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 o_ncredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it wa_he 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 al_oing direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the presen_eriod, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received,
for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There was a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the thron_f 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 th_ords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general wer_ettled 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 a_his. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blesse_irthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded th_ublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for th_wallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had bee_aid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as th_pirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality)
rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had latel_ome to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects i_merica: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the huma_ace than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of th_ock-lane brood. France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritua_han her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothnes_own hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of he_hristian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such human_chievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue tor_ut with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled dow_n the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed withi_is view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enoug_hat, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, whe_hat sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to com_own and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sac_nd a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the roug_uthouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there wer_heltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rusti_ire, 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 tha_oodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and n_ne heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch a_o entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical an_raitorous.
In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justif_uch national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies,
took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautione_ot to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’
warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman i_he light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman who_e stopped in his character of “the Captain,” gallantly shot him through th_ead and rode away; the mall was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard sho_hree dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, “in consequenc_f the failure of his ammunition” after which the mall was robbed in peace;
that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand an_eliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustriou_reature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battle_ith their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in amon_hem, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosse_rom the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St.
Giles’s, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers,
and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of thes_ccurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman,
ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now,
stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreake_n Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand a_ewgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminste_all; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of _retched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon th_ear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them,
while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws,
and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough,
and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year on_housand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriad_f small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along th_oads that lay before them.