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Glancing at his hands, which were discoloured by his late work…

Doctor Manette’s hands are probably discolored as a result of contact with the materials out of which he makes shoes – glues, waterproofing agents like pitch, tanned leathers, and so forth. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives the following directions for the preparation of leather:

The principal object of the art of converting skin into leather is to render it strong, tough, and durable, and to prevent its destruction by putrefaction. The skins are first cleansed of hair and cuticle, and then impregnated either with vegetable tar and extract, as in the production of tanned leather, or with alum and other salts, as for tawed leather. These processes are sometimes combined, and tanned leather often undergoes the further operation of currying, or impregnating with oil…. [T]hick sole leather is tanned; white kid for gloves is tawed; the upper leather for boots and shoes is tanned and curried; and fine Turkey leather is tawed, and afterwards slightly tanned. (620)

“I believe,” returned Doctor Manette, “that there had been a strong and extraordinary revival of the train of thought and remembrance that was the first cause of the malady. Some intense associations of a most distressing nature were vividly recalled, I think. It is probable that there had long been a dread lurking in his mind, that those associations would be recalled – say, under certain circumstances – say, on a particular occasion. He tried to prepare himself, in vain; perhaps the effort to prepare himself, made him less able to bear it.

Doctor Manette’s account of his condition (which he and Mr. Lorry discuss as though it were another’s) draws on 18th-century theories of psychology derived from John Locke and developed by David Hartley and others (Maxwell 462). Locke discusses the psychological power of the association and mis-association of ideas in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), in a chapter called “Of the Association of Ideas”:

Some of our Ideas have a natural Correspondence and Connexion one with another: It is the Office and Excellency of our Reason to trace these, and hold them together in that Union and Correspondence which is founded in their peculiar Beings. Besides this there is another Connexion of Ideas wholly owing to Chance or Custom; Ideas that in themselves are not at all of kin, come to be so united in some Men’s Minds, that ‘tis very hard to separate them, they always keep in company, and the one no sooner at any time comes into the Understanding but its Associate appears with it; and if they are more than two which are thus united, the whole gang always inseparable shew themselves together….

That there are such Associations of [Ideas] made by Custom in the Minds of most Men, I think no Body will question who has well consider’d himself or others; and to this, perhaps, might be justly attributed most of the Sympathies and Antipathies observable in Men, which work as strongly, and produce as regular Effects as if they were Natural, and are therefore called so, though they at first had no other Original but the accidental Connexion of two Ideas, which either the strength of the first Impression, or future Indulgence so united, that they always afterwards kept company together in that Man’s Mind, as if they were but one Idea. I say most of the Antipathies, I do not say all, for some of them are truly natural, depend upon our original Constitution, and are born with us; but a great part of those which are counted Natural, would have been known to be from unheeded, though, perhaps, early Impressions, or wanton Phancies at first, which would have been acknowledged the Original of them if they had been warily observed. A grown Person surfeiting with Honey, no sooner hears the Name of it, but his Phancy immediately carries Sickness and Qualms to his Stomach, and he cannot bear the very Idea of it; other Ideas of Dislike and Sickness, and Vomiting presently accompany it, and he is disturb'd, but he knows from whence to date this Weakness, and can tell how he got this Indisposition….

This wrong Connexion in our Minds of Ideas in themselves, loose and independent of one another, has such an influence, and is of so great force to set us awry in our Actions, as well Moral as Natural, Passions, Reasonings, and Notions themselves, that, perhaps, there is not any one thing that deserves more to be looked after….

