The Guild of Literature and Art was an article written by Charles Dickens promoting a philanthropic body of that name. It was first published in Dickens own weekly magazine Household Words on Saturday, 10 May 1851.
THE GUILD OF LITERATURE AND ART.
THERE are reasons, sufficiently obvious to our readers without explanation, which render the present a fitting place for a few words of remark on the proposed Institution bearing this name.
Its objects, as stated in the public advertisement, are, “to encourage life assurance and other provident habits among authors and artists; to render such assistance to both, as shall never compromise their independence; and to found a new Institution where honourable rest from arduous labour shall still be associated with the discharge of congenial duties.”
The authors and artists associated in this endeavour would be but indifferent students of human nature, and would be but poorly qualified for the pursuit of their art, if they supposed it possible to originate any scheme that would be free from objection. They have neither the right, nor the desire, to take offence at any discussion of the details of their plan. All that they claim, is, such consideration for it as their character and position may justly demand, and such moderate restraint in regard of misconception or misrepresentation as is due to any body of gentlemen disinterestedly associated for an honourable purpose.
It is proposed to form a Society of Authors and Artists by profession, who shall all effect some kind of Insurance on their lives;— whether for a hundred pounds or a thousand pounds— whether on high premiums terminable at a certain age, or on premiums payable through the whole of life— whether for deferred annuities, or for pensions to widows, or for the accumulation of sums destined to the education or portioning of children— is in this, as in all other cases, at the discretion of the individual insuring. The foundation of a New Life Insurance Office, expressly for these purposes, would be, obviously, a rash proceeding, wholly unjustifiable in the infancy of such a design. Therefore its proposers recommend one existing Insurance Office— firstly, because its constitution appears to secure to its insurers better terms than they can meet with elsewhere; secondly, because in Life Insurance, as in most other things, a body of persons can obtain advantages which individuals cannot. The chief advantage thus obtained in this instance, is stated in the printed Prospectus as a deduction of five per cent from all the premiums paid by Members of the Society to that particular office. It is needless to add, that if an author or an artist be already insured in another office, or if he have any peculiar liking, in effecting a new insurance, for paying five per cent more than he need, he is at perfect liberty to insure where he pleases, and in right of any insurance whatever to become a Member of the Society if he will.
But, there may be cases in which, on account of impaired health or of advanced age at the present time, individuals desirous of joining the Society, may be quite unable to obtain acceptance at any Life Office. In such instances the required qualification of Life Insurance will be dispensed with. In cases of proved temporary inability to meet a periodical payment due on an Insurance, the Society proposes to assist the insurer from its funds.
“In connexion with this Society,” the Prospectus proceeds, “by which it is intended to commend and enforce the duties of prudence and foresight, especially incumbent on those whose income is wholly, or mainly, derived from the precarious profit of a profession, it is proposed to establish and endow an Institute, having at its disposal certain salaries, to which certain duties will be attached; together with a limited .number of free residences, which, though sufficiently small to be adapted to a very moderate income, will be completed with due regard to the ordinary habits and necessary comforts of gentlemen. The offices of Endowment will consist:
“First,— Of a Warden, with a house and a salary of two hundred pounds a year;
“Second,— Of Members, with a house and one hundred and seventy pounds, or, without a house, two hundred pounds a year;
“Third,— Of Associates, with a salary of one hundred pounds a year.
“For these offices all who are Insurers in the Society above mentioned are qualified to offer themselves as Candidates. Such Insurance is to be considered an indispensable qualification, saving in exceptional cases (should any such arise) where an individual can prove that he has made every effort to insure his life, but cannot find acceptance at any Life Office, by reason of impaired health, or of advanced age, at the date of this prospectus.
“Each Member will be required to give, either personally or by a proxy selected from the Associates, with the approval of the Warden, three lectures in each year—- one in London, the others at the Mechanics’ Institutes, or some public building suited for the purpose, in the principal provincial towns. Considering the many duties exacting time and attention that will devolve on the Warden, he will not be required to give more than one lecture annually (which, if delivered by a proxy, he will, health permitting, be expected to compose himself), and that in the Metropolis.
