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Speeches: Literary and Social by Charles Dickens

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us has borne a somewhat similar tribute to the mental charms of the
fair deities who presided at our hotels.

With the travelling characteristics of later times, we are all, no
doubt, equally familiar. We know all about that station to which
we must take our ticket, although we never get there; and the other
one at which we arrive after dark, certain to find it half a mile
from the town, where the old road is sure to have been abolished,
and the new road is going to be made--where the old neighbourhood
has been tumbled down, and the new one is not half built up. We
know all about that party on the platform who, with the best
intentions, can do nothing for our luggage except pitch it into all
sorts of unattainable places. We know all about that short
omnibus, in which one is to be doubled up, to the imminent danger
of the crown of one's hat; and about that fly, whose leading
peculiarity is never to be there when it is wanted. We know, too,
how instantaneously the lights of the station disappear when the
train starts, and about that grope to the new Railway Hotel, which
will be an excellent house when the customers come, but which at
present has nothing to offer but a liberal allowance of damp mortar
and new lime.

I record these little incidents of home travel mainly with the
object of increasing your interest in the purpose of this night's
assemblage. Every traveller has a home of his own, and he learns
to appreciate it the more from his wandering. If he has no home,
he learns the same lesson unselfishly by turning to the homes of
other men. He may have his experiences of cheerful and exciting
pleasures abroad; but home is the best, after all, and its
pleasures are the most heartily and enduringly prized. Therefore,
ladies and gentlemen, every one must be prepared to learn that
commercial travellers, as a body, know how to prize those domestic
relations from which their pursuits so frequently sever them; for
no one could possibly invent a more delightful or more convincing
testimony to the fact than they themselves have offered in founding
and maintaining a school for the children of deceased or
unfortunate members of their own body; those children who now
appeal to you in mute but eloquent terms from the gallery.

It is to support that school, founded with such high and friendly
objects, so very honourable to your calling, and so useful in its
solid and practical results, that we are here to-night. It is to
roof that building which is to shelter the children of your
deceased friends with one crowning ornament, the best that any
building can have, namely, a receipt stamp for the full amount of
the cost. It is for this that your active sympathy is appealed to,
for the completion of your own good work. You know how to put your
hands to the plough in earnest as well as any men in existence, for
this little book informs me that you raised last year no less a sum
than 8000 pounds, and while fully half of that sum consisted of new
donations to the building fund, I find that the regular revenue of
the charity has only suffered to the extent of 30 pounds. After
this, I most earnestly and sincerely say that were we all authors
together, I might boast, if in my profession were exhibited the
same unity and steadfastness I find in yours.

I will not urge on you the casualties of a life of travel, or the
vicissitudes of business, or the claims fostered by that bond of
brotherhood which ought always to exist amongst men who are united
in a common pursuit. You have already recognized those claims so
nobly, that I will not presume to lay them before you in any
further detail. Suffice it to say that I do not think it is in
your nature to do things by halves. I do not think you could do so
if you tried, and I have a moral certainty that you never will try.
To those gentlemen present who are not members of the travellers'
body, I will say in the words of the French proverb, "Heaven helps
those who help themselves." The Commercial Travellers having
helped themselves so gallantly, it is clear that the visitors who
come as a sort of celestial representatives ought to bring that aid
in their pockets which the precept teaches us to expect from them.
With these few remarks, I beg to give you as a toast, "Success to
the Commercial Travellers' School."

[In proposing the health of the Army in the Crimea, Mr. Dickens

IT does not require any extraordinary sagacity in a commercial
assembly to appreciate the dire evils of war. The great interests
of trade enfeebled by it, the enterprise of better times paralysed
by it, all the peaceful arts bent down before it, too palpably
indicate its character and results, so that far less practical
intelligence than that by which I am surrounded would be sufficient
to appreciate the horrors of war. But there are seasons when the
evils of peace, though not so acutely felt, are immeasurably
greater, and when a powerful nation, by admitting the right of any
autocrat to do wrong, sows by such complicity the seeds of its own
ruin, and overshadows itself in time to come with that fatal
influence which great and ambitious powers are sure to exercise
over their weaker neighbours.

Therefore it is, ladies and gentlemen, that the tree has not its
root in English ground from which the yard wand can be made that
will measure--the mine has not its place in English soil that will
supply the material of a pair of scales to weigh the influence that
may be at stake in the war in which we are now straining all our
energies. That war is, at any time and in any shape, a most
dreadful and deplorable calamity, we need no proverb to tell us;
but it is just because it is such a calamity, and because that
calamity must not for ever be impending over us at the fancy of one
man against all mankind, that we must not allow that man to darken
from our view the figures of peace and justice between whom and us
he now interposes.

Ladies and gentlemen, if ever there were a time when the true
spirits of two countries were really fighting in the cause of human
advancement and freedom--no matter what diplomatic notes or other
nameless botherations, from number one to one hundred thousand and
one, may have preceded their taking the field--if ever there were a
time when noble hearts were deserving well of mankind by exposing
themselves to the obedient bayonets of a rash and barbarian tyrant,
it is now, when the faithful children of England and France are
fighting so bravely in the Crimea. Those faithful children are the
admiration and wonder of the world, so gallantly are they
discharging their duty; and therefore I propose to an assembly,
emphatically representing the interests and arts of peace, to drink
the health of the Allied Armies of England and France, with all
possible honours.

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

If the President of this Institution had been here, I should
possibly have made one of the best speeches you ever heard; but as
he is not here, I shall turn to the next toast on my list:- "The
health of your worthy Treasurer, Mr. George Moore," a name which is
a synonym for integrity, enterprise, public spirit, and
benevolence. He is one of the most zealous officers I ever saw in
my life; he appears to me to have been doing nothing during the
last week but rushing into and out of railway-carriages, and making
eloquent speeches at all sorts of public dinners in favour of this
charity. Last evening he was at Manchester, and this evening he
comes here, sacrificing his time and convenience, and exhausting in
the meantime the contents of two vast leaden inkstands and no end
of pens, with the energy of fifty bankers' clerks rolled into one.
But I clearly foresee that the Treasurer will have so much to do
to-night, such gratifying sums to acknowledge and such large lines
of figures to write in his books, that I feel the greatest
consideration I can show him is to propose his health without
further observation, leaving him to address you in his own behalf.
I propose to you, therefore, the health of Mr. George Moore, the
Treasurer of this charity, and I need hardly add that it is one
which is to be drunk with all the honours.

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

So many travellers have been going up Mont Blanc lately, both in
fact and in fiction, that I have heard recently of a proposal for
the establishment of a Company to employ Sir Joseph Paxton to take
it down. Only one of those travellers, however, has been enabled
to bring Mont Blanc to Piccadilly, and, by his own ability and good
humour, so to thaw its eternal ice and snow, as that the most timid
lady may ascend it twice a-day, "during the holidays," without the
smallest danger or fatigue. Mr. Albert Smith, who is present
amongst us to-night, is undoubtedly "a traveller." I do not know
whether he takes many orders, but this I can testify, on behalf of
the children of his friends, that he gives them in the most liberal

We have also amongst us my friend Mr. Peter Cunningham, who is also
a traveller, not only in right of his able edition of Goldsmith's
"Traveller," but in right of his admirable Handbook, which proves
him to be a traveller in the right spirit through all the
labyrinths of London. We have also amongst us my friend Horace
Mayhew, very well known also for his books, but especially for his
genuine admiration of the company at that end of the room [Mr.
Dickens here pointed to the ladies gallery], and who, whenever the
fair sex is mentioned, will be found to have the liveliest personal
interest in the conversation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to propose to you the health of
these three distinguished visitors. They are all admirable
speakers, but Mr. Albert Smith has confessed to me, that on fairly
balancing his own merits as a speaker and a singer, he rather
thinks he excels in the latter art. I have, therefore, yielded to
his estimate of himself, and I have now the pleasure of informing
you that he will lead off the speeches of the other two gentlemen
with a song. Mr. Albert Smith has just said to me in an earnest
tone of voice, "What song would you recommend?" and I replied,
"Galignani's Messenger." Ladies and gentlemen, I therefore beg to
propose the health of Messrs. Albert Smith, Peter Cunningham, and
Horace Mayhew, and call on the first-named gentleman for a song.


I cannot, I am sure, better express my sense of the kind reception
accorded to me by this great assembly, than by promising to
compress what I shall address to it within the closest possible
limits. It is more than eighteen hundred years ago, since there
was a set of men who "thought they should be heard for their much
speaking." As they have propagated exceedingly since that time,
and as I observe that they flourish just now to a surprising extent
about Westminster, I will do my best to avoid adding to the numbers
of that prolific race. The noble lord at the head of the
Government, when he wondered in Parliament about a week ago, that
my friend, Mr. Layard, did not blush for having stated in this
place what the whole country knows perfectly well to be true, and
what no man in it can by possibility better know to be true than
those disinterested supporters of that noble lord, who had the
advantage of hearing him and cheering him night after night, when
he first became premier--I mean that he did officially and
habitually joke, at a time when this country was plunged in deep
disgrace and distress--I say, that noble lord, when he wondered so
much that the man of this age, who has, by his earnest and
adventurous spirit, done the most to distinguish himself and it,
did not blush for the tremendous audacity of having so come between
the wind and his nobility, turned an airy period with reference to
the private theatricals at Drury Lane Theatre. Now, I have some
slight acquaintance with theatricals, private and public, and I
will accept that figure of the noble lord. I will not say that if
I wanted to form a company of Her Majesty's servants, I think I
should know where to put my hand on "the comic old gentleman;" nor,
that if I wanted to get up a pantomime, I fancy I should know what
establishment to go to for the tricks and changes; also, for a very
considerable host of supernumeraries, to trip one another up in
that contention with which many of us are familiar, both on these
and on other boards, in which the principal objects thrown about
are loaves and fishes. But I will try to give the noble lord the
reason for these private theatricals, and the reason why, however
ardently he may desire to ring the curtain down upon them, there is
not the faintest present hope of their coming to a conclusion. It
is this:- The public theatricals which the noble lord is so
condescending as to manage are so intolerably bad, the machinery is
so cumbrous, the parts so ill-distributed, the company so full of
"walking gentlemen," the managers have such large families, and are
so bent upon putting those families into what is theatrically
called "first business"--not because of their aptitude for it, but
because they ARE their families, that we find ourselves obliged to
organize an opposition. We have seen the Comedy of Errors played
so dismally like a tragedy that we really cannot bear it. We are,
therefore, making bold to get up the School of Reform, and we hope,
before the play is out, to improve that noble lord by our
performance very considerably. If he object that we have no right
to improve him without his license, we venture to claim that right
in virtue of his orchestra, consisting of a very powerful piper,
whom we always pay.

