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…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)



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