Speeches: Literary and Social, by Charles Dickens

SPEECH: GARDENING. LONDON, JUNE 9, 1851.

[At the anniversary dinner of the Gardeners’ Benevolent Institution, held under the presidency of Mr., afterwards Sir Joseph Paxton, Mr. Charles Dickens made the following speech:-]

I feel an unbounded and delightful interest in all the purposes and associations of gardening. Probably there is no feeling in the human mind stronger than the love of gardening. The prisoner will make a garden in his prison, and cultivate his solitary flower in the chink of a wall. The poor mechanic will string his scarlet bean from one side of his window to the other, and watch it and tend it with unceasing interest. It is a holy duty in foreign countries to decorate the graves of the dead with flowers, and here, too, the resting-places of those who have passed away from us will soon be gardens. From that old time when the Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, down to the day when a Poet- Laureate sang —

“Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere, From yon blue heaven above us bent The gardener Adam and his wife Smile at the claims of long descent,”

at all times and in all ages gardens have been amongst the objects of the greatest interest to mankind. There may be a few, but I believe they are but a few, who take no interest in the products of gardening, except perhaps in “London Pride,” or a certain degenerate kind of “Stock,” which is apt to grow hereabouts, cultivated by a species of frozen-out gardeners whom no thaw can ever penetrate: except these, the gardeners’ art has contributed to the delight of all men in their time. That there ought to be a Benevolent Provident Institution for gardeners is in the fitness of things, and that such an institution ought to flourish and does flourish is still more so.

I have risen to propose to you the health of a gentleman who is a great gardener, and not only a great gardener but a great man — the growth of a fine Saxon root cultivated up with a power of intellect to a plant that is at this time the talk of the civilized world — I allude, of course, to my friend the chairman of the day. I took occasion to say at a public assembly hard-by, a month or two ago, in speaking of that wonderful building Mr. Paxton has designed for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, that it ought to have fallen down, but that it refused to do so. We were told that the glass ought to have been all broken, the gutters all choked up, and the building flooded, and that the roof and sides ought to have been blown away; in short that everything ought to have done what everything obstinately persisted in not doing. Earth, air, fire, and water all appear to have conspired together in Mr. Paxton’s favour — all have conspired together to one result, which, when the present generation is dust, will be an enduring temple to his honour, and to the energy, the talent, and the resources of Englishmen.

“But,” said a gentleman to me the other day, “no doubt Mr. Paxton is a great man, but there is one objection to him that you can never get over, that is, he is a gardener.” Now that is our case to-night, that he is a gardener, and we are extremely proud of it. This is a great age, with all its faults, when a man by the power of his own genius and good sense can scale such a daring height as Mr. Paxton has reached, and composedly place his form on the top. This is a great age, when a man impressed with a useful idea can carry out his project without being imprisoned, or thumb-screwed, or persecuted in any form. I can well understand that you, to whom the genius, the intelligence, the industry, and the achievements of our friend are well known, should be anxious to do him honour by placing him in the position he occupies to-night; and I assure you, you have conferred great gratification on one of his friends, in permitting him to have the opportunity of proposing his health, which that friend now does most cordially and with all the honours.

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