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Speeches: Literary and Social by Charles Dickens

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standing, both richly endowed. It cannot, however, be too
distinctly understood, that the present Institution is not in any
way adverse to those. How can it be when it is only a wide and
broad extension of all that is most excellent in the principles on
which they are founded? That such an extension was absolutely
necessary was sufficiently proved by the fact that the great body
of the dramatic corps were excluded from the benefits conferred by
a membership of either of these institutions; for it was essential,
in order to become a member of the Drury Lane Society, that the
applicant, either he or she, should have been engaged for three
consecutive seasons as a performer. This was afterwards reduced,
in the case of Covent Garden, to a period of two years, but it
really is as exclusive one way as the other, for I need not tell
you that Covent Garden is now but a vision of the past. You might
play the bottle conjuror with its dramatic company and put them all
into a pint bottle. The human voice is rarely heard within its
walls save in connexion with corn, or the ambidextrous
prestidigitation of the Wizard of the North. In like manner, Drury
Lane is conducted now with almost a sole view to the opera and
ballet, insomuch that the statue of Shakespeare over the door
serves as emphatically to point out his grave as his bust did in
the church of Stratford-upon-Avon. How can the profession
generally hope to qualify for the Drury Lane or Covent Garden
institution, when the oldest and most distinguished members have
been driven from the boards on which they have earned their
reputations, to delight the town in theatres to which the General
Theatrical Fund alone extended?

I will again repeat that I attach no reproach to those other Funds,
with which I have had the honour of being connected at different
periods of my life. At the time those Associations were
established, an engagement at one of those theatres was almost a
matter of course, and a successful engagement would last a whole
life; but an engagement of two months' duration at Covent Garden
would be a perfect Old Parr of an engagement just now. It should
never be forgotten that when those two funds were established, the
two great theatres were protected by patent, and that at that time
the minor theatres were condemned by law to the representation of
the most preposterous nonsense, and some gentlemen whom I see
around me could no more belong to the minor theatres of that day
than they could now belong to St. Bartholomew fair.

As I honour the two old funds for the great good which they have
done, so I honour this for the much greater good it is resolved to
do. It is not because I love them less, but because I love this
more--because it includes more in its operation.

Let us ever remember that there is no class of actors who stand so
much in need of a retiring fund as those who do not win the great
prizes, but who are nevertheless an essential part of the
theatrical system, and by consequence bear a part in contributing
to our pleasures. We owe them a debt which we ought to pay. The
beds of such men are not of roses, but of very artificial flowers
indeed. Their lives are lives of care and privation, and hard
struggles with very stern realities. It is from among the poor
actors who drink wine from goblets, in colour marvellously like
toast and water, and who preside at Barmecide beasts with wonderful
appetites for steaks,--it is from their ranks that the most
triumphant favourites have sprung. And surely, besides this, the
greater the instruction and delight we derive from the rich English
drama, the more we are bound to succour and protect the humblest of
those votaries of the art who add to our instruction and amusement.

Hazlitt has well said that "There is no class of society whom so
many persons regard with affection as actors. We greet them on the
stage, we like to meet them in the streets; they almost always
recal to us pleasant associations." {21} When they have strutted
and fretted their hour upon the stage, let them not be heard no
more--but let them be heard sometimes to say that they are happy in
their old age. When they have passed for the last time from behind
that glittering row of lights with which we are all familiar, let
them not pass away into gloom and darkness,--but let them pass into
cheerfulness and light--into a contented and happy home.

This is the object for which we have met; and I am too familiar
with the English character not to know that it will be effected.
When we come suddenly in a crowded street upon the careworn
features of a familiar face--crossing us like the ghost of pleasant
hours long forgotten--let us not recal those features with pain, in
sad remembrance of what they once were, but let us in joy recognise
it, and go back a pace or two to meet it once again, as that of a
friend who has beguiled us of a moment of care, who has taught us
to sympathize with virtuous grief, cheating us to tears for sorrows
not our own--and we all know how pleasant are such tears. Let such
a face be ever remembered as that of our benefactor and our friend.

I tried to recollect, in coming here, whether I had ever been in
any theatre in my life from which I had not brought away some
pleasant association, however poor the theatre, and I protest, out
of my varied experience, I could not remember even one from which I
had not brought some favourable impression, and that, commencing
with the period when I believed the clown was a being born into the
world with infinite pockets, and ending with that in which I saw
the other night, outside one of the "Royal Saloons," a playbill
which showed me ships completely rigged, carrying men, and
careering over boundless and tempestuous oceans. And now,
bespeaking your kindest remembrance of our theatres and actors, I
beg to propose that you drink as heartily and freely as ever a
toast was drunk in this toast-drinking city "Prosperity to the
General Theatrical Fund."


[On the above evening a Soiree of the Leeds Mechanics' Institution
took place, at which about 1200 persons were present. The chair
was taken by Mr. Dickens, who thus addressed the meeting:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--Believe me, speaking to you with a most
disastrous cold, which makes my own voice sound very strangely in
my ears--that if I were not gratified and honoured beyond
expression by your cordial welcome, I should have considered the
invitation to occupy my present position in this brilliant
assemblage in itself a distinction not easy to be surpassed. The
cause in which we are assembled and the objects we are met to
promote, I take, and always have taken to be, THE cause and THE
objects involving almost all others that are essential to the
welfare and happiness of mankind. And in a celebration like the
present, commemorating the birth and progress of a great
educational establishment, I recognise a something, not limited to
the spectacle of the moment, beautiful and radiant though it be--
not limited even to the success of the particular establishment in
which we are more immediately interested--but extending from this
place and through swarms of toiling men elsewhere, cheering and
stimulating them in the onward, upward path that lies before us
all. Wherever hammers beat, or wherever factory chimneys smoke,
wherever hands are busy, or the clanking of machinery resounds--
wherever, in a word, there are masses of industrious human beings
whom their wise Creator did not see fit to constitute all body, but
into each and every one of whom He breathed a mind--there, I would
fain believe, some touch of sympathy and encouragement is felt from
our collective pulse now beating in this Hall.

Ladies and gentlemen, glancing with such feelings at the report of
your Institution for the present year sent to me by your respected
President--whom I cannot help feeling it, by-the-bye, a kind of
crime to depose, even thus peacefully, and for so short a time--I
say, glancing over this report, I found one statement of fact in
the very opening which gave me an uncommon satisfaction. It is,
that a great number of the members and subscribers are among that
class of persons for whose advantage Mechanics' Institutions were
originated, namely, persons receiving weekly wages. This
circumstance gives me the greatest delight. I am sure that no
better testimony could be borne to the merits and usefulness of
this Institution, and that no better guarantee could be given for
its continued prosperity and advancement.

To such Associations as this, in their darker hours, there may yet
reappear now and then the spectral shadow of a certain dead and
buried opposition; but before the light of a steady trust in them
on the part of the general people, bearing testimony to the
virtuous influences of such Institutions by their own intelligence
and conduct, the ghost will melt away like early vapour from the
ground. Fear of such Institutions as these! We have heard people
sometimes speak with jealousy of them,--with distrust of them!
Imagine here, on either hand, two great towns like Leeds, full of
busy men, all of them feeling necessarily, and some of them
heavily, the burdens and inequalities inseparable from civilized
society. In this town there is ignorance, dense and dark; in that
town, education--the best of education; that which the grown man
from day to day and year to year furnishes for himself and
maintains for himself, and in right of which his education goes on
all his life, instead of leaving off, complacently, just when he
begins to live in the social system. Now, which of these two towns
has a good man, or a good cause, reason to distrust and dread?
"The educated one," does some timid politician, with a marvellously
weak sight, say (as I have heard such politicians say), "because
knowledge is power, and because it won't do to have too much power
abroad." Why, ladies and gentlemen, reflect whether ignorance be
not power, and a very dreadful power. Look where we will, do we
not find it powerful for every kind of wrong and evil? Powerful to
take its enemies to its heart, and strike its best friends down--
powerful to fill the prisons, the hospitals, and the graves--
powerful for blind violence, prejudice, and error, in all their
gloomy and destructive shapes. Whereas the power of knowledge, if
I understand it, is, to bear and forbear; to learn the path of duty
and to tread it; to engender that self-respect which does not stop
at self, but cherishes the best respect for the best objects--to
turn an always enlarging acquaintance with the joys and sorrows,
capabilities and imperfections of our race to daily account in
mildness of life and gentleness of construction and humble efforts
for the improvement, stone by stone, of the whole social fabric.

I never heard but one tangible position taken against educational
establishments for the people, and that was, that in this or that
instance, or in these or those instances, education for the people
has failed. And I have never traced even this to its source but I
have found that the term education, so employed, meant anything but
education--implied the mere imperfect application of old, ignorant,
preposterous spelling-book lessons to the meanest purposes--as if
you should teach a child that there is no higher end in
electricity, for example, than expressly to strike a mutton-pie out
of the hand of a greedy boy--and on which it is as unreasonable to
found an objection to education in a comprehensive sense, as it
would be to object altogether to the combing of youthful hair,
because in a certain charity school they had a practice of combing
it into the pupils' eyes.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I turn to the report of this
Institution, on whose behalf we are met; and I start with the
education given there, and I find that it really is an education
that is deserving of the name. I find that there are papers read
and lectures delivered, on a variety of subjects of interest and
importance. I find that there are evening classes formed for the
acquisition of sound, useful English information, and for the study
of those two important languages, daily becoming more important in
the business of life,--the French and German. I find that there is
a class for drawing, a chemical class, subdivided into the
elementary branch and the manufacturing branch, most important
here. I find that there is a day-school at twelve shillings a
quarter, which small cost, besides including instruction in all
that is useful to the merchant and the man of business, admits to
all the advantages of the parent institution. I find that there is
a School of Design established in connexion with the Government
School; and that there was in January this year, a library of
between six and seven thousand books. Ladies and gentlemen, if any
man would tell me that anything but good could come of such
knowledge as this, all I can say is, that I should consider him a
new and most lamentable proof of the necessity of such
institutions, and should regard him in his own person as a
melancholy instance of what a man may come to by never having
belonged to one or sympathized with one.

