A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

Montreuil - The Bidet


I had once lost my portmanteau from behind my chaise, and twice got out in the rain, and one of the times up to the knees in dirt, to help the postilion to tie it on, without being able to find out what was wanting.--Nor was it till I got to Montreuil, upon the landlord's asking me if I wanted not a servant, that it occurred to me, that that was the very thing.

A servant! That I do most sadly, quoth I.--Because, Monsieur, said the landlord, there is a clever young fellow, who would be very proud of the honour to serve an Englishman.--But why an English one, more than any other?--They are so generous, said the landlord.--I'll be shot if this is not a livre out of my pocket, quoth I to myself, this very night.--But they have wherewithal to be so, Monsieur, added he.--Set down one livre more for that, quoth I.--It was but last night, said the landlord, qu'un milord Anglois presentoit un ecu a la fille de chambre.--Tant pis pour Mademoiselle Janatone, said I.

Now Janatone, being the landlord's daughter, and the landlord supposing I was young in French, took the liberty to inform me, I should not have said tant pis--but, tant mieux. Tant mieux, toujours, Monsieur, said he, when there is any thing to be got-- tant pis, when there is nothing. It comes to the same thing, said I. Pardonnez-moi, said the landlord.

I cannot take a fitter opportunity to observe, once for all, that tant pis and tant mieux, being two of the great hinges in French conversation, a stranger would do well to set himself right in the use of them, before he gets to Paris.

A prompt French marquis at our ambassador's table demanded of Mr. H-, if he was H- the poet? No, said Mr. H-, mildly.--Tant pis, replied the marquis.

It is H- the historian, said another,--Tant mieux, said the marquis. And Mr. H-, who is a man of an excellent heart, return'd thanks for both.

When the landlord had set me right in this matter, he called in La Fleur, which was the name of the young man he had spoke of,--saying only first, That as for his talents he would presume to say nothing,--Monsieur was the best judge what would suit him; but for the fidelity of La Fleur he would stand responsible in all he was worth.

The landlord deliver'd this in a manner which instantly set my mind to the business I was upon;--and La Fleur, who stood waiting without, in that breathless expectation which every son of nature of us have felt in our turns, came in.


I am apt to be taken with all kinds of people at first sight; but never more so than when a poor devil comes to offer his service to so poor a devil as myself; and as I know this weakness, I always suffer my judgment to draw back something on that very account,-- and this more or less, according to the mood I am in, and the case;--and I may add, the gender too, of the person I am to govern.

When La Fleur entered the room, after every discount I could make for my soul, the genuine look and air of the fellow determined the matter at once in his favour; so I hired him first,--and then began to enquire what he could do: But I shall find out his talents, quoth I, as I want them,--besides, a Frenchman can do every thing.

Now poor La Fleur could do nothing in the world but beat a drum, and play a march or two upon the fife. I was determined to make his talents do; and can't say my weakness was ever so insulted by my wisdom as in the attempt.

La Fleur had set out early in life, as gallantly as most Frenchmen do, with SERVING for a few years; at the end of which, having satisfied the sentiment, and found, moreover, That the honour of beating a drum was likely to be its own reward, as it open'd no further track of glory to him,--he retired a ses terres, and lived comme il plaisoit a Dieu;--that is to say, upon nothing.

- And so, quoth Wisdom, you have hired a drummer to attend you in this tour of yours through France and Italy!--Psha! said I, and do not one half of our gentry go with a humdrum compagnon du voyage the same round, and have the piper and the devil and all to pay besides? When man can extricate himself with an equivoque in such an unequal match,--he is not ill off.--But you can do something else, La Fleur? said I.--O qu'oui! he could make spatterdashes, and play a little upon the fiddle.--Bravo! said Wisdom.--Why, I play a bass myself, said I;--we shall do very well. You can shave, and dress a wig a little, La Fleur?--He had all the dispositions in the world.--It is enough for heaven! said I, interrupting him,--and ought to be enough for me.--So, supper coming in, and having a frisky English spaniel on one side of my chair, and a French valet, with as much hilarity in his countenance as ever Nature painted in one, on the other,--I was satisfied to my heart's content with my empire; and if monarchs knew what they would be at, they might be as satisfied as I was.


