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Speeches: Literary and Social by Charles Dickens

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probably not one single individual in this great company has failed
to-day to see a newspaper, or has failed to-day to hear something
derived from a newspaper which was quite unknown to him or to her
yesterday. Of all those restless crowds that have this day
thronged the streets of this enormous city, the same may be said as
the general gigantic rule. It may be said almost equally, of the
brightest and the dullest, the largest and the least provincial
town in the empire; and this, observe, not only as to the active,
the industrious, and the healthy among the population, but also to
the bedridden, the idle, the blind, and the deaf and dumb. Now, if
the men who provide this all-pervading presence, this wonderful,
ubiquitous newspaper, with every description of intelligence on
every subject of human interest, collected with immense pains and
immense patience, often by the exercise of a laboriously-acquired
faculty united to a natural aptitude, much of the work done in the
night, at the sacrifice of rest and sleep, and (quite apart from
the mental strain) by the constant overtasking of the two most
delicate of the senses, sight and hearing--I say, if the men who,
through the newspapers, from day to day, or from night to night, or
from week to week, furnish the public with so much to remember,
have not a righteous claim to be remembered by the public in
return, then I declare before God I know no working class of the
community who have.

It would be absurd, it would be impertinent, in such an assembly as
this, if I were to attempt to expatiate upon the extraordinary
combination of remarkable qualities involved in the production of
any newspaper. But assuming the majority of this associated body
to be composed of reporters, because reporters, of one kind or
other, compose the majority of the literary staff of almost every
newspaper that is not a compilation, I would venture to remind you,
if I delicately may, in the august presence of members of
Parliament, how much we, the public, owe to the reporters if it
were only for their skill in the two great sciences of condensation
and rejection. Conceive what our sufferings, under an Imperial
Parliament, however popularly constituted, under however glorious a
constitution, would be if the reporters could not skip. Dr.
Johnson, in one of his violent assertions, declared that "the man
who was afraid of anything must be a scoundrel, sir." By no means
binding myself to this opinion--though admitting that the man who
is afraid of a newspaper will generally be found to be rather
something like it, I must still freely own that I should approach
my Parliamentary debate with infinite fear and trembling if it were
so unskilfully served up for my breakfast. Ever since the time
when the old man and his son took their donkey home, which were the
old Greek days, I believe, and probably ever since the time when
the donkey went into the ark--perhaps he did not like his
accommodation there--but certainly from that time downwards, he has
objected to go in any direction required of him--from the remotest
periods it has been found impossible to please everybody.

I do not for a moment seek to conceal that I know this Institution
has been objected to. As an open fact challenging the freest
discussion and inquiry, and seeking no sort of shelter or favour
but what it can win, it has nothing, I apprehend, but itself, to
urge against objection. No institution conceived in perfect
honesty and good faith has a right to object to being questioned to
any extent, and any institution so based must be in the end the
better for it. Moreover, that this society has been questioned in
quarters deserving of the most respectful attention I take to be an
indisputable fact. Now, I for one have given that respectful
attention, and I have come out of the discussion to where you see
me. The whole circle of the arts is pervaded by institutions
between which and this I can descry no difference. The painters'
art has four or five such institutions. The musicians' art, so
generously and charmingly represented here, has likewise several
such institutions. In my own art there is one, concerning the
details of which my noble friend the president of the society and
myself have torn each other's hair to a considerable extent, and
which I would, if I could, assimilate more nearly to this. In the
dramatic art there are four, and I never yet heard of any objection
to their principle, except, indeed, in the cases of some famous
actors of large gains, who having through the whole period of their
successes positively refused to establish a right in them, became,
in their old age and decline, repentant suppliants for their
bounty. Is it urged against this particular Institution that it is
objectionable because a parliamentary reporter, for instance, might
report a subscribing M.P. in large, and a non-subscribing M.P. in
little? Apart from the sweeping nature of this charge, which, it
is to be observed, lays the unfortunate member and the unfortunate
reporter under pretty much the same suspicion--apart from this
consideration, I reply that it is notorious in all newspaper
offices that every such man is reported according to the position
he can gain in the public eye, and according to the force and
weight of what he has to say. And if there were ever to be among
the members of this society one so very foolish to his brethren,
and so very dishonourable to himself, as venally to abuse his
trust, I confidently ask those here, the best acquainted with
journalism, whether they believe it possible that any newspaper so
ill-conducted as to fail instantly to detect him could possibly
exist as a thriving enterprise for one single twelvemonth? No,
ladies and gentlemen, the blundering stupidity of such an offence
would have no chance against the acute sagacity of newspaper
editors. But I will go further, and submit to you that its
commission, if it be to be dreaded at all, is far more likely on
the part of some recreant camp-follower of a scattered, disunited,
and half-recognized profession, than when there is a public opinion
established in it, by the union of all classes of its members for
the common good: the tendency of which union must in the nature of
things be to raise the lower members of the press towards the
higher, and never to bring the higher members to the lower level.

I hope I may be allowed in the very few closing words that I feel a
desire to say in remembrance of some circumstances, rather special,
attending my present occupation of this chair, to give those words
something of a personal tone. I am not here advocating the case of
a mere ordinary client of whom I have little or no knowledge. I
hold a brief to-night for my brothers. I went into the gallery of
the House of Commons as a parliamentary reporter when I was a boy
not eighteen, and I left it--I can hardly believe the inexorable
truth--nigh thirty years ago. I have pursued the calling of a
reporter under circumstances of which many of my brethren at home
in England here, many of my modern successors, can form no adequate
conception. I have often transcribed for the printer, from my
shorthand notes, important public speeches in which the strictest
accuracy was required, and a mistake in which would have been to a
young man severely compromising, writing on the palm of my hand, by
the light of a dark lantern, in a post-chaise and four, galloping
through a wild country, and through the dead of the night, at the
then surprising rate of fifteen miles an hour. The very last time
I was at Exeter, I strolled into the castle yard there to identify,
for the amusement of a friend, the spot on which I once "took," as
we used to call it, an election speech of my noble friend Lord
Russell, in the midst of a lively fight maintained by all the
vagabonds in that division of the county, and under such a pelting
rain, that I remember two goodnatured colleagues, who chanced to be
at leisure, held a pocket-handkerchief over my notebook, after the
manner of a state canopy in an ecclesiastical procession. I have
worn my knees by writing on them on the old back row of the old
gallery of the old House of Commons; and I have worn my feet by
standing to write in a preposterous pen in the old House of Lords,
where we used to be huddled together like so many sheep--kept in
waiting, say, until the woolsack might want re-stuffing. Returning
home from excited political meetings in the country to the waiting
press in London, I do verily believe I have been upset in almost
every description of vehicle known in this country. I have been,
in my time, belated on miry by-roads, towards the small hours,
forty or fifty miles from London, in a wheelless carriage, with
exhausted horses and drunken postboys, and have got back in time
for publication, to be received with never-forgotten compliments by
the late Mr. Black, coming in the broadest of Scotch from the
broadest of hearts I ever knew.

Ladies and gentlemen, I mention these trivial things as an
assurance to you that I never have forgotten the fascination of
that old pursuit. The pleasure that I used to feel in the rapidity
and dexterity of its exercise has never faded out of my breast.
Whatever little cunning of hand or head I took to it, or acquired
in it, I have so retained as that I fully believe I could resume it
to-morrow, very little the worse from long disuse. To this present
year of my life, when I sit in this hall, or where not, hearing a
dull speech, the phenomenon does occur--I sometimes beguile the
tedium of the moment by mentally following the speaker in the old,
old way; and sometimes, if you can believe me, I even find my hand
going on the table-cloth, taking an imaginary note of it all.
Accept these little truths as a confirmation of what I know; as a
confirmation of my undying interest in this old calling. Accept
them as a proof that my feeling for the location of my youth is not
a sentiment taken up to-night to be thrown away to-morrow--but is a
faithful sympathy which is a part of myself. I verily believe--I
am sure--that if I had never quitted my old calling I should have
been foremost and zealous in the interests of this Institution,
believing it to be a sound, a wholesome, and a good one. Ladies
and gentlemen, I am to propose to you to drink "Prosperity to the
Newspaper Press Fund," with which toast I will connect, as to its
acknowledgment, a name that has shed new brilliancy on even the
foremost newspaper in the world--the illustrious name of Mr.


[On the above date the members of the "Guild of Literature and Art"
proceeded to the neighbourhood of Stevenage, near the magnificent
seat of the President, Lord Lytton, to inspect three houses built
in the Gothic style, on the ground given by him for the purpose.
After their survey, the party drove to Knebworth to partake of the
hospitality of Lord Lytton. Mr. Dickens, who was one of the
guests, proposed the health of the host in the following words:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--It was said by a very sagacious person,
whose authority I am sure my friend of many years will not impugn,
seeing that he was named Augustus Tomlinson, the kind friend and
philosopher of Paul Clifford--it was said by that remarkable man,
"Life is short, and why should speeches be long?" An aphorism so
sensible under all circumstances, and particularly in the
circumstances in which we are placed, with this delicious weather
and such charming gardens near us, I shall practically adopt on the
present occasion; and the rather so because the speech of my friend
was exhaustive of the subject, as his speeches always are, though
not in the least exhaustive of his audience. In thanking him for
the toast which he has done us the honour to propose, allow me to
correct an error into which he has fallen. Allow me to state that
these houses never could have been built but for his zealous and
valuable co-operation, and also that the pleasant labour out of
which they have arisen would have lost one of its greatest charms
and strongest impulses, if it had lost his ever ready sympathy with
that class in which he has risen to the foremost rank, and of which
he is the brightest ornament.

Having said this much as simply due to my friend, I can only say,
on behalf of my associates, that the ladies and gentlemen whom we
shall invite to occupy the houses we have built will never be
placed under any social disadvantage. They will be invited to
occupy them as artists, receiving them as a mark of the high
respect in which they are held by their fellow-workers. As artists
I hope they will often exercise their calling within those walls
for the general advantage; and they will always claim, on equal
terms, the hospitality of their generous neighbour.

Now I am sure I shall be giving utterance to the feelings of my
brothers and sisters in literature in proposing "Health, long life,
and prosperity to our distinguished host." Ladies and gentlemen,
you know very well that when the health, life, and beauty now
overflowing these halls shall have fled, crowds of people will come
to see the place where he lived and wrote. Setting aside the
orator and statesman--for happily we know no party here but this
agreeable party--setting aside all, this you know very well, that
this is the home of a very great man whose connexion with
Hertfordshire every other county in England will envy for many long
years to come. You know that when this hall is dullest and
emptiest you can make it when you please brightest and fullest by
peopling it with the creations of his brilliant fancy. Let us all
wish together that they may be many more--for the more they are the
better it will be, and, as he always excels himself, the better
they will be. I ask you to listen to their praises and not to
mine, and to let them, not me, propose his health.


