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…as incomprehensible to those unacquainted with his story as if they had seen the shadow of the actual Bastille thrown upon him by a summer sun, when the substance was three hundred miles away.

This is a rather rough estimate of the distance: London and Paris, by the roads Doctor Manette would have traveled between Soho Square and the Bastille, are just over 200 miles apart (Tronchet, “The Most Frequented Roads Between London and Paris”).

“…Mr. Darnay, good night, God bless you, sir! I hope you have been this day preserved for a prosperous and happy life. – Chair there!”

The kind of “chair” that Mr. Lorry hires is a “light vehicle drawn by one horse” often called a “chaise” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Drawing his arm through his own, he took him down Ludgate-hill to Fleet-street, and so, up a covered way, into a tavern.

From the Old Bailey, Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay walk south to Ludgate Hill, and proceed west for a block or so until Ludgate Hill turns into Fleet Street. This is the street at the end of which Tellson’s Bank has offices; it was known, by the 19th century, for its literary associations and its taverns:

Fleet-st[reet] may almost be called the nursing mother of English literature. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Raleigh, Dryden, Johnson, Goldsmith, and countless names, brilliant even in brilliant times, are associated with Fleet-st[reet]. A tavern-street, as well as a literary center, Fleet-st[reet] was and is. The newest-fashion newspaper and the oldest-style tavern still jostle each other now [in 1882] as they did a century or more ago. (Dickens’s Dictionary of London 107)

The specific tavern to which Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay proceed is traditionally identified as the Cheshire Cheese in Wine Office Court, just off Fleet Street (Sanders 68). Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, and Fleet Street are visible on this portion of Harrison’s map of London (1777).

Click on map for larger view

He resorted to his pint of wine for consolation, drank it all in a few minutes, and fell asleep on his arms, with his hair straggling over the table, and a long winding-sheet in the candle dripping down upon him.

A pint is two cups, or thirty-two fluid ounces of wine; a winding-sheet is “[a] mass of solidified drippings of grease clinging to the side of a candle, resembling a sheet folded in creases, and regarded in popular superstition as an omen of death or calamity” (OED). The candle that drips over Mr. Carton is thus an ominous one.

The Jackal

A jackal is an “animal of the dog kind, about the size of a fox; one of various species of Canis … inhabiting Asia and Africa, hunting in packs by night with wailing cries, and feeding on dead carcasses and small animals; formerly supposed to go before the lion and hunt up his prey for him, hence termed ‘the lion’s provider’” (OED). The OED also notes figurative uses of the word in application to people who behave like jackals – “esp[ecially] one who does subordinate preparatory work or drudgery for another, or ministers to his requirements.”

…a moderate statement of the quantity of wine and punch which one man would swallow in the course of a night, without any detriment to his reputation as a perfect gentleman, would seem, in these days, a ridiculous exaggeration. The learned profession of the Law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities…

The excessive “quantity of wine and punch which one man would swallow in the course of a night” in the 18th century was apparently a commonplace in the 19th.  Etiquette books of both periods help to illustrate the difference. A conduct book from the early 18th century, The Gentleman’s Library, Containing Rules for Conduct in All Parts of Life (1734), admonishes its readers as follows:

There are many Intemperances which we fall into in the Course of our Lives, as it were, without Design, through Complaisance, or the Importunities of Company: Of this Sort, principally is Drinking. We are generally initiated into the Science, before the Liquor is in the least palatable: But we consent to disoblige our Taste merely in Compliance, ‘till by the habitual Obsequiousness, we grow to a Relish of the Luxury, and then continue the Debauch by Inclination.

A Method of spending one’s Time agreeably is a Thing so little studied, that the common Amusement of our young Gentlemen is Drinking. This Way of Entertainment has Custom on its Side; but as much as it has prevailed, I believe, there have been very few Companies that have been guilty of Excess this Way, where there have not happen’d more Accidents which make against, than for the Continuance of it.

