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.
SPEECH: BIRMINGHAM, JANUARY 6, 1853.
[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.