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“…a jinte of meat or two…”

Jerry’s “jinte” of meat is a “joint” – “[o]ne of the portions into which a carcass is divided by the butcher, consisting of one or more bones (e.g. that of the leg or shoulder) with the meat thereon; esp[ecially] as cooked and served at table” (OED).

“When you go to Rome, do as Rome does.”

This expression, used by Jerry to insist that his wife behave as he does (he says, “I’m your Rome, you know”), means that one ought to accept the rules or the mode of conduct of one’s host. The phrase is attributed first to Saint Ambrose, who advised Saint Augustine as follows: “Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi” (“When you are in Rome live in the Roman style; when you are elsewhere live as they live elsewhere”). The saying exists not only in English, but also in French (“À Rome comme à Rome”) and Spanish (“Cuando a Roma fueras, haz como vieras” appears, for instance, in Don Quixote) (Benham 869b).

“Do you call yourself a mother, and not know that a mother’s first duty is to blow her boy out?”

Mrs. Cruncher’s duty, according to her husband – the duty of “blow[ing] her boy out” – is to feed young Jerry. The expression, however, may be anachronistic. A “blow-out” was a slang term, beginning in the 19th century, for “a feast or a feed” (OED); thus, Mr. Cruncher seems to be using an expression that would not yet be current in 1781 (Maxwell 458).

He was in no uneasiness concerning his getting into the house again, for it was full of lodgers, and the door stood ajar all night.

The Crunchers apparently live in a lodging-house, where rooms could be rented for specified intervals by anyone with sufficient means and inclination; the door would be left open to accommodate those who chose to come home at odd hours. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives this account of

LODGERS AND LODGINGS. – … If lodgings are taken for a certain and specified time, no notice to quit is necessary. If the lodger, however, continues after the expiration of the term, he becomes a regular lodger, unless there is an agreement to the contrary. If he owes rent, the housekeeper can detain his goods whilst on the premises, or distrain, as a landlord may distrain the goods of a tenant. No distinction exists between lodgers and other tenants as to the payment of their rent, or the turning them out of possession; they are also similarly circumstanced, with regard to distress for rent, as householders. The rent of weekly tenants should be paid weekly, for if it is once allowed to run to a quarter, the tenant cannot be forced to quit without a quarter’s notice…. Furnished lodgings are usually let by the week, on payment of a fixed sum, part of which is considered as rent for the apartment, and part for the use of the furniture…. Persons renting furnished apartments frequently absent themselves, without apprising the housekeeper, perhaps with the rent in arrear. If there is probable reason to believe that the lodger be left, on the second week of such absence the householder may send for a police constable, and, in his presence, enter the lodger’s apartments, and take out the property of the latter, and secure it until application is made for it. He may then enter upon the possession of the apartment; and if, after fourteen days’ notice given by advertisements in the London Gazette, the lodger does not pay the arrears of rent, the householder may sell the property to satisfy his claim, reserving any surplus money, and such goods as it may not be necessary to sell, and must keep them ready for delivery to the lodger when he shall demand them. (646)

These remarks illustrate the extent to which a lodging house is composed of tenants who report to no one but themselves, and come and go at their own convenience.

The honoured parent steering Northward, had not gone far, when he was joined by another disciple of Izaak Walton, and the two trudged on together.

Since Mr. Cruncher goes “fishing,” it is appropriate that he should be joined by “another disciple of Izaak Walton”: Izaak Walton (1593-1683) wrote an early fishing manual known as The Compleat Angler, or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation: Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing for the Perusal of Anglers (1653).

Within half an hour from the first starting, they were beyond the winking lamps, and the more than winking watchmen, and were out upon a lonely road.

Starting from Hanging-sword Alley (the location of the Cruncher residence), which lies just south of Fleet Street, half an hour’s swift walk would take Jerry to the “lonely” stretches of Highgate Road above the built-up part of London. The “more than winking watchmen” whom he passes were nearly proverbial in 18th-century London. Before the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829, watchmen were appointed by each city ward; but since these posts tended to go to the oldest and most infirm men available, and since these men “were not obliged to pursue criminals beyond the boundaries of a particular ward,” they were “notorious for their inadequacy” (Sanders 106).

He had a strong idea that the coffin he had seen was running after him [and was] … fearful of its coming hopping out … like a dropsical boy’s-kite without tail and wings.

The coffin which young Jerry imagines to be in pursuit of him looks, in his imagination, like a kite swollen to the point of three-dimensionality. A “dropsy” is a “morbid condition characterized by the accumulation of watery fluid in the serous cavities or the connective tissue of the body” (OED) – a swelling – and is described by the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) as follows:

DROPSY. – Dropsies, though generally regarded as special diseases, are in fact only affections consequent on some organic disease or state of high functional derangement, either of an inflammatory or febrile character; such as disease of the kidneys, liver, or intestines, or from scarlet fever, or it may result from debility; the immediate cause appearing to reside in some pressure on the veins and absorbents. The general symptoms of the dropsy are, loss of appetite, red tongue, dry skin, difficulty of breathing, cough, checked secretions, and either general or partial swelling, which on being pressed leaves pits in the cuticle; besides which there is much thirst and the skin is of an unnaturally pale colour. The treatment of the dropsy must depend upon the organ and the form of disease that has given rise to the dropsy, the two chief objects to be aimed at being first to equalize the circulation, and next to promote the absorption of the effused serum. (387)

A dropsical kite would be a sick one indeed; and it would begin – swollen and missing its tail – to resemble a coffin. Compare this illustration of a kite (taken from instructions for making paper kites in the Dictionary of Daily Wants [1859]) with this illustration (below) of the coffin which pursues young Jerry (from the first American edition of A Tale of Two Cities).

…on the wital subject of business?”

“Wital” is Mr. Cruncher’s pronunciation of “vital.”

“You have no more nat’ral sense of duty than the bed of this here Thames river has of a pile, and similarly it must be knocked into you.”

A pile is a beam, driven vertically into a riverbed or other marshy or unstable tract of land for the support of some structure above it – a pier, a bridge, a house, etc. (OED). Living in Hanging-sword Alley, which lies between Fleet Street and “this here Thames river,” Mr. Cruncher does not have to go far for his comparison.

“Father, … What’s a Resurrection-Man?”

A “resurrectionist” or “resurrection man” was an “exhumer or stealer of corpses” (OED); the corpses were mostly sold to medical practitioners as cadavers for dissection. An Act of 1540 had allowed only four cadavers a year (of executed criminals) to the Company of Barber Surgeons, which meant that medical schools were woefully under-stocked (“barbers” originally included surgeons and dentists; the Company of Barber-surgeons was incorporated by Edward IV in 1461, afterwards to be known as the Company of Barber
Surgeons [OED]). The result was the rise of “resurrection men,” who furnished cadavers illegally. “Resurrection” reached epidemic proportions in the late 18th century, and continued well into the 19th. In 1828, however, a Select Committee of Parliament acknowledged the severity of the problem, and in 1832, the Anatomy Act ensured a sufficient supply of cadavers to doctors and medical students (Sanders 37).



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