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BOOK I: 5. The Keynote
COKETOWN, to which Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph
of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself. Let us strike the
key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune.
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes
had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the
painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which
interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got
uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and
vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day
long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like
the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large
streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another,
inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours,
with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom
every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of
the last and the next.
These attributes of Coketown were in the main inseparable from the work by which it
was sustained; against them were to be set off, comforts of life which found their way all
over the world, and elegancies of life which made, we will not ask how much of the fine
lady, who could scarcely bear to hear the place mentioned. The rest of its features were
voluntary, and they were these.
You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful. If the members of a
religious persuasion built a chapel there - as the members of eighteen religious
persuasions had done - they made it a pious warehouse of red brick, with sometimes
(but this is only in highly ornamental examples) a bell in a birdcage on the top of it. The
solitary exception was the New Church; a stuccoed edifice with a square steeple over
the door, terminating in four short pinnacles like florid wooden legs. All the public
inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white. The
jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall
might have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that appeared to the
contrary in the graces of their construction. Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material
aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial. The M'Choakumchild
school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between
master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and
the cemetery, and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the
cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world
without end, Amen.