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 Discovering Dickens

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He had that rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes, which may be observed in all free livers of his class, from the portrait of Jeffries downward, and which can be traced, under various disguises of Art, through the portraits of every Drinking Age.

The portrait of George Jeffreys, who became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1683, and Lord Chancellor in 1686, is probably the one attributed to William Claret, which has belonged to the National Portrait Gallery (in London) since 1858 (Sanders 71). There are, however, five portraits of Jeffreys in the National Portrait Gallery – Claret’s being the one in the Primary Collection – all of which depict a rather young man. The portrait below, taken from Terrors of the Law, Being the Portraits of Three Lawyers (1902), is “after the Picture by Kneller,” which also lodges in the National Portrait Gallery, in the Archives. It is very similar to the portrait by Claret, which can be viewed online at or

Both portraits (Claret’s and the one reproduced above) portray Jeffreys as a youngish man of stern appearance (the portrait reproduced here shows Jeffreys at 30), in wig and gown. It is perhaps possible, however, to distinguish the “rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes” that Dickens attributes to “free livers” like Jeffreys or Carton. In A Child’s History of England (1851-3), Dickens describes Jeffreys – who was notorious for the severity of his sentences – as follows:

These merry times [of the 17th century] produced, and made Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, a drunken ruffian in the name of JEFFREYS; a red-faced, swollen, bloated, horrible creature, with a bullying, roaring voice, and a more savage nature perhaps than ever was lodged in any human breast. (qtd. in Sanders 71)

This depiction of Jeffreys is based on Macaulay’s representation of him in The History of England, a copy of which Dickens owned. According to Macaulay, Jeffreys was

…a man of quick and vigorous parts, but constitutionally prone to insolence and to the angry passions.... His countenance and his voice must always have been unamiable…. Even when he was sober his violence was sufficiently frightful. But in general his reason was overclouded and his evil passions stimulated by the fumes of intoxication. His evenings were ordinarily given to revelry. People who saw him only over his bottle, would have supposed him to be a man gross indeed, sottish and addicted to low company and low merriment, but social and good humoured…. But though wine at first seemed to soften his heart, the effect a few hours later was very different. He often came to the judgment seat, having kept he court waiting long, and yet having but half slept off his debauch, his cheeks on fire, his eyes staring like those of a maniac. (qtd. in Sanders 71)

Since Macaulay and Dickens, Jeffreys has had some defenders, but perhaps not of a persuasive kind. Watt’s Terrors of the Law, Being the Portraits of Three Lawyers (1902) gives the following account:

Jeffreys was fond of company: in that age this meant that he was fond of the bottle. Yet, as a student, he gave quite as much attention to the pedantries of old English law as they deserved. That he made himself reasonably agreeable to those on whom his future fortune depended should surely be no reproach. But, in truth, his talent from the first was so evident that attorneys competed for his services. As a cross-examiner he was unsurpassed; and his style of oratory, however wanting in elegance, was admirably suited to the taste of his day. As he went through a great deal of arduous work which no drunkard could have done, the slanders on his early career may be fairly imputed to the malice of disappointed rivals. Scarce ever was [a] rise so rapid as his. He was Common Serjeant of the City of London at twenty-three, and he was Lord High Chancellor at thirty-seven…. He died ere he was forty-one. That he was of a hasty temper must be admitted. But his was a coarse and violent, nay, brutal age, not given to sentimental reflection or to half-measures. In fine, he must be proved worse than his contemporaries, or his conduct calls for no special measure of blame. (22-3)

…and in the midst of the wreck of papers a table shone, with plenty of wine upon it, and brandy, and rum, and sugar, and lemons.

The table, containing brandy, rum, sugar and lemons, furnishes the ingredients for punch. The following account of punch, and a recipe for it, is given by the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859):

PUNCH. – A name given to a mixture composed of water, spirit, sugar, and acid. The punch most generally made is composed of equal parts of rum and brandy; but any mixture of spirits, or one spirit alone, if there be acid with it, is called punch. The following are among the most approved receipts for compounding this beverage. Ordinary punch. – Take two large rough lemons, juicy, and with rough skins; rub some large lumps of loaf sugar over the lemons till they have acquired the oil from the rind, then put them into a bowl, with as much more sugar as is necessary to sweeten the punch to taste; squeeze the lemon-juice upon the sugar, and bruise the sugar in the juice; add a quart of boiling water, and mix well; then strain through a fine sieve, and add a quart of rum, or a pint of rum and a pint of brandy, or a pint and a half of rum and half a pint of porter; then add three quarts more of water, and mix well. [The Dictionary goes on to give recipes for “Oxford Punch,” “Roman Punch,” “Regent’s Punch,” “Norfolk Punch,” and “Tea Punch,” and follows the instructions with a list of ingredients for each respective kind of punch.]

Ordinary punch. – Lemons, 2; sugar, sufficient; boiling water, 1 quart; rum, 1 quart; or, rum, 1 pint, brandy, 1 pint; or, rum, 1½ pints, porter, ½ pint; boiling water, 3 quarts.

