A Sentimental Journey

by Laurence Sterne

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Mr. Yorick feels no kinship with all the different kinds of travelers—the Idle Travelers, the Inquisitive Travelers, the Travelers of Necessity, the Simple Travelers, and the rest. He is a Sentimental Traveler. As such, he collects sentimental adventures as other tourists collect postcards of the points of interest they visit. Mr. Yorick had started his journey because a man had asked him, with a sneer, if he had ever been in France. Yorick had just made some statement on the French and did not like being answered so tartly merely because he did not have firsthand experience. That same evening, he packed some clothes and left by boat for Calais.

While Yorick is having supper at an inn in Calais, a poor monk approaches him and begs alms for his monastery. Yorick rebuffs him with caustic and witty remarks. Later, Yorick sees the monk talking with an attractive woman who is also staying at the inn. Afraid the monk might tell her how rudely he has behaved, Yorick approaches the couple, apologizes to the monk, and offers his shell snuffbox to him as a peace offering. Now that Yorick has made friends with the monk and the lady, he plans to ask the lady to travel with him to Paris. He learns that her name is Madame de L——.

Proposing to make the trip to Paris in a private carriage, Yorick invites the lady to go with him to look over some of the vehicles for sale in a nearby courtyard. Their admiration of each other grows with unusual rapidity. Before Yorick has a chance to ask her to travel with him, however, she is called away by a message that her brother, Count de L——, has arrived. He has come to take her back to Belgium with him. Yorick is brokenhearted. In parting, Madame de L—— asks Yorick to visit her in Belgium if he passes through that country. She also gives him a letter of introduction to a good friend in Paris, Madame de R——.

The next day, Yorick sets off in a small carriage for Paris. His baggage falls out of the chaise several times, and he has an uncomfortable trip to Montriul. There, an innkeeper suggests he needs a servant, and Yorick sees that the man is quite right. He hires a young boy named La Fleur, whose greatest accomplishments are playing the flute and making love to the girls. La Fleur is delighted at the prospect of traveling around Europe with a generous and unpredictable English milord; he is only sad to have to say goodbye to all of his village sweethearts. Yorick is pleased with the lad’s quickness and wit, and he is sure that the young Frenchman will be able to deal with any emergency arising along the way.

The first problem the travelers meet on their journey is a dead ass lying in the middle of the road. The horses refuse to pass the carcass, and La Fleur’s horse throws him and runs away. Proceeding to the next town, they meet and talk with the owner of the poor dead animal. The owner had taken the ass with him from Germany to Italy and is very unhappy at its death, not so much because it had been a help to him but because he felt sure that the ass had loved him dearly and had been a good friend to him for many years.

In Paris, Yorick goes to the opera. A quotation from William Shakespeare pops into his mind, and he suddenly decides to go and buy the works of that...

(This entire section contains 1450 words.)

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writer. He enters a bookstore and finds a set on the counter. The books, however, are not for sale, having been sent to be re-bound for Count de B——, a great lover of English authors and Englishmen. In the shop, Yorick sees an attractive young girl who, he decides, must be a chambermaid. When she leaves the shop, he follows her and begins a conversation about the book she has bought. Yorick is surprised and pleased to discover that the young girl belongs to the household of Madame de R——. He tells her to inform her mistress that he will call the next day.

On returning to his rooms, Yorick learns from La Fleur that the police want to see him. In his rush out of England, he had forgotten to get a passport, and he had overlooked completely the fact that England and France were at war. He decides that he will have to get a passport, but he does not know how these matters are arranged in France. Madame de R—— is the only person in Paris to whom he carries a letter of introduction, and he does not want to bother the lady about the matter. The only other chance of help is from Count de B——, who, as he knows, likes Englishmen.

It takes Yorick some time to arrange to see the count; when he does, however, the count is most polite. As an amusing way to introduce himself, Yorick opens one of the volumes of Shakespeare, which had just been sent from the bookseller’s. Turning to Hamlet and pointing to the passage about the jester Yorick, he says that is his name. The count is overcome with pleasure at meeting so famous a person, and nothing Yorick can say changes the count’s mind. The count leaves the room and does not return for a long while. When he does, he presents Mr. Yorick with a passport that calls him the King’s Jester. Realizing that he cannot correct the mistake without losing his passport, Yorick thanks the count and returns to his room.

The next day, Madame de R——’s chambermaid calls to see why Mr. Yorick has not visited her mistress as he had promised. Yorick explains about the passport and asks her to present his apology. Some hours later, after the girl has gone, the manager of the hotel comes in and objects to Yorick’s having young ladies in his room. To keep from being evicted from the hotel, Yorick has to buy some lace from a young woman. He suspects that the manager pockets most of the profits from such sales.

On Sunday, La Fleur appears in a fine suit of clothes that he had bought secondhand. He asks if he might be allowed to have the day off, as he has made friends with a young woman he would like to see again that day. Yorick asks him to bring some food before he leaves for the day. Wrapped about the butter, which La Fleur brings with Yorick’s dinner, is a piece of paper bearing some old printing. Yorick becomes interested in the story it tells and spends the whole day translating the faded characters to read the story of a luckless notary. Nevertheless, he is never to know the ending of the tale, for La Fleur had used the rest of the paper to wrap up a bouquet for his new friend.

Yorick has a fine time at parties to which he is invited by Count de B—— and the count’s friends. Because he agrees with everyone to whom he talks and makes no remarks of his own, he is thought the finest wit in Paris. After several minor sentimental adventures, Yorick and La Fleur set out to travel through southern France. At Moulines, Yorick stops to see Maria, a poor unhappy girl who wanders about the country grieving for her dead father. He had heard of the girl from his old friend, Mr. Toby Shandy, who had met her several years before. Yorick sits down on a rock with Maria. Moved by her purity and sadness, he sheds a few tears with her.

Before ascending Mount Taurira, Yorick stops and has dinner with a pleasant peasant family. That night, he is forced to stay in a roadside inn. There is only one room in the inn, and Yorick has to share it with a French lady and her maid. In the room there are two large beds beside each other and, in a closet connected to the room, a cot. After much deliberation, the lady and Yorick take the big beds and send the maid into the closet. Yorick has to promise to stay in his bed and to keep silent all night. Unable to sleep, both Yorick and the lady begin talking. Afraid that something untoward might occur, the maid comes out of the closet and, unseen, stands between the two beds. Yorick stretches out his hand. With this sentimental gesture, Sterne ends abruptly the story of his sentimental journey.