…as incomprehensible to those unacquainted with his story as if they had seen the shadow of the actual Bastille thrown upon him by a summer sun, when the substance was three hundred miles away.

This is a rather rough estimate of the distance: London and Paris, by the roads Doctor Manette would have traveled between Soho Square and the Bastille, are just over 200 miles apart (Tronchet, “The Most Frequented Roads Between London and Paris”).

“…Mr. Darnay, good night, God bless you, sir! I hope you have been this day preserved for a prosperous and happy life. – Chair there!”

The kind of “chair” that Mr. Lorry hires is a “light vehicle drawn by one horse” often called a “chaise” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Drawing his arm through his own, he took him down Ludgate-hill to Fleet-street, and so, up a covered way, into a tavern.

From the Old Bailey, Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay walk south to Ludgate Hill, and proceed west for a block or so until Ludgate Hill turns into Fleet Street. This is the street at the end of which Tellson’s Bank has offices; it was known, by the 19th century, for its literary associations and its taverns:

Fleet-st[reet] may almost be called the nursing mother of English literature. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Raleigh, Dryden, Johnson, Goldsmith, and countless names, brilliant even in brilliant times, are associated with Fleet-st[reet]. A tavern-street, as well as a literary center, Fleet-st[reet] was and is. The newest-fashion newspaper and the oldest-style tavern still jostle each other now [in 1882] as they did a century or more ago. (Dickens’s Dictionary of London 107)

The specific tavern to which Mr. Carton and Mr. Darnay proceed is traditionally identified as the Cheshire Cheese in Wine Office Court, just off Fleet Street (Sanders 68). Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, and Fleet Street are visible on this portion of Harrison’s map of London (1777).

Click on map for larger view

He resorted to his pint of wine for consolation, drank it all in a few minutes, and fell asleep on his arms, with his hair straggling over the table, and a long winding-sheet in the candle dripping down upon him.

A pint is two cups, or thirty-two fluid ounces of wine; a winding-sheet is “[a] mass of solidified drippings of grease clinging to the side of a candle, resembling a sheet folded in creases, and regarded in popular superstition as an omen of death or calamity” (OED). The candle that drips over Mr. Carton is thus an ominous one.

The Jackal

A jackal is an “animal of the dog kind, about the size of a fox; one of various species of Canis … inhabiting Asia and Africa, hunting in packs by night with wailing cries, and feeding on dead carcasses and small animals; formerly supposed to go before the lion and hunt up his prey for him, hence termed ‘the lion’s provider’” (OED). The OED also notes figurative uses of the word in application to people who behave like jackals – “esp[ecially] one who does subordinate preparatory work or drudgery for another, or ministers to his requirements.”

…a moderate statement of the quantity of wine and punch which one man would swallow in the course of a night, without any detriment to his reputation as a perfect gentleman, would seem, in these days, a ridiculous exaggeration. The learned profession of the Law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities…

The excessive “quantity of wine and punch which one man would swallow in the course of a night” in the 18th century was apparently a commonplace in the 19th.  Etiquette books of both periods help to illustrate the difference. A conduct book from the early 18th century, The Gentleman’s Library, Containing Rules for Conduct in All Parts of Life (1734), admonishes its readers as follows:

There are many Intemperances which we fall into in the Course of our Lives, as it were, without Design, through Complaisance, or the Importunities of Company: Of this Sort, principally is Drinking. We are generally initiated into the Science, before the Liquor is in the least palatable: But we consent to disoblige our Taste merely in Compliance, ‘till by the habitual Obsequiousness, we grow to a Relish of the Luxury, and then continue the Debauch by Inclination.

A Method of spending one’s Time agreeably is a Thing so little studied, that the common Amusement of our young Gentlemen is Drinking. This Way of Entertainment has Custom on its Side; but as much as it has prevailed, I believe, there have been very few Companies that have been guilty of Excess this Way, where there have not happen’d more Accidents which make against, than for the Continuance of it.

It is impossible to lay down any determinate Rule for Temperance; because what is Luxury in one, may be Temperance in another: But there are few of common Reason who are not Judges of their own Constitutions, so far as to know what Proportions do best agree with them. Were I to prescribe a Rule for Drinking, it should be form’d upon a Saying quoted by Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE: The first Glass for my self, the second for my Friends, the third for good Humour, and the fourth for my Enemies. To go further into Antiquity for a Rule, Plutarch tells us, it was the Advice of Socrates, to beware of such Meats as perswade a Man, though he be not hungry, to eat them; and those Liquors that would prevail with a man to drink them, when he is not thirsty. Temperance, indeed, is a grand Preservative, which has those particular Advantages above all other Means of Health, that it may be rectified by all Ranks and Conditions, at any Season, or in any Place…. (italics and caps in the original, 229-32)

The recipe for temperance suggested here – which seems to boil down to the rule of taking no more than three or four glasses of wine at a time – seems liberal in comparison with 19th-century standards: The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859), a publication nearly contemporary with A Tale of Two Cities, gives this account of

WINE, DIETETIC PROPERTIES OF. – As a general rule, the less wine that is drunk the better it will be for the health. There are, however, exceptional cases, such as bodily infirmity and extreme debility, where the drinking of wine in moderate quantity is enjoined, and partaken of with considerable benefit. But when taken habitually and in excess, it produces derangement of the digestive organs, together with gout, apoplexy, and numerous other disorders. Wine is an unwholesome liquor to be drunk with food, because it stimulates the appetite in excess, and causes a person to eat such an amount of food, as to render the process of digestion tedious and difficult. When, however, wines are drunk, some sort of system should be observed as follows: – Wines should vary with the seasons, light wines are best in summer; in winter, generous wines are preferred. White wine should be drunk with white meats, and red wines with brown meats. Light wines are suitable to light dishes, and stronger wines to more substantial dishes. In summer the wine may be advantageously diluted with water. Light dry wines, such as hock, claret, burgundy, Rhenish, and Hermitage, are, generally speaking, less hurtful than the stronger varieties, as port, sherry, or Madeira. When wine is ordered as a stimulant to debilitated subjects, it should be taken about mid-day, and the quantity swallowed at a draught, not sipped. (1111-2)

