It is the steady increase that appears to have taken place in the number of lady members--among whom I hope I may presume are included some of the bright fair faces that are clustered around me. Gentlemen, I hold that it is not good for man to be alone--even in Mechanics' Institutions; and I rank it as very far from among the last or least of the merits of such places, that he need not be alone there, and that he is not. I believe that the sympathy and society of those who are our best and dearest friends in infancy, in childhood, in manhood, and in old age, the most devoted and least selfish natures that we know on earth, who turn to us always constant and unchanged, when others turn away, should greet us here, if anywhere, and go on with us side by side.
I know, gentlemen, by the evidence of my own proper senses at this moment, that there are charms and graces in such greetings, such as no other greeting can possess. I know that in every beautiful work of the Almighty hand, which is illustrated in your lectures, and in every real or ideal portraiture of fortitude and goodness that you find in your books, there is something that must bring you home again to them for its brightest and best example. And therefore, gentlemen, I hope that you will never be without them, or without an increasing number of them in your studies and your commemorations; and that an immense number of new marriages, and other domestic festivals naturally consequent upon those marriages, may be traced back from time to time to the Leeds Mechanics' Institution.
There are many gentlemen around me, distinguished by their public position and service, or endeared to you by frequent intercourse, or by their zealous efforts on behalf of the cause which brings us together; and to them I shall beg leave to refer you for further observations on this happy and interesting occasion; begging to congratulate you finally upon the occasion itself; upon the prosperity and thriving prospects of your institution; and upon our common and general good fortune in living in these times, when the means of mental culture and improvement are presented cheaply, socially, and cheerfully, and not in dismal cells or lonely garrets. And lastly, I congratulate myself, I assure you most heartily, upon the part with which I am honoured on an occasion so congenial to my warmest feelings and sympathies, and I beg to thank you for such evidences of your good-will, as I never can coldly remember and never forget.
[In acknowledging the vote of thanks, Mr, Dickens said:-]
Ladies and Gentlemen,--It is a great satisfaction to me that this question has been put by the Mayor, inasmuch as I hope I may receive it as a token that he has forgiven me those extremely large letters, which I must say, from the glimpse I caught of them when I arrived in the town, looked like a leaf from the first primer of a very promising young giant.
I will only observe, in reference to the proceeding of this evening, that after what I have seen, and the excellent speeches I have heard from gentlemen of so many different callings and persuasions, meeting here as on neutral ground, I do more strongly and sincerely believe than I ever have in my life,--and that is saying a great deal,--that institutions such as this will be the means of refining and improving that social edifice which has been so often mentioned to-night, until,--unlike that Babel tower that would have taken heaven by storm,--it shall end in sweet accord and harmony amongst all classes of its builders.
Ladies and gentlemen, most respectfully and heartily I bid you good night and good-bye, and I trust the next time we meet it will be in even greater numbers, and in a larger room, and that we often shall meet again, to recal this evening, then of the past, and remember it as one of a series of increasing triumphs of your excellent institution.
SPEECH: GLASGOW, DECEMBER 28, 1847.
[The first Soiree, commemorative of the opening of the Glasgow Athenaeum took place on the above evening in the City Hall.