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.
SPEECH: LIVERPOOL, FEBRUARY 26, 1844.
[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.