In general, then, the “Bacchanalian propensities” of 18th-century gentlemen like Carton and Stryver would be considered excessive in the 19th century, but less so in their own time. Yet the dangers of drinking – to which it speedily becomes apparent that Carton is succumbing in A Tale of Two Cities – are pointed out by The Gentleman’s Library, Containing Rules for Conduct in All Parts of Life (1734):

How many young People do we see miscarry upon this Conduct, and tire upon the Road, before the Journey is half reach’d? Men that made a promising Appearance at first, that set forward with Genius and Improvement, have we not seen them metamorphose themselves at a Tavern, drown their Parts [abilities], and drink away their Shape to that Degree, as if the Witchcrafts of Circe had overtaken them, and the magical Draught transformed them into Brutes…. (232)

This 18th-century account of alcoholism agrees with Dickens’ portrait of the unfortunate Carton.

…shouldering itself toward the visage of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of King’s Bench, the florid countenance of Mr. Stryver might be daily seen, bursting out of the bed of wigs…

The Court of King’s Bench, a division of the High Court of Justice (Sanders 70), was located in Westminster Hall in the late 18th century. According to Thornton’s New, Complete, and Universal History of … London (1784),

The Court of King’s Bench is situated directly opposite the Court of Chancery [in Westminster Hall], and is so called because the king is supposed to sit there in person [in fact, no monarch had presided since Edward IV (r. 1461-1483) (Gaspey, vol. 1, 143)]; but more properly because all pleas of the crown are determined here, from high treason to misdemeanors….

This court has a supreme jurisdiction over all the courts of law in England, and a right to enquire into the conduct of every magistrate in the kingdom. Every breach of the peace, whereby one or more of his majesty’s subjects are injured, is cognizable by this court; and they can reinstate officers in their employments who have been unjustly thrown out by the corporations to which they belong, … and they have a supreme power of revising the judgments given in other courts, no appeal lying from them, but by writ of error to the house of lords. The chief justice of this court takes place next the chancellor, and is st[y]led Lord Chief Justice of England, having three other judges for his assistants. (518)

In the 18th century, when wigs and hair-powder were the prevailing fashion, the description of the court as a “bed of wigs” was particularly apt; however, it is still somewhat appropriate, for wigs were worn in courts of law after they had gone out of fashion in society (Fairholt 553), and are still worn by some members of the English courts today.

It is worth noting that Dickens’ depiction of Mr. Stryver is usually thought to be based upon the English attorney Edwin John James (1812-82), who had a highly successful practice until he was “declared bankrupt and disbarred for professional misconduct in 1861,” whereupon he “emigrated to America and practiced at the New York Bar as well as playing on the stage” (Sanders 67). Authority for the association of the character of Stryver with Edwin John James comes from the Recollections and Experiences (1884) of Edmund Yates, who gives the following account of taking Dickens along to a consultation with James:

James laid himself out to be specially agreeable; Dickens was quietly observant. About four months after appeared the early numbers of A Tale of Two Cities in which a prominent part was played by Mr. Stryver. After reading the description, I said to Dickens, “Stryver is a good likeness.” He smiled. “Not bad I think,” he said, “especially after only one sitting.” (qtd. in Sanders 67)

What the two drank together, between Hilary Term and Michaelmas, might have floated a king’s ship.

The English legal year was divided into four “terms” – Hilary Term, Easter Term, Trinity Term, and Michaelmas Term, with a “Long Vacation” (in which the legal activity of the courts was suspended) from July through October. Courts could continue in session between the terms, though they sometimes changed location during this period (Ford and Monod xx). The terms are named after feast-days in the English church calendar (Sanders 70). To figure what Carton and Stryver drink together between Hilary and Michaelmas is to reckon the quantity of alcohol consumed in the full course of the legal year.

…they went the same Circuit, and even there they prolonged their orgies late into the night…

The “Circuit” refers to the “journey of judges [or barristers] through certain appointed areas, for the purpose of holding courts or performing other stated duties at various places in succession” or to “[t]hose making the circuit; the judges and barristers" (OED). Circuits were held twice a year in each English county (Sanders 70).

He turned into the Temple, and having revived himself by twice pacing the pavements of King’s Bench-walk and Paper-buildings, turned into the Stryver chambers.

The Temple is a complex of buildings between Temple Bar and the Thames, just under and to the west of Fleet Street. Originally named for the Knights Templars – a semi-martial, semi-religious body established in England in the 12th century – the Temple was, by the time of Carton’s stroll, associated with the law. It housed law students and legal practitioners (though it accepted occupants of other professions) and was composed of both private residences and offices (Gaspey, vol. 1, 44-8). King’s Bench Walk and Paper Buildings are part of the Inner Temple, “facing each other at right angles to the Thames” (Sanders 71). (Since the Temple consists of the Inner and Middle Temples, 18th-century histories of London suggest that there must originally have been an “Outer Temple” as well [Harrison 478].) The red brick buildings on King’s Bench Walk were built in 1677-8; but the Paper Buildings of Dickens’ times were recent, built in 1838 to replace earlier buildings that had burned down (Sanders 71). The 19th-century Paper Buildings can still be seen (they are “solemn stuff” according to one modern guidebook), but King’s Bench Walk is today used as a car-park (Woodley 141-2).

