Charles Dickens

The leading members of the dramatic art, applying themselves first to the more pressing necessity of the two, set themselves to work on the construction of their harbour of refuge, and this they did with the zeal, energy, good-will, and good faith that always honourably distinguish them in their efforts to help one another. Those efforts were very powerfully aided by the respected gentleman {14} under whose roof we are assembled, and who, I hope, may be only half as glad of seeing me on these boards as I always am to see him here. With such energy and determination did Mr. Webster and his brothers and sisters in art proceed with their work, that at this present time all the dwelling-houses of the Royal Dramatic College are built, completely furnished, fitted with every appliance, and many of them inhabited. The central hall of the College is built, the grounds are beautifully planned and laid out, and the estate has become the nucleus of a prosperous neighbourhood. This much achieved, Mr. Webster was revolving in his mind how he should next proceed towards the establishment of the schools, when, this Tercentenary celebration being in hand, it occurred to him to represent to the National Shakespeare Committee their just and reasonable claim to participate in the results of any subscription for a monument to Shakespeare. He represented to the committee that the social recognition and elevation of the followers of Shakespeare's own art, through the education of their children, was surely a monument worthy even of that great name. He urged upon the committee that it was certainly a sensible, tangible project, which the public good sense would immediately appreciate and approve. This claim the committee at once acknowledged; but I wish you distinctly to understand that if the committee had never been in existence, if the Tercentenary celebration had never been attempted, those schools, as a design anterior to both, would still have solicited public support.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, what it is proposed to do is, in fact, to find a new self-supporting public school; with this additional feature, that it is to be available for both sexes. This, of course, presupposes two separate distinct schools. As these schools are to be built on land belonging to the Dramatic College, there will be from the first no charge, no debt, no incumbrance of any kind under that important head. It is, in short, proposed simply to establish a new self-supporting public school, in a rapidly increasing neighbourhood, where there is a large and fast accumulating middle-class population, and where property in land is fast rising in value. But, inasmuch as the project is a project of the Royal Dramatic College, and inasmuch as the schools are to be built on their estate, it is proposed evermore to give their schools the great name of Shakespeare, and evermore to give the followers of Shakespeare's art a prominent place in them. With this view, it is confidently believed that the public will endow a foundation, say, for forty foundation scholars--say, twenty girls and twenty boys--who shall always receive their education gratuitously, and who shall always be the children of actors, actresses, or dramatic writers. This school, you will understand, is to be equal to the best existing public school. It is to be made to impart a sound, liberal, comprehensive education, and it is to address the whole great middle class at least as freely, as widely, and as cheaply as any existing public school.

Broadly, ladies and gentlemen, this is the whole design. There are foundation scholars at Eton, foundation scholars at nearly all our old schools, and if the public, in remembrance of a noble part of our standard national literature, and in remembrance of a great humanising art, will do this thing for these children, it will at the same time be doing a wise and good thing for itself, and will unquestionably find its account in it. Taking this view of the case--and I cannot be satisfied to take any lower one--I cannot make a sorry face about "the poor player." I think it is a term very much misused and very little understood--being, I venture to say, appropriated in a wrong sense by players themselves. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I can only present the player to you exceptionally in this wise--that he follows a peculiar and precarious vocation, a vocation very rarely affording the means of accumulating money--that that vocation must, from the nature of things, have in it many undistinguished men and women to one distinguished one--that it is not a vocation the exerciser of which can profit by the labours of others, but in which he must earn every loaf of his bread in his own person, with the aid of his own face, his own limbs, his own voice, his own memory, and his own life and spirits; and these failing, he fails.