Home  »  A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy  »  Preface. In the Desobligeant

Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Preface. In the Desobligeant

IT must have been observed by many a peripatetic philosopher, that nature has set up by her own unquestionable authority certain boundaries and fences to circumscribe the discontent of man: she has effected her purpose in the quietest and easiest manner, by laying him under almost insuperable obligations to work out his ease, and to sustain his sufferings at home. It is there only that she has provided him with the most suitable objects to partake of his happiness, and bear a part of that burden, which, in all countries and ages, has ever been too heavy for one pair of shoulders. ’T is true, we are endued with an imperfect power of spreading our happiness sometimes beyond her limits, but ’t is so order’d, that, from the want of languages, connections, and dependencies, and from the difference in education, customs, and habits, we lie under so many impediments in communicating our sensations out of our own sphere, as often amount to a total impossibility.    1
  It will always follow from hence, that the balance of sentimental commerce is always against the expatriated adventurer: he must buy what he has little occasion for, at their own price—his conversation will seldom be taken in exchange for theirs without a large discount—and this by the by, eternally driving him into the hands of more equitable brokers, for such conversation as he can find it requires no great spirit of divination to guess at his party—    2
  This brings me to my point; and naturally leads me (if the see-saw of this Desobligeant will but let me get on) into the efficient as well as the final causes of traveling.—    3
  Your idle people that leave their native country, and go abroad for some reason or reasons which may be derived from one of these general causes—
Infirmity of body,
Imbecility of mind, or
Inevitable necessity.
  The first two include all those who travel by land or by water, laboring with pride, curiosity, vanity, or spleen, subdivided and combined in infinitum.    5
  The third class includes the whole army of peregrine martyrs; more especially those travelers who set out upon their travels with the benefit of the clergy, either as delinquents traveling under the direction of governors recommended by the magistrate—or young gentlemen transported by the cruelty of parents and guardians, and traveling under the direction of governors recommended by Oxford, Aberdeen, and Glasgow.    6
  There is a fourth class, but their number is so small, that they would not deserve a distinction, was it not necessary in a work of this nature to observe the greatest precision and nicety, to avoid a confusion of character. And these men I speak of, are such as cross the seas and sojourn in a land of strangers, with a view of saving money for various reasons and upon various pretenses: but as they might also save themselves and others a great deal of unnecessary trouble by saving their money at home—and as their reasons for traveling are the least complex of any other species of emigrants, I shall distinguish these gentlemen by the name of
Simple Travelers.
  • Thus the whole circle of travelers may be reduced to the following heads:
  Idle Travelers,
  Inquisitive Travelers,
  Lying Travelers,
  Proud Travelers,
  Vain Travelers,
  Splenetic Travelers.
Then follow
  The Travelers of Necessity,
  The Delinquent and Felonious Traveler,
  The Unfortunate and Innocent Traveler,
  The Simple Traveler,
  And last of all (if you please) The Sentimental Traveler (meaning thereby myself), who have travel’d, and of which I am now sitting down to give an account—as much out of necessity, and the besoin de voyager, as any one in the class.    8
  I am well aware, at the same time, as both my travels and observations will be altogether of a different cast from any of my forerunners, that I might have insisted upon a whole nitch entirely to myself—but I should break in upon the confines of the Vain Traveler, in wishing to draw attention towards me, till I have some better grounds for it, than the mere novelty of my vehicle.    9
  It is sufficient for my reader, if he has been a Traveler himself, that with study and reflection hereupon he may be able to determine his own place and rank in the catalogue—it will be one step towards knowing himself, as it is great odds but he retains some tincture and resemblance of what he imbibed or carried out, to the present hour.   10
  The man who first transplanted the grape of Burgundy to the Cape of Good Hope (observe he was a Dutchman) never dreamt of drinking the same wine at the Cape, that the same grape produced upon the French mountains—he was too phlegmatic for that—but undoubtedly he expected to drink some sort of vinous liquor; but whether good, bad, or indifferent—he knew enough of this world to know, that it did not depend upon his choice, but that what is generally called chance was to decide his success: however, he hoped for the best: and in these hopes, by an intemperate confidence in the fortitude of his head, and the depth of his discretion, mynheer might possible overset both in his new vineyard, and by discovering his nakedness, become a laughing-stock to his people.   11
  Even so it fares with the poor Traveler, sailing and posting through the politer kingdoms of the globe, in pursuit of knowledge and improvements.   12
  Knowledge and improvements are to be got by sailing and posting for that purpose; but whether useful knowledge and real improvements is all a lottery—and even where the adventurer is successful, the acquired stock must be used with caution and sobriety, to turn to any profit—but as the chances run prodigiously the other way, both as to the acquisition and application, I am of opinion, that a man would act wisely, if he could prevail upon himself to live contented without foreign knowledge or foreign improvements especially if he lives in a country that has no absolute want of either—and indeed, much grief of heart has it oft and many a time cost me, when I have observed how many a foul step the Inquisitive Traveler has measured to see sights and look into discoveries, all which, as Sancho Panza said to Don Quixote, they might have seen dry-shod at home. It is an age so full of light, that there is scarce a country or corner of Europe, whose beams are not crossed and interchanged with others.—Knowledge in most of its branches, and in most affairs, is like music in an Italian street, whereof those may partake who pay nothing.—But there is no nation under heaven—and God is my record (before whose tribunal I must one day come and give an account of this work)—that I do not speak it vauntingly—but there is no nation under heaven abounding with more variety of learning—where the sciences may be more fitly woo’d, or more surely won, than here—where art is encouraged, and will so soon rise high—where Nature (take her altogether) has so little to answer for—and, to close all, where there is more wit and variety of character to feed the mind with.—Where then, my dear countrymen, are you going—   13
  —We are only looking at this chaise, said they.—Your most obedient servant, said I, skipping out of it, and pulling off my hat.—We were wondering, said one of them, who, I found, was an Inquisitive Traveler,—what could occasion its motion.—’T was the agitation, said I coolly, of writing a preface.—I never heard, said the other, who was a Simple Traveler, of a preface wrote in a Desobligeant.—It would have been better, said I, in a Vis-à-Vis.   14
  As an Englishman does not travel to see Englishmen, I retired to my room.   15