A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

Maria. Moulines - The Case of Delicacy


I never felt what the distress of plenty was in any one shape till now, - to travel it through the Bourbonnois, the sweetest part of France, - in the heyday of the vintage, when Nature is pouring her abundance into every one's lap, and every eye is lifted up, - a journey, through each step of which Music beats time to Labour, and all her children are rejoicing as they carry in their clusters: to pass through this with my affections flying out, and kindling at every group before me, - and every one of them was pregnant with adventures. -

Just heaven! - it would fill up twenty volumes; - and alas! I have but a few small pages left of this to crowd it into, - and half of these must be taken up with the poor Maria my friend, Mr. Shandy, met with near Moulines.

The story he had told of that disordered maid affected me not a little in the reading; but when I got within the neighbourhood where she lived, it returned so strong into the mind, that I could not resist an impulse which prompted me to go half a league out of the road, to the village where her parents dwelt, to enquire after her.

'Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them.

The old mother came to the door; her looks told me the story before she open'd her mouth. - She had lost her husband; he had died, she said, of anguish, for the loss of Maria's senses, about a month before. - She had feared at first, she added, that it would have plunder'd her poor girl of what little understanding was left; - but, on the contrary, it had brought her more to herself: - still, she could not rest. - Her poor daughter, she said, crying, was wandering somewhere about the road.

Why does my pulse beat languid as I write this? and what made La Fleur, whose heart seem'd only to be tuned to joy, to pass the back of his hand twice across his eyes, as the woman stood and told it? I beckoned to the postilion to turn back into the road.

When we had got within half a league of Moulines, at a little opening in the road leading to a thicket, I discovered poor Maria sitting under a poplar. She was sitting with her elbow in her lap, and her head leaning on one side within her hand: - a small brook ran at the foot of the tree.

I bid the postilion go on with the chaise to Moulines - and La Fleur to bespeak my supper; - and that I would walk after him.

She was dress'd in white, and much as my friend described her, except that her hair hung loose, which before was twisted within a silk net. - She had superadded likewise to her jacket, a pale green riband, which fell across her shoulder to the waist; at the end of which hung her pipe. - Her goat had been as faithless as her lover; and she had got a little dog in lieu of him, which she had kept tied by a string to her girdle: as I looked at her dog, she drew him towards her with the string. - "Thou shalt not leave me, Sylvio," said she. I look'd in Maria's eyes and saw she was thinking more of her father than of her lover, or her little goat; for, as she utter'd them, the tears trickled down her cheeks.

I sat down close by her; and Maria let me wipe them away as they fell, with my handkerchief. - I then steep'd it in my own, - and then in hers, - and then in mine, - and then I wip'd hers again; - and as I did it, I felt such undescribable emotions within me, as I am sure could not be accounted for from any combinations of matter and motion.

I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have pester'd the world ever convince me to the contrary.


When Maria had come a little to herself, I ask'd her if she remembered a pale thin person of a man, who had sat down betwixt her and her goat about two years before? She said she was unsettled much at that time, but remembered it upon two accounts: - -that ill as she was, she saw the person pitied her; and next, that her goat had stolen his handkerchief, and she had beat him for the theft; - she had wash'd it, she said, in the brook, and kept it ever since in her pocket to restore it to him in case she should ever see him again, which, she added, he had half promised her. As she told me this, she took the handkerchief out of her pocket to let me see it; she had folded it up neatly in a couple of vine leaves, tied round with a tendril; - on opening it, I saw an S. marked in one of the corners.

She had since that, she told me, stray'd as far as Rome, and walk'd round St. Peter's once, - and return'd back; - that she found her way alone across the Apennines; - had travell'd over all Lombardy, without money, - and through the flinty roads of Savoy without shoes: - how she had borne it, and how she had got supported, she could not tell; - but GOD TEMPERS THE WIND, said Maria, TO THE SHORN LAMB.

Shorn indeed! and to the quick, said I: and wast thou in my own land, where I have a cottage, I would take thee to it, and shelter thee: thou shouldst eat of my own bread and drink of my own cup; - I would be kind to thy Sylvio; - in all thy weaknesses and wanderings I would seek after thee and bring thee back; - when the sun went down I would say my prayers: and when I had done thou shouldst play thy evening song upon thy pipe, nor would the incense of my sacrifice be worse accepted for entering heaven along with that of a broken heart!

Nature melted within me, as I utter'd this; and Maria observing, as I took out my handkerchief, that it was steep'd too much already to be of use, would needs go wash it in the stream. - And where will you dry it, Maria? said I. - I'll dry it in my bosom, said she: - 'twill do me good.

And is your heart still so warm, Maria? said I.

