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from Modern Eloquence: Vol. 1 After-dinner speeches A-D
Reed, Thomas B., ed.
John D. Morris and Company (1900) Philadelphia
[Speech of Wilkie Collins at a reception given by the Lotos Club, in his honor, New York City, September 27, 1873. Whitelaw Reid, in introducing Mr. Collins, said: "We have met to-night to greet a visitor from the other side, of whom nothing is unknown to us but his face. May he give us long and frequent opportunity for better acquaintance with that. Thackeray once closed a charming paper on an American author with words which we may fitly take up and apply in turn to our English guest: 'It has been his fortunate lot to give great happiness and delight to the world, which thanks him in return with an immense kindliness, respect, affection.' [Applause.] And as Thackeray's great companion in work and fame, our guest's name is a familiar association with his, in America, for we had come to prize him as the friend and literary associate of Charles Dickens even before we had learned to honor him yet more for his own sake."]
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:--Many years ago more years than I now quite like to reckon--I was visiting Sorrento, in the Bay of Naples, with my father, mother and brothers, as a boy of thirteen. At that time of my life, as at this time of my life, I was an insatiable reader of that order of books for which heavy people have invented the name of "light literature." [Laughter.] In due course of time I exhausted the modest resources of the library which we had brought to Naples, and found myself faced with the necessity of borrowing from the resources of our fellow travellers, summer residents of Sorrento like ourselves.
Among them was a certain countryman of yours, very tall, very lean, very silent, and very melancholy. Under what circumstances the melancholy of this gentleman took its rise, I am not able to tell you. The ladies thought it was a disappointment in love; the men attributed it to a cause infinitely more serious than that--I mean indigestion. Whether he suffered in heart or whether he suffered in stomach, I took, I remember, a boy's unreasonable fancy to him, passing over dozens of other people, apparently far more acceptable than he was. I ventured to look up to the tall American--it was a long way to look up-and said in a trembling voice: "Can you lend me a book to read?" He looked down to me-it was a long way to look down--and said I have got but two amusing books; one of them is 'The Sorrows of Werther,' and the other is 'The Sentimental journey.' [Laughter.] 'You are heartily welcome to both these books. Take them home and when you have read them, bring them back and dine with me, and tell me what you think of them."
I took them home and read them, and told him what thought of them, much more freely than I would now, and last, not least, I had an excellent dinner crowned with a cake, which was an epoch in my youthful existence, and which, I may say, lives gratefully and greasily in my memory to the present day. [Applause.]
Now, Mr. President and gentlemen, I venture to tell you this for one reason. It marks my first experience with American kindness and American hospitality. In many different ways this early expression of your kindness and hospitality has mingled in my after-life, now in England, now on the Continent, until it has culminated in this magnificent reception from the Lotos Club. I am not only gratified but touched by the manner in which you have greeted me, and the cordiality with which the remarks of your President have been received. I venture to say that I see in this reception something more than a recognition of my humble labors only. I think I see a recognition of English literature, liberal, spontaneous and sincere, which I think is an honor to you as well as an honor to me. In the name of English literature, I beg gratefully to thank you. On my own behalf, I beg to assure you that I shall not soon forget the encouragement you have offered to me, at the outset of my career in America. Permit me to remind you that I am now speaking the language of sincere gratitude, and that is essentially a language of very few words. [Applause.]