What does he mean? Does he mean that the periods were very different, or very similar?

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    "so far" means "up to this point". – Hot Licks Mar 12 at 11:51

As Hot Licks said, "so far" often means "up to this point". But I do not think that is the meaning in this Dickens quote. I think "so far" followed by "that" means "so much" in this quote.

A was so far like B that C


A was so much like B that C

[The Oxford English Dictionary (under so) has a separate subitem for "so far followed by that". But their examples of this usage are all from before 1900.]


In the phrase so far like as it is used in the 19th century the word far retains the notion of extent or degree which the word much might not convey. I would paraphrase so far as "to that degree" or "to such a degree". The full phrase so far like wants a content clause complement declaring a fact showing the extent of the comparison.

Then was made a heaven, and angels were formed to people it. They are so far like God that they are intelligent and holy ; their nature is, moreover, spiritual

The Evangelical Witness and Presbyterian Review. Belfast, 1865.

To what extent are angels like God? To the extent that they are intelligent and holy; moreover, their nature is spiritual.

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