Sir, as this is the first political meeting I have ever attended,
and as my trade and calling is not associated with politics,
perhaps it may be useful for me to show how I came to be here,
because reasons similar to those which have influenced me may still
be trembling in the balance in the minds of others. I want at all
times, in full sincerity, to do my duty by my countrymen. If _I_
feel an attachment towards them, there is nothing disinterested or
meritorious in that, for I can never too affectionately remember
the confidence and friendship that they have long reposed in me.
My sphere of action--which I shall never change--I shall never
overstep, further than this, or for a longer period than I do to-
night. By literature I have lived, and through literature I have
been content to serve my country; and I am perfectly well aware
that I cannot serve two masters. In my sphere of action I have
tried to understand the heavier social grievances, and to help to
set them right. When the Times newspaper proved its then almost
incredible case, in reference to the ghastly absurdity of that vast
labyrinth of misplaced men and misdirected things, which had made
England unable to find on the face of the earth, an enemy one-
twentieth part so potent to effect the misery and ruin of her noble
defenders as she has been herself, I believe that the gloomy
silence into which the country fell was by far the darkest aspect
in which a great people had been exhibited for many years. With
shame and indignation lowering among all classes of society, and
this new element of discord piled on the heaving basis of
ignorance, poverty and crime, which is always below us--with little
adequate expression of the general mind, or apparent understanding
of the general mind, in Parliament--with the machinery of
Government and the legislature going round and round, and the
people fallen from it and standing aloof, as if they left it to its
last remaining function of destroying itself, when it had achieved
the destruction of so much that was dear to them--I did and do
believe that the only wholesome turn affairs so menacing could
possibly take, was, the awaking of the people, the outspeaking of
the people, the uniting of the people in all patriotism and loyalty
to effect a great peaceful constitutional change in the
administration of their own affairs. At such a crisis this
association arose; at such a crisis I joined it: considering its
further case to be--if further case could possibly be needed--that
what is everybody's business is nobody's business, that men must be
gregarious in good citizenship as well as in other things, and that
it is a law in nature that there must be a centre of attraction for
particles to fly to, before any serviceable body with recognised
functions can come into existence. This association has arisen,
and we belong to it. What are the objections to it? I have heard
in the main but three, which I will now briefly notice. It is said
that it is proposed by this association to exercise an influence,
through the constituencies, on the House of Commons. I have not
the least hesitation in saying that I have the smallest amount of
faith in the House of Commons at present existing and that I
consider the exercise of such influence highly necessary to the
welfare and honour of this country. I was reading no later than
yesterday the book of Mr. Pepys, which is rather a favourite of
mine, in which he, two hundred years ago, writing of the House of
Commons, says:

"My cousin Roger Pepys tells me that it is matter of the greatest
grief to him in the world that he should be put upon this trust of
being a Parliament man; because he says nothing is done, that he
can see, out of any truth and sincerity, but mere envy and design."

Now, how it comes to pass that after two hundred years, and many
years after a Reform Bill, the house of Commons is so little
changed, I will not stop to inquire. I will not ask how it happens
that bills which cramp and worry the people, and restrict their
scant enjoyments, are so easily passed, and how it happens that
measures for their real interests are so very difficult to be got
through Parliament. I will not analyse the confined air of the
lobby, or reduce to their primitive gases its deadening influences
on the memory of that Honourable Member who was once a candidate
for the honour of your--and my--independent vote and interest. I
will not ask what is that Secretarian figure, full of
blandishments, standing on the threshold, with its finger on its
lips. I will not ask how it comes that those personal
altercations, involving all the removes and definitions of
Shakespeare's Touchstone--the retort courteous--the quip modest--
the reply churlish--the reproof valiant--the countercheck
quarrelsome--the lie circumstantial and the lie direct--are of
immeasurably greater interest in the House of Commons than the
health, the taxation, and the education, of a whole people. I will
not penetrate into the mysteries of that secret chamber in which
the Bluebeard of Party keeps his strangled public questions, and
with regard to which, when he gives the key to his wife, the new
comer, he strictly charges her on no account to open the door. I
will merely put it to the experience of everybody here, whether the
House of Commons is not occasionally a little hard of hearing, a
little dim of sight, a little slow of understanding, and whether,
in short, it is not in a sufficiency invalided state to require
close watching, and the occasional application of sharp stimulants;
and whether it is not capable of considerable improvement? I
believe that, in order to preserve it in a state of real usefulness
and independence, the people must be very watchful and very jealous
of it; and it must have its memory jogged; and be kept awake when
it happens to have taken too much Ministerial narcotic; it must be
trotted about, and must be bustled and pinched in a friendly way,
as is the usage in such cases. I hold that no power can deprive us
of the right to administer our functions as a body comprising
electors from all parts of the country, associated together because
their country is dearer to them than drowsy twaddle, unmeaning
routine, or worn-out conventionalities.

This brings me to objection number two. It is stated that this
Association sets class against class. Is this so? (Cries of
"No.") No, it finds class set against class, and seeks to
reconcile them. I wish to avoid placing in opposition those two
words--Aristocracy and People. I am one who can believe in the
virtues and uses of both, and would not on any account deprive
either of a single just right belonging to it. I will use, instead
of these words, the terms, the governors and the governed. These
two bodies the Association finds with a gulf between them, in which
are lying, newly-buried, thousands on thousands of the bravest and
most devoted men that even England ever bred. It is to prevent the
recurrence of innumerable smaller evils, of which, unchecked, that
great calamity was the crowning height and the necessary
consummation, and to bring together those two fronts looking now so
strangely at each other, that this Association seeks to help to
bridge over that abyss, with a structure founded on common justice
and supported by common sense. Setting class against class! That
is the very parrot prattle that we have so long heard. Try its
justice by the following example:- A respectable gentleman had a
large establishment, and a great number of servants, who were good
for nothing, who, when he asked them to give his children bread,
gave them stones; who, when they were told to give those children
fish, gave them serpents. When they were ordered to send to the
East, they sent to the West; when they ought to have been serving
dinner in the North, they were consulting exploded cookery books in
the South; who wasted, destroyed, tumbled over one another when
required to do anything, and were bringing everything to ruin. At
last the respectable gentleman calls his house steward, and says,
even then more in sorrow than in anger, "This is a terrible
business; no fortune can stand it--no mortal equanimity can bear
it! I must change my system; I must obtain servants who will do
their duty." The house steward throws up his eyes in pious horror,
ejaculates "Good God, master, you are setting class against class!"
and then rushes off into the servants' hall, and delivers a long
and melting oration on that wicked feeling.

I now come to the third objection, which is common among young
gentlemen who are not particularly fit for anything but spending
money which they have not got. It is usually comprised in the
observation, "How very extraordinary it is that these
Administrative Reform fellows can't mind their own business." I
think it will occur to all that a very sufficient mode of disposing
of this objection is to say, that it is our own business we mind
when we come forward in this way, and it is to prevent it from
being mismanaged by them. I observe from the Parliamentary
debates--which have of late, by-the-bye, frequently suggested to me
that there is this difference between the bull of Spain the bull of
Nineveh, that, whereas, in the Spanish case, the bull rushes at the
scarlet, in the Ninevite case, the scarlet rushes at the bull--I
have observed from the Parliamentary debates that, by a curious
fatality, there has been a great deal of the reproof valiant and
the counter-check quarrelsome, in reference to every case, showing
the necessity of Administrative Reform, by whomsoever produced,
whensoever, and wheresoever. I daresay I should have no difficulty
in adding two or three cases to the list, which I know to be true,
and which I have no doubt would be contradicted, but I consider it
a work of supererogation; for, if the people at large be not
already convinced that a sufficient general case has been made out
for Administrative Reform, I think they never can be, and they
never will be. There is, however, an old indisputable, very well
known story, which has so pointed a moral at the end of it that I
will substitute it for a new case: by doing of which I may avoid,
I hope, the sacred wrath of St. Stephen's. Ages ago a savage mode
of keeping accounts on notched sticks was introduced into the Court
of Exchequer, and the accounts were kept, much as Robinson Crusoe
kept his calendar on the desert island. In the course of
considerable revolutions of time, the celebrated Cocker was born,
and died; Walkinghame, of the Tutor's Assistant, and well versed in
figures, was also born, and died; a multitude of accountants, book-
keepers, and actuaries, were born, and died. Still official
routine inclined to these notched sticks, as if they were pillars
of the constitution, and still the Exchequer accounts continued to
be kept on certain splints of elm wood called "tallies." In the
reign of George III. an inquiry was made by some revolutionary
spirit, whether pens, ink, and paper, slates and pencils, being in
existence, this obstinate adherence to an obsolete custom ought to
be continued, and whether a change ought not to be effected.

All the red tape in the country grew redder at the bare mention of
this bold and original conception, and it took till 1826 to get
these sticks abolished. In 1834 it was found that there was a
considerable accumulation of them; and the question then arose,
what was to be done with such worn-out, worm-eaten, rotten old bits
of wood? I dare say there was a vast amount of minuting,
memoranduming, and despatch-boxing, on this mighty subject. The
sticks were housed at Westminster, and it would naturally occur to
any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow
them to be carried away for fire-wood by the miserable people who
live in that neighbourhood. However, they never had been useful,
and official routine required that they never should be, and so the
order went forth that they were to be privately and confidentially
burnt. It came to pass that they were burnt in a stove in the
House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous
sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the
House of Lords; the House of Lords set fire to the House of
Commons; the two houses were reduced to ashes; architects were
called in to build others; we are now in the second million of the
cost thereof; the national pig is not nearly over the stile yet;
and the little old woman, Britannia, hasn't got home to-night.

Now, I think we may reasonably remark, in conclusion, that all
obstinate adherence to rubbish which the time has long outlived, is
certain to have in the soul of it more or less that is pernicious
and destructive; and that will some day set fire to something or
other; which, if given boldly to the winds would have been
harmless; but which, obstinately retained, is ruinous. I believe
myself that when Administrative Reform goes up it will be idle to
hope to put it down, on this or that particular instance. The
great, broad, and true cause that our public progress is far behind
our private progress, and that we are not more remarkable for our
private wisdom and success in matters of business than we are for
our public folly and failure, I take to be as clearly established
as the sun, moon, and stars. To set this right, and to clear the
way in the country for merit everywhere: accepting it equally
whether it be aristocratic or democratic, only asking whether it be
honest or true, is, I take it, the true object of this Association.
This object it seeks to promote by uniting together large numbers
of the people, I hope, of all conditions, to the end that they may
better comprehend, bear in mind, understand themselves, and impress
upon others, the common public duty. Also, of which there is great
need, that by keeping a vigilant eye on the skirmishers thrown out
from time to time by the Party of Generals, they may see that their
feints and manoeuvres do not oppress the small defaulters and
release the great, and that they do not gull the public with a mere
field-day Review of Reform, instead of an earnest, hard-fought
Battle. I have had no consultation with any one upon the subject,
but I particularly wish that the directors may devise some means of
enabling intelligent working men to join this body, on easier terms
than subscribers who have larger resources. I could wish to see
great numbers of them belong to us, because I sincerely believe
that it would be good for the common weal.

Said the noble Lord at the head of the Government, when Mr. Layard
asked him for a day for his motion, "Let the hon. gentleman find a
day for himself."

"Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great?"

If our Caesar will excuse me, I would take the liberty of reversing
that cool and lofty sentiment, and I would say, "First Lord, your
duty it is to see that no man is left to find a day for himself.
See you, who take the responsibility of government, who aspire to
it, live for it, intrigue for it, scramble for it, who hold to it
tooth-and-nail when you can get it, see you that no man is left to
find a day for himself. In this old country, with its seething
hard-worked millions, its heavy taxes, its swarms of ignorant, its
crowds of poor, and its crowds of wicked, woe the day when the
dangerous man shall find a day for himself, because the head of the
Government failed in his duty in not anticipating it by a brighter
and a better one! Name you the day, First Lord; make a day; work
for a day beyond your little time, Lord Palmerston, and History in
return may then--not otherwise--find a day for you; a day equally
associated with the contentment of the loyal, patient, willing-
hearted English people, and with the happiness of your Royal
Mistress and her fair line of children."


[On Saturday Evening Mr. Charles Dickens read his Christmas Carol
in the Mechanics' Hall in behalf of the funds of the Institute.

After the reading the Mayor said, he had been charged by a few
gentlemen in Sheffield to present to Mr. Dickens for his acceptance
a very handsome service of table cutlery, a pair of razors, and a
pair of fish carvers, as some substantial manifestation of their
gratitude to Mr. Dickens for his kindness in coming to Sheffield.
Henceforth the Christmas of 1855 would be associated in his mind
with the name of that gentleman.]

Mr. Charles Dickens, in receiving the presentation, said, he
accepted with heartfelt delight and cordial gratitude such
beautiful specimens of Sheffield-workmanship; and he begged to
assure them that the kind observations which had been made by the
Mayor, and the way in which they had been responded to by that
assembly, would never be obliterated from his remembrance. The
present testified not only to the work of Sheffield hands, but to
the warmth and generosity of Sheffield hearts. It was his earnest
desire to do right by his readers, and to leave imaginative and
popular literature associated with the private homes and public
rights of the people of England. The case of cutlery with which he
had been so kindly presented, should be retained as an heirloom in
his family; and he assured them that he should ever be faithful to
his death to the principles which had earned for him their
approval. In taking his reluctant leave of them, he wished them
many merry Christmases, and many happy new years.


[At the Anniversary Festival of the Hospital for Sick Children, on
Tuesday, February the 9th, 1858, about one hundred and fifty
gentlemen sat down to dinner, in the Freemasons' Hall. Later in
the evening all the seats in the gallery were filled with ladies
interested in the success of the Hospital. After the usual loyal
and other toasts, the Chairman, Mr. Dickens, proposed "Prosperity
to the Hospital for Sick Children," and said:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--It is one of my rules in life not to believe
a man who may happen to tell me that he feels no interest in
children. I hold myself bound to this principle by all kind
consideration, because I know, as we all must, that any heart which
could really toughen its affections and sympathies against those
dear little people must be wanting in so many humanising
experiences of innocence and tenderness, as to be quite an unsafe
monstrosity among men. Therefore I set the assertion down,
whenever I happen to meet with it--which is sometimes, though not
often--as an idle word, originating possibly in the genteel languor
of the hour, and meaning about as much as that knowing social
lassitude, which has used up the cardinal virtues and quite found
out things in general, usually does mean. I suppose it may be
taken for granted that we, who come together in the name of
children and for the sake of children, acknowledge that we have an
interest in them; indeed, I have observed since I sit down here
that we are quite in a childlike state altogether, representing an
infant institution, and not even yet a grown-up company. A few
years are necessary to the increase of our strength and the
expansion of our figure; and then these tables, which now have a
few tucks in them, will be let out, and then this hall, which now
sits so easily upon us, will be too tight and small for us.
Nevertheless, it is likely that even we are not without our
experience now and then of spoilt children. I do not mean of our
own spoilt children, because nobody's own children ever were
spoilt, but I mean the disagreeable children of our particular
friends. We know by experience what it is to have them down after
dinner, and, across the rich perspective of a miscellaneous dessert
to see, as in a black dose darkly, the family doctor looming in the
distance. We know, I have no doubt we all know, what it is to
assist at those little maternal anecdotes and table entertainments
illustrated with imitations and descriptive dialogue which might
not be inaptly called, after the manner of my friend Mr. Albert
Smith, the toilsome ascent of Miss Mary and the eruption
(cutaneous) of Master Alexander. We know what it is when those
children won't go to bed; we know how they prop their eyelids open
with their forefingers when they will sit up; how, when they become
fractious, they say aloud that they don't like us, and our nose is
too long, and why don't we go? And we are perfectly acquainted
with those kicking bundles which are carried off at last
protesting. An eminent eye-witness told me that he was one of a
company of learned pundits who assembled at the house of a very
distinguished philosopher of the last generation to hear him
expound his stringent views concerning infant education and early
mental development, and he told me that while the philosopher did
this in very beautiful and lucid language, the philosopher's little
boy, for his part, edified the assembled sages by dabbling up to
the elbows in an apple pie which had been provided for their
entertainment, having previously anointed his hair with the syrup,
combed it with his fork, and brushed it with his spoon. It is
probable that we also have our similar experiences sometimes, of
principles that are not quite practice, and that we know people
claiming to be very wise and profound about nations of men who show
themselves to be rather weak and shallow about units of babies.

But, ladies and gentlemen, the spoilt children whom I have to
present to you after this dinner of to-day are not of this class.
I have glanced at these for the easier and lighter introduction of
another, a very different, a far more numerous, and a far more
serious class. The spoilt children whom I must show you are the
spoilt children of the poor in this great city, the children who
are, every year, for ever and ever irrevocably spoilt out of this
breathing life of ours by tens of thousands, but who may in vast
numbers be preserved if you, assisting and not contravening the
ways of Providence, will help to save them. The two grim nurses,
Poverty and Sickness, who bring these children before you, preside
over their births, rock their wretched cradles, nail down their
little coffins, pile up the earth above their graves. Of the
annual deaths in this great town, their unnatural deaths form more
than one-third. I shall not ask you, according to the custom as to
the other class--I shall not ask you on behalf of these children to
observe how good they are, how pretty they are, how clever they
are, how promising they are, whose beauty they most resemble--I
shall only ask you to observe how weak they are, and how like death
they are! And I shall ask you, by the remembrance of everything
that lies between your own infancy and that so miscalled second
childhood when the child's graces are gone and nothing but its
helplessness remains; I shall ask you to turn your thoughts to
THESE spoilt children in the sacred names of Pity and Compassion.

Some years ago, being in Scotland, I went with one of the most
humane members of the humane medical profession, on a morning tour
among some of the worst lodged inhabitants of the old town of
Edinburgh. In the closes and wynds of that picturesque place--I am
sorry to remind you what fast friends picturesqueness and typhus
often are--we saw more poverty and sickness in an hour than many
people would believe in a life. Our way lay from one to another of
the most wretched dwellings, reeking with horrible odours; shut out
from the sky, shut out from the air, mere pits and dens. In a room
in one of these places, where there was an empty porridge-pot on
the cold hearth, with a ragged woman and some ragged children
crouching on the bare ground near it--where, I remember as I speak,
that the very light, refracted from a high damp-stained and time-
stained house-wall, came trembling in, as if the fever which had
shaken everything else there had shaken even it--there lay, in an
old egg-box which the mother had begged from a shop, a little
feeble, wasted, wan, sick child. With his little wasted face, and
his little hot, worn hands folded over his breast, and his little
bright, attentive eyes, I can see him now, as I have seen him for
several years, look in steadily at us. There he lay in his little
frail box, which was not at all a bad emblem of the little body
from which he was slowly parting--there he lay, quite quiet, quite
patient, saying never a word. He seldom cried, the mother said; he
seldom complained; "he lay there, seemin' to woonder what it was a'
aboot." God knows, I thought, as I stood looking at him, he had
his reasons for wondering--reasons for wondering how it could
possibly come to be that he lay there, left alone, feeble and full
of pain, when he ought to have been as bright and as brisk as the
birds that never got near him--reasons for wondering how he came to
be left there, a little decrepid old man pining to death, quite a
thing of course, as if there were no crowds of healthy and happy
children playing on the grass under the summer's sun within a
stone's throw of him, as if there were no bright, moving sea on the
other side of the great hill overhanging the city; as if there were
no great clouds rushing over it; as if there were no life, and
movement, and vigour anywhere in the world--nothing but stoppage
and decay. There he lay looking at us, saying, in his silence,
more pathetically than I have ever heard anything said by any
orator in my life, "Will you please to tell me what this means,
strange man? and if you can give me any good reason why I should be
so soon, so far advanced on my way to Him who said that children
were to come into His presence and were not to be forbidden, but
who scarcely meant, I think, that they should come by this hard
road by which I am travelling; pray give that reason to me, for I
seek it very earnestly and wonder about it very much;" and to my
mind he has been wondering about it ever since. Many a poor child,
sick and neglected, I have seen since that time in this London;
many a poor sick child I have seen most affectionately and kindly
tended by poor people, in an unwholesome house and under untoward
circumstances, wherein its recovery was quite impossible; but at
all such times I have seen my poor little drooping friend in his
egg-box, and he has always addressed his dumb speech to me, and I
have always found him wondering what it meant, and why, in the name
of a gracious God, such things should be!