[On this occasion Mr. Dickens officiated as Chairman at the annual
dinner of the Dramatic, Equestrian, and Musical Fund, at Willis's
Rooms, where he made the following speech:]

Ladies, before I couple you with the gentlemen, which will be at
least proper to the inscription over my head (St. Valentine's day)-
-before I do so, allow me, on behalf of my grateful sex here
represented, to thank you for the great pleasure and interest with
which your gracious presence at these festivals never fails to
inspire us. There is no English custom which is so manifestly a
relic of savage life as that custom which usually excludes you from
participation in similar gatherings. And although the crime
carries its own heavy punishment along with it, in respect that it
divests a public dinner of its most beautiful ornament and of its
most fascinating charm, still the offence is none the less to be
severely reprehended on every possible occasion, as outraging
equally nature and art. I believe that as little is known of the
saint whose name is written here as can well be known of any saint
or sinner. We, your loyal servants, are deeply thankful to him for
having somehow gained possession of one day in the year--for
having, as no doubt he has, arranged the almanac for 1866--
expressly to delight us with the enchanting fiction that we have
some tender proprietorship in you which we should scarcely dare to
claim on a less auspicious occasion. Ladies, the utmost devotion
sanctioned by the saint we beg to lay at your feet, and any little
innocent privileges to which we may be entitled by the same
authority we beg respectfully but firmly to claim at your hands.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, you need no ghost to inform you that I
am going to propose "Prosperity to the Dramatic, Musical, and
Equestrian Sick Fund Association," and, further, that I should be
going to ask you actively to promote that prosperity by liberally
contributing to its funds, if that task were not reserved for a
much more persuasive speaker. But I rest the strong claim of the
society for its useful existence and its truly charitable functions
on a very few words, though, as well as I can recollect, upon
something like six grounds. First, it relieves the sick; secondly,
it buries the dead; thirdly, it enables the poor members of the
profession to journey to accept new engagements whenever they find
themselves stranded in some remote, inhospitable place, or when,
from other circumstances, they find themselves perfectly crippled
as to locomotion for want of money; fourthly, it often finds such
engagements for them by acting as their honest, disinterested
agent; fifthly, it is its principle to act humanely upon the
instant, and never, as is too often the case within my experience,
to beat about the bush till the bush is withered and dead; lastly,
the society is not in the least degree exclusive, but takes under
its comprehensive care the whole range of the theatre and the
concert-room, from the manager in his room of state, or in his
caravan, or at the drum-head--down to the theatrical housekeeper,
who is usually to be found amongst the cobwebs and the flies, or
down to the hall porter, who passes his life in a thorough draught-
-and, to the best of my observation, in perpetually interrupted
endeavours to eat something with a knife and fork out of a basin,
by a dusty fire, in that extraordinary little gritty room, upon
which the sun never shines, and on the portals of which are
inscribed the magic words, "stage-door."

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this society administers its benefits
sometimes by way of loan; sometimes by way of gift; sometimes by
way of assurance at very low premiums; sometimes to members,
oftener to non-members; always expressly, remember, through the
hands of a secretary or committee well acquainted with the wants of
the applicants, and thoroughly versed, if not by hard experience at
least by sympathy, in the calamities and uncertainties incidental
to the general calling. One must know something of the general
calling to know what those afflictions are. A lady who had been
upon the stage from her earliest childhood till she was a blooming
woman, and who came from a long line of provincial actors and
actresses, once said to me when she was happily married; when she
was rich, beloved, courted; when she was mistress of a fine house--
once said to me at the head of her own table, surrounded by
distinguished guests of every degree, "Oh, but I have never
forgotten the hard time when I was on the stage, and when my baby
brother died, and when my poor mother and I brought the little baby
from Ireland to England, and acted three nights in England, as we
had acted three nights in Ireland, with the pretty creature lying
upon the only bed in our lodging before we got the money to pay for
its funeral."

Ladies and gentlemen, such things are, every day, to this hour;
but, happily, at this day and in this hour this association has
arisen to be the timely friend of such great distress.

It is not often the fault of the sufferers that they fall into
these straits. Struggling artists must necessarily change from
place to place, and thus it frequently happens that they become, as
it were, strangers in every place, and very slight circumstances--a
passing illness, the sickness of the husband, wife, or child, a
serious town, an anathematising expounder of the gospel of
gentleness and forbearance--any one of these causes may often in a
few hours wreck them upon a rock in the barren ocean; and then,
happily, this society, with the swift alacrity of the life-boat,
dashes to the rescue, and takes them off. Looking just now over
the last report issued by this society, and confining my scrutiny
to the head of illness alone, I find that in one year, I think, 672
days of sickness had been assuaged by its means. In nine years,
which then formed the term of its existence, as many as 5,500 and
odd. Well, I thought when I saw 5,500 and odd days of sickness,
this is a very serious sum, but add the nights! Add the nights--
those long, dreary hours in the twenty-four when the shadow of
death is darkest, when despondency is strongest, and when hope is
weakest, before you gauge the good that is done by this
institution, and before you gauge the good that really will be done
by every shilling that you bestow here to-night. Add, more than
all, that the improvidence, the recklessness of the general
multitude of poor members of this profession, I should say is a
cruel, conventional fable. Add that there is no class of society
the members of which so well help themselves, or so well help each
other. Not in the whole grand chapters of Westminster Abbey and
York Minster, not in the whole quadrangle of the Royal Exchange,
not in the whole list of members of the Stock Exchange, not in the
Inns of Court, not in the College of Physicians, not in the College
of Surgeons, can there possibly be found more remarkable instances
of uncomplaining poverty, of cheerful, constant self-denial, of the
generous remembrance of the claims of kindred and professional
brotherhood, than will certainly be found in the dingiest and
dirtiest concert room, in the least lucid theatre--even in the
raggedest tent circus that was ever stained by weather.

I have been twitted in print before now with rather flattering
actors when I address them as one of their trustees at their
General Fund dinner. Believe me, I flatter nobody, unless it be
sometimes myself; but, in such a company as the present, I always
feel it my manful duty to bear my testimony to this fact--first,
because it is opposed to a stupid, unfeeling libel; secondly,
because my doing so may afford some slight encouragement to the
persons who are unjustly depreciated; and lastly, and most of all,
because I know it is the truth.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time we should what we
professionally call "ring down" on these remarks. If you, such
members of the general public as are here, will only think the
great theatrical curtain has really fallen and been taken up again
for the night on that dull, dark vault which many of us know so
well; if you will only think of the theatre or other place of
entertainment as empty; if you will only think of the "float," or
other gas-fittings, as extinguished; if you will only think of the
people who have beguiled you of an evening's care, whose little
vanities and almost childish foibles are engendered in their
competing face to face with you for your favour--surely it may be
said their feelings are partly of your making, while their virtues
are all their own. If you will only do this, and follow them out
of that sham place into the real world, where it rains real rain,
snows real snow, and blows real wind; where people sustain
themselves by real money, which is much harder to get, much harder
to make, and very much harder to give away than the pieces of
tobacco-pipe in property bags--if you will only do this, and do it
in a really kind, considerate spirit, this society, then certain of
the result of the night's proceedings, can ask no more. I beg to
propose to you to drink "Prosperity to the Dramatic, Equestrian,
and Musical Sick Fund Association."

[Mr. Dickens, in proposing the next toast, said:-]

Gentlemen: as I addressed myself to the ladies last time, so I
address you this time, and I give you the delightful assurance that
it is positively my last appearance but one on the present
occasion. A certain Mr. Pepys, who was Secretary for the Admiralty
in the days of Charles II., who kept a diary well in shorthand,
which he supposed no one could read, and which consequently remains
to this day the most honest diary known to print--Mr. Pepys had two
special and very strong likings, the ladies and the theatres. But
Mr. Pepys, whenever he committed any slight act of remissness, or
any little peccadillo which was utterly and wholly untheatrical,
used to comfort his conscience by recording a vow that he would
abstain from the theatres for a certain time. In the first part of
Mr. Pepys' character I have no doubt we fully agree with him; in
the second I have no doubt we do not.

I learn this experience of Mr. Pepys from remembrance of a passage
in his diary that I was reading the other night, from which it
appears that he was not only curious in plays, but curious in
sermons; and that one night when he happened to be walking past St.
Dunstan's Church, he turned, went in, and heard what he calls "a
very edifying discourse;" during the delivery of which discourse,
he notes in his diary--"I stood by a pretty young maid, whom I did
attempt to take by the hand." But he adds--"She would not; and I
did perceive that she had pins in her pocket with which to prick me
if I should touch her again--and was glad that I spied her design."
Afterwards, about the close of the same edifying discourse, Mr.
Pepys found himself near another pretty, fair young maid, who would
seem upon the whole to have had no pins, and to have been more

Now, the moral of this story which I wish to suggest to you is,
that we have been this evening in St. James's much more timid than
Mr. Pepys was in St. Dunstan's, and that we have conducted
ourselves very much better. As a slight recompense to us for our
highly meritorious conduct, and as a little relief to our over-
charged hearts, I beg to propose that we devote this bumper to
invoking a blessing on the ladies. It is the privilege of this
society annually to hear a lady speak for her own sex. Who so
competent to do this as Mrs. Stirling? Surely one who has so
gracefully and captivatingly, with such an exquisite mixture of
art, and fancy, and fidelity, represented her own sex in
innumerable charities, under an infinite variety of phases, cannot
fail to represent them well in her own character, especially when
it is, amidst her many triumphs, the most agreeable of all. I beg
to propose to you "The Ladies," and I will couple with that toast
the name of Mrs. Stirling.


[The following speech was made by Mr. Dickens at the Annual
Festival of the Royal General Theatrical Fund, held at the
Freemasons' Tavern, in proposing the health of the Lord Mayor (Sir
Benjamin Phillips), who occupied the chair.]

Gentlemen, in my childish days I remember to have had a vague but
profound admiration for a certain legendary person called the Lord
Mayor's fool. I had the highest opinion of the intellectual
capacity of that suppositious retainer of the Mansion House, and I
really regarded him with feelings approaching to absolute
veneration, because my nurse informed me on every gastronomic
occasion that the Lord Mayor's fool liked everything that was good.
You will agree with me, I have no doubt, that if this
discriminating jester had existed at the present time he could not
fail to have liked his master very much, seeing that so good a Lord
Mayor is very rarely to be found, and that a better Lord Mayor
could not possibly be.

You have already divined, gentlemen, that I am about to propose to
you to drink the health of the right honourable gentleman in the
chair. As one of the Trustees of the General Theatrical Fund, I
beg officially to tender him my best thanks for lending the very
powerful aid of his presence, his influence, and his personal
character to this very deserving Institution. As his private
friends we ventured to urge upon him to do us this gracious act,
and I beg to assure you that the perfect simplicity, modesty,
cordiality, and frankness with which he assented, enhanced the gift
one thousand fold. I think it must also be very agreeable to a
company like this to know that the President of the night is not
ceremoniously pretending, "positively for this night only," to have
an interest in the drama, but that he has an unusual and thorough
acquaintance with it, and that he has a living and discerning
knowledge of the merits of the great old actors. It is very
pleasant to me to remember that the Lord Mayor and I once beguiled
the tedium of a journey by exchanging our experiences upon this
subject. I rather prided myself on being something of an old
stager, but I found the Lord Mayor so thoroughly up in all the
stock pieces, and so knowing and yet so fresh about the merits of
those who are most and best identified with them, that I readily
recognised in him what would be called in fistic language, a very
ugly customer--one, I assure you, by no means to be settled by any
novice not in thorough good theatrical training.

