NOTE: This is a part of the speech Charles Dickens made to the Printers’ Pension Society on 6th April 1864. We are currently trying to confirm a full copy before we revise this page.
I have served three apprenticeships to life since I last presided over one of the Festivals of this Society. It is twenty-one years since I first occupied this chair. How many chairs have I taken since then? I might, in truth, say a whole pantechnicon of chairs; and in having worked my way round, I feel that I have come home again.
The printer is a faithful servant, not only of those connected with the business, but of the public at large, and has, therefore, when labouring under infirmity or disease, an especial claim on all for support. Without claiming for him the whole merit of the work produced by his skill, labour, endurance, and intelligence, without him what would be the state of the world at large? Why, tyrants and humbugs in all countries would have everything their own way. I am certain there are not in any branch of manual dexterity so many remarkable men as might be found in the printing trade. For quickness of perception, amount of endurance, and willingness to oblige, I have ever found the compositor pre-eminent. His labour is of a nature calling for the sympathy of all. Often labouring under an avalanche of work, extended some times through the whole night, working in an unnatural and unwholesome atmosphere produced by artificial light, and exposed to sudden changes from heat to cold, the journeyman printer is rendered peculiarly liable to pulmonary complaints, blindness, and other serious diseases. The afflicted printer who has lost his sight in the service, sitting through long days in his own room, the pleasures of reading – his great source of entertainment – being denied him, his daughter or his wife might read to him; but the cause of his misfortune would invade even that small solace of his dark seclusion, for the types from which that very book was printed he might have assisted to set up. Was this an imaginary case? Nearly every printing-office in London of any consideration had turned out numbers such. The public, therefore, in whose interest and for whose instruction and amusement the work was executed, were bound to support the Printers’ Pension Society.
The tyrants and humbugs before referred to and many tyrants and humbugs there are in Europe—would gladly pension off all the printers throughout the world, and have done with them; but let the friends of education and progress unite in pensioning off the worn and afflicted printers, and the remainder would ultimately press the tyrants and humbugs off the face of the earth; for if ever they are to be pressed out, the printer’s is the press that will do it. The printer is the friend of intelligence, of thought; he is the friend of liberty, of freedom, of law; indeed, the printer is the friend of every man who is the friend of order—the friend of every man who can read! Of all the inventions, of all the discoveries in science or art, of all the great results in the wonderful progress of mechanical energy and skill, the printer is the only product of civilisation necessary to the existence of free man.