The Charity Dinner by Litchfield Moseley

Time: half-past six o'clock. Place: The London Tavern. Occasion: Fifteenth Annual Festival of the Society for the Distribution of Blankets and Top-Boots among the Natives of the Cannibal Islands.

On entering the room, we find more than two hundred noblemen, and gentlemen already assembled; and the number is increasing every minute. There are many well-known city diners here this evening. That very ordinary looking personage, with the rubicund complexion and pimply features, is old Moneypenny, senior partner of the great firm of Moneypenny, Blodgers, and Wobbles, corn factors of Mark Lane. He began the world as a fellowship porter, and always makes a rule of attending the principal dinners at the London Tavern, "because," as he says confidentially, to Wobbles, "don't you see, my boy, it's a very cheap way of getting into society." He is talking now to Sir Sandy McHaggis, a Scotch baronet, with a slender purse and a large appetite, with whom he has scraped an acquaintance, and presented with a spare ticket for the festival; knowing that the Scotchman is "varra fond o' a gude dinner, specially when it costs a mon nothing at all." The preparations are now complete, and we are in readiness to receive the chairman. After a short pause, a little door at the end of the room opens, and the great man appears, attended by an admiring circle of stewards and toadies, carrying white wands, like a parcel of charity-school boys bent on beating the bounds. He advances smilingly to his post at the principal table, amid deafening and long-continued cheers.

He is a very popular man, this chairman; for is he not the Earl of Mount-Stuart, late one of Her Majesty's Cabinet Ministers? and his wealth and party influence are known to be enormous.

The dinner now makes its appearance, and we yield up ourselves to the enjoyments of eating and drinking. These important duties finished, and grace having been beautifully sung by the vocalists, the real business of the evening commences. The usual loyal toasts having been given, the noble chairman rises, and, after passing his fingers through his hair, he places his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, gives a short preparatory cough, accompanied by a vacant stare round the room, and commences as follows:—

"My Lords and Gentlemen—It is with mingled pleasure and regret that I appear before you this evening: of pleasure, to find that this excellent and world-wide-known society is in so promising a condition; and, of regret, that you have not chosen a worthier chairman; in fact, one who is more capable than myself of dealing with a subject of such vital importance as this. (Loud cheers). But, although I may be unworthy of the honour, I am proud to state that I have been a subscriber to this society from its commencement; feeling sure that nothing can tend more to the advancement of civilization, social reform, fireside comfort, and domestic economy among the cannibals, than the diffusion of blankets and top-boots. (Tremendous cheering, which lasts for several minutes.) Here, in this England of ours, which is an island surrounded by water, as I suppose you all know—or, as our great poet so truthfully and beautifully expresses the same fact, 'England bound in by the triumphant sea'—what, down the long vista of years, have conduced more to our successes in arms, and arts and song, than blankets? Indeed, I never gaze upon a blanket without my thoughts reverting fondly to the days of my early childhood. Where should we all have been now but for those warm and fleecy coverings? My Lords and Gentlemen! Our first and tender memories are all associated with blankets: blankets when in our nurses' arms, blankets in our cradles, blankets in our cribs, blankets to our French bedsteads in our schooldays, and blankets to our marital four-posters now. Therefore, I say, it becomes our bounden duty as men,—and, with feelings of pride, I add, as Englishmen—to initiate the untutored savage, the wild and somewhat uncultivated denizen of the prairie, into the comfort and warmth of blankets; and to supply him, as far as practicable, with those reasonable, seasonable, luxurious, and useful appendages. At such a moment as this, the lines of another poet strike familiarly upon the ears. Let me see, they are something like this—
"Blankets have charms to soothe the savage breast,
And to—to, do—a——"