Gentlemen, we have all known from our earliest infancy that when
the giants in Guildhall hear the clock strike one, they come down
to dinner. Similarly, when the City of London shall hear but one
single word in just disparagement of its present Lord Mayor,
whether as its enlightened chief magistrate, or as one of its
merchants, or as one of its true gentlemen, he will then descend
from the high personal place which he holds in the general honour
and esteem. Until then he will remain upon his pedestal, and my
private opinion, between ourselves, is that the giants will come
down long before him.

Gentlemen, in conclusion, I would remark that when the Lord Mayor
made his truly remarkable, and truly manly, and unaffected speech,
I could not but be struck by the odd reversal of the usual
circumstances at the Mansion House, which he presented to our view,
for whereas it is a very common thing for persons to be brought
tremblingly before the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayor presented himself
as being brought tremblingly before us. I hope that the result may
hold still further, for whereas it is a common thing for the Lord
Mayor to say to a repentant criminal who does not seem to have much
harm in him, "let me never see you here again," so I would propose
that we all with one accord say to the Lord Mayor, "Let us by all
means see you here again on the first opportunity." Gentlemen, I
beg to propose to you to drink, with all the honours, "The health
of the right hon. the Lord Mayor."


[The Members of the Metropolitan Rowing Clubs dining together at
the London Tavern, on the above date, Mr. Dickens, as President of
the Nautilus Rowing Club, occupied the chair. The Speech that
follows was made in proposing "Prosperity to the Rowing Clubs of
London." Mr. Dickens said that:-]

He could not avoid the remembrance of what very poor things the
amateur rowing clubs on the Thames were in the early days of his
noviciate; not to mention the difference in the build of the boats.
He could not get on in the beginning without being a pupil under an
anomalous creature called a "fireman waterman," who wore an
eminently tall hat, and a perfectly unaccountable uniform, of which
it might be said that if it was less adapted for one thing than
another, that thing was fire. He recollected that this gentleman
had on some former day won a King's prize wherry, and they used to
go about in this accursed wherry, he and a partner, doing all the
hard work, while the fireman drank all the beer. The river was
very much clearer, freer, and cleaner in those days than these; but
he was persuaded that this philosophical old boatman could no more
have dreamt of seeing the spectacle which had taken place on
Saturday (the procession of the boats of the Metropolitan Amateur
Rowing Clubs), or of seeing these clubs matched for skill and
speed, than he (the Chairman) should dare to announce through the
usual authentic channels that he was to be heard of at the bar
below, and that he was perfectly prepared to accommodate Mr. James
Mace if he meant business. Nevertheless, he could recollect that
he had turned out for a spurt a few years ago on the River Thames
with an occasional Secretary, who should be nameless, and some
other Eton boys, and that he could hold his own against them. More
recently still, the last time that he rowed down from Oxford he was
supposed to cover himself with honour, though he must admit that he
found the "locks" so picturesque as to require much examination for
the discovery of their beauty. But what he wanted to say was this,
that though his "fireman waterman" was one of the greatest humbugs
that ever existed, he yet taught him what an honest, healthy, manly
sport this was. Their waterman would bid them pull away, and
assure them that they were certain of winning in some race. And
here he would remark that aquatic sports never entailed a moment's
cruelty, or a moment's pain, upon any living creature. Rowing men
pursued recreation under circumstances which braced their muscles,
and cleared the cobwebs from their minds. He assured them that he
regarded such clubs as these as a "national blessing." They owed,
it was true, a vast deal to steam power--as was sometimes proved at
matches on the Thames--but, at the same time, they were greatly
indebted to all that tended to keep up a healthy, manly tone. He
understood that there had been a committee selected for the purpose
of arranging a great amateur regatta, which was to take place off
Putney in the course of the season that was just begun. He could
not abstain from availing himself of this occasion to express a
hope that the committee would successfully carry on its labours to
a triumphant result, and that they should see upon the Thames, in
the course of this summer, such a brilliant sight as had never been
seen there before. To secure this there must be some hard work,
skilful combinations, and rather large subscriptions. But although
the aggregate result must be great, it by no means followed that it
need be at all large in its individual details.

[In conclusion, Mr. Dickens made a laughable comparison between the
paying off or purification of the national debt and the
purification of the River Thames.]


[On the above date Mr. Dickens presided at the Ninth Anniversary
Festival of the Railway Benevolent Society, at Willis's Rooms, and
in proposing the toast of the evening, made the following speech.]

Although we have not yet left behind us by the distance of nearly
fifty years the time when one of the first literary authorities of
this country insisted upon the speed of the fastest railway train
that the Legisture might disastrously sanction being limited by Act
of Parliament to ten miles an hour, yet it does somehow happen that
this evening, and every evening, there are railway trains running
pretty smoothly to Ireland and to Scotland at the rate of fifty
miles an hour; much as it was objected in its time to vaccination,
that it must have a tendency to impart to human children something
of the nature of the cow, whereas I believe to this very time
vaccinated children are found to be as easily defined from calves
as they ever were, and certainly they have no cheapening influence
on the price of veal; much as it was objected that chloroform was a
contravention of the will of Providence, because it lessened
providentially-inflicted pain, which would be a reason for your not
rubbing your face if you had the tooth-ache, or not rubbing your
nose if it itched; so it was evidently predicted that the railway
system, even if anything so absurd could be productive of any
result, would infallibly throw half the nation out of employment;
whereas, you observe that the very cause and occasion of our coming
here together to-night is, apart from the various tributary
channels of occupation which it has opened out, that it has called
into existence a specially and directly employed population of
upwards of 200,000 persons.

Now, gentlemen, it is pretty clear and obvious that upwards of
200,000 persons engaged upon the various railways of the United
Kingdom cannot be rich; and although their duties require great
care and great exactness, and although our lives are every day,
humanly speaking, in the hands of many of them, still, for the most
of these places there will be always great competition, because
they are not posts which require skilled workmen to hold. Wages,
as you know very well, cannot be high where competition is great,
and you also know very well that railway directors, in the bargains
they make, and the salaries which they pay, have to deal with the
money of the shareholders, to whom they are accountable. Thus it
necessarily happens that railway officers and servants are not
remunerated on the whole by any means splendidly, and that they
cannot hope in the ordinary course of things to do more than meet
the ordinary wants and hazards of life. But it is to be observed
that the general hazards are in their case, by reason of the
dangerous nature of their avocations, exceptionally great, so very
great, I find, as to be stateable, on the authority of a
parliamentary paper, by the very startling round of figures, that
whereas one railway traveller in 8,000,000 of passengers is killed,
one railway servant in every 2,000 is killed.

Hence, from general, special, as well, no doubt, for the usual
prudential and benevolent considerations, there came to be
established among railway officers and servants, nine years ago,
the Railway Benevolent Association. I may suppose, therefore, as
it was established nine years ago, that this is the ninth occasion
of publishing from this chair the banns between this institution
and the public. Nevertheless, I feel bound individually to do my
duty the same as if it had never been done before, and to ask
whether there is any just cause or impediment why these two
parties--the institution and the public--should not be joined
together in holy charity. As I understand the society, its objects
are five-fold--first, to guarantee annuities which, it is always to
be observed, is paid out of the interest of invested capital, so
that those annuities may be secure and safe--annual pensions,
varying from 10 to 25 pounds, to distressed railway officers and
servants incapacitated by age, sickness, or accident; secondly, to
guarantee small pensions to distressed widows; thirdly, to educate
and maintain orphan children; fourthly, to provide temporary relief
for all those classes till lasting relief can be guaranteed out of
funds sufficiently large for the purpose; lastly, to induce railway
officers and servants to assure their lives in some well-
established office by sub-dividing the payment of the premiums into
small periodical sums, and also by granting a reversionary bonus of
10 pounds per cent. on the amount assured from the funds of the

This is the society we are met to assist--simple, sympathetic,
practical, easy, sensible, unpretending. The number of its members
is large, and rapidly on the increase: they number 12,000; the
amount of invested capital is very nearly 15,000 pounds; it has
done a world of good and a world of work in these first nine years
of its life; and yet I am proud to say that the annual cost of the
maintenance of the institution is no more than 250 pounds. And now
if you do not know all about it in a small compass, either I do not
know all about it myself, or the fault must be in my "packing."

One naturally passes from what the institution is and has done, to
what it wants. Well, it wants to do more good, and it cannot
possibly do more good until it has more money. It cannot safely,
and therefore it cannot honourably, grant more pensions to
deserving applicants until it grows richer, and it cannot grow rich
enough for its laudable purpose by its own unaided self. The thing
is absolutely impossible. The means of these railway officers and
servants are far too limited. Even if they were helped to the
utmost by the great railway companies, their means would still be
too limited; even if they were helped--and I hope they shortly will
be--by some of the great corporations of this country, whom
railways have done so much to enrich. These railway officers and
servants, on their road to a very humble and modest superannuation,
can no more do without the help of the great public, than the great
public, on their road from Torquay to Aberdeen, can do without
them. Therefore, I desire to ask the public whether the servants
of the great railways--who, in fact, are their servants, their
ready, zealous, faithful, hard-working servants--whether they have
not established, whether they do not every day establish, a
reasonable claim to liberal remembrance.

Now, gentlemen, on this point of the case there is a story once
told me by a friend of mine, which seems to my mind to have a
certain application. My friend was an American sea-captain, and,
therefore, it is quite unnecessary to say his story was quite true.
He was captain and part owner of a large American merchant liner.
On a certain voyage out, in exquisite summer weather, he had for
cabin passengers one beautiful young lady, and ten more or less
beautiful young gentlemen. Light winds or dead calms prevailing,
the voyage was slow. They had made half their distance when the
ten young gentlemen were all madly in love with the beautiful young
lady. They had all proposed to her, and bloodshed among the rivals
seemed imminent pending the young lady's decision. On this
extremity the beautiful young lady confided in my friend the
captain, who gave her discreet advice. He said: "If your
affections are disengaged, take that one of the young gentlemen
whom you like the best and settle the question." To this the
beautiful young lady made reply, "I cannot do that because I like
them all equally well." My friend, who was a man of resource, hit
upon this ingenious expedient, said he, "To-morrow morning at mid-
day, when lunch is announced, do you plunge bodily overboard, head
foremost. I will be alongside in a boat to rescue you, and take
the one of the ten who rushes to your rescue, and then you can
afterwards have him." The beautiful young lady highly approved,
and did accordingly. But after she plunged in, nine out of the ten
more or less beautiful young gentlemen plunged in after her; and
the tenth remained and shed tears, looking over the side of the
vessel. They were all picked up, and restored dripping to the
deck. The beautiful young lady upon seeing them said, "What am I
to do? See what a plight they are in. How can I possibly choose,
because every one of them is equally wet?" Then said my friend the
captain, acting upon a sudden inspiration, "Take the dry one." I
am sorry to say that she did so, and they lived happy ever

Now, gentleman, in my application of this story, I exactly reverse
my friend the captain's anecdote, and I entreat the public in
looking about to consider who are fit subjects for their bounty, to
give each his hand with something in it, and not award a dry hand
to the industrious railway servant who is always at his back. And
I would ask any one with a doubt upon this subject to consider what
his experience of the railway servant is from the time of his
departure to his arrival at his destination. I know what mine is.
Here he is, in velveteen or in a policeman's dress, scaling cabs,
storming carriages, finding lost articles by a sort of instinct,
binding up lost umbrellas and walking sticks, wheeling trucks,
counselling old ladies, with a wonderful interest in their affairs-
-mostly very complicated--and sticking labels upon all sorts of
articles. I look around--there he is, in a station-master's
uniform, directing and overseeing, with the head of a general, and
with the courteous manners of a gentleman; and then there is the
handsome figure of the guard, who inspires confidence in timid
passengers. I glide out of the station, and there he is again with
his flags in his hand at his post in the open country, at the level
crossing, at the cutting, at the tunnel mouth, and at every station
on the road until our destination is reached. In regard,
therefore, to the railway servants with whom we do come into
contact, we may surely have some natural sympathy, and it is on
their behalf that I this night appeal to you. I beg now to propose
"Success to the Railway Benevolent Society."


