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Dickens on Schools

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House  

At the fourth anniversary dinner of the Warehousemen and Clerks Schools, which took place on Thursday evening, Nov. 5th, 1857, at the London Tavern, and was very numerously attended, Mr. Charles Dickens occupied the chair. On the subject which had brought the company together Mr. Dickens spoke as follows:

I MUST now solicit your attention for a few minutes to the cause of your assembling together - the main and real object of this evening's gathering; for I suppose we are all agreed that the motto of these tables is not "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;" but, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we live." It is because a great and good work is to live to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to live a greater and better life with every succeeding to-morrow, that we eat and drink here at all. Conspicuous on the card of admission to this dinner is the word "Schools." This set me thinking this morning what are the sorts of schools that I don't like. I found them on consideration, to be rather numerous. I don't like to begin with, and to begin as charity does at home - I don't like the sort of school to which I once went myself - the respected proprietor of which was by far the most ignorant man I have ever had the pleasure to know; one of the worst-tempered men perhaps that ever lived, whose business it was to make as much out of us and put as little into us as possible, and who sold us at a figure which I remember we used to delight to estimate, as amounting to exactly 2 pounds 4s. 6d. per head. I don't like that sort of school, because I don't see what business the master had to be at the top of it instead of the bottom, and because I never could understand the wholesomeness of the moral preached by the abject appearance and degraded condition of the teachers who plainly said to us by their looks every day of their lives, "Boys, never be learned; whatever you are, above all things be warned from that in time by our sunken cheeks, by our poor pimply noses, by our meagre diet, by our acid-beer, and by our extraordinary suits of clothes, of which no human being can say whether they are snuff-coloured turned black, or black turned snuff-coloured, a point upon which we ourselves are perfectly unable to offer any ray of enlightenment, it is so very long since they were undarned and new."

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