Now, ladies and gentlemen, such things need not be, and will not
be, if this company, which is a drop of the life-blood of the great
compassionate public heart, will only accept the means of rescue
and prevention which it is mine to offer. Within a quarter of a
mile of this place where I speak, stands a courtly old house, where
once, no doubt, blooming children were born, and grew up to be men
and women, and married, and brought their own blooming children
back to patter up the old oak staircase which stood but the other
day, and to wonder at the old oak carvings on the chimney-pieces.
In the airy wards into which the old state drawing-rooms and family
bedchambers of that house are now converted are such little
patients that the attendant nurses look like reclaimed giantesses,
and the kind medical practitioner like an amiable Christian ogre.
Grouped about the little low tables in the centre of the rooms are
such tiny convalescents that they seem to be playing at having been
ill. On the doll's beds are such diminutive creatures that each
poor sufferer is supplied with its tray of toys; and, looking
round, you may see how the little tired, flushed cheek has toppled
over half the brute creation on its way into the ark; or how one
little dimpled arm has mowed down (as I saw myself) the whole tin
soldiery of Europe. On the walls of these rooms are graceful,
pleasant, bright, childish pictures. At the bed's heads, are
pictures of the figure which is the universal embodiment of all
mercy and compassion, the figure of Him who was once a child
himself, and a poor one. Besides these little creatures on the
beds, you may learn in that place that the number of small Out-
patients brought to that house for relief is no fewer than ten
thousand in the compass of one single year. In the room in which
these are received, you may see against the wall a box, on which it
is written, that it has been calculated, that if every grateful
mother who brings a child there will drop a penny into it, the
Hospital funds may possibly be increased in a year by so large a
sum as forty pounds. And you may read in the Hospital Report, with
a glow of pleasure, that these poor women are so respondent as to
have made, even in a toiling year of difficulty and high prices,
this estimated forty, fifty pounds. In the printed papers of this
same Hospital, you may read with what a generous earnestness the
highest and wisest members of the medical profession testify to the
great need of it; to the immense difficulty of treating children in
the same hospitals with grown-up people, by reason of their
different ailments and requirements, to the vast amount of pain
that will be assuaged, and of life that will be saved, through this
Hospital; not only among the poor, observe, but among the
prosperous too, by reason of the increased knowledge of children's
illnesses, which cannot fail to arise from a more systematic mode
of studying them. Lastly, gentlemen, and I am sorry to say, worst
of all--(for I must present no rose-coloured picture of this place
to you--I must not deceive you;) lastly, the visitor to this
Children's Hospital, reckoning up the number of its beds, will find
himself perforce obliged to stop at very little over thirty; and
will learn, with sorrow and surprise, that even that small number,
so forlornly, so miserably diminutive, compared with this vast
London, cannot possibly be maintained, unless the Hospital be made
better known; I limit myself to saying better known, because I will
not believe that in a Christian community of fathers and mothers,
and brothers and sisters, it can fail, being better known, to be
well and richly endowed.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this, without a word of adornment--which
I resolved when I got up not to allow myself--this is the simple
case. This is the pathetic case which I have to put to you; not
only on behalf of the thousands of children who annually die in
this great city, but also on behalf of the thousands of children
who live half developed, racked with preventible pain, shorn of
their natural capacity for health and enjoyment. If these innocent
creatures cannot move you for themselves, how can I possibly hope
to move you in their name? The most delightful paper, the most
charming essay, which the tender imagination of Charles Lamb
conceived, represents him as sitting by his fireside on a winter
night telling stories to his own dear children, and delighting in
their society, until he suddenly comes to his old, solitary,
bachelor self, and finds that they were but dream-children who
might have been, but never were. "We are nothing," they say to
him; "less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have
been, and we must wait upon the tedious shore of Lethe, millions of
ages, before we have existence and a name." "And immediately
awaking," he says, "I found myself in my arm chair." The dream-
children whom I would now raise, if I could, before every one of
you, according to your various circumstances, should be the dear
child you love, the dearer child you have lost, the child you might
have had, the child you certainly have been. Each of these dream-
children should hold in its powerful hand one of the little
children now lying in the Child's Hospital, or now shut out of it
to perish. Each of these dream-children should say to you, "O,
help this little suppliant in my name; O, help it for my sake!"
Well!--And immediately awaking, you should find yourselves in the
Freemasons' Hall, happily arrived at the end of a rather long
speech, drinking "Prosperity to the Hospital for Sick Children,"
and thoroughly resolved that it shall flourish.


[On the above date Mr. Dickens gave a reading of his Christmas
Carol in the Music Hall, before the members and subscribers of the
Philosophical Institution. At the conclusion of the reading the
Lord Provost of Edinburgh presented him with a massive silver
wassail cup. Mr. Dickens acknowledged the tribute as follows:]

My Lord Provost, ladies, and gentlemen, I beg to assure you I am
deeply sensible of your kind welcome, and of this beautiful and
great surprise; and that I thank you cordially with all my heart.
I never have forgotten, and I never can forget, that I have the
honour to be a burgess and guild-brother of the Corporation of
Edinburgh. As long as sixteen or seventeen years ago, the first
great public recognition and encouragement I ever received was
bestowed on me in this generous and magnificent city--in this city
so distinguished in literature and so distinguished in the arts.
You will readily believe that I have carried into the various
countries I have since traversed, and through all my subsequent
career, the proud and affectionate remembrance of that eventful
epoch in my life; and that coming back to Edinburgh is to me like
coming home.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard so much of my voice to-night,
that I will not inflict on you the additional task of hearing any
more. I am better reconciled to limiting myself to these very few
words, because I know and feel full well that no amount of speech
to which I could give utterance could possibly express my sense of
the honour and distinction you have conferred on me, or the
heartfelt gratification I derive from this reception.


[At the thirteenth anniversary festival of the General Theatrical
Fund, held at the Freemasons' Tavern, at which Thackeray presided,
Mr. Dickens made the following speech:]

In our theatrical experience as playgoers we are all equally
accustomed to predict by certain little signs and portents on the
stage what is going to happen there. When the young lady, an
admiral's daughter, is left alone to indulge in a short soliloquy,
and certain smart spirit-rappings are heard to proceed immediately
from beneath her feet, we foretell that a song is impending. When
two gentlemen enter, for whom, by a happy coincidence, two chairs,
and no more, are in waiting, we augur a conversation, and that it
will assume a retrospective biographical character. When any of
the performers who belong to the sea-faring or marauding
professions are observed to arm themselves with very small swords
to which are attached very large hilts, we predict that the affair
will end in a combat. Carrying out the association of ideas, it
may have occurred to some that when I asked my old friend in the
chair to allow me to propose a toast I had him in my eye; and I
have him now on my lips.

The duties of a trustee of the Theatrical Fund, an office which I
hold, are not so frequent or so great as its privileges. He is in
fact a mere walking gentleman, with the melancholy difference that
he has no one to love. If this advantage could be added to his
character it would be one of a more agreeable nature than it is,
and his forlorn position would be greatly improved. His duty is to
call every half year at the bankers', when he signs his name in a
large greasy inconvenient book, to certain documents of which he
knows nothing, and then he delivers it to the property man and
exits anywhere.

He, however, has many privileges. It is one of his privileges to
watch the steady growth of an institution in which he takes great
interest; it is one of his privileges to bear his testimony to the
prudence, the goodness, the self-denial, and the excellence of a
class of persons who have been too long depreciated, and whose
virtues are too much denied, out of the depths of an ignorant and
stupid superstition. And lastly, it is one of his privileges
sometimes to be called on to propose the health of the chairman at
the annual dinners of the institution, when that chairman is one
for whose genius he entertains the warmest admiration, and whom he
respects as a friend, and as one who does honour to literature, and
in whom literature is honoured. I say when that is the case, he
feels that this last privilege is a great and high one. From the
earliest days of this institution I have ventured to impress on its
managers, that they would consult its credit and success by
choosing its chairmen as often as possible within the circle of
literature and the arts; and I will venture to say that no similar
institution has been presided over by so many remarkable and
distinguished men. I am sure, however, that it never has had, and
that it never will have, simply because it cannot have, a greater
lustre cast upon it than by the presence of the noble English
writer who fills the chair to-night.

It is not for me at this time, and in this place, to take on myself
to flutter before you the well-thumbed pages of Mr. Thackeray's
books, and to tell you to observe how full they are of wit and
wisdom, how out-speaking, and how devoid of fear or favour; but I
will take leave to remark, in paying my due homage and respect to
them, that it is fitting that such a writer and such an institution
should be brought together. Every writer of fiction, although he
may not adopt the dramatic form, writes in effect for the stage.
He may never write plays; but the truth and passion which are in
him must be more or less reflected in the great mirror which he
holds up to nature. Actors, managers, and authors are all
represented in this company, and it maybe supposed that they all
have studied the deep wants of the human heart in many theatres;
but none of them could have studied its mysterious workings in any
theatre to greater advantage than in the bright and airy pages of
Vanity Fair. To this skilful showman, who has so often delighted
us, and who has charmed us again to-night, we have now to wish God
speed, and that he may continue for many years {11} to exercise his
potent art. To him fill a bumper toast, and fervently utter, God
bless him!


[The reader will already have observed that in the Christmas week
of 1853, and on several subsequent occasions, Mr. Dickens had read
the Christmas Carol and the Chimes before public audiences, but
always in aid of the funds of some institution, or for other
benevolent purposes. The first reading he ever gave for his own
benefit took place on the above date, in St. Martin's Hall, (now
converted into the Queen's Theatre). This reading Mr. Dickens
prefaced with the following speech:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--It may perhaps be in known to you that, for
a few years past, I have been accustomed occasionally to read some
of my shorter books, to various audiences, in aid of a variety of
good objects, and at some charge to myself, both in time and money.
It having at length become impossible in any reason to comply with
these always accumulating demands, I have had definitively to
choose between now and then reading on my own account, as one of my
recognised occupations, or not reading at all. I have had little
or no difficulty in deciding on the former course. The reasons
that have led me to it--besides the consideration that it
necessitates no departure whatever from the chosen pursuits of my
life--are threefold: firstly, I have satisfied myself that it can
involve no possible compromise of the credit and independence of
literature; secondly, I have long held the opinion, and have long
acted on the opinion, that in these times whatever brings a public
man and his public face to face, on terms of mutual confidence and
respect, is a good thing; thirdly, I have had a pretty large
experience of the interest my hearers are so generous as to take in
these occasions, and of the delight they give to me, as a tried
means of strengthening those relations--I may almost say of
personal friendship--which it is my great privilege and pride, as
it is my great responsibility, to hold with a multitude of persons
who will never hear my voice nor see my face. Thus it is that I
come, quite naturally, to be here among you at this time; and thus
it is that I proceed to read this little book, quite as composedly
as I might proceed to write it, or to publish it in any other way.


[The following short speech was made at the Banquet of the Royal
Academy, after the health of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Thackeray had been
proposed by the President, Sir Charles Eastlake:-]

Following the order of your toast, I have to take the first part in
the duet to be performed in acknowledgment of the compliment you
have paid to literature. In this home of art I feel it to be too
much an interchange of compliments, as it were, between near
relations, to enter into any lengthened expression of our thanks
for the honour you have done us. I feel that it would be changing
this splendid assembly into a sort of family party. I may,
however, take leave to say that your sister, whom I represent, is
strong and healthy; that she has a very great affection for, and an
undying interest in you, and that it is always a very great
gratification to her to see herself so well remembered within these
walls, and to know that she is an honoured guest at your hospitable


[On the above date, a public meeting was held at the Princess's
Theatre, for the purpose of establishing the now famous Royal
Dramatic College. Mr. Charles Kean was the chairman, and Mr.
Dickens delivered the following speech:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--I think I may venture to congratulate you
beforehand on the pleasant circumstance that the movers and
seconders of the resolutions which will be submitted to you will,
probably, have very little to say. Through the Report which you
have heard read, and through the comprehensive address of the
chairman, the cause which brings us together has been so very
clearly stated to you, that it can stand in need of very little, if
of any further exposition. But, as I have the honour to move the
first resolution which this handsome gift, and the vigorous action
that must be taken upon it, necessitate, I think I shall only give
expression to what is uppermost in the general mind here, if I
venture to remark that, many as the parts are in which Mr. Kean has
distinguished himself on these boards, he has never appeared in one
in which the large spirit of an artist, the feeling of a man, and
the grace of a gentleman, have been more admirably blended than in
this day's faithful adherence to the calling of which he is a
prosperous ornament, and in this day's manly advocacy of its cause.

