During the French Revolution, patriotic abstractions such as “The Vengeance” did indeed replace personal names. This renaming, demonstrating support for the revolutionary cause and affirming the end of traditions associated with the ancien régime, extended to public buildings, streets, plazas, etc. For example, the Place de Louis XV in Paris became the Place de la Révolution; the Jardin des Tuileries became the Jardin National; the Palais des Tuileries became the Palais National; and so forth. We can compare the pre-revolutionary names visible on the Plan de la Ville de Paris en 1789 with the succeeding names of the revolutionary period on the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794.

Click on map for larger view

Click on map for larger view

Defarge came in breathless, pulled off the red cap he wore, and looked around him.

The red cap worn by Defarge is the so-called “Phrygian cap” worn by French patriots during the Revolution. The Phrygians were an ancient Asian people, living in what is now Turkey; their conical caps became “caps of liberty” when the style was adopted by freed Roman slaves (as headgear symbolic of their liberation) (Tricolor and Phrygian Cap). In Carlyle’s French Revolution (Dickens’ chief historical source), the red “Phrygian cap” is emblematic of patriotic fervor – especially the Jacobin patriotism which, in its desperation and vengefulness, led to the Reign of Terror:

Note too how the Jacobin Brethren are mounting new Symbolical headgear: the Woolen Cap or Night-cap, bonnet de laine, better known as bonnet rouge, the colour being red. A thing one wears not only by way of Phrygian Cap-of-Liberty, but also for convenience'-sake, and then also in compliment to the Lower-class Patriots and Bastille-Heroes; for the Red Night-cap combines all the three properties. (455)

The red Phrygian cap, or bonnet rouge, was a soft one, made of wool, with the peak bent over at the top. Fairholt’s Costume (1860) shows us the shape of this patriotic headgear, and the stiffer classical hat it was based on.

“Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?”

Old Foulon is Joseph-François Foulon (1715-89), a government minister under Louis XVI (Sanders 121). His remarks concerning the starvation of the people are recorded in Carlyle’s French Revolution:

Already old Foulon, with an eye to be war-minister himself, is making underground movements. This is the same Foulon named âme damnée du Parlement [roughly, “henchman of the Parliament” – the Parliaments were courts of justice under the ancien régime which registered (or refused to register) the edicts, declarations, and ordinances of the monarch (OED); the Parliaments, of which the Parliament of Paris was the most powerful, were abolished in 1790 (Carlyle 254)]; a man grown grey in treachery, in griping, projecting, intriguing and iniquity: who once when it was objected, to some finance-scheme of his, “What will the people do?” – made answer, in the fire of discussion, “The people may eat grass”: hasty words, which fly abroad irrevocable, – and will send back tidings! (95)

The “tidings” sent back by Foulon’s words were the tidings of his death outside the Hôtel de Ville. He was, however, supposed dead shortly before the fall of the Bastille. Carlyle describes this supposed death:

As for old Foulon, one learns that he is dead; at least “a sumptuous funeral” is going on; the undertakers honouring him, if no other will. Intendant Berthier, his son-in-law, is still living; lurking …; and is now fled no man knows whither. (171)

The implication of this false death seems to be, according to both Carlyle and Dickens, that it was conducted in lieu of emigration – that, instead of flying the country with the first wave of frightened gentry in the “First Emigration,” Foulon staged his burial. As it is expressed by the patriots of A Tale of Two Cities, “He feared us so much – and with reason – that he caused himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral.”

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten…

Threescore and ten is (since a score is twenty) seventy years. In 1789, Foulon (born in 1715) would have been about seventy-four years old.

…and winnowing of many bushels of words…

A bushel is a unit of measure (roughly equal to four pecks or eight gallons) used to designate amounts of grain or produce (Oxford English Dictionary). It is thus appropriate that the metaphoric “bushels” of words are metaphorically “winnowed,” for winnowing is “a process performed by the aid of wind, by which the chaff of corn is separated from the grain” (Philp 1114). There is an echo in this statement of the expression “separating the wheat from the chaff.”

