A Tale of Two Cities
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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

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Novel by Charles Dickens, published both serially and in book form in 1859. The story is set in the late 18th century against the background of the French Revolution. Although Dickens borrowed from Thomas Carlyle's history, The French Revolution, for his sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris, the novel offers more drama than accuracy. The scenes of large-scale mob violence are especially vivid, if superficial in historical understanding. The complex plot involves Sydney Carton's sacrifice of his own life on behalf of his friends Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette. While political events drive the story, Dickens takes a decidedly antipolitical tone, lambasting both aristocratic tyranny and revolutionary excess--the latter memorably caricatured in Madame Defarge, who knits beside the guillotine. The book is perhaps best known for its opening lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, " and for Carton's last speech, in which he says of his replacing Darnay in a prison cell, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

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III. A Disappointment

Mr. Attorney-General had to inform the jury, that the prisonerbefore them, though young in years, was old in the treasonablepractices which claimed the forfeit of his life. That thiscorrespondence with the public enemy was not a correspondence ofto-day,or of yesterday, or even of last year, or of the yearbefore. That, it was certain the prisoner had, for longer thanthat, been in the habit of passing and repassing between France andEngland, on secret business of which he could give no honestaccount.That, if it were in the nature of traitorous ways to thrive(which happily it never was), the real wickedness and guilt of hisbusiness might have remained undiscovered. That Providence,however, had put it into the heart of a person who was beyond fearand beyond reproach, to ferret out the nature of theprisoner’s schemes, and, struck with horror, to disclose themto his Majesty’s Chief Secretary of State and most honourablePrivy Council. That, this patriot would be produced before them.That, his position and attitude were, on the whole, sublime. That,he had been the prisoner’s friend, but, at once in anauspicious and an evil hour detecting his infamy, had resolved toimmolate the traitor he could no longer cherish in his bosom, onthe sacred altar ofhis country. That, if statues were decreed inBritain, as in ancient Greece and Rome, to public benefactors, thisshining citizen would assuredly have had one. That, as they werenot so decreed, he probably would not have one. That, Virtue, ashad been observed by the poets (in many passages which he well knewthe jury would have, word for word, at the tips of their tongues;whereat the jury’s countenances displayed a guiltyconsciousness that they knew nothing about the passages), was in amanner contagious; more especially the bright virtue known aspatriotism, or love of country. That, the lofty example of thisimmaculate and unimpeachable witness for the Crown, to refer towhom however unworthily was an honour, had communicated itself tothe prisoner’s servant, and had engendered in him a holydetermination to examine his master’s table-drawers andpockets, and secrete his papers. That, he (Mr. Attorney-General)was prepared to hear some disparagement attempted of this admirableservant; but that, in a general way, he preferred him to his (Mr.Attorney-General’s) brothers and sisters, and honoured himmore than his (Mr. Attorney-General’s) father and mother.That, he called with confidence on the jury to come and dolikewise. That, the evidence of these two witnesses, coupled withthe documents of their discovering that would be produced, wouldshow the prisoner to have been furnished with lists of hisMajesty’s forces, and of their disposition and preparation,both by sea and land, and would leave no doubtthat he hadhabitually conveyed such information to a hostile power. That,these lists could not be proved to be in the prisoner’shandwriting; but that it was all the same; that, indeed, it wasrather the better for the prosecution, as showing the prisoner tobe artful in his precautions. That, the proof would go back fiveyears, and would show the prisoner already engaged in thesepernicious missions, within a few weeks before the date of the veryfirst action fought between the British troops and the Americans.That, for these reasons, the jury, being a loyal jury (as he knewthey were), and being a responsible jury (astheyknew they were),must positively find the prisoner Guilty, and make an end of him,whether theyliked it or not. That, they never could lay their headsupon their pillows; that, they never could tolerate the idea oftheir wives laying their heads upon their pillows; that, they nevercould endure the notion of their children laying their heads upontheir pillows; in short, that there never more could be, for themor theirs, any laying of heads upon pillows at all, unless theprisoner’s head was taken off. That head Mr. Attorney-Generalconcluded by demanding of them, in the name of everything he couldthink of with a round turn in it, and on the faith of his solemnasseveration that he already considered the prisoner as good asdead and gone.
When the Attorney-General ceased, a buzz arose in the court asif a cloud of great blue-flies were swarming about the prisoner, inanticipation ofwhat he was soon to become. When toned down again,the unimpeachable patriot appeared in the witness-box.
Mr. Solicitor-General then, following his leader’s lead,examined the patriot: John Barsad, gentleman, by name. The story ofhis pure soul was exactlywhat Mr. Attorney-General had described itto be—perhaps, if it had a fault, a little too exactly.Having released his noble bosom of its burden, he would havemodestly withdrawn himself, but that the wigged gentleman with thepapers before him, sitting not far from Mr. Lorry, begged to askhim a few questions. The wigged gentleman sitting opposite, stilllooking at the ceiling of the court.
