Charles Dickens

Much in this manner they exhibit at the door of a snuff shop the effigy of a Highlander with an empty mull in his hand, who, having apparently taken all the snuff he can carry, and discharged all the sneezes of which he is capable, politely invites his friends and patrons to step in and try what they can do in the same line.

It is an appropriate instance of the universality of the newsman's calling that no toast we have drunk to-night--and no toast we shall drink to-night--and no toast we might, could, should, or would drink to-night, is separable for a moment from that great inclusion of all possible subjects of human interest which he delivers at our doors every day. Further, it may be worthy the consideration of everybody here who has talked cheerfully to his or her neighbour since we have sat down at the table, what in the name of Heaven should we have talked about, and how on earth could we have possibly got on, if our newsman had only for one single day forgotten us. Now, ladies and gentlemen, as our newsman is not by any means in the habit of forgetting us, let us try to form a little habit of not forgetting our newsman. Let us remember that his work is very arduous; that it occupies him early and late; that the profits he derives from us are at the best very small; that the services he renders to us are very great; that if he be a master, his little capital is exposed to all sorts of mischances, anxieties, and hazards; and if he be a journeyman, he himself is exposed to all manner of weathers, of tempers, and of difficult and unreasonable requirements.

Let me illustrate this. I was once present at a social discussion, which originated by chance. The subject was, What was the most absorbing and longest-lived passion in the human breast? What was the passion so powerful that it would almost induce the generous to be mean, the careless to be cautious, the guileless to be deeply designing, and the dove to emulate the serpent? A daily editor of vast experience and great acuteness, who was one of the company, considerably surprised us by saying with the greatest confidence that the passion in question was the passion of getting orders for the play.

There had recently been a terrible shipwreck, and very few of the surviving sailors had escaped in an open boat. One of these on making land came straight to London, and straight to the newspaper office, with his story of how he had seen the ship go down before his eyes. That young man had witnessed the most terrible contention between the powers of fire and water for the destruction of that ship and of every one on board. He had rowed away among the floating, dying, and the sinking dead. He had floated by day, and he had frozen by night, with no shelter and no food, and, as he told his dismal tale, he rolled his haggard eyes about the room. When he had finished, and the tale had been noted down from his lips, he was cheered and refreshed, and soothed, and asked if anything could be done for him. Even within him that master passion was so strong that he immediately replied he should like an order for the play. My friend the editor certainly thought that was rather a strong case; but he said that during his many years of experience he had witnessed an incurable amount of self-prostration and abasement having no outer object, and that almost invariably on the part of people who could well afford to pay.

This made a great impression on my mind, and I really lived in this faith until some years ago it happened upon a stormy night I was kindly escorted from a bleak railway station to the little out-of- the-way town it represented by a sprightly and vivacious newsman, to whom I propounded, as we went along under my umbrella--he being most excellent company--this old question, what was the one all- absorbing passion of the human soul? He replied, without the slightest hesitation, that it certainly was the passion for getting your newspaper in advance of your fellow-creatures; also, if you only hired it, to get it delivered at your own door at exactly the same time as another man who hired the same copy four miles off; and, finally, the invincible determination on the part of both men not to believe the time was up when the boy called.