Charles Dickens

Or if the case is that of a miserable child bred and nurtured in some noisome, loathsome place, and tempted, in these better days, into the ragged school, what can a few hours' teaching effect against the ever-renewed lesson of a whole existence? But give them a glimpse of heaven through a little of its light and air; give them water; help them to be clean; lighten that heavy atmosphere in which their spirits flag and in which they become the callous things they are; take the body of the dead relative from the close room in which the living live with it, and where death, being familiar, loses its awe; and then they will be brought willingly to hear of Him whose thoughts were so much with the poor, and who had compassion for all human suffering.

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

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


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

I feel an unbounded and delightful interest in all the purposes and associations of gardening. Probably there is no feeling in the human mind stronger than the love of gardening. The prisoner will make a garden in his prison, and cultivate his solitary flower in the chink of a wall.