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…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)



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