“These lectures will be subject to the direction and control of the managing body of the Endowment. They will usually relate to Letters or Art, and will invariably avoid all debateable ground of Politics or Theology. It will be the endeavour of the Committee to address them to points on which the public may be presumed to be interested, and to require dispassionate and reliable information to make them, in short, an educational and improving feature of the time.
“The duties of Associates will be defined and fixed by the Council (consisting of the Warden, the Members, and a certain number of the Associates themselves), according to the previous studies and peculiar talent of each whether in gratuitous assistance to any learned bodies, societies for the diffusion of knowledge, &c., or, as funds increase, and the utilities of the Institution develope themselves, in co-operating towards works of national interest and importance, but on subjects of a nature more popular, and at a price more accessible, than those which usually emanate from professed academies. It is well to add, that while, on every account, it is deemed desirable to annex to the receipt of a salary the performance of a duty, it is not intended that such duty should make so great a demand upon the time and labour, either of Member or Associate, as to deprive the public of their services in those departments in which they have gained distinction, or to divert their own efforts for independence from their accustomed professional pursuits.
“The design of the Institution proposed, is, to select for the appointment of Members (who will be elected for life ) those Writers and Artists of established reputation, and generally of mature years (or, if young, in tailing health), to whom the income attached to the appointment may be an object of honourable desire; while the office of Associate is intended partly for those whose toils or merits are less known to the general public than their professional brethren, and partly for those, in earlier life, who give promise of future eminence, and to whom a temporary income of one hundred pounds a year may be of essential and permanent service. There are few men professionally engaged in Art or Letters, even though their labours may have raised them into comparative wealth, who cannot look back to some period of struggle in which an income so humble would have saved them from many a pang, and, perhaps, from the necessity of stooping their ambition to occupations at variance with the higher aims of their career.
“An Associate may, therefore, be chosen for life, or for one or more years, according to the nature of his claims, and the discretion of the Electors.”
With the view of bringing this project into general notice, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton (besides a gift of land) has written a new comedy, and presented it to the friends associated with him in the origination of the scheme. They will act it, first, before Her Majesty at Devonshire House, and afterwards publicly. Over and above the profits that may arise from these dramatic representations, the copyright of the comedy, both for acting and publishing, being unconditionally given to the Association, has already enabled it to realise a handsome sum of money.
Many of our readers are aware that this company of amateur actors has been for some time in existence. Its public existence was accidental. It was originally formed for the private amusement of a leisure hour. Yielding to urgent entreaty, it then had the good fortune to render service to the Sanatorium, one of the most useful and most necessary Institutions ever founded in this country. It was subsequently enabled to yield timely assistance to three distinguished literary men, all of whom Her Majesty has since placed on the Pension List, and entirely to support one of them for nearly three years. It is now about to renew its exertions for the cause we have set forth. To say that its members do not merely seek their own entertainment and display (easily attainable by far less troublesome and responsible means) is to award them the not very exalted praise of being neither fools nor impostors.
The Guild of Literature and Art may be a good name or a bad name; the details of this endowment—- mere suggestions at present, and not to be proceeded with, until much work shall have been patiently done—- may be perfect or most imperfect; the retirement proposed, may be taken for granted to be everything that it is not intended to be; and still we conceive the real question to remain untouched. It is, whether Literature shall continue to be an exception from all other professions and pursuits, in having no resource for its distressed and divided followers but in eleemosynary aid; or, whether it is good that they should be provident, united, helpful of one another, and independent.
No child can suppose that the profits of the comedy alone will be sufficient for such an Endowment as is sought to be established. It is expressly stated in the Prospectus that ” for farther support to the Endowment by subscription, and especially by annual subscription, it is intended to appeal to the Public.” If the Public will disembarrass the question of any little cobwebs that may be spun about it, and will confine it to this, it will be faithful to its ever generous and honest nature.
There is no reason for affecting to conceal that the writer of these few remarks is active in the project, and is impelled by a zealous desire to advance what he knows to be a worthy object. He would be false to the trust placed in him by the friends with whom he is associated, and to the secret experience of his daily life, and of the calling to which he belongs, if he had any dainty reserve in such a matter. He is one of an order beyond which he affects to be nothing, and aspires to be nothing. He knows—- few men can know, he thinks, with better reason—- that he does his duty to it in taking this part; and he wishes his personal testimony to tell for what it is worth.