…I was walking on a retired part of the quay by the Seine for the refreshment of the frosty air, at an hour’s distance from my place of residence in the Street of the School of Medicine…

Doctor Manette’s lodgings were in the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine (in English, the “Street of the School of Medicine”), which, located in the southern part of Paris (south of the Seine), ran west from the Rue de la Harpe. In his Companion to A Tale of Two Cities, Sanders suggests that Dickens places Manette’s lodgings in this street partly for its medical associations, and partly because Jean-Paul Marat, of the Jacobin party, was murdered in his bath at Number 44 Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine by Charlotte Corday – an event which figures prominently in Carlyle’s French Revolution.

The death of Marat, who was among the most prominent of the Jacobin revolutionaries, would have been familiar to the Jacobin Tribunal before whom Doctor Manette’s letter is read. (Marat was killed on July 13, 1793, and this part of A Tale of Two Cities takes place very late in 1793 or very early in 1794.)  The Rue de l’Ecole would also have been familiar to a revolutionary audience as the site of the Jacobin “Club of the Cordeliers,” which originally met at the Convent of the Cordeliers, next to the Ecole de Médecine itself (Maxwell 477). Altogether, the proximity of the Doctor’s residence to Marat’s, and to the meeting-place of a prominent revolutionary club (which included some of the most famous Jacobins – Marat, Desmoulins, and Danton), may strengthen the impression that Doctor Manette is, like Marat, an injured patriot and “friend of the people.” Though the Rue de l’Ecole itself is not legible on the Plan de la Ville de Paris en 1789, the Rue de la Harpe is visible (in about the middle of the map, running south to north along the left side of the orangish section), as is the Convent of Cordeliers (at the lower left, “les Cordeliers”). 

Click on map for larger view

The crisis of the episode between Marat and Charlotte Corday is narrated by Carlyle as follows:

About eight on the Saturday morning, she purchases a large sheath-knife in the Palais Royal; then straightway, in the Place des Victoires, takes a hackney-coach: “To the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine, No. 44.” It is the residence of the Citoyen Marat! – The Citoyen Marat is ill, and cannot be seen…; sore afflicted; ill of Revolution Fever, – of what other malady this History had rather not name. Excessively sick and worn, poor man: with precisely eleven-pence-halfpenny of ready money, in paper; with slipper-bath; strong three-footed stool for writing on, the while; and a squalid – Washerwoman, one may call her: that is his civic establishment in Medical-School Street; thither and not elsewhither has his road led him…. Hark, a rap again! A musical woman’s voice, refusing to be rejected: it is the Citoyenne who would do France a service. Marat, recognizing from within, cries, Admit her. Charlotte Corday is admitted.

Citoyen Marat, I am from Caen the seat of rebellion, and wished to speak with you. – Be seated, mon enfant. Now what are the Traitors doing at Caen? What Deputies are at Caen? – Charlotte names some Deputies. “Their heads shall fall within a fortnight,” croaks the eager People’s-friend, clutching his tablets to write. Barbaroux, Pétion, writes he with bare shrunk arm, turning aside in the bath: Pétion, and Louvet, and – Charlotte has drawn her knife from the sheath; plunges it, with one sure stroke, into the writer’s heart…. And so Marat People’s-friend is ended.... (646-7)

Charlotte Corday was guillotined for assassinating Marat.

The carriage left the streets behind, passed the North Barrier, and emerged upon the country road. At two-thirds of a league from the Barrier – I did not estimate the distance at that time, but afterwards when I traversed it – it struck out of the main avenue, and presently stopped at a solitary house.

There was apparently no Barrier properly called the “North Barrier” in 1757, when Doctor Manette was summoned to the house outside Paris, though the northern tax-wall Barrière St. Martin (which, however, was not built until the 1780s) was renamed the Barrière Nord (“North Barrier”) during the Revolution (Plan de la Ville de Paris en 1789; Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire). Ultimately, the northern gate to which Doctor Manette refers cannot be identified precisely, and the exact location of the “solitary house” above the city is thus hidden from the reader as it is from Manette.  Two-thirds of a French league (a French league being about four kilometers) would be a little more than two and a half kilometers, or a little over a mile and a half.

