Glancing at his hands, which were discoloured by his late work…

Doctor Manette’s hands are probably discolored as a result of contact with the materials out of which he makes shoes – glues, waterproofing agents like pitch, tanned leathers, and so forth. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives the following directions for the preparation of leather:

The principal object of the art of converting skin into leather is to render it strong, tough, and durable, and to prevent its destruction by putrefaction. The skins are first cleansed of hair and cuticle, and then impregnated either with vegetable tar and extract, as in the production of tanned leather, or with alum and other salts, as for tawed leather. These processes are sometimes combined, and tanned leather often undergoes the further operation of currying, or impregnating with oil…. [T]hick sole leather is tanned; white kid for gloves is tawed; the upper leather for boots and shoes is tanned and curried; and fine Turkey leather is tawed, and afterwards slightly tanned. (620)

“I believe,” returned Doctor Manette, “that there had been a strong and extraordinary revival of the train of thought and remembrance that was the first cause of the malady. Some intense associations of a most distressing nature were vividly recalled, I think. It is probable that there had long been a dread lurking in his mind, that those associations would be recalled – say, under certain circumstances – say, on a particular occasion. He tried to prepare himself, in vain; perhaps the effort to prepare himself, made him less able to bear it.

Doctor Manette’s account of his condition (which he and Mr. Lorry discuss as though it were another’s) draws on 18th-century theories of psychology derived from John Locke and developed by David Hartley and others (Maxwell 462). Locke discusses the psychological power of the association and mis-association of ideas in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), in a chapter called “Of the Association of Ideas”:

Some of our Ideas have a natural Correspondence and Connexion one with another: It is the Office and Excellency of our Reason to trace these, and hold them together in that Union and Correspondence which is founded in their peculiar Beings. Besides this there is another Connexion of Ideas wholly owing to Chance or Custom; Ideas that in themselves are not at all of kin, come to be so united in some Men’s Minds, that ‘tis very hard to separate them, they always keep in company, and the one no sooner at any time comes into the Understanding but its Associate appears with it; and if they are more than two which are thus united, the whole gang always inseparable shew themselves together….

That there are such Associations of [Ideas] made by Custom in the Minds of most Men, I think no Body will question who has well consider’d himself or others; and to this, perhaps, might be justly attributed most of the Sympathies and Antipathies observable in Men, which work as strongly, and produce as regular Effects as if they were Natural, and are therefore called so, though they at first had no other Original but the accidental Connexion of two Ideas, which either the strength of the first Impression, or future Indulgence so united, that they always afterwards kept company together in that Man’s Mind, as if they were but one Idea. I say most of the Antipathies, I do not say all, for some of them are truly natural, depend upon our original Constitution, and are born with us; but a great part of those which are counted Natural, would have been known to be from unheeded, though, perhaps, early Impressions, or wanton Phancies at first, which would have been acknowledged the Original of them if they had been warily observed. A grown Person surfeiting with Honey, no sooner hears the Name of it, but his Phancy immediately carries Sickness and Qualms to his Stomach, and he cannot bear the very Idea of it; other Ideas of Dislike and Sickness, and Vomiting presently accompany it, and he is disturb'd, but he knows from whence to date this Weakness, and can tell how he got this Indisposition….

This wrong Connexion in our Minds of Ideas in themselves, loose and independent of one another, has such an influence, and is of so great force to set us awry in our Actions, as well Moral as Natural, Passions, Reasonings, and Notions themselves, that, perhaps, there is not any one thing that deserves more to be looked after….