An extended account of the history and features of the Temple through the 18th century can be found in Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey of … London (1776):

[The Temple] is so called from its having been antiently the residence of an order of people called Knights Templars, who settled here in the reign of Henry II. These knights, who were truly members of the church militant, by uniting devotion and heroism in their profession, were united on the following occasion. Several of the crusaders having settled at Jerusalem about the year 1118, formed themselves into an uniform militia, under the name of Templars, or knights of the Temple, a name they assumed from their being quartered over a church built on the spot where Solomon’s temple had stood. They first guarded the roads for the security of the pilgrims who came to visit the holy sepulcher; and some time after they had a rule appointed them by pope Honorious II who ordained them to wear a white habit; after which they were farther distinguished by having crosses made of red cloth on their upper garments. The profession of Templars was soon adopted by men of birth in all parts of Europe, who became brethren of the order: they built themselves temples in many principal cities after the form of the Holy Sepulchre, particularly in England, where this in Fleet-street was their chief house, and often used as a sanctuary, in troublesome times, for the preservation of treasure and valuable effects.

The Knights Templars were in so flourishing a condition in the 13th century, that they frequently entertained the nobility, foreign ambassadors, and even the king himself; and many great councils and parliaments were held in their houses. At length, however, their wealth produced a relaxation from the rigid obligations of monastic life; when the knights hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, whose poverty as yet preserved them from the like corruptions, availing themselves of the opportunity, succeeded to that popularity the Templars had lost by their indolence and luxury.

The order of the Knights Templars was totally abolished by Pope Clement V at the instigation of Philip king of France; after which the knights in England were distributed in other convents; and, by the Pope’s orders, their possessions were transferred to the order of St. John, who had their chief houses where St. John’s-square is now situated. These knights soon after [let] out the building that belonged to the Templars to students of the common law: in whose possession it has ever since continued. (478n.)

He had that rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes, which may be observed in all free livers of his class, from the portrait of Jeffries downward, and which can be traced, under various disguises of Art, through the portraits of every Drinking Age.

The portrait of George Jeffreys, who became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1683, and Lord Chancellor in 1686, is probably the one attributed to William Claret, which has belonged to the National Portrait Gallery (in London) since 1858 (Sanders 71). There are, however, five portraits of Jeffreys in the National Portrait Gallery – Claret’s being the one in the Primary Collection – all of which depict a rather young man. The portrait below, taken from Terrors of the Law, Being the Portraits of Three Lawyers (1902), is “after the Picture by Kneller,” which also lodges in the National Portrait Gallery, in the Archives. It is very similar to the portrait by Claret, which can be viewed online at or

Both portraits (Claret’s and the one reproduced above) portray Jeffreys as a youngish man of stern appearance (the portrait reproduced here shows Jeffreys at 30), in wig and gown. It is perhaps possible, however, to distinguish the “rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes” that Dickens attributes to “free livers” like Jeffreys or Carton. In A Child’s History of England (1851-3), Dickens describes Jeffreys – who was notorious for the severity of his sentences – as follows:

These merry times [of the 17th century] produced, and made Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, a drunken ruffian in the name of JEFFREYS; a red-faced, swollen, bloated, horrible creature, with a bullying, roaring voice, and a more savage nature perhaps than ever was lodged in any human breast. (qtd. in Sanders 71)

This depiction of Jeffreys is based on Macaulay’s representation of him in The History of England, a copy of which Dickens owned. According to Macaulay, Jeffreys was

…a man of quick and vigorous parts, but constitutionally prone to insolence and to the angry passions.... His countenance and his voice must always have been unamiable…. Even when he was sober his violence was sufficiently frightful. But in general his reason was overclouded and his evil passions stimulated by the fumes of intoxication. His evenings were ordinarily given to revelry. People who saw him only over his bottle, would have supposed him to be a man gross indeed, sottish and addicted to low company and low merriment, but social and good humoured…. But though wine at first seemed to soften his heart, the effect a few hours later was very different. He often came to the judgment seat, having kept he court waiting long, and yet having but half slept off his debauch, his cheeks on fire, his eyes staring like those of a maniac. (qtd. in Sanders 71)

Since Macaulay and Dickens, Jeffreys has had some defenders, but perhaps not of a persuasive kind. Watt’s Terrors of the Law, Being the Portraits of Three Lawyers (1902) gives the following account:

Jeffreys was fond of company: in that age this meant that he was fond of the bottle. Yet, as a student, he gave quite as much attention to the pedantries of old English law as they deserved. That he made himself reasonably agreeable to those on whom his future fortune depended should surely be no reproach. But, in truth, his talent from the first was so evident that attorneys competed for his services. As a cross-examiner he was unsurpassed; and his style of oratory, however wanting in elegance, was admirably suited to the taste of his day. As he went through a great deal of arduous work which no drunkard could have done, the slanders on his early career may be fairly imputed to the malice of disappointed rivals. Scarce ever was [a] rise so rapid as his. He was Common Serjeant of the City of London at twenty-three, and he was Lord High Chancellor at thirty-seven…. He died ere he was forty-one. That he was of a hasty temper must be admitted. But his was a coarse and violent, nay, brutal age, not given to sentimental reflection or to half-measures. In fine, he must be proved worse than his contemporaries, or his conduct calls for no special measure of blame. (22-3)

…and in the midst of the wreck of papers a table shone, with plenty of wine upon it, and brandy, and rum, and sugar, and lemons.

