…not until long afterwards when France and she were far apart, did she know that eleven hundred defenceless prisoners of both sexes and all ages had been killed by the populace; that four days and nights had been darkened by this deed of horror…

Carlyle puts the death-count of the September massacres, which lasted for four days and nights (September 2-6, 1792), at 1,089 (537) – the number from which Dickens derives his estimate of 1,100.

For the first time, he felt that in that sharp fire, he had slowly forged the iron which could break the prison door of his daughter’s husband…

Iron and other metal implements are “forged” at a hearth or in a furnace, the fire rendering the metal malleable and thus shapeable (Oxford English Dictionary). Dickens’ figure of speech suggests that the sharp fire of the Doctor’s experience – his pain and anger – has finally been turned to good purpose, equipping him for the liberation of his son-in-law.

The new Era began; the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded; the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared for victory or death against the world in arms; the black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre-Dame; three hundred thousand men, summoned to rise against the tyrants of the earth, rose from all the varying soils of France…

The New Era – marked by the new Republican Calendar (the Revolutionary Calendar, which was in use until January 1, 1806 [Carlyle 661]) – dated from the abolition of the monarchy, September 21, 1792. (Although the Calendar was not developed until the following year, the start of the New Era was backdated to the commencement of the Republic.)

After King Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793, Europe, appalled by this act of regicide, again began to threaten France (as Prussian and Austrian troops had done – unsuccessfully – in 1792). Again declaring the country in danger, the young Republic was roused to arms. Carlyle describes this period in The French Revolution as follows:

It is necessary now again that France rise, in swift vengeance, with her million right-hands, with her heart as of one man. Instantaneous recruitment in Paris; let every Section of Paris furnish its thousands; every Section of France! Ninety-six Commissioners of us, two for each Section of the Forty-eight, they must go forthwith, and tell Paris what the Country needs of her. Let Eighty more of us be sent, post-haste, over France; to spread the fire-cross, to call forth the might of men. Let the Eighty also be on the road, before this sitting rise. Let them go, and think what their errand is. Speedy Camp of Fifty-thousand between Paris and the North-Frontier; for Paris will pour forth her volunteers! Shoulder to shoulder; one strong universal death-defiant rising and rushing; … and France, in spite of the world, [shall] be free! (618-9)

Recruiting its defending armies in this way, the Republic again declared the country in danger:

And so there is Flag of Fatherland in Danger waving from the Town-hall. Black Flag from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral; there is Proclamation, hot eloquence; Paris rushing out once again to strike its enemies down. That, in such circumstances, Paris was in no mild humour can be conjectured. (619)

Dickens’ summary of the events of the early Republican period follows Carlyle’s account closely.

Now, breaking the unnatural silence of the whole city, the executioner showed the people the head of the king – and now, it seemed almost in the same breath, the head of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey.

Dickens follows, in the details of his summary of these executions, Carlyle’s French Revolution. Carlyle narrates the execution of Louis XVI, on January 21, 1793, as follows:

The drums are beating: “Taisez-vous, Silence!” he cries, “in a terrible voice, d’une voix terrible.” He mounts the scaffold, not without delay; he is in a puce coat, breeches of grey, white stockings. He strips off the coat; stands disclosed in a sleeve-waistcoat of white flannel. The Executioners approach to bind him: he spurns, resists; Abbé Edgeworth [his confessor] has to remind him how the Saviour, in whom men trust, submitted to be bound. His hands are tied, his head bare; the fatal moment is come. He advances to the edge of the Scaffold, “his face very red,” and says: “Frenchmen, I die innocent: it is from the Scaffold and near appearing before God that I tell you so. I pardon my enemies; I desire that France – ” A General on horseback, Santerre or another, prances out, with uplifted hand: “Tambours!” The drums drown the voice. “Executioners, do your duty!” The Executioners, desperate lest themselves be murdered (for Santerre and his Armed Ranks will strike, if they do not), seize the hapless Louis: six of them desperate, him singly desperate, struggling there; and bind him to their plank. Abbé Edgeworth, stooping, bespeaks him: “Son of Saint Louis, ascend to Heaven.” The Axe clanks down; a King’s Life is shorn away. It is Monday the 21st of January, 1793. He was aged Thirty-eight years four months and twenty-eight days.