Instances of this kind [the mis-association of ideas] are so plentiful every where, that if I add one more, it is only for the pleasant oddness of it. It is of a young Gentleman, who having learnt to Dance, and that to great Perfection, there happened to stand an old Trunk in the Room where he learnt. The Idea of this remarkable piece of Household-stuff, had so mixed it self with the turns and steps of all his Dances, that though in that Chamber he could Dance excellently well, yet it was only whilst that Trunk was there, nor could he perform well in any other place, unless that, or some such other Trunk had its due position in the Room. If this Story be suspected to be dressed up with some comical Circumstances, a little beyond precise Nature; I answer for my self, that I had it some Years since from a very sober and worthy Man, upon his own knowledge, as I report it…. (394-400)

The peculiarity described in the last paragraph – a debility arising from a particular association or mis-association of ideas – is something like Doctor Manette’s. Under “certain circumstances,” the old trauma of the Bastille is recalled, and he succumbs to the madness that previously resulted from the experience. However, because the malady seems to be caused by an association of ideas, only the revival of those ideas would be likely to bring it on. Thus it is that the Doctor says, “with the firmness of self-conviction, ‘that [nothing] but the one train of association would renew it.’”

“The occupation resumed under the influence of this passing affliction so happily recovered from,” said Mr. Lorry, clearing his throat, “we will call – Blacksmith’s work. Blacksmith’s work.”

Blacksmiths are metal-workers who fashion iron or other black metals (as “whitesmiths” are those who work on tin or white metals [Oxford English Dictionary]). Mr. Lorry may choose to substitute “blacksmith’s work” for Doctor Manette’s cobbling because both trades are manual and artisanal; also, blacksmiths sometimes make shoes (metal ones for horses). There is thus a general resemblance between Doctor Manette’s profession and the profession attributed to the fictional sufferer.

“I quite understand it to be a nice question. And yet I think – ”

“Nice,” in the 18th and 19th centuries, usually meant “[f]astidious, dainty, difficult to please, esp[ecially] in respect of food or cleanliness; also in good sense, refined, having refined tastes” (OED). Alternate meanings are similar, stressing the particularity, scrupulousness, or sensitivity of the person or thing described. Thus the “nice question” is not a pleasing or kind one (as modern usage would suggest), but rather one of particular delicacy, requiring tact.

“…as a plodding man of business who only deals with such material objects as guineas, shillings, and bank-notes – may not the retention of the thing, involve the retention of the idea?”

The “material objects” with which Mr. Lorry is concerned are monetary. A guinea is worth slightly more than an English pound, at 21 shillings (a pound is equal to 20 shillings). And bank notes, both in Mr. Lorry’s time and Dickens’, were promissory notes something like checks or traveler’s checks – “A promissory note given by a banker … payable at a fixed date and to a specified person” (OED). (18th- and 19th-century bank notes were not, as now, simply paper money.) By the mid-19th century, the Bank of England had a monopoly on the issue of bank notes. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) gives an account of bank notes at the time Dickens was writing, including a description of the notes, methods of circulation, and insurance against loss or theft:

BANK NOTE. – A species of promissory note issued by the Bank of England, payable on demand. Gold and silver can always be obtained for notes upon any day in the week from ten [until] four. A bank note is a legal tender for the payment of any amount above £5. If a bank note be destroyed by fire or otherwise, and satisfactory proof be given to the directors of the Bank of England of the fact, together with sufficient security to indemnify them in the event of their being afterwards called upon to pay it, a note of equal value to the one destroyed will be given by the authorities…. When a person loses a bank note, or has one stolen from him, he should immediately forward the particulars of the note to the Bank of England, and advertise in the public papers that the payment of the note is stopped; and should it be presented at the bank, notice of the fact will be sent to the loser, and the note detained to allow time for inquiry.

If a person finds a bank note, and after advertising for the owner unsuccessfully, applies it to his own use, he cannot be proceeded against criminally should the owner afterwards establish his claim, but is nevertheless compelled to refund the amount.

The following precautions in connection with bank notes are worthy of observation. When a bank note is remitted by letter, one half should be sent first by itself, with a request for an acknowledgment of its receipt; when this comes to hand, the second half may be forwarded. Bank notes should not be left lying carelessly about a room, on chairs, tables, drawers, &c., as they are liable to be swept into the fire, or out of the window; neither should they be carried loosely in the pocket…. Country notes [issued by banks outside London] should not be taken in payment in London, unless made payable at some London bankers. When a bank note is taken in payment, the name and address of the person who pays it, together with the date of payment, should be written on it; at the same time a memorandum should be taken of the amount, number, and date of the note. (93)

Fluttering hopes and doubts – hopes, of a love as yet unknown to her; doubts, of her remaining upon earth, to enjoy that new delight – divided her breast.