The table, containing brandy, rum, sugar and lemons, furnishes the ingredients for punch. The following account of punch, and a recipe for it, is given by the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859):

PUNCH. – A name given to a mixture composed of water, spirit, sugar, and acid. The punch most generally made is composed of equal parts of rum and brandy; but any mixture of spirits, or one spirit alone, if there be acid with it, is called punch. The following are among the most approved receipts for compounding this beverage. Ordinary punch. – Take two large rough lemons, juicy, and with rough skins; rub some large lumps of loaf sugar over the lemons till they have acquired the oil from the rind, then put them into a bowl, with as much more sugar as is necessary to sweeten the punch to taste; squeeze the lemon-juice upon the sugar, and bruise the sugar in the juice; add a quart of boiling water, and mix well; then strain through a fine sieve, and add a quart of rum, or a pint of rum and a pint of brandy, or a pint and a half of rum and half a pint of porter; then add three quarts more of water, and mix well. [The Dictionary goes on to give recipes for “Oxford Punch,” “Roman Punch,” “Regent’s Punch,” “Norfolk Punch,” and “Tea Punch,” and follows the instructions with a list of ingredients for each respective kind of punch.]

Ordinary punch. – Lemons, 2; sugar, sufficient; boiling water, 1 quart; rum, 1 quart; or, rum, 1 pint, brandy, 1 pint; or, rum, 1½ pints, porter, ½ pint; boiling water, 3 quarts.

The jackal then invigorated himself with a bumper for his throttle…

According to the OED, a bumper is a “cup or glass of wine, etc., filled to the brim, esp[ecially] when drunk as a toast” and derives from the word “bump,” in connection with a “‘bumping,’ i.e. [a] large, ‘thumping’ glass.” The jackal’s throttle is his throat.

The old Sydney Carton of old Shrewsbury School…

Shrewsbury School, located in the town of Shrewsbury in the county of Shropshire, is a prestigious English public school. It dates from the 16th century and is still in operation. (Public schools in England are more or less equivalent to private institutions in America, funded by private sources and charging fees for entrance and attendance [OED].) At the time of Carton’s attendance, public schools specialized in a classical education (including extensive studies in ancient languages – Latin and Greek). In general, Dickens considered such an education impractical, though he sent his own sons to public schools (Sanders 73).

“Even when we were fellow-students in the Quartier Latin, picking up French, and French law, and other French crumbs that we didn’t get much good of, you were always somewhere, and I was always – nowhere.”

The “Quartier Latin” – in English the “Latin Quarter” – is the area on the “Left Bank” in Paris associated with student life. The name derives from the language of the universities – Latin – originally spoken in the Quarter. The Sorbonne – still an operational and quite prestigious institution of learning – is at the heart of the Quartier Latin.  One 19th-century guidebook remarks that

…the name [Quartier Latin] is very old, for Rabelais, who lived in the middle of the 16th century, speaks of the “Pays Latin,” referring to the quarter of the town in which Latin and Greek were taught. And before the days of Rabelais, when Paris was divided, rigidly enough, into three divisions, that part situated south of the river was known as the University, for it was there that the learned men or the clerks lived. The islands were spoken of as la Cité, and all north of the Seine was called la Ville. (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 210)

“The picturesque doctor’s daughter, Miss Manette.”

In the 18th century, “picturesque” was an aesthetic term invested with rather precise significance in both the literary and the visual arts. The OED defines the word, as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries, as follows: “Like or having the elements of a picture; fit to be the subject of a striking or effective picture; possessing pleasing and interesting qualities of form and colour (but not implying the highest beauty or sublimity): said of landscape, buildings, costume, scenes of diversified action, etc., also of circumstances, situations, fancies, ideas, and the like.” In 18th-century aesthetic philosophy, the picturesque was supposed to have an emotional or spiritual significance, and was added to Burke’s aesthetic categories (the beautiful and the sublime) as a third category of aesthetic experience. Rarely applied to people – as Dickens’ characters apply it to Lucie Manette – the picturesque referred originally to landscapes or paintings of landscapes like those of Salvator Rosa (a 17th-century painter famous for his picturesque canvases). As an attribute of 18th-century fiction, the picturesque is most frequently associated with Gothic novels – those of Ann Radcliffe, for instance – which tend to be dark in tone and full of descriptions of rough, sweeping landscapes.

Dickens’ use of the term “picturesque” to describe Lucie (and, later in the novel, her father) does not seem to reflect much of its special 18th-century significance, drawing rather on the simplest meaning of “fit to be the subject of a picture.” Yet it is possible to argue that Lucie and her father acquire a picturesqueness from the events in which they are and will be implicated – from the historical landscape, as it were. In a letter to John Forster, Dickens wrote,

I set myself the little task of making a picturesque story, rising in every chapter with the characters true to nature, but whom the story itself should express, more than they should express themselves, by dialogue. I mean, in other words, that I fancied that a story of incident might be written, in place of the odious stuff that is written under that pretence, pounding the characters out of its own mortar, and beating their own interests out of them. If you could have read the story all at once, I hope you wouldn’t have stopped halfway. (qtd. in Sanders 6)

This account seems to suggest that the characters of A Tale of Two Cities are picturesque to the extent that they are determined by and represented against a landscape of dramatic historical events.

“If a girl … swoons within a yard or two of a man’s nose, he can see it without a perspective-glass.”

Here, “perspective glass” is probably used in a generic sense, referring to a glass used to enlarge or clarify an image (the OED identifies the word “perspective glass” with “various optical instruments or devices”). It is sometimes assumed that a perspective glass is the same as a telescope, but the term pre-dates the telescope’s invention; and though usage has often conflated the perspective glass with the telescope, the words have also sometimes been distinguished from one another – e.g. a 17th-century notice in the London Gazette advertising the sale of “all sorts of Perspective Glasses, as well as Telescopes and Microscopes” (OED). Some definitions of “perspective glass” identify the instrument with the “zograscope” – an instrument (probably invented in about 1750) for viewing flat images (prints, engraving, etc.) in “magnified form and with stereoscopic effects” like three- dimensionality (OED). If Lucie Manette is “picturesque” in the sense of being picture-like or fit to be the subject of a picture, it is possible that Carton is actually referring to the use of a zograscope. But it is more likely that he is merely exaggerating – magnifying, as it were.

The quiet lodgings of Doctor Manette were in a quiet street-corner not far from Soho-square.