Ladies and gentlemen, the resolution entrusted to me is:

"That the Report of the provisional committee be adopted, and that
this meeting joyfully accepts, and gratefully acknowledges, the
gift of five acres of land referred to in the said Report." {12}

It is manifest, I take it, that we are all agreed upon this
acceptance and acknowledgment, and that we all know very well that
this generous gift can inspire but one sentiment in the breast of
every lover of the dramatic art. As it is far too often forgotten
by those who are indebted to it for many a restorative flight out
of this working-day world, that the silks, and velvets, and elegant
costumes of its professors must be every night exchanged for the
hideous coats and waistcoats of the present day, in which we have
now the honour and the misfortune of appearing before you, so when
we do meet with a nature so considerably generous as this donor's,
and do find an interest in the real life and struggles of the
people who have delighted it, so very spontaneous and so very
liberal, we have nothing to do but to accept and to admire, we have
no duty left but to "take the goods the gods provide us," and to
make the best and the most of them. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me
to remark, that in this mode of turning a good gift to the highest
account, lies the truest gratitude.

In reference to this, I could not but reflect, whilst Mr. Kean was
speaking, that in an hour or two from this time, the spot upon
which we are now assembled will be transformed into the scene of a
crafty and a cruel bond. I know that, a few hours hence, the Grand
Canal of Venice will flow, with picturesque fidelity, on the very
spot where I now stand dryshod, and that "the quality of mercy"
will be beautifully stated to the Venetian Council by a learned
young doctor from Padua, on these very boards on which we now
enlarge upon the quality of charity and sympathy. Knowing this, it
came into my mind to consider how different the real bond of to-day
from the ideal bond of to-night. Now, all generosity, all
forbearance, all forgetfulness of little jealousies and unworthy
divisions, all united action for the general good. Then, all
selfishness, all malignity, all cruelty, all revenge, and all
evil,--now all good. Then, a bond to be broken within the compass
of a few--three or four--swiftly passing hours,--now, a bond to be
valid and of good effect generations hence.

Ladies and gentlemen, of the execution and delivery of this bond,
between this generous gentleman on the one hand, and the united
members of a too often and too long disunited art upon the other,
be you the witnesses. Do you attest of everything that is liberal
and free in spirit, that is "so nominated in the bond;" and of
everything that is grudging, self-seeking, unjust, or unfair, that
it is by no sophistry ever to be found there. I beg to move the
resolution which I have already had the pleasure of reading.


[The following speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the
Institutional Association of Lancashire and Cheshire, held in the
Free-trade Hall on the evening of the above day, at which Mr.
Dickens presided.]

It has of late years become noticeable in England that the autumn
season produces an immense amount of public speaking. I notice
that no sooner do the leaves begin to fall from the trees, than
pearls of great price begin to fall from the lips of the wise men
of the east, and north, and west, and south; and anybody may have
them by the bushel, for the picking up. Now, whether the comet has
this year had a quickening influence on this crop, as it is by some
supposed to have had upon the corn-harvest and the vintage, I do
not know; but I do know that I have never observed the columns of
the newspapers to groan so heavily under a pressure of orations,
each vying with the other in the two qualities of having little or
nothing to do with the matter in hand, and of being always
addressed to any audience in the wide world rather than the
audience to which it was delivered.

The autumn having gone, and the winter come, I am so sanguine as to
hope that we in our proceedings may break through this enchanted
circle and deviate from this precedent; the rather as we have
something real to do, and are come together, I am sure, in all
plain fellowship and straightforwardness, to do it. We have no
little straws of our own to throw up to show us which way any wind
blows, and we have no oblique biddings of our own to make for
anything outside this hall.

At the top of the public announcement of this meeting are the
words, "Institutional Association of Lancashire and Cheshire."
Will you allow me, in reference to the meaning of those words, to
present myself before you as the embodied spirit of ignorance
recently enlightened, and to put myself through a short, voluntary
examination as to the results of my studies. To begin with: the
title did not suggest to me anything in the least like the truth.
I have been for some years pretty familiar with the terms,
"Mechanics' Institutions," and "Literary Societies," but they have,
unfortunately, become too often associated in my mind with a body
of great pretensions, lame as to some important member or other,
which generally inhabits a new house much too large for it, which
is seldom paid for, and which takes the name of the mechanics most
grievously in vain, for I have usually seen a mechanic and a dodo
in that place together.

I, therefore, began my education, in respect of the meaning of this
title, very coldly indeed, saying to myself, "Here's the old
story." But the perusal of a very few lines of my book soon gave
me to understand that it was not by any means the old story; in
short, that this association is expressly designed to correct the
old story, and to prevent its defects from becoming perpetuated. I
learnt that this Institutional Association is the union, in one
central head, of one hundred and fourteen local Mechanics'
Institutions and Mutual Improvement Societies, at an expense of no
more than five shillings to each society; suggesting to all how
they can best communicate with and profit by the fountain-head and
one another; keeping their best aims steadily before them; advising
them how those aims can be best attained; giving a direct end and
object to what might otherwise easily become waste forces; and
sending among them not only oral teachers, but, better still, boxes
of excellent books, called "Free Itinerating Libraries." I learned
that these books are constantly making the circuit of hundreds upon
hundreds of miles, and are constantly being read with inexpressible
relish by thousands upon thousands of toiling people, but that they
are never damaged or defaced by one rude hand. These and other
like facts lead me to consider the immense importance of the fact,
that no little cluster of working men's cottages can arise in any
Lancashire or Cheshire valley, at the foot of any running stream
which enterprise hunts out for water-power, but it has its
educational friend and companion ready for it, willing for it,
acquainted with its thoughts and ways and turns of speech even
before it has come into existence.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is the main consideration that has
brought me here. No central association at a distance could
possibly do for those working men what this local association does.
No central association at a distance could possibly understand them
as this local association does. No central association at a
distance could possibly put them in that familiar and easy
communication one with another, as that I, man or boy, eager for
knowledge, in that valley seven miles off, should know of you, man
or boy, eager for knowledge, in that valley twelve miles off, and
should occasionally trudge to meet you, that you may impart your
learning in one branch of acquisition to me, whilst I impart mine
in another to you. Yet this is distinctly a feature, and a most
important feature, of this society.

On the other hand, it is not to be supposed that these honest men,
however zealous, could, as a rule, succeed in establishing and
maintaining their own institutions of themselves. It is obvious
that combination must materially diminish their cost, which is in
time a vital consideration; and it is equally obvious that
experience, essential to the success of all combination, is
especially so when its object is to diffuse the results of
experience and of reflection.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the student of the present profitable
history of this society does not stop here in his learning; when he
has got so far, he finds with interest and pleasure that the parent
society at certain stated periods invites the more eager and
enterprising members of the local society to submit themselves to
voluntary examination in various branches of useful knowledge, of
which examination it takes the charge and arranges the details, and
invites the successful candidates to come to Manchester to receive
the prizes and certificates of merit which it impartially awards.
The most successful of the competitors in the list of these
examinations are now among us, and these little marks of
recognition and encouragement I shall have the honour presently of
giving them, as they come before you, one by one, for that purpose.

I have looked over a few of those examination papers, which have
comprised history, geography, grammar, arithmetic, book-keeping,
decimal coinage, mensuration, mathematics, social economy, the
French language--in fact, they comprise all the keys that open all
the locks of knowledge. I felt most devoutly gratified, as to many
of them, that they had not been submitted to me to answer, for I am
perfectly sure that if they had been, I should have had mighty
little to bestow upon myself to-night. And yet it is always to be
observed and seriously remembered that these examinations are
undergone by people whose lives have been passed in a continual
fight for bread, and whose whole existence, has been a constant
wrestle with

"Those twin gaolers of the daring heart -
Low birth and iron fortune." {13}

I could not but consider, with extraordinary admiration, that these
questions have been replied to, not by men like myself, the
business of whose life is with writing and with books, but by men,
the business of whose life is with tools and with machinery.

Let me endeavour to recall, as well as my memory will serve me,
from among the most interesting cases of prize-holders and
certificate-gainers who will appear before you, some two or three
of the most conspicuous examples. There are two poor brothers from
near Chorley, who work from morning to night in a coal-pit, and
who, in all weathers, have walked eight miles a-night, three nights
a-week, to attend the classes in which they have gained
distinction. There are two poor boys from Bollington, who begin
life as piecers at one shilling or eighteen-pence a-week, and the
father of one of whom was cut to pieces by the machinery at which
he worked, but not before he had himself founded the institution in
which this son has since come to be taught. These two poor boys
will appear before you to-night, to take the second-class prize in
chemistry. There is a plasterer from Bury, sixteen years of age,
who took a third-class certificate last year at the hands of Lord
Brougham; he is this year again successful in a competition three
times as severe. There is a wagon-maker from the same place, who
knew little or absolutely nothing until he was a grown man, and who
has learned all he knows, which is a great deal, in the local
institution. There is a chain-maker, in very humble circumstances,
and working hard all day, who walks six miles a-night, three nights
a-week, to attend the classes in which he has won so famous a
place. There is a moulder in an iron foundry, who, whilst he was
working twelve hours a day before the furnace, got up at four
o'clock in the morning to learn drawing. "The thought of my lads,"
he writes in his modest account of himself, "in their peaceful
slumbers above me, gave me fresh courage, and I used to think that
if I should never receive any personal benefit, I might instruct
them when they came to be of an age to understand the mighty
machines and engines which have made our country, England, pre-
eminent in the world's history." There is a piecer at mule-frames,
who could not read at eighteen, who is now a man of little more
than thirty, who is the sole support of an aged mother, who is
arithmetical teacher in the institution in which he himself was
taught, who writes of himself that he made the resolution never to
take up a subject without keeping to it, and who has kept to it
with such an astonishing will, that he is now well versed in Euclid
and Algebra, and is the best French scholar in Stockport. The
drawing-classes in that same Stockport are taught by a working
blacksmith; and the pupils of that working blacksmith will receive
the highest honours of to-night. Well may it be said of that good
blacksmith, as it was written of another of his trade, by the
American poet:

"Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begun,
Each evening sees its clause.
Something attempted, something done,
Has earn'd a night's repose."

To pass from the successful candidates to the delegates from local
societies now before me, and to content myself with one instance
from amongst them. There is among their number a most remarkable
man, whose history I have read with feelings that I could not
adequately express under any circumstances, and least of all when I
know he hears me, who worked when he was a mere baby at hand-loom
weaving until he dropped from fatigue: who began to teach himself
as soon as he could earn five shillings a-week: who is now a
botanist, acquainted with every production of the Lancashire
valley: who is a naturalist, and has made and preserved a
collection of the eggs of British birds, and stuffed the birds:
who is now a conchologist, with a very curious, and in some
respects an original collection of fresh-water shells, and has also
preserved and collected the mosses of fresh water and of the sea:
who is worthily the president of his own local Literary
Institution, and who was at his work this time last night as
foreman in a mill.