As La Fleur went the whole tour of France and Italy with me, and will be often upon the stage, I must interest the reader a little further in his behalf, by saying, that I had never less reason to repent of the impulses which generally do determine me, than in regard to this fellow;--he was a faithful, affectionate, simple soul as ever trudged after the heels of a philosopher; and, notwithstanding his talents of drum beating and spatterdash-making, which, though very good in themselves, happened to be of no great service to me, yet was I hourly recompensed by the festivity of his temper;--it supplied all defects: --I had a constant resource in his looks in all difficulties and distresses of my own--I was going to have added of his too; but La Fleur was out of the reach of every thing; for, whether 'twas hunger or thirst, or cold or nakedness, or watchings, or whatever stripes of ill luck La Fleur met with in our journeyings, there was no index in his physiognomy to point them out by,--he was eternally the same; so that if I am a piece of a philosopher, which Satan now and then puts it into my head I am,--it always mortifies the pride of the conceit, by reflecting how much I owe to the complexional philosophy of this poor fellow, for shaming me into one of a better kind. With all this, La Fleur had a small cast of the coxcomb,--but he seemed at first sight to be more a coxcomb of nature than of art; and, before I had been three days in Paris with him,--he seemed to be no coxcomb at all.


The next morning, La Fleur entering upon his employment, I delivered to him the key of my portmanteau, with an inventory of my half a dozen shirts and silk pair of breeches, and bid him fasten all upon the chaise,--get the horses put to,--and desire the landlord to come in with his bill.

C'est un garcon de bonne fortune, said the landlord, pointing through the window to half a dozen wenches who had got round about La Fleur, and were most kindly taking their leave of him, as the postilion was leading out the horses. La Fleur kissed all their hands round and round again, and thrice he wiped his eyes, and thrice he promised he would bring them all pardons from Rome.

- The young fellow, said the landlord, is beloved by all the town, and there is scarce a corner in Montreuil where the want of him will not be felt: he has but one misfortune in the world, continued he, "he is always in love."--I am heartily glad of it, said I,--'twill save me the trouble every night of putting my breeches under my head. In saying this, I was making not so much La Fleur's eloge as my own, having been in love with one princess or another almost all my life, and I hope I shall go on so till I die, being firmly persuaded, that if ever I do a mean action, it must be in some interval betwixt one passion and another: whilst this interregnum lasts, I always perceive my heart locked up,--I can scarce find in it to give Misery a sixpence; and therefore I always get out of it as fast as I can--and the moment I am rekindled, I am all generosity and good-will again; and would do anything in the world, either for or with any one, if they will but satisfy me there is no sin in it.

- But in saying this,--sure I am commanding the passion,--not myself.


- The town of Abdera, notwithstanding Democritus lived there, trying all the powers of irony and laughter to reclaim it, was the vilest and most profligate town in all Thrace. What for poisons, conspiracies, and assassinations,--libels, pasquinades, and tumults, there was no going there by day--'twas worse by night.

Now, when things were at the worst, it came to pass that the Andromeda of Euripides being represented at Abdera, the whole orchestra was delighted with it: but of all the passages which delighted them, nothing operated more upon their imaginations than the tender strokes of nature which the poet had wrought up in that pathetic speech of Perseus, O Cupid, prince of gods and men! &c. Every man almost spoke pure iambics the next day, and talked of nothing but Perseus his pathetic address,--"O Cupid! prince of gods and men!"--in every street of Abdera, in every house, "O Cupid! Cupid!"--in every mouth, like the natural notes of some sweet melody which drop from it, whether it will or no,--nothing but "Cupid! Cupid! prince of gods and men!"--The fire caught--and the whole city, like the heart of one man, open'd itself to Love.

No pharmacopolist could sell one grain of hellebore,--not a single armourer had a heart to forge one instrument of death;--Friendship and Virtue met together, and kiss'd each other in the street; the golden age returned, and hung over the town of Abdera--every Abderite took his eaten pipe, and every Abderitish woman left her purple web, and chastely sat her down and listened to the song.

'Twas only in the power, says the Fragment, of the God whose empire extendeth from heaven to earth, and even to the depths of the sea, to have done this.


When all is ready, and every article is disputed and paid for in the inn, unless you are a little sour'd by the adventure, there is always a matter to compound at the door, before you can get into your chaise; and that is with the sons and daughters of poverty, who surround you. Let no man say, "Let them go to the devil!"-- 'tis a cruel journey to send a few miserables, and they have had sufferings enow without it: I always think it better to take a few sous out in my hand; and I would counsel every gentle traveller to do so likewise: he need not be so exact in setting down his motives for giving them;--They will be registered elsewhere.

For my own part, there is no man gives so little as I do; for few, that I know, have so little to give; but as this was the first public act of my charity in France, I took the more notice of it.

A well-a-way! said I,--I have but eight sous in the world, showing them in my hand, and there are eight poor men and eight poor women for 'em.

A poor tatter'd soul, without a shirt on, instantly withdrew his claim, by retiring two steps out of the circle, and making a disqualifying bow on his part. Had the whole parterre cried out, Place aux dames, with one voice, it would not have conveyed the sentiment of a deference for the sex with half the effect.

Just Heaven! for what wise reasons hast thou ordered it, that beggary and urbanity, which are at such variance in other countries, should find a way to be at unity in this?

- I insisted upon presenting him with a single sous, merely for his politesse.

