Charles Dickens

Perhaps as the inventor of a certain extravagant fiction, but one which I do see rather frequently quoted as if there were grains of truth at the bottom of it--a fiction called the "Circumlocution Office,"--and perhaps also as the writer of an idle book or two, whose public opinions are not obscurely stated-- perhaps in these respects I do not sufficiently bear in mind Hamlet's caution to speak by the card lest equivocation should undo me.

Now I complain of nobody; but simply in order that there may be no mistake as to what I did mean, and as to what I do mean, I will re- state my meaning, and I will do so in the words of a great thinker, a great writer, and a great scholar, {19} whose death, unfortunately for mankind, cut short his "History of Civilization in England:"--"They may talk as they will about reforms which Government has introduced and improvements to be expected from legislation, but whoever will take a wider and more commanding view of human affairs, will soon discover that such hopes are chimerical. They will learn that lawgivers are nearly always the obstructors of society instead of its helpers, and that in the extremely few cases where their measures have turned out well their success has been owing to the fact that, contrary to their usual custom, they have implicitly obeyed the spirit of their time, and have been--as they always should be--the mere servants of the people, to whose wishes they are bound to give a public and legal sanction."

SPEECH: LONDON, APRIL 6, 1846. {20}

[The first anniversary festival of the General Theatrical Fund Association was held on the evening of the above date at the London Tavern. The chair was taken by Mr. Dickens, who thus proposed the principal toast:]

Gentlemen,--In offering to you a toast which has not as yet been publicly drunk in any company, it becomes incumbent on me to offer a few words in explanation: in the first place, premising that the toast will be "The General Theatrical Fund."

The Association, whose anniversary we celebrate to-night, was founded seven years ago, for the purpose of granting permanent pensions to such of the corps dramatique as had retired from the stage, either from a decline in their years or a decay of their powers. Collected within the scope of its benevolence are all actors and actresses, singers, or dancers, of five years' standing in the profession. To relieve their necessities and to protect them from want is the great end of the Society, and it is good to know that for seven years the members of it have steadily, patiently, quietly, and perseveringly pursued this end, advancing by regular contribution, moneys which many of them could ill afford, and cheered by no external help or assistance of any kind whatsoever. It has thus served a regular apprenticeship, but I trust that we shall establish to-night that its time is out, and that henceforth the Fund will enter upon a flourishing and brilliant career.

I have no doubt that you are all aware that there are, and were when this institution was founded, two other institutions existing of a similar nature--Covent Garden and Drury Lane--both of long standing, both richly endowed. It cannot, however, be too distinctly understood, that the present Institution is not in any way adverse to those. How can it be when it is only a wide and broad extension of all that is most excellent in the principles on which they are founded? That such an extension was absolutely necessary was sufficiently proved by the fact that the great body of the dramatic corps were excluded from the benefits conferred by a membership of either of these institutions; for it was essential, in order to become a member of the Drury Lane Society, that the applicant, either he or she, should have been engaged for three consecutive seasons as a performer. This was afterwards reduced, in the case of Covent Garden, to a period of two years, but it really is as exclusive one way as the other, for I need not tell you that Covent Garden is now but a vision of the past.