Had he ever been a spy himself? No, he scorned the baseinsinuation. What did he live upon? His property. Where washisproperty? He didn’t precisely remember where it was. What wasit? No business of anybody’s. Had he inherited it? Yes, hehad. From whom? Distant relation. Very distant? Rather. Ever beenin prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtors’ prison?Didn’t seewhat that had to do with it. Never in adebtors’ prison?—Come, once again. Never? Yes. How manytimes? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of whatprofession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been.Frequently? No. Ever kicked downstairs? Decidedly not; oncereceived a kick on the top of a staircase, and fell downstairs ofhis own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice?Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar whocommitted the assault, but it was not true. Swear it was not true?Positively. Ever live by cheating at play? Never. Ever live byplay? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of theprisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Was not this intimacy with theprisoner, in reality a very slight one, forced upon the prisoner incoaches, inns, and packets? No. Sure he saw the prisoner with theselists? Certain. Knew no more about the lists? No. Had not procuredthem himself, for instance? No. Expect to get anything by thisevidence? No. Not in regular government pay and employment, to laytraps? Oh dear no. Or to do anything? Oh dear no. Swear that? Overand over again. No motives but motives of sheer patriotism? Nonewhatever.
The virtuous servant, Roger Cly, swore his way through the caseat a great rate.He had taken service with the prisoner, in goodfaith and simplicity, four years ago. He had asked the prisoner,aboard the Calais packet, if he wanted a handy fellow, and theprisoner had engaged him. He had not asked the prisoner to take thehandy fellowas an act of charity—never thought of such athing. He began to have suspicions of the prisoner, and to keep aneye upon him, soon afterwards. In arranging his clothes, whiletravelling, he had seen similar lists to these in theprisoner’s pockets, over and over again. He had taken theselists from the drawer of the prisoner’s desk. He had not putthem there first. He had seen theprisoner show these identicallists to French gentlemen at Calais, and similar lists to Frenchgentlemen, both at Calais and Boulogne. He loved his country, andcouldn’t bear it, and had given information. He had neverbeen suspected of stealing a silver tea-pot; he had been malignedrespecting a mustard-pot, but it turned out to be only a platedone. He had known the last witnessseven or eight years; that wasmerely a coincidence. He didn’t call it a particularlycurious coincidence; most coincidences were curious. Neither did hecall it a curious coincidence that true patriotism washisonlymotive too. He was a true Briton, andhoped there were many likehim.
The blue-flies buzzed again, and Mr. Attorney-General called Mr.Jarvis Lorry.
“Mr. Jarvis Lorry, are you a clerk in Tellson’sbank?”
“I am.”
“On a certain Friday night in November one thousand sevenhundred and seventy-five, did business occasion you to travelbetween London and Dover by the mail?”
“It did.”
“Were there any other passengers in the mail?”
“Did they alight on the road in the course of thenight?”
“They did.”
“Mr. Lorry, look upon the prisoner. Was heone of those twopassengers?”
“I cannot undertake to say that he was.”
“Does he resemble either of these twopassengers?”
“Both were so wrapped up, and the night was so dark, andwe were all so reserved, that I cannot undertake to say eventhat.”
“Mr. Lorry, look again upon the prisoner. Supposing himwrapped up as those two passengers were, is there anything in hisbulk and stature to render it unlikely that he was one ofthem?”
“You will not swear, Mr. Lorry, that he was not one ofthem?”
“Soat least you say he may have been one ofthem?”
“Yes. Except that I remember them both to havebeen—like myself—timorous of highwaymen, and theprisoner has not a timorous air.”
“Did you ever see a counterfeit of timidity, Mr.Lorry?”
“I certainly have seen that.”
“Mr. Lorry, look once more upon the prisoner. Have youseen him, to your certain knowledge, before?”
“I have.”
“I was returning from France a few days afterwards, and,at Calais, the prisoner came on board the packet-ship in which Ireturned, and made the voyage with me.”
“At what hour did he come on board?”
“At a little after midnight.”
“In the dead of the night. Was he the only passenger whocame on board at that untimely hour?”
“He happened to be the only one.”
“Never mind about ‘happening,’ Mr. Lorry. Hewas the only passenger who came on board in the dead of thenight?”
“He was.”
“Were you travelling alone, Mr. Lorry, or with anycompanion?”
“With two companions. A gentleman and lady. They arehere.”
“They are here. Had you any conversation with theprisoner?”
“Hardly any. The weather was stormy, and the passage longand rough, and I lay on a sofa, almost from shore toshore.”
“Miss Manette!”
The young lady, to whom all eyes had been turned before, andwere now turned again, stood upwhere she had sat. Her father rosewith her, and kept her hand drawn through his arm.
“Miss Manette, look upon the prisoner.”