I touch'd upon the string on which hung all her sorrows: - she look'd with wistful disorder for some time in my face; and then, without saying any thing, took her pipe and play'd her service to the Virgin. - The string I had touched ceased to vibrate; - in a moment or two Maria returned to herself, - let her pipe fall, - and rose up.

And where are you going, Maria? said I. - She said, to Moulines. - Let us go, said I, together. - Maria put her arm within mine, and lengthening the string, to let the dog follow, - in that order we enter'd Moulines.


Though I hate salutations and greetings in the market-place, yet, when we got into the middle of this, I stopp'd to take my last look and last farewell of Maria.

Maria, though not tall, was nevertheless of the first order of fine forms: - affliction had touched her looks with something that was scarce earthly; - still she was feminine; - and so much was there about her of all that the heart wishes, or the eye looks for in woman, that could the traces be ever worn out of her brain, and those of Eliza out of mine, she should NOT ONLY EAT OF MY BREAD AND DRINK OF MY OWN CUP, but Maria should lie in my bosom, and be unto me as a daughter.

Adieu, poor luckless maiden! - Imbibe the oil and wine which the compassion of a stranger, as he journeyeth on his way, now pours into thy wounds; - the Being, who has twice bruised thee, can only bind them up for ever.


There was nothing from which I had painted out for my self so joyous a riot of the affections, as in this journey in the vintage, through this part of France; but pressing through this gate, of sorrow to it, my sufferings have totally unfitted me. In every scene of festivity, I saw Maria in the background of the piece, sitting pensive under her poplar; and I had got almost to Lyons before I was able to cast a shade across her.

- Dear Sensibility! source inexhausted of all that's precious in our joys, or costly in our sorrows! thou chainest thy martyr down upon his bed of straw - and 'tis thou who lift'st him up to Heaven!- -Eternal Fountain of our feelings! - 'tis here I trace thee - and this is thy "DIVINITY WHICH STIRS WITHIN ME;" - not that, in some sad and sickening moments, "MY SOUL SHRINKS BACK UPON HERSELF, AND STARTLES AT DESTRUCTION;" - mere pomp of words! - but that I feel some generous joys and generous cares beyond myself; - all comes from thee, great - great SENSORIUM of the world! which vibrates, if a hair of our heads but falls upon the ground, in the remotest desert of thy creation. - Touch'd with thee, Eugenius draws my curtain when I languish - hears my tale of symptoms, and blames the weather for the disorder of his nerves. Thou giv'st a portion of it sometimes to the roughest peasant who traverses the bleakest mountains; - he finds the lacerated lamb of another's flock. - This moment I behold him leaning with his head against his crook, with piteous inclination looking down upon it! - Oh! had I come one moment sooner! it bleeds to death! - his gentle heart bleeds with it. -

Peace to thee, generous swain! - I see thou walkest off with anguish, - but thy joys shall balance it; - for, happy is thy cottage, - and happy is the sharer of it, - and happy are the lambs which sport about you!


A shoe coming loose from the fore foot of the thill-horse, at the beginning of the ascent of mount Taurira, the postilion dismounted, twisted the shoe off, and put it in his pocket; as the ascent was of five or six miles, and that horse our main dependence, I made a point of having the shoe fastened on again, as well as we could; but the postilion had thrown away the nails, and the hammer in the chaise box being of no great use without them, I submitted to go on.

He had not mounted half a mile higher, when, coming to a flinty piece of road, the poor devil lost a second shoe, and from off his other fore foot. I then got out of the chaise in good earnest; and seeing a house about a quarter of a mile to the left hand, with a great deal to do I prevailed upon the postilion to turn up to it. The look of the house, and of every thing about it, as we drew nearer, soon reconciled me to the disaster. - It was a little farm- house, surrounded with about twenty acres of vineyard, about as much corn; - and close to the house, on one side, was a potagerie of an acre and a half, full of everything which could make plenty in a French peasant's house; - and, on the other side, was a little wood, which furnished wherewithal to dress it. It was about eight in the evening when I got to the house - so I left the postilion to manage his point as he could; - and, for mine, I walked directly into the house.

The family consisted of an old grey-headed man and his wife, with five or six sons and sons-in-law, and their several wives, and a joyous genealogy out of them.

They were all sitting down together to their lentil-soup; a large wheaten loaf was in the middle of the table; and a flagon of wine at each end of it promised joy through the stages of the repast: - 'twas a feast of love.

The old man rose up to meet me, and with a respectful cordiality would have me sit down at the table; my heart was set down the moment I enter'd the room; so I sat down at once like a son of the family; and to invest myself in the character as speedily as I could, I instantly borrowed the old man's knife, and taking up the loaf, cut myself a hearty luncheon; and, as I did it, I saw a testimony in every eye, not only of an honest welcome, but of a welcome mix'd with thanks that I had not seem'd to doubt it.

