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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, and royalty was “suspended” in that the King was suspended from office.

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.  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).



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