Charles Dickens

Let such a face be ever remembered as that of our benefactor and our friend.

I tried to recollect, in coming here, whether I had ever been in any theatre in my life from which I had not brought away some pleasant association, however poor the theatre, and I protest, out of my varied experience, I could not remember even one from which I had not brought some favourable impression, and that, commencing with the period when I believed the clown was a being born into the world with infinite pockets, and ending with that in which I saw the other night, outside one of the "Royal Saloons," a playbill which showed me ships completely rigged, carrying men, and careering over boundless and tempestuous oceans. And now, bespeaking your kindest remembrance of our theatres and actors, I beg to propose that you drink as heartily and freely as ever a toast was drunk in this toast-drinking city "Prosperity to the General Theatrical Fund."


[On the above evening a Soiree of the Leeds Mechanics' Institution took place, at which about 1200 persons were present. The chair was taken by Mr. Dickens, who thus addressed the meeting:]

Ladies and gentlemen,--Believe me, speaking to you with a most disastrous cold, which makes my own voice sound very strangely in my ears--that if I were not gratified and honoured beyond expression by your cordial welcome, I should have considered the invitation to occupy my present position in this brilliant assemblage in itself a distinction not easy to be surpassed. The cause in which we are assembled and the objects we are met to promote, I take, and always have taken to be, THE cause and THE objects involving almost all others that are essential to the welfare and happiness of mankind. And in a celebration like the present, commemorating the birth and progress of a great educational establishment, I recognise a something, not limited to the spectacle of the moment, beautiful and radiant though it be-- not limited even to the success of the particular establishment in which we are more immediately interested--but extending from this place and through swarms of toiling men elsewhere, cheering and stimulating them in the onward, upward path that lies before us all. Wherever hammers beat, or wherever factory chimneys smoke, wherever hands are busy, or the clanking of machinery resounds-- wherever, in a word, there are masses of industrious human beings whom their wise Creator did not see fit to constitute all body, but into each and every one of whom He breathed a mind--there, I would fain believe, some touch of sympathy and encouragement is felt from our collective pulse now beating in this Hall.

Ladies and gentlemen, glancing with such feelings at the report of your Institution for the present year sent to me by your respected President--whom I cannot help feeling it, by-the-bye, a kind of crime to depose, even thus peacefully, and for so short a time--I say, glancing over this report, I found one statement of fact in the very opening which gave me an uncommon satisfaction. It is, that a great number of the members and subscribers are among that class of persons for whose advantage Mechanics' Institutions were originated, namely, persons receiving weekly wages. This circumstance gives me the greatest delight. I am sure that no better testimony could be borne to the merits and usefulness of this Institution, and that no better guarantee could be given for its continued prosperity and advancement.

To such Associations as this, in their darker hours, there may yet reappear now and then the spectral shadow of a certain dead and buried opposition; but before the light of a steady trust in them on the part of the general people, bearing testimony to the virtuous influences of such Institutions by their own intelligence and conduct, the ghost will melt away like early vapour from the ground. Fear of such Institutions as these! We have heard people sometimes speak with jealousy of them,--with distrust of them! Imagine here, on either hand, two great towns like Leeds, full of busy men, all of them feeling necessarily, and some of them heavily, the burdens and inequalities inseparable from civilized society.