…and acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

The telegraph, in the modern sense of the electric telegraph, was not invented until the early 19th century; however, the word “telegraph” is not necessarily anachronistic here. The OED describes a telegraph as

An apparatus for transmitting messages to a distance, usually by signs of some kind. Devices for this purpose have been in use from ancient times, but the name was first applied to that invented by Chappe in France in 1792, consisting of an upright post with movable arms, the signals being made by various positions of the arms according to a pre-arranged code. Hence applied to various other devices subsequently used, operating by movable disks, shutters, etc., flashes of light, movements in a column of liquid, sounds of bells, horns, etc., or other means.

Thus, when the men outside act as a “telegraph” for Madame Defarge’s sentiments, the word is used in the generic sense of signal-transmission. It is interesting to note, however, that the earliest telegraph was developed in revolutionary France (Carlyle describes Chappe’s invention – detailed in the passage from the OED above – in The French Revolution [709]). Though the word “telegraph” does not seem to have appeared in English usage until about 1794 (a few years after Chappe’s invention), and certainly not until well after the moment described in this chapter of A Tale of Two Cities (which occurs in 1789), Dickens’ usage may of course be attributed to the Victorian narrator of the novel rather than to the historical moment narrated.

…the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful and held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth for all Saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.

Dickens’ account of Foulon’s lynching follows Carlyle’s in The French Revolution:

We are but at the 22nd of the month [of July, 1789], hardly above a week since the Bastille fell, when it suddenly appears that old Foulon is alive; nay, that he is here, in early morning, in the streets of Paris: the extortioner, the plotter, who would make the people eat grass, and was a liar from the beginning! – It is even so. The deceptive “sumptuous funeral” (of some domestic that died); the hiding-place at Vitry towards Fontainebleau, have not availed that wretched old man. Some living domestic or dependant, for none loves Foulon, has betrayed him to the Village. Merciless boors of Vitry unearth him; pounce on him, like hell-hounds: Westward, old Infamy; to Paris, to be judged at the Hôtel-de-Ville! His old head, which seventy-four years have bleached, is bare; they have tied an emblematic bundle of grass on his back; a garland of nettles and thistles is round his neck: in this manner, led with ropes; goaded on with curses and menaces, must he, with his old limbs, sprawl forward; the pitiablest, most unpitied of all old men.

Sooty Saint-Antoine, and every street, musters its crowds as he passes; – the Hall of the Hôtel-de-Ville, the Place de Grève itself, will scarcely hold his escort and him. Foulon must not only be judged righteously, but judged there where he stands, without any delay…. With wild yells, Sansculottism clutches him, in its hundred hands: he is whirled across the Place de Grève, to the “Lanterne,” Lamp-iron which there is at the corner of the Rue de la Vannerie; pleading bitterly for his life, – to the deaf winds. Only with the third rope (for two ropes broke, and the quavering voice still pleaded) can he be so much as got hanged! His Body is dragged through the streets; his Head goes aloft on a pike, the mouth filled with grass: amid sounds as of Tophet, from a grass-eating people. (173-4)

…on hearing when the day closed in that the son-in-law of the dispatched, another of the people’s enemies and insulters, was coming to Paris under a guard five hundred strong, in cavalry alone. Saint Antoine wrote his crimes on flaring sheets of paper, seized him – would have torn him out of the breast of an army to bear Foulon company – set his head and heart on pikes, and carried the three spoils of the day, in Wolf-procession through the streets.

Dickens’ description of Foulon’s son-in-law’s death follows, again, Carlyle’s description in The French Revolution. Foulon’s son-in-law was Louis-Bénigne-François de Bertier de Sauvigny (1737-89) (Sanders 123):

To add to the horror …, word comes that Berthier has also been arrested; that he is on his way hither from Compiègne. Berthier, Intendant (say Tax-levier) of Paris; sycophant and tyrant; forestaller of Corn; contriver of Camps against the people; – accused of many things: is he not Foulon’s son-in-law; and, in that one point, guilty of all? In these hours too, when Sansculottism has its blood up! The shuddering Municipals send one of their number to escort him, with mounted National Guards.

