Readings, etc., at the Mechanics’ Institution.

“Friends, let me briefly hold discourse with you,
Touching these readings we propose to give.
Cold winter’s gloom, deepen’d by a gloom in trade,
Makes entertainment for the mind a boon,
If it be cheerful, cheap, and good.
That needful thing we now aim to supply;
Not that we hope at once to give all that
By you or us may be desired, but we
Hope as experience teaches us we may learn
By noting faults in future to avoid,
By care and application to improve,
As to deserve some favour at your hands.
Do not, therefore, my friends, as critics press
Too heavily on us. Remember, we
Are only amateurs, and don’t forget
We are but freshmen in this public work
Of public reading.
Next, with your leave, our plan I will unfold:
Scenes from some play each week we mean to give,
Not by one man, but by as many as
The speakers are in the said chosen scene.
‘Tis rare one man can so command his voice,
Aided by gestures suitable, as to
Clearly define the various characters
Who enter on the stage in one short scene;
But what is hard to one, much easier is
To more, with each one part, and only one.
But let me say we read, not act, the scenes;
With, but such gesture and such motion as
May help you on, sooner to make your own
The purpose, scope, and meaning of what’s read.
In the ghost scenes from Hamlet read to-night,
Allow for lacking intervals between,
And call imagination’s aid to paint
Exits and entrances, and change of scene,
Which we in simple readings cannot give.
One half the time we mean to spend on these,
The rest in scraps by single readers read.
We aim to bring each night a good array
Of readers, so that if you like not some
Some others may obtain your favour, and
The whole be not condemned.
Each night music we hope to introduce;
To-night the hand-bell ringers lend their aid,
And by their kindness earn our hearty thanks,
And little doubt I, they will yours obtain.
And now my preface I bring to an end,
And Hamlet’s readers on the platform send.”

Title:Readings, etc., at the Mechanics’ Institution.


Publication:Preston Guardian

Published in:

Date:November 8th 1862

Keywords:education, work


This extract from a reading in blank verse given at a Mechanic’s Institution in Preston is a fascinating insight into the efforts of self-improvement and intellectual advancement which were being undertaken by working people during the period of the Cotton famine. Adult education had long been a concern for some in the mid-nineteenth century but the circumstance of hundreds of thousands of adults unable to find work led to increased efforts by all kinds of organisations to use people’s free time wisely. Also, as the first lines of this verse intimate, the simple social need for uplifting entertainment was also a factor. – SR