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

The Passport. Versailles

I FOUND no difficulty in getting admittance to Monsieur le Count de B——. The set of Shaksperes was laid upon the table, and he was tumbling them over. I walk’d up close to the table, and giving first such a look at the books as to make him conceive I knew what they were—I told him I had come without any one to present me, knowing I should meet with a friend in his apartment, who, I trusted, would do it for me—it is my countryman the great Shakspere, said I, pointing to his works—et ayez la bonté, mon cher ami, apostrophizing his spirit, added I, de me faire cet honneur-là.

The Count smil’d at the singularity of the introduction; and seeing I look’d a little pale and sickly, insisted upon my taking an arm-chair; so I sat down; and to him conjectures upon a visit so out of all rule, I told him simply of the incident in the bookseller’s shop, and how that had impell’d me rather to go to him with the story of a little embarrassment I was under, than to any other man in France.—And what is your embarrassment? let me hear it, said the Count. So I told him the story just as I have told it the reader.—

—And the master of my hotel, said I, as I concluded it, will needs have it, Monsieur le Count, that I should be sent to the Bastille—but I have no apprehensions, continued I—for in falling into the hands of the most polish’d people in the world, and being conscious I was a true man, and not come to spy the nakedness of the land, I scarce thought I laid at their mercy.—It does not suit the gallantry of the French, Monsieur le Count, said I, to show it against invalids.

An animated blush came into the Count de B——’s cheeks as I spoke this.—Ne craignez rien—don’t fear, said he.—Indeed I don’t, replied I again.—Besides, continued I a little sportingly—I have come laughing all the way from London to Paris, and I do not think Monsieur le Duc de Choiseul is such an enemy to mirth, as to send me back crying for my pains.

—My application to you, Monsieur le Comte de B—— (making him a low bow), is to desire he will not.

The Count heard me with great good nature, or I had not said half as much—and once or twice said—C’est bien dit. So I rested my cause there—and determined to say no more about it.

The Count led the discourse: we talk’d of indifferent things—of books, and politics, and men—and then of women.—God Bless them all! said I, after much discourse about them—there is not a man upon earth who loves them so much as I do: after all the foibles I have seen, and all the satires I have read against them, still I love them; being firmly persuaded that a man, who has not a sort of an affection for the whole sex, is incapable of ever loving a single one as he ought.

Hèh bien! Monsieur l’ Anglois, said the Count, gaily—you are not come to spy the nakedness of the land—I believe you—ni encore, I dare say that of our women.—But permit me to conjecture—if, par hazard, they fell in your way—that the prospect would not affect you.

I have something within me which cannot bear the shock of the least indecent insinuation: in the sportability of chitchat I have often endeavored to conquer it, and with infinite pain have hazarded a thousand things to a dozen of the sex together—the least of which I could not venture to a single one to gain heaven.

Excuse me, Monsieur le Count, said I—as for the nakedness of your land, if I saw it, I should cast my eyes over it with tears in them—and for that of your women (blushing at the idea he had excited in me), I am so evangelical in this, and have such a fellow-feeling for whatever is weak about them, that I would cover it with a garment, if I knew how to throw it on.—But I could wish, continued I, to spy the nakedness of their hearts, and through the different disguises of customs, climates, and religion, find out what is good in them to fashion my own by—and therefore am I come.

It is for this reason, Monsieur le Comte, continued I, that I have not seen the Palais Royal—nor the Luxembourg—nor the Façade of the Louvre—nor have attempted to swell the catalogues we have of pictures, statues, and churches—I conceive every fair being as a temple, and would rather enter in, and see the original drawings, and loose sketches hung up in it, than the transfiguration of Raphael itself.

The thirst of this, continued I, as impatient as that which inflames the breast of the connoisseur, has led me from my own home into France—and from France will lead me through Italy—’t is a quiet journey of the heart in pursuit of NATURE, and those affections which rise out of her, which make us love each other—and the world, better than we do.

The Count said a great many civil things to me upon the occasion; and added, very politely, how much he stood obliged to Shakspere for making me known to him.—But, à propos, said he,—Shakspere is full of great things—he forgot a small punctilio of announcing your name—it puts you under a necessity of doing it yourself.