On Tuesday, 4 June 1844, the author and campaigner Charles Dickens chaired the annual fund-raising dinner of the Sanatorium medical institution. The event was held at the London Tavern in London’s Bishopsgate Street at 6pm. After proposing a number of toasts, including to “The Health of her Majesty”, Dickens stood up and made the following speech—

Ladies and gentlemen, I have now to propose to you a toast which may not only be assumed to have a real interest for us, who are met here to advance the prospects of young and struggling institution, but which I know concerns and deeply moves the welfare, comfort, mental ease, health, and life of a vast multitude of persons of both sexes, born and bred among the middle classes society, who are dependent, under Providence, upon their own honourable exertions for subsistence in this great wilderness —London. The toast, ladies and gentlemen, is, “Prosperity to the Sanatorium”.

I scarcely know whether it is necessary for me in this company to enter into any explanation of the objects and designs of this establishment, but its leading principle may be very easily and briefly stated. It is a home in sickness, founded and maintained upon the footing of a club, the expenses of which, by the voluntary contributions of many persons for a common welfare and advantage, are rendered so light that a weekly payment, never exceeding two guineas, and very many instances not exceeding one guinea, secures to every inmate, gentleman or lady, a comfortable, genteel, and cheerful house; a quiet, well-ventilated, and wholesome chamber; the first medical advice that the skill and science of this city can supply; the diligent and careful nursing and attendance of persons trained and educated for the purpose; every possible comfort in illness, and every possible means towards recovery.

This small weekly payment begins and ceases with the residence of the sick person in the house, the qualification for a member being the annual subscription of only one guinea. If the patient have any relative or devoted friends anxious to minister to his or her afflictions, that friend can reside in the house on the same cheap and easy terms; and if the patient have a preference for any medical adviser not immediately connected with the institution, that gentleman can rely, as many have, and certify to it afterwards, on his instructions being honestly and faithfully carried out, and his treatment never being interfered with in the least degree; nay, the patient never even having heard of such a place as the Sanatorium, may have been induced to enter it, for this has happened also, by the advice of a medical professor most eminent and most honoured for his humanity and great attainments, who has said “You have to submit to a most terrible bodily trial, go into this place, in Heaven’s name; for on nowhere else can I repose such perfect confidence in the treatment and attention you will receive, and which will therefore lead to your ultimate recovery.”

Bear in mind, ladies gentlemen, that all these benefits are extended to the recipients, not in charity, but as a trust right which honest pride may claim without a blush. Bear in mind that but for this sick home hundreds of persons, as sensitive and delicately nurtured as ourselves, would have no choice between a public hospital and the uncertain supplies of strangers. Is it too much to claim, therefore, for such an institution as this, the sympathy of every generous mind and feeling heart?

Let us suppose for the moment that there was such place as the Sanatorium, there was not two years ago, and that a lady who lives by imparting to others the accomplishments that she acquired in happier and more prosperous days, who is a governess in a family, is stricken down by illness. It is a part of the lady’s position that she should have no home to repair to in such a case, for her profession leads her of necessity to establish herself in the homes of others. It is, therefore, almost a part of that lady’s position, very often to have no right to be ill; but as that implied contract is an artificial one, in which nature has no very great share, ill she is and seriously.

The lady in the family, Mrs. Wilkins, we will say, takes an early opportunity of informing Mr. Wilkins of the circumstance, and Mr. Wilkins, at first, does not very well know what make of it, as it was not in the agreement; but he, after a little reflection, says that this sort of thing is very inconvenient to the family, as no doubt it is, and that he hopes is not catching. The family apothecary advises him, and says “No, it is not catching, but it is a surgical disorder of long standing, not uncommon—not at all uncommon; but of a very serious nature, which will require time, the best medical advice, and a severe operation.” Mr. Wilkins lives in very good style; but his house is not larger than will comfortably accommodate his family, and he has to provide another governess for the instruction of his children. He is tender-hearted man enough; but he cannot create out of a tender heart the room and attention which such a case requires. The poor lady is perfectly aware of that, resigns her situation, and takes a lodging. She is visited there by a surgeon, a most humane and liberal man, to whom this melancholy case is by no means strange, who entertains a great interest and compassion for her, and who more than confirms the statement of the apothecary. He feels for her desolate situation, and makes few inquiries. Her family, of course, was broken up when she went out a governess, or she never would have gone out. But has she no relative? Yes, a brother, but he is a clerk in the city. She has a sister, but she is a governess in the country. She has another sister, but she went to Australia for years ago, with a husband and six children. The case must be proceeded with.