[On presiding at a public Meeting of the Printers' Readers, held at
the Salisbury Hotel, on the above date, Mr. Dickens said:-]

That as the meeting was convened, not to hear him, but to hear a
statement of facts and figures very nearly affecting the personal
interests of the great majority of those present, his preface to
the proceedings need be very brief. Of the details of the question
he knew, of his own knowledge, absolutely nothing; but he had
consented to occupy the chair on that occasion at the request of
the London Association of Correctors of the Press for two reasons--
first, because he thought that openness and publicity in such cases
were a very wholesome example very much needed at this time, and
were highly becoming to a body of men associated with that great
public safeguard--the Press; secondly, because he knew from some
slight practical experience, what the duties of correctors of the
press were, and how their duties were usually discharged; and he
could testify, and did testify, that they were not mechanical, that
they were not mere matters of manipulation and routine; but that
they required from those who performed them much natural
intelligence, much super-added cultivation, readiness of reference,
quickness of resource, an excellent memory, and a clear
understanding. He most gratefully acknowledged that he had never
gone through the sheets of any book that he had written, without
having presented to him by the correctors of the press something
that he had overlooked, some slight inconsistency into which he had
fallen, some little lapse he had made--in short, without having set
down in black and white some unquestionable indication that he had
been closely followed through the work by a patient and trained
mind, and not merely by a skilful eye. And in this declaration he
had not the slightest doubt that the great body of his brother and
sister writers would, as a plain act of justice, readily concur.
For these plain reasons he was there; and being there he begged to
assure them that every one present--that every speaker--would have
a patient hearing, whatever his opinions might be.

[The proceedings concluded with a very cordial and hearty vote of
thanks to Mr. Dickens for taking the chair on the occasion.]

Mr. Dickens briefly returned thanks, and expressed the belief that
their very calm and temperate proceedings would finally result in
the establishment of relations of perfect amity between the
employers and the employed, and consequently conduce to the general
welfare of both.


[On Saturday evening, November 2, 1867, a grand complimentary
farewell dinner was given to Mr. Dickens at the Freemasons' Tavern
on the occasion of his revisiting the United States of America.
Lord Lytton officiated as chairman, and proposed as a toast--"A
Prosperous Voyage, Health, and Long Life to our Illustrious Guest
and Countryman, Charles Dickens". The toast was drunk with all the
honours, and one cheer more. Mr. Dickens then rose, and spoke as

No thanks that I can offer you can express my sense of my reception
by this great assemblage, or can in the least suggest to you how
deep the glowing words of my friend the chairman, and your
acceptance of them, have sunk into my heart. But both combined
have so greatly shaken the composure which I am used to command
before an audience, that I hope you may observe in me some traces
of an eloquence more expressive than the richest words. To say
that I am fervently grateful to you is to say nothing; to say that
I can never forget this beautiful sight, is to say nothing; to say
that it brings upon me a rush of emotion not only in the present,
but in the thought of its remembrance in the future by those who
are dearest to me, is to say nothing; but to feel all this for the
moment, even almost to pain, is very much indeed. Mercutio says of
the wound in his breast, dealt him by the hand of a foe, that--
"'Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis
enough, 'twill serve." {15} I may say of the wound in my breast,
newly dealt to me by the hands of my friends, that it is deeper
than the soundless sea, and wider than the whole Catholic Church.
I may safely add that it has for the moment almost stricken me
dumb. I should be more than human, and I assure you I am very
human indeed, if I could look around upon this brilliant
representative company and not feel greatly thrilled and stirred by
the presence of so many brother artists, not only in literature,
but also in the sister arts, especially painting, among whose
professors living and unhappily dead, are many of my oldest and
best friends. I hope that I may, without presumption, regard this
thronging of my brothers around me as a testimony on their part
that they believe that the cause of art generally has been safe in
my keeping, and that it has never been falsely dealt with by me.
Your resounding cheers just now would have been but so many cruel
reproaches to me if I could not here declare that, from the
earliest days of my career down to this proud night, I have always
tried to be true to my calling. Never unduly to assert it, on the
one hand, and never, on any pretence or consideration, to permit it
to be patronized in my person, has been the steady endeavour of my
life; and I have occasionally been vain enough to hope that I may
leave its social position in England better than I found it.
Similarly, and equally I hope without presumption, I trust that I
may take this general representation of the public here, through so
many orders, pursuits, and degrees, as a token that the public
believe that, with a host of imperfections and shortcomings on my
head, I have as a writer, in my soul and conscience, tried to be as
true to them as they have ever been true to me. And here, in
reference to the inner circle of the arts and the outer circle of
the public, I feel it a duty to-night to offer two remarks. I have
in my duty at odd times heard a great deal about literary sets and
cliques, and coteries and barriers; about keeping this man up, and
keeping that man down; about sworn disciples and sworn unbelievers,
and mutual admiration societies, and I know not what other dragons
in the upward path. I began to tread it when I was very young,
without influence, without money, without companion, introducer, or
adviser, and I am bound to put in evidence in this place that I
never lighted on these dragons yet. So have I heard in my day, at
divers other odd times, much generally to the effect that the
English people have little or no love of art for its own sake, and
that they do not greatly care to acknowledge or do honour to the
artist. My own experience has uniformly been exactly the reverse.
I can say that of my countrymen, though I cannot say that of my

And now passing to the immediate occasion of your doing me this
great honour, the story of my going again to America is very easily
and briefly told. Since I was there before a vast and entirely new
generation has arisen in the United States. Since I was there
before most of the best known of my books have been written and
published; the new generation and the books have come together and
have kept together, until at length numbers of those who have so
widely and constantly read me; naturally desiring a little variety
in the relationship between us, have expressed a strong wish that I
should read myself. This wish, at first conveyed to me through
public channels and business channels, has gradually become
enforced by an immense accumulation of letters from individuals and
associations of individuals, all expressing in the same hearty,
homely, cordial unaffected way, a kind of personal interest in me--
I had almost said a kind of personal affection for me, which I am
sure you would agree with me it would be dull insensibility on my
part not to prize. Little by little this pressure has become so
great that, although, as Charles Lamb says, my household gods
strike a terribly deep root, I have torn them from their places,
and this day week, at this hour, shall be upon the sea. You will
readily conceive that I am inspired besides by a natural desire to
see for myself the astonishing change and progress of a quarter of
a century over there, to grasp the hands of many faithful friends
whom I left there, to see the faces of the multitude of new friends
upon whom I have never looked, and last, not least, to use my best
endeavour to lay down a third cable of intercommunication and
alliance between the old world and the new. Twelve years ago, when
Heaven knows I little thought I should ever be bound upon the
voyage which now lies before me, I wrote in that form of my
writings which obtains by far the most extensive circulation, these
words of the American nation:- "I know full well, whatever little
motes my beamy eyes may have descried in theirs, that they are a
kind, large-hearted, generous, and great people." In that faith I
am going to see them again; in that faith I shall, please God,
return from them in the spring; in that same faith to live and to
die. I told you in the beginning that I could not thank you
enough, and Heaven knows I have most thoroughly kept my word. If I
may quote one other short sentence from myself, let it imply all
that I have left unsaid, and yet most deeply feel. Let it, putting
a girdle round the earth, comprehend both sides of the Atlantic at
once in this moment, and say, as Tiny Tim observes, "God bless us
every one."


[Mr. Dickens gave his last Reading at Boston, on the above date.
On his entrance a surprise awaited him. His reading-stand had been
decorated with flowers and palm-leaves by some of the ladies of the
city. He acknowledged this graceful tribute in the following
words:- "Before allowing Dr. Marigold to tell his story in his own
peculiar way, I kiss the kind, fair hands unknown, which have so
beautifully decorated my table this evening." After the Reading,
Mr. Dickens attempted in vain to retire. Persistent hands demanded
"one word more." Returning to his desk, pale, with a tear in his
eye, that found its way to his voice, he spoke as follows:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--My gracious and generous welcome in America,
which can never be obliterated from my remembrance, began here. My
departure begins here, too; for I assure you that I have never
until this moment really felt that I am going away. In this brief
life of ours, it is sad to do almost anything for the last time,
and I cannot conceal from you, although my face will so soon be
turned towards my native land, and to all that makes it dear, that
it is a sad consideration with me that in a very few moments from
this time, this brilliant hall and all that it contains, will fade
from my view--for ever more. But it is my consolation that the
spirit of the bright faces, the quick perception, the ready
response, the generous and the cheering sounds that have made this
place delightful to me, will remain; and you may rely upon it that
that spirit will abide with me as long as I have sense and
sentiment left.

I do not say this with any limited reference to private friendships
that have for years upon years made Boston a memorable and beloved
spot to me, for such private references have no business in this
public place. I say it purely in remembrance of, and in homage to,
the great public heart before me.

Ladies and gentlemen, I beg most earnestly, most gratefully, and
most affectionately, to bid you, each and all, farewell


[On the above date Mr. Dickens was entertained at a farewell dinner
at Delmonico's Hotel, previous to his return to England. Two
hundred gentlemen sat down to it; Mr. Horace Greeley presiding. In
acknowledgment of the toast of his health, proposed by the
chairman, Mr. Dickens rose and said:-]

Gentlemen,--I cannot do better than take my cue to from your
distinguished president, and refer in my first remarks to his
remarks in connexion with the old, natural, association between you
and me. When I received an invitation from a private association
of working members of the press of New York to dine with them to-
day, I accepted that compliment in grateful remembrance of a
calling that was once my own, and in loyal sympathy towards a
brotherhood which, in the spirit, I have never quieted. To the
wholesome training of severe newspaper work, when I was a very
young man, I constantly refer my first successes; and my sons will
hereafter testify of their father that he was always steadily proud
of that ladder by which he rose. If it were otherwise, I should
have but a very poor opinion of their father, which, perhaps, upon
the whole, I have not. Hence, gentlemen, under any circumstances,
this company would have been exceptionally interesting and
gratifying to me. But whereas I supposed that, like the fairies'
pavilion in the "Arabian Nights," it would be but a mere handful,
and I find it turn out, like the same elastic pavilion, capable of
comprehending a multitude, so much the more proud am I of the
honour of being your guest; for you will readily believe that the
more widely representative of the press in America my entertainers
are, the more I must feel the good-will and the kindly sentiments
towards me of that vast institution.