Was it this? or tell me, Nature, what else it was that made this morsel so sweet, - and to what magic I owe it, that the draught I took of their flagon was so delicious with it, that they remain upon my palate to this hour?

If the supper was to my taste, - the grace which followed it was much more so.


When supper was over, the old man gave a knock upon the table with the haft of his knife, to bid them prepare for the dance: the moment the signal was given, the women and girls ran altogether into a back apartment to tie up their hair, - and the young men to the door to wash their faces, and change their sabots; and in three minutes every soul was ready upon a little esplanade before the house to begin. - The old man and his wife came out last, and placing me betwixt them, sat down upon a sofa of turf by the door.

The old man had some fifty years ago been no mean performer upon the vielle, - and at the age he was then of, touch'd it well enough for the purpose. His wife sung now and then a little to the tune,- -then intermitted, - and join'd her old man again, as their children and grand-children danced before them.

It was not till the middle of the second dance, when, from some pauses in the movements, wherein they all seemed to look up, I fancied I could distinguish an elevation of spirit different from that which is the cause or the effect of simple jollity. In a word, I thought I beheld Religion mixing in the dance: - but, as I had never seen her so engaged, I should have look'd upon it now as one of the illusions of an imagination which is eternally misleading me, had not the old man, as soon as the dance ended, said, that this was their constant way; and that all his life long he had made it a rule, after supper was over, to call out his family to dance and rejoice; believing, he said, that a cheerful and contented mind was the best sort of thanks to heaven that an illiterate peasant could pay, -

Or a learned prelate either, said I.


When you have gained the top of Mount Taurira, you run presently down to Lyons: - adieu, then, to all rapid movements! 'Tis a journey of caution; and it fares better with sentiments, not to be in a hurry with them; so I contracted with a voiturin to take his time with a couple of mules, and convoy me in my own chaise safe to Turin, through Savoy.

Poor, patient, quiet, honest people! fear not: your poverty, the treasury of your simple virtues, will not be envied you by the world, nor will your valleys be invaded by it. - Nature! in the midst of thy disorders, thou art still friendly to the scantiness thou hast created: with all thy great works about thee, little hast thou left to give, either to the scythe or to the sickle; - but to that little thou grantest safety and protection; and sweet are the dwellings which stand so shelter'd.

Let the way-worn traveller vent his complaints upon the sudden turns and dangers of your roads, - your rocks, - your precipices; - the difficulties of getting up, - the horrors of getting down, - mountains impracticable, - and cataracts, which roll down great stones from their summits, and block his road up. - The peasants had been all day at work in removing a fragment of this kind between St. Michael and Madane; and, by the time my voiturin got to the place, it wanted full two hours of completing before a passage could any how be gain'd: there was nothing but to wait with patience; - 'twas a wet and tempestuous night; so that by the delay, and that together, the voiturin found himself obliged to put up five miles short of his stage at a little decent kind of an inn by the roadside.

I forthwith took possession of my bedchamber - got a good fire - order'd supper; and was thanking heaven it was no worse, when a voiture arrived with a lady in it and her servant maid.

As there was no other bed-chamber in the house, the hostess, - without much nicety, led them into mine, telling them, as she usher'd them in, that there was nobody in it but an English gentleman; - that there were two good beds in it, and a closet within the room which held another. The accent in which she spoke of this third bed, did not say much for it; - however, she said there were three beds and but three people, and she durst say, the gentleman would do anything to accommodate matters. - I left not the lady a moment to make a conjecture about it - so instantly made a declaration that I would do anything in my power.

As this did not amount to an absolute surrender of my bed-chamber, I still felt myself so much the proprietor, as to have a right to do the honours of it; - so I desired the lady to sit down, - pressed her into the warmest seat, - called for more wood, - desired the hostess to enlarge the plan of the supper, and to favour us with the very best wine.

The lady had scarce warm'd herself five minutes at the fire, before she began to turn her head back, and give a look at the beds; and the oftener she cast her eyes that way, the more they return'd perplexd; - I felt for her - and for myself: for in a few minutes, what by her looks, and the case itself, I found myself as much embarrassed as it was possible the lady could be herself.

That the beds we were to lie in were in one and the same room, was enough simply by itself to have excited all this; - but the position of them, for they stood parallel, and so very close to each other as only to allow space for a small wicker chair betwixt them, rendered the affair still more oppressive to us; - they were fixed up moreover near the fire; and the projection of the chimney on one side, and a large beam which cross'd the room on the other, formed a kind of recess for them that was no way favourable to the nicety of our sensations: - if anything could have added to it, it was that the two beds were both of them so very small, as to cut us off from every idea of the lady and the maid lying together; which in either of them, could it have been feasible, my lying beside them, though a thing not to be wish'd, yet there was nothing in it so terrible which the imagination might not have pass'd over without torment.