Executioner Samson shows the Head: fierce shout of Vive la République rises, and swells…. (598)

The execution of Marie-Antoinette, on October 16, 1793, is given thus:

The young imperial Maiden of Fifteen [Marie-Antoinette at the time of her marriage] has now become a worn discrowned Widow of Thirty-eight; grey before her time: this is the last Procession: “Few minutes after the Trial ended, the drums were beating to arms in all Sections; at sunrise the armed force was on foot, cannons getting placed at the extremities of the Bridges, in the Squares, Crossways, all along from the Palais de Justice to the Place de la Révolution. By ten o’clock, numerous patrols were circulating in the Streets; thirty thousand foot and horse drawn up under arms. At eleven, Marie-Antoinette was brought out. She had on an undress of piqué blanc: she was led to the place of execution, in the same manner as an ordinary criminal; bound, on a Cart; accompanied by a Constitutional Priest in Lay dress; escorted by numerous detachments of infantry and cavalry. These, and the double row of troops all along her road, she appeared to regard with indifference. On her countenance there was visible neither abashment nor pride. To the cries of Vive la République and Down with Tyranny, which attended her all the way, she seemed to pay no heed. She spoke little to her Confessor. The tricolor Streamers on the housetops occupied her attention, in the Streets du Roule and Saint-Honoré; she also noticed the Inscriptions on the house-fronts. On reaching the Place de la Révolution, her looks turned towards the Jardin National, whilom Tuileries; her face at that moment gave signs of lively emotion. She mounted the Scaffold with courage enough; at a quarter past Twelve, her head fell; the Executioner showed it to the people, amid universal long-continued cries of Vive la République. (670-1)

A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty and fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected, which struck away all security for liberty and life, and delivered over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one…

Here, Dickens is describing the development of the administrative anatomy of the French Republic, which led inevitably to the Reign of Terror. Threatened with invasion by foreign forces after the execution of Louis XVI, “Patriotism” leapt to defend France – and to revenge itself upon “traitors” within (aristocrats, emigrants, and so forth). This revolutionary feeling instigated, as Carlyle explains it,

Comités Révolutionnaires for the arrestment of Persons Suspect. Revolutionary Committee, of Twelve chosen Patriots, sits in every Township of France; examining the Suspect, seeking arms, making domiciliary visits and arrestments; – caring, generally, that the Republic suffer no detriment. Chosen by universal suffrage, each in its Section, they are a kind of elixir of Jacobinism; some Forty-four Thousand of them awake and alive over France!… A mad vitality of Jacobinism [the Jacobins were the extreme revolutionary party which, vanquishing the moderate Girondins, took over the Republic and instigated the Reign of Terror], with Forty-four Thousand centres of activity, circulates through all fibres of France. (623)

The detention of “suspects” soon passed (on September 17, 1793) into Republican law, and a “Tribunal Révolutionnaire” began regularly sending suspects, referred by the “forty-four thousand” revolutionary committees, to the guillotine.

Let the Forty-four thousand Sections and their Revolutionary Committees stir every fibre of the Republic; and every Frenchman feel that he is to do or die. They are the life-circulation of Jacobinism, these Sections and Committees: Danton, through the organ of Barrère and Salut Public [the “Committee of Public Safety,” of which Robespierre was a part], gets decreed, That there be in Paris, by law, two meetings of Section weekly; also, that the Poorer Citizen be paid for attending, and have his day’s-wages of Forty Sous. This is the celebrated “Law of the Forty Sous”; fiercely stimulant to Sansculottism, to the life-circulation of Jacobinism….

Nor with heroic daring against the Foreign foe, can black vengeance against the Domestic be wanting. Life-circulation of the Revolutionary Committees being quickened by that Law of the Forty Sous, Deputy Merlin … comes, about a week after, with his world-famous Law of the Suspect; ordering all Sections, by their Committees, instantly to arrest all Persons Suspect; and explaining withal who the Arrestable and Suspect specially are. “Are suspect,” says he, “all who by their actions, by their connexions, speakings, writings have” – in short become Suspect….