There is one other paragraph in this report which struck my eye in
looking over it, and on which I cannot help offering a word of
joyful notice. It is the steady increase that appears to have
taken place in the number of lady members--among whom I hope I may
presume are included some of the bright fair faces that are
clustered around me. Gentlemen, I hold that it is not good for man
to be alone--even in Mechanics' Institutions; and I rank it as very
far from among the last or least of the merits of such places, that
he need not be alone there, and that he is not. I believe that the
sympathy and society of those who are our best and dearest friends
in infancy, in childhood, in manhood, and in old age, the most
devoted and least selfish natures that we know on earth, who turn
to us always constant and unchanged, when others turn away, should
greet us here, if anywhere, and go on with us side by side.

I know, gentlemen, by the evidence of my own proper senses at this
moment, that there are charms and graces in such greetings, such as
no other greeting can possess. I know that in every beautiful work
of the Almighty hand, which is illustrated in your lectures, and in
every real or ideal portraiture of fortitude and goodness that you
find in your books, there is something that must bring you home
again to them for its brightest and best example. And therefore,
gentlemen, I hope that you will never be without them, or without
an increasing number of them in your studies and your
commemorations; and that an immense number of new marriages, and
other domestic festivals naturally consequent upon those marriages,
may be traced back from time to time to the Leeds Mechanics'

There are many gentlemen around me, distinguished by their public
position and service, or endeared to you by frequent intercourse,
or by their zealous efforts on behalf of the cause which brings us
together; and to them I shall beg leave to refer you for further
observations on this happy and interesting occasion; begging to
congratulate you finally upon the occasion itself; upon the
prosperity and thriving prospects of your institution; and upon our
common and general good fortune in living in these times, when the
means of mental culture and improvement are presented cheaply,
socially, and cheerfully, and not in dismal cells or lonely
garrets. And lastly, I congratulate myself, I assure you most
heartily, upon the part with which I am honoured on an occasion so
congenial to my warmest feelings and sympathies, and I beg to thank
you for such evidences of your good-will, as I never can coldly
remember and never forget.

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

Ladies and Gentlemen,--It is a great satisfaction to me that this
question has been put by the Mayor, inasmuch as I hope I may
receive it as a token that he has forgiven me those extremely large
letters, which I must say, from the glimpse I caught of them when I
arrived in the town, looked like a leaf from the first primer of a
very promising young giant.

I will only observe, in reference to the proceeding of this
evening, that after what I have seen, and the excellent speeches I
have heard from gentlemen of so many different callings and
persuasions, meeting here as on neutral ground, I do more strongly
and sincerely believe than I ever have in my life,--and that is
saying a great deal,--that institutions such as this will be the
means of refining and improving that social edifice which has been
so often mentioned to-night, until,--unlike that Babel tower that
would have taken heaven by storm,--it shall end in sweet accord and
harmony amongst all classes of its builders.

Ladies and gentlemen, most respectfully and heartily I bid you good
night and good-bye, and I trust the next time we meet it will be in
even greater numbers, and in a larger room, and that we often shall
meet again, to recal this evening, then of the past, and remember
it as one of a series of increasing triumphs of your excellent


[The first Soiree, commemorative of the opening of the Glasgow
Athenaeum took place on the above evening in the City Hall. Mr.
Charles Dickens presided, and made the following speech:]

Ladies and gentlemen--Let me begin by endeavouring to convey to you
the assurance that not even the warmth of your reception can
possibly exceed, in simple earnestness, the cordiality of the
feeling with which I come amongst you. This beautiful scene and
your generous greeting would naturally awaken, under any
circumstances, no common feeling within me; but when I connect them
with the high purpose of this brilliant assembly--when I regard it
as an educational example and encouragement to the rest of
Scotland--when I regard it no less as a recognition on the part of
everybody here of the right, indisputable and inalienable, of all
those who are actively engaged in the work and business of life to
elevate and improve themselves so far as in them lies, by all good
means--I feel as if I stand here to swear brotherhood to all the
young men in Glasgow;--and I may say to all the young women in
Glasgow; being unfortunately in no position to take any tenderer
vows upon myself--and as if we were pledged from this time
henceforth to make common cause together in one of the most
laudable and worthy of human objects.

Ladies and gentlemen, a common cause must be made in such a design
as that which brings us together this night; for without it,
nothing can be done, but with it, everything. It is a common cause
of right, God knows; for it is idle to suppose that the advantages
of such an institution as the Glasgow Athenaeum will stop within
its own walls or be confined to its own members. Through all the
society of this great and important city, upwards to the highest
and downwards to the lowest, it must, I know, be felt for good.
Downward in a clearer perception of, and sympathy with, those
social miseries which can be alleviated, and those wide-open doors
to vice and crime that can be shut and barred; and upward in a
greater intelligence, increased efficiency, and higher knowledge,
of all who partake of its benefits themselves, or who communicate,
as all must do, in a greater or less degree, some portion to the
circle of relatives or friends in which they move.

Nor, ladies and gentlemen, would I say for any man, however high
his social position, or however great his attainments, that he
might not find something to be learnt even from immediate contact
with such institutions. If he only saw the goddess Knowledge
coming out of her secluded palaces and high places to mingle with
the throng, and to give them shining glimpses of the delights which
were long kept hoarded up, he might learn something. If he only
saw the energy and the courage with which those who earn their
daily bread by the labour of their hands or heads, come night after
night, as to a recreation, to that which was, perhaps, the whole
absorbing business of his youth, there might still be something
very wholesome for him to learn. But when he could see in such
places their genial and reviving influences, their substituting of
the contemplation of the beauties of nature and art, and of the
wisdom of great men, for mere sensual enjoyment or stupid idleness-
-at any rate he would learn this--that it is at once the duty and
the interest of all good members of society to encourage and
protect them.

I took occasion to say at an Athenaeum in Yorkshire a few weeks
since, and I think it a point most important to be borne in mind on
such commemorations as these, that when such societies are objected
to, or are decried on the ground that in the views of the
objectors, education among the people has not succeeded, the term
education is used with not the least reference to its real meaning,
and is wholly misunderstood. Mere reading and writing is not
education; it would be quite as reasonable to call bricks and
mortar architecture--oils and colours art--reeds and cat-gut music-
-or the child's spelling-books the works of Shakespeare, Milton, or
Bacon--as to call the lowest rudiments of education, education, and
to visit on that most abused and slandered word their failure in
any instance; and precisely because they were not education;
because, generally speaking, the word has been understood in that
sense a great deal too long; because education for the business of
life, and for the due cultivation of domestic virtues, is at least
as important from day to day to the grown person as to the child;
because real education, in the strife and contention for a
livelihood, and the consequent necessity incumbent on a great
number of young persons to go into the world when they are very
young, is extremely difficult. It is because of these things that
I look upon mechanics' institutions and athenaeums as vitally
important to the well-being of society. It is because the
rudiments of education may there be turned to good account in the
acquisition of sound principles, and of the great virtues, hope,
faith, and charity, to which all our knowledge tends; it is because
of that, I take it, that you have met in education's name to-night.

It is a great satisfaction to me to occupy the place I do in behalf
of an infant institution; a remarkably fine child enough, of a
vigorous constitution, but an infant still. I esteem myself
singularly fortunate in knowing it before its prime, in the hope
that I may have the pleasure of remembering in its prime, and when
it has attained to its lusty maturity, that I was a friend of its
youth. It has already passed through some of the disorders to
which children are liable; it succeeded to an elder brother of a
very meritorious character, but of rather a weak constitution, and
which expired when about twelve months old, from, it is said, a
destructive habit of getting up early in the morning: it succeeded
this elder brother, and has fought manfully through a sea of
troubles. Its friends have often been much concerned for it; its
pulse has been exceedingly low, being only 1250, when it was
expected to have been 10,000; several relations and friends have
even gone so far as to walk off once or twice in the melancholy
belief that it was dead. Through all that, assisted by the
indomitable energy of one or two nurses, to whom it can never be
sufficiently grateful, it came triumphantly, and now, of all the
youthful members of its family I ever saw, it has the strongest
attitude, the healthiest look, the brightest and most cheerful air.
I find the institution nobly lodged; I find it with a reading-room,
a coffee-room, and a news-room; I find it with lectures given and
in progress, in sound, useful and well-selected subjects; I find it
with morning and evening classes for mathematics, logic, grammar,
music, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, attended by upwards of
five hundred persons; but, best and first of all and what is to me
more satisfactory than anything else in the history of the
institution, I find that all, this has been mainly achieved by the
young men of Glasgow themselves, with very little assistance. And,
ladies and gentlemen, as the axiom, "Heaven helps those who help
themselves," is truer in no case than it is in this, I look to the
young men of Glasgow, from such a past and such a present, to a
noble future. Everything that has been done in any other
athenaeum, I confidently expect to see done here; and when that
shall be the case, and when there shall be great cheap schools in
connexion with the institution, and when it has bound together for
ever all its friends, and brought over to itself all those who look
upon it as an objectionable institution,--then, and not till then,
I hope the young men of Glasgow will rest from their labours, and
think their study done.

If the young men of Glasgow want any stimulus or encouragement in
this wise, they have one beside them in the presence of their fair
townswomen, which is irresistible. It is a most delightful
circumstance to me, and one fraught with inestimable benefits to
institutions of this kind, that at a meeting of this nature those
who in all things are our best examples, encouragers, and friends,
are not excluded. The abstract idea of the Graces was in ancient
times associated with those arts which refine the human
understanding; and it is pleasant to see now, in the rolling of the
world, the Graces popularising the practice of those arts by their
example, and adorning it with their presence.

I am happy to know that in the Glasgow Athenaeum there is a
peculiar bond of union between the institution and the fairest part
of creation. I understand that the necessary addition to the small
library of books being difficult and expensive to make, the ladies
have generally resolved to hold a fancy bazaar, and to devote the
proceeds to this admirable purpose; and I learn with no less
pleasure that her Majesty the Queen, in a graceful and womanly
sense of the excellence of this design, has consented that the
bazaar shall be held under her royal patronage. I can only say,
that if you do not find something very noble in your books after
this, you are much duller students than I take you to be. The
ladies--the single ladies, at least--however disinterested I know
they are by sex and nature, will, I hope, resolve to have some of
the advantages of these books, by never marrying any but members of
the Athenaeum. It seems to me it ought to be the pleasantest
library in the world.

