or, at least, of solicitous inquiry; for they who
receive a visitor in any season of distress are easily touched and
moved by what he says, and I entertained some confident expectation
of making a mighty strong impression on you. But, when I came to
look over the printed documents which were forwarded to me at the
same time, and with which you are all tolerably familiar, these
anticipations very speedily vanished, and left me bereft of all
consolation, but the triumphant feeling to which I have referred.
For what do I find, on looking over those brief chronicles of this
swift conquest over ignorance and prejudice, in which no blood has
been poured out, and no treaty signed but that one sacred compact
which recognises the just right of every man, whatever his belief,
or however humble his degree, to aspire, and to have some means of
aspiring, to be a better and a wiser man? I find that, in 1825,
certain misguided and turbulent persons proposed to erect in
Liverpool an unpopular, dangerous, irreligious, and revolutionary
establishment, called a Mechanics' Institution; that, in 1835,
Liverpool having, somehow or other, got on pretty comfortably in
the meantime, in spite of it, the first stone of a new and spacious
edifice was laid; that, in 1837, it was opened; that, it was
afterwards, at different periods, considerably enlarged; that, in
1844, conspicuous amongst the public beauties of a beautiful town,
here it stands triumphant, its enemies lived down, its former
students attesting, in their various useful callings and pursuits,
the sound, practical information it afforded them; its members
numbering considerably more than 3,000, and setting in rapidly for
6,000 at least; its library comprehending 11,000 volumes, and daily
sending forth its hundreds of books into private homes; its staff
of masters and officers, amounting to half-a-hundred in themselves;
its schools, conveying every sort of instruction, high and low,
adapted to the labour, means, exigencies, and convenience of nearly
every class and grade of persons. I was here this morning, and in
its spacious halls I found stores of the wonders worked by nature
in the air, in the forest, in the cavern, and in the sea--stores of
the surpassing engines devised by science for the better knowledge
of other worlds, and the greater happiness of this--stores of those
gentler works of art, which, though achieved in perishable stone,
by yet more perishable hands of dust, are in their influence
immortal. With such means at their command, so well-directed, so
cheaply shared, and so extensively diffused, well may your
Committee say, as they have done in one of their Reports, that the
success of this establishment has far exceeded their most sanguine

But, ladies and gentlemen, as that same philosopher whose words
they quote, as Bacon tells us, instancing the wonderful effects of
little things and small beginnings, that the influence of the
loadstone was first discovered in particles of iron, and not in
iron bars, so they may lay it to their hearts, that when they
combined together to form the institution which has risen to this
majestic height, they issued on a field of enterprise, the glorious
end of which they cannot even now discern. Every man who has felt
the advantages of, or has received improvement in this place,
carries its benefits into the society in which he moves, and puts
them out at compound interest; and what the blessed sum may be at
last, no man can tell. Ladies and gentlemen, with that Christian
prelate whose name appears on your list of honorary Members; that
good and liberal man who once addressed you within these walls, in
a spirit worthy of his calling, and of his High Master--I look
forward from this place, as from a tower, to the time when high and
low, and rich and poor, shall mutually assist, improve, and educate
each other.

I feel, ladies and gentlemen, that this is not a place, with its
3,200 members, and at least 3,200 arguments in every one, to enter
on any advocacy of the principle of Mechanics' Institutions, or to
discuss the subject with those who do or ever did object to them.
I should as soon think of arguing the point with those untutored
savages whose mode of life you last year had the opportunity of
witnessing; indeed, I am strongly inclined to believe them by far
the more rational class of the two. Moreover, if the institution
itself be not a sufficient answer to all such objections, then
there is no such thing in fact or reason, human or divine. Neither
will I venture to enter into those details of the management of
this place which struck me most on the perusal of its papers; but I
cannot help saying how much impressed and gratified I was, as
everybody must be who comes to their perusal for the first time, by
the extraordinary munificence with which this institution has been
endowed by certain gentlemen.

Amongst the peculiar features of management which made the greatest
impression on me, I may observe that that regulation which empowers
fathers, being annual subscribers of one guinea, to introduce their
sons who are minors; and masters, on payment of the astoundingly
small sum of five shillings annually, in like manner their
apprentices, is not the least valuable of its privileges; and,
certainly not the one least valuable to society. And, ladies and
gentlemen, I cannot say to you what pleasure I derived from the
perusal of an apparently excellent report in your local papers of a
meeting held here some short time since, in aid of the formation of
a girls' school in connexion with this institution. This is a new
and striking chapter in the history of these institutions; it does
equal credit to the gallantry and policy of this, and disposes one
to say of it with a slight parody on the words of Burns, that

"Its 'prentice han' it tried on man,
And then it TAUGHT the lasses, O."

That those who are our best teachers, and whose lessons are
oftenest heeded in after life, should be well taught themselves, is
a proposition few reasonable men will gainsay; and, certainly, to
breed up good husbands on the one hand, and good wives on the
other, does appear as reasonable and straightforward a plan as
could well be devised for the improvement of the next generation.