I forget the rest. (Loud cheers.) Do we grudge our money for such a purpose? I answer, fearlessly, No! Could we spend it better at home? I reply most emphatically, No! True, it may be said that there are thousands of our own people who at this moment are wandering about the streets of this great metropolis without food to eat or rags to cover them. But what have we to do with them? Our thoughts, our feelings, and our sympathies, are all wafted on the wings of charity to the dear and interesting cannibals in the far-off islands of the green Pacific Ocean. (Hear, hear.) Besides, have not our own poor the workhouses to go to; the luxurious straw of the casual wards to repose upon, if they please; the mutton broth to bathe in; and the ever toothsome, although somewhat scanty, allowance of 'toke' provided for them? And let it ever be remembered that our own people are not savages, and man-eaters; and, therefore, our philanthropy would be wasted upon them. (Overwhelming applause.) To return to our subject. Perhaps some person or persons here may wonder why we should not send out side-springs and bluchers, as well as top-boots. To those I will say, that top-boots alone answer the object desired—namely, not only to keep the feet dry, but the legs warm, and thus to combine the double use of shoes and stockings. Is it not an instance of the remarkable foresight of this society, that it purposely abstains from sending out any other than top-boots? To show the gratitude of the cannibals for the benefits conferred upon them, I will just mention that, within the last few weeks, his Illustrious Majesty, Hokee Pokey Wankey Fum the First, surnamed by his loving subjects, 'The Magnificent,' from the fact of his wearing, on Sundays, a shirt-collar and an eye-glass as full court costume—has forwarded the president of this society a very handsome present, consisting of two live alligators, a boa constrictor, and three pots of preserved Indian, to be eaten with toast; and I am told, by competent judges, that it is quite equal to Russian caviare.

"My Lords and Gentlemen—I will not trespass on your patience by making any further remarks; knowing how incompetent I am—no, no! I don't mean that—how incompetent you all are—no! I don't mean either—but you all know what I mean. Like the ancient Roman lawgiver, I am in a peculiar position; for the fact is, I cannot sit down—I mean to say, that I cannot sit down without saying that, if there ever was an institution, it is this institution; and therefore, I beg to propose, 'Prosperity to the Society for the Distribution of Blankets and Top-boots among the Natives of the Cannibal Islands.'"

The toast having been cordially responded to, his lordship calls upon Mr. Duffer, the secretary, to read the report. Whereupon that gentlemen, who is of a bland and oily temperament, and whose eyes are concealed by a pair of green spectacles, produces the necessary document, and reads, in the orthodox manner,—

"Thirtieth Half-yearly Report of the Society for the Distribution of Blankets and Top-boots to the Natives of the Cannibal Islands.

"The society having now reached its fifteenth anniversary, the committee of management beg to congratulate their friends and subscribers on the success that has been attained.

"When the society first commenced its labours, the generous and noble-minded natives of the islands, together with their king—a chief whose name is well known in connexion with one of the most stirring and heroic ballads of this country—attired themselves in the light but somewhat insufficient costume of their tribe—viz., little before, nothing behind, and no sleeves, with the occasional addition of a pair of spectacles; but now, thanks to this useful association, the upper classes of the cannibals seldom appear in public without their bodies being enveloped in blankets and their feet encased in top-boots.

"When the latter useful articles were first introduced into the islands, the society's agents had a vast amount of trouble to prevail upon the natives to apply them to their proper purposes; and, in their work of civilization, no less than twenty of its representatives were massacred, roasted, and eaten. But we persevered; we overcame the natural antipathy of the cannibals to wear any covering to their feet; until after a time, the natives discovered the warmth and utility of boots; and now they can scarcely be induced to remove them until they fall off through old age.

"During the past half year, the society has distributed no less than 71 blankets and 128 pairs of top-boots; and your committee, therefore, feel convinced that they will not be accused of inaction. But a great work is still before them; and they earnestly invite co-operation, in order that they may be enabled to supply the whole of the cannibals with these comfortable, nutritious, and savoury articles.

"As the balance-sheet is rather a lengthy document, I will merely quote a few of the figures for your satisfaction. We have received, during the half-year, in subscriptions, donations, and legacies, the sum of £5,403 6s.d. Rent, rates, and taxes, £305 10s.d. Seventy-one pairs of blankets, at 20s. per pair, have taken £71 exactly; and 128 pairs of tops-boots, at 21s. per pair, cost us £134 some odd shillings. The salaries and expenses of management amount to £1,307 4s.d.; and sundries, which include committee meetings and travelling expenses, have absorbed the remainder of the sum, and amount to £3,268 9s.d. So that we have expended on the dear and interesting cannibals the sum of £205, and the remainder of the sum—amounting to £5,198—has been devoted to the working expenses of the society."