Nobody dare venture to breathe in her anxious and excited ear the name of an hospital, and there is nothing for her but a lodging, which, for any provision that it has, in its convenience for any illness, but especially for such an illness as this, might be a lodging for an immortal spirit, wholly unencumbered by a body—where the good woman of the house is almost perpetually employed in the back parlour, dotting down her accounts with pen and ink, adding them up and bringing them forward, and carrying them over. She is greatly assisted in the product of these items by an odious anomaly called a sick nurse, who has been hired to attend upon the poor lady, and who is a creature of that sort which never could continue to exist but for our deplorable propensity to take whatever does exist as granted, and to rest comfortably satisfied that, because it is very bad, it cannot be better. And so this poor lady struggles on, surrounded by every adverse circumstance, at time when everything should propitious, and instead of kind feelings and fostering hope going hand in hand to speed her recovery, her home is gloomy, hopeless, and disconsolate.

And even, if her desolate situation should awaken, and heaven forbid such circumstances should not awaken the sympathies of those about her, leading them to be regardless of their own immediate profit in her great misery, even that is torture to an honourable mind; for in this miserable sacrifice of the poor, and the uncertainty of ever being able to repay the kindnesses, new causes of despondency and grief inevitably spring up.

This is no idle picture, but one of every day’s occurrence, and you may know of its existence. It is even stated here, in the little record which has been laid before you to-day, where a poor governess frightfully afflicted is cured, where the blind clerk recovers the inestimable blessing of sight, where the senseless is restored to health, where the gentleman and the scholar, whose labours are connected with popular instruction through the medium of the press, does not disdain to seek refuge, where the dying man expatiates to his brother, day by day, upon the happiness and peace of such a place as this institution, begging him with his last breath to make it better known when he is in his grave.

There is not one among us, l am confident, who can withstand this little simple history. There is not one among us, I know by myself, who can pass it wholly by—there is not one among us, having a brother or a child, or any dear friend, who can dismiss the harrowing echoes of that faint voice from his mind. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Sanatorium that we call upon you to assist.

I am confident that the voice of which have I spoken will speak to you far more forcibly than I can ever hope to do of the high claims it has upon you. Its principle is self-support, still it appeals to you and the public for help, for to be self-supported it must be thoroughly and well established, and there is no greater inconsistency in thus putting forth its pretensions and appealing to you for help than there is in any young married couple who are to live upon their annual income wanting some assistance upon their first entering into the world.

The directors of the Sanatorium, ladies and gentlemen, cannot offer you the luxury sometimes too freely offered, from the bestowing of charity in the common acceptation of the word, but they can offer you the gratification, and you will judge for yourselves whether there can be a higher and a better one, of helping those who help themselves. They offer you the gratification of enabling men and women of strong hearts to preserve independent spirit and upright mien, when that calamity, which our common inheritance, stops the labours of their hands and heads. There can be no one here who does not owe a debt ol sympathy for acts of kindness and affection in the hour of need, and I am persuaded there is no one present to whom the prosperity of this institution, if it be rightly understood, can by possibility be matter of indifference or slight regard. I beg, therefore, to propose to you to drink, “Prosperity to the Sanatorium.”


Reviews.

The following are some contemporary newspaper reports of the event:

The Sanatorium. — An immense concourse of the friends and supporters of this institution sat down yesterday to an excellent dinner, at the London Tavern, in Bishopsgate-street. This public dinner differed materially from the majority of entertainments of a similar nature, inasmuch as there were 80 ladies out of the 190 persons who sat down at the festive board. The chair was occupied by Mr. Charles Dickens, who was supported by Captain Probin, Mr. Harcourt, Mr. Home, Mr. Stanfield, Mr. Harrison Ainswortb, &c. Between four and five hundred pounds was collected after the customary routine of toasts had been given. The chairman addressed the meeting at some length, and, during the course of his speech, he was repeatedly interrupted by vehement bursts of cheering, and when his health was proposed, a considerable period elapsed before silence could be restored.

Morning Post. Wednesday, 5 June 1844.

The annual festival to aid the funds of the Sanatorium was held on Tuesday, at the London Tavern. Mr. Charles Dickens was in the chair; supported by Dr. Southwood Smith, Mr. G. R. Porter, Mr. Stanfield, Mr. Maclise, Mr. R. H. Horne, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, Mr. Harley, and other gentlemen: the company numbered about a hundred and ninety; including eighty ladies, who, by an agreeable innovation, joined the party. The object of the Sanatorium is, to afford at moderate cost, lodging, nursing, and medical attendance, to those patients who have not sufficient comforts or conveniences at home, and yet are not in a position of life to enter a hospital. Between four and five hundred pounds was collected.

The Spectator. Saturday, 8 June 1844.