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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age offoolishness, 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 of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than 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, a sat this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to comedown and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses old some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, be spattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, for as much as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of `the Captain, 'gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, `in consequence of the failure of his ammunition: after which the mail was robbed in Peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature insight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a house-breaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair laces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures--the creatures of this chronicle among the rest--along the roads that lay before them.

 

第一章 时代

那是最美好的时代,那是最糟糕的时代;那是智慧的年头,那是愚昧的年头;那是信仰的时期,那是怀疑的时期;那是光明的季节,那是黑暗的季节;那是希望的春天,那是失望的冬天;我们全都在直奔天堂,我们全都在直奔相反的方向--简而言之,那时跟现在非常相象,某些最喧嚣的权威坚持要用形容词的最高级来形容它。说它好,是最高级的;说它不好,也是最高级的。

英格兰宝座上有一个大下巴的国王和一个面貌平庸的王后;法兰西宝座上有一个大下巴的国王和一个面貌姣好的王后。对两国支配着国家全部财富的老爷来说,国家大局足以万岁千秋乃是比水晶还清楚的事。

那是耶稣纪元一干七百七十五年。灵魂启示在那个受到欢迎的时期跟现在一样在英格兰风行一时。骚斯柯特太太刚满了她幸福的二十五岁,王室卫队一个先知的士兵已宣布这位太太早已作好安排,要使伦敦城和西敏寺陆沉,从而为她崇高形象的出现开辟道路。即使雄鸡巷的幽灵在咄咄逼人地发出它的预言之后销声匿迹整整十二年,去年的精灵们咄咄逼人发出的预言仍跟她差不多,只是少了几分超自然的独创性而已。前不久英国国王和英国百姓才得到一些人世间的消息。那是从远在美洲的英国臣民的国会传来的。说来奇怪,这些信息对于人类的影响竟然比雄鸡巷魔鬼的子孙们的预言还要巨大。

法兰西的灵异事物大体不如她那以盾和三叉戟为标志的姐妹那么受宠。法兰西正在一个劲儿地往坡下滑,印制着钞票,使用着钞票。除此之外她也在教士们的指引下建立些仁慈的功勋,寻求点乐趣。比如判决一个青年斩去双手,用钳子拔掉舌头,然后活活烧死,因为他在一群和尚的肮脏仪仗队从五六十码之外他看得见的地方经过时,竟然没有跪倒在雨地里向它致敬。而在那人被处死时,生长在法兰西和挪威森林里的某些树木很可能已被命运这个樵夫看中,要砍倒它们,锯成木板,做成一种在历史上以恐怖著名的可以移动的架子,其中包含了一个口袋和一把铡刀。而在同一天,巴黎近郊板结的土地上某些农户的简陋的小披屋里也很可能有一些大车在那儿躲避风雨。那些车很粗糙,溅满了郊野的泥浆,猪群在它旁边嗅着,家禽在它上面栖息。这东西也极有可能已被死亡这个农民看中,要在革命时给它派上死囚囚车的用场。可是那樵夫农民尽管忙个不停,却总是默不作声,蹑手蹑脚,不让人听见。因此若是有人猜想到他们已在行动,反倒会被看作是无神论和大逆不道。

英格兰几乎没有秩序和保障,难以为民族自夸提供佐证。武装歹徒胆大包天的破门抢劫和拦路翦径在京畿重地每天晚上出现。有公开的警告发表:各家各户,凡要离城外出,务须把家具什物存入家具店的仓库,以保安全。黑暗中的强盗却是大白天的城市商人。他若是被他以老大的身份抢劫的同行认了出来,遭到挑战,便潇洒地射穿对方的脑袋,然后扬长而去。七个强盗抢劫邮车,被押车卫士击毙了三个,卫士自己也不免因为弹尽援绝被那四个强盗杀死,然后邮件便被从从容容地弄走。伦敦市的市长大人,一个神气十足的大员,在特恩安森林被一个翦径的强徒喝住,只好乖乖地站住不动。那强盗竟当着众随员的面把那个显赫人物掳了个精光。伦敦监狱的囚犯跟监狱看守大打出手;法律的最高权威对着囚犯开枪,大口径短枪枪膛里填进了一排又一排的子弹和铁砂。小偷在法庭的客厅里扯下了贵族大人脖子上的钻石十字架。火枪手闯进圣.嘉尔斯教堂去检查私货,暴民们却对火枪手开枪。火枪手也对暴民还击。此类事件大家早已习以为常,见惯不惊。在这样的情况之下刽子手不免手忙脚乱。这种人无用胜于有用,却总是应接不暇。他们有时把各色各样的罪犯一大排一大排地挂起来。有时星期二抓住的强盗,星期六就绞死;有时就在新门监狱把囚犯成打成打地用火刑烧死;有时又在西敏寺大厅门前焚烧小册子。今天处决一个穷凶极恶的杀人犯,明天杀死一个只抢了农家孩子六便士的可怜的小偷。

诸如此类的现象,还加上一千桩类似的事件,就像这样在可爱的古老的一千七百七十五年相继发生,层出不穷。在这些事件包围之中,樵夫农民仍然悄悄地干着活,而那两位大下巴和另外两张平常的和姣好的面孔却都威风凛凛,专横地运用着他们神授的君权。一干七百七十五年就是像这样表现出了它的伟大,也把成干上万的小人物带上了他们前面的路--我们这部历史中的几位也在其中。

 

    
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