Speeches: Literary and Social, by Charles Dickens

SPEECH: LONDON, JULY 21, 1858.

[On the above date, a public meeting was held at the Princess’s Theatre, for the purpose of establishing the now famous Royal Dramatic College. Mr. Charles Kean was the chairman, and Mr. Dickens delivered the following speech:]

Ladies and gentlemen — I think I may venture to congratulate you beforehand on the pleasant circumstance that the movers and seconders of the resolutions which will be submitted to you will, probably, have very little to say. Through the Report which you have heard read, and through the comprehensive address of the chairman, the cause which brings us together has been so very clearly stated to you, that it can stand in need of very little, if of any further exposition. But, as I have the honour to move the first resolution which this handsome gift, and the vigorous action that must be taken upon it, necessitate, I think I shall only give expression to what is uppermost in the general mind here, if I venture to remark that, many as the parts are in which Mr. Kean has distinguished himself on these boards, he has never appeared in one in which the large spirit of an artist, the feeling of a man, and the grace of a gentleman, have been more admirably blended than in this day’s faithful adherence to the calling of which he is a prosperous ornament, and in this day’s manly advocacy of its cause.

Ladies and gentlemen, the resolution entrusted to me is:

“That the Report of the provisional committee be adopted, and that this meeting joyfully accepts, and gratefully acknowledges, the gift of five acres of land referred to in the said Report.” 12

12 Mr. Henry Dodd had proposed to give five acres of land in Berkshire, but, in consequence of his desiring to attach certain restrictions, after a long and unsatisfactory correspondence, the Committee, on 13th January following, rejected the offer. (Communicated.)

It is manifest, I take it, that we are all agreed upon this acceptance and acknowledgment, and that we all know very well that this generous gift can inspire but one sentiment in the breast of every lover of the dramatic art. As it is far too often forgotten by those who are indebted to it for many a restorative flight out of this working-day world, that the silks, and velvets, and elegant costumes of its professors must be every night exchanged for the hideous coats and waistcoats of the present day, in which we have now the honour and the misfortune of appearing before you, so when we do meet with a nature so considerably generous as this donor’s, and do find an interest in the real life and struggles of the people who have delighted it, so very spontaneous and so very liberal, we have nothing to do but to accept and to admire, we have no duty left but to “take the goods the gods provide us,” and to make the best and the most of them. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to remark, that in this mode of turning a good gift to the highest account, lies the truest gratitude.

In reference to this, I could not but reflect, whilst Mr. Kean was speaking, that in an hour or two from this time, the spot upon which we are now assembled will be transformed into the scene of a crafty and a cruel bond. I know that, a few hours hence, the Grand Canal of Venice will flow, with picturesque fidelity, on the very spot where I now stand dryshod, and that “the quality of mercy” will be beautifully stated to the Venetian Council by a learned young doctor from Padua, on these very boards on which we now enlarge upon the quality of charity and sympathy. Knowing this, it came into my mind to consider how different the real bond of to-day from the ideal bond of to-night. Now, all generosity, all forbearance, all forgetfulness of little jealousies and unworthy divisions, all united action for the general good. Then, all selfishness, all malignity, all cruelty, all revenge, and all evil — now all good. Then, a bond to be broken within the compass of a few — three or four — swiftly passing hours — now, a bond to be valid and of good effect generations hence.

Ladies and gentlemen, of the execution and delivery of this bond, between this generous gentleman on the one hand, and the united members of a too often and too long disunited art upon the other, be you the witnesses. Do you attest of everything that is liberal and free in spirit, that is “so nominated in the bond;” and of everything that is grudging, self-seeking, unjust, or unfair, that it is by no sophistry ever to be found there. I beg to move the resolution which I have already had the pleasure of reading.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54sls/chapter22.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30