…and I found a patient in a high fever of the brain, lying on a bed.

A brain fever is an inflammation of the brain, or a fever (like typhus) attended by brain complications (Oxford English Dictionary). The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives the following description and illustration of the brain, together with an account of the symptoms and treatment of brain fever:

BRAIN. – The brain is a large flat sheet of considerable dimensions, expanding from the spinal marrow like an open umbrella from the stem that supports it; and consists of two distinct substances; the under surface soft, white, and tenacious, like a cake of marrow, and the upper surface more firm than the other, and of an ashy grey colour. This sheet of brain is rolled up so as to confine it in the smallest compatible space, having at the same time regard to the rise and fall of its substance, in time with the swell and exhaustion of the lungs, and when so confined to protect it as far as possible against ordinary dangers.

The brain is divided into two perfect halves, called hemispheres, right and left; while each hemisphere, in turn, is further divided into three distinct parts or lobes. There are also five small cavities made between the convolutions, called ventricles. Besides the division into hemispheres and lobes, the brain is further subdivided into the brain proper – the cerebrum, and the little brain – the cerebellum, which is situated at the back of the head. The first is the seat of the imagination, judgment, and thought, and the source of those actions which are the result of volition, or dependence on the will; from the latter proceed those animal propensities and appetites that are, in the natural state of man, irrespective of the judgment or will; and are, therefore, called involuntary…. The brain is subject to many and various diseases, both the result of accident and such as are ordinary to the organ itself.

BRAIN FEVER is characterized by two distinct epochs or stages – excitement and collapse; and though often distinct and well defined, it occasionally happens that the one stage is so blended with the other as not to be appreciable, till the graver consequences of the second period evince themselves. The symptoms of the first stage are deep and intense pain in the head, tightness across the forehead, throbbing of the temporal arteries, ringing in the ears, flushed face, bloodshot eyes, and a wild and glistening stare; the pupils are contracted, and particularly sensible of light, while the ears are impatient and irritable to the sense of noise: violent delirium, want of sleep, convulsive paroxysms, attended with a hot dry skin, hard quick pulse, a white coated tongue, great thirst, nausea and vomiting, and a confined state of the bowels. Sometimes the delirium is the first symptom shown, or the disease may progress to a culminating point in a more insidious manner, often commencing with an apparent attack of biliary vomiting. This formidable disease usually proves fatal in a few days, sometimes in twelve hours.

The mode of treatment [for delirium] resolves itself into blood-letting, purgatives, and cold applications to the head…. After twelve hours, and between that and two days, the second stage, or series of symptoms sets in, the headache and wild delirium cease, and is succeeded by a low indistinct muttering and a state of stupor, from which it is finally impossible to rouse the patient…. The treatment in this second and fatal stage, is necessarily one more of regimen than medicine. If the pulse is hard, a blister may be put on the head; but the great art lies in the judicious application of stimulants, such as ether, ammonia, valerian, beef-tea, wine, and opiates. The following mixture combines most of these agents, and may be employed to promote reaction, accompanied with thickened beef-tea, and bottles of hot water to the feet.

Carbonate of ammonia  ½ drachm
Pow[d?]ered opium  3 grains
Ipecacuanha  3 grains
Mix in a mortar, and add
Camphor water  5 ½ ounces
Compound tincture of cinnamon  ½ ounce
Sulphuric ether  1 drachm
Mix. [Administer a] tablespoonful every two hours. (180-1)

In A Tale of Two Cities, the woman’s condition agrees with this 19th-century account of brain fever (delirium followed by collapse), as does the duration of her illness (which lasts for about two days – she has been ill, according to the man who summoned the Doctor, “Since about this hour last night,” and she dies, according to Doctor Manette, 26 hours after his first arrival). Doctor Manette’s treatment seems, from the first, to indicate despair. It is, as the Dictionary of Daily Wants puts it, “necessarily one more of regimen than medicine,” and he can do little more than give the woman doses of the “narcotic medicines” furnished to him. He tries to soothe the patient, and little else, for “I knew that [her raving] might last for many hours, and that it would probably end in the silence of the grave.”

