Charles Dickens

James Mace if he meant business. Nevertheless, he could recollect that he had turned out for a spurt a few years ago on the River Thames with an occasional Secretary, who should be nameless, and some other Eton boys, and that he could hold his own against them. More recently still, the last time that he rowed down from Oxford he was supposed to cover himself with honour, though he must admit that he found the "locks" so picturesque as to require much examination for the discovery of their beauty. But what he wanted to say was this, that though his "fireman waterman" was one of the greatest humbugs that ever existed, he yet taught him what an honest, healthy, manly sport this was. Their waterman would bid them pull away, and assure them that they were certain of winning in some race. And here he would remark that aquatic sports never entailed a moment's cruelty, or a moment's pain, upon any living creature. Rowing men pursued recreation under circumstances which braced their muscles, and cleared the cobwebs from their minds. He assured them that he regarded such clubs as these as a "national blessing." They owed, it was true, a vast deal to steam power--as was sometimes proved at matches on the Thames--but, at the same time, they were greatly indebted to all that tended to keep up a healthy, manly tone. He understood that there had been a committee selected for the purpose of arranging a great amateur regatta, which was to take place off Putney in the course of the season that was just begun. He could not abstain from availing himself of this occasion to express a hope that the committee would successfully carry on its labours to a triumphant result, and that they should see upon the Thames, in the course of this summer, such a brilliant sight as had never been seen there before. To secure this there must be some hard work, skilful combinations, and rather large subscriptions. But although the aggregate result must be great, it by no means followed that it need be at all large in its individual details.

[In conclusion, Mr. Dickens made a laughable comparison between the paying off or purification of the national debt and the purification of the River Thames.]


[On the above date Mr. Dickens presided at the Ninth Anniversary Festival of the Railway Benevolent Society, at Willis's Rooms, and in proposing the toast of the evening, made the following speech.]

Although we have not yet left behind us by the distance of nearly fifty years the time when one of the first literary authorities of this country insisted upon the speed of the fastest railway train that the Legisture might disastrously sanction being limited by Act of Parliament to ten miles an hour, yet it does somehow happen that this evening, and every evening, there are railway trains running pretty smoothly to Ireland and to Scotland at the rate of fifty miles an hour; much as it was objected in its time to vaccination, that it must have a tendency to impart to human children something of the nature of the cow, whereas I believe to this very time vaccinated children are found to be as easily defined from calves as they ever were, and certainly they have no cheapening influence on the price of veal; much as it was objected that chloroform was a contravention of the will of Providence, because it lessened providentially-inflicted pain, which would be a reason for your not rubbing your face if you had the tooth-ache, or not rubbing your nose if it itched; so it was evidently predicted that the railway system, even if anything so absurd could be productive of any result, would infallibly throw half the nation out of employment; whereas, you observe that the very cause and occasion of our coming here together to-night is, apart from the various tributary channels of occupation which it has opened out, that it has called into existence a specially and directly employed population of upwards of 200,000 persons.

Now, gentlemen, it is pretty clear and obvious that upwards of 200,000 persons engaged upon the various railways of the United Kingdom cannot be rich; and although their duties require great care and great exactness, and although our lives are every day, humanly speaking, in the hands of many of them, still, for the most of these places there will be always great competition, because they are not posts which require skilled workmen to hold.