As for the little room within, it offer'd little or no consolation to us: 'twas a damp, cold closet, with a half dismantled window- shutter, and with a window which had neither glass nor oil paper in it to keep out the tempest of the night. I did not endeavour to stifle my cough when the lady gave a peep into it; so it reduced the case in course to this alternative - That the lady should sacrifice her health to her feelings, and take up with the closet herself, and abandon the bed next mine to her maid, - or that the girl should take the closet, &c., &c.

The lady was a Piedmontese of about thirty, with a glow of health in her cheeks. The maid was a Lyonoise of twenty, and as brisk and lively a French girl as ever moved. - There were difficulties every way, - and the obstacle of the stone in the road, which brought us into the distress, great as it appeared whilst the peasants were removing it, was but a pebble to what lay in our ways now. - I have only to add, that it did not lessen the weight which hung upon our spirits, that we were both too delicate to communicate what we felt to each other upon the occasion.

We sat down to supper; and had we not had more generous wine to it than a little inn in Savoy could have furnish'd, our tongues had been tied up, till necessity herself had set them at liberty; - but the lady having a few bottles of Burgundy in her voiture, sent down her fille de chambre for a couple of them; so that by the time supper was over, and we were left alone, we felt ourselves inspired with a strength of mind sufficient to talk, at least, without reserve upon our situation. We turn'd it every way, and debated and considered it in all kinds of lights in the course of a two hours' negotiation; at the end of which the articles were settled finally betwixt us, and stipulated for in form and manner of a treaty of peace, - and I believe with as much religion and good faith on both sides as in any treaty which has yet had the honour of being handed down to posterity.

They were as follow: -

First, as the right of the bed-chamber is in Monsieur, - and he thinking the bed next to the fire to be the warmest, he insists upon the concession on the lady's side of taking up with it.

Granted, on the part of Madame; with a proviso, That as the curtains of that bed are of a flimsy transparent cotton, and appear likewise too scanty to draw close, that the fille de chambre shall fasten up the opening, either by corking pins, or needle and thread, in such manner as shall be deem'd a sufficient barrier on the side of Monsieur.

2dly. It is required on the part of Madame, that Monsieur shall lie the whole night through in his robe de chambre.

Rejected: inasmuch as Monsieur is not worth a robe de chambre; he having nothing in his portmanteau but six shirts and a black silk pair of breeches.

The mentioning the silk pair of breeches made an entire change of the article, - for the breeches were accepted as an equivalent for the robe de chambre; and so it was stipulated and agreed upon, that I should lie in my black silk breeches all night.

3dly. It was insisted upon and stipulated for by the lady, that after Monsieur was got to bed, and the candle and fire extinguished, that Monsieur should not speak one single word the whole night.

Granted; provided Monsieur's saying his prayers might not be deemed an infraction of the treaty.

There was but one point forgot in this treaty, and that was the manner in which the lady and myself should be obliged to undress and get to bed; - there was but one way of doing it, and that I leave to the reader to devise; protesting as I do it, that if it is not the most delicate in nature, 'tis the fault of his own imagination, - against which this is not my first complaint.

Now, when we were got to bed, whether it was the novelty of the situation, or what it was, I know not; but so it was, I could not shut my eyes; I tried this side, and that, and turn'd and turn'd again, till a full hour after midnight; when Nature and patience both wearing out, - O, my God! said I.

- You have broke the treaty, Monsieur, said the lady, who had no more slept than myself. - I begg'd a thousand pardons - but insisted it was no more than an ejaculation. She maintained 'twas an entire infraction of the treaty - I maintained it was provided for in the clause of the third article.

The lady would by no means give up her point, though she weaken'd her barrier by it; for in the warmth of the dispute, I could hear two or three corking pins fall out of the curtain to the ground.

Upon my word and honour, Madame, said I, - stretching my arm out of bed by way of asseveration. -

(I was going to have added, that I would not have trespassed against the remotest idea of decorum for the world); -

But the fille de chambre hearing there were words between us, and fearing that hostilities would ensue in course, had crept silently out of her closet, and it being totally dark, had stolen so close to our beds, that she had got herself into the narrow passage which separated them, and had advanced so far up as to be in a line betwixt her mistress and me: -

So that when I stretch'd out my hand I caught hold of the fille de chambre's -


{1} Nosegay.

{2} Hackney coach.

{3} Plate, napkin, knife, fork and spoon.