This, and what I see before me, naturally brings me to our fairer
members, in respect of whom I have no doubt you will agree with me,
that they ought to be admitted to the widest possible extent, and
on the lowest possible terms; and, ladies, let me venture to say to
you, that you never did a wiser thing in all your lives than when
you turned your favourable regard on such an establishment as this-
-for wherever the light of knowledge is diffused, wherever the
humanizing influence of the arts and sciences extends itself,
wherever there is the clearest perception of what is beautiful, and
good, and most redeeming, amid all the faults and vices of mankind,
there your character, your virtues, your graces, your better
nature, will be the best appreciated, and there the truest homage
will be proudly paid to you. You show best, trust me, in the
clearest light; and every ray that falls upon you at your own
firesides, from any book or thought communicated within these
walls, will raise you nearer to the angels in the eyes you care for

I will not longer interpose myself, ladies and gentlemen, between
you and the pleasure we all anticipate in hearing other gentlemen,
and in enjoying those social pleasures with which it is a main part
of the wisdom of this society to adorn and relieve its graver
pursuits. We all feel, I am sure, being here, that we are truly
interested in the cause of human improvement and rational
education, and that we pledge ourselves, everyone as far as in him
lies, to extend the knowledge of the benefits afforded in this
place, and to bear honest witness in its favour. To those who yet
remain without its walls, but have the means of purchasing its
advantages, we make appeal, and in a friendly and forbearing spirit
say, "Come in, and be convinced -

'Who enters here, leaves DOUBT behind.'"

If you, happily, have been well taught yourself, and are superior
to its advantages, so much the more should you make one in sympathy
with those who are below you. Beneath this roof we breed the men
who, in the time to come, must be found working for good or evil,
in every quarter of society. If mutual respect and forbearance
among various classes be not found here, where so many men are
trained up in so many grades, to enter on so many roads of life,
dating their entry from one common starting-point, as they are all
approaching, by various paths, one common end, where else can that
great lesson be imbibed? Differences of wealth, of rank, of
intellect, we know there must be, and we respect them; but we would
give to all the means of taking out one patent of nobility, and we
define it, in the words of a great living poet, who is one of us,
and who uses his great gifts, as he holds them in trust, for the
general welfare -

"Howe'er it be, it seems to me
'Tis only noble to be good:
True hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood." {6}


[The following speech was delivered at a Conversazione, in aid of
the funds of the Birmingham Polytechnic Institution, at which Mr
Dickens presided.]

You will think it very unwise, or very self-denying in me, in such
an assembly, in such a splendid scene, and after such a welcome, to
congratulate myself on having nothing new to say to you: but I do
so, notwithstanding. To say nothing of places nearer home, I had
the honour of attending at Manchester, shortly before Christmas,
and at Liverpool, only the night before last, for a purpose similar
to that which brings you together this evening; and looking down a
short perspective of similar engagements, I feel gratification at
the thought that I shall very soon have nothing at all to say; in
which case, I shall be content to stake my reputation, like the
Spectator of Addison, and that other great periodical speaker, the
Speaker of the House of Commons, on my powers of listening.

This feeling, and the earnest reception I have met with, are not
the only reasons why I feel a genuine, cordial, and peculiar
interest in this night's proceedings. The Polytechnic Institution
of Birmingham is in its infancy--struggling into life under all
those adverse and disadvantageous circumstances which, to a greater
or less extent, naturally beset all infancy; but I would much
rather connect myself with it now, however humble, in its days of
difficulty and of danger, than look back on its origin when it may
have become strong, and rich, and powerful. I should prefer an
intimate association with it now, in its early days and apparent
struggles, to becoming its advocate and acquaintance, its fair-
weather friend, in its high and palmy days. I would rather be able
to say I knew it in its swaddling-clothes, than in maturer age.
Its two elder brothers have grown old and died: their chests were
weak--about their cradles nurses shook their heads, and gossips
groaned; but the present institution shot up, amidst the ruin of
those which have fallen, with an indomitable constitution, with
vigorous and with steady pulse; temperate, wise, and of good
repute; and by perseverance it has become a very giant. Birmingham
is, in my mind and in the minds of most men, associated with many
giants; and I no more believe that this young institution will turn
out sickly, dwarfish, or of stunted growth, than I do that when the
glass-slipper of my chairmanship shall fall off, and the clock
strike twelve to-night, this hall will be turned into a pumpkin. I
found that strong belief upon the splendid array of grace and
beauty by which I am surrounded, and which, if it only had one-
hundredth part of the effect upon others it has upon me, could do
anything it pleased with anything and anybody. I found my strong
conviction, in the second place, upon the public spirit of the town
of Birmingham--upon the name and fame of its capitalists and
working men; upon the greatness and importance of its merchants and
manufacturers; upon its inventions, which are constantly in
progress; upon the skill and intelligence of its artisans, which
are daily developed; and the increasing knowledge of all portions
of the community. All these reasons lead me to the conclusion that
your institution will advance--that it will and must progress, and
that you will not be content with lingering leagues behind.