The reading concluded, the secretary resumes his seat amid heavy applause, which continues until Mr. Alderman Gobbleton rises, and, in a somewhat lengthy and discursive speech—in which the phrases, "the Corporation of the City of London," "suit and service," "ancient guild," "liberties and privileges," and "Court of Common Council," figure frequently, states that he agrees with everything the noble chairman has said; and has, moreover, never listened to a more comprehensive and exhaustive document than the one just read; which is calculated to satisfy even the most obtuse and hard-headed of individuals.

Gobbleton is a great man in the City. He has either been Lord Mayor, or sheriff, or something of the sort; and, as a few words of his go a long way with his friends and admirers, his remarks are very favourably received.

"Clever man, Gobbleton!" says a common councilman, sitting near us, to his neighbour, a languid swell of the period.

"Ya-as, vewy! Wemarkable style of owatowy—and gweat fluency," replies the other.

But attention, if you please!—for M. Hector de Longuebeau, the great French writer, is on his legs. He is staying in England for a short time, to become acquainted with our manners and customs.

"Milors and Gentlemans!" commences the Frenchman, elevating his eyebrows, and shrugging his shoulders. "Milors and Gentlemans—You excellent chairman, M. le Baron de Mount-Stuart, he have say to me, 'Make de toast.' Den I say to him dat I have no toast to us; but he nudge my elbow ver soft, and say dat dere is von toast dat nobody but von Frenchman can make proper; and, derefore, wid you kind permission, I will make de toast. 'De breveté is de sole of de feet,' as you great philosopher, Dr. Johnson, do say, in dat amusing little work of his, de Pronouncing Dictionnaire; and derefore, I vill not say ver moch to de point. Ven I vas a boy, about so moch tall, and used for to promenade de streets of Marseilles et of Rouen, vid no feet to put onto my shoe, I nevare to have exposé dat dis day vould to have arrivé. I vas to begin de vorld as von garçon—or, vat you call in dis countrie, von vaitaire in a café—vere I vork ver hard, vid no habillemens at all to put onto myself, and ver little food to eat, excep' von old bleu blouse vat vas give to me by de proprietaire, just for to keep myself fit to be showed at, but, tank goodness, tings dey have changé ver moch for me since dat time, and I have rose myself, seulement par mon industrie et perseverance. (Loud cheers.) Ah! mes amis! ven I hear to myself de flowing speech, de oration magnifique of you Lor' Maire, Monsieur Gobbledown, I feel dat it is von great privilige for von étranger to sit at de same table, and to eat de same food, as that grand, dat majestique man, who are de terreur of de voleurs and de brigands of de metropolis; and who is also, I for to supposé, a halterman and de chef of you common scoundrel. Milors and gentlemans, I feel dat I can perspire to no greatare honneur dan to be von common scoundrelman myself; but hélas! dat plaisir are not for me, as I are not freeman of your great cité, not von liveryman servant of von of you compagnies joint-stock. But I must not forget de toast. Milors and Gentlemans! De immortal Shakespeare he have write, 'De ting of beauty are de joy for nevermore.' It is de ladies who are de toast. Vat is more entrancing dan de charmante smile, de soft voice, de vinking eye of de beautiful lady? It is de ladies who do sweeten de cares of life. It is de ladies who are de guiding stars of our existence. It is de ladies who do cheer but not inebriate; and, derefore, vid all homage to dere sex, de toast dat I have to propose is, 'De Ladies! God bless dem all!'"

And the little Frenchman sits down amid a perfect tempest of cheers.

A few more toasts are given, the list of subscriptions is read, a vote of thanks is passed to the noble chairman; and the Fifteenth Annual Festival of the Society for the Distribution of Blankets and Top-boots among the Natives of the Cannibal Islands is at an end.