I noted that these bonds were all portions of a gentleman’s dress. On one of them, which was a fringed scarf for a dress of ceremony, I saw the armorial bearing of a Noble, and the letter E.

This aristocratic “dress of ceremony” may be the sash of one of the French chivalric orders, which would have been worn at Court occasions (Sanders 156). An “armorial bearing” is a heraldic symbol, such as a coat of arms (OED). “E” gives, presumably, the first letter of a name.

I opened some of the bottles, smelt them, and put the stoppers to my lips. If I had wanted to use anything save narcotic medicines that were poisons in themselves, I would not have administered any of those.

A narcotic is a drug that tends to induce “sleep or stupefaction” (OED); the “narcotic medicines” are in this case probably opiates.

…taxed by him without mercy, obliged to work for him without pay, obliged to grind our corn at his mill, obliged to feed scores of his tame birds on our wretched crops, and forbidden for our lives to keep a single tame bird of our own, pillaged and plundered to that degree that when we chanced to have a bit of meat, we ate it in fear…

Dickens, according to a letter he wrote to the novelist Bulwer-Lytton, based part of this representation upon an anecdote in Rousseau’s Confessions. Rousseau, whose Contrat Social (“Social Contract”) became, according to Carlyle, the gospel of the French Revolution – “has not Jean Jacques promulgated his new Evangel of a Contrat Social?” (46) – was an 18th-century philosopher. The Contrat Social, now Rousseau’s most famous work, is concerned with the conflict between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community; it attempts to resolve the conflict by dissolving the binary characterization, demonstrating the extent to which the individual is both governed and governing. In its denunciation of slavery and insistence upon the right of every member of a community to participate in making the laws that govern that community, the Contrat Social is a democratic document, and one which – though modern historians suggest that its influence has been overstated – contributed to the Republican thinking of the French Revolution (Gay 321-2). The portion of the Confessions upon which Dickens drew for his picture of the feudal abuse of the poor runs as follows:

I begged this man to give me some dinner, for which I would pay. He offered me some skimmed milk and coarse barley bread, and said he had nothing else. I drank that milk with delight and ate that bread, husks and all. But they were not very invigorating fare for a man dropping with fatigue. The peasant watched me so closely and judged the truth of my story by my appetite. Suddenly he said that he could see I was an honest young man who had not come there as a paid spy. Then he opened a trap-door beside his kitchen, went down some stairs and returned after a minute with a nice brown wheaten loaf, a ham which was most tempting although considerably cut into, and a bottle of wine, the sight of which rejoiced my heart more than all the rest. To this was added a fairly substantial omelet, and I made a dinner such as no one but a walker ever enjoyed. When it came to paying, his alarm and uneasiness returned. He would not take my money, and refused it in a strangely perturbed way. And the funny thing was that I could not imagine what he was frightened of. At last he tremblingly pronounced the terrible words “excisemen” and “cellar rats.” He gave me to understand he hid his wine on account of the excise and his bread on account of the duty, and that he would be a lost man if they suspected for a moment that he was not dying of hunger. All that he said to me on this subject, which was entirely strange to me, made an impression on me which will never grow dim. It was the germ of that inextinguishable hatred which afterwards grew in my heart against the oppression to which the unhappy people are subject, and against their oppressors. (qtd. in Sanders 157-8)

She had not been married many weeks, when that man’s brother saw her and admired her, and asked that man to lend her to him – for what are husbands among us!

This incident invokes the old feudal droit du seigneur – an “alleged custom of medieval times by which the feudal lord might have sexual intercourse with the bride of a vassal on the wedding-night, before she cohabited with her husband” (OED). Though a custom long out of date by the 18th century, the droit du seigneur was a popular feature of 18th- and 19th-century fiction, and, in A Tale of Two Cities, helps to emphasize the injustices of feudalism – a state of political affairs finally overturned by the Revolution in France.