Death in childbirth was frequent among women in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though statistics are scarce, we know that measures taken in the mid-18th century to train midwives and medical students, together with the introduction of lying-in hospitals for the poorer classes (who had previously had access only to the workhouse) significantly reduced the incidence of death in childbirth. In 1749, lying-in hospital records show that 1 in 42 women died in childbirth; but by the end of the century (1799-1800), only 1 in 913 died. Between 1779 and 1788 (Lucie’s troubled pregnancy probably occurs in 1783), 1 in 60 women died in labor in lying-in hospitals (George 49, 336); and though Lucie would probably have been delivered privately, with a trained doctor in attendance, even the best care available could not prevent fatalities.

“…and the spirit departed from her embrace that had been entrusted to it.”

During much of the 18th century, the infant mortality rate was as high as or higher than 50%, and though the death rate in London decreased in the last quarter of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th (due to medical developments, improved nutrition and sanitation, etc.), it is not surprising that Lucie – giving birth in the 1780s – would lose a child. Indeed, according to statistics in London in the Eighteenth Century, between 1770 and 1789, 51.5% of children born in London died under the age of five (George 406).

Sighs of the winds that blew over a little garden-tomb were mingled with them also…

It has been suggested that the “garden-tomb” of the little deceased Darnay would have been located in a suburban cemetery such as Highgate, where Dickens had one of his own daughters interred in 1851 (Sanders 114). However, given the pastoral quality of Dickens’ 18th-century London, and the fact that the ring of suburban cemeteries (of which Highgate Cemetery is one) was not opened until 1839 (Woodley 369), the “garden tomb” was not necessarily suburban.

Mr. Stryver shouldered his way through the law, like some great engine forcing itself through turbid water, and dragged his useful friend in his wake, like a boat towed astern.

The steam-engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen and improved by James Watt in the early and mid-18th century (Quennell 178), was not widely used in vehicles until the 19th century. Steamboats first appeared on the Thames in 1815, and the railways (driven by steam power) were not developed until the 1830s and 1840s in England (Meckier 182). Thus, the image of Mr. Stryver as a kind of steamboat is more properly a 19th-century image than an 18th-century one – of Dickens’ time more than of Stryver’s own.

…and on the diamond-cut-diamond arts in himself, madam, which had rendered him “not to be caught.”

Diamonds are known for their extreme hardness; thus, the phrase “diamond-cut-diamond” refers to “an equal match in sharpness (of wit, cunning, etc.)” (OED).

…There is such an uneasiness in Paris, that we have actually a run of confidence upon us! Our customers over there, seem not to be able to confide their property to us fast enough. There is positively a mania among some of them for sending it to England.”

A “run” on a bank is “[a] series or rush of sudden and pressing demands made upon a bank or treasury for immediate payment” (OED), or “a sudden movement on the part of foreign depositors to withdraw their holdings of a nation’s currency by exchanging them for equivalent sums in other currencies” (OED). Such runs are usually occasioned by a lack of confidence in the bank – a concern, for instance, that the bank will not be able to meet cash demands. A “run of confidence,” on the other hand, seems to be the opposite phenomenon – a run of money into the bank instead of out of it.

“No, I am going to play backgammon with you, if you like,” said the Doctor. “I don’t think I do like…. Is the tea-board still there, Lucie, I can’t see it.”

