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Charles Dickens As Artist and Reformer

  • Ronald M. Meldrum


“Girl number twenty … give me your definition of a horse,” ordered Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, “a man of realities, a man of facts and calculations.” Mr. Gradgrind, master of a pragmatic school devoted to teaching facts in Mr. Josiah Bounderby's model industrial community, Coketown, was, like most of Charles Dickens' schoolmasters, rather narrow in his conception of what school should and might be. No doubt the shortcomings and lack of uniformity of the schools with which Dickens was familiar tended to sour him generally on the topic of education. Of course, Dickens was too clever to wish for utter uniformity or conformity in education. In a speech November 5, 1873. he said:

I don't like that sort of school — and I have seen a great many such in these latter times — where the bright childish imagination is utterly discouraged, and where those bright childish faces, which it is so very good for the wisest among us to remember in after life, when the world is too much with us early and late, are gloomily and grimly scared out of countenance; where I have never seen among the pupils, whether boys or girls, anything but little parrots and small calculating machines.



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1 Dickens, Charles, Hard Times (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1966), pp. 23.

2 Ibid., pp. 310-311.

3 Collins, Philip, Dickens and Education (London: MacMillan & Company, Ltd., 1964), p 73.

4 Ibid., p 73.

5 Ibid., p. 76.

6 The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: A Selection from her Diaries, 1830-40, ed Esher, Viscount (1912), II, 86, 89, 144.

7 Toynbee, Philip, “An Anthology of Schoolmasters,” Listener, 21 (November, 1946), 708.

8 Collins, , Dickens and Education, p. 98.

9 Collins, Philip, Dickens and Crime [Cambridge Studies in Criminology, Vol. XVII], (London: MacMillan and Company, Ltd., 1962), p. 14.

10 Ibid., p. 15.

11 Ibid., p. 17.

12 Ibid., p. 22.

13 Ibid., p. 28.

14 Ibid., p. 52.

15 Ibid., p. 82.

16 Ibid., p. 13.


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