Soho Square is just south of Oxford Street, which was, in the late 18th century, near the northwestern extremity of the city of London. Doctor Manette’s house is typically identified with the real-life Carlisle House. “[C]los[ing] the vista at the end of Carlisle Street” (Sanders 74), which branches off the western side of the square, Carlisle House was, like the Manette residence, in “a quiet street-corner.” Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey … of London (1776) gives a description of Soho Square as it would have appeared during the Manettes’ residence:

SOHO SQUARE, or KING’S SQUARE. This square contains an area of considerable extent, surrounded by neat iron rails. Within the area is a garden, in the center of which is a statue of king Charles II standing on a pedestal…. At his majesty’s feet lie the representations of the four principal [English] rivers, viz. the Thames, Trent, Humber and Severn, pouring out their waters. The buildings round the square, though not uniform, are in general very spacious and handsome. The most distinguished among them is CARLISLE HOUSE. (534)

The origin of the name “Soho” is disputed, and apparently not resolved. Tallis’s Illustrated London (1851) gives the following account of the square and its history up to the time Dickens was writing:

Soho Square, into which there are approaches from every point of the compass, is one of the earliest squares in the metropolis, and the West-end character which it once maintained is hardly yet departed from it, it being the resort, if not the residence, of a considerable proportion of the fashionable world. It was commenced in the reign of Charles II, and the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth [one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons] lived in the center house, opposite the statue. The square was originally called, in honour of that nobleman, Mon-mouth square, and subsequently it acquired the name of King-square. Pennant says, that upon the death of the Duke of Monmouth, his admirers changed the name to Soho, being the word of the day at the field of Sedgmoor, but this account is refuted by a work printed in 1683, four years anterior to the battle of Sedgmoor, in which the London house of the Duke of Monmouth is stated to be in “Soho”-square. Thus the origin of its present name is unexplained. (vol. 1, 103)

When Dickens was composing A Tale of Two Cities, Carlisle House in Soho Square was a hotel; it was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War (Sanders 74). Soho Square is visible on the portion of Harrison’s map of London (1777) that accompanies the entry below.

Mr. Jarvis Lorry walked along the sunny streets from Clerkenwell where he lived, on his way to dine with the Doctor.

Clerkenwell, east of Soho Square, was also near the northern extremities of London in the late 18th century. According to Baedeker’s London and Its Environs (1908), Clerkenwell “derives its name from the ‘Clerks’ Well’ once situated here, to which the parish clerks of London annually resorted for the celebration of miracle plays, etc.” (104); it was originally a village of its own, later incorporated as a parish of London (Sanders 75). In the 18th century, Clerkenwell was a pleasant and somewhat fashionable area; by the time Dickens was writing A Tale of Two Cities, however, it had become a notoriously bad part of town. A modern Blue Guide gives the following account of Clerkenwell’s vicissitudes:

The waters of the Fleet [River] once made it delightful, and its springs and wells served several monastic establishments (the area’s name derives from “Clerk’s Well,” clerks being monks). After the Reformation, many of the new property-owning aristocrats built mansions here and in the 18th century the wells and spas, among them Sadler’s Wells and Spa Fields, became popular venues for weekend entertainments…. Overcrowding gradually polluted the waters and created slums, made worse by the Victorians driving new roads through the dense housing. Clerkenwell gradually became infamous as a center of [19th-century] radicalism and a breeding-ground for the Chartist movement of the 1840s and related riots and demonstrations. (292-3)

In 1780, when Mr. Lorry takes his walk, Clerkenwell would still be a pleasant part of town, known for its somewhat rural attractions (the springs and wells); and, if he lived near the Green, he would have seen the Middlesex Sessions House (erected 1779-82) under construction. Both Clerkenwell and Soho Square are visible on this portion of Harrison’s 1777 map of London.

Click on map for larger view

Taking Clerkenwell Green (visible at the far right, in about the middle of the map) as a general starting-point for Mr. Lorry’s progress toward Soho Square, we can see that, to reach the Manette residence, he would have walked southwest to Oxford Street, and then have turned into Soho Square (Soho Square is visible under Oxford Street, just left of the center of the map, at the bottom). As the crow flies, Clerkenwell Green is about a mile and a quarter from Soho Square. Depending upon the exact location of his lodgings and the circuitousness of his route, Mr. Lorry’s walk may have been slightly longer or slightly shorter.

There were few buildings then, north of the Oxford-road, and forest-trees flourished, and wild flowers grew, and the hawthorn blossomed, in the now vanished fields. As a consequence, the country airs circulated in Soho with vigorous freedom…

Dickens’ account of the rural quality of Soho Square in 1780 is somewhat exaggerated. As we can see from the map above, the area north of Oxford Street was already reasonably demarcated with streets and squares in 1777. In comparison to its 19th-century condition, however, the area was quite pastoral in the 18th century. Moreover, according to the scale of Harrison’s map, Soho Square is only a little over a quarter of a mile from the fields north of Oxford Road (Darlington and Howgego 127). Thus, though the area around the Square was more developed in 1780 than Dickens suggests, the “country airs” could indeed have circulated in Soho with a reasonably “vigorous freedom,” and the hawthorn may well have blossomed nearby.

Hawthorn is a “thorny shrub or small tree, Cratægus Oxyacantha” (OED), which grows well in England and is frequently used in hedges. Its blossoms are usually white, but sometimes red or pink. The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening (c. 1888) describes it as “sharp-spined,” “sweet-scented,” and tending to reach a height of 10 to 20 feet (vol. 1, 392). The illustration below, of a flowering branch of hawthorn, is taken from the Illustrated Dictionary.