No frightfuller Law ever ruled in a Nation of men. All Prisons and Houses of Arrest in French land are getting crowded to the ridge-tile: Forty-four thousand Committees, like as many companies of reapers or gleaners, gleaning France, are gathering their harvest, and storing it in these Houses. Harvest of Aristocrat tares! Nay lest the Forty-four thousand, each on its own harvest-field, prove insufficient, we are to have an ambulant “Revolutionary Army”: six-thousand strong, under right captains this shall perambulate the country at large, and strike in wherever it finds such harvest-work slack. So … has Convention decreed. Let Aristocrats, Federalists, Monsieurs vanish, and all men tremble: “the Soil of Liberty shall be purged,” – with a vengeance! (665-7)

Models of it [La Guillotine] were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.

This image – of the guillotine supplanting the cross – symbolizes the secularization of France (previously a Catholic country) under the Republic. This secularization – the acknowledgment of “no Religion but Liberty” – sped the adoption of the Calendar of the “New Era” (the abandonment of the calendar based on a Christian timeline), the conversion of Notre Dame (the great Catholic cathedral of Paris) into a “Temple of Reason,” the melting of church-bells into cannon, the appropriation of mass-books to cartridge-papers, and so forth (Carlyle 693-4).

…it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red.

The ground “most polluted” by the guillotine was that of the Place de la Révolution in Paris. Called, before the Revolution, the Place de Louis XV, and now called the Place de la Concorde, it is situated between the Champs-Élysées and the Jardin des Tuileries (called the Jardin National during the Revolution). However, though this was the chief location of the Parisian guillotine, the site of execution was moved, at the height of the Terror, from place to place. Carlyle gives this account of the shift:

Meanwhile will not the people of the Place de la Révolution, the inhabitants along the Rue Saint-Honoré as these continual Tumbrils pass, begin to look gloomy? Republicans too have bowels. The Guillotine is shifted, then again shifted; finally set up at the remote extremity of the South-east; Suburbs Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marceau, it is to be hoped, if they have bowels, have very tough ones. (731)

The guillotine did not remain in the eastern districts, however, but was back in the Place de la Révolution by the end of the Terror: Robespierre was beheaded there (Carlyle 743). Baedeker’s Paris and Its Environs (1878) gives a descriptive and historical account of the plaza in which the guillotine chiefly stood:

The Place de la Concorde …, the most beautiful and extensive place in Paris, and one of the finest in the world, covers an area 390 y[ards] in length, by 235 y[ards] in width, bounded on the S[outh] by the Seine, on the W[est] by the Champs Elysées, on the N[orth] by the Rue de Rivoli, and on the E[ast] by the garden of the Tuileries…. The Place was completed in its present form [of 1878] in 1854…. In the middle of the [18th century] the site … was waste ground. After the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (18th Oct., 1748), which terminated the Austrian War of Succession, Louis XV “graciously permitted” the mayor and municipal authorities to erect a statue to him here. The work was at once begun by the architect Gabriel, and at length in 1763 an equestrian statue in bronze by Bouchardon, with a pedestal adorned by Pigalle with figures emblematical of Strength, Wisdom, Justice, and Peace, was erected here. The Place then received the name of Place Louis XV….

The Place was at that period surrounded by deep ditches, but these were filled up, and a balustrade substituted for them in 1852. On 30th May, 1770, during an exhibition of fireworks in honour of the marriage of the Dauphin (afterwards Louis XVI) with the Archduchess Marie Antoinette, such a panic was occasioned by the accidental discharge of some rockets, that no fewer than 1200 persons were crushed to death, or killed by being thrown into the ditches, and 2000 more severely injured.

On 11th August, 1792, the day after the capture of the Tuileries, the statue of the king was removed by order of the Legislative Assembly, melted down, and converted into pieces of two sous. A terracotta figure of the “Goddess of Liberty” was then placed on the pedestal, … while the Place was named Place de la Révolution.

