Charles Dickens

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.'