…instead of languishing into the parish like stray paupers without a settlement…

Dickens’ comparison of London breezes to “stray paupers without a settlement” invokes the system of relief for paupers (the poor) that existed in England from the 16th century until the beginning of the 19th. Parishes – ecclesiastical divisions of land – were responsible for supporting the poor, aged, mentally ill and otherwise incapacitated members of their communities; thus a pauper residing in a given parish would be “settled” there, and would receive assistance through that parish. In 1834, however, the passage of the Poor Law Amendment Act changed the system. The object of the Poor Law Amendment Act was to improve the system of poor relief, reducing the costs of providing it (which were defrayed through taxation), standardizing administration, etc. Instead of making poor relief the responsibility of individual parishes, the Poor Law Amendment Act grouped parishes into districts overseen by elected Poor-Law guardians, and established workhouses for the poor in each district. Though intended as charitable and benign institutions in which the able-bodied poor could find lodging and subsistence in return for labor, workhouses became notorious for their abuses (Dickens himself exposed the injustices of the workhouse in Oliver Twist [1837-8]) (Arnstein 55-7). By the time Dickens was writing A Tale of Two Cities, the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act had been in effect for over twenty years, and it is possible that his reference to stray paupers, instead of invoking a bygone social nuisance, is introduced out of nostalgia for a gentler period in England’s social history.

…and there was many a good south wall, not far off, on which the peaches ripened in their season.

Because of England’s climate, special care had to be taken of peach trees; they were often planted against walls to protect and help ripen the fruit. The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening (c.1888) gives an account of peaches and the proper means of growing them:

PEACH (Persica vulgaris). The Peach has been cultivated in this country [England] since the middle of the sixteenth century, about which time it is said to have been introduced. Although generally stated to be a native of Persia, De Candolle considers the Peach to be of Chinese origin…. It was known to Theophrastus in 322 B.C. Its cultivation is now more or less extensively practiced over a large portion of Europe and America. In this country, the trees require protection of some sort, particularly during the spring. This is provided by planting them under glass, or against walls outside, with a southern exposure, temporary coverings being used in the latter case, throughout the flowering period, and until the fruits are set. Trees planted in the open ground never become sufficiently ripened to bear fruit: consequently, their culture is seldom attempted, except in a young state, without proper protection being provided…. (vol. 3, 42)

... a tranquil bark ...

A bark is simply a boat. The word, however, was already somewhat archaic in the 19th century; it was and is usually used poetically (OED).

In a building at the back, attainable by a court-yard where a plane-tree rustled its green leaves…

There are various kinds of plane trees, but Platanus orientalis, originally “a native of Persia and the Levant” (OED), is “commonly planted as an ornamental tree in European and British parks, town avenues, and squares, etc.” (OED). The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening (c. 1888) notes that the typical platanus orientalis can grow to be 60 to 80 feet tall and describes it as

A beautiful tree, presenting a great variety of handsome forms, which differ chiefly in the shape and lobing of the leaves. The variety of acerifolia (Maple-leaved) is the commonest in cultivation…. It [the acerifolia variety] is the form known as the London Plane, on account of its being generally planted in the parks; and is an erect-growing tree, with usually three-lobed leaves, or, if five-lobed, less deeply so than in the typical form…. The typical orientalis is a more spreading tree, with very large, deeply five-lobed leaves, cordate or truncate at the base. The variety cuneata has the leaves distinctly wedge-shaped at the base; laciniata, very deeply, much-divided leaves; and variegata, variegated foliage. (vol. 3, 156)

…and silver to be chased ...

To “chase” silver is to ornament it, usually either by adding embossing or engraved work in relief, or by engraving its surface (OED).

The first was the best room, and in it were Lucie’s birds, and flowers, and books, and desk, and work-table, and box of water-colours…

Lucie’s books, desk, work-table, and box of water-colors identify her as an accomplished young woman of the 18th century. Women, of course, were not sent to school, so “accomplishment” meant, instead of specific intellectual talents or achievements, a conversant knowledge of literature and domestic arts like sketching and sewing. The presence of Lucie’s water-colors suggests that she can and does draw; and her work-table refers to her box of sewing or needlepoint materials. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives the following illustration and description of a

BOX FOR THE WORK-TABLE. – This convenient and elegant receptacle is almost indispensable for females who are much employed in needlework; as it contains, in a compact form, all the implements and materials called into requisition; and possesses the double advantage of costing but little, and of being portable. The moveable tray holds the scissors, knife, stiletto, bodkin, &c.; the part beneath is capable of containing the more bulky materials generally used and the part immediately beneath the lid is adapted to retain any article that is required to be kept with great care. (179)

…taking off her darling’s bonnet when she came up-stairs, and touching it up with the ends of her handkerchief, and blowing the dust off it, and folding her mantle ready for laying by…

A bonnet is a woman’s hat, described by the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) as “one of the most important [articles of female attire], for, according as it offends against, or conforms with, certain principles of taste, so it is rendered what is called ‘becoming’ or ‘unbecoming,’ and materially influences, not only the appearance of the face of the wearer, but the whole person” (166). In the 18th century, bonnets, to accommodate the large wigs of the period, sometimes reached considerable proportions. Lucie’s bonnet, however, would have been a relatively modest affair, partly because she wears her own hair, and partly because she does not participate in the vogues of the very wealthy. According to the Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859), Miss Pross’ scrupulous care of Lucie’s bonnet is appropriate:

A bonnet and its trimmings will last much longer if dusted immediately after a walk, and then placed in a bonnet-box; for this purpose there is nothing better than a handful of large feathers of fowls tied together. Straw bonnets may be greatly improved in appearance by washing them with soap and water, applied with a sponge or flannel; after washing, rinse them well in cold water, and dry them quickly in the air; when dry, beat the white of an egg well and wash the bonnet with it. The wire should be removed previous to the operation, and fastened on afterwards. Old straw bonnets may be easily reduced into bonnets or hats for children. (166)

A mantle is a “protective garment or blanket,” usually a “loose sleeveless cloak” (OED).