To be confronted with such pity, and such earnest youth andbeauty, was far more trying to the accused than to be confrontedwithall the crowd. Standing, as it were, apart with her on the edgeof his grave, not all the staring curiosity that looked on, could,for the moment, nerve him to remain quite still. His hurried righthand parcelled out the herbs before him into imaginary beds offlowers in a garden; and his efforts to control and steady hisbreathing shook the lips from which the colour rushed to his heart.The buzz of the great flies was loud again.
“Miss Manette, have you seen the prisonerbefore?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Onboard of the packet-ship just now referred to, sir, andon the same occasion.”
“You are the young lady just now referred to?”
“O! most unhappily, I am!”
The plaintive tone of her compassion merged into the lessmusical voice of the Judge, as he said something fiercely:“Answer the questions put to you, and make no remark uponthem.”
“Miss Manette, had you any conversation with the prisoneron that passage across the Channel?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Recall it.”
In the midst of a profound stillness, she faintlybegan:“When the gentleman came on board—”
“Do you mean the prisoner?” inquired the Judge,knitting his brows.
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Then say the prisoner.”
“When the prisoner came on board, he noticed that myfather,” turning her eyes lovingly to him as he stood besideher, “was much fatigued and in a very weak state of health.My father was so reduced that I was afraid to take him out of theair, and I had made a bed for him on the deck near the cabin steps,and I sat on the deck at his side to take care of him. There wereno other passengers that night, but we four. The prisoner was sogood as to beg permission to advise me how I could shelter myfather from the wind and weather, better than I had done. I had notknown how to do it well, not understanding how the wind would setwhen we were out of the harbour. He did it for me. He expressedgreat gentleness and kindness for my father’s state, and I amsure he felt it. That was the manner of our beginning to speaktogether.”
“Let me interrupt you for a moment. Had he come on boardalone?”
“How many were with him?”
“Two French gentlemen.”
“Had they conferred together?”
“They had conferred together until the last moment, whenit was necessary for the French gentlemen to be landed in theirboat.”
“Had any papers beenhanded about among them, similar tothese lists?”
“Some papers had been handed about among them, but Idon’t know what papers.”
“Like these in shape and size?”
“Possibly, but indeed I don’t know, although theystood whispering very near to me: because they stood at the top ofthe cabin steps to have the light of the lamp that was hangingthere; it was a dull lamp, and they spoke very low, and I did nothear what they said, and saw only that they looked atpapers.”
“Now, to the prisoner’s conversation,MissManette.”
“The prisoner was as open in his confidence withme—which arose out of my helpless situation—as he waskind, and good, and useful to my father. I hope,” burstinginto tears, “I may not repay him by doing him harmto-day.”
Buzzing from theblue-flies.
“Miss Manette, if the prisoner does not perfectlyunderstand that you give the evidence which it is your duty togive—which you must give—and which you cannot escapefrom giving—with great unwillingness, he is the only personpresent in that condition. Please to go on.”
“He told me that he was travelling on business of adelicate and difficult nature, which might get people into trouble,and that he was therefore travelling under an assumed name. He saidthat this business had, within a few days, taken him to France, andmight, atintervals, take him backwards and forwards between Franceand England for a long time to come.”
“Did he say anything about America, Miss Manette? Beparticular.”
“He tried to explain to me how that quarrel had arisen,and he said that, so far as he could judge, it was a wrong andfoolish one on England’s part. He added, in a jesting way,that perhaps George Washington might gain almost as great a name inhistory as George the Third. But there was no harm in his way ofsaying this: it was said laughingly, and to beguile thetime.”
Any strongly marked expression of face on the part of a chiefactor in a scene of great interest to whom many eyes are directed,will be unconsciously imitated by the spectators. Her foreheadwaspainfully anxious and intent as she gave this evidence, and, inthe pauses when she stopped for the Judge to write it down, watchedits effect upon the counsel for and against. Among the lookers-onthere was the same expression in all quarters of the court;insomuch, that a great majority of the foreheads there, might havebeen mirrors reflecting the witness, when the Judge looked up fromhis notes to glare at that tremendous heresy about GeorgeWas...

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Citation styles for A Tale of Two CitiesHow to cite A Tale of Two Cities for your reference list or bibliography: select your referencing style from the list below and hit 'copy' to generate a citation. If your style isn't in the list, you can start a free trial to access over 20 additional styles from the Perlego eReader.
APA 6 Citation
Dickens, C. (2018). A Tale of Two Cities ([edition unavailable]). Youcanprint. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/3004338/a-tale-of-two-cities-pdf (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Dickens, Charles. (2018) 2018. A Tale of Two Cities. [Edition unavailable]. Youcanprint. https://www.perlego.com/book/3004338/a-tale-of-two-cities-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Dickens, C. (2018) A Tale of Two Cities. [edition unavailable]. Youcanprint. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/3004338/a-tale-of-two-cities-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. [edition unavailable]. Youcanprint, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.