I can only say, that if you do not find something very noble in your books after this, you are much duller students than I take you to be. The ladies--the single ladies, at least--however disinterested I know they are by sex and nature, will, I hope, resolve to have some of the advantages of these books, by never marrying any but members of the Athenaeum. It seems to me it ought to be the pleasantest library in the world.
Hazlitt says, in speaking of some of the graceful fancies of some familiar writer of fiction, "How long since I first became acquainted with these characters; what old-fashioned friends they seem; and yet I am not tired of them like so many other friends, nor they of me." In this case the books will not only possess all the attractions of their own friendships and charms, but also the manifold--I may say womanfold--associations connected with their donors. I can imagine how, in fact, from these fanciful associations, some fair Glasgow widow may be taken for the remoter one whom Sir Roger de Coverley could not forget; I can imagine how Sophia's muff may be seen and loved, but not by Tom Jones, going down the High Street on any winter day; or I can imagine the student finding in every fair form the exact counterpart of the Glasgow Athenaeum, and taking into consideration the history of Europe without the consent of Sheriff Alison. I can imagine, in short, how through all the facts and fictions of this library, these ladies will be always active, and that
"Age will not wither them, nor custom stale Their infinite variety."
It seems to me to be a moral, delightful, and happy chance, that this meeting has been held at this genial season of the year, when a new time is, as it were, opening before us, and when we celebrate the birth of that divine and blessed Teacher, who took the highest knowledge into the humblest places, and whose great system comprehended all mankind. I hail it as a most auspicious omen, at this time of the year, when many scattered friends and families are re-assembled, for the members of this institution to be calling men together from all quarters, with a brotherly view to the general good, and a view to the general improvement; as I consider that such designs are practically worthy of the faith we hold, and a practical remembrance of the words, "On earth peace, and good will toward men." I hope that every year which dawns on your Institution, will find it richer in its means of usefulness, and grayer-headed in the honour and respect it has gained. It can hardly speak for itself more appropriately than in the words of an English writer, when contemplating the English emblem of this period of the year, the holly-tree:-
[Mr. Dickens concluded by quoting the last three stanzas of Southey's poem, The Holly Tree.
In acknowledging a vote of thanks proposed by Sir Archibald (then Mr.) Alison, Mr. Dickens said:]
Ladies and Gentlemen,--I am no stranger--and I say it with the deepest gratitude--to the warmth of Scottish hearts; but the warmth of your present welcome almost deprives me of any hope of acknowledging it. I will not detain you any longer at this late hour; let it suffice to assure you, that for taking the part with which I have been honoured in this festival, I have been repaid a thousand-fold by your abundant kindness, and by the unspeakable gratification it has afforded me. I hope that, before many years are past, we may have another meeting in public, when we shall rejoice at the immense progress your institution will have made in the meantime, and look back upon this night with new pleasure and satisfaction. I shall now, in conclusion, repeat most heartily and fervently the quotation of Dr. Ewing, the late Provost of Glasgow, which Bailie Nicol Jarvie, himself "a Glasgow body," observed was "elegantly putten round the town's arms."
SPEECH: LONDON, APRIL 14, 1851.
[The Sixth Annual Dinner of the General Theatrical Fund was held at the London Tavern on the above date. Mr. Charles Dickens occupied the chair, and in giving the toast of the evening said:-]
I have so often had the satisfaction of bearing my testimony, in this place, to the usefulness of the excellent Institution in whose behalf we are assembled, that I should be really sensible of the disadvantage of having now nothing to say in proposing the toast you all anticipate, if I were not well assured that there is really nothing which needs be said.