Charles Dickens

There is a chain-maker, in very humble circumstances, and working hard all day, who walks six miles a-night, three nights a-week, to attend the classes in which he has won so famous a place. There is a moulder in an iron foundry, who, whilst he was working twelve hours a day before the furnace, got up at four o'clock in the morning to learn drawing. "The thought of my lads," he writes in his modest account of himself, "in their peaceful slumbers above me, gave me fresh courage, and I used to think that if I should never receive any personal benefit, I might instruct them when they came to be of an age to understand the mighty machines and engines which have made our country, England, pre- eminent in the world's history." There is a piecer at mule-frames, who could not read at eighteen, who is now a man of little more than thirty, who is the sole support of an aged mother, who is arithmetical teacher in the institution in which he himself was taught, who writes of himself that he made the resolution never to take up a subject without keeping to it, and who has kept to it with such an astonishing will, that he is now well versed in Euclid and Algebra, and is the best French scholar in Stockport. The drawing-classes in that same Stockport are taught by a working blacksmith; and the pupils of that working blacksmith will receive the highest honours of to-night. Well may it be said of that good blacksmith, as it was written of another of his trade, by the American poet:

"Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, Onward through life he goes; Each morning sees some task begun, Each evening sees its clause. Something attempted, something done, Has earn'd a night's repose."

To pass from the successful candidates to the delegates from local societies now before me, and to content myself with one instance from amongst them. There is among their number a most remarkable man, whose history I have read with feelings that I could not adequately express under any circumstances, and least of all when I know he hears me, who worked when he was a mere baby at hand-loom weaving until he dropped from fatigue: who began to teach himself as soon as he could earn five shillings a-week: who is now a botanist, acquainted with every production of the Lancashire valley: who is a naturalist, and has made and preserved a collection of the eggs of British birds, and stuffed the birds: who is now a conchologist, with a very curious, and in some respects an original collection of fresh-water shells, and has also preserved and collected the mosses of fresh water and of the sea: who is worthily the president of his own local Literary Institution, and who was at his work this time last night as foreman in a mill.

So stimulating has been the influence of these bright examples, and many more, that I notice among the applications from Blackburn for preliminary test examination papers, one from an applicant who gravely fills up the printed form by describing himself as ten years of age, and who, with equal gravity, describes his occupation as "nursing a little child." Nor are these things confined to the men. The women employed in factories, milliners' work, and domestic service, have begun to show, as it is fitting they should, a most decided determination not to be outdone by the men; and the women of Preston in particular, have so honourably distinguished themselves, and shown in their examination papers such an admirable knowledge of the science of household management and household economy, that if I were a working bachelor of Lancashire or Cheshire, and if I had not cast my eye or set my heart upon any lass in particular, I should positively get up at four o'clock in the morning with the determination of the iron-moulder himself, and should go to Preston in search of a wife.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, these instances, and many more, daily occurring, always accumulating, are surely better testimony to the working of this Association, than any number of speakers could possibly present to you.