It is impossible to lay down any determinate Rule for Temperance; because what is Luxury in one, may be Temperance in another: But there are few of common Reason who are not Judges of their own Constitutions, so far as to know what Proportions do best agree with them. Were I to prescribe a Rule for Drinking, it should be form’d upon a Saying quoted by Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE: The first Glass for my self, the second for my Friends, the third for good Humour, and the fourth for my Enemies. To go further into Antiquity for a Rule, Plutarch tells us, it was the Advice of Socrates, to beware of such Meats as perswade a Man, though he be not hungry, to eat them; and those Liquors that would prevail with a man to drink them, when he is not thirsty. Temperance, indeed, is a grand Preservative, which has those particular Advantages above all other Means of Health, that it may be rectified by all Ranks and Conditions, at any Season, or in any Place…. (italics and caps in the original, 229-32)

The recipe for temperance suggested here – which seems to boil down to the rule of taking no more than three or four glasses of wine at a time – seems liberal in comparison with 19th-century standards: The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859), a publication nearly contemporary with A Tale of Two Cities, gives this account of

WINE, DIETETIC PROPERTIES OF. – As a general rule, the less wine that is drunk the better it will be for the health. There are, however, exceptional cases, such as bodily infirmity and extreme debility, where the drinking of wine in moderate quantity is enjoined, and partaken of with considerable benefit. But when taken habitually and in excess, it produces derangement of the digestive organs, together with gout, apoplexy, and numerous other disorders. Wine is an unwholesome liquor to be drunk with food, because it stimulates the appetite in excess, and causes a person to eat such an amount of food, as to render the process of digestion tedious and difficult. When, however, wines are drunk, some sort of system should be observed as follows: – Wines should vary with the seasons, light wines are best in summer; in winter, generous wines are preferred. White wine should be drunk with white meats, and red wines with brown meats. Light wines are suitable to light dishes, and stronger wines to more substantial dishes. In summer the wine may be advantageously diluted with water. Light dry wines, such as hock, claret, burgundy, Rhenish, and Hermitage, are, generally speaking, less hurtful than the stronger varieties, as port, sherry, or Madeira. When wine is ordered as a stimulant to debilitated subjects, it should be taken about mid-day, and the quantity swallowed at a draught, not sipped. (1111-2)

In general, then, the “Bacchanalian propensities” of 18th-century gentlemen like Carton and Stryver would be considered excessive in the 19th century, but less so in their own time. Yet the dangers of drinking – to which it speedily becomes apparent that Carton is succumbing in A Tale of Two Cities – are pointed out by The Gentleman’s Library, Containing Rules for Conduct in All Parts of Life (1734):

How many young People do we see miscarry upon this Conduct, and tire upon the Road, before the Journey is half reach’d? Men that made a promising Appearance at first, that set forward with Genius and Improvement, have we not seen them metamorphose themselves at a Tavern, drown their Parts [abilities], and drink away their Shape to that Degree, as if the Witchcrafts of Circe had overtaken them, and the magical Draught transformed them into Brutes…. (232)

This 18th-century account of alcoholism agrees with Dickens’ portrait of the unfortunate Carton.

…shouldering itself toward the visage of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of King’s Bench, the florid countenance of Mr. Stryver might be daily seen, bursting out of the bed of wigs…

The Court of King’s Bench, a division of the High Court of Justice (Sanders 70), was located in Westminster Hall in the late 18th century. According to Thornton’s New, Complete, and Universal History of … London (1784),

The Court of King’s Bench is situated directly opposite the Court of Chancery [in Westminster Hall], and is so called because the king is supposed to sit there in person [in fact, no monarch had presided since Edward IV (r. 1461-1483) (Gaspey, vol. 1, 143)]; but more properly because all pleas of the crown are determined here, from high treason to misdemeanors….

This court has a supreme jurisdiction over all the courts of law in England, and a right to enquire into the conduct of every magistrate in the kingdom. Every breach of the peace, whereby one or more of his majesty’s subjects are injured, is cognizable by this court; and they can reinstate officers in their employments who have been unjustly thrown out by the corporations to which they belong, … and they have a supreme power of revising the judgments given in other courts, no appeal lying from them, but by writ of error to the house of lords. The chief justice of this court takes place next the chancellor, and is st[y]led Lord Chief Justice of England, having three other judges for his assistants. (518)

In the 18th century, when wigs and hair-powder were the prevailing fashion, the description of the court as a “bed of wigs” was particularly apt; however, it is still somewhat appropriate, for wigs were worn in courts of law after they had gone out of fashion in society (Fairholt 553), and are still worn by some members of the English courts today.

