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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)

Madame De V——’s Religion

I HAD the honour of being introduced to the old Marquis de B——. In days of yore he had signalis’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 would ask much of the English ladies. “Stay where you are, I beseech you, Monsieur le Marquis,” said I. “Les Messieurs Anglais 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 but knew 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 burned 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 V—— 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 French woman: 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 colour of the rose was fading fast away; she ought to have been a deist five years before the time I had the honour 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 seated upon the sofa beside her, but I had begun to form designs; and what was it but the sentiments of religion, and the persuasion they had excited 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 is her own time steals in and lays them on us; but, my dear lady,” said I, kissing her hand, “’tis 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.