The jackal then invigorated himself with a bumper for his throttle…

According to the OED, a bumper is a “cup or glass of wine, etc., filled to the brim, esp[ecially] when drunk as a toast” and derives from the word “bump,” in connection with a “‘bumping,’ i.e. [a] large, ‘thumping’ glass.” The jackal’s throttle is his throat.

The old Sydney Carton of old Shrewsbury School…

Shrewsbury School, located in the town of Shrewsbury in the county of Shropshire, is a prestigious English public school. It dates from the 16th century and is still in operation. (Public schools in England are more or less equivalent to private institutions in America, funded by private sources and charging fees for entrance and attendance [OED].) At the time of Carton’s attendance, public schools specialized in a classical education (including extensive studies in ancient languages – Latin and Greek). In general, Dickens considered such an education impractical, though he sent his own sons to public schools (Sanders 73).

“Even when we were fellow-students in the Quartier Latin, picking up French, and French law, and other French crumbs that we didn’t get much good of, you were always somewhere, and I was always – nowhere.”

The “Quartier Latin” – in English the “Latin Quarter” – is the area on the “Left Bank” in Paris associated with student life. The name derives from the language of the universities – Latin – originally spoken in the Quarter. The Sorbonne – still an operational and quite prestigious institution of learning – is at the heart of the Quartier Latin.  One 19th-century guidebook remarks that

…the name [Quartier Latin] is very old, for Rabelais, who lived in the middle of the 16th century, speaks of the “Pays Latin,” referring to the quarter of the town in which Latin and Greek were taught. And before the days of Rabelais, when Paris was divided, rigidly enough, into three divisions, that part situated south of the river was known as the University, for it was there that the learned men or the clerks lived. The islands were spoken of as la Cité, and all north of the Seine was called la Ville. (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 210)

“The picturesque doctor’s daughter, Miss Manette.”

In the 18th century, “picturesque” was an aesthetic term invested with rather precise significance in both the literary and the visual arts. The OED defines the word, as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries, as follows: “Like or having the elements of a picture; fit to be the subject of a striking or effective picture; possessing pleasing and interesting qualities of form and colour (but not implying the highest beauty or sublimity): said of landscape, buildings, costume, scenes of diversified action, etc., also of circumstances, situations, fancies, ideas, and the like.” In 18th-century aesthetic philosophy, the picturesque was supposed to have an emotional or spiritual significance, and was added to Burke’s aesthetic categories (the beautiful and the sublime) as a third category of aesthetic experience. Rarely applied to people – as Dickens’ characters apply it to Lucie Manette – the picturesque referred originally to landscapes or paintings of landscapes like those of Salvator Rosa (a 17th-century painter famous for his picturesque canvases). As an attribute of 18th-century fiction, the picturesque is most frequently associated with Gothic novels – those of Ann Radcliffe, for instance – which tend to be dark in tone and full of descriptions of rough, sweeping landscapes.

Dickens’ use of the term “picturesque” to describe Lucie (and, later in the novel, her father) does not seem to reflect much of its special 18th-century significance, drawing rather on the simplest meaning of “fit to be the subject of a picture.” Yet it is possible to argue that Lucie and her father acquire a picturesqueness from the events in which they are and will be implicated – from the historical landscape, as it were. In a letter to John Forster, Dickens wrote,

I set myself the little task of making a picturesque story, rising in every chapter with the characters true to nature, but whom the story itself should express, more than they should express themselves, by dialogue. I mean, in other words, that I fancied that a story of incident might be written, in place of the odious stuff that is written under that pretence, pounding the characters out of its own mortar, and beating their own interests out of them. If you could have read the story all at once, I hope you wouldn’t have stopped halfway. (qtd. in Sanders 6)

This account seems to suggest that the characters of A Tale of Two Cities are picturesque to the extent that they are determined by and represented against a landscape of dramatic historical events.

“If a girl … swoons within a yard or two of a man’s nose, he can see it without a perspective-glass.”

Here, “perspective glass” is probably used in a generic sense, referring to a glass used to enlarge or clarify an image (the OED identifies the word “perspective glass” with “various optical instruments or devices”). It is sometimes assumed that a perspective glass is the same as a telescope, but the term pre-dates the telescope’s invention; and though usage has often conflated the perspective glass with the telescope, the words have also sometimes been distinguished from one another – e.g. a 17th-century notice in the London Gazette advertising the sale of “all sorts of Perspective Glasses, as well as Telescopes and Microscopes” (OED). Some definitions of “perspective glass” identify the instrument with the “zograscope” – an instrument (probably invented in about 1750) for viewing flat images (prints, engraving, etc.) in “magnified form and with stereoscopic effects” like three- dimensionality (OED). If Lucie Manette is “picturesque” in the sense of being picture-like or fit to be the subject of a picture, it is possible that Carton is actually referring to the use of a zograscope. But it is more likely that he is merely exaggerating – magnifying, as it were.



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