It is worth noting that Dickens’ depiction of Mr. Stryver is usually thought to be based upon the English attorney Edwin John James (1812-82), who had a highly successful practice until he was “declared bankrupt and disbarred for professional misconduct in 1861,” whereupon he “emigrated to America and practiced at the New York Bar as well as playing on the stage” (Sanders 67). Authority for the association of the character of Stryver with Edwin John James comes from the Recollections and Experiences (1884) of Edmund Yates, who gives the following account of taking Dickens along to a consultation with James:

James laid himself out to be specially agreeable; Dickens was quietly observant. About four months after appeared the early numbers of A Tale of Two Cities in which a prominent part was played by Mr. Stryver. After reading the description, I said to Dickens, “Stryver is a good likeness.” He smiled. “Not bad I think,” he said, “especially after only one sitting.” (qtd. in Sanders 67)

What the two drank together, between Hilary Term and Michaelmas, might have floated a king’s ship.

The English legal year was divided into four “terms” – Hilary Term (January 11-31), Easter Term (April 15-May 8), Trinity Term (May 22-June 12), and Michaelmas Term (November 2-25), with a “Long Vacation” (in which the legal activity of the courts was suspended) from July through October. Courts could continue in session between the terms, though they sometimes changed location during this period (Ford and Monod xx). The terms are named after feast-days in the English church calendar (Sanders 70). To figure what Carton and Stryver drink together between Hilary and Michaelmas is to reckon the quantity of alcohol consumed in the full course of the legal year.

…they went the same Circuit, and even there they prolonged their orgies late into the night…

The “Circuit” refers to the “journey of judges [or barristers] through certain appointed areas, for the purpose of holding courts or performing other stated duties at various places in succession” or to “[t]hose making the circuit; the judges and barristers" (OED). Circuits were held twice a year in each English county (Sanders 70).

He turned into the Temple, and having revived himself by twice pacing the pavements of King’s Bench-walk and Paper-buildings, turned into the Stryver chambers.

The Temple is a complex of buildings between Temple Bar and the Thames, just under and to the west of Fleet Street. Originally named for the Knights Templars – a semi-martial, semi-religious body established in England in the 12th century – the Temple was, by the time of Carton’s stroll, associated with the law. It housed law students and legal practitioners (though it accepted occupants of other professions) and was composed of both private residences and offices (Gaspey, vol. 1, 44-8). King’s Bench Walk and Paper Buildings are part of the Inner Temple, “facing each other at right angles to the Thames” (Sanders 71). (Since the Temple consists of the Inner and Middle Temples, 18th-century histories of London suggest that there must originally have been an “Outer Temple” as well [Harrison 478].) The red brick buildings on King’s Bench Walk were built in 1677-8; but the Paper Buildings of Dickens’ times were recent, built in 1838 to replace earlier buildings that had burned down (Sanders 71). The 19th-century Paper Buildings can still be seen (they are “solemn stuff” according to one modern guidebook), but King’s Bench Walk is today used as a car-park (Woodley 141-2).

An extended account of the history and features of the Temple through the 18th century can be found in Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey of … London (1776):

[The Temple] is so called from its having been antiently the residence of an order of people called Knights Templars, who settled here in the reign of Henry II. These knights, who were truly members of the church militant, by uniting devotion and heroism in their profession, were united on the following occasion. Several of the crusaders having settled at Jerusalem about the year 1118, formed themselves into an uniform militia, under the name of Templars, or knights of the Temple, a name they assumed from their being quartered over a church built on the spot where Solomon’s temple had stood. They first guarded the roads for the security of the pilgrims who came to visit the holy sepulcher; and some time after they had a rule appointed them by pope Honorious II who ordained them to wear a white habit; after which they were farther distinguished by having crosses made of red cloth on their upper garments. The profession of Templars was soon adopted by men of birth in all parts of Europe, who became brethren of the order: they built themselves temples in many principal cities after the form of the Holy Sepulchre, particularly in England, where this in Fleet-street was their chief house, and often used as a sanctuary, in troublesome times, for the preservation of treasure and valuable effects.

The Knights Templars were in so flourishing a condition in the 13th century, that they frequently entertained the nobility, foreign ambassadors, and even the king himself; and many great councils and parliaments were held in their houses. At length, however, their wealth produced a relaxation from the rigid obligations of monastic life; when the knights hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, whose poverty as yet preserved them from the like corruptions, availing themselves of the opportunity, succeeded to that popularity the Templars had lost by their indolence and luxury.

The order of the Knights Templars was totally abolished by Pope Clement V at the instigation of Philip king of France; after which the knights in England were distributed in other convents; and, by the Pope’s orders, their possessions were transferred to the order of St. John, who had their chief houses where St. John’s-square is now situated. These knights soon after [let] out the building that belonged to the Templars to students of the common law: in whose possession it has ever since continued. (478n.)




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