It is not often the fault of the sufferers that they fall into these straits. Struggling artists must necessarily change from place to place, and thus it frequently happens that they become, as it were, strangers in every place, and very slight circumstances--a passing illness, the sickness of the husband, wife, or child, a serious town, an anathematising expounder of the gospel of gentleness and forbearance--any one of these causes may often in a few hours wreck them upon a rock in the barren ocean; and then, happily, this society, with the swift alacrity of the life-boat, dashes to the rescue, and takes them off. Looking just now over the last report issued by this society, and confining my scrutiny to the head of illness alone, I find that in one year, I think, 672 days of sickness had been assuaged by its means. In nine years, which then formed the term of its existence, as many as 5,500 and odd. Well, I thought when I saw 5,500 and odd days of sickness, this is a very serious sum, but add the nights! Add the nights-- those long, dreary hours in the twenty-four when the shadow of death is darkest, when despondency is strongest, and when hope is weakest, before you gauge the good that is done by this institution, and before you gauge the good that really will be done by every shilling that you bestow here to-night. Add, more than all, that the improvidence, the recklessness of the general multitude of poor members of this profession, I should say is a cruel, conventional fable. Add that there is no class of society the members of which so well help themselves, or so well help each other. Not in the whole grand chapters of Westminster Abbey and York Minster, not in the whole quadrangle of the Royal Exchange, not in the whole list of members of the Stock Exchange, not in the Inns of Court, not in the College of Physicians, not in the College of Surgeons, can there possibly be found more remarkable instances of uncomplaining poverty, of cheerful, constant self-denial, of the generous remembrance of the claims of kindred and professional brotherhood, than will certainly be found in the dingiest and dirtiest concert room, in the least lucid theatre--even in the raggedest tent circus that was ever stained by weather.
I have been twitted in print before now with rather flattering actors when I address them as one of their trustees at their General Fund dinner. Believe me, I flatter nobody, unless it be sometimes myself; but, in such a company as the present, I always feel it my manful duty to bear my testimony to this fact--first, because it is opposed to a stupid, unfeeling libel; secondly, because my doing so may afford some slight encouragement to the persons who are unjustly depreciated; and lastly, and most of all, because I know it is the truth.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time we should what we professionally call "ring down" on these remarks. If you, such members of the general public as are here, will only think the great theatrical curtain has really fallen and been taken up again for the night on that dull, dark vault which many of us know so well; if you will only think of the theatre or other place of entertainment as empty; if you will only think of the "float," or other gas-fittings, as extinguished; if you will only think of the people who have beguiled you of an evening's care, whose little vanities and almost childish foibles are engendered in their competing face to face with you for your favour--surely it may be said their feelings are partly of your making, while their virtues are all their own. If you will only do this, and follow them out of that sham place into the real world, where it rains real rain, snows real snow, and blows real wind; where people sustain themselves by real money, which is much harder to get, much harder to make, and very much harder to give away than the pieces of tobacco-pipe in property bags--if you will only do this, and do it in a really kind, considerate spirit, this society, then certain of the result of the night's proceedings, can ask no more.