…Miss Pross threaded her way along the narrow streets and crossed the river by the bridge of the Pont-Neuf…

The Pont Neuf, which connects the Ile de la Cité (the island on which Notre Dame, the Palais de Justice, and the Conciergerie stand) with the banks of the Seine, was begun in 1578, but not completed until the beginning of the 17th century. Tronchet’s Picture of Paris (c. 1818) gives the following description of its original construction and characteristics:

The length of the bridge is 1020 feet, and its breadth 72 feet, which is sufficient to admit of five carriages passing abreast. It is formed of twelve arches, seven of which are on the side of the Louvre, and five on the side of the Quai des Augustines, extending over the two channels of the river, which is wider in this place, from their junction. In 1773, the parapets were repaired, and the footway lowered and narrowed. Soufflot, the architect of the church of St. Genevieve [now known as the Pantheon], availed himself of the opportunity to build, on the twenty half moons which stand immediately above each pile, as many rotundas, in stone, to serve as shops. On the outside, above the arches, is a double cornice, which attracts the eye of the connoisseur in architecture, notwithstanding its mouldering state, on account of the fleurons in the antique style, and the heads of sylvans, dryads, and satyrs, which serve as supports to it, at the distance of two feet from each other. As the mole that forms a projection on this bridge, between the fifth and seventh arch, stands facing the Place Dauphine, which was built by Henr[i] IV, it was chosen for erecting to him a statue, which was the first public monument of the kind that had been raised in honor of French kings. (173-4)

Unfortunately, during the Revolution, French kings of every description became unpopular, and in 1792 the statue of Henri IV was melted down and “converted into cannon” (Baedeker 219). Thus, the statue would not have been standing when Miss Pross crosses the bridge in late 1793 or early 1794. It was replaced, however, in 1818, such that the bridge recovered – at the beginning of the 19th century – something of its pre-revolutionary appearance. Further restored in the early 1850s, the Pont Neuf of Dickens’ time would not have been quite the same bridge crossed by Miss Pross – “The slopes were very much lessened, the arches were partially reconstructed, and the footpaths and parapets were altogether renewed” (Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris 40-1).

From the 17th century onward, the Pont Neuf was an especially lively part of Paris – most 19th-century guidebooks make reference to it as a kind of popular gathering place. The Picture of Paris (c.1818) notes that

The Pont Neuf is to the town what the heart is to the body; that is, the centre of life and circulation. The passing and repassing of the inhabitants, as well as of strangers, so incredibly throngs the bridge, that to find any one whose place of abode you cannot come at, you have no more to do than walk there for a short space of time every morning. The government police practice this, and, at the expiration of some days, if they meet not the man they look after, they pronounce him not to be in Paris. (173-4)

Further, Baedeker’s Paris and Its Environs (1878) remarks that the Pont Neuf was a “favourite rendezvous of jugglers, showmen, loungers, and thieves.  Any popular witticism in verse was long known as ‘un Pont Neuf’” (220).  And Dickens’s Dictionary of Paris (1882) notes that

During the 17th and the 18th centuries the Pont Neuf was the scene of much gaiety and merriment. It was there that mountebanks loved best to exercise their calling; there charlatan surgeon-dentists established themselves; and there quack doctors of all sorts found patients innocent enough to entrust themselves to their care. “Le Pont Neuf c’est Paris” ["The Pont Neuf is Paris"] was long a proverb among the populace…. (40-1)

The illustration of the Pont Neuf below, taken from Tronchet’s Picture of Paris (c.1818), shows the bridge before its renovation in the 1850s, and thus (with the exception of the equestrian statue of Henri IV) much as it would have appeared when Miss Pross crosses it in the 1790s.

It is amusing to note, in connection with the re-erected statue of Henri IV, that it was “procured by melting down a couple of statues of Napoleon and one of General Desaix” (Handbook to Paris 162). The statue still stands today; and the Pont Neuf (“New Bridge” in English) is now the oldest bridge in Paris (Baillie and Salmon 71).