Backgammon, which the Doctor offers to play with Mr. Lorry, is still a popular board game. It is a “game played on a board consisting of two tables (usually united by a hinge), with draughtsmen whose moves are determined by throws of the dice.” The name is apparently derived from the Middle English for “back-game” or “back-play,” because “the pieces are (in certain circumstances) taken up and obliged to go back, that is re-entered at the table” (OED). The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) illustrates the initial configuration of the backgammon table and gives the following description and rules of

BACKGAMMON. – A game played on a board, divided into two parts or tables, connected by a hinge which enables it to shut up like a box. Every table possesses twelve points, six at each end; and these are coloured black and white alternately. Each player has fifteen men, black and white, to distinguish them, and they are disposed in the following manner. – Supposing the game to be played on the right-hand table, two are placed upon the ace point in the adversary’s table, five upon the six point in the opposite table, three upon the cinque point in the hithermost table, and five on the six point in the right-hand table. Each player is then to endeavour to bring the men round into his right-hand table, by throwing with a pair of dice those numbers that contribute towards it; and at the same time to prevent his adversary from doing the like. The first best throw upon the dice is esteemed ace. When the player carries his men home, in order to lose no point, he must carry the most distant man to his adversary’s bar point, that being the first stage he is to place it on. The next move is six points further; viz, in the place where the adversary’s five men are placed out of his table; and the player must progress in this manner till all his men are brought home except two, when, by losing a point, he may often save the gammon by throwing two fours or two fives. When a hit is only played for, he should endeavour to gain either his own or his adversary’s cinque point; and if that fail, by his being hit by the adversary, and he find him further advanced than himself, in that case he must throw more men into the adversary’s table, which is done in this manner: – He must put a man upon his cinque or bar point; and if the adversary neglect to hit it, he may then gain a fo[r]ward game instead of a back game. But, if the adversary hit him, he should play for a back game; and then the greater the number of men which are taken up, makes his game the better, because by these means he will preserve his game at home. He should then endeavour to gain both his adversary’s ace and trois points, or his ace and deuce points, and take care to keep three men upon the adversary’s ace point, that, in case the latter hit him from thence, that point may remain still secure to himself. The rules of backgammon are as follows: – 1. When a man is taken from any point, it must be played. 2. A man is not supposed to be played till it is placed upon a point and quitted. 3. If a player have only fourteen men in play, there is no penalty inflicted, because by his playing with a lesser number than he is entitled to, he plays to a disadvantage for want of the deficient man to make up his tables. 4. If he bear any number of men before he has entered a man taken up, and which of course he was obliged to enter, such men so borne must be entered again in the adversary’s table, as well as the man taken up. 5. If he have mistaken his throw and played it, and his adversary have thrown, it is not in the choice of either of the players to alter it, unless they both agree so to do. (79)

A “tea-board,” which Mr. Lorry asks for in preference to the backgammon board, is a tea-tray, usually made of wood (OED).

Saint Antoine had been, that morning, a vast dusky mass of scarecrows heaving to and fro, with frequent gleams of light above the billowy heads, where steel blades and bayonets shone in the sun.

Bayonets, by the time of the French Revolution, had been in use for over a hundred years. According to Fairholt’s 1860 Costume in England, A History of Dress, bayonets were “first mentioned in about 1647 in the Memoirs of Puységur, and [were] first introduced in the British Army in 1672” (358). Fairholt defines a bayonet as “[a] dagger affixed to the end of a gun” (358), and gives the history of the bayonet – its invention, use, and development – as follows:

[The late 17th century saw the] introduction of the bayonet, which received its name from the place of its invention, Bayonne, from whence it rapidly spread all over Europe. It was originally a dagger with a wooden hilt, that could be pushed or screwed into the mouth of a gun…; consequently the gun was useless as a fire-arm while the bayonet was thus inserted; and it was not until our English soldiers, serving under William III in Flanders, felt the heavy fire of the opposing French from bayoneted guns, while their own were powerless and stopped up by the weapons they had screwed into their muzzles for a charge, that they learned how to combine the full efficacy of both weapons at once. (277)

Originally of French origin (Bayonne is a town in the Basque country of southern France), and perfected by French troops, the bayonet was in use in France long before making its appearance among the revolutionaries of 1789.

…muskets were being distributed – so were cartridges, powder, and ball, bars of iron and wood, knives, axes, pikes, every weapon that distracted ingenuity could discover or devise.

