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I. The PeriodIt 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 ofits noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or forevil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on thethrone of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen witha fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearerthan 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-twentiethblessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards hadheralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements weremade for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-laneghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out itsmessages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturallydeficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in theearthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strangeto relate, have proved more important to the human race than anycommunications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lanebrood.France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than hersister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness downhill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of herChristian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humaneachievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tonguetorn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had notkneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monkswhich passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixtyyards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France andNorway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn intoboards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife init, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhousesof some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there weresheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered withrustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, whichthe Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils ofthe Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they workunceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went aboutwith muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicionthat they were awake, was to be atheistica.