Speeches: Literary and Social, by Charles Dickens

SPEECH: LONDON, APRIL 29, 1858.

[The reader will already have observed that in the Christmas week of 1853, and on several subsequent occasions, Mr. Dickens had read the Christmas Carol and the Chimes before public audiences, but always in aid of the funds of some institution, or for other benevolent purposes. The first reading he ever gave for his own benefit took place on the above date, in St. Martin’s Hall, (now converted into the Queen’s Theatre). This reading Mr. Dickens prefaced with the following speech:-]

Ladies and gentlemen — It may perhaps be in known to you that, for a few years past, I have been accustomed occasionally to read some of my shorter books, to various audiences, in aid of a variety of good objects, and at some charge to myself, both in time and money. It having at length become impossible in any reason to comply with these always accumulating demands, I have had definitively to choose between now and then reading on my own account, as one of my recognised occupations, or not reading at all. I have had little or no difficulty in deciding on the former course. The reasons that have led me to it — besides the consideration that it necessitates no departure whatever from the chosen pursuits of my life — are threefold: firstly, I have satisfied myself that it can involve no possible compromise of the credit and independence of literature; secondly, I have long held the opinion, and have long acted on the opinion, that in these times whatever brings a public man and his public face to face, on terms of mutual confidence and respect, is a good thing; thirdly, I have had a pretty large experience of the interest my hearers are so generous as to take in these occasions, and of the delight they give to me, as a tried means of strengthening those relations — I may almost say of personal friendship — which it is my great privilege and pride, as it is my great responsibility, to hold with a multitude of persons who will never hear my voice nor see my face. Thus it is that I come, quite naturally, to be here among you at this time; and thus it is that I proceed to read this little book, quite as composedly as I might proceed to write it, or to publish it in any other way.

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