A Tale of Two Cities (1898)/Notes

NOTES ON A TALE OF TWO CITIES.

BOOK I.

CHAPTER I.

"Cock-Lane ghost."

This celebrated "audition" (as Horace Walpole called it, in contradistinction to apparition) began its career by scratching and making other noises in a room where lay a child, and a young lady whose marriage was dubiously legal. When the lady, with her lord, left their lodgings in Cock Lane, and after the lady's death, the noises recurred. They were interpreted by a kind of code, and were read to assert that the man had poisoned the woman in purl. Vast crowds flocked to the place, including Horace Walpole, the Duke of York, and Lady Mary Coke. Goldsmith is believed to have written a tract defending the accused, and Dr. Johnson sent an account of his investigations to the Gentleman's Magazine. The ghost did not keep tryst after promising to rap in the vaults of a church where the dead woman lay, and the child, being threatened, produced noises by scratching a small piece of wood. These noises were, by the confession of the witnesses, not the same as those which they had previously heard. The father of the child was pilloried. (An analysis of the facts will be found in the annotator's Cock Lane and Common Sense.) Dickens was writing in the full bloom of D. D. Home's performances. Mr. Forster says, "But for the strong restraining powers of his common sense, he might have fallen into the follies of spiritualism."


BOOK II.

CHAPTER II.

"That's quartering. Barbarous!"

This part of the punishment for high treason was at least as old as the reign of Edward I., when Sir William Wallace suffered. Fergus Maclvor, in Waverley, speaks as if it was an English bequest to Scotland; but there was little to choose between the two countries. Burning was the penalty for women in Scotland, as in the case of Lady Glammis. The last Jacobite sufferer, Dr. Archibald Cameron (1753), was rendered insensible before he was quartered.

 

CHAPTER III.

"He was open in his confidences."

There is an element of improbability in the situation. The most guileless conspirator will scarcely tell all about his affairs to the first young lady he meets.


CHAPTER VII.

"Indifference to every natural subject of human interest."

The French memoirs of 1770-1780 scarcely bear out the sweeping accusation involved; they rather testify to the reverse.


"Convulsionists."

These had been in their prime some fifty years earlier, in the astounding Fakir-like performances at the tomb of the Abbé Paris. Dickens may refer to the people who went to Mesmer to be "magnetised," that is, to become rigid or convulsive in good society (1778-1784). Franklin and Guillotin were on a Commission of Inquiry. "The treatment in public by 'Animal Magnetism' exposes a large number of well-constituted persons to contract a spasmodic or convulsive habit ..." (Report, August 16, 1784).


"The fierce patrician custom of hard driving."

Not merely patrician: see remarks on "the mails" in Little Dorrit. Cabmen, too, are rather plebeian than aristocratic.


CHAPTER VIII.

"The meagreness of Frenchmen."

See Hogarth's "Calais Gate," and compare his "Gin Lane."


CHAPTER XIV.

"Impeaching casual passers-by as Old Bailey spies."

The French mob reproduces the English mob's humour later in the tale.


CHAPTER XV.

The date of the hideous punishment of Damiens was 1756. He had stabbed Louis XV., and attempts were made to involve the Jesuits, then under a cloud. According to the spurious memoirs of Madame de Créqui, Louis XV. was unable to contemplate the abominable spectacle. Similar cruelties, of course, were committed by the Revolutionists.

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

"He slipped away to his bench."

Dr. Manette's case is a study of secondary, or rather alternating, personality a subject which has lately been much discussed. The patient is, normally, John, but in consequence of illness, accident, shock, or other causes, he becomes James. In his second state he remembers little or nothing of his first condition; his actions and his whole character are different. Recovering, he remembers nothing of his second condition, except when under the influence of hypnotism. These alternating personalities have been accounted for, at least by popular science, on the hypothesis that, the brain having two hemispheres, one of these gets control of the machinery, and produces the secondary self. It is an objection that these "selves" may be three, or even five, as is attested on good medical evidence. The case of the Rev. Ansel Bourne is most like that of Dr. Manette. After being an atheist and a carpenter, he was converted "under very peculiar circumstances," and became an itinerant preacher. However, he kept his name, ordinary memory, and general personality. On January 17, 1887, he drew 551 dollars out of his bank, and remembered no more about the Rev. Ansel Bourne till March 14. On that day a man, calling himself A. J. Brown, who for six weeks had kept a small shop at Norristown, Pennsylvania, "woke up in a fright," said that he was the Rev. Ansel Bourne, that he did not know where he had got to, but that he remembered cashing a cheque in Providence. He knew very little of what had occurred between January and March, till, in June, 1890, Professor William James hypnotised him, and he gave an account of his lost weeks.[1] Many other examples will be found in English, American, and French psychological treatises. It would be interesting to know what led Dickens to the topic. Dr. Manette, like Mr. Ansel Bourne, recovers his primary self spontaneously. It may be remarked that the likeness of Carton and Darnay, casually discovered in Court, and shaking the evidence, was paralleled (December, 1897) by a similar indistinguishable likeness between the handwriting of two witnesses in Captain Dreyfus's case. The question of distinguishing between hands having arisen, the judge asked two witnesses to write in Court, and the similarity of their hands baffled the experts.


BOOK III.

CHAPTER XV.

"One of the most remarkable sufferers."

The reference is to Madame Roland.


  1. Principles of Psychology, by Professor William James, i. 391.