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An Address delivered to the Members of the Working Man's Institute, at the Town Hall, Brighton, on Thursday, April 18, 1850, on the Question of the Introduction of Sceptical Publications into their Library.
BROTHER MEN, MEMBERS OF THE WORKING MAN'S INSTITUTE,
Two years have passed since I addressed you in this place. On that occasion I was here by your invitation: on the present, you are here by mine. I have to explain the unprecedented step of summoning you to meet me here this evening. My account of it is this: I am personally compromised before the public by your proceedings. Unexpectedly on my part, you honoured me with a request that I would deliver the opening address to your society. It was at a period when events which had recently taken place upon the Continent, caused every large movement to be looked upon with suspicious eyes: yet I did not think it right to hesitate for one moment in com
plying with your request. Such influence as my name could command, I gladly gave you. I have not the vanity to say that that influence was great, or that my name had weight with many: but it did weigh with some; and support was given you by them in reliance upon my representations. To them, and to the public generally, I stand pledged for the character of your society. For good or evil, my name is inseparably linked with yours. Your success is my success, and your failure is my shame. This is my claim to be heard, or rather the ground on which rests my duty to address you; and I ask your calm attention, not promising that every word I say will be acceptable to all; but I think I may promise, that not a word shall drop from me, which on mature reflection you will be able justly to call illiberal.
It may require, too, to be explained why this address is a public one, instead of being confined to the members of the Institute. Great publicity has been given to your late meetings by your own hand-bills, and by the press. I cannot disguise from you the fact, that much pain has been felt in Brighton in consequence of those proceedings. I cannot hide from you that much attention has been directed towards you, and that our meeting of this evening is looked to with great anxiety. I
cannot conceal from you, that sympathy has been much chilled, that the cause of the education of the working classes has received a shock, and that the question of the desirableness of free institutions has become a matter with many of serious doubt. Therefore, as the scandal was public, I felt that the vindication must be public too. You asked me to stand by you at the hopeful beginning of your institution-I could not desert you in the moment of danger, and the hour of your unpopularity. I am here once more to say publicly, that whatever errors there may have been in the working out of the details, I remain unaltered in the conviction that the broad principle on which your society commenced, was a true one. I am here to identify myself in public again with you to say that your cause my cause, and failure your failure. I am here to profess my unabated trust in the soundheartedness and right feeling of the great majority of the working men of the Brighton Institute.
One more thing remains to be accounted for. You will ask me why this meeting differs in form so evidently from your usual meetings. The chairman is not your president, not your vicepresident, not even a member of your society. This is my reason. I am here to-night in a position quite peculiar; a position of peculiar delicacy,
difficulty, and independence. I am not the organ or spokesman of any party. I do not mix myself with any of the personalities of the question. I have taken counsel of no one of either party; nor, indeed, have I asked any one's advice upon the matter. I am anxious that neither the president, nor any section of the Institute, should be pledged to my views. I asked no one to share the responsibility of summoning this meeting, or that of its result. Let all the blame, if blame there be, rest on me. On my single responsibility, all is done. To make this evident to the public, with the entire and friendly concurrence of your president Mr. Ricardo, I asked one to preside over us to-night, whose firmness, impartiality, and uprightness, are so well known to his fellow-townsmen, as to determine beforehand what the tone and character of this meeting are to be. This is not a lecture, but an address.
It is painful to be obliged to say anything of self; yet, for several reasons, I feel compelled to say a few words respecting the spirit in which I desire to address you.
I do not pretend to dictate, nor shall I assume the tone of insulting condescension. I know that many whom I address to-night, have minds of a strength and hardness originally greater than mine, though my advantages of education may have been
superior. I am not about to try the power of priestcraft, nor to cajole or flatter you into the reception of my views. Let the working men dismiss from their minds the idea, if it exists, of any assumption of a liberal tone for the purpose of winning them. If I speak sentiments free and liberal, it is not because they are adopted as opinions, but because they are bound up with every fibre of my being. I could as soon part with my nature and being, as cease to think and speak freely. Let them not fancy that such language is assumed, as fit for a platform before which they stand. There are those of your own number who will tell you that, in another place, from my own pulpit, not before workmen, but before their masters, before the rich and titled of this country, I have held and hold this same tone, and taught Christianity as the perfect Law of Liberty. They can tell you that it has cost me something, and that I have brought upon myself in consequence no small share of suspicion, misrepresentation, and personal dislike. I do not say this in bitterness; I hold it to be a duty to be liberal and generous, even to the illiberal and narrowminded; and it seems to me a pitiful thing for any man to aspire to be true and to speak truth, and then to complain in astonishment, that truth has not crowns to give, but thorns; but I say it in