Page:Dickens - A tale of two cities, 1898.djvu/15

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INTRODUCTION.

Probably Dickens never wrote a more popular book (unless Pickwick is the exception) than his Tale of Two Cities. Among readers whom Nature has made incapable (to their pride and loss) of appreciating Mr. Pickwick and Mrs. Gamp, and all our dearest friends, the Tale of Two Cities is admired. Meanwhile the lovers of the old irresponsible humour and high spirits of Dickens's earlier days must admit that the Tale is an historical melodrama of unrivalled vividness and power. It is a book that will not allow itself to be forgotten, with its refrain of trampling multitudinous feet, and its melancholy figure of Sydney Carton.

The French Revolution has been a fertile but not a fortunate field for novelists. Scott justly observed, about some other historical events, that they are, in themselves, too strong for romantic treatment. Nothing can add to the native romance of the conquest of Anahuac by Cort├ęs; fancy lags in the trail of fact. The poignancy and horror of the Revolution outdo all mere imaginative effort to cope with them: it is Nature that here purges by pity and terror, that distracts our sympathies, and finally leaves us in an impotent anger against the shiftless party which fell, and the fiendish party which triumphed in that fall, and