NOTES ON ISSUE 1: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 2 OF 4
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
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
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
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.