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ROYAL LITERARY FUND DINNER.
impossibility here; and that it is the fixed and unalterable determination of the great body of the American people, to maintain their institutions forever.
If, in taking this course, we are to encounter the opposition of other nations, we are prepared to do it. We have done nothing to provoke it, as far as we know, nor is it likely that we shall. We wish to avoid it, if we can. But it would be going too far to say that we would purchase immunity from foreign intervention, at any price whatever.
)OYAL Literary Fund Dinner at Freemasons' Hall in the
spring of 1848, was the most imposing and brilliant assembly I have ever seen. Being the only American present, I was called on to reply to a broad and generous sentiment. I extract the following from the official report of the meeting:
REAR ADMIRAL SIR AUGUSTUS CLIFFORD.-My Lord Duke and Gentlemen, I have been requested to propose the health of "Mr. Charles Edwards Lester, and the Literary and Scientific Men of Foreign Countries."
MR. LESTER.-My Lord Duke, My Lords and Gentlemen, That so humble a person as myself should respond to so great and humane a sentiment as the one which closed the eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant baronet who has just sat down, needs some explanation. When I came into the room, I had no idea of saying a word; I had only congratulated myself on being admitted to the presence of the gifted writers of England; and could I, from all the world, have chosen the place where I would pass the evening, I would have chosen this Hall, where the great, the good, and the noble, have assembled to-night to sympathize with the struggles and the sufferings of the children of genius in every part of the world (cheers). And even now that I find myself on my feet, my better judgment tells me that I should have no right to attempt to speak the gratitude of the Literary and Scientific men of Foreign Countries for the honor done them here, if there were any one of them present who would respond to so touching and generous a sentiment. A little while ago I was pressed so earnestly to speak, that I felt I could not with
SPEECH OF C. EDWARDS LESTER.
courtesy refuse. In thinking what I should say, it occurred to me that I might make a hit, as it is called, with one observation. But the noble and learned Lord opposite to me (Lord Campbell) has run off with my idea, although I still claim the credit of it (and this is no trick of speaking). I was going to say something about the stability of the Commonwealth of Letters (hear): for in times like these, when all things human, and, if we may believe what the Times newspaper of to-day says of Rome, everything that has been called divine, seems to be sliding from its foundations (laughter and cheers); when fugitive princes are chasing each other over the continent; and governments, and even society itself, are dissolving at the touch of a world-wide revolution, it is a matter of satisfaction to us, and to the learned men of all countries, who will hear of your proceedings where they dwell (cheers), that there is one Republic that is safe (loud cheering); the first that was ever founded in the world, and the last that will ever be destroyed (cheers); a republic in which have been numbered all the great and good men to whom the world has been indebted, from the early patriarchs of literature, Moses and Job, and Confucius and Plato, down to Hallam and James (loud cheering), and all the gifted men who have poured the light of their genius over England, and are now rallying to save her from destruction (loud cheers). I need not say that I allude to the great, the indivisible, the eternal Commonwealth of Learning (cheers); a Republic which has never disputed about the form of its government (cheers); which has never raised a question of succession (cheers); which has never quarrelled about legislation (cheers); which never had an interregnum, nor even a Provisional Government or a Committee of Public Safety to quell its disturbances or administer its affairs (cheers and laughter). It has been engaged in better business. This Commonwealth has always cared more for substance than forms. It has always been united on essential points, points so clear and grand that there's no one of its members that does not see them, and love them, and act on them (cheers). That the scholar's mission is to diffuse among inankind the light of liberty and truth-to inspire veneration for the God of the universe, and love for all his creatures-and amidst the toil and bustle of a working and a suffering life, to point the eye of his humbler brother to a better life to come (applause). Such have been, and such will be, the objects our Commonwealth keeps in view, and therefore it must be immortal (cheers). It seems improper and unbecoming for so obscure and unworthy a cultivator of letters to be a speaker in this assembly. (No! No!)
I was told that the distinguished ambassador of the country of which I have the honor to be a citizen, would be here this evening; and I am sure that an historian who has so ably illustrated the annals of his own
OBJECTS OF THE SOCIETY.
country, and been so useful a contributor to the early colonial history of Britain, would have met here the warmest reception, and represented not only the learning, but the heart of his countrymen (cheers). Lest it should be thought I have taken upon me voluntarily this office, let me say, that I have been obliged to yield to the importunity of your Secretary, whom I never saw but once before, and that a thousand miles off, in consenting to represent one feeling, one fraternal feeling, among the authors of America for the authors of Great Britain (cheers). If I could call up before you any one of five-and-twenty writers I might name, who dwell beyond the blue sea that divides us, to tell you how we feel towards the land of our fathers (cheers), how Americans feel towards this Institution, in whose beneficence some of them, I have every reason to believe, have participated, some words of fire should be struck off to-night that would make this fine old Hall echo to the shout of a literary brotherhood that must one day bind all our hearts together (prolonged and enthusiastic cheering). The object contemplated by your Institution is one of the purest and noblest man ever conceived-to relieve the sufferings of those gifted men into whose hearts the God of Light has breathed the inspiration that belongs to a higher crder of intelligence, but who, in the devoted work of redeeming the lost millions of earth, have been left, like the Son of Man, with no place to lay their heads (cheers). On such a mission what angel would not have been proud to go (cheers)? Literature is a very precarious profession at best; from the early days of the earth's history, when blind old Homer, to get his bread, went singing scraps of the Iliad (under less comfortable circumstances than our friends have done to-night) under the walls of half a score of cities which afterwards fought for the honor of having given him birth, down to the garrets of Chatterton and honest Tom Steele (cheers), authors have been a marvelously hungry and destitute set of men (cheers and laughter).
