On first read, the article “Legs” seems like an odd choice for inclusion in the magazine. The article begins, “It has always struck me that a great void exists in popular physiology from the comparative neglect with which it has treated the legs of mankind.” What appears on the surface to be a “fluff piece” on the treatment of legs in society, the article, on a closer reading in conjunction with the chapter in which it is paired, takes on a more significant meaning. Chapter 6 opens with a mention of the public house occupied by members of Sleary’s horse troupe. The house is called the Pegasus’s Arms, but Dickens writes, “The Pegasus’s legs might have been more to the purpose” (Hard Times 33). Aside from the name of Sissy’s father’s dog, Merrylegs, legs are mentioned no less than three more times in the chapter. Mr. E. W. B. Childers’s legs are described as “very robust, but shorter than legs of good proportions should have been” (34). Later, Childers blames Sissy’s father’s run of poor riding on stiff joints, presumably in the legs (37). Dickens then devotes an entire paragraph to the way the horse men walk:

Both Mr. Childers and Master Kidderminster walked in a curious manner; with their legs wider apart than the general run of men, and with a very knowing assumption of being stiff in the knees. This walk was common to all the male members of Sleary’s company, and was understood to express that they were always on horseback. (Hard Times 38)

Finally, when describing the women of Sleary’s company, Dickens notes that “none of them were at all particular in respect of showing their legs” (Hard Times 40). Read alone, these mentions of legs are mere anecdotes in a chapter centered on the rough life of a horseman and his poor, abandoned daughter. The accompaniment of this chapter by an article devoted to legs expands upon how truly important legs are to this class of people.

Towards the beginning of the article Dickens writes, “Legs have fallen to the province of mountebanks, tight-rope dancers, acrobats, and ballet-girls.” This statement correlates directly with the description of the women in Sleary’s company, who fall into these categories and are not ashamed to show off their legs. In middle-class Victorian society, it was quite indiscreet for a woman to reveal her legs at all, let alone not be ashamed if she did. Dickens posits the women of Sleary’s company against the middle-class readers of his works to point out the difference in social situation, and to perhaps garner sympathy for these poor, uncivilized performers. Dickens goes on to describe how important legs are to the poorer classes who do not have the benefit of better transportation, relying instead on “that glorious privilege of riding ‘Shanks-mare’ or of taking the ‘Marrow-bone stage.’”  The article continues by discussing the misuse of legs by the powerful by stating, “with our legs we trample on the carcasses of our enemies; and scamper over obstacles, and run that race of fortune which for all our legs is not always to the swift.” It is to this group that the legs of Mr. Gradgrind and even more so, Mr. Bounderby belong. Next, Dickens discusses the “numbers of industrious persons there are who earn their daily bread by their legs.” He writes of acrobats and tight-rope walkers, contortionists and musicians who bang tambourines upon their thighs. This class would certainly include the members of Sleary’s company.  Dickens concludes his article with the words “We are told that we can tell a man by the company he keeps; why not by the legs that take him into that company.” If we are to judge the characters in Chapter 6 of Hard Times by their legs, it is the men and women of Sleary’s company that fare best. Their legs are representations of hard work, rough living, and struggle, but they are also attached to heads and hearts of the noblest kind. The assumption can be made that Dickens’ emphasis on the struggles of the working-classes, as shown through the descriptions of their legs, shows sympathy for workers throughout the novel.
 - Lyndsey Magrone (2005)

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