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by Charles Dickens
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
First published in Dickens's own weekly periodical, 'Household Words', 'Hard Times' is by far the shortest of his novels, it has neither a preface nor illustrations, and is, unusually, set outside the London area.
For more works by Dickens, see The Index
"Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of facts and calculations. 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."
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 Thomas Gradgrind presented himself to the schoolmaster and children before him. It was his school, and he intended it to be a model.
"Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts. 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."
Mr. Gradgrind, having waited to hear a model lesson delivered by the school master, walked home in a considerable state of satisfaction.
There were five young Gradgrinds, and they were models every one. They had been lectured at from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares, almost as soon as they could run, they had been made to run to the lecture-room.
To his matter-of-fact home, which was called Stone Lodge, Mr. Gradgrind directed his steps. The house was situated on a moor, within a mile or two of a great town, called Coketown.
On the outskirts of this town a travelling circus ("Sleary's Horse-riding") had pitched its tent, and, to his amazement, Mr. Gradgrind observed his two eldest children trying to obtain a peep, at the back of the booth, of the hidden glories within.
Mr. Gradgrind laid his hand upon the shoulder of each erring child, and said, "Louisa! Thomas!"
"I wanted to see what it was like," said Louisa shortly. "I brought him, I was tired, father. I have been tired a long time."
"Tired? Of what?" asked the astonished father.
"I don't know of what - of everything, I think."
They walked on in silence for some half a mile before Mr. Gradgrind gravely broke out with, "What would your best friends say, Louisa? What would Mr. Bounderby say?"
All the way to Stone Lodge he repeated at intervals, "What would Mr. Bounderby say?"
At the first mention of the name his daughter, a child of fifteen or sixteen now, but at no distant day to become a woman, all at once, stole a look at him, remarkable for its intense and searching character. He saw nothing of it, for before he looked at her, she had again cast down her eyes.
Mr. Bounderby was at Stone Lodge when they arrived. He stood before the fire on the hearth rug, delivering some observations to Mrs. Gradgrind on the circumstance of its being his birthday. It was a commanding position from which to subdue Mrs. Gradgrind.
He stopped in his harangue, which was entirely concerned with the story of his early disadvantages, at the entrance of his eminently practical friend and the two young culprits.
"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what's the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"
He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.
"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa haughtily; "and father caught us."
"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband, in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."
"Dear me!" whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas? I wonder at you. I declare you're enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn't. Then what would you have done, I should like to know? As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn't go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses. I'm sure you have enough to do if that's what you want. With my head in its present state I couldn't remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."
"That's the reason," pouted Louisa.
"Don't tell me that's the reason, because it can be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be something logical directly."
Mrs. Gradgrind, not being a scientific character, usually dismissed her children to their studies with the general injunction that they were to choose their own pursuit.
Mr. Josiah Bounderby was as near being Mr. Gradgrind's bosom friend as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can be to another man perfectly devoid of sentiment.
He was a rich man - banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare and a metallic laugh. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself - a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his early ignorance and poverty. A man who was the bully of humility.
He was fond of telling, was Mr. Bounderby, how he was born in a ditch, and, abandoned by his mother, how he ran away from his grandmother, who starved and ill-used him, and so became a vagabond. "I pulled through it," he would say, "though nobody threw me out a rope. Vagabond, errand-boy, labourer, porter, clerk, chief manager, small partner - Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown."
This myth of his early life was dissipated later; and it turned out that his mother, a respectable old woman, whom Bounderby pensioned off with thirty pounds a year on condition she never came near him, had pinched herself to help him out in life, and put him as apprentice to a trade. From this apprenticeship he had steadily risen to riches.
Mr. Bounderby held strong views about the people who worked for him, the "hands" he called them; and found, whenever they complained of anything, that they always expected to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon.
As time went on, and young Thomas Gradgrind became old enough to go into Bounderby's Bank, Bounderby decided that Louisa was old enough to be married.
Mr. Gradgrind, now member of parliament for Coketown, mentioned the matter to his daughter.
"Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage that has been made to me."
He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said something. Strange to relate Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this moment as his daughter was.
