Printers' Pension Society Anniversary Festival 1864


Chairman's Speeches at the Printers' Pension Society Anniversary Festival (6 April 1864).


Dickens, Charles


Bibliographic Citation

Dickens, Charles. 'Chairman's Speeches at the Printers' Pension Society Anniversary Festival' (6 April 1864). Dickens Search. Eds. Emily Bell and Lydia Craig. Accessed [date].


I do not know whether my feelings are exceptional, but I have a distinct recollection (in my early days at school, when under the dominion of an old lady, who to my mind ruled the world with the birch) of feeling an intense disgust with printers and printing. I thought the letters were printed and sent there to plague me, and I looked upon the printer as my enemy. When I was told to say my prayers I was told to pray for my enemies, and I distinctly remember praying especially for the printer as my greatest enemy. I never now see a row of large, black, fat, staring Roman capitals, but this reminiscence rises up before me. As time, wore on, however, and I became interested in Jack the Giant Killer, and other storybooks, this feeling of disgust became somewhat mitigated; and was still further removed when I became old enough to read The Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe with his man Friday; in fact, from the savages enjoying their feast upon the beach, I believe I might trace my first impression of a public dinner!

But this feeling of dislike to the printer altogether disappeared from the time I saw my own name in print. I now feel gratified at looking at the jolly letter O, the crooked S, with its full benevolent turns, the curious G, and the Q with its comical tail, that first awoke in me a sense of the humourous. The printer of myself are, and have been for some time, inseparable companions.

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 have taken this chair. How many chairs have I taken since then? – In fact, I might say, a whole pantechnicon of chairs; and, in having worked my way round, I feel that I have come home again. My interest in the prosperity of the Society remains unabated. It has not been an existence forty years, and it has accumulated a fund of £11,000, and has now seventy-six pensioners – male and female – on its funds, at an annual outlay of £850. It has done and is doing great good, and it is only to be regretted that the whole of the claimants on the charity cannot be taken under his charge.

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 it 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, carried through half the night – often 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 one room, the pleasures of reading – his great source of entertainment – being denied him, his daughter or 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. Is this an imaginary case? Nearly every printing office in London of any consideration has 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!

In connexion with this part of the subject I may mention two pleasing facts: my good friend Mr. Bunting who has incurred a certain amount of public ridicule for writing a pamphlet on the cure of corpulency, has presented the society with £52.10s, being the present amount of profit received from the sale of this pamphlet. I can only say, if the society could find many friends like that, it would soon get fat. A Mr, Vincent, who had published some works, and whose interest in the welfare of the printer had originated entirely from the kind and ready assistance, the civility, and the courtesy he had received during his business engagements at the office where his printing had been done, has signified his intention of bestowing upon the society house property in Liverpool of the annual rent of £150, from which there are to be created five pensions of £20, and the residue to go to the capital fund of the Society.

The tyrants and humbugs before referred to – and many tyrants and humbugs there were 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 were 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 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 civilization necessary to the existence of free man.