Click on map for larger view

Miss Pross’ route, from the Saint Germain quarter on the south side of the Seine, over the Pont Neuf at the west end of the Ile de la Cité, is visible on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794.  (The Saint Germain quarter, named for the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is at the lower left, and can be roughly located according to the position of the Abbey.  The Abbey is the large dark building above the Rue Marguerite and under the dotted square labeled “Jardin de l’Abbaye.”  The Pont Neuf is the westernmost bridge leading onto the Ile de la Cité.)

…the barges were stationed in which the smiths worked, making guns for the Army of the Republic.

Dickens takes this detail of the barges from Carlyle’s description, in The French Revolution, of the French resolution to repulse foreign invasion:

Accordingly, alongside of these bonfires of Church-balustrades, and sounds of fusillading and noyading, there rise quite another sort of fires and sounds: Smithy-fires and Proof-volleys for the manufacture of arms.

Cut off from Sweden and the world, the Republic must learn to make steel for itself; and, by aid of Chemists, she has learnt it. Towns that knew only iron, now know steel…. Two-hundred and fifty-eight Forges stand in the open spaces of Paris itself; a hundred and forty of them in the Esplanade of the Invalides, fifty-four in the Luxembourg Garden: so many Forges stand; grim Smiths beating and forging at lock and barrel there. The Clockmakers have come, requisitioned, to do the touch-holes, the hard-solder and file-work. Five great Barges swing at anchor on the Seine Stream, loud with boring; the great press-drills grating harsh thunder to the general ear and heart. (702-3)

After peeping into several wine-shops, she stopped at the sign of The Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity…

Although it is possible that the “Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity” is Marcus Junius Brutus, who assassinated Julius Caesar, it is more probable that the Brutus commemorated in the name of the Parisian wineshop is Lucius Junius Brutus. This latter Brutus rebelled against King Tarquin (the last Roman king), and helped to establish the Roman Republic. As a Republican figure – revolutionary and anti-monarchical – he became a kind of classical model for the French revolutionaries (Maxwell 474). He was commemorated by Jacques-Louis David in “The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons” (1789, oil on canvas).  (David was a prominent figure in the French Revolution, and a well-known painter; Carlyle, for instance, continually invokes him simply as “Painter David” in The French Revolution.)  David’s painting of “The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons” depicts Brutus’ condemnation of his two sons, who were executed for conspiring to restore the monarchy. The painting can be viewed, together with a number of David’s other works, at (search for David under D).

As the name of Dickens’ wineshop implies, “classical” figures and motifs were popular with the French Republic (which, in its own view, modeled itself after the Roman one), and a modified classical costume was often adopted by good Republicans. As Fairholt’s History of Costume in England (1860) notes,

The modern-antique style of dress, an attempt to engraft a classical taste in costume, … appeared [in the late 18th century]; [this was] the result of the French Revolution, when every brawler believed himself a Cato or a Brutus…. The rough-cropped head then fashionable was termed “a Brutus” by the French, after the great hero of antiquity, whom they especially reverenced…. [A]nd an air of ghastly burlesque was cast over scenes of blood at which humanity sickens, by a misplaced assumption of classic patriotism. This modification of the antique habit had good effect, [however,] inasmuch as it encouraged simplicity; and the female costume up to 1800 was, in truth, unpretending and lady-like. (Fairholt 330)

Carlyle likewise, in The French Revolution, records the popularity of the “modern Brutus’ head” (266) in France, and describes how, when the Terror ended (with Robespierre’s execution), the revolutionary garb of Parisians gave way to a classical costume indicative of a shift in political feeling:

All Sansculottic things are passing away; all things are becoming Culottic. Do but look at the cut of clothes; that light visible Result, significant of a thousand things which are not so visible. In winter 1793, men went in red night-cap; Municipals themselves in sabots, the very Citoyennes had to petition against such headgear. But now in this winter 1794, where is the red night-cap?… Your moneyed Citoyen ponders in what elegantest style he shall dress himself; whether he shall not even dress himself as the Free Peoples of Antiquity. The more adventurous Citoyenne has already done it. Behold her, that beautiful adventurous Citoyenne: in costume of the Ancient Greeks, such Greek as Painter David could teach; her sweeping tresses snooded by glittering antique fillet; bright-dyed tunic of the Greek women; her little feet naked, as in Antique Statues, with mere sandals, and winding-strings of riband, – defying the frost! (749)

At the time of Miss Pross’ visit to the “Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity,” the Terror still reigned, and the red woolen “cap of Liberty” would still have been in vogue.

