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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Traveling-Coat

By Xavier de Maistre (1763–1852)

From the ‘Journey round My Room’

I PUT on my traveling-coat, after having examined it with a complacent eye; and forthwith resolved to write a chapter ad hoc, that I might make it known to the reader.

The form and usefulness of these garments being pretty generally known, I will treat specially of their influence upon the minds of travelers.

My winter traveling-coat is made of the warmest and softest stuff I could meet with. It envelops me entirely from head to foot; and when I am in my arm-chair, with my hands in my pockets, I am very like the statue of Vishnu one sees in the pagodas of India.

You may, if you will, tax me with prejudice when I assert the influence a traveler’s costume exercises upon its wearer. At any rate, I can confidently affirm with regard to this matter that it would appear to me as ridiculous to take a single step of my journey round my room in uniform, with my sword at my side, as it would to go forth into the world in my dressing-gown. Were I to find myself in full military dress, not only should I be unable to proceed with my journey, but I really believe I should not be able to read what I have written about my travels, still less to understand it.

Does this surprise you? Do we not every day meet with people who fancy they are ill because they are unshaven, or because some one has thought they have looked poorly and told them so? Dress has such influence upon men’s minds that there are valetudinarians who think themselves in better health than usual when they have on a new coat and well-powdered wig. They deceive the public and themselves by their nicety about dress, until one finds some fine morning they have died in full fig, and their death startles everybody.

And in the class of men among whom I live, how many there are who, finding themselves clothed in uniform, firmly believe they are officers, until the unexpected appearance of the enemy shows them their mistake. And more than this, if it be the king’s good pleasure to allow one of them to add to his coat a certain trimming, he straightway believes himself to be a general; and the whole army gives him the title without any notion of making fun of him! So great an influence has a coat upon the human imagination!

The following illustration will show still further the truth of my assertion:—

It sometimes happened that they forgot to inform the Count de —— some days beforehand of the approach of his turn to mount guard. Early one morning, on the very day on which this duty fell to the Count, a corporal awoke him and announced the disagreeable news. But the idea of getting up there and then, putting on his gaiters, and turning out without having thought about it the evening before, so disturbed him that he preferred reporting himself sick and staying at home all day. So he put on his dressing-gown and sent away his barber. This made him look pale and ill, and frightened his wife and family. He really did feel a little poorly.

He told every one he was not very well,—partly for the sake of appearances, and partly because he positively believed himself to be indisposed. Gradually the influence of the dressing-gown began to work. The slops he was obliged to take upset his stomach. His relations and friends sent to ask after him. He was soon quite ill enough to take to his bed.

In the evening Dr. Ranson found his pulse hard and feverish, and ordered him to be bled next day.

If the campaign had lasted a month longer, the sick man’s case would have been past cure.

Now, who can doubt about the influence of traveling-coats upon travelers, if he reflect that poor Count de —— thought more than once that he was about to perform a journey to the other world for having inopportunely donned his dressing-gown in this?