Home  »  A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy  »  The Passport. Versailles

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

The Passport. Versailles

I COULD not conceive why the Count de B—— had gone so abruptly out of the room, any more than I could conceive why he had put the Shakspere into his pocket.—Mysteries which must explain themselves are not worth the loss of time which a conjecture about them takes up: ’t was better to read Shakspere; so taking up “Much Ado about Nothing,” I transported myself instantly from the chair I sat in to Messina in Sicily, and got so busy with Don Pedro and Benedick and Beatrice, that I thought not of Versailles, the Count, or the Passport.

Sweet pliability of man’s spirit, that can at once surrender itself to illusions, which cheat expectation and sorrow of their weary moments!—long—long since had ye number’d out my days, had I not trod so great a part of them upon this enchanted ground; when my way is too rough for my feet, or too steep for my strength, I get off it, to some smooth velvet path which fancy has scattered over with rosebuds of delights; and having taken a few turns in it, come back strengthen’d and refresh’d.—When evils press sore upon me, and there is no retreat from them in this world, then I take a new course—I leave it—and as I have a clearer idea of the elysian fields than I have of heaven, I force myself, like Æneas, into them—I see him meet the pensive shade of his forsaken Dido—and wish to recognize it—I see the injured spirit wave her head, and turn off silent from the author of her miseries and dishonors—I lose the feelings for myself in hers—and in those affections which were wont to make me mourn for her when I was at school.

Surely this is not walking in a vain shadow—nor does man disquiet himself in vain by it—he oftener does so in trusting the issue of his commotions to reason only.—I can safely say for myself, I was never able to conquer any one single bad sensation in my heart so decisively, as by beating up as fast as I could for some kindly and gentle sensation to fight it upon its own ground.

When I had got to the end of the third act, the Count de B—— entered with my Passport in his hand. Monsieur le Duc de C——, said the Count, is as good a prophet, I dare say, as he is a statesman—Un homme quirit, said the duke, ne sera jamais dangereux.—Had it been for any one but the king’s jester, added the Count, I could not have got it these two hours.—Pardonnez moi, Monsieur le Comte, said I—I am not the king’s jester.—But you are Yorick?—Yes.—Et vous plaisantez?—I answered, Indeed I did jest—but was not paid for it—’t was entirely at my own expense.

We had no jester at court, Monsieur le Comte, said I; the last we had was in the licentious reign of Charles the IId—since which time our manners have been so gradually refining, that our court at present is so full of patriots, who wish for nothing but the honors and wealth of their country—and our ladies are all so chaste, so spotless, so good, so devout—there is nothing for a jester to make a jest of—Voilà un persiflage! cried the Count.