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A Tale of Two Cities

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A sumptuous man was the Farmer-General. Thirty horses stood in his stables, twenty-four male domestics sat in his halls, six body-women waited on his wife. As one who pretended to do nothing but plunder and forage where he could, the Farmer-General—howsoever his matrimonial relations conduced to social morality—was at least the greatest reality among the personages who attended at the hotel of Monseigneur that day. The tax collector was an extravagant man. He had thirty horses in his stables, twenty-four manservants in his house, and six maids served his wife. Though his in-laws looked down on him, the tax collector was the most honest of the people at the monseigneur’s hotel that day as he didn’t hide the fact that all he did was steal and take what he could.
For, the rooms, though a beautiful scene to look at, and adorned with every device of decoration that the taste and skill of the time could achieve, were, in truth, not a sound business; considered with any reference to the scarecrows in the rags and nightcaps elsewhere (and not so far off, either, but that the watching towers of Notre Dame, almost equidistant from the two extremes, could see them both), they would have been an exceedingly uncomfortable business—if that could have been anybody’s business, at the house of Monseigneur. Military officers destitute of military knowledge; naval officers with no idea of a ship; civil officers without a notion of affairs; brazen ecclesiastics, of the worst world worldly, with sensual eyes, loose tongues, and looser lives; all totally unfit for their several callings, all lying horribly in pretending to belong to them, but all nearly or remotely of the order of Monseigneur, and therefore foisted on all public employments from which anything was to be got; these were to be told off by the score and the score. People not immediately connected with Monseigneur or the State, yet equally unconnected with anything that was real, or with lives passed in travelling by any straight road to any true earthly end, were no less abundant. Doctors who made great fortunes out of dainty remedies for imaginary disorders that never existed, smiled upon their courtly patients in the ante-chambers of Monseigneur. Projectors who had discovered every kind of remedy for the little evils with which the State was touched, except the remedy of setting to work in earnest to root out a single sin, poured their distracting babble into any ears they could lay hold of, at the reception of Monseigneur. Unbelieving Philosophers who were remodelling the world with words, and making card-towers of Babel to scale the skies with, talked with Unbelieving Chemists who had an eye on the transmutation of metals, at this wonderful gathering accumulated by Monseigneur. Although the rooms were beautiful to look at and decorated with the latest styles, the hotel was not doing good business. The hotel was of especially poor taste if you considered the poor citizens in their rags and nightcaps nearby. In fact, the slums and the hotel were the same distance from Notre Dame, and its towers could be seen from both locations. But no one at the monseigneur’s worried about this. There were military officers there who knew nothing about the military, and naval officers who knew nothing about ships. There were politicians who had no knowledge of current affairs and church officials who lived sinful lives. All of them were completely unfit for their positions, and all of them were lying and pretending to be something they were not. But all of them were of the same class, or nearly the same class, as the monseigneur, and therefore they were given any public jobs that could benefit them. There were many of these people. People who weren’t immediately connected with the monseigneur or the state, but who were also completely disconnected from reality and any honest, hard work, were also everywhere. Doctors who made great fortunes by supplying imaginary cures for diseases that didn’t actually exist smiled at their patients in the monseigneur’s front rooms. Theorists who claimed to have solved all the country’s problems but didn’t actually do anything about them rambled on to anyone who would listen. Heretic philosophers who theorized meaninglessly about the world to build themselves up talked with heretic chemists who wanted to change metals into gold. All met at this gathering of the monseigneur’s.
Exquisite gentlemen of the finest breeding, which was at that remarkable time—and has been since—to be known by its fruits of indifference to every natural subject of human interest, were in the most exemplary state of exhaustion, at the hotel of Monseigneur. Such homes had these various notabilities left behind them in the fine world of Paris, that the spies among the assembled devotees of Monseigneur—forming a goodly half of the polite company—would have found it hard to discover among the angels of that sphere one solitary wife, who, in her manners and appearance, owned to being a Mother. Indeed, except for the mere act of bringing a troublesome creature into this world—which does not go far towards the realisation of the name of mother—there was no such thing known to the fashion. Peasant women kept the unfashionable babies close, and brought them up, and charming grandmammas of sixty dressed and supped as at twenty. Elegant, well-bred gentlemen, who, then just as now, have been known by their lack of interest in any interesting subject, were in a fine state of exhaustion at the monseigneur’s. The spies in the upper-class world of Paris would have had trouble finding one wife in the homes of these men who would admit that she was a mother. Indeed, except for the act of giving birth, which doesn’t give someone the right to be called a mother, babies were out of fashion. Peasant women took care of the babies and brought them up, while sixty-year-old grandmothers acted like twenty-year-olds.

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