Discovering Dickens - A Community Reading Project

 Discovering Dickens

 A Tale of Two Cities

 Maps and Illustrations



 Biographical Context

 Historical Context

 Archived Novels






Printable View

But, though the bank was almost always with him…

This phrase – that the bank was “almost always with” Mr. Lorry – echoes a sonnet of Wordsworth’s published in 1807:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

In both countries, it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

The phrase “clearer than crystal” is usually identified (Sanders, Maxwell) as an allusion to Revelations 21:11. In this passage, the vision of Jerusalem descending from Heaven is described: the city has “the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” The “loaves and fishes,” on the other hand, refers to the miracle performed by Christ in Matthew 14:17-21 – the multiplication of loaves and fishes to feed the faithful:

But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart [back to the village for food]; give ye them to eat. And they said unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. He said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they all did eat, and were filled: and they took up the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Dickens’ allusion to this miracle is highly ironic, as his “lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes” are the French and English aristocrats for whom hunting is a leisure sport (Sanders 24). The “loaves and fishes” of aristocratic game reserves were kept for entertainment, not nourishment, and the “preserves” preserve the game from distribution to the hungrier classes. In short, Dickens’ loaves and fishes are not used to feed a multitude, but to entertain an unhungry few. It is also worth noting that Carlyle – whose history of The French Revolution was one of Dickens’ chief historical sources – associates the first flight of the French nobles at the stirrings of Revolution with the flight of their game: “On the Cliffs of Dover [Dover is on the English coast opposite France], over all the Marches of France, there appear, this autumn, two signs on the Earth: emigrant flights of French Seigneurs; emigrant winged flights of French Game! Finished, one may say, or as good as finished, is the Preservation of Game on this Earth…” (Carlyle 195). Earlier in The French Revolution, Carlyle describes these French aristocrats as having “preserved Game not wisely but too well” (192). Invoking Othello (who “loved not wisely but too well” and killed the object of that love), the line emphasizes the self-defeating nature of those preserves.

…his oath on the two Testaments…

The “two Testaments” of course refer to the two major parts of the Bible, which consists of the Old Testament (the Hebrew portion, containing “the books of the old or Mosaic law” [Oxford English Dictionary]) and the New Testament (the Greek portion, containing the “new or Christian covenant” [OED] – the gospels of Christ).

Bibliographical information

Copyright © 2002 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300. Terms of Use