On 21st Jan., 1793, the guillotine began its bloody work here with the execution of Louis XVI. On 17th July Charlotte Corday was beheaded; [in late] October Brissot, chief of the Gironde, with twenty-one of his adherents; on 16th Oct[ober] the ill-fated queen Marie Antoinette; on 14th Nov[ember] Phillipe Egalité, Duke of Orléans, father of King Louis Philippe; [in] May, 1794, Madame Elisabeth, sister of Louis XVI. [In] March, through the influence of Danton and Robespierre, Hébert, the most determined opponent of all social rule, together with his partizans, also terminated his career on the scaffold here. The next victims were the adherents of Marat and the Orleanists; then [in] April Danton himself and his party, among whom was Camille Desmoulins; and [then] the atheists Chaumette and Anacharsis Cloots, and the wives of Camille Desmoulins, Hébert, and others. On 28th July 1794, Robespierre and his associates, his brother, Dumas, St. Just, and other members of the “comité de salut public” met a retributive end here; next day the same fate overtook 70 members of the Commune, whom Robespierre had employed as his tools, and on 30th July twelve other members of the same body….

Between 21st Jan., 1793, and 3rd May, 1795, upwards of 2800 persons perished here by the guillotine. A proposal afterwards made to erect a large fountain on the spot where the scaffold of Louis XVI had stood was strenuously opposed by Chateaubriand, who aptly observed that all the water in the world would not suffice to remove the blood-stains which sullied the Place. (153-5)

It is chiefly this ground, which “all the water in the world” could not wash of its blood-stains, that Dickens describes as a “rotten red.”

Click on map for larger view

The Place de la Révolution is visible on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794, at the far left, above the Seine.

Twenty-two friends of high public mark, twenty-one living and one dead, it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes.

The “Twenty-two friends of high public mark” are the members of the moderate Girondin party, defeated by the Jacobin faction (of Danton, Robespierre, etc.) and guillotined on October 31, 1793. Carlyle relates the circumstances, including how Valazé, though already dead (having committed suicide), was beheaded with his fellows, in a chapter called “The Twenty-Two”:

The next are of a different colour: our poor Arrested Girondin Deputies. What of them could still be laid hold of; our Vergniaud, Brissot, Fauchet, Valazé, Gensonné; the once flower of French Patriotism, Twenty-two by the tale…. [T]he Sentence on one and all of them is, Death with confiscation of goods….

[O]n the morrow morning all Paris is out; such a crowd as no man had seen. The Death-carts, Valazé’s cold corpse stretched among the yet living Twenty-one, roll along. Bareheaded, hands bound; in their shirt-sleeves, coat flung loosely round the neck; so fare the eloquent of France; bemurmured, beshouted. To the shouts of Vive la République, some of them keep answering with counter-shouts of Vive la République. Others, as Brissot, sit sunk in silence. At the foot of the scaffold they again strike up, with appropriate variations, the Hymn of the Marseillese [a patriotic song]. Such an act of music; conceive it well! The yet Living chant there; the chorus so rapidly wearing weak! Samson’s axe is rapid; one head per minute, or little less. The chorus is wearing weak; the chorus is worn out; – farewell for evermore, ye Girondins. Te-Deum Fauchet has become silent; Valazé’s dead head is lopped: the sickle of the Guillotine has reaped the Girondins all away. (671-3)

So much more wicked and distracted had the Revolution grown in that December month, that the rivers of the South were encumbered with the bodies of the violently drowned by night, and prisoners were shot in lines and squares under the southern wintry sun.

