Lastly, gentlemen, and I am sorry to say, worst of all--(for I must present no rose-coloured picture of this place to you--I must not deceive you;) lastly, the visitor to this Children's Hospital, reckoning up the number of its beds, will find himself perforce obliged to stop at very little over thirty; and will learn, with sorrow and surprise, that even that small number, so forlornly, so miserably diminutive, compared with this vast London, cannot possibly be maintained, unless the Hospital be made better known; I limit myself to saying better known, because I will not believe that in a Christian community of fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, it can fail, being better known, to be well and richly endowed.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, this, without a word of adornment--which I resolved when I got up not to allow myself--this is the simple case. This is the pathetic case which I have to put to you; not only on behalf of the thousands of children who annually die in this great city, but also on behalf of the thousands of children who live half developed, racked with preventible pain, shorn of their natural capacity for health and enjoyment. If these innocent creatures cannot move you for themselves, how can I possibly hope to move you in their name? The most delightful paper, the most charming essay, which the tender imagination of Charles Lamb conceived, represents him as sitting by his fireside on a winter night telling stories to his own dear children, and delighting in their society, until he suddenly comes to his old, solitary, bachelor self, and finds that they were but dream-children who might have been, but never were. "We are nothing," they say to him; "less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and we must wait upon the tedious shore of Lethe, millions of ages, before we have existence and a name." "And immediately awaking," he says, "I found myself in my arm chair." The dream- children whom I would now raise, if I could, before every one of you, according to your various circumstances, should be the dear child you love, the dearer child you have lost, the child you might have had, the child you certainly have been. Each of these dream- children should hold in its powerful hand one of the little children now lying in the Child's Hospital, or now shut out of it to perish. Each of these dream-children should say to you, "O, help this little suppliant in my name; O, help it for my sake!" Well!--And immediately awaking, you should find yourselves in the Freemasons' Hall, happily arrived at the end of a rather long speech, drinking "Prosperity to the Hospital for Sick Children," and thoroughly resolved that it shall flourish.
SPEECH: EDINBURGH, MARCH, 26, 1858.
[On the above date Mr. Dickens gave a reading of his Christmas Carol in the Music Hall, before the members and subscribers of the Philosophical Institution. At the conclusion of the reading the Lord Provost of Edinburgh presented him with a massive silver wassail cup. Mr. Dickens acknowledged the tribute as follows:]
My Lord Provost, ladies, and gentlemen, I beg to assure you I am deeply sensible of your kind welcome, and of this beautiful and great surprise; and that I thank you cordially with all my heart. I never have forgotten, and I never can forget, that I have the honour to be a burgess and guild-brother of the Corporation of Edinburgh. As long as sixteen or seventeen years ago, the first great public recognition and encouragement I ever received was bestowed on me in this generous and magnificent city--in this city so distinguished in literature and so distinguished in the arts. You will readily believe that I have carried into the various countries I have since traversed, and through all my subsequent career, the proud and affectionate remembrance of that eventful epoch in my life; and that coming back to Edinburgh is to me like coming home.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard so much of my voice to-night, that I will not inflict on you the additional task of hearing any more.