Charles Dickens

As to the extent to which the institution encourages the artisan to think, and so, for instance, to rise superior to the little shackling prejudices and observances perchance existing in his trade when they will not bear the test of inquiry, that is only to be equalled by the extent to which it encourages him to feel. There is a certain tone of modest manliness pervading all the little facts which I have looked through which I found remarkably impressive. The decided objection on the part of industrial students to attend classes in their working clothes, breathes this tone, as being a graceful and at the same time perfectly independent recognition of the place and of one another. And this tone is admirably illustrated in a different way, in the case of a poor bricklayer, who, being in temporary reverses through the illness of his family, and having consequently been obliged to part with his best clothes, and being therefore missed from his classes, in which he had been noticed as a very hard worker, was persuaded to attend them in his working clothes. He replied, "No, it was not possible. It must not be thought of. It must not come into question for a moment. It would be supposed, or it might be thought, that he did it to attract attention." And the same man being offered by one of the officers a loan of money to enable him to rehabilitate his appearance, positively declined it, on the ground that he came to the institution to learn and to know better how to help himself, not otherwise to ask help, or to receive help from any man. Now, I am justified in calling this the tone of the institution, because it is no isolated instance, but is a fair and honourable sample of the spirit of the place, and as such I put it at the conclusion--though last certainly not least--of my references to what your institution has indubitably done.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I come at length to what, in the humble opinion of the evanescent officer before you, remains for the institution to do, and not to do. As Mr. Carlyle has it towards the closing pages of his grand history of the French Revolution, "This we are now with due brevity to glance at; and then courage, oh listener, I see land!" {18} I earnestly hope--and I firmly believe--that your institution will do henceforth as it has done hitherto; it can hardly do better. I hope and believe that it will know among its members no distinction of persons, creed, or party, but that it will conserve its place of assemblage as a high, pure ground, on which all such considerations shall merge into the one universal, heaven-sent aspiration of the human soul to be wiser and better. I hope and believe that it will always be expansive and elastic; for ever seeking to devise new means of enlarging the circle of its members, of attracting to itself the confidence of still greater and greater numbers, and never evincing any more disposition to stand still than time does, or life does, or the seasons do. And above all things, I hope, and I feel confident from its antecedents, that it will never allow any consideration on the face of the earth to induce it to patronise or to be patronised, for I verily believe that the bestowal and receipt of patronage in such wise has been a curse in England, and that it has done more to prevent really good objects, and to lower really high character, than the utmost efforts of the narrowest antagonism could have effected in twice the time.

I have no fear that the walls of the Birmingham and Midland Institute will ever tremble responsive to the croakings of the timid opponents of intellectual progress; but in this connexion generally I cannot forbear from offering a remark which is much upon my mind. It is commonly assumed--much too commonly--that this age is a material age, and that a material age is an irreligious age. I have been pained lately to see this assumption repeated in certain influential quarters for which I have a high respect, and desire to have a higher. I am afraid that by dint of constantly being reiterated, and reiterated without protest, this assumption-- which I take leave altogether to deny--may be accepted by the more unthinking part of the public as unquestionably true; just as caricaturists and painters, professedly making a portrait of some public man, which was not in the least like him to begin with, have gone on repeating and repeating it until the public came to believe that it must be exactly like him, simply because it was like itself, and really have at last, in the fulness of time, grown almost disposed to resent upon him their tardy discovery--really to resent upon him their late discovery--that he was not like it.