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An Address delivered at the Opening of the Working Men's Institute,* on Monday, October 23rd, 1848, by the Rev. Fred. W. Robertson, M.A.
BROTHER MEN AND FELLOW TOWNSMEN,
I owe it to you and I owe it to myself to give some explanation of my being here to-night to deliver an opening address to the Working Men's Institute. I owe it to you, or rather, to some of you, since it is only a few weeks ago that, on the plea of ill health, I professed myself unable to deliver a lecture to the Brighton AtheAlmost immediately after that I accepted your invitation, in which there is an apparent
* A third edition of this Pamphlet having been called for, I have sent it to the press unaltered; for though the Working Men's Institute, owing to certain errors in the details of its organization, has for the present ended in partial failure, yet the very circumstances of its history have only confirmed me more than ever in the principles which it was attempted to express in the following pages.-F. W. R., Oct. 1850.
inconsistency. I owe it to myself, because there will lie against me in the judgment of many a charge of presumption. I have been in this town but a single year. I am but a stranger here. For one without name, without influence, without authority, without talent, to occupy a position so prominent as that which I occupy to-night, would really seem to justify a suspicion of something like vanity and assumption.
My reasons for undertaking this office are these: I did it partly on personal grounds. It would be affectation to deny that the spontaneous request of a body of men delegated by a thousand
my fellow-townsmen is a source of very great satisfaction. It gave me great pleasure, at the same time that it deeply humbled me. I earnestly wish I were more worthy of the confidence reposed in me. My second reason for standing before you to-night is a public one. It seems to me a significant circumstance that your request was made to a clergyman of the Church of England. A minister of the Church of England occupies a very peculiar position. He stands, generally by birth, always by position, between the higher and lower ranks. He has free access to the mansion of the noble, and welcome in the cottage of the labourer. And if I understand aright the mission of a minister of the Church of England,
his peculiar and sacred call is, to stand as a link of union between the two extremes of society; to demand of the highest in this land, with all respect but yet firmly, the performance of their duty to those beneath them; to soften down the asperities and to soothe the burning jealousies which are too often found rankling in the minds of those who, from a position full of wretchedness, look up with almost excusable bitterness on such as are surrounded with earthly comforts.
It seemed to me that such an opportunity was offered me to-night. The delivery of a lecture to the Brighton Athenæum on a literary subject was a secular duty, and one from which I felt I might fairly shrink on the valid plea of ill health; but the demand that you made upon me for this evening, though I urged it upon you that you had not selected the right man, was a sacred duty, which I felt it was impossible for me on any merely personal grounds to refuse. And if your call on a minister of the Church of England this evening may be taken as any exhibition of trust in the sympathy of those classes between whom and yourselves he stands as a kind of link,-if my acceptance of the call may be regarded as evincing a pledge of their sympathy towards you, then, though all I say to-night may be weak and worthless, I shall not feel that I have spoken to you in
vain, and to myself at least I shall stand acquitted of the charge of presumption.
I began to address you to-night by the name of brother men; I did not adopt the expression which friend Mr. Holtham used in reference to your Committee. Yet, after all, we are at one. He did not mean to say that you are "gentlemen.' He meant to say that you have, and that there was no reason why you should not have, the feelings of gentlemen. To say that a man is noble, does not mean that he is a nobleman. I do not call you gentlemen, because I respect you too much to call you what you are not. You are not gentlemen. To address an assembly of gentlemen by the title of "my lords," would be to insult them; and to address working men as 'gentlemen," would be felt by you as an insult to your understanding.
The people of this country stand in danger from two classes; from those who fear them, and from those who flatter them. From those who fear them and would keep down their aspiring intelligence, they have no longer much to fear. The time is past for that; that cry of a wretched, narrow bigotry is almost unheard of now. But just in proportion as that danger has passed away, has the other danger increased, the danger from those who flatter them. From the platform and
the press we now hear language of fulsome adulation, that ought to disgust the working men of this country. There has ever been and ever will be found sycophancy on the side of power.
In former ages when power was on the side of the few, the flatterer was found in kings' houses. The balance of power is changed. It is now not in the hands of the few, but in the hands of the many. I say not that that is the best state conceivable; there might be a better than that. We would rather have power neither in the hands of the privileged few nor in the hands of the privileged many, but in the hands of the wisest and best. But this is the present fact, and every day is carrying the tide of power more strongly into the hands of the numbers; for which reason there will be ever found flatterers on the side of
Now, whether a man flatters the many or the few, the flatterer is a despicable character. matters not in what age he appears: change the century, you do not change the man. He who fawned upon the prince or upon the duke had something of the reptile in his character; but he who fawns upon the masses in their day of power is only a reptile which has changed the direction of its crawling. He who in this nineteenth century echoes the cry that the voice of the people