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…a small part of his income was derived from the pilotage of timid women (mostly of a full habit and past the middle term of life) from Tellson’s side of the tides to the opposite shore.

Here, “full habit” presumably refers to the mode of dress of the timid, middle-aged women Mr. Cruncher conveys across traffic. Women’s clothing in both the 18th and 19th centuries tended to be extensive and somewhat impeding, inevitably including full skirts, large hats, etc. Middle-aged, timid women would not walk briskly at the best of times, and in multiple petticoats they would be even further encumbered.

…they were bawling and hissing round a dingy hearse and dingy mourning coach, in which mourning coach there was only one mourner, dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position.

In driven funeral processions, the hearse would be followed by mourning carriages, in which the friends and relations of the deceased followed the body to burial. As the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) directs, “In going to funeral, the nearest relatives of the deceased occupy the carriages nearest the hearse” and “[t]he same order prevails in returning” (450). In the procession witnessed by Jerry Cruncher, the fact that there is only one mourning coach, and only one mourner inside it – not to mention that this mourner seems to have put on his sorrow for the occasion (“dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position”) – suggests either that the deceased had scarcely any relations, or that he will scarcely be missed. The whole affair is “dingy” to the extent that it is black, though the word also suggests shabbiness. Black was of course the color of mourning; and just as carriages in a funeral procession were put in order according to the relationship of the mourners to the deceased, attire and deportment were regulated according to degree of intimacy. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) offers the following guidelines for

MOURNING, ETIQUETTE OF. – The various degrees of relationship which the living bear to the dead, regulate the depth of the mourning worn, and the length of time that it is to be retained. Mourning for a husband in the widow’s cap and crape is usually extended over twelve months, and after that period the wearer may either adopt a half mourning, or put by mourning altogether, without appearing singular or wanting in feeling. In cases of this kind, the wearing of mourning beyond the prescribed interval depends, as a matter of course, greatly upon sentiment, the degree of affection which subsisted between the parties, the length of time which the marriage existed, &c. Mourning for parents is usually worn with crape for six months, afterwards without crape for the same period. For a brother or sister, six months; but in many cases for a longer period. For an uncle or aunt, three months; the same for a first or second cousin. Male attire, however, is not subject to very stringent rules; black is always expensive wear, and sometimes a person’s pursuits and avocations will not permit him to wear it. The most prominent article in mourning with males, is the hat. For this purpose hatbands of cloth are now made of various depths, as required. For a wife, the hatband should, in the first months of mourning reach to the extreme verge of the hat, and be gradually reduced in depth as time passes by. For a parent, the hat-band should reach to within two inches of the crown, and so in proportion according to the degree of relationship…. During the first few weeks for very near relatives, it is customary to observe comparative seclusion, balls, theatres, concerts, parties, &c., being alike unvisited. Custom, in general, only exacts the adoption of mourning from the relatives of deceased persons, but there are occasions when friendship may evince a proper delicacy in such a matter, not only out of respect to the departed, but in consideration of the survivors. Thus, if a person be going to visit a family, with the members of which he is on the terms of the closest intimacy, and who have recently experienced a heavy bereavement, such visitor, instead of appearing in coloured clothes, should dress in black. (692)

It is thus appropriate that the single mourner in the funeral procession should be dressed in “dingy trappings” for the occasion, though the relationship of this mourner to the deceased remains unspecified, and is somewhat compromised when he bails out of the mourning carriage before reaching the cemetery.

“…Old Bailey Spi-i-ies!”

The Old Bailey spy whose funeral procession Jerry Cruncher pursues turns out to be Roger Cly, one of the spies who informed – together with the man named Barsad – against Darnay at his trial. Just as Darnay’s trial is based on that of Francis Henry de la Motte (see Issue 3, glossary part 3 of 4, for a more detailed account of de la Motte’s trial), the figure of Barsad is based on de la Motte’s accomplice, Lutterloh, who informed against him. Roger Cly is based on a spy named Roger who also participated in the de la Motte trial.

…after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, white pocket-handkerchief, and other symbolical tears.

A long hatband, white handkerchief, and black cloak were all appropriate mourning attire for a man. As the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) notes, the hat is the “most prominent article” in male mourning, the largeness of the hatband varying according to the degree of intimacy between the mourner and the deceased. Furthermore, “[p]ocket handkerchiefs used during the period of mourning should be white, not coloured” and “[l]ittle or no jewelry should be displayed when persons are in deep mourning, the somberness of the one, and the ostentation of the other, [being] incongruous” (692). The “symbolical tears” of the mourner add, in this instance, to the irony and general ridiculousness of his flight. Whatever they may lack in sincerity, however, they are perfectly correct according to funeral etiquette.

…while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.

In the 18th century, and especially in the early 1780s (this portion of A Tale of Two Cities is set in 1781), mobs were of considerable concern to London authorities. Mobbing had become a critical form of protest against government policies in the capital city, and 1780 is famous for the Gordon Riots, when a group of some 30,000-50,000 people, led by Lord George Gordon, overran the streets of London. The cause was partly Parliament’s inattention to an anti-Catholic petition presented by the Protestant Association; but the mob was amplified by those with general anti-government sentiments and those who merely wanted an opportunity for violence and looting. Several of the London prisons were damaged during the Gordon Riots, which lasted for several days; the Bank of England was also assaulted; and more than 400 people were killed (Johnson 31-2).

