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Hard Times by Dickens

Chapters I, II and excerpts from V


 'NOW, what I want is, Facts.  Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.  Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.  You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts:  nothing else will ever be of any service to them.  This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children.  Stick to Facts, sir!'

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, an the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall.

The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside.  The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders, - nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was, - all helped the emphasis.

'In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!'

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.


THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir.  A man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations.  A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.  Thomas Gradgrind, sir - peremptorily Thomas - Thomas Gradgrind.  With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to.  It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic.  You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind - no, sir!

In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general.  In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words 'boys and girls,' for 'sir,' Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind into the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge.  He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

'Girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, 'I don't know that girl.  Who is that girl?'

'Sissy Jupe, sir,' explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

'Sissy is not a name,' said Mr. Gradgrind.  'Don't call yourself

Sissy.  Call yourself Cecilia.'

'It's father as calls me Sissy, sir,' returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

'Then he has no business to do it,' said Mr. Gradgrind.  'Tell him he mustn't.  Cecilia Jupe.  Let me see.  What is your father?'

'He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.'

Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

'We don't want to know anything about that, here.  You mustn't tell us about that, here.  Your father breaks horses, don't he?'

'If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.'

'You mustn't tell us about the ring, here.  Very well, then.

Describe your father as a horsebreaker.  He doctors sick horses, I dare say?'

'Oh yes, sir.'

'Very well, then.  He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker.  Give me your definition of a horse.'

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers.  'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals!  Some boy's definition of a horse.  Bitzer, yours.'

The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated Sissy.  For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end.  But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed.  His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form.  His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face.  His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

 'Bitzer,' said Thomas Gradgrind.  'Your definition of a horse.'

'Quadruped.  Graminivorous.  Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive.  Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too.  Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron.  Age known by marks in mouth.'

Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

'Now girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind.  'You know what a horse is.'

She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time.  Bitzer, after rapidly blinking at Thomas Gradgrind with both eyes at once, and so catching the light upon his quivering ends of lashes that they looked like the antennae of busy insects, put his knuckles to his freckled forehead, and sat down again.

The third gentleman now stepped forth.  A mighty man at cutting and drying, he was; a government officer; in his way (and in most other people's too), a professed pugilist; always in training, always with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus, always to be heard of at the bar of his little Public-office, ready to fight all England.  To continue in fistic phraseology, he had a genius for coming up to the scratch, wherever and whatever it was, and proving himself an ugly customer.  He would go in and damage any subject whatever with his right, follow up with his left, stop, exchange, counter, bore his opponent (he always fought All England) on the ropes, and fall upon him neatly.  He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense, and render that unlucky adversary deaf to the call of time.  And he had it in charge from high authority to bring about the great public-office Millennium, when Commissioners should reign upon earth.

 'Very well,' said this gentleman, briskly smiling, and folding his arms.  'That's a horse.  Now, let me ask you girls and boys, Would you paper a room with representations of horses?'

After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, 'Yes, sir!'  Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman's face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus, 'No, sir!' - as the custom is, in these examinations.

'Of course, No.  Why wouldn't you?'

A pause.  One corpulent slow boy, with a wheezy manner of breathing, ventured the answer, Because he wouldn't paper a room at all, but would paint it.

'You must paper it,' said the gentleman, rather warmly.

'You must paper it,' said Thomas Gradgrind, 'whether you like it or not.  Don't tell us you wouldn't paper it.  What do you mean, boy?'

'I'll explain to you, then,' said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, 'why you wouldn't paper a room with representations of horses.  Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality - in fact?  Do you?'

'Yes, sir!' from one half.  'No, sir!' from the other.

'Of course no,' said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half.  'Why, then, you are not to see anywhere, what you don't see in fact; you are not to have anywhere, what you don't have in fact.  What is called Taste, is only another name for Fact.'  Thomas Gradgrind nodded his approbation.

'This is a new principle, a discovery, a great discovery,' said the gentleman.  'Now, I'll try you again.  Suppose you were going to carpet a room.  Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?'

There being a general conviction by this time that 'No, sir!' was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of NO was very strong.  Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes:  among them Sissy Jupe.

'Girl number twenty,' said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.

Sissy blushed, and stood up.

'So you would carpet your room - or your husband's room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband - with representations of flowers, would you?' said the gentleman.  'Why would you?'

'If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,' returned the girl.

'And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?'

'It wouldn't hurt them, sir.  They wouldn't crush and wither, if you please, sir.  They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy - '

'Ay, ay, ay!  But you mustn't fancy,' cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point.  'That's it!  You are never to fancy.'

'You are not, Cecilia Jupe,' Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, 'to do anything of that kind.'

'Fact, fact, fact!' said the gentleman.  And 'Fact, fact, fact!' repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

'You are to be in all things regulated and governed,' said the gentleman, 'by fact.  We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.  You must discard the word Fancy altogether.  You have nothing to do with it.  You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact.  You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets.  You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery.  You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls.  You must use,' said the gentleman, 'for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration.  This is the new discovery.  This is fact.  This is taste….


 COKETOWN, to which Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself.  Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune.

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

These attributes of Coketown were in the main inseparable from the work by which it was sustained; against them were to be set off, comforts of life which found their way all over the world, and elegancies of life which made, we will not ask how much of the fine lady, who could scarcely bear to hear the place mentioned.  The rest of its features were voluntary, and they were these.

You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful.  If the members of a religious persuasion built a chapel there - as the members of eighteen religious persuasions had done - they made it a pious warehouse of red brick, with sometimes (but this is only in highly ornamental examples) a bell in a birdcage on the top of it. The solitary exception was the New Church; a stuccoed edifice with a square steeple over the door, terminating in four short pinnacles like florid wooden legs.  All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white.  The jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall might have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that appeared to the contrary in the graces of their construction.  Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial.  The M'Choakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.

A town so sacred to fact, and so triumphant in its assertion, of course got on well?  Why no, not quite well.  No?  Dear me!

No.  Coketown did not come out of its own furnaces, in all respects like gold that had stood the fire.  First, the perplexing mystery of the place was, Who belonged to the eighteen denominations? Because, whoever did, the labouring people did not.  It was very strange to walk through the streets on a Sunday morning, and note how few of them the barbarous jangling of bells that was driving the sick and nervous mad, called away from their own quarter, from their own close rooms, from the corners of their own streets, where they lounged listlessly, gazing at all the church and chapel going, as at a thing with which they had no manner of concern...