I have another peculiar ground of satisfaction in connexion with
the object of this assembly; and it is, that the resolutions about
to be proposed do not contain in themselves anything of a sectarian
or class nature; that they do not confine themselves to any one
single institution, but assert the great and omnipotent principles
of comprehensive education everywhere and under every circumstance.
I beg leave to say that I concur, heart and hand, in those
principles, and will do all in my power for their advancement; for
I hold, in accordance with the imperfect knowledge which I possess,
that it is impossible for any fabric of society to go on day after
day, and year after year, from father to son, and from grandfather
to grandson, punishing men for not engaging in the pursuit of
virtue and for the practice of crime, without showing them what
virtue is, and where it best can be found--in justice, religion,
and truth. The only reason that can possibly be adduced against it
is one founded on fiction--namely, the case where an obdurate old
geni, in the "Arabian Nights," was bound upon taking the life of a
merchant, because he had struck out the eye of his invisible son.
I recollect, likewise, a tale in the same book of charming fancies,
which I consider not inappropriate: it is a case where a powerful
spirit has been imprisoned at the bottom of the sea, in a casket
with a leaden cover, and the seal of Solomon upon it; there he had
lain neglected for many centuries, and during that period had made
many different vows: at first, that he would reward magnificently
those who should release him; and at last, that he would destroy
them. Now, there is a spirit of great power--the Spirit of
Ignorance--which is shut up in a vessel of leaden composition, and
sealed with the seal of many, many Solomons, and which is
effectually in the same position: release it in time, and it will
bless, restore, and reanimate society; but let it lie under the
rolling waves of years, and its blind revenge is sure to lead to
certain destruction. That there are classes which, if rightly
treated, constitute strength, and if wrongly, weakness, I hold it
impossible to deny--by these classes I mean industrious,
intelligent, and honourably independent men, in whom the higher
classes of Birmingham are especially interested, and bound to
afford them the means of instruction and improvement, and to
ameliorate their mental and moral condition. Far be it from me
(and I wish to be most particularly understood) to attempt to
depreciate the excellent Church Instruction Societies, or the
worthy, sincere, and temperate zeal of those reverend gentlemen by
whom they are usually conducted; on the contrary, I believe that
they have done, and are doing, much good, and are deserving of high
praise; but I hope that, without offence, in a community such as
Birmingham, there are other objects not unworthy in the sight of
heaven, and objects of recognised utility which are worthy of
support--principles which are practised in word and deed in
Polytechnic Institutions--principles for the diffusion of which
honest men of all degrees and of every creed might associate
together, on an independent footing and on neutral ground, and at a
small expense, for the better understanding and the greater
consideration of each other, and for the better cultivation of the
happiness of all: for it surely cannot be allowed that those who
labour day by day, surrounded by machinery, shall be permitted to
degenerate into machines themselves, but, on the contrary, they
should assert their common origin from their Creator, at the hands
of those who are responsible and thinking men. There is, indeed,
no difference in the main with respect to the dangers of ignorance
and the advantages of knowledge between those who hold different
opinions--for it is to be observed, that those who are most
distrustful of the advantages of education, are always the first to
exclaim against the results of ignorance. This fact was pleasantly
illustrated on the railway, as I came here. In the same carriage
with me there sat an ancient gentleman (I feel no delicacy in
alluding to him, for I know that he is not in the room, having got
out far short of Birmingham), who expressed himself most mournfully
as to the ruinous effects and rapid spread of railways, and was
most pathetic upon the virtues of the slow-going old stage coaches.
Now I, entertaining some little lingering kindness for the road,
made shift to express my concurrence with the old gentleman's
opinion, without any great compromise of principle. Well, we got
on tolerably comfortably together, and when the engine, with a
frightful screech, dived into some dark abyss, like some strange
aquatic monster, the old gentleman said it would never do, and I
agreed with him. When it parted from each successive station, with
a shock and a shriek as if it had had a double-tooth drawn, the old
gentleman shook his head, and I shook mine. When he burst forth
against such new-fangled notions, and said no good could come of
them, I did not contest the point. But I found that when the speed
of the engine was abated, or there was a prolonged stay at any
station, up the old gentleman was at arms, and his watch was
instantly out of his pocket, denouncing the slowness of our
progress. Now I could not help comparing this old gentleman to
that ingenious class of persons who are in the constant habit of
declaiming against the vices and crimes of society, and at the same
time are the first and foremost to assert that vice and crime have
not their common origin in ignorance and discontent.

The good work, however, in spite of all political and party
differences, has been well begun; we are all interested in it; it
is advancing, and cannot be stopped by any opposition, although it
may be retarded in this place or in that, by the indifference of
the middle classes, with whom its successful progress chiefly
rests. Of this success I cannot entertain a doubt; for whenever
the working classes have enjoyed an opportunity of effectually
rebutting accusations which falsehood or thoughtlessness have
brought against them, they always avail themselves of it, and show
themselves in their true characters; and it was this which made the
damage done to a single picture in the National Gallery of London,
by some poor lunatic or cripple, a mere matter of newspaper
notoriety and wonder for some few days. This, then, establishes a
fact evident to the meanest comprehension--that any given number of
thousands of individuals, in the humblest walks of life in this
country, can pass through the national galleries or museums in
seasons of holiday-making, without damaging, in the slightest
degree, those choice and valuable collections. I do not myself
believe that the working classes ever were the wanton or
mischievous persons they were so often and so long represented to
be; but I rather incline to the opinion that some men take it into
their heads to lay it down as a matter of fact, without being
particular about the premises; and that the idle and the
prejudiced, not wishing to have the trouble of forming opinions for
themselves, take it for granted--until the people have an
opportunity of disproving the stigma and vindicating themselves
before the world.

Now this assertion is well illustrated by what occurred respecting
an equestrian statue in the metropolis, with respect to which a
legend existed that the sculptor hanged himself, because he had
neglected to put a girth to the horse. This story was currently
believed for many years, until it was inspected for altogether a
different purpose, and it was found to have had a girth all the

But surely if, as is stated, the people are ill-disposed and
mischievous, that is the best reason that can be offered for
teaching them better; and if they are not, surely that is a reason
for giving them every opportunity of vindicating their injured
reputation; and no better opportunity could possibly be afforded
than that of associating together voluntarily for such high
purposes as it is proposed to carry out by the establishment of the
Birmingham Polytechnic Institution. In any case--nay, in every
case--if we would reward honesty, if we would hold out
encouragement to good, if we would eradicate that which is evil or
correct that which is bad, education--comprehensive, liberal
education--is the one thing needful, and the only effective end.
If I might apply to my purpose, and turn into plain prose some
words of Hamlet--not with reference to any government or party (for
party being, for the most part, an irrational sort of thing, has no
connexion with the object we have in view)--if I might apply those
words to education as Hamlet applied them to the skull of Yorick, I
would say--"Now hie thee to the council-chamber, and tell them,
though they lay it on in sounding thoughts and learned words an
inch thick, to this complexion they must come at last."