…with a chimney-sweep driving the hearse … and with a pieman, also attended by his cabinet minister, driving the mourning coach. A bear-leader, a popular street character of the time, was impressed as an additional ornament…

A chimney-sweep, or chimney-sweeper, was literally a sweeper of chimneys. Children were often employed as sweeps because their small size made them better able to fit inside the chimneys they were cleaning (until the invention in 1805 of a long-handled brush for reaching soot inside the chimney-tops, boys were employed to climb up and manually clean these portions of the chimneys) (Oxford English Dictionary). Thus, the chimney-sweeper driving the hearse may or may not be an adult. A pieman, on the other hand, is a kind of itinerant victualler, offering meat, fish, or fruit pies for sale (Sanders 105); and his “cabinet minister” is a facetious name for the person supervising his efforts (a cabinet minister being an advisor or counselor). A “bear-leader” is a man who leads and accompanies a performing bear. Both he and his bear are “impressed” by the crowd – meaning forcibly enlisted – as “additional ornaments” in the procession.

Its destination was the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in the fields. It got here in course of time; insisted on pouring into the burial-ground; finally, accomplished the interment of the deceased Roger Cly in its own way, and highly to its own satisfaction.

St. Pancras’ churchyard was, in the late 18th century, “far off in the fields” above London. Though the area has long since been absorbed by the metropolis, Pancras was still a village in the 1780s. Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey of … London (1776) gives this account of Pancras (and its church and churchyard) as it appeared at about the time of Roger Cly’s funeral procession:

PANCRAS … is a small hamlet situated about a mile and a half north of London, in the road to Highgate. The church, which is the most distinguished building in it, is a plain Gothic structure, and consists only of a low square tower, without a spire. It is dedicated to St. Pancras, a young Phrygian nobleman, who suffered martyrdom under the emperor Dioclesian, for his strict adherence to Christianity. Divine service is only performed in this church the first Sunday in the month; notwithstanding which, the living is very valuable, and is in the gift of the dean and chapter of St. Paul’s. The church-yard contains a prodigious number of tomb-stones, the chief part of which are erected in the memory of Roman Catholics, it being the principal place of interment for those people in the neighborhood of London.

There is a vulgar tradition that this church is of greater antiquity than St. Paul’s cathedral; but this is an evident mistake, for the church of St. Pancras, termed the mother of St. Paul’s, was situated in the city of Canterbury, and was changed from a Pagan temple to a Christian church by St. Austin the monk, in the year 598, when it was dedicated to St. Pancras.

The hamlet or parish of Pancras is very extensive, and the buildings in it are widely dispersed. There are only a few houses near the church; one of which has been long noted for a mineral spring, but it was formerly much more frequented than at present. (571)

This illustration, a “View of the Church of St. Pancras,” agrees with the description given above (the church, a plain Gothic structure with a square tower, lacks a spire, though it seems to possess a weather-vane). To reach this churchyard, the funeral procession probably follows Fleet Street (where Mr. Cruncher first encounters it), turns north into Fetter Lane, then west onto Holborn, north onto Grays Inn Lane and Highgate Road, and afterwards onto the New Road (the “New Road from Paddington to Islington”). This passage can be traced on Thornton’s map of London (1784), though St. Pancras’ itself is just beyond the upper limits of the map.

Click on map for larger view

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the literary associations of St. Pancras’ churchyard were enhanced by the Romantics: According to Baedeker’s London and Its Environs (1908), William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin were both buried there, and “it is said that [the Romantic poet Percy] Shelley first met his second wife, Mary Godwin [later Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein], at her mother’s grave in this churchyard” (273).

…and thence to the plundering of public-houses. At last, after several hours, when sundry summer-houses had been pulled down, and some area railings had been torn up, to arm the more belligerent spirits, a rumour got about that the Guards were coming.

Public houses are places of public resort, usually for lodging or refreshment, such as pubs, taverns, or inns; summer-houses are simple structures in parks or gardens intended to provide a shady place for rest or leisure outdoors (and thus delicate enough to succumb to the maltreatment described); and area railings are those around the “area” – “an enclosed court, [especially] a sunken court, shut off from the pavement by railings, and approached by a flight of steps, which gives access to the basement of dwelling-houses” (OED). The Guards, rumored to be on their way, are military forces.  They were often called in to control London riots (Sanders 105).

Whether his meditations on mortality had touched his liver, or whether his general health had been previously at all amiss … he made a short call upon his medical advisor – a distinguished surgeon – on his way back.

Jerry’s “liver,” in its possible susceptibility to “meditations on mortality,” is a kind of figurative organ. The liver is frequently associated with disposition or temperament, frequently identified as the source of love or the more violent passions. Together with the brain and heart, it is often used metaphorically to represent the vital functions of the body (OED).

“…my wenturs goes wrong tonight…”

When Mr. Cruncher, who tends to pronounce “w” like “v,” insists that his “wenturs” are going wrong, he is describing his “ventures” – the pursuits of “a honest tradesman.”

…taking a bite out of his bread and butter, and seeming to help it down with a large invisible oyster out of his saucer.

Mr. Cruncher’s gesture – of “seeming to help [his bread and butter] down with a large invisible oyster out of his saucer” – is apparently one of swift slurping. The gesture of eating an oyster, which would be consumed directly from the shell, would resemble a drink taken from a saucer (an oyster shell, opened, is somewhat saucer-shaped). The comparison also conveys a sense of exceeding dispatch: Oysters, according to the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859), “should be eaten the moment they are opened, for if not eaten when absolutely alive their flavour and spirit are lost” (741). Mr. Cruncher, according to his table manners, seems to be in some haste to nourish himself.

“If I don’t, you’ll have short commons to-morrow,” returned that gentleman, shaking his head.

“Commons,” in this sense, are provisions – rations, food. The threat of “short commons” is the threat of an insufficiency.



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