At the fall of day, the wretched Berthier, still wearing a face of courage, arrives at the Barrier; in an open carriage; with the Municipal beside him; five hundred horsemen with drawn sabers; unarmed footmen enough: not without noise! Placards go brandished round him; bearing legibly his indictment, as Sansculottism, with unlegal brevity, “in huge letters,” draws it up. Paris is come forth to meet him: with hand-clappings, with windows flung up; with dances, triumph-songs, as of the Furies. Lastly, the Head of Foulon; this also meets him on a pike. Well might his “look become glazed,” and sense fail him, at such sight! – Nevertheless, be the man’s conscience what it may, his nerves are of iron. At the Hôtel-de-Ville, he will answer nothing. He says he obeyed superior orders; they have his papers; they may judge and determine: as for himself, not having closed an eye these two nights, he demands, before all things, to have sleep. Leaden sleep, thou miserable Berthier! Guards rise with him, in motion toward the [Prison of the] Abbaye. At the very door of the Hôtel-de-Ville, they are clutched; flung asunder, as by a vortex of mad arms; Berthier whirls towards the Lanterne. He snatches a musket; fells and strikes, defending himself like a mad lion: he is borne down, trampled, hanged, mangled: his Head too, and even his Heart, flies over the City on a pike. (Carlyle 175-6)

Strange that Creation, designed expressly for Monseigneur, should be so soon wrung dry and squeezed out!… Thus it was, however; and the last drop of blood having been extracted from the flints, and the last screw of the rack having been turned so often that its purchase crumbled, and it now turned and turned with nothing to bite, Monseigneur began to run away from a phenomenon so low and unaccountable.

“Extracting blood from flints” is a phrase expressive of great difficulty (since flint is a stone proverbial for its hardness). And the “rack,” in the sense used here, refers to a particular mode of torture: According to the OED, the rack was “[a]n instrument of torture formerly in use, consisting (usually) of a frame having a roller at each end; the victim was fastened to these by the wrists and ankles, and had the joints of his limbs stretched by their rotation.” Were the screw of the rack turned to the point that “purchase crumbled, and it now turned … with nothing to bite,” the individual being stretched by the rack would probably have been stretched to the full extent of the machine – and almost certainly stretched to death.

Monseigneur’s flight “from a phenomenon so low and unaccountable” is the “First Emigration” of July, 1789 – the first flight of the aristocracy after the fall of the Bastille. It is interesting to note that Dickens’ metonymic use of “Monseigneur” (the use of an individual title to stand for a whole group of aristocrats) follows, to some extent, Carlyle’s figures of speech in The French Revolution. Carlyle describes the First Emigration as follows:

Seeing which course of things, Messeigneurs [plural of “Monseigneur”] of the Court Triumvirate, Messieurs of the dead-born Broglie-Ministry, and [other] such [prominent political figures under Louis XVI], consider that their part, also, is clear: to mount and ride. Off, ye too-royal Broglies, Polignacs and Princes of the Blood; off while it is yet time! Did not the Palais-Royal, in its late nocturnal “violent motions,” set a specific price (place of payment not mentioned) on each of your heads? – With precautions, with the aid of pieces of cannon and regiments that can be depended on, Messeigneurs, between the 16th night and the 17th morning [of July], get to their several roads. Not without risk! Prince Condé has (or seems to have) “men galloping at full speed”: with a view, it is thought, to fling him into the river Oise, at Pont-Sainte-Mayence. The Polignacs travel disguised; friends, not servants, on their coach-box. Broglie has his own difficulties at Versailles, runs his own risks at Metz and Verdun; does nevertheless get safe to Luxemburg, and there rests.

This is what they call the First Emigration; determined on, as appears, in full Court-conclave; his Majesty assisting; prompt he, for his share of it, to follow any counsel whatsoever. “Three Sons of France, and four Princes of the blood of Saint Louis,” says Weber, “could not more effectually humble the Burghers of Paris than by appearing to withdraw in fear of their life.” Alas, the Burghers of Paris bear it with unexpected stoicism! (170-1)

As it advanced, the mender of roads would discern without surprise, that it was a shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian aspect, tall, in wooden shoes that were clumsy even to the eyes of a mender of roads, grim, rough, swart, steeped in the mud and dust of many highways, dank with the marshy moisture of many low grounds, sprinkled with the thorns and leaves and moss of many byways through woods.