In answer to a vote of thanks, {7} Mr. Dickens said, at the close
of the meeting -

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now quite even--for every effect
which I may have made upon you, the compliment has been amply
returned to me; but at the same time I am as little disposed to say
to you, 'go and sin no more,' as I am to promise for myself that 'I
will never do so again.' So long as I can make you laugh and cry,
I will; and you will readily believe me, when I tell you, you
cannot do too much on your parts to show that we are still cordial
and loving friends. To you, ladies of the Institution, I am deeply
and especially indebted. I sometimes [pointing to the word 'Boz'
in front of the great gallery] think there is some small quantity
of magic in that very short name, and that it must consist in its
containing as many letters as the three graces, and they, every one
of them, being of your fair sisterhood.

A story is told of an eastern potentate of modern times, who, for
an eastern potentate, was a tolerably good man, sometimes
bowstringing his dependants indiscriminately in his moments of
anger, but burying them in great splendour in his moments of
penitence, that whenever intelligence was brought him of a new plot
or turbulent conspiracy, his first inquiry was, 'Who is she?'
meaning that a woman was at the bottom. Now, in my small way, I
differ from that potentate; for when there is any good to be
attained, the services of any ministering angel required, my first
inquiry is, 'Where is she?' and the answer invariably is, 'Here.'
Proud and happy am I indeed to thank you for your generosity -

'A thousand times, good night;
A thousand times the worse to want your light.'


[The Ninth Anniversary Dinner of the Gardeners' Benevolent
Institution was held on the above date at the London Tavern. The
company numbered more than 150. The dessert was worthy of the
occasion, and an admirable effect was produced by a profuse display
of natural flowers upon the tables and in the decoration of the
room. The chair was taken by Mr. Charles Dickens, who, in
proposing the toast of the evening, spoke as follows:-]

For three times three years the Gardeners' Benevolent Institution
has been stimulated and encouraged by meetings such as this, and by
three times three cheers we will urge it onward in its prosperous
career. [The cheers were warmly given.]

Occupying the post I now do, I feel something like a counsel for
the plaintiff with nobody on the other side; but even if I had been
placed in that position ninety times nine, it would still be my
duty to state a few facts from the very short brief with which I
have been provided.

This Institution was founded in the year 1838. During the first
five years of its existence, it was not particularly robust, and
seemed to have been placed in rather a shaded position, receiving
somewhat more than its needful allowance of cold water. In 1843 it
was removed into a more favourable position, and grafted on a
nobler stock, and it has now borne fruit, and become such a
vigorous tree that at present thirty-five old people daily sit
within the shelter of its branches, and all the pensioners upon the
list have been veritable gardeners, or the wives of gardeners. It
is managed by gardeners, and it has upon its books the excellent
rule that any gardener who has subscribed to it for fifteen years,
and conformed to the rules, may, if he will, be placed upon the
pensioners' list without election, without canvass, without
solicitation, and as his independent right. I lay very great
stress upon that honourable characteristic of the charity, because
the main principle of any such institution should be to help those
who help themselves. That the Society's pensioners do not become
such so long as they are able to support themselves, is evinced by
the significant fact that the average age of those now upon the
list is seventy-seven; that they are not wasteful is proved by the
fact that the whole sum expended on their relief is but 500 pounds
a-year; that the Institution does not restrict itself to any narrow
confines, is shown by the circumstance, that the pensioners come
from all parts of England, whilst all the expenses are paid from
the annual income and interest on stock, and therefore are not
disproportionate to its means.

Such is the Institution which appeals to you through me, as a most
unworthy advocate, for sympathy and support, an Institution which
has for its President a nobleman {8} whose whole possessions are
remarkable for taste and beauty, and whose gardener's laurels are
famous throughout the world. In the list of its vice-presidents
there are the names of many noblemen and gentlemen of great
influence and station, and I have been struck in glancing through
the list of its supporters, with the sums written against the names
of the numerous nurserymen and seedsmen therein comprised. I hope
the day will come when every gardener in England will be a member
of the charity.

The gardener particularly needs such a provision as this
Institution affords. His gains are not great; he knows gold and
silver more as being of the colour of fruits and flowers than by
its presence in his pockets; he is subjected to that kind of labour
which renders him peculiarly liable to infirmity; and when old age
comes upon him, the gardener is of all men perhaps best able to
appreciate the merits of such an institution.

To all indeed, present and absent, who are descended from the first

"gardener Adam and his wife,"

the benefits of such a society are obvious. In the culture of
flowers there cannot, by their very nature, be anything, solitary
or exclusive. The wind that blows over the cottager's porch,
sweeps also over the grounds of the nobleman; and as the rain
descends on the just and on the unjust, so it communicates to all
gardeners, both rich and poor, an interchange of pleasure and
enjoyment; and the gardener of the rich man, in developing and
enhancing a fruitful flavour or a delightful scent, is, in some
sort, the gardener of everybody else.

The love of gardening is associated with all conditions of men, and
all periods of time. The scholar and the statesman, men of peace
and men of war, have agreed in all ages to delight in gardens. The
most ancient people of the earth had gardens where there is now
nothing but solitary heaps of earth. The poor man in crowded
cities gardens still in jugs and basins and bottles: in factories
and workshops people garden; and even the prisoner is found
gardening in his lonely cell, after years and years of solitary
confinement. Surely, then, the gardener who produces shapes and
objects so lovely and so comforting, should have some hold upon the
world's remembrance when he himself becomes in need of comfort.

