Dickens on tradition

by Andrea Elizabeth

Any one of these partners would have disinherited his son on the question of rebuilding Tellson’s [Bank]. In this respect the House was much on a par with the Country; which did very often disinherit its sons for suggesting improvements in laws and customs that had long been highly objectionable, but were only the more respectable.

Thus it had come to pass, that Tellson’s was the triumphant perfection of inconvenience. After bursting open a door of idiotic obstinacy with a weak rattle in its throat…. (A Tale of Two Cities, Chapter 7)

It was famous, too, for the pillory, a wise old institution, that inflicted a punishment of which no one could foresee the extent; also, for the whipping-post, another dear old institution, very humanising and softening to behold in action; also, for extensive transactions in blood-money, another fragment of ancestral wisdom, systematically leading to the most frightful mercenary crimes that could be committed under Heaven. Altogether, the Old Bailey, at that date, was a choice illustration of the precept, that “Whatever is is right;” an aphorism that would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever was, was wrong. (Chapter 8 )

The trouble with the Reformation and the ’60’s was that they thought almost everything that was was wrong. Still, when Dickens was describing Tellson’s, not the Old Bailey, I liked its musty air of stability and elderly wisdom. Maybe if Dickens had respected such things more, he wouldn’t have left his wife and kids.