Speeches: Literary and Social by Charles Dickens

Transcribed from the 1880 Chatto and Windus edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk SPEECHES: LITERARY AND SOCIAL BY CHARLES DICKENS SPEECH: EDINBURGH, JUNE 25, 1841. If I felt your warm and generous welcome less, I should be better able to thank you. If I could have listened as you have listened to the glowing language
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  • 1870
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Transcribed from the 1880 Chatto and Windus edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



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

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

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

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

“The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.”

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

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

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

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

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

[In proposing the memory of the late Sir David Wilkie, Mr. Dickens said:-]

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Its ‘prentice han’ it tried on man,
And then it TAUGHT the lasses, O.”

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

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

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

‘Who enters here, leaves DOUBT behind.'”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“gardener Adam and his wife,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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