…not far from the National Palace, once (and twice) the Tuileries…

The Palais des Tuileries was renamed the “National Palace” (or “Palais National”) during the Revolution. It had remained the Palais des Tuileries as long as it was still a royal residence, but it was no longer so after Louis XVI and his family were removed (on August 13, 1792) and incarcerated in the Temple, pending execution. Carlyle discusses the “void Palace of the Tuileries, now void and National” (511) in The French Revolution, and notes that the National Convention began to use the palace as a meeting-place in May of 1793:  “[W]e shift, on the Tenth of May, from the old Salle de Manége into our new Hall, in the Palace, once a King’s but now the Republic’s, of the Tuileries” (Carlyle 632). After the Revolution, the palace was again named the Palais des Tuileries when it became the residence of Emperor Napoleon (Sanders 150).

The following portions of the Plan de la Ville de Paris en 1789 and the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794 show the changing name of the Palais.

Click on map for larger view

Click on map for larger view

…attended by her cavalier.

A cavalier was originally a horseman, a horse-soldier, or a knight; more generally, a cavalier is a gallant (Oxford English Dictionary). The description of Mr. Cruncher as Miss Pross’ “cavalier” suggests, appropriately, that he is her faithful protector; it also suggests, somewhat ironically, that he is a gallant one.

…the popular, high-shouldered shaggy black spencer…

Dickens draws his description of the “popular, high-shouldered, shaggy black spencer” from Carlyle’s description of a popular revolutionary outfit during the Terror:

The suspect may well tremble; but how much more the open rebels; the Girondin Cities of the South! Revolutionary Army is gone forth …; six thousand strong, “in red night-cap, in tricolor waistcoat, in black-shag trousers, black-shag spencer, with enormous moustachios, enormous sabre, – in carmagnole complète…. (685)

According to Fairholt’s History of Costume (1860), a spencer is “A short jacket, or body-coat, said to have originated in an accident to Lord Spencer in hunting ([in the time of] George III) by which his coat-tails were torn off” (585-6).

What was said … would have been as so much Hebrew or Chaldean to Miss Pross and her protector, though they had been all ears.

Both Hebrew and Chaldean are appropriate to the venue – the “Good Republican Brutus of Antiquity” – to the extent that they are “antique.” Most of the Old Testament was composed in Hebrew, and, according to the OED, references to Hebrew in the New Testament are usually to “the vernacular language of the Hebrews of the time” – Aramaic or Syriac, both of which are alternate names for Chaldean. Proverbially, Hebrew and Chaldean suggest “unintelligible speech” (OED), like the modern expression “It’s all Greek to me”; and such, indeed, seems to be Miss Pross and Mr. Cruncher’s experience of French.

…Miss Pross, exploring the depths of her reticule…

A reticule is a small bag, “usually made of some woven material, for carrying on the arm or in the hand, used by ladies as a pocket or workbag” (OED) – an especially practical kind of purse.

“I wish for your sake Mr. Barsad was not a Sheep of the Prisons.” Sheep was the cant word of the time for a spy, under the gaolers.

The term “Sheep of the Prisons” is apparently adapted from “mouton,” which means “sheep” in French and is sometimes used in English to refer to “a spy quartered in a prison with an accused person with the aim of obtaining incriminating evidence” (OED). Dickens’ “sheep,” as an Anglicized version of the “cant word for spy,” may have been inspired by Honoré Riouffe’s description, in Mémoires sur les prisons (an account of the French prisons during the Revolution), of being locked up with a man who was “comme mouton, c’est à dire espion” (“as a sheep, that is to say a spy”) (Sanders 151).  However, Dickens may well have been familiar with the use of the word mouton in English, and certainly would have noted Carlyle’s use of it in The French Revolution (e.g., “…turnkeys and moutons fallen from their high estate [after the end of the Terror], look mute and blue” [743]; or, “Turned are the tables: Prisoners pouring out in floods; Jailors, Moutons … going now whither they were wont to send!” [747]).