Fairholt’s Costume in England, A History of Dress (1860) describes the musket as follows:

MUSKET. A long heavy gun introduced from Spain, and which eventually displaced the arcubos [an early fire-arm described as an “improvement on the hand-cannon, or gonne, of the middle ages”  invented toward the end of the 15th century (343)] and hackbut [described as an “arquebus with a hooked stock” (469)]. It is represented in fig. 320 [see below], from a Dutch print by L. Gheyn, temp. James I., which shows the mode of firing, the use of the rest (rendered necessary by the weight of the piece), and the bandoleers, bullet-bag, powder-flask, and the match-cord of twisted tow with which it was fired. (535)

A musket-rest was a “staff with a forked head to rest the musket on when fired, having a sharp iron ferule at the bottom to secure its hold in the ground. Musket-rests were carried by soldiers in the right hand, or held by a looped ribbon tied beneath the fork” (Fairholt 536).

Knives, axes, pikes and so forth are weapons of a more primitive description. Pikes, for instance, were the chief armament of the British army until the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), when uniforms replaced body-armor and “the musket and socket bayonet became the general weapons of the infantry” (Planché 418). Axes and knives are of similar antiquity, and – like the impromptu weaponry of “bars of iron and wood” – were readily available and easily appropriated from domestic uses.

…Defarge himself, already begrimed with gunpowder and sweat, issued orders, issued arms, … laboured and strove in the thickest of the uproar.

Monsieur Defarge, Dickens’ wine-merchant, is based on a historical figure in the storming of the Bastille – a wine merchant named Cholat, who is mentioned briefly by Carlyle in The French Revolution: “Cholat the wine-merchant has become an impromptu cannoneer” (162).

Madame’s resolute right hand was occupied with an axe, in place of the usual softer instruments, and in her girdle were a pistol and a cruel knife.

Madame’s “usual softer instruments” are presumably her knitting needles –  probably “softer” because associated with the more delicate operations of the domestic sphere. (Madame Defarge’s knitting, however, is always ominous in A Tale of Two Cities.) Her “girdle” refers to “a ceinture for the waist or hips” (Fairholt 458) – a kind of belt. And the pistol she wears in her girdle, together with a knife, is a kind of “light fire-arm, first used in the early part of the sixteenth century” (Fairholt 558).

“Come then!” cried Defarge, in a resounding voice. “Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!”

The historic event described in this chapter is the famous fall of the Bastille – the moment (July 14, 1789, commemorated annually as Bastille Day) which marked the beginning of the French Revolution and the symbolic fall of feudalism in Europe. Dickens’ account draws heavily upon the account in his chief historical source, Carlyle’s French Revolution. Carlyle’s version runs partly as follows:

All morning, since nine, there has been a cry everywhere: To the Bastille! Repeated “deputations of citizens” have been here, passionate for arms; whom De Launay [Marquis de Launay, governor of the Bastille] has got dismissed by soft speeches through port-holes. Towards noon, Elector Thuriot de la Rosière gains admittance; finds De Launay indisposed for surrender; nay disposed for blowing up the place rather.  Thuriot mounts with him to the battlements; heaps of paving-stones, old iron and missiles lie piled; cannon all duly leveled; in every embrasure a cannon, – only drawn back a little! But outwards, behold, O Thuriot, how the multitude flows on, welling through every street; tocsin furiously pealing, all drums beating the générale: the Suburb Saint-Antoine rolling hitherward wholly as one man!…

Woe to thee, De Launay, in such an hour, if thou canst not, taking some one firm decision, rule circumstances! Soft speeches will not serve; hard grapeshot is questionable; but hovering between the two is unquestionable. Ever wilder swells the tide of men; their infinite hum waxing ever louder, into imprecations, perhaps into crackle of stray musketry, – which latter, on walls nine feet thick, cannot do execution. The Outer Drawbridge has been lowered for Thuriot; new deputation of citizens (it is the third, and noisiest of all) penetrates that way into the Outer Court: soft speeches producing no clearance of these, De Launay gives fire; pulls up his Drawbridge. A slight sputter; – which has kindled the too combustible chaos; made it a roaring fire-chaos! Bursts forth Insurrection, at sign of its own blood (for there were deaths by that sputter of fire), into endless rolling explosion of musketry distraction, execration; – and over head, from the Fortress, let one great gun, with its grapeshot, go booming, to show what we could do. The Bastille is besieged! (160-1)

