NOTES ON ISSUE 12: ALLUSIONS
…as if the dragon’s teeth had been sown broadcast,
and had yielded fruit equally on hill and plain, on rock in gravel and alluvial
mud, under the bright sky of the South and under the clouds of the North, in
fell and forest….
The reference to “dragon’s teeth” alludes to the legend of the founding of Thebes: Cadmus, having killed a dragon, sewed the dragon’s teeth (at Athena’s direction) in the ground; from these an army sprang up, but fell to fighting one another until only five were left. It was these five that became the ancestors of Thebes (Sanders 143). Dickens’ invocation of the founding myth of Thebes is appropriate to the revolutionary period, in which a new France was being founded through conflict. Moreover, the fact that the Theban men founded Thebes by fighting with one another is appropriate to the domestic events of France during this period: While the Republic fought to defend itself from its European neighbors, it waged internal war under the Reign of Terror. As Carlyle puts it, “Nor with heroic daring against the Foreign foe, can black vengeance against the Domestic be wanting” (666).
Though days and nights circled as regularly as when time was young, and the evening and the morning were the first day, other count of time there was none.
This passage alludes to the opening passages of the Bible: “God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:3-5). Invoking a biblical moment in which creation rises out of chaos, Dickens comments partly on the chaos to which France seems to have returned with the execution of its King (“Hold of [time] was lost in the raging fever of a nation”), and partly, perhaps, on the Revolutionary calendar which replaced the traditional Christian-based one with the rise of the Republic. Carlyle describes the adoption of this calendar as follows:
As to the New Calendar, we may say here rather than elsewhere that speculative men have long been struck with the inequalities and incongruities of the Old Calendar; that a New one has long been as good as determined on. Maréchal the Atheist, almost ten years ago, proposed a New Calendar, free at least from superstition; this the Paris Municipality would now adopt, in defect of a better; at all events, let us have either this of Maréchal’s or a better, – the New Era being come. Petitions, more than once, have been sent to that effect; and indeed, for a year past, all Public Bodies, Journalists, and Patriots in general, have dated First Year of the Republic. It is a subject not without difficulties. But the Convention has taken it up; and Romme … has been meditating it; not Maréchal’s New Calendar, but a better New one of Romme’s and our own. Romme, aided by a Monge, a Lagrange and others, furnishes mathematics; Fabre d’Eglantine furnishes poetic nomenclature: and so, on the 5th of October, 1793, after trouble enough, they ring forth this New Republican Calendar of theirs, in a complete state; and by Law, get it put in action…. Now as to the day of commencement, which offers difficulties, is it not one of the luckiest coincidences that the Republic herself commenced on the 21st of September; close on the Autumnal Equinox? Autumnal Equinox, at midnight for the meridian of Paris, in the year whilom Christian 1792, from that moment shall the New Era reckon itself to begin. (659-60)
The months of the Revolutionary Calendar, as Carlyle explains them, are as follows:
Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire; or as one might say, in mixed English, Vintagearious, Fogarious, Frostarious: these are our three Autumn months. Nivose, Pluviose, Ventose, or say, Snowous, Rainous, Windous, make our Winter season. Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, or Buddal, Floweral, Meadowal, are our Spring season. Messidor, Thermidor, Fructidor, that is to say (dor being Greek for gift) Reapidor, Heatidor, Fruitidor, are Republican Summer. These Twelve, in a singular manner, divide the Republican year. Then as to minuter subdivisions, let us venture at once on a bold stroke: adopt your decimal subdivision; and instead of the world-old Week, or Se’ennight, make it a Tennight, or Décade; – not without results. There are three Decades, then, in each of the months; which is very regular; and the Décadi, or Tenth-day, shall always be the “Day of Rest.” And the Christian Sabbath, in that case? Shall shift for itself! (660)
Dickens and Carlyle agree in disapproving of the secularization
introduced by the Revolution.
The name of the strong man of Old Scripture had descended to the chief functionary who worked it; but, so armed, he was stronger than his namesake, and blinder, and tore away the gates of God’s own Temple every day.
The Parisian executioner in this period was called Samson, and was descended from a long line of executioners (Sanders 144-5). Carlyle identifies Samson as the executioner working the guillotine that beheaded the King and the victims of the Terror: “In plain words, Terror of the Guillotine was never terrible till now. Systole, diastole, swift and ever swifter goes the Axe of Samson…. Swift and ever swifter goes Samson; up, finally, to three score and more a Batch” (724).
Dickens, who later refers to Samson as a “barber”
and to the guillotine as a “National Razor which shaved close,”
may be playing with the possibilities of the pun on the biblical Samson, who
was done out of his strength when Delilah cut off his hair (Judges 16:17). The
reference to tearing away “the gates of God’s own Temple every day”
seems to be a pun on biblical elements also, conflating architecture toppled
by Samson with the “temple” of the body destroyed by the executioner
(the body-as-temple metaphor appears in the bible, cf. Paul’s First Epistle
to the Corinthians [3:16 and 6:19]) (Sanders 145). However, just which biblical
incident Dickens refers to when he describes the tearing away of the temple
gates is unclear: In Judges 16:3, Samson “took the doors of the gate of
the city [of Gaza], and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all,
and put them on his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that
is before Hebron.” He is more famous, however, for his revenge on the
Philistines (Judges 16:21-31), who blinded him after Delilah cut his hair: Called
into a religious gathering of the Philistines, Samson – on pretense of
resting between two pillars – “took hold of the two middle pillars
upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up…. And he bowed
himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all
the people that were therein.” Of course, it may not be necessary to choose
between these incidents, as they are really two variations on the same story
– in the first, Samson removes the gates of Gaza in revenge upon the citizens
of Gaza, to whom his presence was given away by a harlot (Judges 16:1-3); and
in the second, Samson pulls down two pillars and the hall they support in revenge
against the Philistines, to whom he was given away by another faithless woman,
…among the many unhappy souls in prison and the shadow of death…
The “shadow of death” is the shadow of impending execution; yet the phrase, introduced here in the context of a prayer, may also allude to a portion of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
What private solicitude could rear itself against the deluge of the Year One of Liberty – the deluge rising from below, not falling from above, and with the windows of Heaven shut, not opened!
This passage compares the “deluge” of the French Revolution and the new French Republic to the deluge of the biblical Flood. Genesis 7:11 describes how “[I]n the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” The implication seems to be that the destructive element of the Revolution, though unlike the biblical flood to the extent that it lacks divine sanction, will have similar consequences: The French “deluge” – perhaps punning on the “Reign” of Terror – will ultimately sweep away, through utter annihilation, the sins of a people.
…“the short and the long of it is, that I am a subject of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Third;” Miss Pross curtseyed at the name; “and as such, my maxim is, Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks, On him our hopes we fix, God save the King!”
Miss Pross’ maxim comes from a verse (the second stanza) of “God Save the King”:
O Lord our God arise.
Scatter [his] enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks.
On thee our hopes we fix.
God save us all!
“God Save the King,” or “God Save the Queen” (depending on the gender of the monarch ruling at the time), is a patriotic English anthem. Full lyrics and sound clips of “God Save the Queen” (or King) can be found in the Modern History Sourcebook, online at www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/rulebritannia.html; Americans may recognize the tune as that of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”