I write with so much difficulty, the cold is so severe, I am so fearful of being detected and consigned to an underground cell and total darkness…

The “underground cell” that Manette fears was a dungeon – a “cachot.” Totally dark, and usually rat-infested, cachots were no longer used for the detention of prisoners under the reign of Louis XVI. Doctor Manette, however, was incarcerated in 1757 (under the less clement reign of Louis XV), and would indeed have been in danger of confinement in a cachot (Maxwell 478).

He had before offered me money, which I had postponed taking. He now gave me a rouleau of gold.

A rouleau is a roll of coins – “A number [probably between 20 and 50] of gold coins made up into a cylindrical packet” (OED).

An urgent case in the Rue St. Honoré, he said. It would not detain me, he had a coach in waiting.

The Rue St. Honoré, located north of the Seine, has – like the Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine – revolutionary significance: The tumbrils passed along the Rue St. Honoré to the Place de la Révolution where the guillotine stood – apparently with such frequency that, in courtesy to the inhabitants, the guillotine was moved for a time to the eastern districts of Paris (Carlyle 731). Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris (1882) gives the following account of the history of the Rue St. Honoré:

The Rue St. Honoré or portions of it have borne different names in the history of old Paris. It will be enough, therefore, to mention briefly some of the main changes. In the reign of Philippe Auguste, towards the end of the 12th century, the Porte St. Honoré stood not very far from [what at the end of the 19th century was the] omnibus entrance into the Place du Carrousel [between the Louvre and the Tuileries] from the Rue de Rivoli. That point was then, and for many years to come, the extreme western limit of Paris, on the right bank of the Seine. But inside the fortifications the Rue St. Honoré did not then exist. In the last year of the reign of Charles V, in 1380, the fortifications round Paris were extended; and in the first half of the 17th century, under Louis XIII, the Porte St. Honoré stood at the end of the … Rue St. Honoré, at the right angles formed by that street and the Rue Royale…. In 1732 the Porte St. Honoré, where we now see the Rue Royale, was pulled down, and the quarter beyond, which from being a suburb of Paris had in fact become a part of the town, was still called by its old name, Le Faubourg St. Honoré. That name is still preserved. (224)

The Rue St. Honoré, as it lay at the time of Darnay’s second trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal, can be seen on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794.  (The Rue St. Honoré, above the Jardin National, runs from the middle-right portion of the map to the upper left, and intersects the Rue de la Révolution in the upper left corner.  The Rue Royale was, predictably, called the Rue de la Révolution during the Revolution, but afterwards reverted to its earlier name.)

Click on map for larger view

If it had pleased GOD to put it in the hard heart of either of the brothers, in all these frightful years, to grant me any tidings of my dearest wife – so much as to let me know by a word whether alive or dead – I might have thought that He had not quite abandoned them.

Dickens seems to have based this portion of Doctor Manette’s letter on a letter actually found in the fallen Bastille. Carlyle gives this account:

Likewise ashlar stones of the Bastille continue thundering through the dusk; its paper archives shall fly white. Old secrets come to view; and long-buried Despair finds voice. Read this portion of an old Letter: “If for my consolation Monseigneur would grant me, for the sake of God and the Most Blessed Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife; were it only her name on a card, to show that she is alive! It were the greatest consolation I could receive; and I should for ever bless the greatness of Monseigneur.” Poor Prisoner, who namest thyself Quéret-Démery, and has no other history, – she is dead, that dear wife of thine, and thou art dead! ‘Tis fifty years since thy breaking heart put this question; to be heard now first, and long heard, in the hearts of men. (168)

This letter – dated “à la Bastille, 7 Octobre, 1752” – predates Doctor Manette’s (which is dated in 1767); however, it would have been found at the same time (when the Bastille fell in 1789). By the time Doctor Manette’s letter is read in court, more than 25 years have elapsed since he implored those responsible for his incarceration for news of his wife – who is now dead. Unlike Quéret-Démery, however, Doctor Manette was restored to his surviving family.

