The Likeness in Court
13.4 x 7.4 cm vignetted
Seventh illustration for A Tale of Two Cities in A Tale of Two Cities, American Notes, Pictures from Italy, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 13, facing p. 64.
The uncanny likeness in appearance between the accused, the emigré Charles Darnay and his barrister, Sydney Carton, in the Old Bailey trial for sedition creates enough reasonable doubt to acquit. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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. . . a witness was called to identify him as having been at the precise time required, in the coffee-room of an hotel in that garrison-and-dockyard town, waiting for another person. The prisoner's counsel was cross-examining this witness with no result, except that he had never seen the prisoner on any other occasion, when the wigged gentleman who had all this time been looking at the ceiling of the court, wrote a word or two on a little piece of paper, screwed it up, and tossed it to him. Opening this piece of paper in the next pause, the counsel looked with great attention and curiosity at the prisoner.
"You say again you are quite sure that it was the prisoner?"
The witness was quite sure.
"Did you ever see anybody very like the prisoner?"
Not so like (the witness said) as that he could be mistaken.
"Look well upon that gentleman, my learned friend there," pointing to him who had tossed the paper over, "and then look well upon the prisoner. How say you? Are they very like each other?"
Allowing for my learned friend's appearance being careless and slovenly if not debauched, they were sufficiently like each other to surprise, not only the witness, but everybody present, when they were thus brought into comparison. My Lord being prayed to bid my learned friend lay aside his wig, and giving no very gracious consent, the likeness became much more remarkable. My Lord inquired of Mr. Stryver (the prisoner's counsel), whether they were next to try Mr. Carton (name of my learned friend) for treason? But, Mr. Stryver replied to my Lord, no; but he would ask the witness to tell him whether what happened once, might happen twice; whether he would have been so confident if he had seen this illustration of his rashness sooner, whether he would be so confident, having seen it; and more. The upshot of which, was, to smash this witness like a crockery vessel, and shiver his part of the case to useless lumber. [Book Two, "The Golden Thread," Chapter Three, "A Disappointment," p. 68]
Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions, 1859, 1874, and 1905.
Left: John McLennan's periodical illustration of the two young men in court, "The prisoner and his double". Right: Phiz's "The Likeness".
Left: Fred Barnard's "The Lion and The Jackal" (1874). Right: A. A. Dixon's realisation of the tavern scene in Fleet-street after the trial, "Mr. Darnay, let me ask you a question" (1905). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
However, in giving the teacher and the lawyer similar countenances and profiles, Furniss has made neither young man especially attractive, but at least has made the similarity as seen by the trial magistrate and others in the court obvious. The reader of Furniss's text anticipates the exoneration of Charles Darnay on charges of sedition because of the positioning of this illustration some three pages ahead of the passage it realises. Consequently, the reader's interest is not so much in the suspense of Dickens's narrative as in the manner in which Sydney Carton and Stryver, Darnay's attorneys, will play their ace to trump the shaky testimonies of the Crown's dubious witnesses. The vignetted illustration involving just the men themselves and nothing of the courtroom context serves to accentuate the sarcastic humour of the trial magistrate — and render dismissal of all charges a foregone conclusion.
Such telegraphing of the eventual outcome of the Old Bailey trial does not, of course, occur in the All the Year Round weekly instalment of June 4. However, the original monthly illustration of much the same name as Furniss's, The Likeness in Phiz's pair of illustrations for Part Two, July 1859, likewise identifies the outcome of the trial before the purchaser of the monthly part has even begun to process Dickens's accompanying text. Although Fred Barnard in Household Edition could easily have realised this telling and climactic moment in the courtroom scene, he (like A. A. Dixon) elected to describe a later moment, in which The Lion and the Jackal, Stryver and Carton, conduct a peculiar pre-trial strategy; Barnard's avoiding repeating The Likeness may stem from his general reluctance, evident elsewhere in his Household Edition volumes, to have his work compared to that of his friend and mentor Hablot Knight Browne.
In Phiz's July 1859 representations of Carton, especially in Congratulations, Dickens's chief illustrator has made the debauchee far more attractive and sympathetic than either Barnard or Furniss at this point. A. A. Dixon is more flattering than Furniss to both young men, but dramatises the similarity between the two in a less formal and dramatic context than the trial. Furniss, like Phiz, clearly apprehended the importance of underscoring for the reader the uncanny facial likeness of the two young men, the idealistic Frenchman who has renounced his title and aristocratic lineage in accordance with his Liberal principles, and the brilliant young English attorney who squanders his talents for a partner unworthy of him but who will keep him in drink. Furniss, isolating the two figures rather than losing them (as Phiz had done) in the packed courtroom, wishes the reader to comprehend how easy it would be for prison turnkeys and guards to confuse the two on the day of execution at the conclusion of the story. The wig put to one side suddenly, the entire body of spectators in the courtroom must be struck by The Likeness in Court.
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Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Il. A. A. Dixon. London: Collins, 1905.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities, American Notes, and Pictures from Italy. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 13.
Last modified 5 November 2013