Now, it seems to me, that an Institution whose object is to compensate for the lack of that ordinary prudence which more calculating men abound in, is a Society which attempts in some humble manner to emulate the beneficence of Heaven, whose inspiring light goes softly and kindly stealing into every cornfield of Europe and jungle of India, that warms the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and visits with healing influence every broken heart (cheers). The delicacy with which you send your bread to feed the solitary scholar on the desert of life, like all true benevolence, is attended by no flourish of trumpets (cheers). The world knows not what you do; but the suffering scholar knows it, and his beneficent Father in heaven knows it,-and that is enough (loud cheers). It is very late, gentlemen, and I think we ought not to waste any of our
AUTHORS NOBLES, AND NOBLES AUTHORS.
time in clapping (cheers). It don't disturb me, but it uses up the time, and this seems to me bad economy (cheers and laughter). Yes, I feel that in saying a few words in reply to the toast proposed, I am doing a wrong to the authors of all countries, but particularly of America, whom I honor and love, and who could more worthily represent that Republic to which I have the honor to belong in a very humble capacity.
But there is another consideration which oppresses me still more. I was surprised in coming here this evening-I might have anticipated it all, but with the thoughtlessness that belongs to some authors, I forgot it -that I should be brought into the presence, not only of some of the most learned of the nobles of England, whom I honor for the great deeds of their fathers and for their devotion to letters, but into the presence of some of those writers whom I have worshipped from afar over the sea, as my fathers and teachers when I was a boy (cheers). For in college days I was, despite all present evidence to the contrary, carefully drilled through the Rhetoric and Logic of the Right Rev. Archbishop who sits opposite me (cheers and laughter); and had I then been told that at a future day I should have been admitted, even as a stranger, into his presence, it would have inspired me with an enthusiasm for his name over those dry pages-dry as I then thought them, but not since—which as a boy I learned by heart, only to discover their meaning too late to make me good at anything which requires either reason or cloquence (cheers). There was another name I learned to utter with that of Shakspere and Scott, and afterwards to love almost if not quite as well. Like others who have paid some attention to letters, I had groped blindly through the Medieval age, till Hallam had shed over it the light of his genius (cheers). But with that great work in my hands, I went as confidently through the labyrinths of the Dark Ages, as I followed a fatherguide through the trackless forests of my native land. So did I cling to the skirts of Hallam (loud cheers); and while I have been attempting, for six years, to decipher on the spot the inscriptions-engraven on the ruins of Italy, I have found him my best guide. He has written about them with the heart of a lover, and the head of a sage (cheers). And I now thank God in the earnestness of my heart-and this you will not call a trick of speaking, you would insult the genuineness of my feelings if you did that I am permitted to come and lay the tribute of my gratitude at the feet of my historical father (loud and long cheers). In rambling through the caves of Carrara, where Michael Angelo saw the statue of David in a rejected block of marble, it was evident that his mission lay in showing what genius could create out of stone. It seemed to me too, that the mission of the great historian, so beautifully illustrated in this case, was to show what genius could create out of darkness (cheers).
WHO WILL SAVE ENGLAND.
For though the Dark Ages before that book was written, an Italian critic said, "A flood of light has streamed so broad and clear on our Mediæval history, from the pen of Hallam's genius, that ever after we may call that hitherto chaotic period the light ages." He has conducted the student of history through the dark ages, as Galileo led future astronomers through the untravelled passages of the skies, which the Almighty had never before opened to the telescope (cheers).
But I have already spoken too long, although I have not yet said what I rose to uttter (Go on, go on). I will, and stop too as quick as I can well manage to do it, for the warm hospitality with which I have been received has quite put every idea of a speech out of my head, and left me nothing but my heart to give you (cheers). You must excuse me for talking as I would if I were at the banquet board of a company of old friends whom I had just rejoined after a long separation-for in no assembly and in no home of England have I ever been able to feel like a stranger (loud cheers). It has been with no little surprise that I have heard so many speakers this evening allude to that "10th of April" (laughter). No future historian will be likely to say much about it, I fancy. In the midst of the convulsions that are shaking other thrones to dust, England is safe! The world can never dispense with her agency in civilizing mankind; her commerce and her literature are instruments God himself has appointed for emancipating the world. All that is true, and just, and generous in these islands will live. Those appalling changes that have taken place on the continent were inevitable, for neither governments nor legislations marched with the progress of society. The wave that swept away the institutions of France, dashed against putrid masses of corruption-it found French human nature there; here it found AngloSaxon human nature-and I take it there is a considerable distinction between them (cheers and laughter). There is one conservative principle which lies at the bottom of Anglo-Saxon character, which has always saved England—it is still able to do it--it is reverence for law and order, because nothing but law and order can prove any effectual safeguard to liberty of person and liberty of conscience. This principle has animated her literature in every age. Here the Press is not only free, but, for the most part, it is under the control of scholars-of men who believe in progress-who fix no limits to future civilization, and whose hearts are with the coming age. They will guide England through the future as they have led her through the past (cheers):-yes, in their hands England is safe (loud cheers).
His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin intimated—and I will not try to quote his words, for fear I might dim their lustre—that such was the spirit of the British nation, that even the long-descended nobles of Eng