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A Tale of Two Cities

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Those were drinking days, and most men drank hard. So very great is the improvement Time has brought about in such habits, that a moderate statement of the quantity of wine and punch which one man would swallow in the course of a night, without any detriment to his reputation as a perfect gentleman, would seem, in these days, a ridiculous exaggeration. The learned profession of the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities; neither was Mr. Stryver, already fast shouldering his way to a large and lucrative practice, behind his compeers in this particular, any more than in the drier parts of the legal race. People drank a lot in those days. The situation is better today. The amount of alcohol that a man back then could drink in one night and still remain respectable would seem ridiculous to people today. Lawyers drank as much as people in any other profession. Mr. Stryver, who was already shoving his way to being very wealthy and successful, equaled his peers in drinking just as much as he did in matters of the law.
A favourite at the Old Bailey, and eke at the Sessions, Mr. Stryver had begun cautiously to hew away the lower staves of the ladder on which he mounted. Sessions and Old Bailey had now to summon their favourite, specially, to their longing arms; and shouldering itself towards the visage of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of King’s Bench, the florid countenance of Mr. Stryver might be daily seen, bursting out of the bed of wigs, like a great sunflower pushing its way at the sun from among a rank garden-full of flaring companions. Mr. Stryver had been popular at the Old Bailey and at the

Sessions

lower criminal court

Sessions
, but he had started to leave his colleagues behind as his ambition drove him forward. The Sessions and the Old Bailey now had to summon him to get him to visit. Mr. Stryver could be seen every day shoving himself past these old colleagues into the view of the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of King’s Bench, like a sunflower shoving past the nearby flowers toward the sun.
It had once been noted at the Bar, that while Mr. Stryver was a glib man, and an unscrupulous, and a ready, and a bold, he had not that faculty of extracting the essence from a heap of statements, which is among the most striking and necessary of the advocate’s accomplishments. But, a remarkable improvement came upon him as to this. The more business he got, the greater his power seemed to grow of getting at its pith and marrow; and however late at night he sat carousing with Sydney Carton, he always had his points at his fingers’ ends in the morning. It was once said at the bar that although Mr. Stryver was persuasive, immoral, bold, and well prepared, he was not skilled at getting to the core of complex matters, which is one of the most important skills a lawyer needs. He was improving, though. The more cases he worked on, the better he became at finding the crux of an argument. And no matter how late he stayed up drinking with Sydney Carton, he was always well prepared the next morning.
Sydney Carton, idlest and most unpromising of men, was Stryver’s great ally. What the two drank together, between Hilary Term and Michaelmas, might have floated a king’s ship. Stryver never had a case in hand, anywhere, but Carton was there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling of the court; they went the same Circuit, and even there they prolonged their usual orgies late into the night, and Carton was rumoured to be seen at broad day, going home stealthily and unsteadily to his lodgings, like a dissipated cat. At last, it began to get about, among such as were interested in the matter, that although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal, and that he rendered suit and service to Stryver in that humble capacity. Sydney Carton, who was lazy and unimpressive, was Mr. Stryver’s greatest asset. You could have kept one of the king’s ships afloat on the amount of liquor the two of them drank together between

Hilary Term and Michaelmas

two of the four terms that made up the legal year

Hilary Term and Michaelmas
. If Stryver was on a case, Carton was there with his hands in his pockets staring at the courtroom ceiling. They worked on cases for the circuit court, and they stayed up drinking late into the night. Carton could sometimes be seen stumbling back home, disheveled and drunk, in broad daylight. Finally the word got out among other lawyers that while Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was a great jackal, and this was the service he provided Stryver.
“Ten o’clock, sir,” said the man at the tavern, whom he had charged to wake him—”ten o’clock, sir.” “Ten o’clock, sir,” said the man at the tavern. “Ten o’clock, sir.”
“WHAT’S the matter?” “What’s the matter?” asked Carton.
“Ten o’clock, sir.” “Ten o’clock, sir.”
“What do you mean? Ten o’clock at night?” “What do you mean? Ten o’clock at night?”
“Yes, sir. Your honour told me to call you.” “Yes, sir. You told me to wake you.”
“Oh! I remember. Very well, very well.” “Oh! I remember. Very well, very well.”

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