Deep ditches, double drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. Through the fire and through the smoke – in the fire and in the smoke, for the sea cast him up against a cannon, and on the instant he became a connonier – Defarge of the wine-shop worked like a manful soldier, Two fierce hours.

Dickens’ description of the Bastille under siege – especially the obscurity of fire and smoke – is itself a rendering of Carlyle’s description in The French Revolution:

To describe this Siege of the Bastille (thought to be one of the most important in History) perhaps transcends the talent of mortals. Could one but, after infinite reading, get to understand so much as the plan of the building! But there is open Esplanade, at the end of the Rue Saint-Antoine; there are such Forecourts, Cour Avancé, Cour de l'Orme, arched Gateway…; then new drawbridges, dormant-bridges, rampart-bastions, and the grim Eight Towers: a labyrinthic Mass, high-frowning there, of all ages from twenty years to four hundred and twenty; – beleaguered, in this its last hour, as we said, by mere Chaos come again! Ordnance of all calibers; throats of all capacities; men of all plans, every man his own engineer: seldom since the war of Pygmies and Cranes was there so anomalous a thing. (161-2)

These illustrations, from – respectively – the Artist’s Edition (1893) of Carlyle’s French Revolution and the Book of Days (1864), show the Bastille under siege.

A white flag from within the fortress, and a parley – this dimly perceptible through the raging storm, nothing audible in it – suddenly the sea rose … and swept Defarge … over the lowered drawbridge, past the massive stone outer walls, in among the eight great towers surrendered!

Again, elements in this passage draw on Carlyle’s descriptions in The French Revolution. The first of the Bastille’s drawbridges having been struck down, the second is besieged, and the defenders of the Bastille “parley” – discuss terms – with the attackers. In The French Revolution, the events between the appearance of the white flag and the surrender of the eight great towers are described as follows:

For four hours now the World-Bedlam roared: call it the World-Chimera, blowing fire! The poor Invalides [who defended the Bastille] have sunk under their battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets: they have made a white flag of napkins: go beating the chamade, or seeming to beat, for one can hear nothing. The very Swiss [Swiss mercenary guards, hired by the French government] at the portcullis look weary of firing; disheartened in the fire-deluge: a porthole at the drawbridge is opened, as by one that would speak. See Huissier Maillard [a National Guardsman who took a leading role in the attack on the Bastille and other Revolutionary events, previously introduced by Carlyle as “a Stanislas Maillard, riding-tipstaff (huissier à cheval) of the Chatelet; one of the shiftiest of men?” (115)], the shifty man! On his plank, swinging over the abyss of that stone Ditch; plank resting on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots, – he hovers perilous: such a Dove towards such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher: one man already fell; and lies smashed, far down there, against the masonry! Usher Maillard falls not: deftly, unerring he walks, with outspread palm. The Swiss holds a paper through his porthole; the shifty Usher snatches it, and returns. Terms of surrender: Pardon, immunity to all! Are they accepted? – “Foi d’officier, On the word of an officer,” answers half-pay Hulin, – or half-pay Elie, for men do not agree on it, “they are!” Sinks the drawbridge, – Usher Maillard bolting it when down; rushes-in the living deluge: the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise! (165)

…as if he had been struggling in the surf of the South Sea, until he was landed in the outer court-yard of the Bastille.

