When man is at peace with man, how much lighter than a feather is the heaviest of metals in his hand!
Part of the point of Yorick's narrative is to contrast his benevolent attitude towards man with the attitudes expressed in the more spleen-oriented, irritable travel narratives of his contemporaries. This welcoming attitude is also what gives the novel its sentimental focus as well, for Yorick is concerned with openness, kindness, and amiability. He hopes that this behavior will be reflected in those he meets, and that his example will foster good behavior on a broad scale. The narratives he recounts -- the man distressed over his dead ass, the townspeople who watch a play and emulate its virtues -- combine with pronouncements such as this one to reveal his warm disposition. Indeed, Yorick believes that he can spread a general warmth of disposition in the world.
I have behaved very ill, said I within myself; but I have only just set out upon my travels; and shall learn better manners as I get along.
Yorick believes himself a good and benevolent man, and in many cases he certainly is. However, the incident with the monk shows Yorick in his least admirable light: he is condescending, judgmental, and arrogant in this case. Yet even after he has realized the error of his ways in terms of not giving the monk money, Yorick is not very hard on himself and dismisses his bad behavior, claiming that he will do better later. Amusingly, he does not do better later; Yorick's behavior during the encounter with the group of poor beggars is apparently patronizing.
’Tis true, we are endued with an imperfect power of spreading our happiness sometimes beyond her limits, but ’tis so ordered, that, from the want of languages, connections, and dependencies, and from the difference in education, customs, and habits, we lie under so many impediments in communicating our sensations out of our own sphere, as often amount to a total impossibility.
Here, Yorick acknowledges the ease with which communication can break down -- even when such communication is kindly and well-intentioned. This quote, in fact, calls attention to an irony that is at the heart of A Sentimental Journey. Yorick attempts throughout the novel to connect with those who are markedly different in "education, customs, and habits," yet in this moment of apparent honesty, he notes the frequent "impossibility" of such communication. His entire sentimental sojourn may be little more than a futile yet -- for Yorick and the reader -- amusing exercise.
I had not yet seen her face—’twas not material: for the drawing was instantly set about, and long before we had got to the door of the Remise, Fancy had finished the whole head, and pleased herself as much with its fitting her goddess, as if she had dived into the Tiber for it;—but thou art a seduced, and a seducing slut; and albeit thou cheatest us seven times a day with thy pictures and images, yet with so many charms dost thou do it, and thou deckest out thy pictures in the shapes of so many angels of light, 'tis a shame to break with thee.
This is the first of Yorick's many romantic encounters in the text, and it sets certain precedents for how he will act throughout the rest of his amorous adventure. Here, he does not even see the young woman's face in full and allows his imagination to fill in the blanks. Then, after he sees her face, he proceeds to probe with his imagination until he intuits the reason for the sorrow he glimpses. Yorick seems to almost prefer a fantasy life to reality, a tendency that applies to his other romantic encounters.
What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in every thing, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on!
This is excellent travel advice that Yorick doles out to his readers, and this recommendation itself guides Yorick's narrative even when he is behaving badly. Yorick is exceptionally open to experiences; after all, he decided on a whim to travel to France because he heard a comment that spoke to Frenchmen's authority. This quote is a corollary to one later in the text, in which Yorick exhorts his readers not to fear dark passages because very interesting things can be found in them. Yorick often tries to take advantage of what is before him, not shying away from conversations and experiences.
I think I can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national characters more in these nonsensical minutiæ than in the most important matters of state; where great men of all nations talk and stalk so much alike, that I would not give ninepence to choose amongst them.
Yorick revels in his experience at the barbershop because it seems to provide him with more insight into the French character than observing rituals of state. Such one-on-one encounters shed much more light on personalities, tendencies, traits, and proclivities than do stale, formal institutions, which the rich, powerful, and traditional dominate. Yorick's conversations and relationships with people like La Fleur, the man with the dead ass, the barber, the Count de B****, the grisset, and the grisset's husband are particularly illuminating and memorable. This emphasis on everyday life is no doubt one of the reasons why Sterne's novel was so popular in France: it showcases real people and speaks positively of them.
He gave a deep sigh.—I saw the iron enter into his soul!—I burst into tears.—I could not sustain the picture of confinement which my fancy had drawn.
In this excerpt, Yorick ruminates briefly on the horrors of slavery before his thoughts turn to a single captive, with whom he identifies. Some scholars see such moments as indicative of Yorick's overweening self-interest: after all, he thinks for only an instant about those men and women actually enslaved for their whole lives and treated in the most miserable fashion. However, Yorick's impulse to return the focus to himself may be a very human way to engage individual fears, not much different from how most people would act when facing something they truly fear. In fact, Yorick's venting his actual fears is much more appealing and forthright than the pompous, didactic tone that he could have used to discuss social problems.
But I’ll not describe it;—I felt something at first within me which was not in strict unison with the lesson of virtue I had given her the night before.
There is a frequent tension throughout the novel between Yorick's good morals (which are closely linked to his profession and social standing) and his frank admiration of and lust for the women he comes into contact with. Sterne's prose never becomes indecorous, however; this statement is the boldest that Yorick delivers in terms of lascivious thoughts. Furthermore, all Yorick has are thoughts of intimacy -- he never actually acts on any of these. Thus, some scholars have speculated that Yorick is either impotent or insecure about his sexual prowess.
I had been misrepresented to Madame de Q— as an esprit.—Madame de Q— was an esprit herself: she burnt with impatience to see me, and hear me talk. I had not taken my seat, before I saw she did not care a sous whether I had any wit or no;—I was let in, to be convinced she had. I call heaven to witness I never once opened the door of my lips.
Yorick gains entry into the upper echelons of French society for a time, owing largely to his friendship with the Count de B****, who helped him with his passport problems. Initially, Yorick finds this circle pleasing, boasts of his numerous acquaintances, and touts his accomplishment in leading one woman from atheism to religion. This encounter, though, exemplifies Sterne's humor, for the garrulous and clueless woman mentioned above prattles on while Yorick simply listens, piqued that she boasts about him while he says nothing at all. Scholar Rebecca Gould sees this incident as indicative of Yorick's femininity: this woman and the others talk to him almost like he is a female confidante, one of them instead of a strange man.
So that when I stretch’d out my hand I caught hold of the fille de chambre’s—
This last line of A Sentimental Journey is very, very suggestive. It is not known exactly what part of the fille de chambre Yorick touches, but the scene is certainly set up to get our minds wandering. The imagination required here mirrors the imagination that Yorick brings into play throughout the text. Sterne is a master of alluding, suggesting, hinting, and insinuating, without actually or explicitly denoting what is happening. All of Yorick's encounters with women are hazily constructed; there is enough information for a picture of the scene, but the actual events are just out of reach on account of the ambiguities of language. For example, the earlier scene in which Yorick "fingers" the fille de chambre's purse is utterly suggestive without being in any way explicit.
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