Hazlitt says, in speaking of some of the graceful fancies of some
familiar writer of fiction, "How long since I first became
acquainted with these characters; what old-fashioned friends they
seem; and yet I am not tired of them like so many other friends,
nor they of me." In this case the books will not only possess all
the attractions of their own friendships and charms, but also the
manifold--I may say womanfold--associations connected with their
donors. I can imagine how, in fact, from these fanciful
associations, some fair Glasgow widow may be taken for the remoter
one whom Sir Roger de Coverley could not forget; I can imagine how
Sophia's muff may be seen and loved, but not by Tom Jones, going
down the High Street on any winter day; or I can imagine the
student finding in every fair form the exact counterpart of the
Glasgow Athenaeum, and taking into consideration the history of
Europe without the consent of Sheriff Alison. I can imagine, in
short, how through all the facts and fictions of this library,
these ladies will be always active, and that

"Age will not wither them, nor custom stale
Their infinite variety."

It seems to me to be a moral, delightful, and happy chance, that
this meeting has been held at this genial season of the year, when
a new time is, as it were, opening before us, and when we celebrate
the birth of that divine and blessed Teacher, who took the highest
knowledge into the humblest places, and whose great system
comprehended all mankind. I hail it as a most auspicious omen, at
this time of the year, when many scattered friends and families are
re-assembled, for the members of this institution to be calling men
together from all quarters, with a brotherly view to the general
good, and a view to the general improvement; as I consider that
such designs are practically worthy of the faith we hold, and a
practical remembrance of the words, "On earth peace, and good will
toward men." I hope that every year which dawns on your
Institution, will find it richer in its means of usefulness, and
grayer-headed in the honour and respect it has gained. It can
hardly speak for itself more appropriately than in the words of an
English writer, when contemplating the English emblem of this
period of the year, the holly-tree:-

[Mr. Dickens concluded by quoting the last three stanzas of
Southey's poem, The Holly Tree.

In acknowledging a vote of thanks proposed by Sir Archibald (then
Mr.) Alison, Mr. Dickens said:]

Ladies and Gentlemen,--I am no stranger--and I say it with the
deepest gratitude--to the warmth of Scottish hearts; but the warmth
of your present welcome almost deprives me of any hope of
acknowledging it. I will not detain you any longer at this late
hour; let it suffice to assure you, that for taking the part with
which I have been honoured in this festival, I have been repaid a
thousand-fold by your abundant kindness, and by the unspeakable
gratification it has afforded me. I hope that, before many years
are past, we may have another meeting in public, when we shall
rejoice at the immense progress your institution will have made in
the meantime, and look back upon this night with new pleasure and
satisfaction. I shall now, in conclusion, repeat most heartily and
fervently the quotation of Dr. Ewing, the late Provost of Glasgow,
which Bailie Nicol Jarvie, himself "a Glasgow body," observed was
"elegantly putten round the town's arms."


[The Sixth Annual Dinner of the General Theatrical Fund was held at
the London Tavern on the above date. Mr. Charles Dickens occupied
the chair, and in giving the toast of the evening said:-]

I have so often had the satisfaction of bearing my testimony, in
this place, to the usefulness of the excellent Institution in whose
behalf we are assembled, that I should be really sensible of the
disadvantage of having now nothing to say in proposing the toast
you all anticipate, if I were not well assured that there is really
nothing which needs be said. I have to appeal to you on the old
grounds, and no ingenuity of mine could render those grounds of
greater weight than they have hitherto successfully proved to you.

Although the General Theatrical Fund Association, unlike many other
public societies and endowments, is represented by no building,
whether of stone, or brick, or glass, like that astonishing
evidence of the skill and energy of my friend Mr. Paxton, which all
the world is now called upon to admire, and the great merit of
which, as you learn from the best authorities, is, that it ought to
have fallen down long before it was built, and yet that it would by
no means consent to doing so--although, I say, this Association
possesses no architectural home, it is nevertheless as plain a
fact, rests on as solid a foundation, and carries as erect a front,
as any building, in the world. And the best and the utmost that
its exponent and its advocate can do, standing here, is to point it
out to those who gather round it, and to say, "judge for

It may not, however, be improper for me to suggest to that portion
of the company whose previous acquaintance with it may have been
limited, what it is not. It is not a theatrical association whose
benefits are confined to a small and exclusive body of actors. It
is a society whose claims are always preferred in the name of the
whole histrionic art. It is not a theatrical association adapted
to a state of theatrical things entirely past and gone, and no more
suited to present theatrical requirements than a string of pack-
horses would be suited to the conveyance of traffic between London
and Birmingham. It is not a rich old gentleman, with the gout in
his vitals, brushed and got-up once a year to look as vigorous as
possible, and brought out for a public airing by the few survivors
of a large family of nephews and nieces, who afterwards double-lock
the street-door upon the poor relations. It is not a theatrical
association which insists that no actor can share its bounty who
has not walked so many years on those boards where the English
tongue is never heard--between the little bars of music in an
aviary of singing birds, to which the unwieldy Swan of Avon is
never admitted--that bounty which was gathered in the name and for
the elevation of an all-embracing art.

No, if there be such things, this thing is not of that kind. This
is a theatrical association, expressly adapted to the wants and to
the means of the whole theatrical profession all over England. It
is a society in which the word exclusiveness is wholly unknown. It
is a society which includes every actor, whether he be Benedict or
Hamlet, or the Ghost, or the Bandit, or the court-physician, or, in
the one person, the whole King's army. He may do the "light
business," or the "heavy," or the comic, or the eccentric. He may
be the captain who courts the young lady, whose uncle still
unaccountably persists in dressing himself in a costume one hundred
years older than his time. Or he may be the young lady's brother
in the white gloves and inexpressibles, whose duty in the family
appears to be to listen to the female members of it whenever they
sing, and to shake hands with everybody between all the verses. Or
he may be the baron who gives the fete, and who sits uneasily on
the sofa under a canopy with the baroness while the fete is going
on. Or he may be the peasant at the fete who comes on the stage to
swell the drinking chorus, and who, it may be observed, always
turns his glass upside down before he begins to drink out of it.
Or he may be the clown who takes away the doorstep of the house
where the evening party is going on. Or he may be the gentleman
who issues out of the house on the false alarm, and is precipitated
into the area. Or, to come to the actresses, she may be the fairy
who resides for ever in a revolving star with an occasional visit
to a bower or a palace. Or the actor may be the armed head of the
witch's cauldron; or even that extraordinary witch, concerning whom
I have observed in country places, that he is much less like the
notion formed from the description of Hopkins than the Malcolm or
Donalbain of the previous scenes. This society, in short, says,
"Be you what you may, be you actor or actress, be your path in your
profession never so high, or never so low, never so haughty, or
never so humble, we offer you the means of doing good to
yourselves, and of doing good to your brethren."

This society is essentially a provident institution, appealing to a
class of men to take care of their own interests, and giving a
continuous security only in return for a continuous sacrifice and
effort. The actor by the means of this society obtains his own
right, to no man's wrong; and when, in old age, or in disastrous
times, he makes his claim on the institution, he is enabled to say,
"I am neither a beggar, nor a suppliant. I am but reaping what I
sowed long ago." And therefore it is that I cannot hold out to you
that in assisting this fund you are doing an act of charity in the
common acceptation of that phrase. Of all the abuses of that much
abused term, none have more raised my indignation than what I have
heard in this room in past times, in reference to this institution.
I say, if you help this institution you will be helping the wagoner
who has resolutely put his own shoulder to the wheel, and who has
NOT stuck idle in the mud. In giving this aid you will be doing an
act of justice, and you will be performing an act of gratitude; and
this is what I solicit from you; but I will not so far wrong those
who are struggling manfully for their own independence as to
pretend to entreat from you an act of charity.

I have used the word gratitude; and let any man ask his own heart,
and confess if he have not some grateful acknowledgments for the
actor's art? Not peculiarly because it is a profession often
pursued, and as it were marked, by poverty and misfortune--for
other callings, God knows, have their distresses--nor because the
actor has sometimes to come from scenes of sickness, of suffering,
ay, even of death itself, to play his part before us--for all of
us, in our spheres, have as often to do violence to our feelings
and to hide our hearts in fighting this great battle of life, and
in discharging our duties and responsibilities. But the art of the
actor excites reflections, sombre or grotesque, awful or humorous,
which we are all familiar with. If any man were to tell me that he
denied his acknowledgments to the stage, I would simply put to him
one question--whether he remembered his first play?

If you, gentlemen, will but carry back your recollection to that
great night, and call to mind the bright and harmless world which
then opened to your view, we shall, I think, hear favourably of the
effect upon your liberality on this occasion from our Secretary.

This is the sixth year of meetings of this kind--the sixth time we
have had this fine child down after dinner. His nurse, a very
worthy person of the name of Buckstone, who has an excellent
character from several places, will presently report to you that
his chest is perfectly sound, and that his general health is in the
most thriving condition. Long may it be so; long may it thrive and
grow; long may we meet (it is my sincere wish) to exchange our
congratulations on its prosperity; and longer than the line of
Banquo may be that line of figures which, as its patriotic share in
the national debt, a century hence shall be stated by the Governor
and Company of the Bank of England.


[The Corporation of the Royal Literary Fund was established in
1790, its object being to administer assistance to authors of
genius and learning, who may be reduced to distress by unavoidable
calamities, or deprived, by enfeebled faculties or declining life,
of the power of literary exertion. At the annual general meeting
held at the house of the society on the above date, the following
speech was made by Mr. Charles Dickens:]

Sir,--I shall not attempt to follow my friend Mr. Bell, who, in the
profession of literature, represents upon this committee a separate
and distinct branch of the profession, that, like

"The last rose of summer
Stands blooming alone,
While all its companions
Are faded and gone,"

into the very prickly bramble-bush with which he has ingeniously
contrived to beset this question. In the remarks I have to make I
shall confine myself to four points: --1. That the committee find
themselves in the painful condition of not spending enough money,
and will presently apply themselves to the great reform of spending
more. 2. That with regard to the house, it is a positive matter
of history, that the house for which Mr. Williams was so anxious
was to be applied to uses to which it never has been applied, and
which the administrators of the fund decline to recognise. 3.
That, in Mr. Bell's endeavours to remove the Artists' Fund from the
ground of analogy it unquestionably occupies with reference to this
fund, by reason of their continuing periodical relief to the same
persons, I beg to tell Mr. Bell what every gentleman at that table
knows--that it is the business of this fund to relieve over and
over again the same people.

MR. BELL: But fresh inquiry is always made first.