Instances of this kind [the mis-association of ideas] are so plentiful every where, that if I add one more, it is only for the pleasant oddness of it. It is of a young Gentleman, who having learnt to Dance, and that to great Perfection, there happened to stand an old Trunk in the Room where he learnt. The Idea of this remarkable piece of Household-stuff, had so mixed it self with the turns and steps of all his Dances, that though in that Chamber he could Dance excellently well, yet it was only whilst that Trunk was there, nor could he perform well in any other place, unless that, or some such other Trunk had its due position in the Room. If this Story be suspected to be dressed up with some comical Circumstances, a little beyond precise Nature; I answer for my self, that I had it some Years since from a very sober and worthy Man, upon his own knowledge, as I report it…. (394-400)

The peculiarity described in the last paragraph – a debility arising from a particular association or mis-association of ideas – is something like Doctor Manette’s. Under “certain circumstances,” the old trauma of the Bastille is recalled, and he succumbs to the madness that previously resulted from the experience. However, because the malady seems to be caused by an association of ideas, only the revival of those ideas would be likely to bring it on. Thus it is that the Doctor says, “with the firmness of self-conviction, ‘that [nothing] but the one train of association would renew it.’”

“The occupation resumed under the influence of this passing affliction so happily recovered from,” said Mr. Lorry, clearing his throat, “we will call – Blacksmith’s work. Blacksmith’s work.”

Blacksmiths are metal-workers who fashion iron or other black metals (as “whitesmiths” are those who work on tin or white metals [Oxford English Dictionary]). Mr. Lorry may choose to substitute “blacksmith’s work” for Doctor Manette’s cobbling because both trades are manual and artisanal; also, blacksmiths sometimes make shoes (metal ones for horses). There is thus a general resemblance between Doctor Manette’s profession and the profession attributed to the fictional sufferer.

“I quite understand it to be a nice question. And yet I think – ”

“Nice,” in the 18th and 19th centuries, usually meant “[f]astidious, dainty, difficult to please, esp[ecially] in respect of food or cleanliness; also in good sense, refined, having refined tastes” (OED). Alternate meanings are similar, stressing the particularity, scrupulousness, or sensitivity of the person or thing described. Thus the “nice question” is not a pleasing or kind one (as modern usage would suggest), but rather one of particular delicacy, requiring tact.

“…as a plodding man of business who only deals with such material objects as guineas, shillings, and bank-notes – may not the retention of the thing, involve the retention of the idea?”

The “material objects” with which Mr. Lorry is concerned are monetary. A guinea is worth slightly more than an English pound, at 21 shillings (a pound is equal to 20 shillings). And bank notes, both in Mr. Lorry’s time and Dickens’, were promissory notes something like checks or traveler’s checks – “A promissory note given by a banker … payable at a fixed date and to a specified person” (OED). (18th- and 19th-century bank notes were not, as now, simply paper money.) By the mid-19th century, the Bank of England had a monopoly on the issue of bank notes. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives an account of bank notes at the time Dickens was writing, including a description of the notes, methods of circulation, and insurance against loss or theft:

BANK NOTE. – A species of promissory note issued by the Bank of England, payable on demand. Gold and silver can always be obtained for notes upon any day in the week from ten [until] four. A bank note is a legal tender for the payment of any amount above £5. If a bank note be destroyed by fire or otherwise, and satisfactory proof be given to the directors of the Bank of England of the fact, together with sufficient security to indemnify them in the event of their being afterwards called upon to pay it, a note of equal value to the one destroyed will be given by the authorities…. When a person loses a bank note, or has one stolen from him, he should immediately forward the particulars of the note to the Bank of England, and advertise in the public papers that the payment of the note is stopped; and should it be presented at the bank, notice of the fact will be sent to the loser, and the note detained to allow time for inquiry.

If a person finds a bank note, and after advertising for the owner unsuccessfully, applies it to his own use, he cannot be proceeded against criminally should the owner afterwards establish his claim, but is nevertheless compelled to refund the amount.

The following precautions in connection with bank notes are worthy of observation. When a bank note is remitted by letter, one half should be sent first by itself, with a request for an acknowledgment of its receipt; when this comes to hand, the second half may be forwarded. Bank notes should not be left lying carelessly about a room, on chairs, tables, drawers, &c., as they are liable to be swept into the fire, or out of the window; neither should they be carried loosely in the pocket…. Country notes [issued by banks outside London] should not be taken in payment in London, unless made payable at some London bankers. When a bank note is taken in payment, the name and address of the person who pays it, together with the date of payment, should be written on it; at the same time a memorandum should be taken of the amount, number, and date of the note. (93)




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