"I have undertaken to let you know that - in short, that Mr. Bounderby has long hoped that the time might arrive when he should offer you his hand in marriage. That time has now come, and Mr. Bounderby has made his proposal to me, and has entreated me to make it known to you."
"Father," said Louisa, "do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?"
Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomforted by this unexpected question. "Well, my child," he returned, "I - really - cannot take upon myself to say."
"Father," pursued Louisa, in exactly the same voice as before, "do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?"
"My dear Louisa, no. No, I ask nothing."
"Father, does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?"
"Really, my dear, it is difficult to answer your question. Because the reply depends so materially, Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Mr. Bounderby does not pretend to anything sentimental. Now, I should advise you to consider this question simply as one of fact. Now, what are the facts of this case? You are, we will say in round numbers, twenty years of age. Mr. Bounderby is, we will say in round numbers, fifty. There is some disparity in your respective years, but in your means and position there is none; on the contrary, there is a great suitability. Confining yourself rigidly to fact, the questions of fact are: 'Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him?' 'Yes, he does.' And, 'Shall I marry him?'"
"Shall I marry him?" repeated Louisa, with great deliberation.
There was silence between the two before Louisa spoke again. She thought of the shortness of life, of how her brother Tom had said it would be a good thing for him if she made up her mind to do - she knew what.
"While it lasts," she said aloud, "I would like to do the little I can, and the little I am fit for. What does it matter? Mr. Bounderby asks me to marry him. Let it be so. Since Mr. Bounderby likes to take me thus, I am satisfied to accept his proposal. Tell him, father, as soon as you please, that this was my answer. Repeat it, word for word, if you can, because I should wish him to know what I said."
"It is quite right, my dear," retorted her father approvingly, "to be exact I will observe your very proper request. Have you any wish in reference to the period of your marriage, my child?"
"None, father. What does it matter?"
They went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Gradgrind presented Louisa to his wife as Mrs. Bounderby.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "So you have settled it. I am sure I give you joy, my dear, and I hope you may turn all your ological studies to good account. And now, you see, I shall be worrying myself morning, noon, and night, to know what I am to call him!"
"Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband solemnly, "what do you mean?"
"Whatever am I to call him when he is married to Louisa? I must call him something. It's impossible to be constantly addressing him, and never giving him a name. I cannot call him Josiah, for the name is insupportable to me. You yourself wouldn't hear of Joe, you very well know. Am I to call my own son-in-law 'Mister?' I believe not, unless the time has arrived when I am to be trampled upon by my relations. Then, what am I to call him?"
There being no answer to this conundrum, Mrs. Gradgrind retired to bed.
The day of the marriage came, and after the wedding-breakfast the bridegroom addressed the company - an improving party, there was no nonsense about any of them - in the following terms.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown. Since you have done my wife and myself the honour of drinking our healths and happiness, I suppose I must acknowledge the same. If you want a speech, my friend and father-in-law, Tom Gradgrind, is a member of parliament, and you know where to get it. Now, you have mentioned that I am this day married to Tom Gradgrind's daughter. I am very glad to be so. It has long been my wish to be so. I have watched her bringing up, and I believe she is worthy of me. At the same time, I believe I am worthy of her. So I thank you for the goodwill you have shown towards us."
Shortly after which oration, as they were going on a nuptial trip to Lyons, in order that Mr. Bounderby might see how the hands got on in those parts, and whether they, too, required to be fed with gold spoons, the happy pair departed for the railroad. As the bride passed downstairs her brother Tom whispered to her. "What a game girl you are, to be such a first-rate sister, too!"
She clung to him as she would have clung to some far better nature that day, and was shaken in her composure for the first time.
The Gradgrind party wanting assistance in the House of Commons, Mr. James Harthouse, who was of good family and appearance, and had tried most things and found them a bore, was sent down to Coketown to study the neighbourhood with a view to entering Parliament.
Mr. Bounderby at once pounced upon him, and James Harthouse was introduced to Mrs. Bounderby and her brother. Tom Gradgrind, junior, brought up under a continuous system of restraint, was a hypocrite, a thief, and, to Mr. James Harthouse, a whelp.
