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WELCOME TO DICKENS
(Speech of Josiah Quincy, Jr., at the banquet given by the “ Young Men of Boston" at Boston, Mass., February 1, 1842, to Charles Dickens, upon his first visit to America. Mr. Quincy was the President of the evening. About two hundred gentlemen sat at the tables, the brilliant company including George Bancroft, Richard H. Dana, Sr., Richard H. Dana, Jr., Washington Allston, the painter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George S. Hillard, Josiah Quincy, President of Harvard College, the Governor of the State, the Mayor of the city, and Thomas C. Grattan, the British Consul.]
GENTLEMEN:The occasion that calls us together is almost unprecedented in the annals of literature. A young man has crossed the ocean, with no hereditary title, no military laurels, no princely fortune, and yet his approach is hailed with pleasure by every age and condition, and on his arrival he is welcomed as a long-known and highly valued friend. How shall we account for this reception? Must we not at the first glance conclude with Falstaff, “ If the rascal have not given me medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged: it could not be else I have drunk medicines."
But when reflection leads us to the causes of this universal sentiment, we cannot but be struck by the power which mind exercises over mind, even while we are individually separated by time, space, and other conditions of our present being. Why should we not welcome him as a friend? Have we not walked with him in every scene of varied life? Have we not together investigated, with Mr. Pickwick, the theory of Tittlebats? Have we not ridden together to the “Markis of Granby" with old Weller on the box, and his son Samivel on the dickey? Have we not been rook-shooting with Mr. Winkle, and courting with Mr. Tupman? Have we not played cribbage with “ the Marchioness," and quaffed the rosy with Dick Swiveller? Tell us not of animal magnetism! We, and thousands of our countrymen, have for years been eating and talking, riding and walking, dancing and sliding, drinking and sleeping, with our distinguished guest, and he never knew of the existence of one of us. Is it wonderful that we are delighted to see him, and to return in a measure his unbounded hospitalities? Boz a stranger! Well may we again exclaim, with Sir John Falstaff, “D'ye think we didn't know ye?-We knew ye as well as Him that made ye.”
But a jovial fellow is not always the dearest friend; and, although the pleasure of his society would always recommend the progenitor of Dick Swiveller, “the perpetual grand of the glorious Appollers," in a scene like this, yet the respect of grave doctors and of fair ladies proves that there are higher qualities than those of a pleasant companion to recommend and attach them to our distinguished guest. What is the charm that unites so many suffrages? It is that in the lightest hours, and in the most degraded scenes which he has portrayed, there has been a reforming object and a moral tone, not formally thrust into the canvas, but infused into the spirit of the picture, with those natural touches whose contemplation never tires.
With what a power of delineation have the abuses of his institutions been portrayed! How have the poor-house, the jail, the police courts of justice, passed before his magic mirror, and displayed to us the petty tyranny of the lowminded official, from the magnificent Mr. Bumble, and the hard-hearted Mr. Roker, to the authoritative Justice Fang, the positive Judge Starleigh! And as we contemplate them, how strongly have we realized the time-worn evils of some of the systems they revealed to our eyesight, sharpened to detect the deficiencies and malpractices under our own.
The genius of chivalry, which had walked with such power among men, was exorcised by the pen of Cervantes. He did but clothe it with the name and images of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his faithful Squire, and ridicule destroyed what argument could not reach.
This power belongs in an eminent degree to some of the
personifications of our guest. A short time ago it was discovered that a petty tyrant had abused the children who had been committed to his care. No long and elaborate discussion was needed to arouse the public mind. He was pronounced a perfect Squeers, and eloquence could go no further. Happy is he who can add a pleasure to the hours of childhood, but far happier he who, by fixing the attention of the world on their secret sufferings, can protect or deliver them from their power.
But it is not only as a portrayer of public wrongs that we are indebted to our friend. What reflecting mind can contemplate some of those characters without being made more kind-hearted and charitable? Descend with him into the very sink of vice--contemplate the mistress of a robber -the victim of a murderer-disgraced without-polluted within—and yet when, in better moments, her natural kindness breaks through the cloud, then she tells you that no word of counsel, no tone of moral teaching, ever fell upon her ear.
