Charles Dickens

The difficulties of the situation--and here I mean the president and not the stag--are greatly increased in such an instance as this by the peculiar nature of the institution. In its unpretending solidity, reality, and usefulness, believe me--for I have carefully considered the point--it presents no opening whatever of an oratorical nature. If it were one of those costly charities, so called, whose yield of wool bears no sort of proportion to their cry for cash, I very likely might have a word or two to say on the subject. If its funds were lavished in patronage and show, instead of being honestly expended in providing small annuities for hard- working people who have themselves contributed to its funds--if its management were intrusted to people who could by no possibility know anything about it, instead of being invested in plain, business, practical hands--if it hoarded when it ought to spend--if it got by cringing and fawning what it never deserved, I might possibly impress you very much by my indignation. If its managers could tell me that it was insolvent, that it was in a hopeless condition, that its accounts had been kept by Mr. Edmunds--or by "Tom,"--if its treasurer had run away with the money-box, then I might have made a pathetic appeal to your feelings. But I have no such chance. Just as a nation is happy whose records are barren, so is a society fortunate that has no history--and its president unfortunate. I can only assure you that this society continues its plain, unobtrusive, useful career. I can only assure you that it does a great deal of good at a very small cost, and that the objects of its care and the bulk of its members are faithful working servants of the public--sole ministers of their wants at untimely hours, in all seasons, and in all weathers; at their own doors, at the street-corners, at every railway train, at every steam-boat; through the agency of every establishment and the tiniest little shops; and that, whether regarded as master or as man, their profits are very modest and their risks numerous, while their trouble and responsibility are very great.

The newsvendors and newsmen are a very subordinate part of that wonderful engine--the newspaper press. Still I think we all know very well that they are to the fountain-head what a good service of water pipes is to a good water supply. Just as a goodly store of water at Watford would be a tantalization to thirsty London if it were not brought into town for its use, so any amount of news accumulated at Printing-house Square, or Fleet Street, or the Strand, would be if there were no skill and enterprise engaged in its dissemination.

We are all of us in the habit of saying in our every-day life, that "We never know the value of anything until we lose it." Let us try the newsvendors by the test. A few years ago we discovered one morning that there was a strike among the cab-drivers. Now, let us imagine a strike of newsmen. Imagine the trains waiting in vain for the newspapers. Imagine all sorts and conditions of men dying to know the shipping news, the commercial news, the foreign news, the legal news, the criminal news, the dramatic news. Imagine the paralysis on all the provincial exchanges; the silence and desertion of all the newsmen's exchanges in London. Imagine the circulation of the blood of the nation and of the country standing still,--the clock of the world. Why, even Mr. Reuter, the great Reuter--whom I am always glad to imagine slumbering at night by the side of Mrs. Reuter, with a galvanic battery under his bolster, bell and wires to the head of his bed, and bells at each ear--think how even he would click and flash those wondrous dispatches of his, and how they would become mere nothing without the activity and honesty which catch up the threads and stitches of the electric needle, and scatter them over the land.

It is curious to consider--and the thought occurred to me this day, when I was out for a stroll pondering over the duties of this evening, which even then were looming in the distance, but not quite so far off as I could wish--I found it very curious to consider that though the newsman must be allowed to be a very unpicturesque rendering of Mercury, or Fame, or what-not conventional messenger from the clouds, and although we must allow that he is of this earth, and has a good deal of it on his boots, still that he has two very remarkable characteristics, to which none of his celestial predecessors can lay the slightest claim. One is that he is always the messenger of civilization; the other that he is at least equally so--not only in what he brings, but in what he ceases to bring.