The “shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian aspect” whom the unsurprised mender of roads sees approaching is an agent of destruction in the “Great Fear.” This “Fear” refers to the period between July 20 and August 6, 1789, during which – after the fall of the Bastille – a number of châteaus were burned down (Maxwell 465). Dickens follows Carlyle’s account of this period, in which the destruction of aristocratic property is largely attributed to the accumulated rage of the oppressed common people. As Carlyle puts it at one point,

For long years and generations it lasted; but the time came. Featherbrain, whom no reasoning and no pleading could touch, the glare of the firebrand had to illuminate: there remained but that method. Consider it, look at it! The widow is gathering nettles for her children’s dinner; a perfumed Seigneur, delicately lounging in the Oeil-de-Boeuf, has an alchemy whereby he will extract from her the third nettle, and name it Rent and Law: such an arrangement must end. Ought it not? But, O most fearful is such an ending! (193)

In following Carlyle, however, Dickens gives – as Richard Maxwell points out in his edition of A Tale of Two Cities – a rather simplified version of events. The Great Fear was not so much a systematic revolt of the people against a tradition of feudal oppression as the result of an unusually combustible social atmosphere during the early days of the Revolution:  Some among the common people began to suspect the aristocracy of plotting to overturn the reforms of the Revolution, while some among the aristocracy began to suspect commoners of plotting to destroy aristocratic property. This state of mutual distrust led to the destruction of several châteaus, but not – as Dickens and Carlyle seem to suggest – through an upsurge of systematic destruction. As Maxwell summarizes events, “In one case, peasants who gathered and armed themselves against the anticipated threat [that aristocrats intended attacks on small property-holders] took to looting and destroying the local château; in many others the same result came about more directly, châteaux sometimes being burned in the ‘king’s’ name. Such acts helped to generate a widespread and self-reinforcing paranoia” (465).

Whatever its historical inadequacies, however, Dickens’ representation of the Great Fear accurately follows Carlyle’s, and is thematically consistent with his general representation of the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities (a representation in which the Revolution results from the accumulated injustices of the ancien régime against millions of commoners who, finally starved and taxed beyond endurance, are driven to revolt). Dickens’ “shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian aspect” follows Carlyle’s description of a “flood of savages” in the Fear:

Lank-haired haggard faces; shapes rawboned, in high sabots; in woolen jupes, with leather girdles studded with copper-nails! They rocked from foot to foot, and beat time with their elbows too, as the quarrel and battle, which was not long in beginning, went on; shouting fiercely; the lank faces distorted into the similitude of a cruel laugh. For they were darkened and hardened; long had they been the prey of excise-men and tax-men; of “clerks with the cold spurt of their pen”…. Dull Drudgery, driven on, by clerks with the cold dastard spurt of their pen, has been driven – into a Communion of Drudges! For now, moreover, there have come the strangest confused tidings; by Paris Journals with their paper wings; or still more portentous, where no Journals are, by rumour and conjecture: Oppression not inevitable; a Bastille prostrate, and the Constitution fast getting ready! Which Constitution, if it be something and not nothing, what can it be but bread to eat?…

Fair prophecies are spoken, but they are not fulfilled. There have been Notables, Assemblages, turnings out and comings in…. [Y]et still bread comes not. The harvest is reaped and garnered; yet still we have no bread. Urged by despair and by hope, what can Drudgery do, but rise, as predicted, and produce the General Overturn?

Fancy, then, some Five full-grown Millions of such gaunt figures, with their haggard faces (figures hâves); in woolen jupes, with copper-studded leather girths, and high sabots, – starting up to ask, as in forest-roarings, their washed Upper-Classes, after long unreviewed centuries, virtually this question: How have ye treated us; how have ye taught us, fed us, and led us, while we toiled for you? The answer can be read in flames, over the nightly summer-sky….

Seventy-two Châteaus have flamed aloft in the Mâconnais and Beaujolais alone: this seems the centre of the conflagration; but it has spread over Dauphiné, Alsace, the Lyonnais; the whole South-East is in a blaze. All over the North, from Rouen to Metz, disorder is abroad: smugglers of salt [violators of the salt-tax, the “gabelle”] go openly in armed bands: the barriers of towns are burnt; toll-gatherers, tax-gatherers, official persons put to flight. “It was thought,” says Young, “the people, from hunger, would revolt”; and we see they have done it. Desperate Lackalls, long prowling aimless, now finding hope in desperation itself, everywhere form a nucleus. They ring the Church-bell by way of tocsin: and the Parish turns out to the work. Ferocity, atrocity; hunger and revenge: such work as we can imagine. (191-2)

…among the lean kine…

Kine is an archaic word for “cows” – the “lean kine” are thus a starved herd of cattle.

