"They Order This Matter Better In France"
Context: Sterne perhaps explained the meaning of sentimental in his title in a letter to a friend: "I told you my design in it was to teach us to love the world and our fellow creatures better than we do–so it runs most upon those gentler passions and affections." In the book itself, he observes, "'Tis a quiet journey of the heart in pursuit of NATURE, and those affections which arise out of her." The memoir tells of countless trivial incidents which caught his interest; his descriptions of his travels and minor adventures especially reveal in great detail his sensitivity to the misfortunes of others. The account begins abruptly, and after his fashion Sterne leaves the reader to decide for himself what the opening sentence refers to:
They order, said I, this matter better in France.– You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me with the most civil triumph in the world.–Strange! quoth I, debating the matter with myself, That one-and-twenty miles sailing, for 'tis absolutely no further from Dover to Calais, should give a man these rights. . . . I went straight to my lodgings, put up half a dozen shirts . . . took a place in the Dover stage; and . . . by three I had got sat down to my dinner . . . incontestably in France.