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

The Dwarf. Paris

I HAD never heard the remark made by any one in my life, except by one; and who that was will probably come out in this chapter; so that being pretty much unprepossessed, there must have been grounds for what struck me the moment I cast my eyes over the parterre—and that was the unaccountable sport of nature in forming such numbers of dwarfs.—No doubt she sports at certain times in almost every corner of the world; but in Paris there is no end to her amusements.—The goddess seems almost as merry as she is wise.

As I carried my idea out of the opera comique with me, I measured everybody I saw walking in the streets by it.—Melancholy application! especially where the size was extremely little—the face extremely dark—the eyes quick—the nose long—the teeth white—the jaw prominent—to see so many miserables, by force of accidents driven out of their own proper class into the very verge of another, which it gives me pain to write down—every third man a pygmy!—some by rickety heads and hump backs—others by bandy legs—a third set arrested by the hand of Nature in the sixth and seventh years of their growth—a fourth, in their perfect and natural state like dwarf apple-trees; from the first rudiments and stamina of their existence, never meant to grow higher.

A medical traveler might say, ’t is owing to undue bandages—a splenetic one, to want of air—and an inquisitive traveler, to fortify the system, may measure the height of their houses—the narrowness of their streets, and in how few feet square in the sixth and seventh stories such numbers of the Bourgeoisie eat and sleep together; but I remember, Mr. Shandy the elder, who accounted for nothing like anybody else, in speaking one evening of these matters, averred, that children, like other animals, might be increased almost to any size, provided they came right into the world; but the misery was, the citizens of Paris were so coop’d up, that they had not actually room enough to get them.—I do not call it getting anything, said he—’t is getting nothing—Nay, continued he, rising in his argument, ’t is getting worse than nothing, when all you have got, after twenty or five and twenty years of the tenderest care and most nutritious aliment bestowed upon it, shall not at last be as high as my leg. Now, Mr. Shandy being very short, there could be nothing more said of it.

As this is not a work of reasoning, I leave the solution as I found it, and content myself with the truth only of the remark which is verified in every lane and by-lane of Paris. I was walking down that which leads from the Carousal to the Palais Royal, and observing a little boy in some distress at the side of the gutter, which ran down the middle of it, I took hold of his hand, and help’d him over. Upon turning up his face to look at him after, I perceived he was about forty.—Never mind, said I; some good body will do as much for me, when I am ninety.

I feel some little principles within me, which incline me to be merciful towards this poor blighted part of my species, who have neither size or strength to get on in the world—I cannot bear to see one of them trod upon; and had scarce got seated beside my old French officer, ere the disgust was exercised, by seeing the very thing happen under the box we sat in.

At the end of the orchestra and betwixt that and the first side-box there is a small esplanade left, where, when the house is full, numbers of all ranks take sanctuary. Though you stand, as in the parterre, you pay the same price as in the orchestra. A poor defenseless being of this order had got thrust, somehow or other, into this luckless place—the night was hot, and he was surrounded by beings two feet and a half higher than himself. The dwarf suffered inexpressibly on all sides; but the thing which incommoded him most, was a tall corpulent German, near seven feet high, who stood directly betwixt him and all possibility of his seeing either the stage or the actors. The poor dwarf did all he could to get a peep at what was going forwards by seeking for some little opening betwixt the German’s arm and his body, trying first one side, then the other; but the German stood square in the most unaccommodating posture that can be imagined—the dwarf might as well have been placed at the bottom of the deepest draw-well in Paris; so he civilly reach’d up his hand to the German’s sleeve, and told him his distress.—The German turn’d his head back, look’d down upon him as Goliath did upon David—and unfeelingly resumed his posture.

I was just then taking a pinch of snuff out of my monk’s little horn box.—And how would thy meek and courteous spirit, my dear monk! so temper’d to bear and forbear!—how sweetly would it have lent an ear to this poor soul’s complaint!

The old French officer, seeing me lift up my eyes with an emotion, as I made the apostrophe, took the liberty to ask me what was the matter.—I told him the story in three words, and added, how inhuman it was.

By this time the dwarf was driven to extremes, and in his first transports, which are generally unreasonable, had told the German he would cut off his long queue with his knife.—The German look’d back coolly, and told him he was welcome, if he could reach it.

An injury sharpen’d by an insult, be it to whom it will, makes every man of sentiment a party: I could have leap’d out of the box to have redressed it.—The old French officer did it with much less confusion; for leaning a little over, and nodding to a sentinel, and pointing at the same time with his finger to the distress—the sentinel made his way up to it.—There was no occasion to tell the grievance—the thing told itself; so thrusting back the German instantly with his musket—he took the poor dwarf by the hand, and placed him before him.—This is noble! said I, clapping my hands together.—And yet you would not permit this, said the old officer, in England.

—In England, dear Sir, said I, we sit all at our ease.

The old French officer would have set me at unity with myself, in case I had been at variance,—by saying it was a bon mot—and as a bon mot is always worth something at Paris, he offered me a pinch of snuff.