There were apparently between 300 and 1,000 moutons in the Paris prisons during the phase of the Revolution represented in this portion of A Tale of Two Cities. Most of them were incarcerated themselves, and turned spy – informing on alleged plots – in hopes of gaining their own freedom (Maxwell 475).

Inference clear as day in this region of suspicion, that Mr. Barsad, still in the pay of the aristocratic English government, is the spy of Pitt, the treacherous foe of the Republic crouching in its bosom, the English traitor and agent of all mischief so much spoken of and so difficult to find.

Pitt, or William Pitt the Younger, was Prime Minister of England during the French Revolution – in office 1784-1801 and again 1804-1806 (Arnstein 9). Since England had declared war on France after the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793 (Carlyle 600), “Pitt” (standing for English government and politics at large) was in active opposition to France at this period, and a confirmed enemy of the Republic. Mr. Barsad’s position within the French prisons could thus quite easily be construed as that of “the treacherous foe of the Republic crouching in its bosom.”  Dickens’ metonymic use of  “Pitt” – as a figure for the whole English government or English nation – may derive from Carlyle, who uses the same figure of speech in The French Revolution (e.g., “That Pitt has a hand in it, the gold of Pitt: so much, to all reasonable Patriot men, may seem clear. But then, through what agents of Pitt?” [604]).

…and that in spite of his utmost tergiversation and treachery in furtherance of the reigning terror, a word might bring it down upon him.

“Tergiversation” is reneging – forsaking a former position of allegiance (OED). Barsad, as a turncoat of many descriptions, is a tergiversator. The “reigning terror” he furthers is of course the famous Reign of Terror, which commenced in 1793 and lasted until the execution of Robespierre (head of the terrible Committee of Public Safety) ended it on July 28, 1794 (Carlyle 744).  Carlyle describes the onset of the Terror thus:  “Terror has long been terrible: but to the actors themselves it has now become manifest that their appointed course is one of Terror; and they say, Be it so. ‘Que la Terreur soit à l’ordre du jour’ [that Terror be the order of the day]” (675).

He had since seen her, in the Section of Saint Antoine, over and over again produce her knitted registers…

In 1790, Paris, previously organized into sixty municipal districts, was reorganized into 48 Sections, one of which was the Section of Saint Antoine. Carlyle, in The French Revolution, describes the Sections of Paris as “the life-circulation of Jacobinism” (665) – bodies of revolutionary patriots ready to fight for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death,” and to do the administrative work of the Terror. In 1793, the Sections met twice a week, and were a forum for the denunciation of “suspects” (665). It is thus that Madame Defarge “produce[s] her knitted registers” in Section, to “denounce people whose lives the guillotine then surely swallow[s] up.”

“…I’d catch hold of your throat and choke you for half a guinea.”

Mr. Cruncher’s “liberal offer” of choking for half a guinea is – since a guinea is worth slightly more than an English pound, at 21 shillings – an offer to do so for 10 shillings and 6 pence.

There might be medical doctors at the present hour, a picking up their guineas where a honest tradesman don’t pick up his fardens – fardens! no, nor yet his half fardens – half fardens! no, nor yet his quarter.

A “farden” – Jerry’s pronunciation of “farthing” – is a coin worth a quarter of a penny, and proverbial for a very small amount (OED). Jerry divides this very small amount even further, however, asserting that for a medical doctor’s guinea, an “honest tradesman” would not receive even half a farthing (an eighth of a penny), “nor yet his quarter” of a farthing (which would amount to a sixteenth of a penny). A guinea, worth slightly more than a pound, is composed of 21 shillings – 252 pence, or 1,008 farthings. In Jerry’s most conservative estimation, a doctor makes over a thousand times more than an “honest tradesman” out of a cadaver’s resurrection. The farthing was legal tender until 1961 (OED).