Miss Pross’s friendship being of the thoroughly practical kind, she had ravaged Soho and the adjacent provinces, in search of impoverished French, who, tempted by shillings and half-crowns, would impart culinary mysteries to her. From these decayed sons and daughters of Gaul…

A large French Protestant population settled in the neighborhood of Soho Square in the 17th century, partly as a result of the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes. (The Edict of Nantes had granted Protestants equal rights with Catholics in 1598, but was subsequently revoked by Louis XIV.) It is apparently the progeny of these emigrants that constitute Dickens’ “decayed sons and daughters of Gaul.”

“Pray, Doctor Manette,” said Mr. Darnay ... “have you seen much of the Tower?”

The Tower of London is one of the oldest and most famous of the city’s buildings. Erected in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it was originally a strategically-placed fortress, standing on the Thames just outside London, which it defended. The Tower was gradually enlarged under subsequent kings, and became, especially from the 16th century forward, famous as the prison and site of execution of high-profile prisoners of the crown. Two unfruitful wives of Henry VIII were beheaded there, as was Lady Jane Grey (who was queen of England for nine days); Sir Thomas More and Cromwell were executed outside the Tower walls, on Tower Hill; etc. (Woodley 104).

After the Restoration (of Charles II in 1660), the Tower was less frequently used as a prison, and began to acquire its more modern aspect – that of a museum devoted to its own past (Woodley 105). Indeed, by the late 18th century, the Tower seems to have become something of a tourist attraction: Histories of London from the period describe the “extensive and noble prospect of the Thames” available from the White Tower, the pleasantness of the “Ladies’ Walks” on the walls of the fortress, and the six-pence admission price of the zoo (Harrison 82-5). This zoo – the Royal Menagerie – gave its name to what is still the “Lion’s Gate” on the west side of the Tower, and was moved to the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park in 1834 (Baedeker 131).

Despite the increasingly “touristy” aspect of the Tower in the 18th century, it is possible that Darnay would have been detained there in 1780 (as he says he was). The last prisoners to be held in the Tower were detained in the early 19th century, and Francis Henry de la Motte (the French spy whose trial was Dickens’ model for Darnay’s) was held in the Tower. De la Motte’s detention there, however, seems to have been the result of special circumstances. Newgate Prison, damaged in the Gordon Riots of 1780, and overcrowded with prisoners in what serviceable cells remained, could not easily accommodate him. Thus, it was recommended that he be incarcerated in the Tower (Annual Register … for 1781 185).

A full account of the Tower as it appeared in the late 18th century is excerpted here from Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description, and Survey of … London (1776):

The Tower of London, which is situated on the east of the city, originally consisted of no more than what is now called the White Tower, which was erected by William the Conqueror in the year 1076, with a view to secure to himself a safe retreat, in case of any sudden surprise. [The White Tower is so called because it was whitewashed, at Henry III’s direction, in 1240.]

After the death of William the Conqueror, his son William Rufus, in the year 1098, surrounded it with walls, and a broad and deep ditch, which, in some places, was an hundred and twenty feet wide.

That part where the lions and other wild beasts are now [in 1776] kept, was built by king Henry the First for the reception of those animals, which were presented to him by the emperor Frederick.

Considerable additions were made to it by succeeding kings. Edward II built the church of St. Vincula within the Tower; and in the year 1465 the fortifications were greatly enlarged by king Edward IV. The White Tower was rebuilt in 1638; and after the restoration of it was thoroughly repaired, and a great number of additional buildings made to it. 

In 1663 the ditch was cleansed, all the wharfing about it was rebuilt of brick and stone, and sluices made for admitting and retaining the Thames water as occasion might require.

At present, besides the White Tower, are the offices of ordnance, the mint, the keepers of the records, the jewel office, the Spanish armory, the new or small armory, barracks for the soldiers, and handsome houses for the chief officers who reside there; so that the Tower of London appears now more like a town than a fortress.

The situation of this building is certainly the most eligible that could have been projected for the purposes intended, it lying about eight hundred yards to the eastward of London-bridge; and consequently near enough to protect this opulent city from invasion by water.

It stands on the north side of the river Thames, from which it is separated by a convenient wharf and narrow ditch, over which is a draw-bridge for the more easy receiving or sending out [of] ammunition and naval or military stores. On this wharf is a long and beautiful platform whereon stand sixty-one pieces of cannon mounted on very handsome carriages, which are only fired on days of state, or to demonstrate any joyful news to the publick.

Within the walls, on a line with this wharf, is a platform seventy yards long, called the Ladies' Lane, because much frequented by the ladies in the summer. It is shaded within by a row of lofty trees, and without commands a most delightful prospect of the shipping on the river. The ascent to this line is by stone steps; and being once upon it, you may walk almost round the walls of the Tower without interruption, in the course of which are three batteries….

The Tower-wharf is enclosed at each end by gates, which are opened every morning for the convenience of a free intercourse between the respective inhabitants of the Tower, the city and its suburbs.

Under this wharf is a water-gate through the Tower wall, commonly called Traitor’s Gate, by which it has been customary, in former times, to convey traitors and other state prisoners, to and from the Tower….

The White Tower is a large square irregular building, no one side answering to another, nor are any of its watch-towers, of which there are four at the top, built alike. It consists of three very lofty stories, under which are spacious and commodious vaults. The top is covered with flat leads, from whence there is an extensive and noble prospect of the Thames, and the adjacent country…. Having pointed out the principal buildings within the Tower, we shall proceed to the description of those curiosities which are usually shewn to strangers. And first,

Of the Lions and other wild Beasts.

