Charles Dickens

Thus the time was, and not so many years ago either, when the newsman constantly brought home to our doors-- though I am afraid not to our hearts, which were custom-hardened-- the most terrific accounts of murders, of our fellow-creatures being publicly put to death for what we now call trivial offences, in the very heart of London, regularly every Monday morning. At the same time the newsman regularly brought to us the infliction of other punishments, which were demoralising to the innocent part of the community, while they did not operate as punishments in deterring offenders from the perpetration of crimes. In those same days, also, the newsman brought to us daily accounts of a regularly accepted and received system of loading the unfortunate insane with chains, littering them down on straw, starving them on bread and water, damaging their clothes, and making periodical exhibitions of them at a small charge; and that on a Sunday one of our public resorts was a kind of demoniacal zoological gardens. They brought us accounts at the same time of some damage done to the machinery which was destined to supply the operative classes with employment. In the same time they brought us accounts of riots for bread, which were constantly occurring, and undermining society and the state; of the most terrible explosions of class against class, and of the habitual employment of spies for the discovery--if not for the origination--of plots, in which both sides found in those days some relief. In the same time the same newsmen were apprising us of a state of society all around us in which the grossest sensuality and intemperance were the rule; and not as now, when the ignorant, the wicked, and the wretched are the inexcusably vicious exceptions--a state of society in which the professional bully was rampant, and when deadly duels were daily fought for the most absurd and disgraceful causes. All this the newsman has ceased to tell us of. This state of society has discontinued in England for ever; and when we remember the undoubted truth, that the change could never have been effected without the aid of the load which the newsman carries, surely it is not very romantic to express the hope on his behalf that the public will show to him some little token of the sympathetic remembrance which we are all of us glad to bestow on the bearers of happy tidings--the harbingers of good news.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, you will be glad to hear that I am coming to a conclusion; for that conclusion I have a precedent. You all of you know how pleased you are on your return from a morning's walk to learn that the collector has called. Well, I am the collector for this district, and I hope you will bear in mind that I have respectfully called. Regarding the institution on whose behalf I have presented myself, I need only say technically two things. First, that its annuities are granted out of its funded capital, and therefore it is safe as the Bank; and, secondly, that they are attainable by such a slight exercise of prudence and fore-thought, that a payment of 25s. extending over a period of five years, entitles a subscriber--if a male--to an annuity of 16 pounds a-year, and a female to 12 pounds a-year. Now, bear in mind that this is an institution on behalf of which the collector has called, leaving behind his assurance that what you can give to one of the most faithful of your servants shall be well bestowed and faithfully applied to the purposes to which you intend them, and to those purposes alone.


[At the second annual dinner of the Institution, held at the Freemasons' Tavern, on Saturday, the 20th May, 1865, the following speech was delivered by the chairman, Mr. Charles Dickens, in proposing the toast of the evening:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--When a young child is produced after dinner to be shown to a circle of admiring relations and friends, it may generally be observed that their conversation--I suppose in an instinctive remembrance of the uncertainty of infant life--takes a retrospective turn.