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Ref: (“A tale of two cities” by Charles Dickens).

What does “To have a run upon it” mean in the following sentence?

“Tellson’s bank had a run upon it in the mail”

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3 Answers 3

From the first page of Google results for "To have a run upon it":

A bank representative was a passenger on the mail-coach, and he had a package (of money or other valuables) that he was delivering to the bank. In this context, "to have a run upon it" means "the run" (the process of delivering the package) was being made upon "it" (the mail-coach, not Tellson's Bank). Here, you could think of "a run" as similar to "an errand."

Here's the full Dickens passage for more context:

What time, the mail-coach lumbered, jolted, rattled, and bumped upon its tedious way, with its three fellow-inscrutables inside. To whom, likewise, the shadows of the night revealed themselves, in the forms their dozing eyes and wandering thoughts suggested.

Tellson's Bank had a run upon it in the mail. As the bank passenger-- with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep him from pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt--nodded in his place, with half-shut eyes, the little coach-windows, and the coach-lamp dimly gleaming through them, and the bulky bundle of opposite passenger, became the bank, and did a great stroke of business. The rattle of the harness was the chink of money, and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson's, with all its foreign and home connection, ever paid in thrice the time. Then the strong-rooms underground, at Tellson's, with such of their valuable stores and secrets as were known to the passenger (and it was not a little that he knew about them), opened before him, and he went in among them with the great keys and the feebly-burning candle, and found them safe, and strong, and sound, and still, just as he had last seen them.

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A "run on a bank" happens when a large number of customers try to withdraw money in a short space of time. The mail is the mail-carrying horse-drawn coach the messenger is travelling on.

But Tellson's did not actually face a run: it was the bank messenger's imagination, driven by the sight and sound of the coach. Further on in the same paragraph:

The rattle of the harness was the chink of money, and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson's, with all its foreign and home connection, ever paid in thrice the time.

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Henry's answer is completely correct. The bank had a run on it in the mail (coach) i.e. in the dreams of the clerk. Hugo's answers are both wrong. –  user24964 May 23 at 18:44

According to a modern English translation from SparkNotes, the bank indeed did have a lot of customers withdrawing money from the bank ("a run on it"), and the bank passenger then falls asleep and dreams being in the bank:

A great number of customers withdrew their money from Tellson’s Bank through the mail carried by the mail coach. As Mr. Lorry nodded off, with his arm through a leather strap to keep him from banging against the passenger beside him and pushing him into the corner, he dreamed the mail coach was the bank itself on a busy day. The sound of the rattling harness became the jingle of coins, and more checks were cashed in five minutes than Tellson’s, with its many local and foreign clients, had cashed in three times that period. He dreamt that the bank vaults under Tellson’s, with all of their valuables and secrets (and he knew plenty about them), opened up in front of him. He walked through them with his large keys and a dim candle and found everything safe and sound, just as he had left it.

And the original for comparison:

Tellson’s Bank had a run upon it in the mail. As the bank passenger—with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep him from pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt—nodded in his place, with half-shut eyes, the little coach-windows, and the coach-lamp dimly gleaming through them, and the bulky bundle of opposite passenger, became the bank, and did a great stroke of business. The rattle of the harness was the chink of money, and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson’s, with all its foreign and home connection, ever paid in thrice the time. Then the strong-rooms underground, at Tellson’s, with such of their valuable stores and secrets as were known to the passenger (and it was not a little that he knew about them), opened before him, and he went in among them with the great keys and the feebly-burning candle, and found them safe, and strong, and sound, and still, just as he had last seen them.

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1  
Is it still called a translation if the original was in English too? –  Optimal Cynic Oct 24 '11 at 6:37
    
@OptimalCynic Well, probably not, but SparkNotes call it "an easy-to-understand translation". –  Hugo Oct 24 '11 at 6:47

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