There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, onthe throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and aqueen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countriesit was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves ofloaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred andseventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at thatfavoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attainedher five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic privatein the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcingthat arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London andWestminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozenof years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of thisvery year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rappedout theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had latelycome to the English Crown and People, from a congress of Britishsubjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved moreimportant to the human race than any communications yet receivedthrough any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.
France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual thanher sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothnessdown hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance ofher Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with suchhumane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off,his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, becausehe had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty processionof monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fiftyor sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods ofFrance and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer wasput to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and besawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sackand a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that inthe rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent toParis, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rudecarts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, androosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already setapart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman andthat Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently and no oneheard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather,forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was tobe atheistical and traitorous.
In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protectionto justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, andhighway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night;families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town withoutremoving their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; thehighwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, beingrecognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped inhis character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the headand rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guardshot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, "inconsequence of the failure of his ammunition:" after which the mailwas robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor ofLondon, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by onehighwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all hisretinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with theirturkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them,loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamondcrosses 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 fir on themob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of thecommon way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and everworse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing uplong rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker onSaturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in thehand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door ofWestminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer,and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boyof sixpence.
All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in andclose upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred andseventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmerworked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two ofthe plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried theirdivine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand sevenhundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads ofsmall creatures- the creatures of this chronicle among the rest- alongthe roads that lay before them.