So stimulating has been the influence of these bright examples, and
many more, that I notice among the applications from Blackburn for
preliminary test examination papers, one from an applicant who
gravely fills up the printed form by describing himself as ten
years of age, and who, with equal gravity, describes his occupation
as "nursing a little child." Nor are these things confined to the
men. The women employed in factories, milliners' work, and
domestic service, have begun to show, as it is fitting they should,
a most decided determination not to be outdone by the men; and the
women of Preston in particular, have so honourably distinguished
themselves, and shown in their examination papers such an admirable
knowledge of the science of household management and household
economy, that if I were a working bachelor of Lancashire or
Cheshire, and if I had not cast my eye or set my heart upon any
lass in particular, I should positively get up at four o'clock in
the morning with the determination of the iron-moulder himself, and
should go to Preston in search of a wife.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, these instances, and many more, daily
occurring, always accumulating, are surely better testimony to the
working of this Association, than any number of speakers could
possibly present to you. Surely the presence among us of these
indefatigable people is the Association's best and most effective
triumph in the present and the past, and is its noblest stimulus to
effort in the future. As its temporary mouth-piece, I would beg to
say to that portion of the company who attend to receive the
prizes, that the institution can never hold itself apart from
them;--can never set itself above them; that their distinction and
success must be its distinction and success; and that there can be
but one heart beating between them and it. In particular, I would
most especially entreat them to observe that nothing will ever be
further from this Association's mind than the impertinence of
patronage. The prizes that it gives, and the certificates that it
gives, are mere admiring assurances of sympathy with so many
striving brothers and sisters, and are only valuable for the spirit
in which they are given, and in which they are received. The
prizes are money prizes, simply because the Institution does not
presume to doubt that persons who have so well governed themselves,
know best how to make a little money serviceable--because it would
be a shame to treat them like grown-up babies by laying it out for
them, and because it knows it is given, and knows it is taken, in
perfect clearness of purpose, perfect trustfulness, and, above all,
perfect independence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, reverting once more to the whole collective
audience before me, I will, in another two minutes, release the
hold which your favour has given me on your attention. Of the
advantages of knowledge I have said, and I shall say, nothing. Of
the certainty with which the man who grasps it under difficulties
rises in his own respect and in usefulness to the community, I have
said, and I shall say, nothing. In the city of Manchester, in the
county of Lancaster, both of them remarkable for self-taught men,
that were superfluous indeed. For the same reason I rigidly
abstain from putting together any of the shattered fragments of
that poor clay image of a parrot, which was once always saying,
without knowing why, or what it meant, that knowledge was a
dangerous thing. I should as soon think of piecing together the
mutilated remains of any wretched Hindoo who has been blown from an
English gun. Both, creatures of the past, have been--as my friend
Mr. Carlyle vigorously has it--"blasted into space;" and there, as
to this world, is an end of them.

So I desire, in conclusion, only to sound two strings. In the
first place, let me congratulate you upon the progress which real
mutual improvement societies are making at this time in your
neighbourhood, through the noble agency of individual employers and
their families, whom you can never too much delight to honour.
Elsewhere, through the agency of the great railway companies, some
of which are bestirring themselves in this matter with a gallantry
and generosity deserving of all praise. Secondly and lastly, let
me say one word out of my own personal heart, which is always very
near to it in this connexion. Do not let us, in the midst of the
visible objects of nature, whose workings we can tell of in
figures, surrounded by machines that can be made to the thousandth
part of an inch, acquiring every day knowledge which can be proved
upon a slate or demonstrated by a microscope--do not let us, in the
laudable pursuit of the facts that surround us, neglect the fancy
and the imagination which equally surround us as a part of the
great scheme. Let the child have its fables; let the man or woman
into which it changes, always remember those fables tenderly. Let
numerous graces and ornaments that cannot be weighed and measured,
and that seem at first sight idle enough, continue to have their
places about us, be we never so wise. The hardest head may co-
exist with the softest heart. The union and just balance of those
two is always a blessing to the possessor, and always a blessing to
mankind. The Divine Teacher was as gentle and considerate as He
was powerful and wise. You all know how He could still the raging
of the sea, and could hush a little child. As the utmost results
of the wisdom of men can only be at last to help to raise this
earth to that condition to which His doctrine, untainted by the
blindnesses and passions of men, would have exalted it long ago; so
let us always remember that He set us the example of blending the
understanding and the imagination, and that, following it
ourselves, we tread in His steps, and help our race on to its
better and best days. Knowledge, as all followers of it must know,
has a very limited power indeed, when it informs the head alone;
but when it informs the head and the heart too, it has a power over
life and death, the body and the soul, and dominates the universe.


[On the above evening, a public dinner was held at the Castle
Hotel, on the occasion of the presentation to Mr. Charles Dickens
of a gold watch, as a mark of gratitude for the reading of his
Christmas Carol, given in December of the previous year, in aid of
the funds of the Coventry Institute. The chair was taken by C. W.
Hoskyns, Esq. Mr. Dickens ackowledged the testimonial in the
following words:]

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-chairman, and Gentlemen,--I hope your minds
will be greatly relieved by my assuring you that it is one of the
rules of my life never to make a speech about myself. If I
knowingly did so, under any circumstances, it would be least of all
under such circumstances as these, when its effect on my
acknowledgment of your kind regard, and this pleasant proof of it,
would be to give me a certain constrained air, which I fear would
contrast badly with your greeting, so cordial, so unaffected, so
earnest, and so true. Furthermore, your Chairman has decorated the
occasion with a little garland of good sense, good feeling, and
good taste; so that I am sure that any attempt at additional
ornament would be almost an impertinence.

Therefore I will at once say how earnestly, how fervently, and how
deeply I feel your kindness. This watch, with which you have
presented me, shall be my companion in my hours of sedentary
working at home, and in my wanderings abroad. It shall never be
absent from my side, and it shall reckon off the labours of my
future days; and I can assure you that after this night the object
of those labours will not less than before be to uphold the right
and to do good. And when I have done with time and its
measurement, this watch shall belong to my children; and as I have
seven boys, and as they have all begun to serve their country in
various ways, or to elect into what distant regions they shall
roam, it is not only possible, but probable, that this little voice
will be heard scores of years hence, who knows? in some yet
unfounded city in the wilds of Australia, or communicating
Greenwich time to Coventry Street, Japan.

Once again, and finally, I thank you; and from my heart of hearts,
I can assure you that the memory of to-night, and of your
picturesque and interesting city, will never be absent from my
mind, and I can never more hear the lightest mention of the name of
Coventry without having inspired in my breast sentiments of unusual
emotion and unusual attachment.

[Later in the evening, in proposing the health of the Chairman, Mr.
Dickens said:]

There may be a great variety of conflicting opinions with regard to
farming, and especially with reference to the management of a clay
farm; but, however various opinions as to the merits of a clay farm
may be, there can be but one opinion as to the merits of a clay
farmer,--and it is the health of that distinguished agriculturist
which I have to propose.

In my ignorance of the subject, I am bound to say that it may be,
for anything I know, indeed I am ready to admit that it IS,
exceedingly important that a clay farm should go for a number of
years to waste; but I claim some knowledge as to the management of
a clay farmer, and I positively object to his ever lying fallow.
In the hope that this very rich and teeming individual may speedily
be ploughed up, and that, we shall gather into our barns and store-
houses the admirable crop of wisdom, which must spring up when ever
he is sown, I take leave to propose his health, begging to assure
him that the kind manner in which he offered to me your very
valuable present, I can never forget.


[At a Dinner of the Artists' General Benevolent Institution, the
following Address was delivered by Mr. Charles Dickens from the

Seven or eight years ago, without the smallest expectation of ever
being called upon to fill the chair at an anniversary festival of
the Artists' General Benevolent Institution, and without the
remotest reference to such an occasion, I selected the
administration of that Charity as the model on which I desired that
another should be reformed, both as regarded the mode in which the
relief was afforded, and the singular economy with which its funds
were administered. As a proof of the latter quality during the
past year, the cost of distributing 1,126 pounds among the
recipients of the bounty of the Charity amounted to little more
than 100 pounds, inclusive of all office charges and expenses. The
experience and knowledge of those entrusted with the management of
the funds are a guarantee that the last available farthing of the
funds will be distributed among proper and deserving recipients.
Claiming, on my part, to be related in some degree to the
profession of an artist, I disdain to stoop to ask for charity, in
the ordinary acceptation of the term, on behalf of the Artists. In
its broader and higher signification of generous confidence,
lasting trustfulness, love and confiding belief, I very readily
associate that cardinal virtue with art. I decline to present the
artist to the notice of the public as a grown-up child, or as a
strange, unaccountable, moon-stricken person, waiting helplessly in
the street of life to be helped over the road by the crossing-
sweeper; on the contrary, I present the artist as a reasonable
creature, a sensible gentleman, and as one well acquainted with the
value of his time, and that of other people, as if he were in the
habit of going on high 'Change every day. The Artist whom I wish
to present to the notice of the Meeting is one to whom the perfect
enjoyment of the five senses is essential to every achievement of
his life. He can gain no wealth nor fame by buying something which
he never touched, and selling it to another who would also never
touch or see it, but was compelled to strike out for himself every
spark of fire which lighted, burned, and perhaps consumed him. He
must win the battle of life with his own hand, and with his own
eyes, and was obliged to act as general, captain, ensign, non-
commissioned officer, private, drummer, great arms, small arms,
infantry, cavalry, all in his own unaided self. When, therefore, I
ask help for the artist, I do not make my appeal for one who was a
cripple from his birth, but I ask it as part payment of a great
debt which all sensible and civilised creatures owe to art, as a
mark of respect to art, as a decoration--not as a badge--as a
remembrance of what this land, or any land, would be without art,
and as the token of an appreciation of the works of the most
successful artists of this country. With respect to the society of
which I am the advocate, I am gratified that it is so liberally
supported by the most distinguished artists, and that it has the
confidence of men who occupy the highest rank as artists, above the
reach of reverses, and the most distinguished in success and fame,
and whose support is above all price. Artists who have obtained
wide-world reputation know well that many deserving and persevering
men, or their widows and orphans, have received help from this
fund, and some of the artists who have received this help are now
enrolled among the subscribers to the Institution.


[The following speech was made by Mr. Dickens, in his capacity as
chairman, at the annual Festival of the Newsvendors' and Provident
Institution, held at the Freemasons' Tavern on the above date.]