The OED identifies the South Sea variously as the Mediterranean, the English Channel, or the “Seas of the Southern Hemisphere,” but especially the South Pacific Ocean. Dickens’ South Sea is probably the latter, notorious for the ferocity of its surf, and other kinds of ruinous instability – such as the famous 18th-century boondoggle of the “South Sea Bubble.” (The South Sea Company, incorporated in 1711, took on the English national debt “at a rate of 6% interest for a certain period of time, in return for having ‘the duties upon certain articles … rendered permanent’ and a monopoly on trade in the South Seas” [Book of Days 146]. So many people invested that the market skyrocketed, and numerous “bubble companies” arose. However, the market soon became unstable and collapsed, causing – because of the extent to which private citizens had invested – a national calamity.)

“Show me the North Tower!” said Defarge. “Quick!”

The North Tower – the site of Doctor Manette’s incarceration – is Dickens’ fictional contribution to the architecture of the Bastille. The Bastille had eight towers, two of which were on the north side – the Tour du Puits and the Tour du Coin (Sanders 51); but neither of these was called the North Tower. By generalizing the location (the North Tower could be either of the northern towers of the Bastille), Dickens opens up a space of fictional possibility within a historical site.

Through gloomy vaults where the light of day had never shown, past hideous doors of dark dens and cages, down cavernous flights of steps, and again up steep rugged ascents of stone and brick, more like dry waterfalls than staircases…

Monsieur Defarge and his companions, after the taking of the Bastille, help to liberate it from the inside – a process which eventually led to the total destruction of the prison (the physical fall that followed the symbolic one). Carlyle describes this process partly as follows:

And so it [the crowd] goes plunging through court and corridor; billowing uncontrollable, firing from windows – on itself; in hot frenzy of triumph, of grief and vengeance for its slain…. [A]shlar stones of the Bastille continue thundering through the dusk; its paper archives shall fly white. Old secrets come to view; the 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 named 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. (166-8)

He had still the linstock of his gun in his own hand.

A linstock is a “staff about three feet long, having a pointed foot to stick in the deck or ground, and a forked head to hold a lighted match” (OED). Fairholt’s History of Dress (1860) describes a linstock as follows:

LINSTOCK. An ingenious invention of Italian origin, introduced in the fifteenth century, and consisting of a pike, with branches on each side, sometimes formed into the shape of a bird’s head, to hold a lighted match for the cannoneer who used them, and who was thus capable of defending himself with the same implement used for firing ordnance.

This image, from Fairholt’s History, gives us an illustration of a linstock.

Otherwise, the governor [of the Bastille] would not be marched to the Hôtel de Ville for judgment.

The governor of the Bastille in 1789 was the Marquis de Launay, who – failing to blow up the prison, as he threatened to, when the siege began – was taken with the surrender of the Bastille. In Dickens’ version, Defarge is among those who physically seize de Launay and take him to the Hôtel de Ville – the Paris town hall. 

The Hôtel de Ville standing in Paris today is not the same Hôtel de Ville that stood during the French Revolution, for the latter was burned down by the revolutionaries of the Commune of 1871. However, even the Hôtel de Ville of Dickens’ time bore little resemblance to the Hôtel de Ville to which de Launay was escorted after the fall of the Bastille, for the edifice was damaged during the French Revolution and restored and expanded at the beginning of the 19th century. The original Hôtel de Ville was begun in 1533 to replace the Maison aux Piliers (a building named for the row of pillars that supported it). However, as one 19th-century guidebook notes,

The building did not progress rapidly; in 1550 only one story was completed. Then came the religious civil war, and the work was suspended. In 1605 Henri IV was king, and François Miron provost among the merchants [who had initiated work on the new building]. Work was again commenced, and Miron from the emoluments of his office paid for the façade of the building. The whole was completed in 1628. This façade, very much smaller than that of the building destroyed in 1871, stood in front of the open space … called La Place de Grève. At each side there was a pavilion, or a large wing, and in the center there was a campanile, or bell-tower. Over the main gateway there was a fine equestrian statue in bas-relief of Henri IV. This was the work of Pierre Biard, and was cut in black marble. During the [French Revolution] the statue was destroyed; under the Restoration [of the monarchy in the early 19th century] the king was again put up, but in plaster; and the Government of July, in 1829, moulded a statue in bronze…. (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 116)

This illustration of the Hôtel de Ville, with the Place de Grève in the foreground, shows the building approximately as it would have appeared in 1789. Though the image, taken from Tronchet’s Picture of Paris (c.1818), was engraved after the Revolution, it shows the Hôtel in its restored state, and prior to its early-19th-century expansion.