MR. C. DICKENS: I can only oppose to that statement my own
experience when I sat on that committee, and when I have known
persons relieved on many consecutive occasions without further
inquiry being made. As to the suggestion that we should select the
items of expenditure that we complain of, I think it is according
to all experience that we should first affirm the principle that
the expenditure is too large. If that be done by the meeting, then
I will proceed to the selection of the separate items. Now, in
rising to support this resolution, I may state at once that I have
scarcely any expectation of its being carried, and I am happy to
think it will not. Indeed, I consider it the strongest point of
the resolution's case that it should not be carried, because it
will show the determination of the fund's managers. Nothing can
possibly be stronger in favour of the resolution than that the
statement should go forth to the world that twice within twelve
months the attention of the committee has been called to this great
expenditure, and twice the committee have considered that it was
not unreasonable. I cannot conceive a stronger case for the
resolution than this statement of fact as to the expenditure going
forth to the public accompanied by the committee's assertion that
it is reasonable. Now, to separate this question from details, let
us remember what the committee and their supporters asserted last
year, and, I hope, will re-assert this year. It seems to be rather
the model kind of thing than otherwise now that if you get 100
pounds you are to spend 40 pounds in management; and if you get
1000 pounds, of course you may spend 400 pounds in giving the rest
away. Now, in case there should be any ill-conditioned people here
who may ask what occasion there can be for all this expenditure, I
will give you my experience. I went last year to a highly
respectable place of resort, Willis's Rooms, in St. James's, to a
meeting of this fund. My original intention was to hear all I
could, and say as little as possible. Allowing for the absence of
the younger and fairer portion of the creation, the general
appearance of the place was something like Almack's in the morning.
A number of stately old dowagers sat in a row on one side, and old
gentlemen on the other. The ball was opened with due solemnity by
a real marquis, who walked a minuet with the secretary, at which
the audience were much affected. Then another party advanced, who,
I am sorry to say, was only a member of the House of Commons, and
he took possession of the floor. To him, however, succeeded a
lord, then a bishop, then the son of a distinguished lord, then one
or two celebrities from the City and Stock Exchange, and at last a
gentleman, who made a fortune by the success of "Candide,"
sustained the part of Pangloss, and spoke much of what he evidently
believed to be the very best management of this best of all
possible funds. Now it is in this fondness for being stupendously
genteel, and keeping up fine appearances--this vulgar and common
social vice of hanging on to great connexions at any price, that
the money goes. The last time you got a distinguished writer at a
public meeting, and he was called on to address you somewhere
amongst the small hours, he told you he felt like the man in plush
who was permitted to sweep the stage down after all the other
people had gone. If the founder of this society were here, I
should think he would feel like a sort of Rip van Winkle reversed,
who had gone to sleep backwards for a hundred years and woke up to
find his fund still lying under the feet of people who did nothing
for it instead of being emancipated and standing alone long ago.
This Bloomsbury house is another part of the same desire for show,
and the officer who inhabits it. (I mean, of course, in his
official capacity, for, as an individual, I much respect him.)
When one enters the house it appears to be haunted by a series of
mysterious-looking ghosts, who glide about engaged in some
extraordinary occupation, and, after the approved fashion of
ghosts, but seldom condescend to disclose their business. What are
all these meetings and inquiries wanted for? As for the authors, I
say, as a writer by profession, that the long inquiry said to be
necessary to ascertain whether an applicant deserves relief, is a
preposterous pretence, and that working literary men would have a
far better knowledge of the cases coming before the board than can
ever be attained by that committee. Further, I say openly and
plainly, that this fund is pompously and unnaturally administered
at great expense, instead of being quietly administered at small
expense; and that the secrecy to which it lays claim as its
greatest attribute, is not kept; for through those "two respectable
householders," to whom reference must be made, the names of the
most deserving applicants are to numbers of people perfectly well
known. The members have now got before them a plain statement of
fact as to these charges; and it is for them to say whether they
are justifiable, becoming, or decent. I beg most earnestly and
respectfully to put it to those gentlemen who belong to this
institution, that must now decide, and cannot help deciding, what
the Literary Fund is for, and what it is not for. The question
raised by the resolution is whether this is a public corporation
for the relief of men of genius and learning, or whether it is a
snug, traditional, and conventional party, bent upon maintaining
its own usages with a vast amount of pride; upon its own annual
puffery at costly dinner-tables, and upon a course of expensive
toadying to a number of distinguished individuals. This is the
question which you cannot this day escape.


[At the fourth anniversary dinner of the Warehousemen and Clerks
Schools, which took place on Thursday evening, Nov. 5th, 1857, at
the London Tavern, and was very numerously attended, Mr. Charles
Dickens occupied the chair. On the subject which had brought the
company together Mr. Dickens spoke as follows:-]

I must now solicit your attention for a few minutes to the cause of
your assembling together--the main and real object of this
evening's gathering; for I suppose we are all agreed that the motto
of these tables is not "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we
die;" but, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we live." It is
because a great and good work is to live to-morrow, and to-morrow,
and to-morrow, and to live a greater and better life with every
succeeding to-morrow, that we eat and drink here at all.
Conspicuous on the card of admission to this dinner is the word
"Schools." This set me thinking this morning what are the sorts of
schools that I don't like. I found them on consideration, to be
rather numerous. I don't like to begin with, and to begin as
charity does at home--I don't like the sort of school to which I
once went myself--the respected proprietor of which was by far the
most ignorant man I have ever had the pleasure to know; one of the
worst-tempered men perhaps that ever lived, whose business it was
to make as much out of us and put as little into us as possible,
and who sold us at a figure which I remember we used to delight to
estimate, as amounting to exactly 2 pounds 4s. 6d. per head. I
don't like that sort of school, because I don't see what business
the master had to be at the top of it instead of the bottom, and
because I never could understand the wholesomeness of the moral
preached by the abject appearance and degraded condition of the
teachers who plainly said to us by their looks every day of their
lives, "Boys, never be learned; whatever you are, above all things
be warned from that in time by our sunken cheeks, by our poor
pimply noses, by our meagre diet, by our acid-beer, and by our
extraordinary suits of clothes, of which no human being can say
whether they are snuff-coloured turned black, or black turned
snuff-coloured, a point upon which we ourselves are perfectly
unable to offer any ray of enlightenment, it is so very long since
they were undarned and new." I do not like that sort of school,
because I have never yet lost my ancient suspicion touching that
curious coincidence that the boy with four brothers to come always
got the prizes. In fact, and short, I do not like that sort of
school, which is a pernicious and abominable humbug, altogether.
Again, ladies and gentlemen, I don't like that sort of school--a
ladies' school--with which the other school used to dance on
Wednesdays, where the young ladies, as I look back upon them now,
seem to me always to have been in new stays and disgrace--the
latter concerning a place of which I know nothing at this day, that
bounds Timbuctoo on the north-east--and where memory always depicts
the youthful enthraller of my first affection as for ever standing
against a wall, in a curious machine of wood, which confined her
innocent feet in the first dancing position, while those arms,
which should have encircled my jacket, those precious arms, I say,
were pinioned behind her by an instrument of torture called a
backboard, fixed in the manner of a double direction post. Again,
I don't like that sort of school, of which we have a notable
example in Kent, which was established ages ago by worthy scholars
and good men long deceased, whose munificent endowments have been
monstrously perverted from their original purpose, and which, in
their distorted condition, are struggled for and fought over with
the most indecent pertinacity. Again, I don't like that sort of
school--and I have seen a great many such in these latter times--
where the bright childish imagination is utterly discouraged, and
where those bright childish faces, which it is so very good for the
wisest among us to remember in after life--when the world is too
much with us, early and late {22}--are gloomily and grimly scared
out of countenance; where I have never seen among the pupils,
whether boys or girls, anything but little parrots and small
calculating machines. Again, I don't by any means like schools in
leather breeches, and with mortified straw baskets for bonnets,
which file along the streets in long melancholy rows under the
escort of that surprising British monster--a beadle, whose system
of instruction, I am afraid, too often presents that happy union of
sound with sense, of which a very remarkable instance is given in a
grave report of a trustworthy school inspector, to the effect that
a boy in great repute at school for his learning, presented on his
slate, as one of the ten commandments, the perplexing prohibition,
"Thou shalt not commit doldrum." Ladies and gentlemen, I confess,
also, that I don't like those schools, even though the instruction
given in them be gratuitous, where those sweet little voices which
ought to be heard speaking in very different accents, anathematise
by rote any human being who does not hold what is taught there.
Lastly, I do not like, and I did not like some years ago, cheap
distant schools, where neglected children pine from year to year
under an amount of neglect, want, and youthful misery far too sad
even to be glanced at in this cheerful assembly.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps you will permit me to sketch
in a few words the sort of school that I do like. It is a school
established by the members of an industrious and useful order,
which supplies the comforts and graces of life at every familiar
turning in the road of our existence; it is a school established by
them for the Orphan and Necessitous Children of their own brethren
and sisterhood; it is a place giving an education worthy of them--
an education by them invented, by them conducted, by them watched
over; it is a place of education where, while the beautiful history
of the Christian religion is daily taught, and while the life of
that Divine Teacher who Himself took little children on His knees
is daily studied, no sectarian ill-will nor narrow human dogma is
permitted to darken the face of the clear heaven which they
disclose. It is a children's school, which is at the same time no
less a children's home, a home not to be confided to the care of
cold or ignorant strangers, nor, by the nature of its foundation,
in the course of ages to pass into hands that have as much natural
right to deal with it as with the peaks of the highest mountains or
with the depths of the sea, but to be from generation to generation
administered by men living in precisely such homes as those poor
children have lost; by men always bent upon making that
replacement, such a home as their own dear children might find a
happy refuge in if they themselves were taken early away. And I
fearlessly ask you, is this a design which has any claim to your
sympathy? Is this a sort of school which is deserving of your