When I had the honour of being asked to preside last year, I was
prevented by indisposition, and I besought my friend, Mr. Wilkie
Collins, to reign in my stead. He very kindly complied, and made
an excellent speech. Now I tell you the truth, that I read that
speech with considerable uneasiness, for it inspired me with a
strong misgiving that I had better have presided last year with
neuralgia in my face and my subject in my head, rather than preside
this year with my neuralgia all gone and my subject anticipated.
Therefore, I wish to preface the toast this evening by making the
managers of this Institution one very solemn and repentant promise,
and it is, if ever I find myself obliged to provide a substitute
again, they may rely upon my sending the most speechless man of my

The Chairman last year presented you with an amiable view of the
universality of the newsman's calling. Nothing, I think, is left
for me but to imagine the newsman's burden itself, to unfold one of
those wonderful sheets which he every day disseminates, and to take
a bird's-eye view of its general character and contents. So, if
you please, choosing my own time--though the newsman cannot choose
his time, for he must be equally active in winter or summer, in
sunshine or sleet, in light or darkness, early or late--but,
choosing my own time, I shall for two or three moments start off
with the newsman on a fine May morning, and take a view of the
wonderful broadsheets which every day he scatters broadcast over
the country. Well, the first thing that occurs to me following the
newsman is, that every day we are born, that every day we are
married--some of us--and that every day we are dead; consequently,
the first thing the newsvendor's column informs me is, that Atkins
has been born, that Catkins has been married, and that Datkins is
dead. But the most remarkable thing I immediately discover in the
next column, is that Atkins has grown to be seventeen years old,
and that he has run away; for, at last, my eye lights on the fact
that William A., who is seventeen years old, is adjured immediately
to return to his disconsolate parents, and everything will be
arranged to the satisfaction of everyone. I am afraid he will
never return, simply because, if he had meant to come back, he
would never have gone away. Immediately below, I find a mysterious
character in such a mysterious difficulty that it is only to be
expressed by several disjointed letters, by several figures, and
several stars; and then I find the explanation in the intimation
that the writer has given his property over to his uncle, and that
the elephant is on the wing. Then, still glancing over the
shoulder of my industrious friend, the newsman, I find there are
great fleets of ships bound to all parts of the earth, that they
all want a little more stowage, a little more cargo, that they have
a few more berths to let, that they have all the most spacious
decks, that they are all built of teak, and copper-bottomed, that
they all carry surgeons of experience, and that they are all A1 at
Lloyds', and anywhere else. Still glancing over the shoulder of my
friend the newsman, I find I am offered all kinds of house-lodging,
clerks, servants, and situations, which I can possibly or
impossibly want. I learn, to my intense gratification, that I need
never grow old, that I may always preserve the juvenile bloom of my
complexion; that if ever I turn ill it is entirely my own fault;
that if I have any complaint, and want brown cod-liver oil or
Turkish baths, I am told where to get them, and that, if I want an
income of seven pounds a-week, I may have it by sending half-a-
crown in postage-stamps. Then I look to the police intelligence,
and I can discover that I may bite off a human living nose cheaply,
but if I take off the dead nose of a pig or a calf from a shop-
window, it will cost me exceedingly dear. I also find that if I
allow myself to be betrayed into the folly of killing an
inoffensive tradesman on his own door-step, that little incident
will not affect the testimonials to my character, but that I shall
be described as a most amiable young man, and as, above all things,
remarkable for the singular inoffensiveness of my character and
disposition. Then I turn my eye to the Fine Arts, and, under that
head, I see that a certain "J. O." has most triumphantly exposed a
certain "J. O. B.," which "J. O. B." was remarkable for this
particular ugly feature, that I was requested to deprive myself of
the best of my pictures for six months; that for that time it was
to be hung on a wet wall, and that I was to be requited for my
courtesy in having my picture most impertinently covered with a wet
blanket. To sum up the results of a glance over my newsman's
shoulder, it gives a comprehensive knowledge of what is going on
over the continent of Europe, and also of what is going on over the
continent of America, to say nothing of such little geographical
regions as India and China.

Now, my friends, this is the glance over the newsman's shoulders
from the whimsical point of view, which is the point, I believe,
that most promotes digestion. The newsman is to be met with on
steamboats, railway stations, and at every turn. His profits are
small, he has a great amount of anxiety and care, and no little
amount of personal wear and tear. He is indispensable to
civilization and freedom, and he is looked for with pleasurable
excitement every day, except when he lends the paper for an hour,
and when he is punctual in calling for it, which is sometimes very
painful. I think the lesson we can learn from our newsman is some
new illustration of the uncertainty of life, some illustration of
its vicissitudes and fluctuations. Mindful of this permanent
lesson, some members of the trade originated this society, which
affords them assistance in time of sickness and indigence. The
subscription is infinitesimal. It amounts annually to five
shillings. Looking at the returns before me, the progress of the
society would seem to be slow, but it has only been slow for the
best of all reasons, that it has been sure. The pensions granted
are all obtained from the interest on the funded capital, and,
therefore, the Institution is literally as safe as the Bank. It is
stated that there are several newsvendors who are not members of
this society; but that is true in all institutions which have come
under my experience. The persons who are most likely to stand in
need of the benefits which an institution confers, are usually the
persons to keep away until bitter experience comes to them too


[On the above date Mr. Dickens presided at the Adelphi Theatre, at
a public meeting, for the purpose of founding the Shakespeare
Schools, in connexion with the Royal Dramatic College, and
delivered the following address:]

Ladies and gentlemen--Fortunately for me, and fortunately for you,
it is the duty of the Chairman on an occasion of this nature, to be
very careful that he does not anticipate those speakers who come
after him. Like Falstaff, with a considerable difference, he has
to be the cause of speaking in others. It is rather his duty to
sit and hear speeches with exemplary attention than to stand up to
make them; so I shall confine myself, in opening these proceedings
as your business official, to as plain and as short an exposition
as I can possibly give you of the reasons why we come together.

First of all I will take leave to remark that we do not come
together in commemoration of Shakespeare. We have nothing to do
with any commemoration, except that we are of course humble
worshippers of that mighty genius, and that we propose by-and-by to
take his name, but by no means to take it in vain. If, however,
the Tercentenary celebration were a hundred years hence, or a
hundred years past, we should still be pursuing precisely the same
object, though we should not pursue it under precisely the same
circumstances. The facts are these: There is, as you know, in
existence an admirable institution called the Royal Dramatic
College, which is a place of honourable rest and repose for
veterans in the dramatic art. The charter of this college, which
dates some five or six years back, expressly provides for the
establishment of schools in connexion with it; and I may venture to
add that this feature of the scheme, when it was explained to him,
was specially interesting to his Royal Highness the late Prince
Consort, who hailed it as evidence of the desire of the promoters
to look forward as well as to look back; to found educational
institutions for the rising generation, as well as to establish a
harbour of refuge for the generation going out, or at least having
their faces turned towards the setting sun. The leading members of
the dramatic art, applying themselves first to the more pressing
necessity of the two, set themselves to work on the construction of
their harbour of refuge, and this they did with the zeal, energy,
good-will, and good faith that always honourably distinguish them
in their efforts to help one another. Those efforts were very
powerfully aided by the respected gentleman {14} under whose roof
we are assembled, and who, I hope, may be only half as glad of
seeing me on these boards as I always am to see him here. With
such energy and determination did Mr. Webster and his brothers and
sisters in art proceed with their work, that at this present time
all the dwelling-houses of the Royal Dramatic College are built,
completely furnished, fitted with every appliance, and many of them
inhabited. The central hall of the College is built, the grounds
are beautifully planned and laid out, and the estate has become the
nucleus of a prosperous neighbourhood. This much achieved, Mr.
Webster was revolving in his mind how he should next proceed
towards the establishment of the schools, when, this Tercentenary
celebration being in hand, it occurred to him to represent to the
National Shakespeare Committee their just and reasonable claim to
participate in the results of any subscription for a monument to
Shakespeare. He represented to the committee that the social
recognition and elevation of the followers of Shakespeare's own
art, through the education of their children, was surely a monument
worthy even of that great name. He urged upon the committee that
it was certainly a sensible, tangible project, which the public
good sense would immediately appreciate and approve. This claim
the committee at once acknowledged; but I wish you distinctly to
understand that if the committee had never been in existence, if
the Tercentenary celebration had never been attempted, those
schools, as a design anterior to both, would still have solicited
public support.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, what it is proposed to do is, in fact,
to find a new self-supporting public school; with this additional
feature, that it is to be available for both sexes. This, of
course, presupposes two separate distinct schools. As these
schools are to be built on land belonging to the Dramatic College,
there will be from the first no charge, no debt, no incumbrance of
any kind under that important head. It is, in short, proposed
simply to establish a new self-supporting public school, in a
rapidly increasing neighbourhood, where there is a large and fast
accumulating middle-class population, and where property in land is
fast rising in value. But, inasmuch as the project is a project of
the Royal Dramatic College, and inasmuch as the schools are to be
built on their estate, it is proposed evermore to give their
schools the great name of Shakespeare, and evermore to give the
followers of Shakespeare's art a prominent place in them. With
this view, it is confidently believed that the public will endow a
foundation, say, for forty foundation scholars--say, twenty girls
and twenty boys--who shall always receive their education
gratuitously, and who shall always be the children of actors,
actresses, or dramatic writers. This school, you will understand,
is to be equal to the best existing public school. It is to be
made to impart a sound, liberal, comprehensive education, and it is
to address the whole great middle class at least as freely, as
widely, and as cheaply as any existing public school.

Broadly, ladies and gentlemen, this is the whole design. There are
foundation scholars at Eton, foundation scholars at nearly all our
old schools, and if the public, in remembrance of a noble part of
our standard national literature, and in remembrance of a great
humanising art, will do this thing for these children, it will at
the same time be doing a wise and good thing for itself, and will
unquestionably find its account in it. Taking this view of the
case--and I cannot be satisfied to take any lower one--I cannot
make a sorry face about "the poor player." I think it is a term
very much misused and very little understood--being, I venture to
say, appropriated in a wrong sense by players themselves.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I can only present the player to
you exceptionally in this wise--that he follows a peculiar and
precarious vocation, a vocation very rarely affording the means of
accumulating money--that that vocation must, from the nature of
things, have in it many undistinguished men and women to one
distinguished one--that it is not a vocation the exerciser of which
can profit by the labours of others, but in which he must earn
every loaf of his bread in his own person, with the aid of his own
face, his own limbs, his own voice, his own memory, and his own
life and spirits; and these failing, he fails. Surely this is
reason enough to render him some little help in opening for his
children their paths through life. I say their paths advisedly,
because it is not often found, except under the pressure of
necessity, or where there is strong hereditary talent--which is
always an exceptional case--that the children of actors and
actresses take to the stage. Persons therefore need not in the
least fear that by helping to endow these schools they would help
to overstock the dramatic market. They would do directly the
reverse, for they would divert into channels of public distinction
and usefulness those good qualities which would otherwise languish
in that market's over-rich superabundance.

