Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
41. The Passport. The Hotel at Paris
I COULD not find in my heart to torture La Fleurs with a serious look upon the subject of my embarrassment, which was the reason I had treated it so cavalierly; and to show him how light it lay upon my mind, I dropt the subject entirely; and whilst he waited upon me at supper, talkd to him with more than usual gaiety about Paris, and of the opera comique.La Fleur had been there himself, and had followed me through the streets as far as the booksellers shop; but seeing me come out with the young fille de chambre, and that we walkd down the Quai de Conti together, La Fleur deemd it unnecessary to follow me a step furtherso making his own reflections upon it, he took a shorter cutand got to the hotel in time to be informd of the affair of the police against my arrival.
Eugenius, knowing that I was as little subject to be overburdend with money as thought, had drawn me aside to interrogate me how much I had taken care for; upon telling him the exact sum, Eugenius shook his head, and said it would not do; so pulld out his purse in order to empty it into mine.Ive enough in conscience, Eugenius, said I.Indeed, Yorick, you have not, replied Eugenius.I know France and Italy better than you.But you dont consider, Eugenius, said I, refusing his offer, that before I have been three days in Paris, I shall take care to say or do something or other for which I shall get clappd up into the Bastille, and that I shall live there a couple of months entirely at the king of Frances expense.I beg pardon, said Eugenius, dryly: really I had forgot that resource.
Is it folly, or nonchalance, or philosophy, or pertinacityor what is it in me, that, after all, when La Fleur had gone down-stairs, and I was quite alone, I could not bring down my mind to think of it otherwise than I had then spoken of it to Eugenius?
And as for the Bastille; the terror is in the word.Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the Bastille is but another word for a towerand a tower is but another word for a house you cant get out of.Mercy on the gouty! for they are in it twice a yearbut with nine livres a day, and pen and ink and paper and patience, albeit a man cant get out, he may do very well withinat least for a month or six weeks; at the end of which, if he is a harmless fellow, his innocence appears, and he comes out a better and wiser man than he went in.
I had some occasion (I forget what) to step into the courtyard, as I settled this account; and remember I walkd downstairs in no small triumph with the conceit of my reasoning.Beshrew the somber pencil! said I vauntinglyfor I envy not its powers, which paints the evils of life with so hard and deadly a coloring. The mind sits terrified at the objects she has magnified herself, and blackened: reduce them to their proper size and hue, she overlooks themT is true said I, correcting the propositionthe Bastille is not an evil to be despisedbut strip it of its towersfill up the fosséunbarricade the doorscall it simply a confinement, and suppose t is some tyrant of a distemperand not of a man, which holds you in itthe evil vanishes, and you bear the other half without complaint.
I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained it could not get out.I lookd up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.
I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approachd it, with the same lamentation of its captivity.I cant get out, said the starling.God help thee! said I, but Ill let thee out, cost what it will; so I turnd about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.I took both hands to it.
The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressd his breast against it, as if impatient.I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.No, said the starlingI cant get outI cant get out, said the starling.
I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly calld home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille; and I heavily walkd up-stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.
Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still, slavery! said Istill thou art a bitter draught! and though thousands in all ages have been made to drink of thee, thou art no less bitter on that account.T is thou, thrice sweet and gracious goddess, addressing myself to LIBERTY, whom all in public or in private worship, whose taste is grateful, and ever wilt be so, till NATURE herself shall changeno tint of words can spot thy snowy mantle, or chymic power turn thy scepter into ironwith thee to smile upon him as he eats his crust, the swain is happier than his monarch, from whose court thou art exiledGracious heaven! cried I, kneeling down upon the last step but one in my ascent, grant me but health, thou great Bestower of it, and give me but this fair goddess as my companionand shower down thy miters, if it seems good unto thy divine providence, upon those heads which are aching for them.