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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…

In the opening passage of Hard Times, we meet one of its central characters, Mr. Gradgrind, and hear his own description of his philosophy, as applied to child-rearing and education. Gradgrind's emphasis on "nothing but Facts" signals his adherence to Utilitarianism, which is a major target for Dickens in Hard Times. Nineteenth-century Utilitarian thinkers, the best known of whom was Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), privileged empiricism and reason, focusing on quantifying human behavior to produce "the greatest good for the greatest number." The character of Thomas Gradgrind takes these tendencies to an extreme. In the school he sponsors, he prohibits all speculation, fancy, and play, and the driest of lessons are given to the pupils. In the period before the 1854 composition of Hard Times, Victorian society struggled with the question of how to provide comprehensive elementary education to all children. Private schools such as Gradgrind's were common. Early plans for widespread education, undertaken without government sponsorship, resulted in competing plans such as the Lancasterian schools, run on the monitorial system, and Samuel Wilderspin's infant schools, which emphasized play and freedom for young children. The Lancasterian system had a strong influence on later nineteenth-century education. A classroom that strongly resembles the "plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room" that Dickens describes in the passage above is pictured below:

This illustration, "The School at Borough Road, Arranged According to the Lancasterian Plan," from C. Birchenough's History of Elementary Education in England and Wales from 1800 to the Present Day (1914).

Samuel Wilderspin's infant schools, on the other hand, were a freer, more playful environment, as shown in this very different illustration from Birchenough's History of Elementary Education:

In 1846—eight years before Dickens wrote Hard Times—the British government assumed a more active role in education. Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-77), a Utilitarian educator in Manchester, proposed and became the director of a new government-supported system that emphasized factual education and standardized teacher training. The principles described in the opening of Hard Times may be modeled to some degree on Kay-Shuttleworth's work. Although Dickens admired some of Kay-Shuttleworth's achievements, he disliked his emphasis on Utilitarian education.

This 1862 portrait of James Kay-Shuttleworth is taken from Frank Smith's Life and Work of Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1923).

with a system to force down the general throat like a bolus…

A bolus is a large pill.

To continue in fistic phraseology, he had a genius for coming up to the scratch

Before the Queensberry Rules were introduced in 1867, boxing was conducted bare-knuckled, according to the London rules. The "scratch" was a line drawn in the ring, from which the fighters started. If the fighter could not get to the scratch without help at the beginning of each round, he lost the fight.

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) to the ropes, and fall upon him neatly.

All England or London rules for boxing permitted fighters to push their opponents up against the ropes, using their own weight. "Bore" is thus used in a double sense here, as a boxing metaphor and in the literal sense of the "third gentleman" making dull, boring speeches to defeat "all England"also used in a double sense.

You are not, Mary Jupe…

Dickens considered naming Sissy "Mary," and the inconsistency here stands in the Household Words text. It was corrected in later editions.

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…. This is fact. This is taste.

In these declarations on taste, Dickens is satirizing the Department of Practical Art, established as part of the Board of Trade in 1852, which made similar pronouncements on the role of realism in tasteful interior design. Dickens had no objection to using flowers and other "contradictions in fact" in decoration—a penchant that he shared with Victorian culture as a whole.

Despite the best Gradgrindian efforts of the Department of Practical Art, representational decoration flourished at the time. Just three years before Dickens wrote Hard Times, for instance, the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace had afforded manufacturers the opportunity of showing off their vast range of patterned carpets, furniture, and other items both useful and decorative. Engravings of some of the exhibits in the Illustrated London News show a number of flower-patterned carpets.

This engraving of a "patent power-loom printed carpet by Messrs. Bright and Co." appeared in the September 6, 1851, issue of the Illustrated London News.

This engraving of another carpet pattern, also by Bright and Co., appeared in the August 2, 1851, issue.



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