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A Tale of Two Cities

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Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite of rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning’s chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook. The monseigneur, one of the great and powerful lords of the court, held a reception every two weeks at his grand hotel in Paris. The monseigneur was in his private room, and the crowd of people in the outer rooms worshipped the monseigneur and treated his private room like a holy sanctuary. The monseigneur was about to have his chocolate. He could swallow anything easily—a few unhappy people were even saying that he was quickly swallowing all of France—but he couldn’t eat his morning chocolate without the help of four strong men, as well as the cook.
Yes. It took four men, all four ablaze with gorgeous decoration, and the Chief of them unable to exist with fewer than two gold watches in his pocket, emulative of the noble and chaste fashion set by Monseigneur, to conduct the happy chocolate to Monseigneur’s lips. One lacquey carried the chocolate-pot into the sacred presence; a second, milled and frothed the chocolate with the little instrument he bore for that function; a third, presented the favoured napkin; a fourth (he of the two gold watches), poured the chocolate out. It was impossible for Monseigneur to dispense with one of these attendants on the chocolate and hold his high place under the admiring Heavens. Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two. Yes, it took four men. All of them were dressed extravagantly, and the one in charge had two gold watches in his pocket, following the monseigneur’s noble and chaste example. One servant carried the pot of chocolate to the monseigneur, the second stirred up the chocolate with a little instrument, a third brought him his napkin, and a fourth—the one with two watches—poured out the chocolate. The monseigneur couldn’t have gotten rid of one of these servants without losing his admired place in the world. He would have brought great shame to his family crest if he had had only three servants. Having only two would have killed him.
Monseigneur had been out at a little supper last night, where the Comedy and the Grand Opera were charmingly represented. Monseigneur was out at a little supper most nights, with fascinating company. So polite and so impressible was Monseigneur, that the Comedy and the Grand Opera had far more influence with him in the tiresome articles of state affairs and state secrets, than the needs of all France. A happy circumstance for France, as the like always is for all countries similarly favoured!—always was for England (by way of example), in the regretted days of the merry Stuart who sold it. Monseigneur had been out to dinner the night before, where the Comedy and the Grand Opera had been performed. Monseigneur went out to dinner most nights, and there were always interesting people around. He was so polite and easily swayed that the Comedy and the Grand Opera influenced his opinion on matters of government and state secrets far more than the country’s needs did. This wasn’t good for France, as it’s never good for a country to be ruled by frivolous leaders, like when the merry

Stuart

King Charles II

Stuart
ruled England.
Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business, which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular public business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it must all go his way—tend to his own power and pocket. Of his pleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea, that the world was made for them. The text of his order (altered from the original by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran: “The earth and the fulness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.” The monseigneur had one truly noble idea about public business in general: to let everything continue on its own. For specific kinds of public business he had another respectable idea: that it should benefit him personally and give him more power or money. He believed that the world had been created to bring him pleasure. The text of his class, which had only been changed by one pronoun, read, “The earth and its fullness are mine, says the monseigneur.”
Yet, Monseigneur had slowly found that vulgar embarrassments crept into his affairs, both private and public; and he had, as to both classes of affairs, allied himself perforce with a Farmer-General. As to finances public, because Monseigneur could not make anything at all of them, and must consequently let them out to somebody who could; as to finances private, because Farmer-Generals were rich, and Monseigneur, after generations of great luxury and expense, was growing poor. Hence Monseigneur had taken his sister from a convent, while there was yet time to ward off the impending veil, the cheapest garment she could wear, and had bestowed her as a prize upon a very rich Farmer-General, poor in family. Which Farmer-General, carrying an appropriate cane with a golden apple on the top of it, was now among the company in the outer rooms, much prostrated before by mankind—always excepting superior mankind of the blood of Monseigneur, who, his own wife included, looked down upon him with the loftiest contempt. However, the monseigneur had slowly discovered that things were not going well in his private and public financial affairs, so he had become close with the tax collector. The monseigneur relied on the tax collector for public financial matters because he didn’t understand them and had to rely on someone who could. He relied on him for private finance, because tax collectors were rich, and after many years of living in luxury the monseigneur was running out of money. He had pulled his sister out of a convent before she had become a nun (where she would have worn a veil—the cheapest garment she could wear). Instead, he made her marry a very rich tax collector whose family was of a lower class. This tax collector, who was appropriately carrying a cane with a golden apple on top, was one of the people in the other room. Most people groveled before the tax collector. All except people of a higher class like the monseigneur, and even his own wife, who looked down on him with contempt.

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