The name of the public-house was the Pegasus's Arms. The Pegasus's legs might have been more to the purpose, but, underneath the winged horse upon the signboard, THE PEGASUS'S ARMS was inscribed in Roman letters.

Pegasus, a winged horse in Greek mythology, was often associated with the circus; circus performers sometimes gave the name to their horses, and the Royal Circus in London (opened in 1782) placed a statue of Pegasus on its roof.

Using pictures on signs to identify pubs was common practice in England, where taverns tended to have their own symbols. The description of the Pegasus's Arms may owe something to Dickens's observations of an old pub in Preston, where he traveled during that town's 1853-4 strike. This photograph of an old pub in the industrial north of England—the Seven Stars in Manchester—was taken about 20 years after the publication of Hard Times. It is reproduced from Manchester As It Is (1878), a photographic work that intended to illustrate the modern improvements that had taken place in Manchester in the mid- to late nineteenth century, in an attempt to dispel its reputation as an industrial hell. The author and photographer, Alfred Brothers, included some pictures of older areas that had not been reconstructed or renovated to provide a contrast with the "new" Manchester, such as this tavern.

"Father must have gone down to the booth, sir."

By "to the booth" here, Sissy means to the circus.

He was dressed in a Newmarket coat…

A Newmarket coat was a long, fitted coat with tails, used for riding and named for the Newmarket racecourse. It was the precursor of the morning coat.

white bismuth and carmine

Cosmetics used in the circus. Bismuth is a white metal; carmine is a red pigment that comes from cochineal.

"You see, my friend," Mr. Bounderby put in, "we are the kind of people who know the value of time, and you are the kind of people who don't know the value of time."

Using time appropriately, and knowing its value, was a central tenet not only of Victorian middle-class culture but also of the manufacturing economy of which Bounderby is a part. Life and work in factory towns was ruled by the factory clock. For the middle and mercantile classes, wasting time in idleness or amusement was considered almost sinful.

"What does he come here cheeking us for, then?…If you want to cheek us, pay your ochre at the doors and take it out."

To "cheek" was to speak impertinently or offensively to someone. Ochre is slang for money, in reference to its golden color.

"…Jupe has missed his tip very often lately."… "Offered at the garters four times last night, and never done ‘em once," said Master Kidderminster. "Missed his tip at the banners, too, and was loose in his ponging."

The garters and banners were bands and cloths that a performer jumped across; Jupe, in "missing his tip," has failed to do so. To be "loose in his ponging" could mean specifically that his tumbling was poor (as is stated by Childers in the passage that follows), or it could mean that his entire performance was bad.

Dickens wrote to friends as he embarked on Hard Times, asking for examples of circus slang to use in the book. Note that he is careful to define his most important terms for the middle-class reader, so that they are either clear from context or defined and interpreted for Bounderby and Gradgrind.

"He was goosed last night…"

That is, he was hissed by the audience.

"He has his points as a cackler still, but he can't get a living out of them."

A cackler was a performer who took only speaking parts. It was indeed difficult to earn a living as a cackler; circus entertainment relied on amusing physical performances more than speeches.


"Poor Sissy! He had better have apprenticed her!…Now he leaves her without anything to take to!"

Childers here is suggesting that Sissy should have been apprenticed to another circus performer, to learn the tricks of the trade. Gradgrind, however, misunderstands him and seems to think he is suggesting that Sissy should have been apprenticed in a more traditional and settled trade. Childers's retort that he was apprenticed at the age of seven reveals the misunderstanding. Gradgrind—believing that the circus is not work but "idleness" (as Bounderby expresses it)—can scarcely believe that it encompasses the usual customs of Victorian working-class life, such as the custom of apprenticing children when young to learn a trade.

The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on the top of a great pole; the father of a third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers, with Master Kidderminster for the apex, and himself for the base; all the fathers could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, and stick at nothing.