I will call upon you to drink "Prosperity to the Gardeners'
Benevolent Institution," and I beg to couple with that toast the
name of its noble President, the Duke of Devonshire, whose worth is
written in all his deeds, and who has communicated to his title and
his riches a lustre which no title and no riches could confer.

[Later in the evening, Mr. Dickens said:-]

My office has compelled me to burst into bloom so often that I
could wish there were a closer parallel between myself and the
American aloe. It is particularly agreeable and appropriate to
know that the parents of this Institution are to be found in the
seed and nursery trade; and the seed having yielded such good
fruit, and the nursery having produced such a healthy child, I have
the greatest pleasure in proposing the health of the parents of the

[In proposing the health of the Treasurers, Mr. Dickens said:-]

My observation of the signboards of this country has taught me that
its conventional gardeners are always jolly, and always three in
number. Whether that conventionality has reference to the Three
Graces, or to those very significant letters, L., S., D., I do not
know. Those mystic letters are, however, most important, and no
society can have officers of more importance than its Treasurers,
nor can it possibly give them too much to do.


[On Thursday, January 6, 1853, at the rooms of the Society of
Artists, in Temple Row, Birmingham, a large company assembled to
witness the presentation of a testimonial to Mr. Charles Dickens,
consisting of a silver-gilt salver and a diamond ring. Mr. Dickens
acknowledged the tribute, and the address which accompanied it, in
the following words:-]

Gentlemen, I feel it very difficult, I assure you, to tender my
acknowledgments to you, and through you, to those many friends of
mine whom you represent, for this honour and distinction which you
have conferred upon me. I can most honestly assure you, that it is
in the power of no great representative of numbers of people to
awaken such happiness in me as is inspired by this token of
goodwill and remembrance, coming to me direct and fresh from the
numbers themselves. I am truly sensible, gentlemen, that my
friends who have united in this address are partial in their
kindness, and regard what I have done with too great favour. But I
may say, with reference to one class--some members of which, I
presume, are included there--that I should in my own eyes be very
unworthy both of the generous gift and the generous feeling which
has been evinced, and this occasion, instead of pleasure, would
give me nothing but pain, if I was unable to assure them, and those
who are in front of this assembly, that what the working people
have found me towards them in my books, I am throughout my life.
Gentlemen, whenever I have tried to hold up to admiration their
fortitude, patience, gentleness, the reasonableness of their
nature, so accessible to persuasion, and their extraordinary
goodness one towards another, I have done so because I have first
genuinely felt that admiration myself, and have been thoroughly
imbued with the sentiment which I sought to communicate to others.

Gentlemen, I accept this salver and this ring as far above all
price to me, as very valuable in themselves, and as beautiful
specimens of the workmanship of this town, with great emotion, I
assure you, and with the liveliest gratitude. You remember
something, I daresay, of the old romantic stories of those charmed
rings which would lose their brilliance when their wearer was in
danger, or would press his finger reproachfully when he was going
to do wrong. In the very improbable event of my being in the least
danger of deserting the principles which have won me these tokens,
I am sure the diamond in that ring would assume a clouded aspect to
my faithless eye, and would, I know, squeeze a throb of pain out of
my treacherous heart. But I have not the least misgiving on that
point; and, in this confident expectation, I shall remove my own
old diamond ring from my left hand, and in future wear the
Birmingham ring on my right, where its grasp will keep me in mind
of the good friends I have here, and in vivid remembrance of this
happy hour.

Gentlemen, in conclusion, allow me to thank you and the Society to
whom these rooms belong, that the presentation has taken place in
an atmosphere so congenial to me, and in an apartment decorated
with so many beautiful works of art, among which I recognize before
me the productions of friends of mine, whose labours and triumphs
will never be subjects of indifference to me. I thank those
gentlemen for giving me the opportunity of meeting them here on an
occasion which has some connexion with their own proceedings; and,
though last not least, I tender my acknowledgments to that charming
presence, without which nothing beautiful can be complete, and
which is endearingly associated with rings of a plainer
description, and which, I must confess, awakens in my mind at the
present moment a feeling of regret that I am not in a condition to
make an offer of these testimonials. I beg you, gentlemen, to
commend me very earnestly and gratefully to our absent friends, and
to assure them of my affectionate and heartfelt respect.

The company then adjourned to Dee's Hotel, where a banquet took
place, at which about 220 persons were present, among whom were
some of the most distinguished of the Royal Academicians. To the
toast of "The Literature of England," Mr. Dickens responded as

Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen, I am happy, on behalf of many labourers in
that great field of literature to which you have pledged the toast,
to thank you for the tribute you have paid to it. Such an honour,
rendered by acclamation in such a place as this, seems to me, if I
may follow on the same side as the venerable Archdeacon (Sandford)
who lately addressed you, and who has inspired me with a
gratification I can never forget--such an honour, gentlemen,
rendered here, seems to me a two-sided illustration of the position
that literature holds in these latter and, of course, "degenerate"
days. To the great compact phalanx of the people, by whose
industry, perseverance, and intelligence, and their result in
money-wealth, such places as Birmingham, and many others like it,
have arisen--to that great centre of support, that comprehensive
experience, and that beating heart, literature has turned happily
from individual patrons--sometimes munificent, often sordid, always
few--and has there found at once its highest purpose, its natural
range of action, and its best reward. Therefore it is right also,
as it seems to me, not only that literature should receive honour
here, but that it should render honour, too, remembering that if it
has undoubtedly done good to Birmingham, Birmingham has undoubtedly
done good to it. From the shame of the purchased dedication, from
the scurrilous and dirty work of Grub Street, from the dependent
seat on sufferance at my Lord Duke's table to-day, and from the
sponging-house or Marshalsea to-morrow--from that venality which,
by a fine moral retribution, has degraded statesmen even to a
greater extent than authors, because the statesman entertained a
low belief in the universality of corruption, while the author
yielded only to the dire necessity of his calling--from all such
evils the people have set literature free. And my creed in the
exercise of that profession is, that literature cannot be too
faithful to the people in return--cannot too ardently advocate the
cause of their advancement, happiness, and prosperity. I have
heard it sometimes said--and what is worse, as expressing something
more cold-blooded, I have sometimes seen it written--that
literature has suffered by this change, that it has degenerated by
being made cheaper. I have not found that to be the case: nor do
I believe that you have made the discovery either. But let a good
book in these "bad" times be made accessible,--even upon an
abstruse and difficult subject, so that it be one of legitimate
interest to mankind,--and my life on it, it shall be extensively
bought, read, and well considered.

