Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Monsieur le Comte de B——, merely because he had done me one kindness in the affair of my passport, would go on and do me another, the few days he was at Paris, in making me known to a few people of rank; and they were to present me to others, and so on.
I had got master of my secret just in time to turn these honors to some little account; otherwise, as is commonly the case, I should have din’d or supp’d a single time or two round, and then by translating French looks and attitudes into plain English, I should presently have seen, that I had got hold of the couvert of some more entertaining guest; and in course should have resigned all my places one after another, merely upon the principle that I could not keep them.—As it was, things did not go much amiss.
I had the honor of being introduced to the old Marquis de B——: in days of yore he had signaliz’d himself by some small feats of chivalry in the Cour d’amour, and had dress’d himself out to the idea of tilts and tournaments ever since—the Marquis de B—— wish’d to have it thought the affair was somewhere else than in his brain. “He could like to take a trip to England,” and ask’d much of the English ladies. Stay where you are, I beseech you Monsieur le Marquis, said I.—Les Messieurs Anglois can scarce get a kind look from them as it is.—The Marquis invited me to supper.
Monsieur P—— the farmer-general was just as inquisitive about our taxes.—They were very considerable, he heard—If we knew but how to collect them, said I, making him a low bow.
I could never have been invited to Monsieur P——’s concerts upon any other terms.
I had been misrepresented to Madame de Q—— as an esprit.—Madame de Q—— was an esprit herself: she burnt with impatience to see me, and hear me talk. I had not taken my seat, before I saw she did not care a sou whether I had any wit or no—I was let in, to be convinced she had.—I call Heaven to witness I never once open’d the door of my lips.
Madame de Q—— vow’d to every creature she met, “she had never had a more improving conversation with a man in her life.”
There are three epochas in the empire of a Frenchwoman—She is coquette—then deist—then dévote: the empire during these is never lost—she only changes her subjects: when thirty-five years and more have unpeopled her dominions of the slaves of love, she repeoples it with slaves of infidelity—and then with the slaves of the Church.
Madame de V—— was vibrating betwixt the first of these epochas: the color of the rose was shading fast away—she ought to have been a deist five years before the time I had the honor to pay my first visit.
She placed me upon the same sofa with her, for the sake of disputing the point of religion more closely—In short Madame de V—— told me she believed nothing.
I told Madame de V—— it might be her principle; but I was sure it could not be her interest to level the outworks, without which I could not conceive how such a citadel as hers could be defended—that there was not a more dangerous thing in the world than for a beauty to be a deist—that it was a debt I owed my creed, not to conceal it from her—that I had not been five minutes sat upon the sofa besides her, but I had begun to form designs—and what is it but the sentiments of religion, and the persuasion they had existed in her breast, which could have check’d them as they rose up?
We are not adamant, said I, taking hold of her hand—and there is need of all restraints, till age in her own time steals in and lays them on us—but, my dear lady, said I, kissing her hand—’t is too—too soon—
I declare I had the credit all over Paris of unperverting Madame de V——.—She affirmed to Monsieur D——and the Abbé M——, that in one half-hour I had said more for revealed religion than all their Encyclopedia had said against it.—I was lifted directly into Madame de V——’s Coterie—and she put off the epocha of deism for two years.
I remember it was in this Coterie, in the middle of a discourse, in which I was showing the necessity of a first cause, that the young Count de Faineant took me by the hand to the furthest corner of the room to tell me my solitaire was pinn’d too strait about my neck.—It should be plus badinant, said the Count, looking down upon his own—but a word, Monsieur Yorick, to the wise—
—And from the wise, Monsieur le Comte, replied I, making him a bow—is enough.
The Count de Faineant embraced me with more ardor than ever I was embraced by mortal man.
For three weeks together, I was of every man’s opinion I met.—Pardi! ce Monsieur Yorick a autant d’esprit que nous autres.—Il raisonne bien, said another.—C’est un bon enfant, said a third.—And at this price I could have eaten and drank and been merry all the days of my life at Paris; but ’t was a dishonest reckoning—I grew ashamed of it.—It was the gain of a slave—every sentiment of honor revolted against it—the higher I got, the more was I forced upon my beggarly system—the better the Coterie—the more children of Art—I languish’d for those of Nature: and one night, after a most vile prostitution of myself to half a dozen different people, I grew sick—went to bed—order’d La Fleur to get me horses in the morning to set out for Italy.