Speeches: Literary and Social, by Charles Dickens

SPEECH: COVENTRY, DECEMBER 4, 1858.

[On the above evening, a public dinner was held at the Castle Hotel, on the occasion of the presentation to Mr. Charles Dickens of a gold watch, as a mark of gratitude for the reading of his Christmas Carol, given in December of the previous year, in aid of the funds of the Coventry Institute. The chair was taken by C. W. Hoskyns, Esq. Mr. Dickens ackowledged the testimonial in the following words:]

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-chairman, and Gentlemen — I hope your minds will be greatly relieved by my assuring you that it is one of the rules of my life never to make a speech about myself. If I knowingly did so, under any circumstances, it would be least of all under such circumstances as these, when its effect on my acknowledgment of your kind regard, and this pleasant proof of it, would be to give me a certain constrained air, which I fear would contrast badly with your greeting, so cordial, so unaffected, so earnest, and so true. Furthermore, your Chairman has decorated the occasion with a little garland of good sense, good feeling, and good taste; so that I am sure that any attempt at additional ornament would be almost an impertinence.

Therefore I will at once say how earnestly, how fervently, and how deeply I feel your kindness. This watch, with which you have presented me, shall be my companion in my hours of sedentary working at home, and in my wanderings abroad. It shall never be absent from my side, and it shall reckon off the labours of my future days; and I can assure you that after this night the object of those labours will not less than before be to uphold the right and to do good. And when I have done with time and its measurement, this watch shall belong to my children; and as I have seven boys, and as they have all begun to serve their country in various ways, or to elect into what distant regions they shall roam, it is not only possible, but probable, that this little voice will be heard scores of years hence, who knows? in some yet unfounded city in the wilds of Australia, or communicating Greenwich time to Coventry Street, Japan.

Once again, and finally, I thank you; and from my heart of hearts, I can assure you that the memory of to-night, and of your picturesque and interesting city, will never be absent from my mind, and I can never more hear the lightest mention of the name of Coventry without having inspired in my breast sentiments of unusual emotion and unusual attachment.

[Later in the evening, in proposing the health of the Chairman, Mr. Dickens said:]

There may be a great variety of conflicting opinions with regard to farming, and especially with reference to the management of a clay farm; but, however various opinions as to the merits of a clay farm may be, there can be but one opinion as to the merits of a clay farmer — and it is the health of that distinguished agriculturist which I have to propose.

In my ignorance of the subject, I am bound to say that it may be, for anything I know, indeed I am ready to admit that it IS, exceedingly important that a clay farm should go for a number of years to waste; but I claim some knowledge as to the management of a clay farmer, and I positively object to his ever lying fallow. In the hope that this very rich and teeming individual may speedily be ploughed up, and that, we shall gather into our barns and store- houses the admirable crop of wisdom, which must spring up when ever he is sown, I take leave to propose his health, begging to assure him that the kind manner in which he offered to me your very valuable present, I can never forget.

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