Epitome of Brilliance

This may be a strange passage of Tale of Two Cities to put on one's blog, but this just shows the brilliance of Charles Dickens. I love the English language when it is used this well!

...Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world- the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine.

It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.

It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red. It was taken to pieces, like a toy-puzzle for a young Devil, and was put together again when the occasion wanted it. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful, abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public mark, twenty-one living and one dead, it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes. The name of the strong man of Old Scripture had descended to the chief functionary who worked it; but, so armed, he was stronger than his namesake, and blinder, and tore away the gates of God's own Temple every day.

~Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, pg. 272.

1 comment:

Kari said...

the part of my book I just read is about a guillotine, too. Mine is not so much brilliant, as just incredibly thought provoking. And it's not hardly any command of the English language--as it's translated from Russian. . .

Well, at all events it is a good thing that there's no pain when the poor fellow's head flies off," he remarked.

"Do you know, though," cried the prince warmly, "you made that remark now, and everyone says the same thing, and the machine is designed with the purpose of avoiding pain, this guillotine I mean; but a thought came into my head then: what if it be a bad plan after all? You may laugh at my idea, perhaps--but I could not help its occurring to me all the same. Now with the rack and tortures and so on--you suffer terrible pain of course; but then your torture is bodily pain only (although no doubt you have plenty of that) until you die. But HERE I should imagine the most terrible part of the whole punishment is, not the bodily pain at all--but the certain knowledge that in an hour,--then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, then now--this very INSTANT--your soul must quit your body and that you will no longer be a man-- and that this is certain, CERTAIN! That's the point--the certainty of it. Just that instant when you place your head on the block and hear the iron grate over your head--then--that quarter of a second is the most awful of all.

"This is not my own fantastical opinion--many people have thought the same; but I feel it so deeply that I'll tell you what I think. I believe that to execute a man for murder is to punish him immeasurably more dreadfully than is equivalent to his crime. A murder by sentence is far more dreadful than a murder committed by a criminal. The man who is attacked by robbers at night, in a dark wood, or anywhere, undoubtedly hopes and hopes that he may yet escape until the very moment of his death. There are plenty of instances of a man running away, or imploring for mercy--at all events hoping on in some degree--even after his throat was cut. But in the case of an execution, that last hope--having which it is so immeasurably less dreadful to die,--is taken away from the wretch and CERTAINTY substituted in its place! There is his sentence, and with it that terrible certainty that he cannot possibly escape death--which, I consider, must be the most dreadful anguish in the world.