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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on map for larger view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Old Nick’s.”

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



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