This society, in short, says, "Be you what you may, be you actor or actress, be your path in your profession never so high, or never so low, never so haughty, or never so humble, we offer you the means of doing good to yourselves, and of doing good to your brethren."
This society is essentially a provident institution, appealing to a class of men to take care of their own interests, and giving a continuous security only in return for a continuous sacrifice and effort. The actor by the means of this society obtains his own right, to no man's wrong; and when, in old age, or in disastrous times, he makes his claim on the institution, he is enabled to say, "I am neither a beggar, nor a suppliant. I am but reaping what I sowed long ago." And therefore it is that I cannot hold out to you that in assisting this fund you are doing an act of charity in the common acceptation of that phrase. Of all the abuses of that much abused term, none have more raised my indignation than what I have heard in this room in past times, in reference to this institution. I say, if you help this institution you will be helping the wagoner who has resolutely put his own shoulder to the wheel, and who has NOT stuck idle in the mud. In giving this aid you will be doing an act of justice, and you will be performing an act of gratitude; and this is what I solicit from you; but I will not so far wrong those who are struggling manfully for their own independence as to pretend to entreat from you an act of charity.
I have used the word gratitude; and let any man ask his own heart, and confess if he have not some grateful acknowledgments for the actor's art? Not peculiarly because it is a profession often pursued, and as it were marked, by poverty and misfortune--for other callings, God knows, have their distresses--nor because the actor has sometimes to come from scenes of sickness, of suffering, ay, even of death itself, to play his part before us--for all of us, in our spheres, have as often to do violence to our feelings and to hide our hearts in fighting this great battle of life, and in discharging our duties and responsibilities. But the art of the actor excites reflections, sombre or grotesque, awful or humorous, which we are all familiar with. If any man were to tell me that he denied his acknowledgments to the stage, I would simply put to him one question--whether he remembered his first play?
If you, gentlemen, will but carry back your recollection to that great night, and call to mind the bright and harmless world which then opened to your view, we shall, I think, hear favourably of the effect upon your liberality on this occasion from our Secretary.
This is the sixth year of meetings of this kind--the sixth time we have had this fine child down after dinner. His nurse, a very worthy person of the name of Buckstone, who has an excellent character from several places, will presently report to you that his chest is perfectly sound, and that his general health is in the most thriving condition. Long may it be so; long may it thrive and grow; long may we meet (it is my sincere wish) to exchange our congratulations on its prosperity; and longer than the line of Banquo may be that line of figures which, as its patriotic share in the national debt, a century hence shall be stated by the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.
SPEECH: THE ROYAL LITERARY FUND. LONDON, MARCH 12, 1856.
[The Corporation of the Royal Literary Fund was established in 1790, its object being to administer assistance to authors of genius and learning, who may be reduced to distress by unavoidable calamities, or deprived, by enfeebled faculties or declining life, of the power of literary exertion. At the annual general meeting held at the house of the society on the above date, the following speech was made by Mr. Charles Dickens:]
Sir,--I shall not attempt to follow my friend Mr. Bell, who, in the profession of literature, represents upon this committee a separate and distinct branch of the profession, that, like
"The last rose of summer Stands blooming alone, While all its companions Are faded and gone,"
into the very prickly bramble-bush with which he has ingeniously contrived to beset this question.