…sent word to the sacristan who kept the keys of the church, that there might be need to ring the tocsin by-and-by.

A sacristan is a sexton – a “church officer having the care of the fabric of a church and its contents, and the duties of ringing the bells and digging graves” (OED). A “tocsin” is a signal, especially an alarm, rung on bells. Thus the sacristan, as the village bell-ringer, would be in charge of ringing the tocsin in the event of an emergency.

The illuminated village had seized hold of the tocsin, and, abolishing the lawful ringer, rang for joy.

The lawful ringer of the bells being the local sacristan, this seizure of the bells by the village represents the “abolition” of both a social and a religious right. Carlyle also, in The French Revolution, remarks on this appropriation of church-bells to revolutionary action during the Fear:

They [townspeople] ring the Church-bell by way of tocsin: and the Parish turns out to the work…. Churches also, and Canonries, are sacked, without mercy; which have shorn the flock too close, forgetting to feed it. (192)

Both Dickens and Carlyle calumniate the impiety of the Revolution, which would ultimately convert Notre Dame from a Catholic cathedral into a “Temple of Reason.” The seizure of the church bells during the Fear may foreshadow this eventuality.

…bethinking itself that Monsieur Gabelle had to do with the collection of rent and taxes – though it was but a small installment of taxes, and no rent at all…

Monsieur Gabelle, the local tax-gatherer (named by Dickens after one of the most oppressive of pre-revolutionary taxes – the gabelle, or salt-tax) undergoes a fate described in Carlyle: “As for the Tax-gatherer, he, long hunting as a biped of prey, may now [during the Fear] find himself hunted as one; his Majesty’s Exchequer will not ‘fill up the Deficit’ this season” (192).

…a small Southern man of retaliative temperament…

People of “Southern” temperament, like Monsieur Gabelle, are proverbially passionate, apparently in proportion as they near, geographically, the warmer climates of the Mediterranean. (Southern France shares latitudes with Italy, whereas Paris, in the north, approaches the comparatively chilly regions of England and Germany.) Carlyle also refers to this quality in Southern Frenchmen, describing the revolutionary tumult in southern France as that of “a passionate Southern people,” remarking that “[h]ot is that Southern Provençal blood” (423), and calling a would-be assassin “this Amiral, of Southern temper and complexion” (727).

…and the rush-candles of the village guttering out…

A rush-candle, or rushlight, is a primitive kind of tallow candle. Walsh’s Manual of Domestic Economy (1858) gives the following description:

Tallow candles are of three kinds – moulds, dips, and rushlights. Moulds and dips have each a cotton wick, while the rushlight has one of rush.... Rushlights are made in the same way as dips [which are] made by dipping the wicks in ... melted tallow again and again, until they have acquired sufficient size for the purpose to which they are allotted; after each dipping, except the last, the candle is drawn through a hole in a board so as to remove all superfluous lumps, and reduce it to the intended shape. Tallow for candles should be a mixture of beef and mutton suet, in the proportion of one-third of the former to two of the latter, if the kidney-fat or suet only is used, but if any subcutaneous fat is mixed with it, more than half of mutton fat must not be employed, or the smell will be exceedingly unpleasant. Tallow candles always smell more or less disagreeable, and for this reason they are not used, except from economical considerations; but as they give a good light when regularly snuffed, they still maintain their hold upon those who value this quality more than they dislike the unpleasant smell, which is chiefly given out when actual combustion ceases, and the fatty matters are passing off into the air without suffering decomposition. There are, however, two great objections to these candles, one being, that from the size of the wick it is not all burnt to ash, and requires constant snuffing; the other, the disagreeable smell after being put out. (125)

Rush-candles would be used in the village partly because there would be no municipal lighting (such as the oil-lanterns of Paris) in such a rural area, and partly because rushlights were economical and could be made at home. The History of Everyday Things (1930), quoting a letter of 1775, gives the following account of preparing the wick of a rushlight:

