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

The Translation. Paris

THERE was nobody in the box I was let into but a kindly old French officer. I love the character, not only because I honor the man whose manners are softened by a profession which makes bad men worse; but that I once knew one—for he is no more—and why should I not rescue one page from violation by writing his name in it, and telling the world it was Captain Tobias Shandy, the dearest of my flock and friends, whose philanthropy I never think of at this long distance from his death—but my eyes gush out with tears. For his sake, I have a predilection for the whole corps of veterans; and so I strode over the two back rows of benches, and placed myself beside him.

The old officer was reading attentively a small pamphlet, it might be the book of the opera, with a large pair of spectacles. As soon as I sat down, he took his spectacles off, and putting them into a shagreen case, return’d them and the book into his pocket together. I half rose up, and made him a bow.

Translate this into any civilized language in the world—the sense is this: “Here ’s a poor stranger come into the box—he seems as if he knew nobody; and is never likely, was he to be seven years in Paris, if every man he comes near keeps his spectacles upon his nose—’t is shutting the door of conversation absolutely in his face—and using him worse than a German.”

The French officer might as well have said it all aloud: and if he had, I should in course have put the bow I made him into French too, and told him, “I was sensible of his attention, and return’d him a thousand thanks for it.”

There is not a secret so aiding to the progress of sociality, as to get master of this shorthand, and be quick in rendering the several turns of looks and limbs, with all their inflections and delineations, into plain words. For my own part, by long habitude, I do it so mechanically, that when I walk the streets of London, I go translating all the way; and have more than once stood behind in the circle, where not three words have been said, and have brought off twenty different dialogues with me, which I could have fairly wrote down and sworn to.

I was going one evening to Martini’s concert at Milan, and was just entering the door of the hall, when the Marquisina di F—— was coming out in a sort of a hurry—she was almost upon me before I saw her; so I gave a spring to one side to let her pass.—She had done the same, and on the same side too: so we ran our heads together: she instantly got to the other side to get out: I was just as unfortunate as she had been; for I had sprung to that side, and opposed her passage again.—We both flew together to the other side, and then back—and so on—it was ridiculous; we both blush’d intolerably; so I did at last the thing I should have done at first—I stood stock-still, and the Marquisina had no more difficulty. I had no power to go into the room, till I had made her so much reparation as to wait and follow her with my eye to the end of the passage.—She look’d back twice, and, walk’d along it rather sideways, as if she would make room for any one coming up-stairs to pass her.—No, said I—that ’s a vile translation: the Marquisina has a right to the best apology I can make her; and that opening is left for me to do it in—so I ran and begg’d pardon for the embarrassment I had given her, saying it was my intention to have made her way. She answer’d, she was guided by the same intention towards me—so we reciprocally thank’d each other. She was at the top of the stairs; and seeing no chichesbee near her, I begg’d to hand her to her coach—so we went down the stairs, stopping at every third step to talk of the concert and the adventure.—Upon my word, Madame, said I, when I had handed her in, I made six different efforts to let you go out.—And I made six efforts, replied she, to let you enter.—I wish to heaven you would make a seventh, said I.—With all my heart, said she, making room.—Life is too short to be long about the forms of it—so I instantly stepp’d in, and she carried me home with her.—And what became of the concert, St. Cecilia, who, I suppose, was at it, knows more than I.

I will only add, that the connection which arose out of that translation, gave me more pleasure than any one I had the honor to make in Italy.