Yet the visitor saw at once that the whelp was the only creature Mrs. Bounderby cared for, and it occurred to him, as time went on, that to win Mrs. Bounderby's affection (for he made no secret of his contempt for politics), he must devote himself to the whelp.
Mr. Bounderby was proud to have Mr. James Harthouse under his roof, proud to show off his greatness and self-importance to this gentleman from London.
"You're a gentleman, and I don't pretend to be one. You're a man of family. I am a bit of dirty riff-raff, and a genuine scrap of rag, tag, and bobtail," said Mr. Bounderby.
At the same time Mr. Bounderby blustered at his wife and bullied his hands, so that Mr. Harthouse might understand his independence.
One of these hands, Stephen Blackpool, an old, steady, faithful workman, who had been boycotted by his fellows for refusing to join a trade union, was summoned to Mr. Bounderby's presence in order that Harthouse might see a specimen of the people that had to be dealt with.
Blackpool said he had nought to say about the trade union business; he had given a promise not to join, that was all.
"Not to me, you know!" said Bounderby.
"Oh, no sir; not to you!"
"Here's a gentleman from London present," Mr. Bounderby said, pointing at Harthouse. "A Parliament gentleman. Now, what do you complain of?"
"I ha' not come here, sir, to complain. I were sent for. Indeed, we are in a muddle, sir. Look round town - so rich as 'tis. Look how we live, and where we live, an' in what numbers; and look how the mills is always a-goin', and how they never works us no nigher to any distant object, 'cepting always, death. Sir, I cannot, wi' my little learning, tell the gentleman what will better this; though some working men o' this town could. But the strong hand will never do't; nor yet lettin' alone will never do't. Ratin' us as so much power and reg'latin' us as if we was figures in a sum, will never do't."
"Now, it's clear to me," said Mr. Bounderby, "that you are one of those chaps who have always got a grievance. And you are such a raspish, ill-conditioned chap that even your own union - the men who know you best - will have nothing to do with you. And I tell you what, I go so far along with them for a novelty, that I'll have nothing to do with you either. You can finish off what you're at, and then go elsewhere."
Thus James Harthouse learnt how Mr. Bounderby dealt with hands.
Mr. Harthouse, however, only felt bored, and took the earliest opportunity to explain to Mrs. Bounderby that he really had no opinions, and that he was going in for her father's opinions, because he might as well back them as anything else.
"The side that can prove anything in a line of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, Mrs. Bounderby, seems to me to afford the most fun and to give a man the best chance. I am quite ready to go in for it to the same extent as if I believed it. And what more could I possibly do if I did believe it?".
"You are a singular politician," said Louisa.
"Pardon me; I have not even that merit. We are the largest party in the state, I assure you, if we all fell out of our adopted ranks and were reviewed together."
The more Mr. Harthouse's interest waned in politics the greater became his interest in Mrs. Bounderby. And he cultivated the whelp, cultivated him earnestly, and by so doing learnt from the graceless youth that "Loo never cared anything for old Bounderby," and had married him to please her brother.
Gradually, bit by bit, James Harthouse established a confidence with the whelp's sister from which her husband was excluded. He established a confidence with her that absolutely turned upon her indifference towards her husband, and the absence at all times of any congeniality between them. He had artfully, but plainly, assured her that he knew her heart in its last most delicate recesses, and the barrier behind which she lived had melted away.
And yet he had not, even now, any earnest wickedness of purpose in him. So drifting icebergs, setting with a current, wreck the ships.
Mrs. Gradgrind died while her husband was up in London, and Louisa was with her mother when death came.
"You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother," said Mrs. Gradgrind, when she was dying. "Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. But there is something - not an ology at all - that your father has missed, or forgotten. I don't know what it is; I shall never get its name now. But your father may. It makes me restless. I want to write to him to find out, for God's sake, what it is."
It was shortly after Mrs. Gradgrind's death that Mr. Bounderby was called away from home on business for a few days; and Mr. James Harthouse, still not sure at times of his purpose, found himself alone with Mrs. Bounderby.
They were in the garden, and Harthouse implored her to accept him as her lover. She urged him to go away, she commanded him to go away; but she neither turned her face to him nor raised it, but sat as still as though she were a statue.