As soon as they [the rushes] are cut, they must be flung into water and kept there, for otherwise they will dry and shrink, and the peel will not run. At first a person would find it no easy matter to divest a rush of its peel or rind, so as to leave one regular, narrow, even rib from top to bottom that may support the pith.… When these junci are thus prepared they must lie out on the grass to be bleached, and take the dew for some nights, and afterwards be dried in the sun. Some address is required in dipping these rushes in scalding fat or grease…. The careful wife of an industrious Hampshire [England] labourer obtains all her fat for nothing; for she saves the scummings of her bacon-pot for this use: and, if the grease abounds with salt, she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom by setting the scummings in a warm oven. (210-1)

The History goes on to detail the longevity of rushlights and the economy of using them, noting that “a good rush, 2 feet 4½ inches long [would burn] only three minutes short of an hour, and gave a good clear light”; that 1,600 rushes weighed about a pound; and that a working-class family would use about a pound and a half of rushes a year, or 2,400 rushlights (210-11).

For, the footsteps had become to their minds [in Soho Square] as the footsteps of a people, tumultuous under a red flag and with their country declared in danger, changed into wild beasts, by terrible enchantment long persisted in.

The red flag described here is the red flag of martial law, first introduced during the French Revolution on July 17, 1791, when a crowd coming to sign a petition to depose King Louis XVI (who had just been caught fleeing Paris with his family [June 20-25, 1791] and forced to return) became violent in the Champ de Mars. Carlyle describes the advent of the red flag as follows:

Enough, towards half-past seven in the evening, the mere natural eye can behold this thing: Sieur Motier [Lafayette], with Municipals in scarf, with blue National Patrollotism, rank after rank, to the clang of drums; wending resolutely to the Champ-de-Mars; Mayor Bailly, with elongated visage, bearing, as in sad duty bound, the Drapeau Rouge [Red Flag]. Howl of angry derision rises in treble and bass from a hundred thousand throats, at the sight of Martial Law; which nevertheless, waving its Red sanguinary Flag, advances there, from the Gros-Caillou Entrance; advances, drumming and waving, towards Altar of the Fatherland [where the petition had been set up]. (408)

Ultimately, King Louis XVI was deposed, and put to death by guillotine on January 21, 1793 (this part of A Tale of Two Cities occurs in 1792, after the King’s attempted flight, but before his execution).

Dickens’ allusion to the “country declared in danger” refers to the proclamation, made on July 22, 1792, that France was in danger of invasion by Prussian and Austrian forces. Carlyle represents this threat as the reaction of feudal Europe to the abolition of feudalism in France (“Fate and Feudal Europe, having decided, come girdling in from without” [475]). The French, despite the political disorder of the revolutionary period, did manage to repulse foreign invasion; however, their success meant the salvation of a system which would ultimately produce the Reign of Terror. Dickens’ reference to the change of the French people “into wild beasts, by terrible enchantment long persisted in” is probably a reference to the Terror; and though this reference has been glossed as an allusion to the fate of Odysseus’ men on Circe’s island – where she turned them all into pigs (Sanders 127) – it may owe more to Carlyle’s assertions concerning the brutality of the French people during the Revolution: Before the fall of the Bastille, Carlyle represents the desperate poor as “frightful men, or rather frightful wild animals” (31) driven into menace and aggression by physical need. During the Terror, he writes of France as having become a beast – a tiger:

Republic One and Indivisible! She is the newest Birth of Nature’s waste inorganic Deep, which men name Orcus, Chaos, primaeval Night; and knows one law, that of self-preservation. Tigresse Nationale: meddle not with a whisker of her! Swift-rending is her stroke; look what a paw she spreads; – pity has not entered into her heart. (692)

The shining Bull’s Eye of the Court was gone, or it would have been the mark for a hurricane of national bullets.

The French courtiers of Versailles, called the “Oeil de Boeuf” in Carlyle’s French Revolution and the “Bull’s Eye” in Dickens’ facetious translation, have by this point in the Revolution (1792) mostly emigrated. The bullets for which the Bull’s Eye would otherwise be a target are “national” in that they are those of the National Guard, which replaced the Royal Guard early in the Revolution.

Royalty was gone; had been besieged in its Palace and “suspended,” when the last tidings came over.

On August 10, 1792, the royal family were besieged in the Palais des Tuileries, to which they had been confined after their unsuccessful attempt to flee Paris (in the “Flight to Varennes” of June 20-25, 1791). They were afterwards (August 13, 1792) taken as prisoners to the Temple Prison. Royalty was “suspended” to the extent that the King’s right to veto in the National Assembly was suspended, essentially doing away with the last vestiges of his political power (Sanders 129). The story of the siege of the Tuileries is told in two chapters in Carlyle’s French Revolution (  Taken to the Temple, Louis emerged only to be beheaded (on January 21, 1793).  The Queen, Marie-Antoinette, survived longer, but was eventually guillotined on October 16, 1793 (Carlyle 671).

