Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Monk
By Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)

I HAD scarce uttered the words, when a poor monk of the order of St. Francis came into the room to beg something for his convent….  1
  The moment I cast my eyes upon him, I was predetermined not to give him a single sous; and accordingly I put up my purse into my pocket, buttoned it up, set myself a little more upon my centre, and advanced up gravely to him; there was something, I fear, forbidding in my look: I have his figure this moment before my eyes, and think there was that in it which deserved better.  2
  The monk, as I judged from the break in his tonsure (a few scattered white hairs upon his temples being all that remained of it), might be about seventy; but from his eyes, and that sort of fire which was in them, which seemed more tempered by courtesy than years, could be no more than sixty;—truth might lie between;—he was certainly sixty-five; and the general air of his countenance, notwithstanding something seemed to have been planting wrinkles in it before their time, agreed to the account.  3
  It was one of those heads which Guido has often painted,—mild, pale, penetrating,—free from all commonplace ideas of fat contented ignorance looking downwards upon the earth,—it looked forwards; but looked as if it looked at something beyond this world. How one of his order came by it, Heaven above, who let it fall upon a monk’s shoulders, best knows; but it would have suited a Brahmin; and had I met it upon the plains of Hindostan, I had reverenced it.  4
  The rest of his outline may be given in a few strokes; one might put it into the hands of any one to design, for ’twas neither elegant nor otherwise, but as character and expression made it so: it was a thin, spare form, something above the common size, if it lost not the distinction by a bend forward in the figure—but it was the attitude of entreaty; and as it now stands presented to my imagination, it gained more than it lost by it.  5
  When he had entered the room three paces, he stood still; and laying his left hand upon his breast (a slender white staff with which he journeyed being in his right), when I had got close up to him he introduced himself with the little story of the wants of his convent, and the poverty of his order; and did it with so simple a grace, and such an air of deprecation was there in the whole cast of his look and figure, I was bewitched not to have been struck with it.  6
  A better reason was, I had predetermined not to give him a single sous.  7
  “’TIS very true,” said I, replying to a cast upwards with his eyes, with which he had concluded his address—“’tis very true—and Heaven be their resource who have no other but the charity of the world; the stock of which, I fear, is no way sufficient for the many great claims which are hourly made upon it.”  8
  As I pronounced the words “great claims,” he gave a slight glance with his eye downward upon the sleeve of his tunic.—I felt the full force of the appeal.—“I acknowledge it,” said I; “a coarse habit, and that but once in three years, with meagre diet, are no great matters: and the true point of pity is, as they can be earned in the world with so little industry, that your order should wish to procure them by pressing upon a fund which is the property of the lame, the blind, the aged, and the infirm; the captive who lies down counting over and over again the days of his afflictions, languishes also for his share of it;—and had you been of the order of mercy instead of the order of St. Francis, poor as I am,” continued I, pointing to my portmanteau, “full cheerfully should it have been opened to you for the ransom of the unfortunate.”—The monk made me a bow.—“But of all others,” resumed I, “the unfortunate of our own country surely have the first rights; and I have left thousands in distress upon our own shore.”—The monk gave a cordial wave with his head, as much as to say, “No doubt there is misery enough in every corner of the world, as well as within our convent.”—“But we distinguish,” said I, laying my hand upon the sleeve of his tunic, in return for his appeal,—“we distinguish, my good father, betwixt those who wish only to eat the bread of their own labors, and those who eat the bread of other people’s, and have no other plan in life but to get through it in sloth and ignorance for the love of God.”  9
  The poor Franciscan made no reply:—a hectic of a moment passed across his cheek, but could not tarry;—Nature seemed to have had done with her resentments in him:—he showed none; but letting his staff fall within his arm, he pressed both his hands with resignation upon his breast, and retired.  10
  My heart smote me the moment he shut the door.—“Pshaw!” said I, with an air of carelessness, three several times,—but it would not do; every ungracious syllable I had uttered crowded back into my imagination. I reflected, I had no right over the poor Franciscan but to deny him; and that the punishment of that was enough to the disappointed without the addition of unkind language.—I considered his gray hairs; his courteous figure seemed to re-enter, and gently ask me what injury he had done me, and why I could use him thus: I would have given twenty livres for an advocate.—“I have behaved very ill,” said I within myself; “but I have only just set out upon my travels, and shall learn better manners as I get along.”…  11
  I feel a damp upon my spirits, as I am going to add that in my last return through Calais, upon inquiring after Father Lorenzo, I heard that he had been dead near three months; and was buried, not in his convent, but according to his desire, in a little cemetery belonging to it, about two leagues off. I had a strong desire to see where they had laid him—when, upon pulling out his little horn box, as I sat by his grave, and plucking up a nettle or two at the head of it, which had no business to grow there, they all struck together so forcibly upon my affections, that I burst into a flood of tears: but I am as weak as a woman; and I beg the world not to smile, but pity me.  12

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.