All of the circus acts described here were popular at the time; the "perch act" (in which one performer was balanced "on the top of a great pole") was performed at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre in the early 1850s. The mention of standing on bottles may have been inspired by one act of the well-known French clown Jean-Baptiste Auriol, who performed shooting tricks while balancing on bottles. This illustration of Auriol is taken from the June 9, 1849, issue of the Illustrated London News:

All the mothers could—and did—dance upon the slack-wire and the tight-rope, and perform rapid acts on bare-backed steeds; none of them were at all particular in respect of showing their legs

The implication that the women of the circus were immodest would have been a common assumption at the time, as female performers of all sorts were often considered less than respectable. An article called "Legs"—which, like this number of Hard Times, appeared in the April 15, 1854, issue of Household Words—underscores the connection between those who show their legs and questionable respectability:

Legs have fallen to the province of mountebanks, tight-rope dancers, acrobats, and ballet girls. From neglect they have even fallen into opprobrium; and we cannot find a baser term for a swindling gambler than to call him a "Leg."

People mutht be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow…they can't be alwayth a-working, nor yet they can't be alwayth a-learning. Make the betht of uth, not the wurtht. I've got my living out of the horthe-riding all my life, I know; but I conthider that I lay down the philothophy of the thubject when I thay to you, Thquire, make the betht of uth, not the wortht!

Sleary's speech here is one of the best-known passages in the book, and is a key to Dickens's argument in Hard Times. Sleary's notions—and indeed the entire chapter, depicting the unfamiliar and intriguing world of circus performers—are an important corrective to the Gradgrindian worlds of education and work that we have seen in the first two weekly parts.

Sleary's speech also underscores a more subtle point: "amusements" for some people mean employment for others—even if Gradgrind might not acknowledge it (as we have seen in his confusion over the question of apprenticeship in the circus). Indeed, Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, the great compendium of Victorian work of all sorts, includes performers and circus workers. Mayhew includes an illustration of a clown at a fair:

it was not surprising if they sometimes lost themselves—which they had rather frequently done, as respected horse-flesh, blind-hookey, Hebrew monetary transactions, and the Insolvent Debtor's Court

In other words, the Powlers have spent too much on horses and gambling. The mention of "Hebrew monetary transactions" means that they have borrowed from Jewish money-lenders, generally at high interest rates. The stereotype of avaricious Jewish money-lenders persisted into the nineteenth century, and was frequently to be found in Victorian fiction. The reference to the Insolvent Debtors Court implies that family members were deep enough in debt to be imprisoned for it. At the time, bankruptcy protection was not available to private debtors. (Tradesmen, however, could become bankrupt.) Debtors could be imprisoned at the behest of any creditor and kept imprisoned until the debt was paid. Dickens's own father was imprisoned for debt in 1824 and remained in the Marshalsea Prison for three months; Dickens was to deal at length with the Marshalsea and imprisonment for debt in his next novel, Little Dorrit.

the scene of his decease, Calais

Calais, situated on the French coast overlooking the narrowest point of the English Channel, was a major ferry crossing point from England to France. Its proximity to England made it an easy escape for English people trying to escape from creditors, legal problems, and or loss of reputation, so much so that retreating to live in Calais had in itself a disreputable air. Calais had been English territory until 1558, when the French retook the town from Queen Mary I.

Why here she is at a hundred a year (I give her a hundred, which she is pleased to term handsome)

Bounderby's boast for once is justified. A salary of £100 a year was well above the standard for a housekeeper at the time. As room and board were included in the post, more typical salaries ranged from £20 to £45 per annum—the figures recommended by Mrs. Beeton in her Book of Household Management "when no allowance is made for tea, sugar, and beer." If an allowance was made, a slight reduction in wages was suggested.

The housekeeper's duties included supervising the domestic staff, ordering food, and maintaining household accounts. In most homes, she functioned as second-in-command to the mistress; in Mr. Bounderby's bachelor establishment, however, she would have probably taken on a greater range of duties, including deciding on menus, serving as hostess, and the like. Either this or Mrs. Sparsit's aristocratic pretensions may account for her large salary.