Though Dickens’ reference to the “rivers of the South encumbered with bodies” is often glossed as a reference to the Republican (Jacobin) suppression of Lyons, a Girondin-supporting region of southern France (Sanders 145, Maxwell 472), Lyons was suppressed in October of 1793 – not December. There were bodies in the southern rivers as the Republic put down Lyons – Carlyle writes that “Revolutionary Tribunal [t]here, and Military Commission, guillotining, fusillading, do what they can: the kennels of the Place de Terreaux run red; mangled corpses roll down the Rhone” (686-8). However, Dickens seems to be referring to another set of bodies – those drowned in the first “Noyades” of December 1793 at Nantes:

One begins to be sick of “death vomited in great floods.” Nevertheless, hearest thou not, O Reader (for the sound reaches through centuries), in the dead December and January nights, over Nantes Town, – confused noises, as of musketry and tumult, as of rage and lamentation; mingling with the everlasting moan of the Loire waters there? Nantes Town is sunk in sleep; but Représentant Carrier is not sleeping, the wool-capped Company of Marat is not sleeping. Why unmoors that flatbottomed craft, that gabarre; about eleven at night; with Ninety Priests under hatches? They are going to Belle Isle? In the middle of the Loire stream, on signal given, the gabarre is scuttled; she sinks with all her cargo. “Sentence of Deportation,” writes Carrier, “was executed vertically.” The Ninety Priests, with their gabarre-coffin, lie deep! It is the first of the Noyades, what we may call Drownages, of Carrier; which have become famous for ever.

Guillotining there was at Nantes, till the Headsman sank worn out: then fusillading “in the Plain of Saint-Mauve”; little children fusilladed, and women with children at the breast; children and women, by the hundred and twenty; and by the five hundred, so hot is La Vendée: till the very Jacobins grew sick, and all but the Company of Marat cried, Hold! Wherefore now we have got Noyading; and on the 24th night of Frostarious year 2, which is 14th of December, 1793, we have a second Noyade; consisting of “a Hundred and Thirty-eight persons.”

Or why waste a gabarre, sinking it with them? Fling them out; fling them out, with their hands tied…. [w]omen and men are tied together, feet and feet, hands and hands; and flung in: this they call Mariage Républicain, Republican Marriage. (Carlyle 691-2)

These “Noyades” seem to be the December drownings to which Dickens refers, though he may well be conflating the atrocities of Nantes with those of Lyons. Nantes, it will be remarked, is not properly in the South of France, and thus does not fall under a “southern wintry sun”; however, like Lyons, Nantes is on a river (the Loire), it was (again, like Lyon) in revolt against the Republic, and it is, if not in the South of France, at any rate south of Paris. Furthermore, Dickens’ geographical conflation follows Carlyle’s own grouping of events. The opening paragraph of the chapter in which Carlyle discusses the suppression of Lyons and Nantes runs as follows:

The suspect may well tremble, but how much more the open rebels; the Girondin Cities of the South! Revolutionary Army is gone forth, under Ronsin the Playwright; six thousand strong, … and has portable guillotines. Representative Carrier has got to Nantes, by the edge of blazing La Vendée, which Rossignol has literally set on fire: Carrier will try what captives you make; what accomplices they have, Royalists or Girondin: his guillotine goes always, va toujours; and his wool-capped “Company of Marat.” (685)

Carlyle, like Dickens after him, groups Nantes with the “Girondin Cities of the South.”

The billet fell as he spoke, and he threw it into a basket. “I call myself the Samson of the firewood guillotine.”

A “billet,” in this sense, is “[a] thick piece of wood cut to a suitable length for fuel” (OED); and the woodman calls himself the “Samson of the firewood guillotine” because he – like the public executioner – cuts or shaves. In French, of course, a “billet” is also a ticket, note or letter. The alternate meanings of the word may suggest that this Samson does double duty – first as a woodman, and second as an informer.

On a lightly-snowing afternoon she arrived at the usual corner. It was a day of some wild rejoicing, and a festival.

This winter day of “wild rejoicing” is probably based upon the festivities of November 10, 1793 (or, more generally, November and December 1793), when – following the widespread renunciation by priests and curates of the Catholic religion (in favor of the “Fraternal embrace” and “no Religion but Liberty” [Carlyle 694]) – a procession of citizens, having despoiled the churches, jubilantly visited the National Convention. Carlyle describes this parade, and the events leading up to it, as follows:

From afar and near, all through November into December, till the work is accomplished, come Letters of renegation, come Curates who “are learning to be Carpenters,” Curates with their new-wedded Nuns: has not the day of Reason dawned, very swiftly, and become noon?… This ... is what the streets of Paris saw:

