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Notes of a Lecture delivered at Hurstperpoint, in 1851,
to the Members of a Working Man's Reading Room 259
A Speech delivered at the Town Hall, Brighton, April
24th, 1849, at a Meeting of the Inhabitants, called by
the Early Closing Association, presided over by the
A Speech delivered at a Meeting of the Brighton District
Association for Improving the Dwellings of the
Industrious Classes, held at the Pavilion, Brighton,
A Speech delivered at the Town Hall, Brighton, April
20th, 1852, in reply to an Address presented to him by
THIS Volume consists of Lectures and Addresses delivered by the late Rev. Frederick W. Robertson before the members of the Working Man's Institute, or of the Athenæum at Brighton, to which have been added some Speeches delivered on occasions of public interest.
It may be fitting, by way of Preface to these Addresses, some of which have been published before in separate forms, to give a brief account of the circumstances attending their delivery. A few letters have been added as bearing directly on the subjects.
The first was the opening address of the Working Man's Institute at Brighton, in 1848. This Institution mainly owed its origin to the late Mr. Holtham, who, having always felt a warm interest in the progress of the working classes, elaborated, during a severe illness, a plan of a Literary Institute, which was to be governed entirely by the working-men. They were to owe no part of their management to the patronage or
assistance of their richer neighbours, although they were willing that such should contribute to the funds of the Institution, and even become honorary members.
The Committee were very desirous that Mr. Robertson should open the Institute with an Address, and accordingly Mr. Holtham, the President, wrote to him on the subject. In reply he says:
"I do not think I am at all the man that should be selected. They should have some one of standing and influence in the town, and I am almost a stranger; and my taking so prominent a position might fairly be construed into assumption. Again, I am much afraid that my name might do them harm rather than good. They wish not to be identified at all with party politics and party religion and I fear that in the minds of very many of the more influential inhabitants of the town, my name being made conspicuous, would be a suspicious circumstance. It is my conviction that an address from me would damage their cause. For though the Institution is intended to be self-supporting, yet there is no reason why it should wilfully throw away its chances of assistance from the richer classes, and I am quite sure that of these very many, whether reasonably or unreasonably, are prejudiced against me: and perhaps the professedly religious portion of society most strongly so. Now I do think this is a point for very serious consideration, and I think it ought to be distinctly suggested to the Committee before I can be in a position to comply with or decline complying with their request.
"Besides this, I believe that they have erred in the estimate of mental calibre. I wish most earnestly for their own sakes that they would select a better man."
Subsequently he writes as follows:
"Last night I attended the meeting of the Working Man's Institute, and was very much struck with the genuine, manly, moral tone of the speakers. I went home with quite elevated hopes for my country, when I compared the tone with that of the French clubs. And my whole heart sympathised with what your feelings must have been in the success of your brave efforts. Of course people who expect in it a perfect Utopia will be disappointed, or gratified, by finding it so far a failure. But the similar institutions of the upper classes have been, like all human things, chequered with good and evil: a means of increasing the powers of good men for good, and those of bad men for bad. You do not expect more than this; the inevitable result of all powers and privileges added to humanity. But they must be added, come what may. There is no other intelligible principle which will not be compelled in consistency to recognise barbarism as the highest state."
Writing to Lady Henley at this time, Mr. Robertson says :
"I am anxious to enlist your sympathy in the cause which I am trying to assist. The case is this. About 1,100 working men in this town have just organized themselves into an association which, by a small weekly subscription, enables them to have a library and reading-room. Their proceedings hitherto have been
marked by singular judgment and caution, except in one point, that they have unexpectedly applied to me to give them an opening address.
"A large number of these are intelligent Chartists, and there is some misgiving in a few minds as to what will be the result of this movement, and some suspicion of its being only a political engine. The address on Monday is therefore expected to contain a proposal for boiling down the Irish landlords and potting them, to support the poor this winter; and another, more democratic still, for barrelling and salting the aristocracy and the parsons, for home consumption in the poor-houses. But I must gravely assure you that this is premature. Nor do I think such a measure would be expedient yet.
"My reasons for being anxious about this effort are these-it will be made. The working men have as much right to a library and reading-room as the gentlemen at Folthorp's or the tradesmen at the Athenæum. The only question is whether it shall be met warmly on our parts, or with that coldness which deepens the suspicion, already rankling in the lower classes, that their superiors are willing for them to improve so long as they themselves are allowed to have the leadingstrings. I wish they had not asked me, as it puts me in an invidious position as a stranger in the town; and I begin to suspect that my reason for writing this long note was to exculpate myself from the charge of affecting prominence in the town.
"The selection of books for the library is a matter of very great importance, as I have become aware, since getting a little insight into the working of this Institute, of an amount of bitterness and jealousy, and hatred of