Charles Dickens

We have also amongst us my friend Mr. Peter Cunningham, who is also a traveller, not only in right of his able edition of Goldsmith's "Traveller," but in right of his admirable Handbook, which proves him to be a traveller in the right spirit through all the labyrinths of London. We have also amongst us my friend Horace Mayhew, very well known also for his books, but especially for his genuine admiration of the company at that end of the room [Mr. Dickens here pointed to the ladies gallery], and who, whenever the fair sex is mentioned, will be found to have the liveliest personal interest in the conversation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to propose to you the health of these three distinguished visitors. They are all admirable speakers, but Mr. Albert Smith has confessed to me, that on fairly balancing his own merits as a speaker and a singer, he rather thinks he excels in the latter art. I have, therefore, yielded to his estimate of himself, and I have now the pleasure of informing you that he will lead off the speeches of the other two gentlemen with a song. Mr. Albert Smith has just said to me in an earnest tone of voice, "What song would you recommend?" and I replied, "Galignani's Messenger." Ladies and gentlemen, I therefore beg to propose the health of Messrs. Albert Smith, Peter Cunningham, and Horace Mayhew, and call on the first-named gentleman for a song.


I cannot, I am sure, better express my sense of the kind reception accorded to me by this great assembly, than by promising to compress what I shall address to it within the closest possible limits. It is more than eighteen hundred years ago, since there was a set of men who "thought they should be heard for their much speaking." As they have propagated exceedingly since that time, and as I observe that they flourish just now to a surprising extent about Westminster, I will do my best to avoid adding to the numbers of that prolific race. The noble lord at the head of the Government, when he wondered in Parliament about a week ago, that my friend, Mr. Layard, did not blush for having stated in this place what the whole country knows perfectly well to be true, and what no man in it can by possibility better know to be true than those disinterested supporters of that noble lord, who had the advantage of hearing him and cheering him night after night, when he first became premier--I mean that he did officially and habitually joke, at a time when this country was plunged in deep disgrace and distress--I say, that noble lord, when he wondered so much that the man of this age, who has, by his earnest and adventurous spirit, done the most to distinguish himself and it, did not blush for the tremendous audacity of having so come between the wind and his nobility, turned an airy period with reference to the private theatricals at Drury Lane Theatre. Now, I have some slight acquaintance with theatricals, private and public, and I will accept that figure of the noble lord. I will not say that if I wanted to form a company of Her Majesty's servants, I think I should know where to put my hand on "the comic old gentleman;" nor, that if I wanted to get up a pantomime, I fancy I should know what establishment to go to for the tricks and changes; also, for a very considerable host of supernumeraries, to trip one another up in that contention with which many of us are familiar, both on these and on other boards, in which the principal objects thrown about are loaves and fishes. But I will try to give the noble lord the reason for these private theatricals, and the reason why, however ardently he may desire to ring the curtain down upon them, there is not the faintest present hope of their coming to a conclusion. It is this:- The public theatricals which the noble lord is so condescending as to manage are so intolerably bad, the machinery is so cumbrous, the parts so ill-distributed, the company so full of "walking gentlemen," the managers have such large families, and are so bent upon putting those families into what is theatrically called "first business"--not because of their aptitude for it, but because they ARE their families, that we find ourselves obliged to organize an opposition.