“Most of these people were still drunk, with the brandy they had swallowed out of chalices; – eating mackerel on the patenas! Mounted on Asses, which were housed with Priests’ cloaks, they reined them with Priests’ stoles; they held clutched with the same hand communion-cup and sacred wafer. They stopped at the doors of Dram-shops; held out ciboriums: and the landlord, stoop in hand, had to fill them thrice. Next came Mules high-laden with crosses, chandeliers, censers, holy-water vessels, hyssops; – recalling to mind the Priests of Cybele, whose panniers, filled with the instruments of their worship, served at once as storehouse, sacristy, and temple.  In such equipage did these profaners advance towards the Convention. They enter there, in an immense train, ranged in two rows; all masked like mummers in fantastic sacerdotal vestments; bearing on hand-barrows their heaped plunder, – ciboriums, suns, candelabras, plates of gold and sliver.” [Carlyle’s source here is Mercier on the “Séance of 10 Novembre.”]

The Address we do not give; for indeed it was in strophes, sung vivâ voce, with all the parts; – Danton glooming considerably, in his place; and demanding that there be prose and decency in future. Nevertheless the captors of such spolia opima crave, not untouched with liquor, permission to dance the Carmagnole also on the spot: whereto an exhilarated Convention cannot but accede. Nay “several Members,” continues the exaggerative Mercier, who was not there to witness…, “several Members, quitting their curule chairs, took the hand of girls flaunting in Priests’ vestures, and danced the Carmagnole along with them.” Such Old-Hallowtide have they, in this year, once named of Grace 1793. (694-6)

Though probably based on the sacrilegious festivities of November 10, the day of “wild rejoicing” to which Dickens refers could be any day in November or December 1793 – the interval in which Catholicism was widely denounced (even by its most reverend members) in favor of “Liberty” and “Reason.” The disapprobation implied in Carlyle’s reference to the year “once named of Grace 1793” (emphasis added) is reflected in Dickens’ representation of the festivities as sinister and disturbing. Under the New Calendar of the New Era of the French Republic, the Christian holidays were of course thrown out, replaced by occasional secularized holidays. Indeed, having divided the year into twelve months of thirty days each, the New Calendar had five days left over. These five days became a festival period, to be added to the end of “Fructidor” (August in the “old” calendar). Carlyle explains this part of the calendar as follows:

Four equal Seasons, Twelve equal Months of Thirty days each; this makes three hundred and sixty days; and five odd days remain to be disposed of. The five odd days we will make Festivals, and name the five Sansculottides, or Days without Breeches [the revolutionaries were called “sansculottes” because they did not wear knee-breeches like the aristocracy]. Festival of Genius; Festival of Labour; of Actions; of Rewards; of Opinion; these are the five Sansculottides. Whereby the great Circle, or Year, is made complete: solely every fourth year, whilom called Leap-year, we introduce a sixth Sansculottide: and name it Festival of the Revolution. (660)

No fight could have been half so terrible as this dance. It was so emphatically a fallen sport – a something once innocent delivered over to all devilry – a healthy pastime changed into a means of angering the blood, bewildering the senses, and steeling the heart.... This was the Carmagnole. 

The “Carmagnole,” a patriotic dance “popular among the French revolutionists of 1793” (OED), originally referred to “a kind of dress much worn in France during the Revolution of 1789” (OED). This dress, named after the Italian town of Carmagnola, was a Piedmontese peasant costume well known in southern France (Piedmont, a region of northwestern Italy, is adjacent to the southeastern part of France), and introduced into Paris by the Marseillais revolutionaries in 1789 (Marseilles is a coastal city in southern France, on the Mediterranean). It

consisted of a short skirted coat with rows of metal buttons, a tricoloured waistcoat and red cap, and became the popular dress of the Jacobins. The name was then given to the famous revolutionary song, composed in 1792, the tune of which, and the wild dance which accompanied it, may have also been brought into France by the Piedmontese. (“Carmagnole,” 1911 Edition Encyclopedia)

