Context: In 1765 Sterne traveled through France and Italy; his decision to describe the journey from a "sentimental" point of view probably resulted from his previous account of a stay in France (in Tristram Shandy). The present work was intended to reach four volumes; but Sterne completed only two, dying a little less than a month after their publication. His style is best described as chaotic. An effervescent person, Sterne seems in his writings to have approached all aspects of life gleefully. There is little continuity or progress to his books; they are gossipy, haphazard, funny, at times hilarious. They are also full of surprises, vivid snapshots, color and variety. They digress, as Sterne intended: to him digression was an art, and it is obvious that he delighted in it. A Sentimental Journey begins with a conversation between Yorick (Sterne) and a gentleman who has been to France and as a result is an immeasurably superior person. Yorick decides that if a mere twenty miles can make that much difference he may as well go himself–so he grabs up his portmanteau and departs. In no time at all he is in Calais and enjoying an excellent dinner. The wine is outstanding; Yorick's heart swells with love for his fellow man. He finds himself overflowing with benevolence and generosity. He kicks his portmanteau: mere possessions are paltry things. Taking out his purse, he wishes he had someone to share it with. His wish is unexpectedly granted, as is told below; but be it said to Yorick's credit that he later repents of his sudden change of heart and actually does reward the supplicant. To return: Yorick, glowing with wine and his own burgeoning humanity, has just declared himself King of France and wants to present his portmanteau to the first beggar who desires it:
I had scarce uttered the words, when a poor monk of the order of St. Francis came into the room to beg something for his convent. No man cares to have his virtues the sport of contingencies–or one man may be generous, as another man is puissant–sed non quo ad hanc–or be it as it may–for there is no regular reasoning upon the ebbs and flows of our humours; they may depend upon the same causes, for aught I know, which influence the tides themselves–'twould oft be no discredit to us, to suppose it was so: I'm sure at least for myself, that in many a case I should be more highly satisfied, to have it said by the world, "I had had an affair with the moon, in which there was neither sin nor shame," than have it pass altogether as my own act and deed, wherein there was so much of both.But be this as it may. The moment I cast my eyes upon him, I was predetermined not to give him a single sous; and accordingly I put my purse into my pocket–button'd it up–set myself a little more upon my center, and advanced up gravely to him: there was something, I fear, forbidding in my look: I have his figure this moment before my eyes, and think there was that in it which deserved better.