Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
The Wig. Paris
—But I fear, friend! said I, this buckle won’t stand.—You may immerge it, replied he, into the ocean, and it will stand.—
What a great scale is everything upon in this city! thought I.—The utmost stretch of an English periwig-maker’s ideas could have gone no further than to have “dipp’d it into a pail of water.”—What difference! ’t is like time to eternity.
I confess I do hate all cold conceptions, as I do the puny ideas which engender them; and am generally so struck with the great works of nature, that for my own part, if I could help it, I never would make a comparison less than a mountain at least. All that can be said against the French sublime in this instance of it, is this—that the grandeur is more in the word, and less in the thing. No doubt the ocean fills the mind with vast ideas; but Paris being so far inland, it was not likely I should run post a hundred miles out of it, to try the experiment.—The Parisian barber meant nothing.—
The pail of water standing besides the great deep, makes certainly but a sorry figure in speech—but ’t will be said—it has one advantage—’t is in the next room, and the truth of the buckle may be tried in it, without more ado, in a single moment.
In honest truth, and upon a more candid revision of the matter, the French expression professes more than it performs.
I think I can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national characters more in these nonsensical minutiæ, than in the most important matters of state; where great men of all nations talk and stalk so much alike, that I would not give ninepence to choose amongst them.
I was so long in getting from under my barber’s hands, that it was too late of thinking of going with my letter to Madame R—— that night: but when a man is once dressed at all points for going out, his reflections turn to little account; so taking down the name of the Hotel de Modene, where I lodged, I walked forth without any determination where to go—I shall consider of that, said I, as I walk along.