Why do I say this? Because I believe there are in Birmingham at
this moment many working men infinitely better versed in
Shakespeare and in Milton than the average of fine gentlemen in the
days of bought-and-sold dedications and dear books. I ask anyone
to consider for himself who, at this time, gives the greatest
relative encouragement to the dissemination of such useful
publications as "Macaulay's History," "Layard's Researches,"
"Tennyson's Poems," "The Duke of Wellington's published
Despatches," or the minutest truths (if any truth can be called
minute) discovered by the genius of a Herschel or a Faraday? It is
with all these things as with the great music of Mendelssohn, or a
lecture upon art--if we had the good fortune to listen to one to-
morrow--by my distinguished friend the President of the Royal
Academy. However small the audience, however contracted the circle
in the water, in the first instance, the people are nearer the
wider range outside, and the Sister Arts, while they instruct them,
derive a wholesome advantage and improvement from their ready
sympathy and cordial response. I may instance the case of my
friend Mr. Ward's magnificent picture; {9} and the reception of
that picture here is an example that it is not now the province of
art in painting to hold itself in monastic seclusion, that it
cannot hope to rest on a single foundation for its great temple,--
on the mere classic pose of a figure, or the folds of a drapery--
but that it must be imbued with human passions and action, informed
with human right and wrong, and, being so informed, it may
fearlessly put itself upon its trial, like the criminal of old, to
be judged by God and its country.

Gentlemen, to return and conclude, as I shall have occasion to
trouble you again. For this time I have only once again to repeat
what I have already said. As I begun with literature, I shall end
with it. I would simply say that I believe no true man, with
anything to tell, need have the least misgiving, either for himself
or his message, before a large number of hearers--always supposing
that he be not afflicted with the coxcombical idea of writing down
to the popular intelligence, instead of writing the popular
intelligence up to himself, if, perchance, he be above it;--and,
provided always that he deliver himself plainly of what is in him,
which seems to be no unreasonable stipulation, it being supposed
that he has some dim design of making himself understood. On
behalf of that literature to which you have done so much honour, I
beg to thank you most cordially, and on my own behalf, for the most
flattering reception you have given to one whose claim is, that he
has the distinction of making it his profession.

[Later in the evening, Mr. Dickens gave as a toast, "The
Educational Institutions of Birmingham," in the following speech:]

I am requested to propose--or, according to the hypothesis of my
friend, Mr. Owen, I am in the temporary character of a walking
advertisement to advertise to you--the Educational Institutions of
Birmingham; an advertisement to which I have the greatest pleasure
in calling your attention, Gentlemen, it is right that I should, in
so many words, mention the more prominent of these institutions,
not because your local memories require any prompting, but because
the enumeration implies what has been done here, what you are
doing, and what you will yet do. I believe the first is the King
Edward's Grammar School, with its various branches, and prominent
among them is that most admirable means of training the wives of
working men to be good wives and working wives, the prime ornament
of their homes, and the cause of happiness to others--I mean those
excellent girls' schools in various parts of the town, which, under
the excellent superintendence of the principal, I should most
sincerely desire to see in every town in England. Next, I believe,
is the Spring Hill College, a learned institution belonging to the
body of Independents, foremost among whose professors literature is
proud to hail Mr. Henry Rogers as one of the soundest and ablest
contributors to the Edinburgh Review. The next is the Queen's
College, which, I may say, is only a newly-born child; but, in the
hands of such an admirable Doctor, we may hope to see it arrive at
a vigorous maturity. The next is the School of Design, which, as
has been well observed by my friend Sir Charles Eastlake, is
invaluable in such a place as this; and, lastly, there is the
Polytechnic Institution, with regard to which I had long ago
occasion to express my profound conviction that it was of
unspeakable importance to such a community as this, when I had the
honour to be present, under the auspices of your excellent
representative, Mr. Scholefield. This is the last of what has been
done in an educational way. They are all admirable in their kind;
but I am glad to find that more is yet doing. A few days ago I
received a Birmingham newspaper, containing a most interesting
account of a preliminary meeting for the formation of a Reformatory
School for juvenile delinquents. You are not exempt here from the
honour of saving these poor, neglected, and wretched outcasts. I
read of one infant, six years old, who has been twice as many times
in the hands of the police as years have passed over his devoted
head. These are the eggs from which gaol-birds are hatched; if you
wish to check that dreadful brood, you must take the young and
innocent, and have them reared by Christian hands.