This is the design, this is the school, whose strong and simple
claim I have to lay before you to-night. I must particularly
entreat you not to suppose that my fancy and unfortunate habit of
fiction has anything to do with the picture I have just presented
to you. It is sober matter of fact. The Warehousemen and Clerks'
Schools, established for the maintaining, clothing, and educating
of the Orphan and Necessitous Children of those employed in the
wholesale trades and manufactures of the United Kingdom, are, in
fact, what I have just described. These schools for both sexes
were originated only four years ago. In the first six weeks of the
undertaking the young men of themselves and quite unaided,
subscribed the large sum of 3,000 pounds. The schools have been
opened only three years, they have now on their foundation thirty-
nine children, and in a few days they will have six more, making a
total of forty-five. They have been most munificently assisted by
the heads of great mercantile houses, numerously represented, I am
happy to say, around me, and they have a funded capital of almost
14,000 pounds. This is wonderful progress, but the aim must still
be upwards, the motto always "Excelsior." You do not need to be
told that five-and-forty children can form but a very small
proportion of the Orphan and Necessitous Children of those who have
been entrusted with the wholesale trades and manufactures of the
United Kingdom: you do not require to be informed that the house
at New-cross, rented for a small term of years, in which the
schools are at present established, can afford but most imperfect
accommodation for such a breadth of design. To carry this good
work through the two remaining degrees of better and best there
must be more work, more co-operation, more friends, more money.
Then be the friends and give the money. Before I conclude, there
is one other feature in these schools which I would commend to your
special attention and approval. Their benefits are reserved for
the children of subscribers; that is to say, it is an essential
principle of the institution that it must help those whose parents
have helped them, and that the unfortunate children whose father
has been so lax, or so criminal, as to withhold a subscription so
exceedingly small that when divided by weeks it amounts to only
threepence weekly, cannot, in justice, be allowed to jostle out and
shoulder away the happier children, whose father has had that
little forethought, or done that little kindness which was
requisite to secure for them the benefits of the institution. I
really cannot believe that there will long be any such defaulting
parents. I cannot believe that any of the intelligent young men
who are engaged in the wholesale houses will long neglect this
obvious, this easy duty. If they suppose that the objects of their
love, born or unborn, will never want the benefits of the charity,
that may be a fatal and blind mistake--it can never be an excuse,
for, supposing them to be right in their anticipation, they should
do what is asked for the sake of their friends and comrades around
them, assured that they will be the happier and the better for the

Ladies and gentlemen, this little "labour of love" of mine is now
done. I most heartily wish that I could charm you now not to see
me, not to think of me, not to hear me--I most heartily wish that I
could make you see in my stead the multitude of innocent and
bereaved children who are looking towards these schools, and
entreating with uplifted hands to be let in. A very famous
advocate once said, in speaking of his fears of failure when he had
first to speak in court, being very poor, that he felt his little
children tugging at his skirts, and that recovered him. Will you
think of the number of little children who are tugging at my
skirts, when I ask you, in their names, on their behalf, and in
their little persons, and in no strength of my own, to encourage
and assist this work?

At a later period of the evening Mr. Dickens proposed the health of
the President of the Institution, Lord John Russell. He said he
should do nothing so superfluous and so unnecessary as to descant
upon his lordship's many faithful, long, and great public services,
upon the honour and integrity with which he had pursued his
straightforward public course through every difficulty, or upon the
manly, gallant, and courageous character, which rendered him
certain, in the eyes alike of friends and opponents, to rise with
every rising occasion, and which, like the seal of Solomon, in the
old Arabian story, enclosed in a not very large casket the soul of
a giant. In answer to loud cheers, he said he had felt perfectly
certain, that that would be the response for in no English assembly
that he had ever seen was it necessary to do more than mention the
name of Lord John Russell to ensure a manifestation of personal
respect and grateful remembrance.


[The forty-eighth Anniversary of the establishment of the Artists'
Benevolent Fund took place on the above date at the Freemasons'
Tavern. The chair was taken by Mr. Charles Dickens, who, after
having disposed of the preliminary toasts with his usual felicity,
proceeded to advocate the claims of the Institution in whose
interest the company had assembled, in the following terms:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--There is an absurd theatrical story which
was once told to me by a dear and valued friend, who has now passed
from this sublunary stage, and which is not without its moral as
applied to myself, in my present presidential position. In a
certain theatrical company was included a man, who on occasions of
emergency was capable of taking part in the whole round of the
British drama, provided he was allowed to use his own language in
getting through the dialogue. It happened one night that Reginald,
in the Castle Spectre, was taken ill, and this veteran of a hundred
characters was, of course, called up for the vacant part. He
responded with his usual promptitude, although knowing nothing
whatever of the character, but while they were getting him into the
dress, he expressed a not unreasonable wish to know in some vague
way what the part was about. He was not particular as to details,
but in order that he might properly pourtray his sufferings, he
thought he should have some slight inkling as to what really had
happened to him. As, for example, what murders he had committed,
whose father he was, of what misfortunes he was the victim,--in
short, in a general way to know why he was in that place at all.
They said to him, "Here you are, chained in a dungeon, an unhappy
father; you have been here for seventeen years, during which time
you have never seen your daughter; you have lived upon bread and
water, and, in consequence, are extremely weak, and suffer from
occasional lowness of spirits."--"All right," said the actor of
universal capabilities, "ring up." When he was discovered to the
audience, he presented an extremely miserable appearance, was very
favourably received, and gave every sign of going on well, until,
through some mental confusion as to his instructions, he opened the
business of the act by stating in pathetic terms, that he had been
confined in that dungeon seventeen years, during which time he had
not tasted a morsel of food, to which circumstance he was inclined
to attribute the fact of his being at that moment very much out of
condition. The audience, thinking this statement exceedingly
improbable, declined to receive it, and the weight of that speech
hung round him until the end of his performance.

Now I, too, have received instructions for the part I have the
honour of performing before you, and it behoves both you and me to
profit by the terrible warning I have detailed, while I endeavour
to make the part I have undertaken as plain and intelligible as I
possibly can.

As I am going to propose to you that we should now begin to connect
the business with the pleasure of the evening, by drinking
prosperity to the Artists' Benevolent Fund, it becomes important
that we should know what that fund is. It is an Association
supported by the voluntary gifts of those who entertain a critical
and admiring estimation of art, and has for its object the granting
of annuities to the widows and children of deceased artists--of
artists who have been unable in their lives to make any provision
for those dear objects of their love surviving themselves. Now it
is extremely important to observe that this institution of an
Artists' Benevolent Fund, which I now call on you to pledge, has
connected with it, and has arisen out of another artists'
association, which does not ask you for a health, which never did,
and never will ask you for a health, which is self-supporting, and
which is entirely maintained by the prudence and providence of its
three hundred artist members. That fund, which is called the
Artists' Annuity Fund, is, so to speak, a joint and mutual
Assurance Company against infirmity, sickness, and age. To the
benefits it affords every one of its members has an absolute right,
a right, be it remembered, produced by timely thrift and self-
denial, and not assisted by appeals to the charity or compassion of
any human being. On that fund there are, if I remember a right,
some seventeen annuitants who are in the receipt of eleven hundred
a-year, the proceeds of their own self-supporting Institution. In
recommending to you this benevolent fund, which is not self-
supporting, they address you, in effect, in these words:- "We ask
you to help these widows and orphans, because we show you we have
first helped ourselves. These widows and orphans may be ours or
they may not be ours; but in any case we will prove to you to a
certainty that we are not so many wagoners calling upon Jupiter to
do our work, because we do our own work; each has his shoulder to
the wheel; each, from year to year, has had his shoulder set to the
wheel, and the prayer we make to Jupiter and all the gods is simply
this--that this fact may be remembered when the wagon has stopped
for ever, and the spent and worn-out wagoner lies lifeless by the

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I most particularly wish to impress on you
the strength of this appeal. I am a painter, a sculptor, or an
engraver, of average success. I study and work here for no immense
return, while life and health, while hand and eye are mine. I
prudently belong to the Annuity Fund, which in sickness, old age,
and infirmity, preserves me from want. I do my duty to those who
are depending on me while life remains; but when the grass grows
above my grave there is no provision for them any longer."

This is the case with the Artists' Benevolent Fund, and in stating
this I am only the mouthpiece of three hundred of the trade, who in
truth stands as independent before you as if they were three
hundred Cockers all regulated by the Gospel according to
themselves. There are in existence three artists' funds, which
ought never to be mentioned without respect. I am an officer of
one of them, and can speak from knowledge; but on this occasion I
address myself to a case for which there is no provision. I
address you on behalf of those professors of the fine arts who have
made provision during life, and in submitting to you their claims I
am only advocating principles which I myself have always

When I add that this Benevolent Fund makes no pretensions to
gentility, squanders no treasure in keeping up appearances, that it
considers that the money given for the widow and the orphan, should
really be held for the widow and the orphan, I think I have
exhausted the case, which I desire most strenuously to commend to

Perhaps you will allow me to say one last word. I will not consent
to present to you the professors of Art as a set of helpless
babies, who are to be held up by the chin; I present them as an
energetic and persevering class of men, whose incomes depend on
their own faculties and personal exertions; and I also make so bold
as to present them as men who in their vocation render good service
to the community. I am strongly disposed to believe there are very
few debates in Parliament so important to the public welfare as a
really good picture. I have also a notion that any number of
bundles of the driest legal chaff that ever was chopped would be
cheaply expended for one really meritorious engraving. At a highly
interesting annual festival at which I have the honour to assist,
and which takes place behind two fountains, I sometimes observe
that great ministers of state and other such exalted characters
have a strange delight in rather ostentatiously declaring that they
have no knowledge whatever of art, and particularly of impressing
on the company that they have passed their lives in severe studies.
It strikes me when I hear these things as if these great men looked
upon the arts as a sort of dancing dogs, or Punch's show, to be
turned to for amusement when one has nothing else to do. Now I
always take the opportunity on these occasions of entertaining my
humble opinion that all this is complete "bosh;" and of asserting
to myself my strong belief that the neighbourhoods of Trafalgar
Square, or Suffolk Street, rightly understood, are quite as
important to the welfare of the empire as those of Downing Street,
or Westminster Hall. Ladies and Gentlemen, on these grounds, and
backed by the recommendation of three hundred artists in favour of
the Benevolent Fund, I beg to propose its prosperity as a toast for
your adoption.


