Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
The Captive. Paris
I was going to begin with the millions of my fellow-creatures, born to no inheritance but slavery: but finding, however affecting the picture was, that I could not bring it near me, and that the multitude of sad groups in it did but distract me—
—I took a single captive, and having first shut him up in his dungeon, I then look’d through the twilight of his grated door to take his picture.
I beheld his body half wasted away with long expectation and confinement, and felt what kind of sickness of the heart it was which arises from hope deferr’d. Upon looking nearer I saw him pale and feverish: in thirty years the western breeze had not once fann’d his blood—he had seen no sun, no moon, in all that time—nor had the voice of friend or kinsman breathed through his lattice—his children—
—But here my heart began to bleed—and I was forced to go on with another part of the portrait.
He was sitting upon the ground upon a little straw, in the furthest corner of his dungeon, which was alternately his chair and bed: a little calendar of small sticks were laid at the head, notch’d all over with the dismal days and nights he had pass’d there—he had one of these little sticks in his hand, and with a rusty nail he was etching another day of misery to add to the heap. As I darkened the little light he had, he lifted up a hopeless eye towards the door, then cast it down—shook his head, and went on with his work of affliction. I heard his chains upon his legs, as he turned his body to lay his little stick upon the bundle.—He gave a deep sigh—I saw the iron enter into his soul—I burst into tears—I could not sustain the picture of confinement which my fancy had drawn—I started up from my chair, and calling La Fleur—I bid him bespeak me a remise, and have it ready at the door of the hotel by nine in the morning.
—I’ll go directly, said I, myself to Monsieur le Duc de Choiseul.
La Fleur would have put me to bed; but not willing he should see anything upon my cheek which would cost the honest fellow a heartache—I told him I would go to bed by myself—and bid him go do the same.