Lastly, I am rejoiced to find that there is on foot a scheme for a
new Literary and Scientific Institution, which would be worthy even
of this place, if there was nothing of the kind in it--an
institution, as I understand it, where the words "exclusion" and
"exclusiveness" shall be quite unknown--where all classes may
assemble in common trust, respect, and confidence--where there
shall be a great gallery of painting and statuary open to the
inspection and admiration of all comers--where there shall be a
museum of models in which industry may observe its various sources
of manufacture, and the mechanic may work out new combinations, and
arrive at new results--where the very mines under the earth and
under the sea shall not be forgotten, but presented in little to
the inquiring eye--an institution, in short, where many and many of
the obstacles which now inevitably stand in the rugged way of the
poor inventor shall be smoothed away, and where, if he have
anything in him, he will find encouragement and hope.

I observe with unusual interest and gratification, that a body of
gentlemen are going for a time to lay aside their individual
prepossessions on other subjects, and, as good citizens, are to be
engaged in a design as patriotic as well can be. They have the
intention of meeting in a few days to advance this great object,
and I call upon you, in drinking this toast, to drink success to
their endeavour, and to make it the pledge by all good means to
promote it.

If I strictly followed out the list of educational institutions in
Birmingham, I should not have done here, but I intend to stop,
merely observing that I have seen within a short walk of this place
one of the most interesting and practical Institutions for the Deaf
and Dumb that has ever come under my observation. I have seen in
the factories and workshops of Birmingham such beautiful order and
regularity, and such great consideration for the workpeople
provided, that they might justly be entitled to be considered
educational too. I have seen in your splendid Town Hall, when the
cheap concerts are going on there, also an admirable educational
institution. I have seen their results in the demeanour of your
working people, excellently balanced by a nice instinct, as free
from servility on the one hand, as from self-conceit on the other.
It is a perfect delight to have need to ask a question, if only
from the manner of the reply--a manner I never knew to pass
unnoticed by an observant stranger. Gather up those threads, and a
great marry more I have not touched upon, and weaving all into one
good fabric, remember how much is included under the general head
of the Educational Institutions of your town.


[At the annual Dinner of the Royal Academy, the President, Sir
Charles Eastlake, proposed as a toast, "The Interests of
Literature," and selected for the representatives of the world of
letters, the Dean of St. Paul's and Mr. Charles Dickens. Dean
Milman having returned thanks.]

Mr Dickens then addressed the President, who, it should be
mentioned, occupied a large and handsome chair, the back covered
with crimson velvet, placed just before Stanfield's picture of The

Mr. Dickens, after tendering his acknowledgments of the toast, and
the honour done him in associating his name with it, said that
those acknowledgments were not the less heartfelt because he was
unable to recognize in this toast the President's usual
disinterestedness; since English literature could scarcely be
remembered in any place, and, certainly, not in a school of art,
without a very distinct remembrance of his own tasteful writings,
to say nothing of that other and better part of himself, which,
unfortunately, was not visible upon these occasions.

If, like the noble Lord, the Commander-in-Chief (Viscount
Hardinge), he (Mr. Dickens) might venture to illustrate his brief
thanks with one word of reference to the noble picture painted by a
very dear friend of his, which was a little eclipsed that evening
by the radiant and rubicund chair which the President now so
happily toned down, he would beg leave to say that, as literature
could nowhere be more appropriately honoured than in that place, so
he thought she could nowhere feel a higher gratification in the
ties that bound her to the sister arts. He ever felt in that place
that literature found, through their instrumentality, always a new
expression, and in a universal language.


[At a dinner given by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, on the
above date, Mr. Justice Talfourd proposed as a toast "Anglo-Saxon
Literature," and alluded to Mr. Dickens as having employed fiction
as a means of awakening attention to the condition of the oppressed
and suffering classes:-]

"Mr. Dickens replied to this toast in a graceful and playful
strain. In the former part of the evening, in reply to a toast on
the chancery department, Vice-Chancellor Wood, who spoke in the
absence of the Lord Chancellor, made a sort of defence of the Court
of Chancery, not distinctly alluding to Bleak House, but evidently
not without reference to it. The amount of what he said was, that
the Court had received a great many more hard opinions than it
merited; that they had been parsimoniously obliged to perform a
great amount of business by a very inadequate number of judges; but
that more recently the number of judges had been increased to
seven, and there was reason to hope that all business brought
before it would now be performed without unnecessary delay.

"Mr. Dickens alluded playfully to this item of intelligence; said
he was exceedingly happy to hear it, as he trusted now that a suit,
in which he was greatly interested, would speedily come to an end.
I heard a little by-conversation between Mr. Dickens and a
gentleman of the bar, who sat opposite me, in which the latter
seemed to be reiterating the same assertions, and I understood him
to say, that a case not extraordinarily complicated might be got
through with in three months. Mr. Dickens said he was very happy
to hear it; but I fancied there was a little shade of incredulity
in his manner; however, the incident showed one thing, that is,
that the chancery were not insensible to the representations of
Dickens; but the whole tone of the thing was quite good-natured and
agreeable." {10}


[The first of the Readings generously given by Mr. Charles Dickens
on behalf of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, took place on
Tuesday evening, December 27, 1853, at the Birmingham Town Hall,
where, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, nearly two
thousand persons had assembled. The work selected was the
Christmas Carol. The high mimetic powers possessed by Mr. Dickens
enabled him to personate with remarkable force the various
characters of the story, and with admirable skill to pass rapidly
from the hard, unbelieving Scrooge, to trusting and thankful Bob
Cratchit, and from the genial fulness of Scrooge's nephew, to the
hideous mirth of the party assembled in Old Joe the Ragshop-
keeper's parlour. The reading occupied more than three hours, but
so interested were the audience, that only one or two left the Hall
previously to its termination, and the loud and frequent bursts of
applause attested the successful discharge of the reader's arduous
task. On Thursday evening Mr. Dickens read The Cricket on the
Hearth. The Hall was again well ruled, and the tale, though
deficient in the dramatic interest of the Carol, was listened to
with attention, and rewarded with repeated applause. On Friday
evening, the Christmas Carol was read a second time to a large
assemblage of work-people, for whom, at Mr. Dickens's special
request, the major part of the vast edifice was reserved. Before
commencing the tale, Mr. Dickens delivered the following brief
address, almost every sentence of which was received with loudly
expressed applause.]