Gentlemen, so much of my voice has lately been heard in the land,
and I have for upwards of four hard winter months so contended
against what I have been sometimes quite admiringly assured was "a
true American catarrh "--a possession which I have throughout
highly appreciated, though I might have preferred to be naturalised
by any other outward and visible signs--I say, gentlemen, so much
of my voice has lately been heard, that I might have been contented
with troubling you no further from my present standing-point, were
it not a duty with which I henceforth charge myself, not only here
but on every suitable occasion whatsoever and wheresoever, to
express my high and grateful sense of my second reception in
America, and to bear my honest testimony to the national generosity
and magnanimity. Also, to declare how astounded I have been by the
amazing changes that I have seen around me on every side--changes
moral, changes physical, changes in the amount of land subdued and
peopled, changes in the rise of vast new cities, changes in the
growth of older cities almost out of recognition, changes in the
graces and amenities of life, changes in the press, without whose
advancement no advancement can be made anywhere. Nor am I, believe
me, so arrogant as to suppose that in five-and-twenty years there
have been no changes in me, and that I had nothing to learn and no
extreme impressions to correct when I was here first.

And, gentlemen, this brings me to a point on which I have, ever
since I landed here last November, observed a strict silence,
though tempted sometimes to break it, but in reference to which I
will, with your good leave, take you into my confidence now. Even
the press, being human, may be sometimes mistaken or misinformed,
and I rather think that I have in one or two rare instances known
its information to be not perfectly accurate with reference to
myself. Indeed, I have now and again been more surprised by
printed news that I have read of myself than by any printed news
that I have ever read in my present state of existence. Thus, the
vigour and perseverance with which I have for some months past been
collecting materials for and hammering away at a new book on
America have much astonished me, seeing that all that time it has
been perfectly well known to my publishers on both sides of the
Atlantic that I positively declared that no consideration on earth
should induce me to write one. But what I have intended, what I
have resolved upon (and this is the confidence I seek to place in
you) is, on my return to England, in my own person, to bear, for
the behoof of my countrymen, such testimony to the gigantic changes
in this country as I have hinted at to-night. Also, to record that
wherever I have been, in the smallest places equally with the
largest, I have been received with unsurpassable politeness,
delicacy, sweet temper, hospitality, consideration, and with
unsurpassable respect for the privacy daily enforced upon me by the
nature of my avocation here, and the state of my health. This
testimony, so long as I live, and so long as my descendants have
any legal right in my books, I shall cause to be re-published, as
an appendix to every copy of those two books of mine in which I
have referred to America. And this I will do and cause to be done,
not in mere love and thankfulness, but because I regard it as an
act of plain justice and honour.

Gentlemen, the transition from my own feelings towards and interest
in America to those of the mass of my countrymen seems to be a
natural one; but, whether or no, I make it with an express object.
I was asked in this very city, about last Christmas time, whether
an American was not at some disadvantage in England as a foreigner.
The notion of an American being regarded in England as a foreigner
at all, of his ever being thought of or spoken of in that
character, was so uncommonly incongruous and absurd to me, that my
gravity was, for the moment, quite overpowered. As soon as it was
restored, I said that for years and years past I hoped I had had as
many American friends and had received as many American visitors as
almost any Englishman living, and that my unvarying experience,
fortified by theirs, was that it was enough in England to be an
American to be received with the readiest respect and recognition
anywhere. Hereupon, out of half-a-dozen people, suddenly spoke out
two, one an American gentleman, with a cultivated taste for art,
who, finding himself on a certain Sunday outside the walls of a
certain historical English castle, famous for its pictures, was
refused admission there, according to the strict rules of the
establishment on that day, but who, on merely representing that he
was an American gentleman, on his travels, had, not to say the
picture gallery, but the whole castle, placed at his immediate
disposal. The other was a lady, who, being in London, and having a
great desire to see the famous reading-room of the British Museum,
was assured by the English family with whom she stayed that it was
unfortunately impossible, because the place was closed for a week,
and she had only three days there. Upon that lady's going to the
Museum, as she assured me, alone to the gate, self-introduced as an
American lady, the gate flew open, as it were magically. I am
unwillingly bound to add that she certainly was young and
exceedingly pretty. Still, the porter of that institution is of an
obese habit, and, according to the best of my observation of him,
not very impressible.

Now, gentlemen, I refer to these trifles as a collateral assurance
to you that the Englishman who shall humbly strive, as I hope to
do, to be in England as faithful to America as to England herself,
has no previous conceptions to contend against. Points of
difference there have been, points of difference there are, points
of difference there probably always will be between the two great
peoples. But broadcast in England is sown the sentiment that those
two peoples are essentially one, and that it rests with them
jointly to uphold the great Anglo-Saxon race, to which our
president has referred, and all its great achievements before the
world. And if I know anything of my countrymen--and they give me
credit for knowing something--if I know anything of my countrymen,
gentlemen, the English heart is stirred by the fluttering of those
Stars and Stripes, as it is stirred by no other flag that flies
except its own. If I know my countrymen, in any and every relation
towards America, they begin, not as Sir Anthony Absolute
recommended that lovers should begin, with "a little aversion," but
with a great liking and a profound respect; and whatever the little
sensitiveness of the moment, or the little official passion, or the
little official policy now, or then, or here, or there, may be,
take my word for it, that the first enduring, great, popular
consideration in England is a generous construction of justice.

Finally, gentlemen, and I say this subject to your correction, I do
believe that from the great majority of honest minds on both sides,
there cannot be absent the conviction that it would be better for
this globe to be riven by an earthquake, fired by a comet, overrun
by an iceberg, and abandoned to the Arctic fox and bear, than that
it should present the spectacle of these two great nations, each of
which has, in its own way and hour, striven so hard and so
successfully for freedom, ever again being arrayed the one against
the other. Gentlemen, I cannot thank your president enough or you
enough for your kind reception of my health, and of my poor
remarks, but, believe me, I do thank you with the utmost fervour of
which my soul is capable.


[Mr. Dickens's last Reading in the United States was given at the
Steinway Hall on the above date. The task finished he was about to
retire, but a tremendous burst of applause stopped him. He came
forward and spoke thus:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--The shadow of one word has impended over me
this evening, and the time has come at length when the shadow must
fall. It is but a very short one, but the weight of such things is
not measured by their length, and two much shorter words express
the round of our human existence. When I was reading "David
Copperfield" a few evenings since, I felt there was more than usual
significance in the words of Peggotty, "My future life lies over
the sea." And when I closed this book just now, I felt most keenly
that I was shortly to establish such an alibi as would have
satisfied even the elder Mr. Weller. The relations which have been
set up between us, while they have involved for me something more
than mere devotion to a task, have been by you sustained with the
readiest sympathy and the kindest acknowledgment.

Those relations must now be broken for ever. Be assured, however,
that you will not pass from my mind. I shall often realise you as
I see you now, equally by my winter fire and in the green English
summer weather. I shall never recall you as a mere public
audience, but rather as a host of personal friends, and ever with
the greatest gratitude, tenderness, and consideration. Ladies and
gentlemen, I beg to bid you farewell. God bless you, and God bless
the land in which I leave you.


[The following speech was delivered by Mr. Dickens at a Banquet
held in his honour at St. George's Hall, Liverpool, after his
health had been proposed by Lord Dufferin.]

Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, although I have been so well
accustomed of late to the sound of my own voice in this
neighbourhood as to hear it with perfect composure, the occasion
is, believe me, very, very different in respect of those
overwhelming voices of yours. As Professor Wilson once confided to
me in Edinburgh that I had not the least idea, from hearing him in
public, what a magnificent speaker he found himself to be when he
was quite alone--so you can form no conception, from the specimen
before you, of the eloquence with which I shall thank you again and
again in some of the innermost moments of my future life. Often
and often, then, God willing, my memory will recall this brilliant
scene, and will re-illuminate this banquet-hall. I, faithful to
this place in its present aspect, will observe it exactly as it
stands--not one man's seat empty, not one woman's fair face absent,
while life and memory abide by me.

Mr. Mayor, Lord Dufferin in his speech so affecting to me, so
eloquently uttered, and so rapturously received, made a graceful
and gracious allusion to the immediate occasion of my present visit
to your noble city. It is no homage to Liverpool, based upon a
moment's untrustworthy enthusiasm, but it is the solid fact built
upon the rock of experience that when I first made up my mind,
after considerable deliberation, systematically to meet my readers
in large numbers, face to face, and to try to express myself to
them through the breath of life, Liverpool stood foremost among the
great places out of London to which I looked with eager confidence
and pleasure. And why was this? Not merely because of the
reputation of its citizens for generous estimation of the arts; not
merely because I had unworthily filled the chair of its great self-
educational institution long ago; not merely because the place had
been a home to me since the well-remembered day when its blessed
roofs and steeples dipped into the Mersey behind me on the occasion
of my first sailing away to see my generous friends across the
Atlantic twenty-seven years ago. Not for one of those
considerations, but because it had been my happiness to have a
public opportunity of testing the spirit of its people. I had
asked Liverpool for help towards the worthy preservation of
Shakespeare's house. On another occasion I had ventured to address
Liverpool in the names of Leigh Hunt and Sheridan Knowles. On
still another occasion I had addressed it in the cause of the
brotherhood and sisterhood of letters and the kindred arts, and on
each and all the response had been unsurpassably spontaneous, open-
handed, and munificent.

