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Mr. M'Choakumchild

The teacher Mr. M'Choakumchild is essentially a briefly seen caricature, as indicated by his unrealistic name, but aspects of his name and personality refer to contemporary figures and philosophical debates. The Scottish "M'" (more familiarly rendered as "Mc") at the beginning of his name underscores the degree to which educational theory at the time, as well as Utilitarian thought, was derived from Scottish thinkers.

Moreover, Dickens may have had two Scotsmen—both named McCulloch—in mind as loose models when he chose the name. The lesser-known, J.M.M. M'Culloch, was a headmaster at an Edinburgh school and wrote practical and dry textbooks. The second, J. R. McCulloch, was a well-known political economist and statistician. In the wake of the public dismay after the publication of Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population (1806), McCulloch "embarked on a lifelong campaign to improve the public image of political economy," according to Mary Poovey in A History of the Modern Fact. Poovey continues:

By rewriting the history of the discipline, creating a canon for political economy, making reliable texts of the Wealth of Nations available for the first time, and placing political economy at the center of countless educational schemes, McCulloch sought to popularize the science that Malthus had rendered so disagreeable. McCulloch was not completely successful in resuscitating political economy, of course; opponents of the manufacturing system, like Dickens and Carlyle, simply turned their venom from Malthus to McCulloch and continued to lament the end of moral knowledge.

Stone Lodge was situated on a moor within a mile or two of a great town—called Coketown in the present faithful guide-book.

"Coketown" is Dickens's substitute for a northern manufacturing town, generally assumed to be Manchester, but probably combining aspects of that city with Birmingham and other cities as well. Dickens's decision to fictionalize the setting of the novel was an unusual one for him; the novels he set in London are characterized by a great specificity of place. But Dickens did not know the industrial north well, and he wished to avoid offending the denizens of any one city. The mention of Stone Lodge's situation "on a moor" clearly places the city in the north of England. It was common for well-to-do businessmen from such towns to live slightly out of town, in order to escape the smoky air and poor sanitation of the town center.

This view of Manchester from Ordsall, a short distance away, is a detail taken from an 1824 map of the city center; the small view illustrates a corner of the map. By 1824, 30 years before the publication of Hard Times, Manchester was already well established as an industrial center.

The little Gradgrinds had cabinets in various departments of science, too. They had a little conchological cabinet, and a little metallurgical cabinet, and a little mineralogical cabinet; and the specimens were all arranged and labelled…

Collecting and arranging specimens from natural history, such as shells, or metals and minerals, was a popular pursuit for the scientifically minded in the nineteenth century, though it was usually associated with educated gentlemen rather than children.

the highly novel and laughable hippo-comedietta of the Tailor's Journey to Brentford

A hippo-comedietta is a short circus comedy, performed on horseback. "The Tailor's Journey to Brentford," first performed in 1768, was actually performed at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre in 1853-4.

Phenomenon almost incredible though distinctly seen, what did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act.

Dickens takes the opportunity here, as Mr. Gradgrind discovers his children trying to watch the circus, for a sly jab at Utilitarian lingo: Mr. Gradgrind, much against his will, is forced to believe the "distinctly seen" evidence of his own eyes. The circus's "graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act" (performed, as we are told earlier, by Miss Josephine Sleary) may be based on various equestrian acts, many performed by one Louisa Woolford, that Dickens saw and enjoyed in his youth.

Harry French depicts Sleary and Josephine, in her costume as an equestrienne (but not on horseback) in a plate from the Household Edition of Hard Times. The flowers in her costume may refer to the "Tyrolean flower-act."

This illustration, taken from the Illustrated London News of September 13, 1845, shows a female equestrian, Madame Klatt, performing at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre.



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