+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

In Three Books.




It was the best of times, it was the worst

of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the
age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the
season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of
despair, we had everything before us, we had
nothing before us, we were all going direct to
Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
in short, the period was so far like the present
period, that some of its noisiest authorities
insisted on its being received, for good or for evil,
in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a
queen with a plain face, on the throne of England;
there were a king with a large jaw and a queen
with a fair face, on the throne of France. In
both countries it was clearer than crystal to the
lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes,
that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand
seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual
revelations were conceded to England at that
favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had
recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed
birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the
Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance
by announcing that arrangements were made for
the swallowing up of London and Westminster.
Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only
a round dozen of years, after rapping out its
messages, as the spirits of this very year last past
(supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped
out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order
of events had lately come to the English Crown
and People, from a congress of British subjects
in America: which, strange to relate, have
proved more important to the human race than
any communications yet received through any of
the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to
matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and
trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down
hill, making paper money and spending it.
Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she
entertained herself, besides, with such humane
achievements as sentencing a youth to have his
hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers,
and his body burned alive, because he had not
kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty
procession of monks which passed within his
view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards.
It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of
France and Norway, there were growing trees,
when that sufferer was put to death, already marked
by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be
sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework
with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in
history. It is likely enough that in the rough
outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands
adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the
weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered
with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and
roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death,
had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the
Revolution. But, that Woodman and that
Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work
silently, and no one heard them as they went
about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch
as to entertain any suspicion that they were
awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of
order and protection to justify much national
boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and
highway robberies, took place in the capital itself
every night; families were publicly cautioned not
to go out of town without removing their
furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security;
the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman
in the light, and, being recognised and
challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped
in his character of "the Captain" gallantly shot
him through the head and rode away; the mail
was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot
three dead, and then got shot dead himself by
the other four, "in consequence of the failure of
his ammunition:" after which the mail was
robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the
Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and
deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman,
who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of
all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought
battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of
the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded
with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off
diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at
Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St.
Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the