Speeches: Literary and Social, by Charles Dickens

SPEECH: LONDON, MARCH 29, 1862.

[At a Dinner of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution, the following Address was delivered by Mr. Charles Dickens from the chair.-]

Seven or eight years ago, without the smallest expectation of ever being called upon to fill the chair at an anniversary festival of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution, and without the remotest reference to such an occasion, I selected the administration of that Charity as the model on which I desired that another should be reformed, both as regarded the mode in which the relief was afforded, and the singular economy with which its funds were administered. As a proof of the latter quality during the past year, the cost of distributing 1,126 pounds among the recipients of the bounty of the Charity amounted to little more than 100 pounds, inclusive of all office charges and expenses. The experience and knowledge of those entrusted with the management of the funds are a guarantee that the last available farthing of the funds will be distributed among proper and deserving recipients. Claiming, on my part, to be related in some degree to the profession of an artist, I disdain to stoop to ask for charity, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, on behalf of the Artists. In its broader and higher signification of generous confidence, lasting trustfulness, love and confiding belief, I very readily associate that cardinal virtue with art. I decline to present the artist to the notice of the public as a grown-up child, or as a strange, unaccountable, moon-stricken person, waiting helplessly in the street of life to be helped over the road by the crossing- sweeper; on the contrary, I present the artist as a reasonable creature, a sensible gentleman, and as one well acquainted with the value of his time, and that of other people, as if he were in the habit of going on high ‘Change every day. The Artist whom I wish to present to the notice of the Meeting is one to whom the perfect enjoyment of the five senses is essential to every achievement of his life. He can gain no wealth nor fame by buying something which he never touched, and selling it to another who would also never touch or see it, but was compelled to strike out for himself every spark of fire which lighted, burned, and perhaps consumed him. He must win the battle of life with his own hand, and with his own eyes, and was obliged to act as general, captain, ensign, non- commissioned officer, private, drummer, great arms, small arms, infantry, cavalry, all in his own unaided self. When, therefore, I ask help for the artist, I do not make my appeal for one who was a cripple from his birth, but I ask it as part payment of a great debt which all sensible and civilised creatures owe to art, as a mark of respect to art, as a decoration — not as a badge — as a remembrance of what this land, or any land, would be without art, and as the token of an appreciation of the works of the most successful artists of this country. With respect to the society of which I am the advocate, I am gratified that it is so liberally supported by the most distinguished artists, and that it has the confidence of men who occupy the highest rank as artists, above the reach of reverses, and the most distinguished in success and fame, and whose support is above all price. Artists who have obtained wide-world reputation know well that many deserving and persevering men, or their widows and orphans, have received help from this fund, and some of the artists who have received this help are now enrolled among the subscribers to the Institution.

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