Charles Dickens

The audience, thinking this statement exceedingly improbable, declined to receive it, and the weight of that speech hung round him until the end of his performance.

Now I, too, have received instructions for the part I have the honour of performing before you, and it behoves both you and me to profit by the terrible warning I have detailed, while I endeavour to make the part I have undertaken as plain and intelligible as I possibly can.

As I am going to propose to you that we should now begin to connect the business with the pleasure of the evening, by drinking prosperity to the Artists' Benevolent Fund, it becomes important that we should know what that fund is. It is an Association supported by the voluntary gifts of those who entertain a critical and admiring estimation of art, and has for its object the granting of annuities to the widows and children of deceased artists--of artists who have been unable in their lives to make any provision for those dear objects of their love surviving themselves. Now it is extremely important to observe that this institution of an Artists' Benevolent Fund, which I now call on you to pledge, has connected with it, and has arisen out of another artists' association, which does not ask you for a health, which never did, and never will ask you for a health, which is self-supporting, and which is entirely maintained by the prudence and providence of its three hundred artist members. That fund, which is called the Artists' Annuity Fund, is, so to speak, a joint and mutual Assurance Company against infirmity, sickness, and age. To the benefits it affords every one of its members has an absolute right, a right, be it remembered, produced by timely thrift and self- denial, and not assisted by appeals to the charity or compassion of any human being. On that fund there are, if I remember a right, some seventeen annuitants who are in the receipt of eleven hundred a-year, the proceeds of their own self-supporting Institution. In recommending to you this benevolent fund, which is not self- supporting, they address you, in effect, in these words:- "We ask you to help these widows and orphans, because we show you we have first helped ourselves. These widows and orphans may be ours or they may not be ours; but in any case we will prove to you to a certainty that we are not so many wagoners calling upon Jupiter to do our work, because we do our own work; each has his shoulder to the wheel; each, from year to year, has had his shoulder set to the wheel, and the prayer we make to Jupiter and all the gods is simply this--that this fact may be remembered when the wagon has stopped for ever, and the spent and worn-out wagoner lies lifeless by the roadside.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I most particularly wish to impress on you the strength of this appeal. I am a painter, a sculptor, or an engraver, of average success. I study and work here for no immense return, while life and health, while hand and eye are mine. I prudently belong to the Annuity Fund, which in sickness, old age, and infirmity, preserves me from want. I do my duty to those who are depending on me while life remains; but when the grass grows above my grave there is no provision for them any longer."

This is the case with the Artists' Benevolent Fund, and in stating this I am only the mouthpiece of three hundred of the trade, who in truth stands as independent before you as if they were three hundred Cockers all regulated by the Gospel according to themselves. There are in existence three artists' funds, which ought never to be mentioned without respect. I am an officer of one of them, and can speak from knowledge; but on this occasion I address myself to a case for which there is no provision. I address you on behalf of those professors of the fine arts who have made provision during life, and in submitting to you their claims I am only advocating principles which I myself have always maintained.

When I add that this Benevolent Fund makes no pretensions to gentility, squanders no treasure in keeping up appearances, that it considers that the money given for the widow and the orphan, should really be held for the widow and the orphan, I think I have exhausted the case, which I desire most strenuously to commend to you.