The lyrics to the Carmagnole varied during the course of the Revolution, but originally calumniated Louis XVI (as “Monsieur Veto” because of his power to delay the proposals of the revolutionary legislature [until his seizure and imprisonment after August 10, 1792]), and later Marie-Antoinette (as “Madame Veto” – apparently as the consort of Monsieur Veto, Louis XVI). Lyrics and a recording of the Carmagnole as it would have been sung in late 1793 (after the beheading of Marie-Antoinette in October) can be accessed at the website “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution,” under “Songs,” (From the main page, either do a “Quick Search” for “Carmagnole” or click on “Browse” and scroll down to “Songs”; then, in “Browse Songs,” scroll down and click on “The Carmagnole.”)

He has not received the notice yet, but I know that he will presently be summoned for to-morrow, and removed to the Conciergerie…

The Conciergerie, the oldest prison in Paris, is adjacent to the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité. During the Revolution, it was the prison to which suspects were removed just before trial; thus, Darnay’s summons to the Conciergerie means that his trial is imminent. In the 19th century, the Conciergerie was still used as a prison for those awaiting trial, and the chamber of Marie-Antoinette (perhaps the most famous person to have been held there during the Revolution) was converted into a chapel. This chamber was gutted by fire in 1871 (Baedeker 219), but afterwards restored, and can still be seen today.

The Conciergerie is visible on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794 (on the northwestern side of the Ile de la Cité, just above the Palais de Justice).

Click on map for larger view

This image of the Conciergerie (below), with the Seine in the foreground, is taken from Dumas’ Paris (1889).  Though the Conciergerie underwent considerable rebuilding and restoration in the 19th century (before this illustration was created), many of the oldest parts of the building remain to this day.  For instance, the pointed towers date from the 14th century, and would have been familiar to those incarcerated in the Conciergerie during the French Revolution.

The dread Tribunal of five Judges, Public Prosecutor, and determined Jury, sat every day.

This “dread Tribunal” is the revolutionary judicial body which – particularly active during the Reign of Terror – decided the fate of those, like Darnay, who were suspected of being traitors to the Revolution. Dickens’ anatomy of this Tribunal follows Carlyle’s account in The French Revolution:

Very notable also is the Tribunal Extraordinaire: decreed by the Mountain [the Jacobin party]; some Girondins [the moderate revolutionary party ultimately demolished by the Jacobins] dissenting, for surely such a Court contradicts every formula; – other Girondins assenting, nay co-operating, for do not we all hate Traitors, O ye people of Paris?… Five Judges; a standing Jury, which is named from Paris and the Neighborhood, that there be not delay in naming it: they are subject to no appeal; to hardly any Law-forms, but must “get themselves convinced” in all readiest ways; and for security are bound “to vote audibly”; audibly, in the hearing of a Paris Public. This is the Tribunal Extraordinaire; which, in a few months, getting into most lively action, shall be entitled Tribunal Révolutionnaire; as indeed it from the very first has entitled itself: with a Herman and a Dumas for Judge President, with a Fouquier-Tinville for Attorney-General, and a Jury of such as Citizen Leroi, who has surnamed himself Dix-Août, "Lerio August-Tenth” [in commemoration of the day the King was suspended from office, previous to his incarceration and execution], it will become the wonder of the world. Herein has Sansculottism fashioned for itself a Sword of Sharpness: a weapon magical; tempered in the Stygian hell-waters; to the edge of it all armour, and defence of strength or of cunning shall be soft; it shall mow down Lives and Brazen-gates; and the waving of it shed terror through the souls of men. (623-4)

Ultimately, at the height of the Terror, this Tribunal was extended into four Tribunals, and the rate of execution was sped proportionally (Carlyle 730).

…some games of forfeits and a little concert, for that evening.

