Page:Dickens - A tale of two cities, 1898.djvu/17

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was not burned, nor even guillotined, while so many innocent heads were falling. The Bastille, by the time it was destroyed, was as obsolete almost for its old purposes, and nearly as empty, as the cave of Giant Pagan, in Bunyan. But in a curious wandering book, the "Letters" of Oliver Macallister, we read of horrors worse than Dickens could invent—the black dungeons of Galbanon, where men's lives were one long noisome torture; where prisoners disappeared for ever, none knew how or why, none dared to ask. Macallister, a mouton, or prison spy, causes, despite his verbose futile digressions, a shudder which cannot be forgotten. The date of his experiences was 1755-1760, sufficiently near the period of the novel for the purposes of fiction. The pressure of taxation, its most unequal pressure, is undeniable, while the results were wasted in the way with which we are familiar. Dickens cites Mercier's Tableau de Paris as authority for his bad Marquis, though he does not tell us what were the Quellen of Mercier. Indeed, we need not ask. The question is not whether the stories are true, but whether, like the blood-baths of Louis XV., the stories were believed. India is full of such myths about ourselves, as mediæval Europe was full of them about the Jews. The historian examines the facts: to the novelist is permitted a larger liberty. As an old critic justly puts it, the novelist is "the landscape gardener of history." Rousseau is cited by Dickens for "the peasant's shutting up his house when he had a bit of meat." We may, of course, say that the Revolution did not greatly benefit the peasant, or anybody. That is rather an extreme opinion. Certainly the peasant escaped from the element of tyrannical personal caprice. Revolutions never produce a millennium, but they gratify the passion of revenge, and they shift and modify grievances.