When she looks forward from a life of misery to a death by suicide, you cannot but feel that there is no condition so degraded as not to be visited by gleams of a higher nature, and rejoice that He alone will judge the sin who knows also the temptation. Again, how strongly are the happiness of virtue and the misery of vice contrasted. The morning scene of Sir Mulberry Hawk and his pupil brings out in strong relief the night scene of Kit Nubbles and his mother. The one in affluence and splendor, trying to find an easier position for his aching head, surrounded with means and trophies of debauchery, and thinking there would be nothing so snug and comfortable as to die at once.” The other in the poorest room, earning a precarious subsistence by her labors at the wash-tub-ugly, and ignorant, and vulgar, surrounded by poverty, with one child in the cradle, and the other in the clothes-basket, “whose great round eyes emphatically declared that he never meant to go to sleep any more, and thus opened a cheerful prospect to his relations and friends”-and yet in this situation, with only the comfort that cleanliness and order could impart, kindness of heart and the determination to be talkative and agreeable throws a halo round the scene, and as we contemplate it we cannot but feel that Kit Nubbles attained
to the summit of philosophy, when he discovered “there was nothing in the way in which he was made that called upon him to be a snivelling, solemn, whispering chap-sneaking about as if he couldn't help it, and expressing himself in a most unpleasant snuffle-but that it was as natural for him to laugh as it was for a sheep to bleat, a pig to grunt, or a bird to sing."
Or take another example, when wealth is attained, though by different means and for different purposes. Ralph Nickleby and Arthur Gride are industrious and successful; like the vulture, they are ever soaring over the field that they may pounce on the weak and unprotected. Their constant employment is grinding the poor and preying upon the rich. What is the result? Their homes are cold and cheerless
-the blessing of him that is ready to perish comes not to them, and they live in wretchedness to die in misery. What a contrast have we in the glorious old twins—brother Charles and brother Ned. They have never been to school, they eat with their knives (as the Yankees are said to do), and yet what an elucidation do they present of the truth that it is better to give than to receive! They acquire their wealth in the honorable pursuits of business. They expend it to promote the happiness of every one within their sphere, and their cheerful days and tranquil nights show that wealth is a blessing or a curse, as it ministers to the higher or lower propensities of our nature.
“He that hath light within his own clear breast,
May sit in the centre and enjoy bright day;
Such men are powerful preachers of the truth that universal benevolence is the true panacea of life; and, although it was a pleasant fiction of brother Charles, " that Tim Linkinwater was born a hundred and fifty years old, and was gradually coming down to five and twenty," yet he who habitually cultivates such a sentiment will, as years roll by, attain more and more to the spirit of a little child; and the hour will come when that principle shall conduct the possessor to immortal happiness and eternal youth.
If, then, our guest is called upon to state what are
“The drugs, the charms, The conjuration and the mighty magic, He's won our daughters with,”
well might he reply, that in endeavoring to relieve the oppressed, to elevate the poor, and to instruct and edify those of a happier condition, he had only held “the mirror up to Nature. To show virtue her own form-scorn her own image.” That “this only was the witchcraft he had used; and, did he need proof of this, there are many fair girls on both sides of the water who, though they might not repeat the whole of Desdemona's speech to a married man, yet could each tell him,
“ That if he had a friend that loved her,
He should but teach him how to tell his stories,
I would, gentlemen, it were in my power to present, as on the mirror in the Arabian tale, the various scenes in our extended country, where the master-mind of our guest is at this moment acting. In the empty school-room, the boy at his evening task has dropped his grammar, that he may roam with Oliver or Nell. The traveller has forgotten the fumes of the crowded steamboat, and is far off with our guest, among the green valleys and hoary hills of old England. The trapper, beyond the Rocky Mountains, has left his lonely tent, and is unroofing the houses in London with the more than Mephistopheles at my elbow. And, perhaps, in some well-lighted hall, the unbidden tear steals from the father's eye, as the exquisite sketch of the poor schoolmaster and his little scholar brings back the form of that gifted boy, whose “ little hand” worked its wonders under his guidance, and who, in the dawning of intellect and warm affections, was summoned from the school-room and the play-ground forever. Or to some bereaved mother the tender sympathies and womanly devotion, the touching purity of little Nell, may call up the form where dwelt that harmonious soul, which uniting in itself God's best gifts, for a short space shed its celestial light upon her household, and then vanishing, “ turned all hope into memory."