This project has received the support of the head of the most
popular of our English public schools. On the committee stands the
name of that eminent scholar and gentleman, the Provost of Eton.
You justly admire this liberal spirit, and your admiration--which I
cordially share--brings me naturally to what I wish to say, that I
believe there is not in England any institution so socially liberal
as a public school. It has been called a little cosmos of life
outside, and I think it is so, with the exception of one of life's
worst foibles--for, as far as I know, nowhere in this country is
there so complete an absence of servility to mere rank, to mere
position, to mere riches as in a public school. A boy there is
always what his abilities or his personal qualities make him. We
may differ about the curriculum and other matters, but of the
frank, free, manly, independent spirit preserved in our public
schools, I apprehend there can be no kind of question. It has
happened in these later times that objection has been made to
children of dramatic artists in certain little snivelling private
schools--but in public schools never. Therefore, I hold that the
actors are wise, and gratefully wise, in recognizing the capacious
liberality of a public school, in seeking not a little hole-and-
corner place of education for their children exclusively, but in
addressing the whole of the great middle class, and proposing to
them to come and join them, the actors, on their own property, in a
public school, in a part of the country where no such advantage is
now to be found.

I have now done. The attempt has been a very timid one. I have
endeavoured to confine myself within my means, or, rather, like the
possessor of an extended estate, to hand it down in an
unembarrassed condition. I have laid a trifle of timber here and
there, and grubbed up a little brushwood, but merely to open the
view, and I think I can descry in the eye of the gentleman who is
to move the first resolution that he distinctly sees his way.
Thanking you for the courtesy with which you have heard me, and not
at all doubting that we shall lay a strong foundation of these
schools to-day, I will call, as the mover of the first resolution,
on Mr. Robert Bell.


[On the above date Mr. Dickens presided at the Annual Festival of
the Newsvendors' Benevolent and Provident Association, and, in
proposing the toast of the evening, delivered the following

Ladies and gentlemen,--Dr. Johnson's experience of that club, the
members of which have travelled over one another's minds in every
direction, is not to be compared with the experience of the
perpetual president of a society like this. Having on previous
occasions said everything about it that he could possibly find to
say, he is again produced, with the same awful formalities, to say
everything about it that he cannot possibly find to say. It struck
me, when Dr. F. Jones was referring just now to Easter Monday, that
the case of such an ill-starred president is very like that of the
stag at Epping Forest on Easter Monday. That unfortunate animal
when he is uncarted at the spot where the meet takes place,
generally makes a point, I am told, of making away at a cool trot,
venturesomely followed by the whole field, to the yard where he
lives, and there subsides into a quiet and inoffensive existence,
until he is again brought out to be again followed by exactly the
same field, under exactly the same circumstances, next Easter

The difficulties of the situation--and here I mean the president
and not the stag--are greatly increased in such an instance as this
by the peculiar nature of the institution. In its unpretending
solidity, reality, and usefulness, believe me--for I have carefully
considered the point--it presents no opening whatever of an
oratorical nature. If it were one of those costly charities, so
called, whose yield of wool bears no sort of proportion to their
cry for cash, I very likely might have a word or two to say on the
subject. If its funds were lavished in patronage and show, instead
of being honestly expended in providing small annuities for hard-
working people who have themselves contributed to its funds--if its
management were intrusted to people who could by no possibility
know anything about it, instead of being invested in plain,
business, practical hands--if it hoarded when it ought to spend--if
it got by cringing and fawning what it never deserved, I might
possibly impress you very much by my indignation. If its managers
could tell me that it was insolvent, that it was in a hopeless
condition, that its accounts had been kept by Mr. Edmunds--or by
"Tom,"--if its treasurer had run away with the money-box, then I
might have made a pathetic appeal to your feelings. But I have no
such chance. Just as a nation is happy whose records are barren,
so is a society fortunate that has no history--and its president
unfortunate. I can only assure you that this society continues its
plain, unobtrusive, useful career. I can only assure you that it
does a great deal of good at a very small cost, and that the
objects of its care and the bulk of its members are faithful
working servants of the public--sole ministers of their wants at
untimely hours, in all seasons, and in all weathers; at their own
doors, at the street-corners, at every railway train, at every
steam-boat; through the agency of every establishment and the
tiniest little shops; and that, whether regarded as master or as
man, their profits are very modest and their risks numerous, while
their trouble and responsibility are very great.

The newsvendors and newsmen are a very subordinate part of that
wonderful engine--the newspaper press. Still I think we all know
very well that they are to the fountain-head what a good service of
water pipes is to a good water supply. Just as a goodly store of
water at Watford would be a tantalization to thirsty London if it
were not brought into town for its use, so any amount of news
accumulated at Printing-house Square, or Fleet Street, or the
Strand, would be if there were no skill and enterprise engaged in
its dissemination.

We are all of us in the habit of saying in our every-day life, that
"We never know the value of anything until we lose it." Let us try
the newsvendors by the test. A few years ago we discovered one
morning that there was a strike among the cab-drivers. Now, let us
imagine a strike of newsmen. Imagine the trains waiting in vain
for the newspapers. Imagine all sorts and conditions of men dying
to know the shipping news, the commercial news, the foreign news,
the legal news, the criminal news, the dramatic news. Imagine the
paralysis on all the provincial exchanges; the silence and
desertion of all the newsmen's exchanges in London. Imagine the
circulation of the blood of the nation and of the country standing
still,--the clock of the world. Why, even Mr. Reuter, the great
Reuter--whom I am always glad to imagine slumbering at night by the
side of Mrs. Reuter, with a galvanic battery under his bolster,
bell and wires to the head of his bed, and bells at each ear--think
how even he would click and flash those wondrous dispatches of his,
and how they would become mere nothing without the activity and
honesty which catch up the threads and stitches of the electric
needle, and scatter them over the land.

It is curious to consider--and the thought occurred to me this day,
when I was out for a stroll pondering over the duties of this
evening, which even then were looming in the distance, but not
quite so far off as I could wish--I found it very curious to
consider that though the newsman must be allowed to be a very
unpicturesque rendering of Mercury, or Fame, or what-not
conventional messenger from the clouds, and although we must allow
that he is of this earth, and has a good deal of it on his boots,
still that he has two very remarkable characteristics, to which
none of his celestial predecessors can lay the slightest claim.
One is that he is always the messenger of civilization; the other
that he is at least equally so--not only in what he brings, but in
what he ceases to bring. Thus the time was, and not so many years
ago either, when the newsman constantly brought home to our doors--
though I am afraid not to our hearts, which were custom-hardened--
the most terrific accounts of murders, of our fellow-creatures
being publicly put to death for what we now call trivial offences,
in the very heart of London, regularly every Monday morning. At
the same time the newsman regularly brought to us the infliction of
other punishments, which were demoralising to the innocent part of
the community, while they did not operate as punishments in
deterring offenders from the perpetration of crimes. In those same
days, also, the newsman brought to us daily accounts of a regularly
accepted and received system of loading the unfortunate insane with
chains, littering them down on straw, starving them on bread and
water, damaging their clothes, and making periodical exhibitions of
them at a small charge; and that on a Sunday one of our public
resorts was a kind of demoniacal zoological gardens. They brought
us accounts at the same time of some damage done to the machinery
which was destined to supply the operative classes with employment.
In the same time they brought us accounts of riots for bread, which
were constantly occurring, and undermining society and the state;
of the most terrible explosions of class against class, and of the
habitual employment of spies for the discovery--if not for the
origination--of plots, in which both sides found in those days some
relief. In the same time the same newsmen were apprising us of a
state of society all around us in which the grossest sensuality and
intemperance were the rule; and not as now, when the ignorant, the
wicked, and the wretched are the inexcusably vicious exceptions--a
state of society in which the professional bully was rampant, and
when deadly duels were daily fought for the most absurd and
disgraceful causes. All this the newsman has ceased to tell us of.
This state of society has discontinued in England for ever; and
when we remember the undoubted truth, that the change could never
have been effected without the aid of the load which the newsman
carries, surely it is not very romantic to express the hope on his
behalf that the public will show to him some little token of the
sympathetic remembrance which we are all of us glad to bestow on
the bearers of happy tidings--the harbingers of good news.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, you will be glad to hear that I am
coming to a conclusion; for that conclusion I have a precedent.
You all of you know how pleased you are on your return from a
morning's walk to learn that the collector has called. Well, I am
the collector for this district, and I hope you will bear in mind
that I have respectfully called. Regarding the institution on
whose behalf I have presented myself, I need only say technically
two things. First, that its annuities are granted out of its
funded capital, and therefore it is safe as the Bank; and,
secondly, that they are attainable by such a slight exercise of
prudence and fore-thought, that a payment of 25s. extending over a
period of five years, entitles a subscriber--if a male--to an
annuity of 16 pounds a-year, and a female to 12 pounds a-year.
Now, bear in mind that this is an institution on behalf of which
the collector has called, leaving behind his assurance that what
you can give to one of the most faithful of your servants shall be
well bestowed and faithfully applied to the purposes to which you
intend them, and to those purposes alone.


[At the second annual dinner of the Institution, held at the
Freemasons' Tavern, on Saturday, the 20th May, 1865, the following
speech was delivered by the chairman, Mr. Charles Dickens, in
proposing the toast of the evening:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--When a young child is produced after dinner
to be shown to a circle of admiring relations and friends, it may
generally be observed that their conversation--I suppose in an
instinctive remembrance of the uncertainty of infant life--takes a
retrospective turn. As how much the child has grown since the last
dinner; what a remarkably fine child it is, to have been born only
two or three years ago, how much stronger it looks now than before
it had the measles, and so forth. When a young institution is
produced after dinner, there is not the same uncertainty or
delicacy as in the case of the child, and it may be confidently
predicted of it that if it deserve to live it will surely live, and
that if it deserve to die it will surely die. The proof of desert
in such a case as this must be mainly sought, I suppose, firstly,
in what the society means to do with its money; secondly, in the
extent to which it is supported by the class with whom it
originated, and for whose benefit it is designed; and, lastly, in
the power of its hold upon the public. I add this lastly, because
no such institution that ever I heard of ever yet dreamed of
existing apart from the public, or ever yet considered it a
degradation to accept the public support.

Now, what the Newspaper Press Fund proposes to do with its money is
to grant relief to members in want or distress, and to the widows,
families, parents, or other near relatives of deceased members in
right of a moderate provident annual subscription--commutable, I
observe, for a moderate provident life subscription--and its
members comprise the whole paid class of literary contributors to
the press of the United Kingdom, and every class of reporters. The
number of its members at this time last year was something below
100. At the present time it is somewhat above 170, not including
30 members of the press who are regular subscribers, but have not
as yet qualified as regular members. This number is steadily on
the increase, not only as regards the metropolitan press, but also
as regards the provincial throughout the country. I have observed
within these few days that many members of the press at Manchester
have lately at a meeting expressed a strong brotherly interest in
this Institution, and a great desire to extend its operations, and
to strengthen its hands, provided that something in the independent
nature of life assurance and the purchase of deferred annuities
could be introduced into its details, and always assuming that in
it the metropolis and the provinces stand on perfectly equal
ground. This appears to me to be a demand so very moderate, that I
can hardly have a doubt of a response on the part of the managers,
or of the beneficial and harmonious results. It only remains to
add, on this head of desert, the agreeable circumstance that out of
all the money collected in aid of the society during the last year
more than one-third came exclusively from the press.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, in regard to the last claim--the last
point of desert--the hold upon the public--I think I may say that

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