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...his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite of rooms without.

The “holy of holies,” or “most holy place,” refers to “the inner chamber of the sanctuary in the Jewish tabernacle and temple, separated by a veil from the outer chamber or ‘holy place’” (Oxford English Dictionary). Found in Exodus 26:34 (“And thou shalt put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place”), the phrase was originally composed in Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate bible translates the phrase “sanctum sanctorum,” which becomes “holy of holies” in English.

The text of his order (altered from the original by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran: “The earth and the fullness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.”

The biblical passage modified by Monseigneur is found in Psalms 24:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:26: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” The pronoun “altered from the original” in Dickens’ version is “Monseigneur,” which takes the place of “Lord.” However, since “Monseigneur” means “my Lord” in French, Dickens’ substitution points out the pun between the biblical address (“my Lord” as a reference to the Lord God) and the feudal one (“my Lord” as a reference to an aristocrat or a superior) (Sanders 81).

Which the Farmer-General, carrying an appropriate cane with a golden apple on the top of it…

The golden apple on the Farmer-General’s cane may invoke stories about golden apples from mythology.  The most famous of the mythological apples are the “apple of discord” (responsible for the Trojan War) and the apples of the Hesperides (which Hercules stole to discharge his eleventh labor).

In Roman mythology, the apple of discord was thrown into the assembly of the gods by Eris (the goddess of discord), labeled “for the fairest.” A dispute arose between Juno, Minerva, and Venus (called Hera, Athena and Aphrodite in Greek mythology), each of whom believed that the apple was intended for herself; Paris, a Trojan, was summoned to decide the question and awarded the apple to Venus. In return, he received the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, whose kidnapping initiated the Trojan War.

The apples of the Hesperides were the golden apples – originally a wedding present to Jupiter (or Zeus) – guarded by a group of nymphs called the Hesperides (Aegle, Erythia, Hesperia, and Arethusa) and “an immortal dragon with a hundred heads” (Apollodorus 221). In some accounts, Hercules, sent to steal three of the apples, slew the dragon and collected the apples himself; in others, he was told to appeal to Atlas to fetch the apples for him – which Atlas did on the condition that Hercules would hold up the sky in the meantime. Returning with the apples, Atlas proposed that he himself deliver them; but Hercules, agreeing to do so if Atlas would hold up the sky until he had put a pad on his head, tricked Atlas into resuming his burden and made off with the apples himself (Apollodorus 231-3).

The golden apple on the Farmer-General’s cane is “appropriate” partly in a punning sense: The Farmer-General, being the official responsible for “farming” (collecting) the taxes of a particular district in France (OED), is not a farmer in the agricultural sense. Rather, he collects a kind of monetary produce aptly represented by a golden apple. Further, either of the golden apples of mythology – the apple of discord or the apples stolen from the Hesperides – make the golden apple on the Farmer-General’s cane even more “appropriate.” Invoking contention (à la the apple of discord) or theft (à la the apples of the Hesperides), the golden apple on the Farmer-General’s cane suggests transgression – especially the official transgression of unfair taxation (which figured among the causes of the French Revolution).

With that, he shook the snuff from his fingers as if he had shaken the dust from his feet, and quietly walked down stairs.

This appears to be an allusion to Matthew 10:14, in which Christ says, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Monsieur the Marquis shakes the snuff from his fingers – like the dust from his feet – as a way of casting off the rebuff he has apparently had from Monseigneur.

Heralded … by the cracking of his postilions’ whips, which twined snake-like about their heads in the evening air, as if he came attended by the Furies, Monsieur the Marquis drew up in his traveling carriage at the posting-house gate.

The Furies are avenging goddesses in Classical mythology, usually represented with “snakes twined in their hair, sent from Tartarus to avenge wrong and punish crime” (OED). In some accounts, there are three Furies, identified as Tisiphone, Megæra, and Alecto. The Marquis’ postilions resemble the Furies because their whips lash above their heads like snakes.

A postilion is “[o]ne who rides the near horse of the leaders (or ... each of the riders of the near horses) when four or more are used in a carriage or post-chaise; esp[ecially] one who rides the near horse when one pair only is used and there is no driver on the box” (OED). The “near” horse is, in a pair, the horse to the left hand of the driver (if there is a driver), just as the “near wheel” on a coach is on the left side; the horse on the right side is the “off” horse. When four horses draw a carriage or coach, the two left-side horses are the “near wheeler” and the “near leader” respectively (Brewer, “Near Side and Off Side”).

…as the rain falls, impartially, on the dusty, ragged, and toil-worn group at the fountain not far away…

The impartially-falling rain alludes to Christ’s words in Matthew 5:45: “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

What did all this portend, and what portended the swift hoisting up of Monsieur Gabelle behind a servant on horseback, and the conveying away of the said Gabelle (double-laden though the horse was) at a gallop, like a new version of the German ballad of Leonora?

The “ballad of Leonora,” by the German Gottfried Augustus Bürger, was written in the early 1770s. It was translated into English by William Taylor in 1790, but appeared in five separate English translations in 1796 – Taylor’s own Lenora: A Ballad from Bürger, Walter Scott’s (anonymously published) William and Helen, J.T. Stanley’s Leonora, A Tale (with illustrations by William Blake), and the poet laureate Henry James Pye’s Ellenore, A Ballad (with illustrations by Lady Diana Beauclerk). It was thus popularly known in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The likeness of Monsieur Gabelle’s escape to the ballad of Leonora has to do with his flight on horseback. In the ballad, Leonora loses her sweetheart in the wars, and wishes that she also were dead – whereupon her young man arrives to bear her to her wedding-bed:

Let the winds whistle o’er the waste [says her lover],
My duty bids me be in haste;
Quick, mount upon my steed:
Let the winds whistle far and wide,
Ere morn, two hundred leagues we’ll ride,
To reach our marriage bed. (Stanley 6)

The wedding-bed, unfortunately, turns out to be the grave:

Scarce had he spoke, when, dire to tell,
His flesh like touchwood from him fell,
His eyes forsook his head.
A skull, and naked bones alone,
Supply the place of William gone,
‘Twas Death that clasp’d the maid. (12)

Monsieur Gabelle’s escape on a “double-laden” galloping horse (double-laden because he springs up behind a servant, as Leonora rides behind her lover) is rendered more ominous by association with the German ballad. The question “What did all this portend?” suggests that his flight will have a trajectory similar to Leonora’s.


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