And them and their descendants, to the last of their race, I Alexandre Manette, unhappy prisoner, do this last night of the year 1767, in my unbearable agony, denounce to the times when all these things shall be answered for. I denounce them to Heaven and to earth.”

Though Doctor Manette presumably meant the Last Judgment when he wrote of “the times when all these things shall be answered for,” recommending his captors to God’s judgment, the Revolutionary Tribunal reads the letter as a reference to the Revolution (now come) and its own retributive powers. This circumstance tends to support Dickens’ thematic representation of the hubris of French revolutionaries who, wearing guillotines in place of crosses, appropriate God’s right to judge mankind.

…and for sacrifices and self-immolations on the people’s altar.

The first revolutionary altar was erected among the ruins of the Bastille (Maxwell 479), and though there were a number of such sites, perhaps the most famous altar was the Altar of the Fatherland – the “Autel de la Patrie” – erected in the Champ de Mars after the fall of the Bastille. According to Carlyle, the petition to depose Louis XVI was set up on this altar for the signatures of the people:  “And so, on Sunday the 17th [of July, 1791], there shall be a thing seen, worthy of remembering. Scroll of a Petition, drawn up by Brissots, Dantons, by Cordeliers, Jacobins; for the thing was infinitely shaken and manipulated, and many had a hand in it: such Scroll lies now visible, on the wooden framework of the Fatherland’s Altar, for signature” (406).

Madame Defarge returned to her counter to get the wine, and, as he took up a Jacobin journal and feigned to pore over it puzzling out its meaning, he heard her say, “I swear to you, like Evrémonde!”

The Jacobins – the revolutionary faction which, defeating (and guillotining) the rival moderate party of the Girondins, took control of the Republic in 1793 – oversaw the Reign of Terror. Marat, Danton and Robespierre are among the most famous Jacobins.

The name “Jacobin” derives from the Jacobin convent in Paris where the political society first met and established itself, in 1789 (OED). (The religious Jacobins were, originally, French members of a Dominican order of friars, to whom the church of Saint Jacques was given.) The echo of “Jacquerie” (the word for French peasant revolts) in “Jacobin” is, though appropriate, accidental. Carlyle, in The French Revolution, gives us this introduction to the Jacobins:

[The party] has leased for itself, at a fair rent, the Hall of the Jacobins Convent, one of our “superfluous edifices”; and does therefrom now ... begin shining out on an admiring Paris. And so, by degrees, under the shorter popular title of Jacobins Club, it shall become memorable to all times and lands…. This Jacobins Club, which at first shone resplendent, and was thought to be a new celestial Sun for enlightening the Nations, had, as things all have, to work through its appointed phases: it burned unfortunately more and more lurid, more suphurous, distracted! – and swam at last, through the astonished Heaven, like a Tartarean Portent, and lurid-burning Prison of Spirits in Pain.

Its style of eloquence? Rejoice, Reader, that thou knowest it not, that thou canst never perfectly know. The Jacobins published a Journal of Debates, where they that have the heart may examine: impassioned, dull-droning Patriotic-eloquence; implacable, unfertile – save for Destruction, which was indeed its work: most wearisome, though most deadly. Be thankful that Oblivion covers so much; that all carrion is by and by buried in the green Earth’s bosom, and even makes her grow the greener. The Jacobins are buried; but their work is not.... (271-3)

The Jacobin journal which Carton pretends to “puzzle over” is not necessarily the Journal to which Carlyle refers here; however, its “style of eloquence” is undoubtedly similar.

The English customer paid for what he had had, perplexedly counted his change, and asked, as a stranger, to be directed towards the National Palace.

The National Palace, previously the Palais des Tuileries, is on the other side of Paris from the Saint Antoine wineshop: The Tuileries, between the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde) and the Louvre, is in the western part of Paris, just north of the Seine; Saint Antoine is in the east.  (The National Palace, or Palais National, is visible at the lower right corner of the map shown above.)