A poor little dwarfish brisk fellow, who stood over against me in the circle, putting something first under his arm, which had once been a hat, took his snuff-box out of his pocket, and generously offer'd a pinch on both sides of him: it was a gift of consequence, and modestly declined. --The poor little fellow pressed it upon them with a nod of welcomeness.--Prenez en--prenez, said he, looking another way; so they each took a pinch.--Pity thy box should ever want one! said I to myself; so I put a couple of sous into it--taking a small pinch out of his box, to enhance their value, as I did it. He felt the weight of the second obligation more than of the first,--'twas doing him an honour,--the other was only doing him a charity;--and he made me a bow down to the ground for it.

- Here! said I to an old soldier with one hand, who had been campaigned and worn out to death in the service--here's a couple of sous for thee.--Vive le Roi! said the old soldier.

I had then but three sous left: so I gave one, simply, pour l'amour de Dieu, which was the footing on which it was begg'd.--The poor woman had a dislocated hip; so it could not be well upon any other motive.

Mon cher et tres-charitable Monsieur.--There's no opposing this, said I.

Milord Anglois--the very sound was worth the money;--so I gave MY LAST SOUS FOR IT. But in the eagerness of giving, I had overlooked a pauvre honteux, who had had no one to ask a sous for him, and who, I believe, would have perished, ere he could have ask'd one for himself: he stood by the chaise a little without the circle, and wiped a tear from a face which I thought had seen better days.- -Good God! said I--and I have not one single sous left to give him.--But you have a thousand! cried all the powers of nature, stirring within me;--so I gave him--no matter what--I am ashamed to say HOW MUCH now,--and was ashamed to think how little, then: so, if the reader can form any conjecture of my disposition, as these two fixed points are given him, he may judge within a livre or two what was the precise sum.

I could afford nothing for the rest, but Dieu vous benisse!

- Et le bon Dieu vous benisse encore, said the old soldier, the dwarf, &c. The pauvre honteux could say nothing;--he pull'd out a little handkerchief, and wiped his face as he turned away--and I thought he thanked me more than them all.


Having settled all these little matters, I got into my post-chaise with more ease than ever I got into a post-chaise in my life; and La Fleur having got one large jack-boot on the far side of a little bidet, and another on this (for I count nothing of his legs)--he canter'd away before me as happy and as perpendicular as a prince.- -But what is happiness! what is grandeur in this painted scene of life! A dead ass, before we had got a league, put a sudden stop to La Fleur's career;--his bidet would not pass by it,--a contention arose betwixt them, and the poor fellow was kick'd out of his jack- boots the very first kick.

La Fleur bore his fall like a French Christian, saying neither more nor less upon it, than Diable! So presently got up, and came to the charge again astride his bidet, beating him up to it as he would have beat his drum.

The bidet flew from one side of the road to the other, then back again,--then this way, then that way, and in short, every way but by the dead ass: --La Fleur insisted upon the thing--and the bidet threw him.

What's the matter, La Fleur, said I, with this bidet of thine? Monsieur, said he, c'est un cheval le plus opiniatre du monde.-- Nay, if he is a conceited beast, he must go his own way, replied I. So La Fleur got off him, and giving him a good sound lash, the bidet took me at my word, and away he scampered back to Montreuil.- -Peste! said La Fleur.

It is not mal-a-propos to take notice here, that though La Fleur availed himself but of two different terms of exclamation in this encounter,--namely, Diable! and Peste! that there are, nevertheless, three in the French language: like the positive, comparative, and superlative, one or the other of which serves for every unexpected throw of the dice in life.

Le Diable! which is the first, and positive degree, is generally used upon ordinary emotions of the mind, where small things only fall out contrary to your expectations; such as--the throwing once doublets--La Fleur's being kick'd off his horse, and so forth.-- Cuckoldom, for the same reason, is always--Le Diable!

But, in cases where the cast has something provoking in it, as in that of the bidet's running away after, and leaving La Fleur aground in jack-boots,--'tis the second degree.

'Tis then Peste!

And for the third -

- But here my heart is wrung with pity and fellow feeling, when I reflect what miseries must have been their lot, and how bitterly so refined a people must have smarted, to have forced them upon the use of it. -

Grant me, O ye powers which touch the tongue with eloquence in distress!--what ever is my CAST, grant me but decent words to exclaim in, and I will give my nature way.

- But as these were not to be had in France, I resolved to take every evil just as it befell me, without any exclamation at all.

La Fleur, who had made no such covenant with himself, followed the bidet with his eyes till it was got out of sight,--and then, you may imagine, if you please, with what word he closed the whole affair.

As there was no hunting down a frightened horse in jack-boots, there remained no alternative but taking La Fleur either behind the chaise, or into it. -

I preferred the latter, and in half an hour we got to the post- house at Nampont.