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an intimation that they were in it: here a joke; there a pathetic touch. His smile even was enough; Gradgrind could not hold out against Charles Dickens. I see his spirit in the early laws and the by-laws of the Society which are in my possession. It is delightful to note how all human needs and weaknesses are provided for. There are to be annuities for professional members and the wives of professional members,' the object of which (we are told) shall be to associate an honourable rest from arduous labours with the discharge of congenial duties in connection with popular instruction.' Rebuking the distrust of political economists-and I can see Mr. Dickens's frown-an Assurance and Provident Augmentation Fund' is to be one of the first things to Power there was to purchase and hold lands not exceeding 50 acres,' and oh! the regulations as to trusteeships and membership and the accounts and the Secretary's duties (filling an entire page) and the meetings and the noble provision for 'associates of the Guild.'
But of all the attractions that glitter most are the 'Limited number of Free Residences' to be occupied by the annuitants whose qualifications are so carefully defined: Writers of either sex, of books not being translations (translations from the ancient and Eastern languages excepted); writers in periodicals; writers of dramatic and other theatrical pieces, exhibitors of either sex of works of original design in painting or sculpture or architecture at any public exhibition in the United Kingdom, designers of approved merit for engravers, and engravers.' Nothing in his career surely redounds more to the honour of Charles Dickens than his devotion to this project of a Literary Guild. Moved to it by his sympathy with literary men and artists, his knowledge of their trials, their sufferings often in the crypt,' he threw himself into the great scheme (for it was great in conception), gave it huge portions of his time, sacrificed pleasure and profit and did the work of a dozen men for long years, to make it efficient for fellow-workers less fortunate than himself.
Though I was not at the making of the Guild, I became a 'professional member' on the motion of Mark Lemon, at as early a date as '54, and was the most regular attendant at its meetings until its honourable decease in '97, when, by an Act of Parliament obtained for the purpose, its goods and effects were divided between the Literary Fund and the Artists' Benevolent Fund. When I joined, the Guild was 'all ready,' but, so far as its early ambition is con
sidered, it was standing still. Professional members did not join, and the Council were getting slack in attendance. Three pretty houses stood waiting at Stevenage, but nobody came. The requirement of subscription and life assurance deterred some, who looked at the rules and turned away. It was not, they said, what they expected. I fancy many thought that by fairy influence they were to enter upon a fine mansion and an annuity forthwith.
At our meetings Charles Dickens, if present, was always in the chair. We held a Council meeting first and followed with a 'General' Meeting. But it will be understood, after what has been said, that the latter meetings were not at all crowded. Almost immediately after I had joined I had one day a trying time in this respect. When I arrived at the office of All the Year Round' where we met, I was told that the Council were sitting but would not be many minutes. Then came the intimation that the General Meeting was on. I went upstairs and entered the room, in which I found several gentlemen talking and laughing together. There were Robert Chambers, Charles Knight, Augustus Egg, Dudley Costello, Mark Lemon, and a few more. 'Here's the General Meeting!' said Wills, and everybody laughed. 'Shall we read the Minutes of the last meeting?' he said, addressing me, and there was another laugh. I was nervous enough, but not too nervous to resolve to be even with my friend if I could. 'If you please,' I replied, and I chuckle even now to think of the gravity with which I listened to him, and how Charles Dickens, who was in the chair, showed his amusement. In the minute book, the entry is 'General Meeting, Monday, June 3, '61, only Mr. Robinson attended,' and this is signed Charles Dickens.' Charles Dickens, it was often said, was above all things an actor. He was indeed an actor and a consummate one. He was never when in public what in the ordinary sense of the word is termed 'natural.' I saw him again and again at these Guild meetings; I heard him address various public assemblages, and I listened, I think, to each of his Public Readings; and in all he had consciously an ideal in his mind, up to which he may be said to have acted. His characters have been counted, and they run into hundreds and hundreds. He must have created them as he walked and rode and conversed or mused. The situation in which he found himself for the time became an ideal one forthwith and his part a part with the rest. I once saw him hurry forward in
St. James's Square to help a policeman who was struggling with a desperate fellow whom he had arrested for stealing lead. My friend Mr. J. C. Parkinson, well known to and much liked by Dickens, was with me, and we hastened to assist. I really trembled, for the man looked savagely at Mr. Dickens, and in another moment a blow might have fallen. 'I'll go with you to the station,' said Mr. Dickens to the policeman, and he did. Even then, his voice, his air, his walk made me think of some accomplished artist called upon to represent all this upon the stage.