[With the "Christmas Carol" and "The Trial from Pickwick," Mr.
Charles Dickens brought to a brilliant close the memorable series
of public readings which have for sixteen years proved to audiences
unexampled in numbers, the source of the highest intellectual
enjoyment. Every portion of available space in the building was,
of course, last night occupied some time before the appointed hour;
but could the St. James's Hall have been specially enlarged for the
occasion to the dimensions of Salisbury Plain, it is doubtful
whether sufficient room would even then have been provided for all
anxious to seize the last chance of hearing the distinguished
novelist give his own interpretation of the characters called into
existence by his own creative pen. As if determined to convince
his auditors that, whatever reason had influenced his
determination, physical exhaustion was not amongst them, Mr.
Dickens never read with greater spirit and energy. His voice to
the last retained its distinctive clearness, and the transitions of
tone, as each personage in the story, conjured up by a word, rose
vividly before the eye, seemed to be more marvellous than ever.
The vast assemblage, hushed into breathless attention, suffered not
a syllable to escape the ear, and the rich humour and deep pathos
of one of the most delightful books ever written found once again
the fullest appreciation. The usual burst of merriment responsive
to the blithe description of Bob Cratchit's Christmas day, and the
wonted sympathy with the crippled child "Tiny Tim," found prompt
expression, and the general delight at hearing of Ebenezer
Scrooge's reformation was only checked by the saddening remembrance
that with it the last strain of the "carol" was dying away. After
the "Trial from Pickwick," in which the speeches of the opposing
counsel, and the owlish gravity of the judge, seemed to be
delivered and depicted with greater dramatic power than ever, the
applause of the audience rang for several minutes through the hall,
and when it had subsided, Mr. Dickens, with evidently strong
emotion, but in his usual distinct and expressive manner, spoke as

Ladies and gentlemen,--It would be worse than idle--for it would be
hypocritical and unfeeling--if I were to disguise that I close this
episode in my life with feelings of very considerable pain. For
some fifteen years, in this hall and in many kindred places, I have
had the honour of presenting my own cherished ideas before you for
your recognition, and, in closely observing your reception of them,
have enjoyed an amount of artistic delight and instruction which,
perhaps, is given to few men to know. In this task, and in every
other I have ever undertaken, as a faithful servant of the public,
always imbued with a sense of duty to them, and always striving to
do his best, I have been uniformly cheered by the readiest
response, the most generous sympathy, and the most stimulating
support. Nevertheless, I have thought it well, at the full flood-
tide of your favour, to retire upon those older associations
between us, which date from much further back than these, and
henceforth to devote myself exclusively to the art that first
brought us together. Ladies and gentlemen, in but two short weeks
from this time I hope that you may enter, in your own homes, on a
new series of readings, at which my assistance will be
indispensable; {23} but from these garish lights I vanish now for
evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate

[Amidst repeated acclamations of the most enthusiastic description,
whilst hats and handkerchiefs were waving in every part of the
hall, Mr. Charles Dickens retired, withdrawing with him one of the
greatest intellectual treats the public ever enjoyed.]


[The annual dinner in aid of the funds of the Newsvendors'
Benevolent and Provident Institution was held on the above evening,
at the Freemason's Tavern. Mr. Charles Dickens presided, and was
supported by the Sheriffs of the City of London and Middlesex.

After the usual toasts had been given and responded to,

The Chairman said that if the approved order of their proceedings
had been observed, the Corporation of the City of London would no
doubt have considered themselves snubbed if they were not toasted
by themselves. He was sure that a distinguished member of the
Corporation who was present would tell the company what the
Corporation were going to do; and he had not the slightest doubt
they were going to do something highly creditable to themselves,
and something highly serviceable to the whole metropolis; and if
the secret were not at present locked up in the blue chamber, they
would be all deeply obliged to the gentleman who would immediately
follow him, if he let them into it in the same confidence as he had
observed with respect to the Corporation of the City of London
being snubbed. He begged to give the toast of "The Corporation of
the City of London."

Mr. Alderman Cotton, in replying to the toast, said for once, and
once only, had their chairman said an unkind word about the
Corporation of London. He had always reckoned Mr. Dickens to be
one of the warmest friends of the Corporation; and remembering that
he (Mr. Dickens) did really go through a Lord Mayor's Show in a
Lord Mayor's carriage, if he had not felt himself quite a Lord
Mayor, he must have at least considered himself next to one.

In proposing the toast of the evening Mr, Dickens said:-]

Ladies and gentlemen,--You receive me with so much cordiality that
I fear you believe that I really did once sit in a Lord Mayor's
state coach. Permit me to assure you, in spite of the information
received from Mr. Alderman Cotton, that I never had that honour.
Furthermore, I beg to assure you that I never witnessed a Lord
Mayor's show except from the point of view obtained by the other
vagabonds upon the pavement. Now, ladies and gentlemen, in spite
of this great cordiality of yours, I doubt if you fully know yet
what a blessing it is to you that I occupy this chair to-night,
because, having filled it on several previous occasions for the
society on whose behalf we are assembled, and having said
everything that I could think of to say about it, and being,
moreover, the president of the institution itself, I am placed to-
night in the modest position of a host who is not so much to
display himself as to call out his guests--perhaps even to try to
induce some among them to occupy his place on another occasion.
And, therefore, you may be safely sure that, like Falstaff, but
with a modification almost as large as himself, I shall try rather
to be the cause of speaking in others than to speak myself to-
night. Much in this manner they exhibit at the door of a snuff
shop the effigy of a Highlander with an empty mull in his hand,
who, having apparently taken all the snuff he can carry, and
discharged all the sneezes of which he is capable, politely invites
his friends and patrons to step in and try what they can do in the
same line.

It is an appropriate instance of the universality of the newsman's
calling that no toast we have drunk to-night--and no toast we shall
drink to-night--and no toast we might, could, should, or would
drink to-night, is separable for a moment from that great inclusion
of all possible subjects of human interest which he delivers at our
doors every day. Further, it may be worthy the consideration of
everybody here who has talked cheerfully to his or her neighbour
since we have sat down at the table, what in the name of Heaven
should we have talked about, and how on earth could we have
possibly got on, if our newsman had only for one single day
forgotten us. Now, ladies and gentlemen, as our newsman is not by
any means in the habit of forgetting us, let us try to form a
little habit of not forgetting our newsman. Let us remember that
his work is very arduous; that it occupies him early and late; that
the profits he derives from us are at the best very small; that the
services he renders to us are very great; that if he be a master,
his little capital is exposed to all sorts of mischances,
anxieties, and hazards; and if he be a journeyman, he himself is
exposed to all manner of weathers, of tempers, and of difficult and
unreasonable requirements.

Let me illustrate this. I was once present at a social discussion,
which originated by chance. The subject was, What was the most
absorbing and longest-lived passion in the human breast? What was
the passion so powerful that it would almost induce the generous to
be mean, the careless to be cautious, the guileless to be deeply
designing, and the dove to emulate the serpent? A daily editor of
vast experience and great acuteness, who was one of the company,
considerably surprised us by saying with the greatest confidence
that the passion in question was the passion of getting orders for
the play.

There had recently been a terrible shipwreck, and very few of the
surviving sailors had escaped in an open boat. One of these on
making land came straight to London, and straight to the newspaper
office, with his story of how he had seen the ship go down before
his eyes. That young man had witnessed the most terrible
contention between the powers of fire and water for the destruction
of that ship and of every one on board. He had rowed away among
the floating, dying, and the sinking dead. He had floated by day,
and he had frozen by night, with no shelter and no food, and, as he
told his dismal tale, he rolled his haggard eyes about the room.
When he had finished, and the tale had been noted down from his
lips, he was cheered and refreshed, and soothed, and asked if
anything could be done for him. Even within him that master
passion was so strong that he immediately replied he should like an
order for the play. My friend the editor certainly thought that
was rather a strong case; but he said that during his many years of
experience he had witnessed an incurable amount of self-prostration
and abasement having no outer object, and that almost invariably on
the part of people who could well afford to pay.

This made a great impression on my mind, and I really lived in this
faith until some years ago it happened upon a stormy night I was
kindly escorted from a bleak railway station to the little out-of-
the-way town it represented by a sprightly and vivacious newsman,
to whom I propounded, as we went along under my umbrella--he being
most excellent company--this old question, what was the one all-
absorbing passion of the human soul? He replied, without the
slightest hesitation, that it certainly was the passion for getting
your newspaper in advance of your fellow-creatures; also, if you
only hired it, to get it delivered at your own door at exactly the
same time as another man who hired the same copy four miles off;
and, finally, the invincible determination on the part of both men
not to believe the time was up when the boy called.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have not had an opportunity of verifying
this experience with my friends of the managing committee, but I
have no doubt from its reception to-night that my friend the
newsman was perfectly right. Well, as a sort of beacon in a
sufficiently dark life, and as an assurance that among a little
body of working men there is a feeling of brotherhood and sympathy-
-which is worth much to all men, or they would herd with wolves--
the newsvendors once upon a time established the Benevolent and
Provident Institution, and here it is. Under the Provident head,
certain small annuities are granted to old and hard-working
subscribers. Under the Benevolent head, relief is afforded to
temporary and proved distress. Under both heads, I am bound to say
the help rendered is very humble and very sparing, but if you like
it to be handsomer you have it in your power to make it so. Such
as it is, it is most gratefully received, and does a deal of good.
Such as it is, it is most discreetly and feelingly administered;
and it is encumbered with no wasteful charges for management or

You know upon an old authority, that you may believe anything
except facts and figures, but you really may believe that during
the last year we have granted 100 pounds in pensions, and some 70
pounds in temporary relief, and we have invested in Government
securities some 400 pounds. But, touching this matter of
investments, it was suggested at the anniversary dinner, on the
high and kind authority of Sir Benjamin Phillips that we might
grant more pensions and invest less money. We urged, on the other
hand, that we wished our pensions to be certain and unchangeable--
which of course they must be if they are always paid out of our
Government interest and never out of our capital. However, so
amiable is our nature, that we profess our desire to grant more
pensions and to invest more money too. The more you give us to-
night again, so amiable is our nature, the more we promise to do in
both departments. That the newsman's work has greatly increased,
and that it is far more wearing and tearing than it used to be, you
may infer from one fact, not to mention that we live in railway
times. It is stated in Mitchell's "Newspaper Press Directory,"
that during the last quarter of a century the number of newspapers
which appeared in London had more than doubled, while the increase
in the number of people among whom they were disseminated was
probably beyond calculation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have stated the newsman's simple case. I
leave it in your hands. Within the last year the institution has
had the good fortune to attract the sympathy and gain the support
of the eminent man of letters I am proud to call my friend, {24}
who now represents the great Republic of America at the British
Court. Also it has the honour of enrolling upon its list of donors
and vice-presidents the great name of Longfellow. I beg to propose
to you to drink "Prosperity to the Newsvendors' Benevolent and
Provident Institution."