Then, wot with undertakers, and wot with parish clerks, and wot with sextons, and wot with private watchmen (all awaricious and all in it)…

Undertakers manage funeral arrangements; a parish clerk is usually a “lay officer of a parish church, who has charge of the church and precincts, and assists the clergyman in various parts of his duties”; and a sexton – whose job is sometimes part of a parish clerk’s – is a person connected with the church who is in charge of ringing the bells and digging the graves (OED). These individuals, together with “private watchmen,” are deemed “awaricious” (avaricious) by Mr. Cruncher to the extent that they impede the commerce of “resurrection men” like himself.

He wore the white riding-coat and top-boots, then in vogue, and the light of the fire touching their light surface made him look very pale, with his long brown hair, all untrimmed, hanging loose about him.

In the illustration below, from Fairholt’s History of Costume (1860), the figure on the left is dressed like Carton, in, as Fairholt expresses it, the “true Parisian taste” of 1793, with riding-coat and top-boots. 

However, Fairholt notes that top-boots were “the delight of the ‘bucks and bloods’ of the latter half of the eighteenth century,” and describes how “[a] pride was felt in its bright polished leg and its snowy top” (395-6). Although Carton is dressed stylishly, he is not dressed with the dandyish care that top-boots might imply. Sanders, in his Companion to A Tale of Two Cities, notes that his slovenliness may have helped him blend in in revolutionary Paris, where “anti-aristocratic modes” such as natural hair (in place of wigs, powder, and even ties or ribbons) were popular (152).

You mean the Guillotine…. Sixty-three today. We shall mount to a hundred soon. Samson and his men complain sometimes, of being exhausted. He is so droll, that Samson. Such a Barber!

Samson, the executioner in charge of the guillotine (the apparatus elsewhere referred to as the “National razor” of the French Republic) is a barber in at once a pejorative sense, an allusive sense (connected with the story of the biblical Samson), and through an etymological connection between those who cut hair and those who cut flesh:  Barbers, though always hairdressers, originally also included surgeons and dentists. The “Company of Barber-surgeons” was incorporated in England by Edward IV in 1461; under Henry VIII the name was altered to the “Company of Barbers and Surgeons,” whereupon barbers were limited to dentistry; and in 1745, barbers and surgeons were divided into distinct corporations (OED).

Dickens probably draws his account of the exhaustion of Samson and his men from Carlyle’s account of the speedy execution of Girondin supporters, provincial and Parisian alike (the Girondin party was the moderate revolutionary party defeated by the rival Jacobin faction for control of the French Republic): “Little children are guillotined, and aged men. Swift as the machine is, it will not serve; the Headsman and all his valets sink worn down with work, declare that human muscles can do no more” (685). The head-count of the executed did indeed increase over the course of the Terror – “The Guillotine,” writes Carlyle, “gets always a quicker motion, as other things are quickening. The Guillotine, by its speed of going, will give the index of the general velocity of the Republic” (667). Elsewhere, he notes, “Swift and ever swifter goes Samson; up, finally, to three score [sixty] and more at a Batch” (724). On June 10, 1794, at the height of the Terror, the Revolutionary Tribunal was extended into four tribunals, in the hopes of “overtak[ing] the work” of execution. A “Guillotine ... of improved velocity” was developed to accommodate the larger batches of victims anticipated (Carlyle 730).

Go and see him when he has a good batch.

Victims of the guillotine were tried and executed in “fournées” – “batches.” Such was the actual terminology of the Revolutionary Tribunal’s Prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville: “Fouquier chooses,” writes Carlyle in The French Revolution, “from the Twelve Houses of Arrest what he calls Batches, ‘Fournées,’ a score or more at a time” (724).

…much dirtier than usual, for the best public thoroughfares remained uncleansed in those times of terror…

During the Terror, according to Carlyle,

The streets lie unswept; the ways unmended. Law has shut her Books…. Crimes go unpunished; not crimes against the Revolution. “The number of foundling children,” as some compute, “is doubled.” (711)

“You will be careful to keep them separate, citizen? You know the consequences of mixing them?”