Those who are inclined to see the rarities in the Tower of London, generally take a view of the wild beasts, before any other curiosity, as, by their situation, they first present themselves; for when you have entered the outer gate, and passed what is called the spur-guard, you will see the keeper’s house before you in the corner of the right hand, directly opposite to the second gate, which you will easily know by the figure of a lion being placed over the door. By ringing a bell, which you will readily see, you will instantly gain admittance; and on paying six-pence each person, will be shewn such a noble collection of wild creatures as is well worthy the admiration of the curious. (82-5)

The existence of this menagerie is perhaps the most obviously “touristy” element of the Tower in the late 18th century. In 1776, the wild beasts included “PEDORE, a beautiful lioness brought from Senegal, and presented to his majesty by governor O’Harra” and “CAESAR, brother of Pedore … supposed to be the finest lion ever seen in England … [whose] mouth opens wide, and discovers a frightful set of teeth; and when he roars, he may be heard at a great distance” (Harrison 85). There was also Miss Zara, a lion from the Barbary Coast; Phillis, a wolf from Boulogne; Sukey, a bear from North America; Hector, a Moroccan lion who “greatly resemble[d] Caesar”; Helena, “companion to Hector”; Miss Groggery, a leopardess from Algiers; Sir Robert, a leopard from Senegal; Miss Nancy, a lioness from Senegal; a “Lion-Monkey” from the Cape of Good Hope (“This beast is of a black colour, with very shaggy hair”); an “American Black Bear”; a “large brown eagle” from Norway; an “Eagle of the Sun” (a kind of eagle said to fly higher than any other and “able to look steadfastly at the sun, even in his most refulgent splendor”); a “Racoon” from Norway; Rose, a Norway wolf; and Miss Sally, a leopardess from Morocco “brought over in the same ship with Hector” (Harrison 86). These final cautionary remarks are added:

Such was the state of the wild beasts in the Tower of London, when the writer of this work took his survey of that extensive fortress. Before, however, we quit this place, it may not be improper to observe, that, among other things, the keeper generally relates some melancholy truth which has arisen from the indiscretion of people going too near the dens of the lions. We would, therefore, advise those who may hereafter go to indulge their curiosity in the sight of those animals, to stand at a proper distance from the dens, as the situation of the beasts [is] sufficiently eligible to gratify the nicest inspection. (Harrison 86)

This illustration, from Harrison’s New and Universal History … of London (1776), gives us a “View of the Tower from the River Thames,” as it would have appeared at the time of Darnay’s acquaintance with it.

This portion of Harrison’s map of London (1777) shows the Tower on the Thames, relative to London Bridge.

Click on map for larger view

“… What that unknown prisoner had written will never be read, but he had written something, and hidden it away to keep it from the gaoler.”

The story of this prisoner’s hidden communication is an invention of Dickens’, but the walls of cells in the Tower were known to bear the inscriptions of former prisoners. Tallis’s Illustrated London (1851) describes how

The walls of [one] ancient dungeon are covered with inscriptions from the hands of those which they once confined, inscriptions telling of the sorrows felt by writers who have long since mingled with the dust. (vol. 2, 148)

The most famous inscriptions, in Dickens’ time, were those of the Beauchamp Tower. Messages in Beauchamp Tower were first found and published in 1796 (some time after Darnay’s detention) when it was converted into a mess hall for garrison officers. When it was restored in 1854 (shortly before Dickens began writing A Tale of Two Cities), copies of the “Inscriptions, Memorials, and Devices” found in Beauchamp Tower were published by W. R. Dick (Sanders 78).

The great bell of St. Paul’s was striking One … when Mr. Lorry, escorted by Jerry, high-booted and bearing a lantern, set forth on his return-passage to Clerkenwell. There were solitary patches of road on the way between Soho and Clerkenwell, and Mr. Lorry, mindful of footpads, always retained Jerry for this service: though it was usually performed a good two hours earlier.

St. Paul’s cathedral, rebuilt according to the plan of architect Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London (1666), is located a little less than a mile and a half from Soho Square. Thus, the bell would probably have been audible in Soho Square in the quiet of the night. The relative locations of Soho Square and St. Paul’s are visible on this portion of Harrison’s 1777 map of London (Soho Square is at the top left; St. Paul’s is at the lower right).

Click on map for larger view

The great dome of St. Paul’s is a familiar part of the London skyline, and the cathedral itself forms a kind of spiritual center for the city, religious edifices having existed on the grounds of St. Paul’s since the Roman occupation of England. The first Christian church, dedicated to St. Paul, was built and later burned down, 604-75 A.D.; in 685 it was rebuilt, but destroyed by Vikings in 962; and Old St. Paul’s was then built (1087-1310) in the Norman style. Old St. Paul’s stood until the Great Fire of London (1666), when two thirds of the city burned (“History Timeline,” St. Paul’s Cathedral). Afterwards, various plans for a new St. Paul’s were entertained; Christopher Wren’s was ultimately accepted, and building commenced in 1675.

Harrison’s New and Universal History, Description and Survey of … London (1776) furnishes this “View of St. Paul’s Cathedral” (above) as it appeared in the late 18th century, and describes the history and building of the new cathedral (about a hundred years old when Mr. Lorry walks home with Mr. Cruncher) as follows:

[T]he first stone … was laid by Mr. Strong, the chief mason, on the 21st of June, 1675; and the work being prosecuted without the least interruption, the cross was put up, and the whole building completed, in the year 1711.

Thus was this noble fabric begun and finished in the space of thirty-six years, by one architect, the great Sir Christopher Wren; one principal mason, Mr. Strong; and under one bishop of London, Dr. Henry Compton: whereas St. Peter’s at Rome, the only structure that can come in competition with it, was 155 years in building, under twelve successive architects, … and attended by the best artists in the world for sculpture, statuary, mosaic work, and painting…. (328)

The “footpads” of whom Mr. Lorry is mindful are highwaymen who robbed on foot (OED).