Charles Dickens

Next, I believe, is the Spring Hill College, a learned institution belonging to the body of Independents, foremost among whose professors literature is proud to hail Mr. Henry Rogers as one of the soundest and ablest contributors to the Edinburgh Review. The next is the Queen's College, which, I may say, is only a newly-born child; but, in the hands of such an admirable Doctor, we may hope to see it arrive at a vigorous maturity. The next is the School of Design, which, as has been well observed by my friend Sir Charles Eastlake, is invaluable in such a place as this; and, lastly, there is the Polytechnic Institution, with regard to which I had long ago occasion to express my profound conviction that it was of unspeakable importance to such a community as this, when I had the honour to be present, under the auspices of your excellent representative, Mr. Scholefield. This is the last of what has been done in an educational way. They are all admirable in their kind; but I am glad to find that more is yet doing. A few days ago I received a Birmingham newspaper, containing a most interesting account of a preliminary meeting for the formation of a Reformatory School for juvenile delinquents. You are not exempt here from the honour of saving these poor, neglected, and wretched outcasts. I read of one infant, six years old, who has been twice as many times in the hands of the police as years have passed over his devoted head. These are the eggs from which gaol-birds are hatched; if you wish to check that dreadful brood, you must take the young and innocent, and have them reared by Christian hands.

Lastly, I am rejoiced to find that there is on foot a scheme for a new Literary and Scientific Institution, which would be worthy even of this place, if there was nothing of the kind in it--an institution, as I understand it, where the words "exclusion" and "exclusiveness" shall be quite unknown--where all classes may assemble in common trust, respect, and confidence--where there shall be a great gallery of painting and statuary open to the inspection and admiration of all comers--where there shall be a museum of models in which industry may observe its various sources of manufacture, and the mechanic may work out new combinations, and arrive at new results--where the very mines under the earth and under the sea shall not be forgotten, but presented in little to the inquiring eye--an institution, in short, where many and many of the obstacles which now inevitably stand in the rugged way of the poor inventor shall be smoothed away, and where, if he have anything in him, he will find encouragement and hope.

I observe with unusual interest and gratification, that a body of gentlemen are going for a time to lay aside their individual prepossessions on other subjects, and, as good citizens, are to be engaged in a design as patriotic as well can be. They have the intention of meeting in a few days to advance this great object, and I call upon you, in drinking this toast, to drink success to their endeavour, and to make it the pledge by all good means to promote it.

If I strictly followed out the list of educational institutions in Birmingham, I should not have done here, but I intend to stop, merely observing that I have seen within a short walk of this place one of the most interesting and practical Institutions for the Deaf and Dumb that has ever come under my observation. I have seen in the factories and workshops of Birmingham such beautiful order and regularity, and such great consideration for the workpeople provided, that they might justly be entitled to be considered educational too. I have seen in your splendid Town Hall, when the cheap concerts are going on there, also an admirable educational institution. I have seen their results in the demeanour of your working people, excellently balanced by a nice instinct, as free from servility on the one hand, as from self-conceit on the other. It is a perfect delight to have need to ask a question, if only from the manner of the reply--a manner I never knew to pass unnoticed by an observant stranger.