As chairman he was as precise and accurate as possible in carrying out the traditions of the post. Before business began, his happy laugh rang through the room; he had a word for every friend and generally they were his associates as well as friends. Voices were high in merriment, and it looked as though business would never begin; but when Mr. Dickens did take his seat, 'Now, gentlemen; Wills will read us the Minutes of the last meeting. Attention, please. Order!'-it might have been the most experienced chairman of Guildhall, purpled by a hundred public dinners. At the time of my election to the Council, a sanguine spirit was abroad, and the chairman specially partook of it, but when disappointment followed disappointment everybody was more serious. There was little laughter, and Mr. Dickens showed that the matter was worrying him. Among the early troubles was the occupancy of the houses. The right people would not turn up, or they backed out if they did say they would come. The houses were nice enough. There was no trouble about them. There were pretty gardens, the houses were in an excellent position, and then they supplied Lord Lytton with such a happy topic as he rolled by with his friends, on a drive in the neighbourhood of Knebworth. As to the candidates, we were ready to squeeze a point in the literal interpretation of the rules, but it was no good. I see that in one case we were obliged to write to a candidate to ask whether he is disposed to offer to the Guild any explanation of a certain alleged destruction on his part of letters or papers belonging to the late Duke of .' The explanation was voted unsatisfactory, and no tenant came from that quarter. Another very poignant disappointment tried the literary temperament dreadfully. On that occasion Dickens had no sooner sat down than he exclaimed (professional chairman's voice): Well, gentlemen ; good news to-day. A capital tenant at last. A great man; good
scholar; a modern Lindley Murray and all that.' 'Hooray,' we shouted. 'We only want a beginner, you know,' continued the chairman. 'We shall now be bothered by the numbers.' When we heard the name we felt we wanted to shake hands about it, and we thought remorsefully of our past want of faith. We were not supposed to be allowed by the rules to find any kind of furniture with a house, but to-day Dickens, who all his life long was always looking to do a kind thing for somebody, said in his most winning way (and those who never witnessed it can scarcely understand what an adorable sort of way it was): ' And now, what do you say about finding carpets? Can't we let him have carpets? House very chilly when he comes to it without carpets. What do you say, Lemon? Carpets, my boy.' He addressed Mark Lemon as by instinct, suggesting as he did everything that was comfortable. We tried to look grave. The joke was to pretend we were concerned about the letter of the law. Then came the laughter, and the carpets carried the day. Alas! at the next meeting our chairman, in an amusingly melancholy voice, told us the carpets had not been ordered. They would not be wanted. had altered his mind. He seemed (and this was said in a reproachful tone) to have a large family, and he had come to the conclusion that, as at Bedford there were accessible schools, it would be cheaper to go and live there. To get cheap education for them would be better than living rent-free at Stevenage. Harper's charity did not have justice done to it that day.
Again we were all vexed with
who after promising us and putting us in such good spirits, wrote to say that he found the trains for Stevenage didn't suit. He was a dramatic critic, and the last train left before the new pieces were usually over. The distance from London was always a trouble. I think literary men and artists worked a greater number of hours in those days than they do now, and it was a superstition with them that it was impossible to leave their beloved metropolis.
On reaching Wellington Street, one day, to attend a Council meeting, I found Mr. Dickens alone. Though he was always most kind to me and liked to talk of the Daily News,' for instance, I felt rather alarmed, for I knew he would insist upon business being done. The Minute Book records three resolutions as having been passed at that meeting. We waited a while, talking about things in the papers, and then Mr. Dickens in an inimitably
funny way, remarked: Will you move me in the chair?' 'I will,' I answered, 'I know you can be trusted to keep order in a large gathering.' Then came resolutions, carried after discussion, little speeches in the imitated voice of absent members, the appropriate gravity never departed from. My share was insignificant, but it served to supply Mr. Dickens with hints and texts and to keep the fun going. I have often wished a reporter had been in hiding.
Mr. Dickens signed the Minutes in the most methodical way. I fancied in after days he shook hands with me with a merrier expression.
The houses, before we obtained Lord Lytton's permission to let them, were put from time to time in repair and gave us a strange instance of the manner in which unoccupied houses go to the bad. When I was staying once for a few days at Welwyn, Hertfordshire, with Mr. W. H. Wills, the Honorary Secretary of the Guild, it occurred to us to drive to Stevenage and inspect the property. When we got to the spot the keys could not be found; the builder who had them in charge was away. I did my best, and, climbing to a window-sill, jumped in: the spectacle was so ludicrous that I could not summon Wills for a second or two to join me. On every floor, dotted about at regular intervals were little white cones identical in size and shape, of plaster from the ceilings. They recalled the little pyramids of damp gunpowder which please boys in November. The ceilings in various places had given in. While authors and artists were year by year being drawn away by a resistless hand from all guilds and honours these ceilings were moving too in the silence to their decay.
I have not mentioned a member of the Guild who did more perhaps than any to bring it to the service for which it was instituted, the service of mankind. The troublesome and tedious job of obtaining the necessary parliamentary authority for handing all over to the two excellent societies already named would never have been accomplished without the aid of Mr. Frederick Clifford, K.C. This gentleman, who joined the Guild on the same day as myself, gave time and labour to the Guild in all its stages, and especially in the last, when they were of such notable value.
VOL, XVI.-NO. 91, N.S.