Carton is apparently buying chemicals which, when combined, produce ether – an anesthetic used surgically only beginning in the 19th century, but familiar in the 18th. The Dictionary of Daily Wants (1859) makes the following remarks about the uses and properties of ether:

AETHER, a volatile liquor, obtained by distillation from a mixture of alcohol and a concentrated acid. It is used for a variety of medical purposes, both externally and internally. Burns and scalds are rendered cool and less inflammatory, by a piece of linen rag dipped in aether being applied to them. It relieves headaches when rubbed upon the part where the pain is situated. Its application to the face in cases of toothache considerably alleviates the pain; and in an attack of spasms, relief is almost always afforded by doses of from fifteen to twenty drops being administered in a wineglassful of water at short intervals. As an agent for producing insensibility by means of inhalation, aether was formerly in great repute; but in the present day when this effect is desired to be produced, chloroform, a still subtler spirit, is generally used. As aether rapidly evaporates under ordinary circumstances, this waste should be prevented by keeping the bottle that contains it in a cool place, and by having stoppers which fit the bottle exactly.

Caution. – Aether is a highly inflammable spirit, and when mixed with common air is liable to cause an explosion; when any escape of aether is apprehended, therefore, no lighted candle should be suffered to approach. (13) the distant burial-places, reserved, as they wrote upon the gates, for Eternal Sleep…

The secularization of France under the Republic extended even to the cemeteries. There, by decree, references to heaven gave way to references to “Eternal Sleep.” Carlyle remarks that

Unity, Indivisibility, Brotherhood, or Death, did indeed stand printed on all Houses of the Living; also, on Cemeteries, or Houses of the Dead, stood printed, by order..., Here is Eternal Sleep. (676)

But the theatres were all well filled, and the people poured cheerfully out as he passed, and went chatting home.

Carlyle, in The French Revolution, remarks that

Neither shall the Reader fancy that it was all black, this Reign of Terror: far from it. How many hammermen and squaremen, bakers and brewers, washers and wringers, over this France, must ply their old daily work, let the Government be one of Terror or one of Joy! In this Paris there are Twenty-three Theatres nightly; some count as many as Sixty Places of Dancing. (678-9)

This statistic concerning the number of open theatres seems to have impressed Carlyle as much as it seems to have impressed Dickens, for he reverts to the same matter again somewhat later in his history, reiterating that “nightly Theatres are Twenty-three; and the Salons de danse are Sixty; full of mere Egalité, Fraternité and Carmagnole” (710).

The night wore out, and, as he stood upon the bridge listening to the water as it splashed the river-walls of the Island of Paris, where the picturesque confusion of houses and cathedral shone bright in the light of the moon, the day came coldly, looking like a dead face out of the sky.

Carton is probably standing, at this point, on the Pont Neuf, though this is only one of several bridges which connect the Ile de la Cité (an island in the Seine) to the banks of the river. The earliest Parisian settlements were located on the Ile de la Cité, on which Notre Dame (the cathedral shining in the moonlight) is located. In the 18th century, the island was crowded with narrow streets and buildings, many of which had existed since the medieval period.  These were cleared in the mid-19th century under the direction of Baron von Haussmann, who lay out and executed new plans for Paris when he was appointed Préfet de la Seine in 1853 (Baillie and Salmon 70-1). Thus, the Ile de la Cité of Dickens’ time and our own is less cluttered with buildings (the open plaza in front of Notre Dame, for instance, is the result of Haussmann’s demolitions). In the 18th century, as Tronchet’s Picture of Paris (c.1818) points out, Notre Dame was “so surrounded with houses that there [was] no spot from which it [might] be seen with advantage” (227).

Click on map for larger view

The places Carton visits in the course of his walk are visible on this portion of the Plan de la Ville de Paris, Période Révolutionnaire, 1790-1794. The Saint Germain quarter, where he begins (at Mr. Lorry’s), is at the lower left; La Force is in the upper right corner (the dark outline of buildings labeled “Maison de la Force”); the Ile de la Cité, where the cathedral stands, is in the middle (the cathedral itself bears its revolutionary name, the “Temple de la Raison”); and the Seine – upon the bank of which Carton finally falls asleep – runs through the city (and the map).