My Good Friends,--When I first imparted to the committee of the
projected Institute my particular wish that on one of the evenings
of my readings here the main body of my audience should be composed
of working men and their families, I was animated by two desires;
first, by the wish to have the great pleasure of meeting you face
to face at this Christmas time, and accompany you myself through
one of my little Christmas books; and second, by the wish to have
an opportunity of stating publicly in your presence, and in the
presence of the committee, my earnest hope that the Institute will,
from the beginning, recognise one great principle--strong in reason
and justice--which I believe to be essential to the very life of
such an Institution. It is, that the working man shall, from the
first unto the last, have a share in the management of an
Institution which is designed for his benefit, and which calls
itself by his name.

I have no fear here of being misunderstood--of being supposed to
mean too much in this. If there ever was a time when any one class
could of itself do much for its own good, and for the welfare of
society--which I greatly doubt--that time is unquestionably past.
It is in the fusion of different classes, without confusion; in the
bringing together of employers and employed; in the creating of a
better common understanding among those whose interests are
identical, who depend upon each other, who are vitally essential to
each other, and who never can be in unnatural antagonism without
deplorable results, that one of the chief principles of a
Mechanics' Institution should consist. In this world a great deal
of the bitterness among us arises from an imperfect understanding
of one another. Erect in Birmingham a great Educational
Institution, properly educational; educational of the feelings as
well as of the reason; to which all orders of Birmingham men
contribute; in which all orders of Birmingham men meet; wherein all
orders of Birmingham men are faithfully represented--and you will
erect a Temple of Concord here which will be a model edifice to the
whole of England.

Contemplating as I do the existence of the Artisans' Committee,
which not long ago considered the establishment of the Institute so
sensibly, and supported it so heartily, I earnestly entreat the
gentlemen--earnest I know in the good work, and who are now among
us,--by all means to avoid the great shortcoming of similar
institutions; and in asking the working man for his confidence, to
set him the great example and give him theirs in return. You will
judge for yourselves if I promise too much for the working man,
when I say that he will stand by such an enterprise with the utmost
of his patience, his perseverance, sense, and support; that I am
sure he will need no charitable aid or condescending patronage; but
will readily and cheerfully pay for the advantages which it
confers; that he will prepare himself in individual cases where he
feels that the adverse circumstances around him have rendered it
necessary; in a word, that he will feel his responsibility like an
honest man, and will most honestly and manfully discharge it. I
now proceed to the pleasant task to which I assure you I have
looked forward for a long time.

[At the close of the reading Mr. Dickens received a vote of thanks,
and "three cheers, with three times three." As soon as the
enthusiasm of the audience would allow him to speak, Mr. Dickens

You have heard so much of my voice since we met to-night, that I
will only say, in acknowledgment of this affecting mark of your
regard, that I am truly and sincerely interested in you; that any
little service I have rendered to you I have freely rendered from
my heart; that I hope to become an honorary member of your great
Institution, and will meet you often there when it becomes
practically useful; that I thank you most affectionately for this
new mark of your sympathy and approval; and that I wish you many
happy returns of this great birthday-time, and many prosperous


[The following speech was made by Mr. Dickens at the Anniversary
Dinner in commemoration of the foundation of the Commercial
Travellers' Schools, held at the London Tavern on the above date.
Mr. Dickens presided on this occasion, and proposed the toasts.]

I think it may be assumed that most of us here present know
something about travelling. I do not mean in distant regions or
foreign countries, although I dare say some of us have had
experience in that way, but at home, and within the limits of the
United Kingdom. I dare say most of us have had experience of the
extinct "fast coaches," the "Wonders," "Taglionis," and "Tallyhos,"
of other days. I daresay most of us remember certain modest
postchaises, dragging us down interminable roads, through slush and
mud, to little country towns with no visible population, except
half-a-dozen men in smock-frocks, half-a-dozen women with umbrellas
and pattens, and a washed-out dog or so shivering under the gables,
to complete the desolate picture. We can all discourse, I dare
say, if so minded, about our recollections of the "Talbot," the
"Queen's Head," or the "Lion" of those days. We have all been to
that room on the ground floor on one side of the old inn yard, not
quite free from a certain fragrant smell of tobacco, where the
cruets on the sideboard were usually absorbed by the skirts of the
box-coats that hung from the wall; where awkward servants waylaid
us at every turn, like so many human man-traps; where county
members, framed and glazed, were eternally presenting that petition
which, somehow or other, had made their glory in the county,
although nothing else had ever come of it. Where the books in the
windows always wanted the first, last, and middle leaves, and where
the one man was always arriving at some unusual hour in the night,
and requiring his breakfast at a similarly singular period of the
day. I have no doubt we could all be very eloquent on the comforts
of our favourite hotel, wherever it was--its beds, its stables, its
vast amount of posting, its excellent cheese, its head waiter, its
capital dishes, its pigeon-pies, or its 1820 port. Or possibly we
could recal our chaste and innocent admiration of its landlady, or
our fraternal regard for its handsome chambermaid. A celebrated
domestic critic once writing of a famous actress, renowned for her
virtue and beauty, gave her the character of being an "eminently
gatherable-to-one's-arms sort of person." Perhaps some one amongst

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest