I have now finished Charles Dickens’ novel, Hard Times. The last book of this novel certainly was the most dynamic. Book II left us wondering what the Fact school was missing, and book III seems to offer us an answer.
I am going to merely look at a few passages that stood out for me (especially as a Christian reader).
Mr. Gradgrind, a man in a state of change, speaks to his daughter, after she has come home from an unhappy marriage:
‘Some persons hold,’ he pursued still hesitating, ‘that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the Head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all sufficient; how can I venture to say this morning it is! If that other kind of wisdom should be what I have neglected, and should be the instinct that is wanted, Louisa – ‘ (pp. 217-218 bold added)
After we hear Mr. Gradgrind make this distinction, the narrator gives us this scene between Sissy and Louisa:
‘First, Sissy, do you know what I am? I am so proud and so hardened, so confused and troubled, so resentful and unjust to everyone and to myself, that everything is stormy, dark, and wicked to me. Does not that repel you?’
‘I am so unhappy, and all that should have made me otherwise is so laid waste, that if I had been bereft of sense to this hour, and instead of being as learned as you think me, had to begin to acquire the simplest truths, I could not want a guide to peace, contentment, honour, all the good of which I am devoid, more abjectly than I do. Does not that repel you?’
In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.
Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck, and join its fellow there. She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller’s child looked up at her almost with veneration.
‘Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!’
‘O lay it here!’ cried Sissy. ‘Lay it here my dear!’ (p. 220 bold added)
Here we get an image of head and heart coming together, as they ought to be. So we understand that Facts (the Head) are insufficient, but need to be joined with the Heart. What what is the Heart?
Now, let us look at the final words and moments of Stephen Blackpool’s life, as he looks up at the sky–towards a star:
‘[The Star] ha’ shined upon me,’ he said reverently, ‘in my pain and trouble down below. It ha’ shined into my mind . I ha’ lookn at ‘t an thowt o’ thee, Rachael, till the muddle in my mind have cleared awa, above a bit, I hope. If soom ha’ been wantin’ in unnerstan’in me better, I, too, ha’ been wantin’ in unnerstan’in them better. When I got they letter, I easily believen that what the yoong ledy sen an done to me, an what her brother sen an done to me, was one, an that there were a wicked plot betwixt ’em. When I fell, I were in anger wi’ her, an hurryin on t’ be as onjust t’ her as oothers were onjust t’ me. But in our judgments, like as in our doins, we mun bear and forbear. In my pain an trouble, lookin’ up yonder, – wi’ it shinin’ upon me – I ha’ seen more clear, and ha’ made it my dyin’ prayer that aw th’ world may on’y coom together more, and get a better unnerstan’in o’ one another, than when I were in’t my own weak seln.’
‘Often as I coom to myseln, and found it shinin on me down there in my trouble, I thowt it were the star as guided to Our Saviour’s home. I awmust think it be the very star.’
They lifted him up, and he was overjoyed to find that they were about to take him in the direction whither the star seemed to him to lead.
They carried him very gently along the fields, and down the lanes, and over the wide landscape; Rachael always holding the hand in hers. Very few whispers broke the mournful silence. It was soon a funeral procession. The star had shown him where to find the God of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he had gone to his Redeemer’s rest. (pp. 264-265)
Here we have a man on his way to his death, after having fallen into a pit, looking up at a star. He tells about a peace that the star has given him during his suffering. He also admits his ‘own weak seln (self)’–that he is just as guilty of enmity as the person next to him. He has felt this anger in his heart, and it is his dying prayer that this anger be taken away, that the world come together. The thing missing in the Fact school, what the Heart refers to is compassion, love in its truest sense.
I quoted the rest of this to show that this is not possible without our God and Savior. I am by no means saying that Dickens intended to say this (although it could be what he intended). But as a Christian reader, I see this prayer for love between all, and see this invocation of Christ–the ultimate figure of love and compassion–and see that we need Him to give us strength to love our neighbor every day in tangible and intentional ways.
May we be heading towards this star, towards Christ our Savior, in all that way do, every day from here till we either die or are taken home.