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.
SPEECH: THE ROYAL ACADEMY DINNER. LONDON, MAY 2, 1870.
[On the occasion of the Second Exhibition of the Royal Academy in their new galleries in Piccadilly, the President, Sir F. Grant, and the council gave their usual inaugurative banquet, and a very distinguished company was present. The dinner took place in the large central room, and covers were laid for 200 guests. The Prince of Wales acknowledged the toast of his health and that of the Princess, the Duke of Cambridge responded to the toast of the army, Mr. Childers to the navy, Lord Elcho to the volunteers, Mr. Motley to "The Prosperity of the United States," Mr. Gladstone to "Her Majesty's Ministers," the Archbishop of York to, "The Guests," and Mr. Dickens to "Literature." The last toast having been proposed in a highly eulogistic speech, Mr. Dickens responded.]
Mr. President, your Royal Highnesses, my Lords and Gentlemen,--I beg to acknowledge the toast with which you have done me the great honour of associating my name. I beg to acknowledge it on behalf of the brotherhood of literature, present and absent, not forgetting an illustrious wanderer from the fold, whose tardy return to it we all hail with delight, and who now sits--or lately did sit--within a few chairs of or on your left hand. I hope I may also claim to acknowledge the toast on behalf of the sisterhood of literature also, although that "better half of human nature," to which Mr. Gladstone rendered his graceful tribute, is unworthily represented here, in the present state of its rights and wrongs, by the devouring monster, man.
All the arts, and many of the sciences, bear witness that women, even in their present oppressed condition, can attain to quite as great distinction, and can attain to quite as lofty names as men. Their emancipation (as I am given to understand) drawing very near, there is no saying how soon they may "push us from our stools" at these tables, or how soon our better half of human nature, standing in this place of mine, may eloquently depreciate mankind, addressing another better half of human nature sitting in the president's chair.
The literary visitors of the Royal Academy to-night desire me to congratulate their hosts on a very interesting exhibition, in which risen excellence supremely asserts itself, and from which promise of a brilliant succession in time to come is not wanting. They naturally see with especial interest the writings and persons of great men--historians, philosophers, poets, and novelists, vividly illustrated around them here. And they hope that they may modestly claim to have rendered some little assistance towards the production of many of the pictures in this magnificent gallery.