I most heartily wish that I could charm you now not to see me, not to think of me, not to hear me--I most heartily wish that I could make you see in my stead the multitude of innocent and bereaved children who are looking towards these schools, and entreating with uplifted hands to be let in. A very famous advocate once said, in speaking of his fears of failure when he had first to speak in court, being very poor, that he felt his little children tugging at his skirts, and that recovered him. Will you think of the number of little children who are tugging at my skirts, when I ask you, in their names, on their behalf, and in their little persons, and in no strength of my own, to encourage and assist this work?
At a later period of the evening Mr. Dickens proposed the health of the President of the Institution, Lord John Russell. He said he should do nothing so superfluous and so unnecessary as to descant upon his lordship's many faithful, long, and great public services, upon the honour and integrity with which he had pursued his straightforward public course through every difficulty, or upon the manly, gallant, and courageous character, which rendered him certain, in the eyes alike of friends and opponents, to rise with every rising occasion, and which, like the seal of Solomon, in the old Arabian story, enclosed in a not very large casket the soul of a giant. In answer to loud cheers, he said he had felt perfectly certain, that that would be the response for in no English assembly that he had ever seen was it necessary to do more than mention the name of Lord John Russell to ensure a manifestation of personal respect and grateful remembrance.
SPEECH: LONDON, MAY 8, 1858.
[The forty-eighth Anniversary of the establishment of the Artists' Benevolent Fund took place on the above date at the Freemasons' Tavern. The chair was taken by Mr. Charles Dickens, who, after having disposed of the preliminary toasts with his usual felicity, proceeded to advocate the claims of the Institution in whose interest the company had assembled, in the following terms:-]
Ladies and gentlemen,--There is an absurd theatrical story which was once told to me by a dear and valued friend, who has now passed from this sublunary stage, and which is not without its moral as applied to myself, in my present presidential position. In a certain theatrical company was included a man, who on occasions of emergency was capable of taking part in the whole round of the British drama, provided he was allowed to use his own language in getting through the dialogue. It happened one night that Reginald, in the Castle Spectre, was taken ill, and this veteran of a hundred characters was, of course, called up for the vacant part. He responded with his usual promptitude, although knowing nothing whatever of the character, but while they were getting him into the dress, he expressed a not unreasonable wish to know in some vague way what the part was about. He was not particular as to details, but in order that he might properly pourtray his sufferings, he thought he should have some slight inkling as to what really had happened to him. As, for example, what murders he had committed, whose father he was, of what misfortunes he was the victim,--in short, in a general way to know why he was in that place at all. They said to him, "Here you are, chained in a dungeon, an unhappy father; you have been here for seventeen years, during which time you have never seen your daughter; you have lived upon bread and water, and, in consequence, are extremely weak, and suffer from occasional lowness of spirits."--"All right," said the actor of universal capabilities, "ring up." When he was discovered to the audience, he presented an extremely miserable appearance, was very favourably received, and gave every sign of going on well, until, through some mental confusion as to his instructions, he opened the business of the act by stating in pathetic terms, that he had been confined in that dungeon seventeen years, during which time he had not tasted a morsel of food, to which circumstance he was inclined to attribute the fact of his being at that moment very much out of condition.