Charles Dickens

Remembering, however, that you may call anything by any name without in the least changing its nature--bethinking myself that you may, if you be so minded, call a butterfly a buffalo, without advancing a hair's breadth towards making it one-- I became composed in my mind, and resolved to stick to the very homely intention I had previously formed. This was merely to tell you, the members, students, and friends of the Birmingham and Midland Institute--firstly, what you cannot possibly want to know, (this is a very popular oratorical theme); secondly, what your institution has done; and, thirdly, what, in the poor opinion of its President for the time being, remains for it to do and not to do.

Now, first, as to what you cannot possibly want to know. You cannot need from me any oratorical declamation concerning the abstract advantages of knowledge or the beauties of self- improvement. If you had any such requirement you would not be here. I conceive that you are here because you have become thoroughly penetrated with such principles, either in your own persons or in the persons of some striving fellow-creatures, on whom you have looked with interest and sympathy. I conceive that you are here because you feel the welfare of the great chiefly adult educational establishment, whose doors stand really open to all sorts and conditions of people, to be inseparable from the best welfare of your great town and its neighbourhood. Nay, if I take a much wider range than that, and say that we all--every one of us here--perfectly well know that the benefits of such an establishment must extend far beyond the limits of this midland county--its fires and smoke,--and must comprehend, in some sort, the whole community, I do not strain the truth. It was suggested by Mr. Babbage, in his ninth "Bridgewater Treatise," that a mere spoken word--a single articulated syllable thrown into the air--may go on reverberating through illimitable space for ever and for ever, seeing that there is no rim against which it can strike--no boundary at which it can possibly arrive. Similarly it may be said--not as an ingenious speculation, but as a stedfast and absolute fact--that human calculation cannot limit the influence of one atom of wholesome knowledge patiently acquired, modestly possessed, and faithfully used.

As the astronomers tell us that it is probable that there are in the universe innumerable solar systems besides ours, to each of which myriads of utterly unknown and unseen stars belong, so it is certain that every man, however obscure, however far removed from the general recognition, is one of a group of men impressible for good, and impressible for evil, and that it is in the eternal nature of things that he cannot really improve himself without in some degree improving other men. And observe, this is especially the case when he has improved himself in the teeth of adverse circumstances, as in a maturity succeeding to a neglected or an ill-taught youth, in the few daily hours remaining to him after ten or twelve hours' labour, in the few pauses and intervals of a life of toil; for then his fellows and companions have assurance that he can have known no favouring conditions, and that they can do what he has done, in wresting some enlightenment and self-respect from what Lord Lytton finely calls -

"Those twin gaolers of the daring heart, Low birth and iron fortune."

As you have proved these truths in your own experience or in your own observation, and as it may be safely assumed that there can be very few persons in Birmingham, of all places under heaven, who would contest the position that the more cultivated the employed the better for the employer, and the more cultivated the employer the better for the employed; therefore, my references to what you do not want to know shall here cease and determine.

Next, with reference to what your institution has done on my summary, which shall be as concise and as correct as my information and my remembrance of it may render possible, I desire to lay emphatic stress.