52. The Newsvendors’ Institution, London, April 5, 1870

by Charles Dickens

[The annual dinner in aid of the funds of the Newsvendors’ Benevolent and Provident Institution was held on the above evening, at the Freemason’s Tavern. Mr. Charles Dickens presided, and was supported by the Sheriffs of the City of London and Middlesex.

After the usual toasts had been given and responded to,

The Chairman said that if the approved order of their proceedings had been observed, the Corporation of the City of London would no doubt have considered themselves snubbed if they were not toasted by themselves. He was sure that a distinguished member of the Corporation who was present would tell the company what the Corporation were going to do; and he had not the slightest doubt they were going to do something highly creditable to themselves, and something highly serviceable to the whole metropolis; and if the secret were not at present locked up in the blue chamber, they would be all deeply obliged to the gentleman who would immediately follow him, if he let them into it in the same confidence as he had observed with respect to the Corporation of the City of London being snubbed. He begged to give the toast of “The Corporation of the City of London.”

Mr. Alderman Cotton, in replying to the toast, said for once, and once only, had their chairman said an unkind word about the Corporation of London. He had always reckoned Mr. Dickens to be one of the warmest friends of the Corporation; and remembering that he (Mr. Dickens) did really go through a Lord Mayor’s Show in a Lord Mayor’s carriage, if he had not felt himself quite a Lord Mayor, he must have at least considered himself next to one.

In proposing the toast of the evening Mr, Dickens said:-]

Ladies and gentlemen — You receive me with so much cordiality that I fear you believe that I really did once sit in a Lord Mayor’s state coach. Permit me to assure you, in spite of the information received from Mr. Alderman Cotton, that I never had that honour. Furthermore, I beg to assure you that I never witnessed a Lord Mayor’s show except from the point of view obtained by the other vagabonds upon the pavement. Now, ladies and gentlemen, in spite of this great cordiality of yours, I doubt if you fully know yet what a blessing it is to you that I occupy this chair to-night, because, having filled it on several previous occasions for the society on whose behalf we are assembled, and having said everything that I could think of to say about it, and being, moreover, the president of the institution itself, I am placed to- night in the modest position of a host who is not so much to display himself as to call out his guests — perhaps even to try to induce some among them to occupy his place on another occasion. And, therefore, you may be safely sure that, like Falstaff, but with a modification almost as large as himself, I shall try rather to be the cause of speaking in others than to speak myself to- night. Much in this manner they exhibit at the door of a snuff shop the effigy of a Highlander with an empty mull in his hand, who, having apparently taken all the snuff he can carry, and discharged all the sneezes of which he is capable, politely invites his friends and patrons to step in and try what they can do in the same line.

It is an appropriate instance of the universality of the newsman’s calling that no toast we have drunk to-night — and no toast we shall drink to-night — and no toast we might, could, should, or would drink to-night, is separable for a moment from that great inclusion of all possible subjects of human interest which he delivers at our doors every day. Further, it may be worthy the consideration of everybody here who has talked cheerfully to his or her neighbour since we have sat down at the table, what in the name of Heaven should we have talked about, and how on earth could we have possibly got on, if our newsman had only for one single day forgotten us. Now, ladies and gentlemen, as our newsman is not by any means in the habit of forgetting us, let us try to form a little habit of not forgetting our newsman. Let us remember that his work is very arduous; that it occupies him early and late; that the profits he derives from us are at the best very small; that the services he renders to us are very great; that if he be a master, his little capital is exposed to all sorts of mischances, anxieties, and hazards; and if he be a journeyman, he himself is exposed to all manner of weathers, of tempers, and of difficult and unreasonable requirements.

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