I beg to propose to you to drink "Prosperity to the Dramatic, Equestrian, and Musical Sick Fund Association."
[Mr. Dickens, in proposing the next toast, said:-]
Gentlemen: as I addressed myself to the ladies last time, so I address you this time, and I give you the delightful assurance that it is positively my last appearance but one on the present occasion. A certain Mr. Pepys, who was Secretary for the Admiralty in the days of Charles II., who kept a diary well in shorthand, which he supposed no one could read, and which consequently remains to this day the most honest diary known to print--Mr. Pepys had two special and very strong likings, the ladies and the theatres. But Mr. Pepys, whenever he committed any slight act of remissness, or any little peccadillo which was utterly and wholly untheatrical, used to comfort his conscience by recording a vow that he would abstain from the theatres for a certain time. In the first part of Mr. Pepys' character I have no doubt we fully agree with him; in the second I have no doubt we do not.
I learn this experience of Mr. Pepys from remembrance of a passage in his diary that I was reading the other night, from which it appears that he was not only curious in plays, but curious in sermons; and that one night when he happened to be walking past St. Dunstan's Church, he turned, went in, and heard what he calls "a very edifying discourse;" during the delivery of which discourse, he notes in his diary--"I stood by a pretty young maid, whom I did attempt to take by the hand." But he adds--"She would not; and I did perceive that she had pins in her pocket with which to prick me if I should touch her again--and was glad that I spied her design." Afterwards, about the close of the same edifying discourse, Mr. Pepys found himself near another pretty, fair young maid, who would seem upon the whole to have had no pins, and to have been more impressible.
Now, the moral of this story which I wish to suggest to you is, that we have been this evening in St. James's much more timid than Mr. Pepys was in St. Dunstan's, and that we have conducted ourselves very much better. As a slight recompense to us for our highly meritorious conduct, and as a little relief to our over- charged hearts, I beg to propose that we devote this bumper to invoking a blessing on the ladies. It is the privilege of this society annually to hear a lady speak for her own sex. Who so competent to do this as Mrs. Stirling? Surely one who has so gracefully and captivatingly, with such an exquisite mixture of art, and fancy, and fidelity, represented her own sex in innumerable charities, under an infinite variety of phases, cannot fail to represent them well in her own character, especially when it is, amidst her many triumphs, the most agreeable of all. I beg to propose to you "The Ladies," and I will couple with that toast the name of Mrs. Stirling.
SPEECH: LONDON, MARCH 28, 1866.
[The following speech was made by Mr. Dickens at the Annual Festival of the Royal General Theatrical Fund, held at the Freemasons' Tavern, in proposing the health of the Lord Mayor (Sir Benjamin Phillips), who occupied the chair.]
Gentlemen, in my childish days I remember to have had a vague but profound admiration for a certain legendary person called the Lord Mayor's fool. I had the highest opinion of the intellectual capacity of that suppositious retainer of the Mansion House, and I really regarded him with feelings approaching to absolute veneration, because my nurse informed me on every gastronomic occasion that the Lord Mayor's fool liked everything that was good. You will agree with me, I have no doubt, that if this discriminating jester had existed at the present time he could not fail to have liked his master very much, seeing that so good a Lord Mayor is very rarely to be found, and that a better Lord Mayor could not possibly be.
You have already divined, gentlemen, that I am about to propose to you to drink the health of the right honourable gentleman in the chair.