The Place de Grève (“grève” means “bank of the river”) is located on the north bank of the Seine. It was later renamed La Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, and is famous as a site of public executions in Paris up to and through the time of the French Revolution. During the Terror, the guillotine was first erected in the Place de Grève, but was afterwards moved to the Place de la Révolution (now called the Place de la Concorde) (Baedeker 174). After the Revolution, the Place de Grève again became the usual place of execution, but was later put to more pleasant uses:  In 1801 and 1836, the Hôtel de Ville was enlarged, “increased by three-fourths its former size” (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 116-7), and this enlarged Hôtel de Ville was the site of fêtes given by the city of Paris in the 19th century, the first of which occurred before Dickens began to compose A Tale of Two Cities: “The two great fêtes given at the Hôtel de Ville under the Second Empire were upon the occasion of the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Paris in 1854, and in 1867, the year of the second great Exhibition” (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 116-7). After its destruction in 1871, the Hôtel de Ville was rebuilt to look much as it had before the fire (Handbook to Paris 139), and has survived in more or less the same state since. (According to Rough Guide, it is an “oppressively gleaming and gargantuan mansion” [117].)  It is currently the seat of local government, with “one whole floor the private apartment of the mayor”; and an illustrated history of the Hôtel de Ville – “always a prime target in riots and revolutions” – is displayed “along the platform of M° Châtelet on the Neuilly-Vincennes [Metro] line” (Baillie and Salmon 117).

The relative positions of the Hôtel de Ville and the Bastille are visible on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris en 1789.  The Bastille is at the lower right; the Hôtel de Ville is marked next to the Place de Grève, which lies on the north bank of the Seine above the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité.

Click on map for larger view

…this grim old officer [the governor of the Bastille] in his grey coat and red decoration…

Dickens’ description of the Marquis de Launay echoes Carlyle’s, especially in the detail of the prisoner’s dress:

De Launay, “discovered in grey frock with poppy-coloured riband,” is for killing himself with the sword of his cane. He shall to the Hôtel de Ville; Hulin, Maillard and others escorting him; Elie marching foremost “with the capitulation-paper on his sword’s point.” Through roarings and cursings; through hustlings, clutchings, and at last through strokes! Your escort is hustled aside, felled down; Hulin sinks exhausted on a heap of stones. Miserable De Launay! He shall never enter the Hôtel de Ville: only his “bloody hair-queue, held up in a bloody hand”; that shall enter, for a sign. The bleeding trunk lies on the steps there; the head is off through the streets; ghastly, aloft on a pike. (166)

In Dickens’ version, it is Madame Defarge who cuts off de Launay’s head.

Seven faces of prisoners, suddenly released by the storm that had burst their tomb, were carried high over head: all scared, all lost, all wondering and amazed, as if the Last Day had come.

When the Bastille was taken on July 14, 1789, there were only seven prisoners in it to be liberated (Carlyle notes that “Along the streets of Paris circulate Seven Bastille Prisoners, borne shoulder-high” [167], but does not emphasize that these seven were the only seven). However, as a prison long devoted to the incarceration of political prisoners, many of whom were confined there without trial as a result of the infamous lettres de cachet, it had become symbolic of the political caprices and injustices of the ancien régime.

The “Last Day” is of course the Day of Judgment (Revelations 20:12-13), when the dead are to rise again (the implication being that the prisoners of the Bastille were buried alive, and expected to be liberated only with the final liberation of the Apocalypse). The seven prisoners liberated from the Bastille consisted of “four forgers, two lunatics, and a ‘jeune noble débauché’ – a disciple of the Marquis de Sade” (Sanders 119).