Mr. Mayor, and ladies and gentlemen, if I may venture to take a
small illustration of my present position from my own peculiar
craft, I would say that there is this objection in writing fiction
to giving a story an autobiographical form, that through whatever
dangers the narrator may pass, it is clear unfortunately to the
reader beforehand that he must have come through them somehow else
he could not have lived to tell the tale. Now, in speaking fact,
when the fact is associated with such honours as those with which
you have enriched me, there is this singular difficulty in the way
of returning thanks, that the speaker must infallibly come back to
himself through whatever oratorical disasters he may languish on
the road. Let me, then, take the plainer and simpler middle course
of dividing my subject equally between myself and you. Let me
assure you that whatever you have accepted with pleasure, either by
word of pen or by word of mouth, from me, you have greatly improved
in the acceptance. As the gold is said to be doubly and trebly
refined which has seven times passed the furnace, so a fancy may be
said to become more and more refined each time it passes through
the human heart. You have, and you know you have, brought to the
consideration of me that quality in yourselves without which I
should but have beaten the air. Your earnestness has stimulated
mine, your laughter has made me laugh, and your tears have
overflowed my eyes. All that I can claim for myself in
establishing the relations which exist between us is constant
fidelity to hard work. My literary fellows about me, of whom I am
so proud to see so many, know very well how true it is in all art
that what seems the easiest done is oftentimes the most difficult
to do, and that the smallest truth may come of the greatest pains--
much, as it occurred to me at Manchester the other day, as the
sensitive touch of Mr. Whitworth's measuring machine, comes at
last, of Heaven and Manchester and its mayor only know how much
hammering--my companions-in-arms know thoroughly well, and I think
it only right the public should know too, that in our careful toil
and trouble, and in our steady striving for excellence--not in any
little gifts, misused by fits and starts--lies our highest duty at
once to our calling, to one another, to ourselves, and to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, before sitting down I find that I have to
clear myself of two very unexpected accusations. The first is a
most singular charge preferred against me by my old friend Lord
Houghton, that I have been somewhat unconscious of the merits of
the House of Lords. Now, ladies and gentlemen, seeing that I have
had some few not altogether obscure or unknown personal friends in
that assembly, seeing that I had some little association with, and
knowledge of, a certain obscure peer lately known in England by the
name of Lord Brougham; seeing that I regard with some admiration
and affection another obscure peer wholly unknown in literary
circles, called Lord Lytton; seeing also that I have had for some
years some slight admiration of the extraordinary judicial
properties and amazingly acute mind of a certain Lord Chief Justice
popularly known by the name of Cockburn; and also seeing that there
is no man in England whom I respect more in his public capacity,
whom I love more in his private capacity, or from whom I have
received more remarkable proofs of his honour and love of
literature than another obscure nobleman called Lord Russell;
taking these circumstances into consideration, I was rather amazed
by my noble friend's accusation. When I asked him, on his sitting
down, what amazing devil possessed him to make this charge, he
replied that he had never forgotten the days of Lord Verisopht.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, I understood it all. Because it is a
remarkable fact that in the days when that depreciative and
profoundly unnatural character was invented there was no Lord
Houghton in the House of Lords. And there was in the House of
Commons a rather indifferent member called Richard Monckton Milnes.

Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude, for the present, I close with
the other charge of my noble friend, and here I am more serious,
and I may be allowed perhaps to express my seriousness in half a
dozen plain words. When I first took literature as my profession
in England, I calmly resolved within myself that, whether I
succeeded or whether I failed, literature should be my sole
profession. It appeared to me at that time that it was not so well
understood in England as it was in other countries that literature
was a dignified profession, by which any man might stand or fall.
I made a compact with myself that in my person literature should
stand, and by itself, of itself, and for itself; and there is no
consideration on earth which would induce me to break that bargain.

Ladies and gentlemen, finally allow me to thank you for your great
kindness, and for the touching earnestness with which you have
drunk my health. I should have thanked you with all my heart if it
had not so unfortunately happened that, for many sufficient
reasons, I lost my heart at between half-past six and half-past
seven to-night.


[The International University Boat Race having taken place on
August 27, the London Rowing Club invited the Crews to a Dinner at
the Crystal Palace on the following Monday. The dinner was
followed by a grand display of pyrotechnics. Mr. Dickens, in
proposing the health of the Crews, made the following speech:]

Gentlemen, flushed with fireworks, I can warrant myself to you as
about to imitate those gorgeous illusions by making a brief spirt
and then dying out. And, first of all, as an invited visitor of
the London Rowing Club on this most interesting occasion, I will
beg, in the name of the other invited visitors present--always
excepting the distinguished guests who are the cause of our
meeting--to thank the president for the modesty and the courtesy
with which he has deputed to one of us the most agreeable part of
his evening's duty. It is the more graceful in him to do this
because he can hardly fail to see that he might very easily do it
himself, as this is a case of all others in which it is according
to good taste and the very principles of things that the great
social vice, speech-making, should hide it diminished head before
the great social virtue action. However, there is an ancient story
of a lady who threw her glove into an arena full of wild beasts to
tempt her attendant lover to climb down and reclaim it. The lover,
rightly inferring from the action the worth of the lady, risked his
life for the glove, and then threw it rightly in her face as a
token of his eternal adieu. {16} I take up the President's glove,
on the contrary, as a proof of his much higher worth, and of my
real interest in the cause in which it was thrown down, and I now
profess my readiness to do even injustice to the duty which he has
assigned me.

Gentlemen, a very remarkable and affecting volume was published in
the United States within a short time before my last visit to that
hospitable land, containing ninety-five biographies of young men,
for the most part well-born and well nurtured, and trained in
various peaceful pursuits of life, who, when the flag of their
country waved them from those quiet paths in which they were
seeking distinction of various kinds, took arms in the dread civil
war which elicited so much bravery on both sides, and died in the
defence of their country. These great spirits displayed
extraordinary aptitude in the acquisition, even in the invention,
of military tactics, in the combining and commanding of great
masses of men, in surprising readiness of self-resource for the
general good, in humanely treating the sick and the wounded, and in
winning to themselves a very rare amount of personal confidence and
trust. They had all risen to be distinguished soldiers; they had
all done deeds of great heroism; they had all combined with their
valour and self-devotion a serene cheerfulness, a quiet modesty,
and a truly Christian spirit; and they had all been educated in one
school--Harvard University.

Gentlemen, nothing was more remarkable in these fine descendants of
our forefathers than the invincible determination with which they
fought against odds, and the undauntable spirit with which they
resisted defeat. I ask you, who will say after last Friday that
Harvard University is less true to herself in peace than she was in
war? I ask you, who will not recognise in her boat's crew the
leaven of her soldiers, and who does not feel that she has now a
greater right than ever to be proud of her sons, and take these
sons to her breast when they return with resounding acclamations?
It is related of the Duke of Wellington that he once told a lady
who foolishly protested that she would like to see a great victory
that there was only one thing worse than a great victory, and that
was a great defeat.

But, gentlemen, there is another sense in which to use the term a
great defeat. Such is the defeat of a handful of daring fellows
who make a preliminary dash of three or four thousand stormy miles
to meet great conquerors on their own domain--who do not want the
stimulus of friends and home, but who sufficiently hear and feel
their own dear land in the shouts and cheers of another--and who
strive to the last with a desperate tenacity that makes the beating
of them a new feather in the proudest cap. Gentlemen, you agree
with me that such a defeat is a great, noble part of a manly,
wholesome action; and I say that it is in the essence and life-
blood of such a defeat to become at last sure victory.

Now, gentlemen, you know perfectly well the toast I am going to
propose, and you know equally well that in thus glancing first
towards our friends of the white stripes, I merely anticipate and
respond to the instinctive courtesy of Oxford towards our brothers
from a distance--a courtesy extending, I hope, and I do not doubt,
to any imaginable limits except allowing them to take the first
place in last Friday's match, if they could by any human and
honourable means be kept in the second. I will not avail myself of
the opportunity provided for me by the absence of the greater part
of the Oxford crew--indeed, of all but one, and that, its most
modest and devoted member--I will not avail myself of the golden
opportunity considerately provided for me to say a great deal in
honour of the Oxford crew. I know that the gentleman who attends
here attends under unusual anxieties and difficulties, and that if
he were less in earnest his filial affection could not possibly
allow him to be here.

It is therefore enough for me, gentlemen, and enough for you, that
I should say here, and now, that we all unite with one accord in
regarding the Oxford crew as the pride and flower of England--and
that we should consider it very weak indeed to set anything short
of England's very best in opposition to or competition with
America; though it certainly must be confessed--I am bound in
common justice and honour to admit it--it must be confessed in
disparagement of the Oxford men, as I heard a discontented
gentleman remark--last Friday night, about ten o'clock, when he was
baiting a very small horse in the Strand--he was one of eleven with
pipes in a chaise cart--I say it must be admitted in disparagement
of the Oxford men on the authority of this gentleman, that they
have won so often that they could afford to lose a little now, and
that "they ought to do it, but they won't."

Gentlemen, in drinking to both crews, and in offering the poor
testimony of our thanks in acknowledgment of the gallant spectacle
which they presented to countless thousands last Friday, I am sure
I express not only your feeling, and my feeling, and the feeling of
the Blue, but also the feeling of the whole people of England, when
I cordially give them welcome to our English waters and English
ground, and also bid them "God speed" in their voyage home. As the
greater includes the less, and the sea holds the river, so I think
it is no very bold augury to predict that in the friendly contests
yet to come and to take place, I hope, on both sides of the
Atlantic--there are great river triumphs for Harvard University yet
in store. Gentlemen, I warn the English portion of this audience
that these are very dangerous men. Remember that it was an
undergraduate of Harvard University who served as a common seaman
two years before the mast, {17} and who wrote about the best sea
book in the English tongue. Remember that it was one of those
young American gentlemen who sailed his mite of a yacht across the
Atlantic in mid-winter, and who sailed in her to sink or swim with
the men who believed in him.

And now, gentlemen, in conclusion, animated by your cordial
acquiescence, I will take upon myself to assure our brothers from a
distance that the utmost enthusiasm with which they can be received
on their return home will find a ready echo in every corner of
England--and further, that none of their immediate countrymen--I
use the qualifying term immediate, for we are, as our president
said, fellow countrymen, thank God--that none of their compatriots
who saw, or who will read of, what they did in this great race, can
be more thoroughly imbued with a sense of their indomitable courage
and their high deserts than are their rivals and their hosts to-
night. Gentlemen, I beg to propose to you to drink the crews of
Harvard and Oxford University, and I beg to couple with that toast
the names of Mr. Simmons and Mr. Willan.


[Inaugural Address on the opening of the Winter Session of the
Birmingham and Midland Institute.

One who was present during the delivery of the following speech,
informs the editor that "no note of any kind was referred to by Mr.
Dickens--except the Quotation from Sydney Smith. The address,
evidently carefully prepared, was delivered without a single pause,
in Mr. Dickens's best manner, and was a very great success."]

Ladies and gentlemen,--We often hear of our common country that it
is an over-populated one, that it is an over-pauperized one, that
it is an over-colonizing one, and that it is an over-taxed one.
Now, I entertain, especially of late times, the heretical belief
that it is an over-talked one, and that there is a deal of public
speech-making going about in various directions which might be
advantageously dispensed with. If I were free to act upon this
conviction, as president for the time being of the great
institution so numerously represented here, I should immediately
and at once subside into a golden silence, which would be of a
highly edifying, because of a very exemplary character. But I
happen to be the institution's willing servant, not its imperious
master, and it exacts tribute of mere silver or copper speech--not
to say brazen--from whomsoever it exalts to my high office. Some
African tribes--not to draw the comparison disrespectfully--some
savage African tribes, when they make a king require him perhaps to
achieve an exhausting foot-race under the stimulus of considerable
popular prodding and goading, or perhaps to be severely and
experimentally knocked about the head by his Privy Council, or
perhaps to be dipped in a river full of crocodiles, or perhaps to
drink immense quantities of something nasty out of a calabash--at
all events, to undergo some purifying ordeal in presence of his
admiring subjects.