[On the evening of the above day the friends and admirers of Mr.
Macready entertained him at a public dinner. Upwards of six
hundred gentlemen assembled to do honour to the great actor on his
retirement from the stage. Sir E. B. Lytton took the chair. Among
the other speakers were Baron Bunsen, Sir Charles Eastlake, Mr.
Thackeray, Mr. John Forster, Mr. W. J. Fox, and Mr. Charles
Dickens, who proposed "The Health of the Chairman" in the following

Gentlemen,--After all you have already heard, and so rapturously
received, I assure you that not even the warmth of your kind
welcome would embolden me to hope to interest you if I had not full
confidence in the subject I have to offer to your notice. But my
reliance on the strength of this appeal to you is so strong that I
am rather encouraged than daunted by the brightness of the track on
which I have to throw my little shadow.

Gentlemen, as it seems to me, there are three great requisites
essential to the perfect realisation of a scene so unusual and so
splendid as that in which we are now assembled. The first, and I
must say very difficult requisite, is a man possessing the
stronghold in the general remembrance, the indisputable claim on
the general regard and esteem, which is possessed by my dear and
much valued friend our guest. The second requisite is the presence
of a body of entertainers,--a great multitude of hosts so cheerful
and good-humoured (under, I am sorry to say, some personal
inconvenience),--so warm-hearted and so nobly in earnest, as those
whom I have the privilege of addressing. The third, and certainly
not the least of these requisites, is a president who, less by his
social position, which he may claim by inheritance, or by fortune,
which may have been adventitiously won, and may be again
accidentally lost, than by his comprehensive genius, shall fitly
represent the best part of him to whom honour is done, and the best
part of those who unite in the doing of it. Such a president I
think we have found in our chairman of to-night, and I need
scarcely add that our chairman's health is the toast I have to
propose to you.

Many of those who now hear me were present, I daresay, at that
memorable scene on Wednesday night last, {25} when the great vision
which had been a delight and a lesson,--very often, I daresay, a
support and a comfort to you, which had for many years improved and
charmed us, and to which we had looked for an elevated relief from
the labours of our lives, faded from our sight for ever. I will
not stop to inquire whether our guest may or may not have looked
backward, through rather too long a period for us, to some remote
and distant time when he might possibly bear some far-off likeness
to a certain Spanish archbishop whom Gil Blas once served. Nor
will I stop to inquire whether it was a reasonable disposition in
the audience of Wednesday to seize upon the words -

"And I have brought,
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon--" {26}

but I will venture to intimate to those whom I am addressing how in
my mind I mainly connect that occasion with the present. When I
looked round on the vast assemblage, and observed the huge pit
hushed into stillness on the rising of the curtain, and that mighty
surging gallery, where men in their shirt-sleeves had been striking
out their arms like strong swimmers--when I saw that. boisterous
human flood become still water in a moment, and remain so from the
opening to the end of the play, it suggested to me something
besides the trustworthiness of an English crowd, and the delusion
under which those labour who are apt to disparage and malign it:
it suggested to me that in meeting here to-night we undertook to
represent something of the all-pervading feeling of that crowd,
through all its intermediate degrees, from the full-dressed lady,
with her diamonds sparkling upon her breast in the proscenium-box,
to the half-undressed gentleman; who bides his time to take some
refreshment in the back row of the gallery. And I consider,
gentlemen, that no one who could possibly be placed in this chair
could so well head that comprehensive representation, and could so
well give the crowning grace to our festivities, as one whose
comprehensive genius has in his various works embraced them all,
and who has, in his dramatic genius, enchanted and enthralled them
all at once.

Gentlemen, it is not for me here to recall, after what you have
heard this night, what I have seen and known in the bygone times of
Mr. Macready's management, of the strong friendship of Sir Bulwer
Lytton for him, of the association of his pen with his earliest
successes, or of Mr. Macready's zealous and untiring services; but
it may be permitted me to say what, in any public mention of him I
can never repress, that in the path we both tread I have uniformly
found him from the first the most generous of men; quick to
encourage, slow to disparage, ever anxious to assert the order of
which he is so great an ornament; never condescending to shuffle it
off, and leave it outside state rooms, as a Mussulman might leave
his slippers outside a mosque.

There is a popular prejudice, a kind of superstition to the effect
that authors are not a particularly united body, that they are not
invariably and inseparably attached to each other. I am afraid I
must concede half-a-grain or so of truth I to that superstition;
but this I know, that there can hardly be--that there hardly can
have been--among the followers of literature, a man of more high
standing farther above these little grudging jealousies, which do
sometimes disparage its brightness, than Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.

And I have the strongest reason just at present to bear my
testimony to his great consideration for those evils which are
sometimes unfortunately attendant upon it, though not on him. For,
in conjunction with some other gentlemen now present, I have just
embarked in a design with Sir Bulwer Lytton, to smoothe the rugged
way of young labourers, both in literature and the fine arts, and
to soften, but by no eleemosynary means, the declining years of
meritorious age. And if that project prosper as I hope it will,
and as I know it ought, it will one day be an honour to England
where there is now a reproach; originating in his sympathies, being
brought into operation by his activity, and endowed from its very
cradle by his generosity. There are many among you who will have
each his own favourite reason for drinking our chairman's health,
resting his claim probably upon some of his diversified successes.
According to the nature of your reading, some of you will connect
him with prose, others will connect him with poetry. One will
connect him with comedy, and another with the romantic passions of
the stage, and his assertion of worthy ambition and earnest
struggle against those

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

Again, another's taste will lead him to the contemplation of Rienzi
and the streets of Rome; another's to the rebuilt and repeopled
streets of Pompeii; another's to the touching history of the
fireside where the Caxton family learned how to discipline their
natures and tame their wild hopes down. But, however various their
feelings and reasons may be, I am sure that with one accord each
will help the other, and all will swell the greeting, with which I
shall now propose to you "The Health of our Chairman, Sir Edward
Bulwer Lytton."


[The members and friends of the Metropolitan Sanitary Association
dined together on the above evening at Gore House, Kensington. The
Earl of Carlisle occupied the chair. Mr. Charles Dickens was
present, and in proposing "The Board of Health," made the following

There are very few words for me to say upon the needfulness of
sanitary reform, or the consequent usefulness of the Board of
Health. That no man can estimate the amount of mischief grown in
dirt,--that no man can say the evil stops here or stops there,
either in its moral or physical effects, or can deny that it begins
in the cradle and is not at rest in the miserable grave, is as
certain as it is that the air from Gin Lane will be carried by an
easterly wind into Mayfair, or that the furious pestilence raging
in St. Giles's no mortal list of lady patronesses can keep out of
Almack's. Fifteen years ago some of the valuable reports of Mr.
Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, strengthening and much enlarging
my knowledge, made me earnest in this cause in my own sphere; and I
can honestly declare that the use I have since that time made of my
eyes and nose have only strengthened the conviction that certain
sanitary reforms must precede all other social remedies, and that
neither education nor religion can do anything useful until the way
has been paved for their ministrations by cleanliness and decency.

I do not want authority for this opinion: you have heard the
speech of the right reverend prelate {27} this evening--a speech
which no sanitary reformer can have heard without emotion. Of what
avail is it to send missionaries to the miserable man condemned to
work in a foetid court, with every sense bestowed upon him for his
health and happiness turned into a torment, with every month of his
life adding to the heap of evils under which he is condemned to
exist? What human sympathy within him is that instructor to
address? what natural old chord within him is he to touch? Is it
the remembrance of his children?--a memory of destitution, of
sickness, of fever, and of scrofula? Is it his hopes, his latent
hopes of immortality? He is so surrounded by and embedded in
material filth, that his soul cannot rise to the contemplation of
the great truths of religion. Or if the case is that of a
miserable child bred and nurtured in some noisome, loathsome place,
and tempted, in these better days, into the ragged school, what can
a few hours' teaching effect against the ever-renewed lesson of a
whole existence? But give them a glimpse of heaven through a
little of its light and air; give them water; help them to be
clean; lighten that heavy atmosphere in which their spirits flag
and in which they become the callous things they are; take the body
of the dead relative from the close room in which the living live
with it, and where death, being familiar, loses its awe; and then
they will be brought willingly to hear of Him whose thoughts were
so much with the poor, and who had compassion for all human

The toast which I have to propose, The Board of Health, is entitled
to all the honour which can be conferred upon it. We have very
near us, in Kensington, a transparent illustration that no very
great thing can ever be accomplished without an immense amount of
abuse being heaped upon it. In connexion with the Board of Health
we are always hearing a very large word which is always pronounced
with a very great relish--the word centralization. Now I submit
that in the time of the cholera we had a pretty good opportunity of
judging between this so called centralization and what I may, I
think, call "vestrylisation." I dare say the company present have
read the reports of the Cholera Board of Health, and I daresay they
have also read reports of certain vestries. I have the honour of
belonging to a constituency which elected that amazing body, the
Marylebone vestry, and I think that if the company present will
look to what was done by the Board of Health at Glasgow, and then
contrast those proceedings with the wonderful cleverness with which
affairs were managed at the same period by my vestry, there will be
very little difficulty in judging between them. My vestry even
took upon itself to deny the existence of cholera as a weak
invention of the enemy, and that denial had little or no effect in
staying the progress of the disease. We can now contrast what
centralization is as represented by a few noisy and interested
gentlemen, and what centralization is when worked out by a body
combining business habits, sound medical and social knowledge, and
an earnest sympathy with the sufferings of the working classes.

Another objection to the Board of Health is conveyed in a word not
so large as the other,--"Delay." I would suggest, in respect to
this, that it would be very unreasonable to complain that a first-
rate chronometer didn't go when its master had not wound it up.
The Board of Health may be excellently adapted for going and very
willing and anxious to go, and yet may not be permitted to go by
reason of its lawful master having fallen into a gentle slumber and
forgotten to set it a going. One of the speakers this evening has
referred to Lord Castlereagh's caution "not to halloo until they
were out of the wood." As regards the Board of Trade I would
suggest that they ought not to halloo until they are out of the
Woods and Forests. In that leafy region the Board of Health
suffers all sorts of delays, and this should always be borne in
mind. With the toast of the Board of Health I will couple the name
of a noble lord (Ashley), of whose earnestness in works of
benevolence, no man can doubt, and who has the courage on all
occasions to face the cant which is the worst and commonest of all-
-the cant about the cant of philanthropy.