Harthouse declared that she was the stake for which he ardently desired to play away all that he had in life; that the objects he had lately pursued turned worthless beside her; the success that was almost within his grasp he flung away from him, like the dirt it was, compared with her.
All this, and more, he said, and pleaded for a further meeting.
"Not here," Louisa said calmly.
They parted at the beginning of a heavy shower of rain, and the fall James Harthouse had ridden for was averted.
Mrs. Bounderby left her husband's house, left it for good; not to share Mr. Harthouse's life, but to return to her father.
Mr. Gradgrind, released from parliament for a time, was alone in his study, when his eldest daughter entered.
"What is the matter, Louisa?"
"Father, I want to speak to you. You have trained me from my cradle?"
"I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny. How could you give me life, and take from me all the things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Now, hear what I have come to say. With a hunger and a thirst upon me, father, which have never been for a moment appeased, in a condition where it seemed nothing could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest, you proposed my husband to me."
"I never knew you were unhappy, my child!"
"I took him. I never made a pretence to him or you that I loved him. I knew, and, father you knew, and he knew, that I never did. I was not wholly indifferent, for I had a hope of being pleasant and useful to Tom. But Tom had been the subject of all the little tenderness of my life, perhaps he became so because I knew so well how to pity him. It matters little now, except as it may dispose you to think more leniently of his errors."
"What can I do, child? Ask me what you will."
"I am coming to it. Father, chance has thrown into my way a new acquaintance; a man such as I had had no experience of - light, polished, easy. I only wondered it should be worth his while, who cared for nothing else, to care so much for me. It matters little how he gained my confidence. Father, he did gain it. What you know of the story of my marriage he soon knew just as well."
Her father's face was ashy white.
"I have done no worse; I have not disgraced you. This night, my husband being away, he has been with me. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry or ashamed. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means?"
She fell insensible, and he saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system lying at his feet. And it came to Thomas Gradgrind that night and on the morrow when he sat beside his daughter's bed, that there was a wisdom of the heart no less than a wisdom of the head; and that in supposing the latter to be all sufficient, he had erred.
But no such change of mind took place in Mr. Bounderby. Finding his wife absent, he went at once to Stone Lodge, and blustered in his usual way.
Mr. Gradgrind tried to make him understand that the best thing to do was to leave things as they were for a time, and that Louisa, who had been so tried, should stay on a visit to her father, and be treated with tenderness and consideration. It was all wasted on Blunderby.
"Now, I don't want to quarrel with you, Tom Gradgrind!" he retorted. "If your daughter, whom I made Loo Bounderby, and might have done better by leaving Loo Gradgrind, don't come home at noon to-morrow, I shall understand that she prefers to stay away, and you'll take charge of her in future. What I shall say to people in general of the incompatibility that led to my so laying down the law will be this: I am Josiah Bounderby, she's the daughter of Tom Gradgrind; and the two horses wouldn't pull together. I am pretty well known to be rather an uncommon man, and most people will understand that it must be a woman rather out of the common who would come up to my mark. I have got no more to say. Good-night!"
At five minutes past twelve next day, Mr. Bounderby directed his wife's property to be carefully packed up and sent to Tom Gradgrind's, and then resumed a bachelor's life.
Mr. James Harthouse, learning from Louisa's maid - a young woman greatly attached to her mistress - that his attentions were altogether undesirable, and that he would never see Mrs. Bounderby again, decided to throw up politics and leave Coketown at once. Which he did.
Into how much of futurity did Mr. Bounderby see as he sat alone? Had he any prescience of the day, five years to come, when Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown, was to die in a fit in the Coketown street? Could he foresee Mr. Gradgrind, a white-haired man, making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity, and no longer trying to grind that Heavenly trio in his dusty little mills? These things were to be.
Could Louisa, sitting alone in her father's house and gazing into the fire, foresee the childless years before her? Could she picture a lonely brother, flying from England after robbery, and dying in a strange land, conscious of his want of love and penitent? These things were to be. Herself again a wife - a mother - lovingly watchful of her children, ever careful that they should have a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body, as knowing it to be an even more beautiful thing, and a possession any hoarded scrap of which is a blessing and happiness to the wisest? Such a thing was never to be.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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