Charles Dickens

We have seen the Comedy of Errors played so dismally like a tragedy that we really cannot bear it. We are, therefore, making bold to get up the School of Reform, and we hope, before the play is out, to improve that noble lord by our performance very considerably. If he object that we have no right to improve him without his license, we venture to claim that right in virtue of his orchestra, consisting of a very powerful piper, whom we always pay.

Sir, as this is the first political meeting I have ever attended, and as my trade and calling is not associated with politics, perhaps it may be useful for me to show how I came to be here, because reasons similar to those which have influenced me may still be trembling in the balance in the minds of others. I want at all times, in full sincerity, to do my duty by my countrymen. If _I_ feel an attachment towards them, there is nothing disinterested or meritorious in that, for I can never too affectionately remember the confidence and friendship that they have long reposed in me. My sphere of action--which I shall never change--I shall never overstep, further than this, or for a longer period than I do to- night. By literature I have lived, and through literature I have been content to serve my country; and I am perfectly well aware that I cannot serve two masters. In my sphere of action I have tried to understand the heavier social grievances, and to help to set them right. When the Times newspaper proved its then almost incredible case, in reference to the ghastly absurdity of that vast labyrinth of misplaced men and misdirected things, which had made England unable to find on the face of the earth, an enemy one- twentieth part so potent to effect the misery and ruin of her noble defenders as she has been herself, I believe that the gloomy silence into which the country fell was by far the darkest aspect in which a great people had been exhibited for many years. With shame and indignation lowering among all classes of society, and this new element of discord piled on the heaving basis of ignorance, poverty and crime, which is always below us--with little adequate expression of the general mind, or apparent understanding of the general mind, in Parliament--with the machinery of Government and the legislature going round and round, and the people fallen from it and standing aloof, as if they left it to its last remaining function of destroying itself, when it had achieved the destruction of so much that was dear to them--I did and do believe that the only wholesome turn affairs so menacing could possibly take, was, the awaking of the people, the outspeaking of the people, the uniting of the people in all patriotism and loyalty to effect a great peaceful constitutional change in the administration of their own affairs. At such a crisis this association arose; at such a crisis I joined it: considering its further case to be--if further case could possibly be needed--that what is everybody's business is nobody's business, that men must be gregarious in good citizenship as well as in other things, and that it is a law in nature that there must be a centre of attraction for particles to fly to, before any serviceable body with recognised functions can come into existence. This association has arisen, and we belong to it. What are the objections to it? I have heard in the main but three, which I will now briefly notice. It is said that it is proposed by this association to exercise an influence, through the constituencies, on the House of Commons. I have not the least hesitation in saying that I have the smallest amount of faith in the House of Commons at present existing and that I consider the exercise of such influence highly necessary to the welfare and honour of this country. I was reading no later than yesterday the book of Mr. Pepys, which is rather a favourite of mine, in which he, two hundred years ago, writing of the House of Commons, says:

"My cousin Roger Pepys tells me that it is matter of the greatest grief to him in the world that he should be put upon this trust of being a Parliament man; because he says nothing is done, that he can see, out of any truth and sincerity, but mere envy and design."

Now, how it comes to pass that after two hundred years, and many years after a Reform Bill, the house of Commons is so little changed, I will not stop to inquire.