[At the anniversary dinner of the Gardeners' Benevolent
Institution, held under the presidency of Mr., afterwards Sir
Joseph Paxton, Mr. Charles Dickens made the following speech:-]

I feel an unbounded and delightful interest in all the purposes and
associations of gardening. Probably there is no feeling in the
human mind stronger than the love of gardening. The prisoner will
make a garden in his prison, and cultivate his solitary flower in
the chink of a wall. The poor mechanic will string his scarlet
bean from one side of his window to the other, and watch it and
tend it with unceasing interest. It is a holy duty in foreign
countries to decorate the graves of the dead with flowers, and
here, too, the resting-places of those who have passed away from us
will soon be gardens. From that old time when the Lord walked in
the garden in the cool of the evening, down to the day when a Poet-
Laureate sang -

"Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
From yon blue heaven above us bent
The gardener Adam and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent,"

at all times and in all ages gardens have been amongst the objects
of the greatest interest to mankind. There may be a few, but I
believe they are but a few, who take no interest in the products of
gardening, except perhaps in "London Pride," or a certain
degenerate kind of "Stock," which is apt to grow hereabouts,
cultivated by a species of frozen-out gardeners whom no thaw can
ever penetrate: except these, the gardeners' art has contributed
to the delight of all men in their time. That there ought to be a
Benevolent Provident Institution for gardeners is in the fitness of
things, and that such an institution ought to flourish and does
flourish is still more so.

I have risen to propose to you the health of a gentleman who is a
great gardener, and not only a great gardener but a great man--the
growth of a fine Saxon root cultivated up with a power of intellect
to a plant that is at this time the talk of the civilized world--I
allude, of course, to my friend the chairman of the day. I took
occasion to say at a public assembly hard-by, a month or two ago,
in speaking of that wonderful building Mr. Paxton has designed for
the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, that it ought to have fallen
down, but that it refused to do so. We were told that the glass
ought to have been all broken, the gutters all choked up, and the
building flooded, and that the roof and sides ought to have been
blown away; in short that everything ought to have done what
everything obstinately persisted in not doing. Earth, air, fire,
and water all appear to have conspired together in Mr. Paxton's
favour--all have conspired together to one result, which, when the
present generation is dust, will be an enduring temple to his
honour, and to the energy, the talent, and the resources of

"But," said a gentleman to me the other day, "no doubt Mr. Paxton
is a great man, but there is one objection to him that you can
never get over, that is, he is a gardener." Now that is our case
to-night, that he is a gardener, and we are extremely proud of it.
This is a great age, with all its faults, when a man by the power
of his own genius and good sense can scale such a daring height as
Mr. Paxton has reached, and composedly place his form on the top.
This is a great age, when a man impressed with a useful idea can
carry out his project without being imprisoned, or thumb-screwed,
or persecuted in any form. I can well understand that you, to whom
the genius, the intelligence, the industry, and the achievements of
our friend are well known, should be anxious to do him honour by
placing him in the position he occupies to-night; and I assure you,
you have conferred great gratification on one of his friends, in
permitting him to have the opportunity of proposing his health,
which that friend now does most cordially and with all the honours.


[On the occasion of the Second Exhibition of the Royal Academy in
their new galleries in Piccadilly, the President, Sir F. Grant, and
the council gave their usual inaugurative banquet, and a very
distinguished company was present. The dinner took place in the
large central room, and covers were laid for 200 guests. The
Prince of Wales acknowledged the toast of his health and that of
the Princess, the Duke of Cambridge responded to the toast of the
army, Mr. Childers to the navy, Lord Elcho to the volunteers, Mr.
Motley to "The Prosperity of the United States," Mr. Gladstone to
"Her Majesty's Ministers," the Archbishop of York to, "The Guests,"
and Mr. Dickens to "Literature." The last toast having been
proposed in a highly eulogistic speech, Mr. Dickens responded.]

Mr. President, your Royal Highnesses, my Lords and Gentlemen,--I
beg to acknowledge the toast with which you have done me the great
honour of associating my name. I beg to acknowledge it on behalf
of the brotherhood of literature, present and absent, not
forgetting an illustrious wanderer from the fold, whose tardy
return to it we all hail with delight, and who now sits--or lately
did sit--within a few chairs of or on your left hand. I hope I may
also claim to acknowledge the toast on behalf of the sisterhood of
literature also, although that "better half of human nature," to
which Mr. Gladstone rendered his graceful tribute, is unworthily
represented here, in the present state of its rights and wrongs, by
the devouring monster, man.

All the arts, and many of the sciences, bear witness that women,
even in their present oppressed condition, can attain to quite as
great distinction, and can attain to quite as lofty names as men.
Their emancipation (as I am given to understand) drawing very near,
there is no saying how soon they may "push us from our stools" at
these tables, or how soon our better half of human nature, standing
in this place of mine, may eloquently depreciate mankind,
addressing another better half of human nature sitting in the
president's chair.

The literary visitors of the Royal Academy to-night desire me to
congratulate their hosts on a very interesting exhibition, in which
risen excellence supremely asserts itself, and from which promise
of a brilliant succession in time to come is not wanting. They
naturally see with especial interest the writings and persons of
great men--historians, philosophers, poets, and novelists, vividly
illustrated around them here. And they hope that they may modestly
claim to have rendered some little assistance towards the
production of many of the pictures in this magnificent gallery.
For without the patient labours of some among them unhistoric
history might have long survived in this place, and but for the
researches and wandering of others among them, the most
preposterous countries, the most impossible peoples, and the
absurdest superstitions, manners, and customs, might have usurped
the place of truth upon these walls. Nay, there is no knowing, Sir
Francis Grant, what unlike portraits you yourself might have
painted if you had been left, with your sitters, to idle pens,
unchecked reckless rumours, and undenounced lying malevolence.

I cannot forbear, before I resume my seat, adverting to a sad theme
(the recent death of Daniel Maclise) to which his Royal Highness
the Prince of Wales made allusion, and to which the president
referred with the eloquence of genuine feeling. Since I first
entered the public lists, a very young man indeed, it has been my
constant fortune to number amongst my nearest and dearest friends
members of the Royal Academy who have been its grace and pride.
They have so dropped from my side one by one that I already, begin
to feel like the Spanish monk of whom Wilkie tells, who had grown
to believe that the only realities around him were the pictures
which he loved, and that all the moving life he saw, or ever had
seen, was a shadow and a dream.

For many years I was one of the two most intimate friends and most
constant companions of the late Mr. Maclise. Of his genius in his
chosen art I will venture to say nothing here, but of his
prodigious fertility of mind and wonderful wealth of intellect, I
may confidently assert that they would have made him, if he had
been so minded, at least as great a writer as he was a painter.
The gentlest and most modest of men, the freshest as to his
generous appreciation of young aspirants, and the frankest and
largest-hearted as to his peers, incapable of a sordid or ignoble
thought, gallantly sustaining the true dignity of his vocation,
without one grain of self-ambition, wholesomely natural at the last
as at the first, "in wit a man, simplicity a child," no artist, of
whatsoever denomination, I make bold to say, ever went to his rest
leaving a golden memory more pure from dross, or having devoted
himself with a truer chivalry to the art goddess whom he

[These were the last public words of Charles Dickens.]


{1} Sir David Wilkie died at sea, on board the Oriental, off
Gibraltar, on the 1st of June, 1841, whilst on his way back to
England. During the evening of the same day his body was committed
to the deep. --ED.

{2} The Britannia was the vessel that conveyed Mr. Dickens across
the Atlantic, on his first visit to America--ED.

{3} Master Humphrey's Clock, under which title the two novels of
Barnaby Rudge and The Old Curiosity Shop originally appeared.--ED.

{4} "I shall always entertain a very pleasant and grateful
recollection of Hartford. It is a lovely place, and I had many
friends there, whom I can never remember with indifference. We
left it with no little regret." American Notes (Lond. 1842). Vol.
I, p. 182.

{5} See the Life and Letters of Washington Irving (Lond. 1863), p.
644, where Irving speaks of a letter he has received "from that
glorious fellow Dickens, in reply to the one I wrote, expressing my
heartfelt delight with his writings, and my yearnings toward
himself." See also the letter itself, in the second division of
this volume.--ED.

{6} TENNYSON, Lady Clara Vere de Vere, then newly published in
collection of 1842.--ED

{7} "That this meeting, while conveying its cordial thanks to
Charles Dickens, Esq., for his presence this evening, and for his
able and courteous conduct as President, cannot separate without
tendering the warmest expression of its gratitude and admiration to
one whose writings have so loyally inculcated the lessons of
benevolence and virtue, and so richly contributed to the stores of
public pleasure and instructions."

{8} The Duke of Devonshire.

{9} Charlotte Corday going to Execution.

{10} The above is extracted from Mrs. Stowe's "Sunny Memories of
Foreign Lands,", a book in which her eaves-dropping propensities
were already developed in a sufficiently ugly form.--ED.

{11} Alas! the "many years" were to be barely six, when the
speaker was himself destined to write some memorial pages
commemorative of his illustrious friend (Cornhill Magazine,
February, 1864.)--ED.

{12} Mr. Henry Dodd had proposed to give five acres of land in
Berkshire, but, in consequence of his desiring to attach certain
restrictions, after a long and unsatisfactory correspondence, the
Committee, on 13th January following, rejected the offer.

{13} Claude Melnotte in The Lady of Lyons, Act iii. sc. 2.

{14} Mr. B. Webster.

{15} Romeo and Juliet, Act III. Sc. 1.

{16} Robert Browning: Bells and Pomegranates.

{17} R. H.

{18} Carlyle's French Revolution. Book X., Chapter I.

{19} Henry Thomas Buckle.

{20} This and the Speeches which follow were accidentally omitted
in their right places.

{21} Hazlitt's Round Table (Edinburgh, 1817, vol ii., p. 242), On
Actors and Acting.

{22} An allusion to a well-known Sonnet of Wordsworth, beginning--
"The world is too much with us--late and soon," &c.--ED.

{23} Alluding to the forthcoming serial story of Edwin Drood.

{24} The Honourable John Lothrop Motley.

{25} February 26th, 1851. Mr. Macready's Farewell Benefit at
Drury Lane Theatre, on which occasion he played the part of

{26} MACBETH, Act I., sc. 7.

{27} The Bishop of Ripon (Dr. Longley).

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