The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) describes the “game of forfeits” as follows:

FORFEITS. – A pastime usually played by a number of persons of both sexes. The ordinary mode is to select some sentence, which each person of the party is to repeat without making a mistake, and in the event of his so doing, he has to forfeit to some person chosen for the purpose any trifling article, such as a card-case, smelling-bottle, fan, &c. When the sentence has gone the round of the party, one of the company has to kneel with her head in the lap of the person holding the forfeits; this latter person holds up the forfeits one by one in sight of the whole company, and says, “Here’s a pretty thing, a very pretty thing, and what’s to be done to the owner of this pretty thing?” The person kneeling down has then to impose some penalty which involves some ludicrous situation, and is calculated to produce laughter and good humour among the company present. This accomplished, the forfeited article is returned to the owner. By this it is evident that the person who has to impose the forfeits should possess a fund of humour and ready invention; and, to ensure uninterrupted sport, some person should be selected gifted with these attributes. (440)

Under the circumstances (incarceration prior to execution by guillotine), this game seems somewhat horribly appropriate, for the very name invokes a penalty or loss (a forfeit is something the right to which is lost through the commission of a crime or a fault of some kind [OED]).

Charles Evrémonde, called Darnay, was accused by the public prosecutor as an aristocrat and an emigrant, whose life was forfeit to the Republic, under the decree which banished all emigrants on pain of Death.

On September 17, 1793, the Revolutionary government decreed that, according to a new “Law of the Suspect,” France be purged of its nobility (as Carlyle describes it, “…so has the Convention decreed: Let Aristocrats, Federalists, Monsieurs vanish, and all men tremble: ‘the Soil of Liberty shall be purged,’ – with a vengeance!” [667]). Darnay, entering France in August of 1792, returned before the laws under which he is tried had officially been passed.

On his coming out, the concourse made at him anew, weeping, embracing, and shouting, all by turns and all together, until the very tide of the river on the bank of which the mad scene was acted, seemed to run mad, like the people on the shore.

The river “on the bank of which the mad scene” is acted is of course the Seine. The Conciergerie, standing on the north side of the Ile de la Cité, looks out over the river.

Then, they elevated into the vacant chair a young woman from the crowd to be carried as the Goddess of Liberty…

Dickens’ representation of this impromptu elevation of a “Goddess of Liberty” probably draws on various acts of patriotic idolatry described in Carlyle’s French Revolution. On August 10, 1793, a huge terra-cotta statue of “Liberty” was unveiled in the Place de la Révolution (Carlyle 657-8), on the site of the former statue of Louis XV (which had been erected when the Place de la Révolution was still the Place de Louis XV); and on November 10, 1793, a “Goddess of Reason” was installed in Notre Dame (which itself was newly converted into a “Temple of Reason”). Carlyle describes this goddess’ elevation as follows:

For this same day, while [the] brave Carmagnole-dance has hardly jigged itself out, there arrive Procureur Chaumette and Municipals and Departmentals, and with them the strangest freightage: a New Religion! Demoiselle Candeille, of the Opera; a woman fair to look upon when well rouged; she, borne on palanquin shoulder high; with red woolen night-cap; in azure mantle; garlanded with oak; holding in her hand the Pike of the Jupiter-Peuple, sails in; heralded by white young women girt in tricolor. Let the world consider it! This, O National Convention wonder of the universe, is our New Divinity, Goddess of Reason, worthy, and one worthy of revering. Her henceforth we adore. Nay, were it too much to ask of an august National Representation that it also went with us to the ci-devant Cathedral called of Notre-Dame, and executed a few strophes in worship of her? (696)

Demoiselle Candeille of the Opéra was not the only woman elevated to goddess-status for this Feast of Reason; others were elevated in other churches, and Carlyle notes that one “Mrs. Momoro, it is admitted, made one of the best Goddesses of Reason; though her teeth were a little defective” (697).

It was the ordinance of the Republic … that on the door or doorpost of every house, the name of every inmate must be legibly inscribed in letters of a certain size, at a certain convenient height from the ground.

Dickens draws this detail of the house-doors directly from Carlyle, who notes that

In Paris and all Towns, every house-door must have the names of the inmates legibly printed on it, “at a height not exceeding five feet from the ground”; every Citizen must produce his certificatory Carte de Civisme signed by Section-President; every man be ready to give account of the faith that is in him. (623)

“Old Nick’s.”

Old Nick is a name for the devil; the derivation of this nick-name, however, has never been successfully traced (OED).