I must confess that I became rather alarmed when I was duly warned
by your constituted authorities that whatever I might happen to say
here to-night would be termed an inaugural address on the entrance
upon a new term of study by the members of your various classes;
for, besides that, the phrase is something high-sounding for my
taste, I avow that I do look forward to that blessed time when
every man shall inaugurate his own work for himself, and do it. I
believe that we shall then have inaugurated a new era indeed, and
one in which the Lord's Prayer will become a fulfilled prophecy
upon this earth. Remembering, however, that you may call anything
by any name without in the least changing its nature--bethinking
myself that you may, if you be so minded, call a butterfly a
buffalo, without advancing a hair's breadth towards making it one--
I became composed in my mind, and resolved to stick to the very
homely intention I had previously formed. This was merely to tell
you, the members, students, and friends of the Birmingham and
Midland Institute--firstly, what you cannot possibly want to know,
(this is a very popular oratorical theme); secondly, what your
institution has done; and, thirdly, what, in the poor opinion of
its President for the time being, remains for it to do and not to

Now, first, as to what you cannot possibly want to know. You
cannot need from me any oratorical declamation concerning the
abstract advantages of knowledge or the beauties of self-
improvement. If you had any such requirement you would not be
here. I conceive that you are here because you have become
thoroughly penetrated with such principles, either in your own
persons or in the persons of some striving fellow-creatures, on
whom you have looked with interest and sympathy. I conceive that
you are here because you feel the welfare of the great chiefly
adult educational establishment, whose doors stand really open to
all sorts and conditions of people, to be inseparable from the best
welfare of your great town and its neighbourhood. Nay, if I take a
much wider range than that, and say that we all--every one of us
here--perfectly well know that the benefits of such an
establishment must extend far beyond the limits of this midland
county--its fires and smoke,--and must comprehend, in some sort,
the whole community, I do not strain the truth. It was suggested
by Mr. Babbage, in his ninth "Bridgewater Treatise," that a mere
spoken word--a single articulated syllable thrown into the air--may
go on reverberating through illimitable space for ever and for
ever, seeing that there is no rim against which it can strike--no
boundary at which it can possibly arrive. Similarly it may be
said--not as an ingenious speculation, but as a stedfast and
absolute fact--that human calculation cannot limit the influence of
one atom of wholesome knowledge patiently acquired, modestly
possessed, and faithfully used.

As the astronomers tell us that it is probable that there are in
the universe innumerable solar systems besides ours, to each of
which myriads of utterly unknown and unseen stars belong, so it is
certain that every man, however obscure, however far removed from
the general recognition, is one of a group of men impressible for
good, and impressible for evil, and that it is in the eternal
nature of things that he cannot really improve himself without in
some degree improving other men. And observe, this is especially
the case when he has improved himself in the teeth of adverse
circumstances, as in a maturity succeeding to a neglected or an
ill-taught youth, in the few daily hours remaining to him after ten
or twelve hours' labour, in the few pauses and intervals of a life
of toil; for then his fellows and companions have assurance that he
can have known no favouring conditions, and that they can do what
he has done, in wresting some enlightenment and self-respect from
what Lord Lytton finely calls -

"Those twin gaolers of the daring heart,
Low birth and iron fortune."

As you have proved these truths in your own experience or in your
own observation, and as it may be safely assumed that there can be
very few persons in Birmingham, of all places under heaven, who
would contest the position that the more cultivated the employed
the better for the employer, and the more cultivated the employer
the better for the employed; therefore, my references to what you
do not want to know shall here cease and determine.

Next, with reference to what your institution has done on my
summary, which shall be as concise and as correct as my information
and my remembrance of it may render possible, I desire to lay
emphatic stress. Your institution, sixteen years old, and in which
masters and workmen study together, has outgrown the ample edifice
in which it receives its 2,500 or 2,600 members and students. It
is a most cheering sign of its vigorous vitality that of its
industrial-students almost half are artisans in the receipt of
weekly wages. I think I am correct in saying that 400 others are
clerks, apprentices, tradesmen, or tradesmen's sons. I note with
particular pleasure the adherence of a goodly number of the gentler
sex, without whom no institution whatever can truly claim to be
either a civilising or a civilised one. The increased attendance
at your educational classes is always greatest on the part of the
artisans--the class within my experience the least reached in any
similar institutions elsewhere, and whose name is the oftenest and
the most constantly taken in vain. But it is specially reached
here, not improbably because it is, as it should be, specially
addressed in the foundation of the industrial department, in the
allotment of the direction of the society's affairs, and in the
establishment of what are called its penny classes--a bold, and, I
am happy to say, a triumphantly successful experiment, which
enables the artisan to obtain sound evening instruction in subjects
directly bearing upon his daily usefulness or on his daily
happiness, as arithmetic (elementary and advanced), chemistry,
physical geography, and singing, on payment of the astoundingly low
fee of a single penny every time he attends the class. I beg
emphatically to say that I look upon this as one of the most
remarkable schemes ever devised for the educational behoof of the
artisan, and if your institution had done nothing else in all its
life, I would take my stand by it on its having done this.

Apart, however, from its industrial department, it has its general
department, offering all the advantages of a first-class literary
institution. It has its reading-rooms, its library, its chemical
laboratory, its museum, its art department, its lecture hall, and
its long list of lectures on subjects of various and comprehensive
interest, delivered by lecturers of the highest qualifications.
Very well. But it may be asked, what are the practical results of
all these appliances? Now, let us suppose a few. Suppose that
your institution should have educated those who are now its
teachers. That would be a very remarkable fact. Supposing,
besides, it should, so to speak, have educated education all around
it, by sending forth numerous and efficient teachers into many and
divers schools. Suppose the young student, reared exclusively in
its laboratory, should be presently snapped up for the laboratory
of the great and famous hospitals. Suppose that in nine years its
industrial students should have carried off a round dozen of the
much competed for prizes awarded by the Society of Arts and the
Government department, besides two local prizes originating in the
generosity of a Birmingham man. Suppose that the Town Council,
having it in trust to find an artisan well fit to receive the
Whitworth prizes, should find him here. Suppose that one of the
industrial students should turn his chemical studies to the
practical account of extracting gold from waste colour water, and
of taking it into custody, in the very act of running away with
hundreds of pounds down the town drains. Suppose another should
perceive in his books, in his studious evenings, what was amiss
with his master's until then inscrutably defective furnace, and
should go straight--to the great annual saving of that master--and
put it right. Supposing another should puzzle out the means, until
then quite unknown in England, of making a certain description of
coloured glass. Supposing another should qualify himself to
vanquish one by one, as they daily arise, all the little
difficulties incidental to his calling as an electro-plater, and
should be applied to by his companions in the shop in all
emergencies under the name of the "Encyclopaedia." Suppose a long
procession of such cases, and then consider that these are not
suppositions at all, but are plain, unvarnished facts, culminating
in the one special and significant fact that, with a single
solitary exception, every one of the institution's industrial
students who have taken its prizes within ten years, have since
climbed to higher situations in their way of life.

As to the extent to which the institution encourages the artisan to
think, and so, for instance, to rise superior to the little
shackling prejudices and observances perchance existing in his
trade when they will not bear the test of inquiry, that is only to
be equalled by the extent to which it encourages him to feel.
There is a certain tone of modest manliness pervading all the
little facts which I have looked through which I found remarkably
impressive. The decided objection on the part of industrial
students to attend classes in their working clothes, breathes this
tone, as being a graceful and at the same time perfectly
independent recognition of the place and of one another. And this
tone is admirably illustrated in a different way, in the case of a
poor bricklayer, who, being in temporary reverses through the
illness of his family, and having consequently been obliged to part
with his best clothes, and being therefore missed from his classes,
in which he had been noticed as a very hard worker, was persuaded
to attend them in his working clothes. He replied, "No, it was not
possible. It must not be thought of. It must not come into
question for a moment. It would be supposed, or it might be
thought, that he did it to attract attention." And the same man
being offered by one of the officers a loan of money to enable him
to rehabilitate his appearance, positively declined it, on the
ground that he came to the institution to learn and to know better
how to help himself, not otherwise to ask help, or to receive help
from any man. Now, I am justified in calling this the tone of the
institution, because it is no isolated instance, but is a fair and
honourable sample of the spirit of the place, and as such I put it
at the conclusion--though last certainly not least--of my
references to what your institution has indubitably done.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I come at length to what, in the humble
opinion of the evanescent officer before you, remains for the
institution to do, and not to do. As Mr. Carlyle has it towards
the closing pages of his grand history of the French Revolution,
"This we are now with due brevity to glance at; and then courage,
oh listener, I see land!" {18} I earnestly hope--and I firmly
believe--that your institution will do henceforth as it has done
hitherto; it can hardly do better. I hope and believe that it will
know among its members no distinction of persons, creed, or party,
but that it will conserve its place of assemblage as a high, pure
ground, on which all such considerations shall merge into the one
universal, heaven-sent aspiration of the human soul to be wiser and
better. I hope and believe that it will always be expansive and
elastic; for ever seeking to devise new means of enlarging the
circle of its members, of attracting to itself the confidence of
still greater and greater numbers, and never evincing any more
disposition to stand still than time does, or life does, or the
seasons do. And above all things, I hope, and I feel confident
from its antecedents, that it will never allow any consideration on
the face of the earth to induce it to patronise or to be
patronised, for I verily believe that the bestowal and receipt of
patronage in such wise has been a curse in England, and that it has
done more to prevent really good objects, and to lower really high
character, than the utmost efforts of the narrowest antagonism
could have effected in twice the time.

I have no fear that the walls of the Birmingham and Midland
Institute will ever tremble responsive to the croakings of the
timid opponents of intellectual progress; but in this connexion
generally I cannot forbear from offering a remark which is much
upon my mind. It is commonly assumed--much too commonly--that this
age is a material age, and that a material age is an irreligious
age. I have been pained lately to see this assumption repeated in
certain influential quarters for which I have a high respect, and
desire to have a higher. I am afraid that by dint of constantly
being reiterated, and reiterated without protest, this assumption--
which I take leave altogether to deny--may be accepted by the more
unthinking part of the public as unquestionably true; just as
caricaturists and painters, professedly making a portrait of some
public man, which was not in the least like him to begin with, have
gone on repeating and repeating it until the public came to believe
that it must be exactly like him, simply because it was like
itself, and really have at last, in the fulness of time, grown
almost disposed to resent upon him their tardy discovery--really to
resent upon him their late discovery--that he was not like it. I
confess, standing here in this responsible situation, that I do not
understand this much-used and much-abused phrase--the "material
age." I cannot comprehend--if anybody can I very much doubt--its
logical signification. For instance, has electricity become more
material in the mind of any sane or moderately insane man, woman,
or child, because of the discovery that in the good providence of
God it could be made available for the service and use of man to an
immeasurably greater extent than for his destruction? Do I make a
more material journey to the bed-side of my dying parent or my
dying child when I travel there at the rate of sixty miles an hour,
than when I travel thither at the rate of six? Rather, in the
swiftest case, does not my agonised heart become over-fraught with
gratitude to that Supreme Beneficence from whom alone could have
proceeded the wonderful means of shortening my suspense? What is
the materiality of the cable or the wire compared with the
materiality of the spark? What is the materiality of certain
chemical substances that we can weigh or measure, imprison or
release, compared with the materiality of their appointed
affinities and repulsions presented to them from the instant of
their creation to the day of judgment? When did this so-called
material age begin? With the use of clothing; with the discovery
of the compass; with the invention of the art of printing? Surely,
it has been a long time about; and which is the more material
object, the farthing tallow candle that will not give me light, or
that flame of gas which will?