…Tellson’s was at that time, as to French intelligence, a kind of High Exchange…

A “High Exchange” is a gathering and transaction place for bankers and merchants. In London, Tellson’s functions metaphorically as an Exchange for news of France during the Revolution, since many of its patrons (given that Tellson’s has a Paris branch, and does business on both sides of the Channel) are emigrants. The actual “Exchange” in London would have been the Royal Exchange, and in Paris, the Paris Bourse (Sanders 129).

“…who can say that Paris is not set afire to-day, or sacked to-morrow!”

Mr. Lorry’s concern that Paris may soon be set alight or sacked is well-founded, as France had been facing the threat of foreign invasion since August of the previous year (French Revolution xxxviii-ix), and had declared itself in danger on July 22, 1792. Prussia, the first to declare war, did so on July 24, 1792. Fighting – the French against Prussian and Austrian troops – concluded with the repulsion of the foreign invaders in early October 1792. The success of the French defenses was unexpected, but the defeat of Prussian and Austrian invasion did not put an end to the wars between France and its European neighbors. In 1793, while the Reign of Terror raged on the domestic front, France became the aggressor against those countries that had formerly invaded it, successfully seizing the Austrian Netherlands, declaring war against England and Holland, and threatening Spain. Prussia and Spain made peace treaties with France early in 1795 (French Revolution xlii-xliii), but French aggression was not at an end: After the Revolution came, of course, Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars.

…and for accomplishing many similar objects akin in their natures to the abolition of eagles by sprinkling salt on the tails of the race.

The saying, “It is a foolish bird that stayeth the laying salt upon her tail” (Benham 794a), is here extended by Dickens to an eagle (a bird highly unlikely to get near a human being or a salt shaker, much less to tarry there). “Monseigneur’s” plans for abolishing the French revolutionary peoples, likened to the project of killing eagles according to the proverb, are extremely implausible.

“Prison of the Abbaye, Paris. June 21, 1792”

The “Prison of the Abbaye,” in Paris, was destroyed in the mid-1850s to make way for changes in the layout of the city’s streets (Sanders 131). However, recent guidebooks still direct tourists to the former site of the prison – between numbers 135 and 137 on the present Boulevard Saint Germain (Saint-Agnès and Delabarre 37). Dickens may have seen or visited the prison during visits to Paris before its demolition, and mid-19th-century guidebooks to Paris describe it. Galignani’s New Paris Guide (1842) makes the following remarks:

[The Prison of the Abbaye] was formerly a house of detention within the jurisdiction of the Abbaye of St. Germain des Prés, in the immediate neighborhood of which it stands. It contains several dungeons below the ground, and is the most gloomy of all the places of confinement in Paris. The horrors which took place here during the Revolution [the September massacres] are … well known. The prison now serves as a house of arrest for military offences…. For permission to visit this prison special application must be made to the Minister of War, but on account of the strictness of military discipline the greatest difficulty may be expected in obtaining it. (qtd. in Sanders 131)

The prison, as it stood when Monsieur Gabelle was confined there (in 1792), is visible on this portion (below) of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794. Though some of the lettering is difficult to make out, the complex which included the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Prison of the Abbaye is visible under the red “Tribunal du 6e Arrondissement” (at the left side of the map, under the Rue du Colombier). (The red lettering indicates a name imposed during the revolutionary period.) The Abbey is the large dark building visible under the “Tribunal” label; the Prison of the Abbaye is represented by the dark square at the bottom right corner of the complex (if you look carefully, you can make out the name – “Prison de l’Abbaye”).

Click on map for larger view

It is in vain I represent that, before the sequestration of emigrant property, I had remitted the imposts they had ceased to pay; that I collected no rent; that I had had recourse to no process.

Emigrant property was not actually confiscated by the revolutionary French government until the autumn of 1792, for Louis XVI had used his veto (which was suspended after he was incarcerated in the Temple in August, 1792) to prevent the passage of the proposed law that would allow it (Sanders 131-2).