|John Martin Harvey as Sydney Carton in 'The Only Way' (1899)|
Waste forces within him. and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.
The image Dickens paints of the dissolute Sydney Carton, tormented by the knowledge that he has talents that he cannot muster the will to utilize. My heart just about broke reading this passage. It's one thing to describe a reprobate, it's another to instill in that description an understanding of the despair of the man. For once, Dickens didn't pass judgement and become a scold. He simply let the compassion have the day, and for that I will forgive much.