No, ladies and gentlemen, do not let us be discouraged or deceived
by any fine, vapid, empty words. The true material age is the
stupid Chinese age, in which no new or grand revelations of nature
are granted, because they are ignorantly and insolently repelled,
instead of being diligently and humbly sought. The difference
between the ancient fiction of the mad braggart defying the
lightning and the modern historical picture of Franklin drawing it
towards his kite, in order that he might the more profoundly study
that which was set before him to be studied (or it would not have
been there), happily expresses to my mind the distinction between
the much-maligned material sages--material in one sense, I suppose,
but in another very immaterial sages--of the Celestial Empire
school. Consider whether it is likely or unlikely, natural or
unnatural, reasonable or unreasonable, that I, a being capable of
thought, and finding myself surrounded by such discovered wonders
on every hand, should sometimes ask myself the question--should put
to myself the solemn consideration--can these things be among those
things which might have been disclosed by divine lips nigh upon two
thousand years ago, but that the people of that time could not bear
them? And whether this be so or no, if I am so surrounded on every
hand, is not my moral responsibility tremendously increased
thereby, and with it my intelligence and submission as a child of
Adam and of the dust, before that Shining Source which equally of
all that is granted and all that is withheld holds in His mighty
hands the unapproachable mysteries of life and death.

To the students of your industrial classes generally I have had it
in my mind, first, to commend the short motto, in two words,
"Courage--Persevere." This is the motto of a friend and worker.
Not because the eyes of Europe are upon them, for I don't in the
least believe it; nor because the eyes of even England are upon
them, for I don't in the least believe it; not because their doings
will be proclaimed with blast of trumpet at street corners, for no
such musical performances will take place; not because self-
improvement is at all certain to lead to worldly success, but
simply because it is good and right of itself, and because, being
so, it does assuredly bring with it its own resources and its own
rewards. I would further commend to them a very wise and witty
piece of advice on the conduct of the understanding which was given
more than half a century ago by the Rev. Sydney Smith--wisest and
wittiest of the friends I have lost. He says--and he is speaking,
you will please understand, as I speak, to a school of volunteer
students--he says: "There is a piece of foppery which is to be
cautiously guarded against, the foppery of universality, of knowing
all sciences and excelling in all arts--chymistry, mathematics,
algebra, dancing, history, reasoning, riding, fencing, Low Dutch,
High Dutch, and natural philosophy. In short, the modern precept
of education very often is, 'Take the Admirable Crichton for your
model, I would have you ignorant of nothing.' Now," says he, "my
advice, on the contrary, is to have the courage to be ignorant of a
great number of things, in order that you may avoid the calamity of
being ignorant of everything."

To this I would superadd a little truth, which holds equally good
of my own life and the life of every eminent man I have ever known.
The one serviceable, safe, certain, remunerative, attainable
quality in every study and in every pursuit is the quality of
attention. My own invention or imagination, such as it is, I can
most truthfully assure you, would never have served me as it has,
but for the habit of commonplace, humble, patient, daily, toiling,
drudging attention. Genius, vivacity, quickness of penetration,
brilliancy in association of ideas--such mental qualities, like the
qualities of the apparition of the externally armed head in
Macbeth, will not be commanded; but attention, after due term of
submissive service, always will. Like certain plants which the
poorest peasant may grow in the poorest soil, it can be cultivated
by any one, and it is certain in its own good season to bring forth
flowers and fruit. I can most truthfully assure you by-the-by,
that this eulogium on attention is so far quite disinterested on my
part as that it has not the least reference whatever to the
attention with which you have honoured me.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have done. I cannot but reflect how
often you have probably heard within these walls one of the
foremost men, and certainly one of the very best speakers, if not
the very best, in England. I could not say to myself, when I began
just now, in Shakespeare's line -

"I will be BRIGHT and shining gold,"

but I could say to myself, and I did say to myself, "I will be as
natural and easy as I possibly can," because my heart has all been
in my subject, and I bear an old love towards Birmingham and
Birmingham men. I have said that I bear an old love towards
Birmingham and Birmingham men; let me amend a small omission, and
add "and Birmingham women." This ring I wear on my finger now is
an old Birmingham gift, and if by rubbing it I could raise the
spirit that was obedient to Aladdin's ring, I heartily assure you
that my first instruction to that genius on the spot should be to
place himself at Birmingham's disposal in the best of causes.

[In acknowledging the vote of thanks, Mr. Dickens said:-]

Ladies and gentlemen, as I hope it is more than possible that I
shall have the pleasure of meeting you again before Christmas is
out, and shall have the great interest of seeing the faces and
touching the bands of the successful competitors in your lists, I
will not cast upon that anticipated meeting the terrible
foreshadowing of dread which must inevitably result from a second
speech. I thank you most heartily, and I most sincerely and
fervently say to you, "Good night, and God bless you." In
reference to the appropriate and excellent remarks of Mr. Dixon, I
will now discharge my conscience of my political creed, which is
contained in two articles, and has no reference to any party or
persons. My faith in the people governing is, on the whole,
infinitesimal; my faith in the People governed is, on the whole,


[On the evening of the above date, Mr. Dickens, as President of the
Birmingham and Midland Institute, distributed the prizes and
certificates awarded to the most successful students in the first
year. The proceedings took place in the Town Hall: Mr. Dickens
entered at eight o'clock, accompanied by the officers of the
Institute, and was received with loud applause. After the lapse of
a minute or two, he rose and said:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--When I last had the honour to preside over a
meeting of the Institution which again brings us together, I took
occasion to remark upon a certain superabundance of public speaking
which seems to me to distinguish the present time. It will require
very little self-denial on my part to practise now what I preached
then; firstly, because I said my little say that night; and
secondly, because we have definite and highly interesting action
before us to-night. We have now to bestow the rewards which have
been brilliantly won by the most successful competitors in the
society's lists. I say the most successful, because to-night we
should particularly observe, I think, that there is success in all
honest endeavour, and that there is some victory gained in every
gallant struggle that is made. To strive at all involves a victory
achieved over sloth, inertness, and indifference; and competition
for these prizes involves, besides, in the vast majority of cases,
competition with and mastery asserted over circumstances adverse to
the effort made. Therefore, every losing competitor among my
hearers may be certain that he has still won much--very much--and
that he can well afford to swell the triumph of his rivals who have
passed him in the race.

I have applied the word "rewards" to these prizes, and I do so, not
because they represent any great intrinsic worth in silver or gold,
but precisely because they do not. They represent what is above
all price--what can be stated in no arithmetical figures, and what
is one of the great needs of the human soul--encouraging sympathy.
They are an assurance to every student present or to come in your
institution, that he does not work either neglected or unfriended,
and that he is watched, felt for, stimulated, and appreciated.
Such an assurance, conveyed in the presence of this large assembly,
and striking to the breasts of the recipients that thrill which is
inseparable from any great united utterance of feeling, is a
reward, to my thinking, as purely worthy of the labour as the
labour itself is worthy of the reward; and by a sensitive spirit
can never be forgotten.

[One of the prize-takers was a Miss Winkle, a name suggestive of
"Pickwick," which was received with laugher. Mr. Dickens made some
remarks to the lady in an undertone; and then observed to the
audience, "I have recommended Miss Winkle to change her name." The
prizes having been distributed, Mr. Dickens made a second brief
speech. He said:-]

The prizes are now all distributed, and I have discharged myself of
the delightful task you have entrusted to me; and if the recipients
of these prizes and certificates who have come upon this platform
have had the genuine pleasure in receiving their acknowledgments
from my hands that I have had in placing them in theirs, they are
in a true Christian temper to-night. I have the painful sense upon
me, that it is reserved for some one else to enjoy this great
satisfaction of mind next time. It would be useless for the few
short moments longer to disguise the fact that I happen to have
drawn King this Twelfth Night, but that another Sovereign will very
soon sit upon my inconstant throne. To-night I abdicate, or, what
is much the same thing in the modern annals of Royalty--I am
politely dethroned. This melancholy reflection, ladies and
gentlemen, brings me to a very small point, personal to myself,
upon which I will beg your permission to say a closing word.

When I was here last autumn I made, in reference to some remarks of
your respected member, Mr. Dixon, a short confession of my
political faith--or perhaps I should better say want of faith. It
imported that I have very little confidence in the people who
govern us--please to observe "people" there will be with a small
"p,"--but that I have great confidence in the People whom they
govern; please to observe "people" there with a large "P." This
was shortly and elliptically stated, and was with no evil
intention, I am absolutely sure, in some quarters inversely
explained. Perhaps as the inventor of a certain extravagant
fiction, but one which I do see rather frequently quoted as if
there were grains of truth at the bottom of it--a fiction called
the "Circumlocution Office,"--and perhaps also as the writer of an
idle book or two, whose public opinions are not obscurely stated--
perhaps in these respects I do not sufficiently bear in mind
Hamlet's caution to speak by the card lest equivocation should undo

Now I complain of nobody; but simply in order that there may be no
mistake as to what I did mean, and as to what I do mean, I will re-
state my meaning, and I will do so in the words of a great thinker,
a great writer, and a great scholar, {19} whose death,
unfortunately for mankind, cut short his "History of Civilization
in England:"--"They may talk as they will about reforms which
Government has introduced and improvements to be expected from
legislation, but whoever will take a wider and more commanding view
of human affairs, will soon discover that such hopes are
chimerical. They will learn that lawgivers are nearly always the
obstructors of society instead of its helpers, and that in the
extremely few cases where their measures have turned out well their
success has been owing to the fact that, contrary to their usual
custom, they have implicitly obeyed the spirit of their time, and
have been--as they always should be--the mere servants of the
people, to whose wishes they are bound to give a public and legal

SPEECH: LONDON, APRIL 6, 1846. {20}

[The first anniversary festival of the General Theatrical Fund
Association was held on the evening of the above date at the London
Tavern. The chair was taken by Mr. Dickens, who thus proposed the
principal toast:]

Gentlemen,--In offering to you a toast which has not as yet been
publicly drunk in any company, it becomes incumbent on me to offer
a few words in explanation: in the first place, premising that the
toast will be "The General Theatrical Fund."

The Association, whose anniversary we celebrate to-night, was
founded seven years ago, for the purpose of granting permanent
pensions to such of the corps dramatique as had retired from the
stage, either from a decline in their years or a decay of their
powers. Collected within the scope of its benevolence are all
actors and actresses, singers, or dancers, of five years' standing
in the profession. To relieve their necessities and to protect
them from want is the great end of the Society, and it is good to
know that for seven years the members of it have steadily,
patiently, quietly, and perseveringly pursued this end, advancing
by regular contribution, moneys which many of them could ill
afford, and cheered by no external help or assistance of any kind
whatsoever. It has thus served a regular apprenticeship, but I
trust that we shall establish to-night that its time is out, and
that henceforth the Fund will enter upon a flourishing and
brilliant career.

I have no doubt that you are all aware that there are, and were
when this institution was founded, two other institutions existing
of a similar nature--Covent Garden and Drury Lane--both of long

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