Charles Dickens

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.