They made him out to be the Royal Arms, the Union-Jack, Magna Charta, John Bull, Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights, An Englishman's house is his castle, Church and State, and God save the Queen, all put together.

Mr. Bounderby's admirers, in other words, proudly see him as a true Briton. All of these items symbolize British patriotism or the British constitution. The Royal Arms are those borne by the king or queen of Great Britain. The Union Jack is of course the British flag. The Magna Charta (generally spelled Carta) guarantees the liberty of the English people; it was signed by King John in 1215, under great pressure from his barons. John Bull is the slang name for the average Englishman. Habeas corpus is the legal principle that guarantees certain basic rights to those accused of crimes, in particular the right to a speedy trial and the necessity of producing prisoners rather than holding them in secret. The Bill of Rights reestablished the constitutional monarchy in 1689 and guarantees certain rights to citizens and to Parliament. The saying "An Englishman's house is his castle" had become proverbial, but it is also a tenet of English common law. "Church and State" refers to the establishment of the Church of England as the state religion. "God Save the Queen" is, of course, the national anthem of Great Britain.

You were coming out of the Italian Opera, ma'am, in white satin and jewels, a blaze of splendor, when I hadn't a penny to buy a link to light you.

Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket, first opened as a theater in 1705 and then as an opera house in 1711, was known as Her Majesty's Theatre, Italian Opera House, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. In 1847, the title moved to Covent Garden, but here the reference is to a time before the change.

The reference to "a link to light" Mrs. Sparsit places Bounderby's youth early in the century; gas lighting was first introduced in London in 1807, and became widespread thereafter. Before that time, "linkboys" carried hand-held torches to light the city streets.

This illustration of the interior of the Italian Opera House at Haymarket appeared in the Illustrated London News on July 22, 1843.

the West End of London, and May Fair, and lords and ladies and honourables

May Fair (usually spelled Mayfair), a small part of the posh West End, was one of the most fashionable and wealthy residential areas of London by about 1800, and remains highly desirable today.

There was a library in Coketown, to which general access was easy. Mr. Gradgrind greatly tormented his mind about what the people read in this library—a point whereon little rivers of tabular statements periodically flowed into the howling ocean of tabular statements…

Dickens was a guest speaker at the opening of the Manchester Free Library on September 2, 1852. Local libraries—firmly established as a public concern by the Public Libraries Act of 1850—were a popular means of providing reading material for the working classes, and the Manchester Free Library was an unusually large and heavily used one. These engravings depicting the Manchester Free Library both appeared in the Illustrated London News. The first, showing the exterior of the building as it was being extended, appeared October 25, 1851; the interior view, which appeared on September 11, 1852, depicts the opening of the library.

after fifteen hours' work

The Ten Hours Movement, a workers' movement advocating shorter work hours, began in the early 1830s. When Hard Times was published, the 1853 Factory Act, which mandated 10 ½-hour workdays and shorter hours on Saturdays, had been in effect for just a year.

They took Defoe to their bosoms instead of Euclid, and seemed to be on the whole more comforted by Goldsmith than Cocker.

Dickens here is making the point that the working people who used the free libraries were more interested in literature, such as the novels of Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), author of Robinson Crusoe (1719), and the poetry and fiction of Oliver Goldsmith (ca. 1730-74), author of The Vicar of Wakefield (1764). Euclid, on the other hand, was a Greek mathematician, best known for his work on geometry, and Cocker was Edward Cocker (1631-75), author of a standard text of arithmetic.

Utilitarians like Gradgrind were concerned about the reading habits of the working class (evangelicals and other religious workers also wished to influence their reading habits). A tabulation of borrowing habits at the Manchester Free Library shows that in the first year of its existence the literary books, including poetry and fiction, was far and away the most popular section, followed by theology and philosophy, history and biology, and scientific works. The most popular book of all, according to an article that appeared in Household Words five weeks before Hard Times began publication, was the Arabian Nights, alluded to several times in Hard Times.