A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy Summary and Analysis of Montriul - The Letter

Yorick arrives in Montriul and is asked if he wants to take on a servant. He decides that he must have one, and a landlord recommends a young man to him. The landlord also corrects Yorick’s French, telling Yorick that he must say “tant mieux” instead of “tant pis” (so much the better; so much the worse). Yorick reflects that these two phrases are cornerstones of the French language.

The landlord brings in La Fleur, the young man proposed as Yorick’s servant. Yorick likes La Fleur's looks and deportment so much that Yorick hires him without asking what he can do, convinced that a Frenchman can do everything. Unfortunately, La Fleur can only beat a drum and play a march on the fife, but Yorick is determined to make the situation work. At the very least, he is happy that there will be music to accompany his trip.

Yorick describes La Fleur a bit more. This young man is a “faithful, affectionate, simple soul as ever trudged after the heels of a philosopher” (27). He has a positive temperament and never wavers in this regard; he is always the same. Yorick concedes that La Fleur has made him better. Although Yorick assumed that the young man was a coxcomb at first, La Fleur turns out not to be anything of the sort.

The next morning, Yorick asks for the hotel bill. He watches as a bunch of young women surround the modest La Fleur, and the landlord comments that the whole town loves Yorick's new hire. Yorick comments that he approves of the young man being in love because such affection is good for him.

Yorick writes about the town of Abdera, a vile and dissolute community in Thrace. The Andromeda of Euripides was performed there: the town delighted in the lyrics and spoke in iambics the next day. No one had ill feelings towards anyone else and all the residents kissed one another in public.

Yorick prepares to depart and goes out into the street, where a group of beggars come up to him. He does not think that a man should be cruel to such people or ignore them; rather, one must give them alms. Though Yorick never gives much, he takes out eight sous and passes them out. He gives one dwarfish man some snuff as well, a gesture which the man considers an honor. Yet a shy man lurks in the background and Yorick feels bad that he does not have any more money to give, but then realizes that he does and gives the man a considerable sum.

From there, Yorick gets into his chaise and La Fleur mounts a bidet (a horse) for their journey. They encounter a dead ass lying in the road, and La Fleur's horse is upset by the sight. La Fleur curses politely and the horse runs off. Yorick notes that there are three French curses: Le Diable!, for normal circumstances; Peste!, for more intense situations; and a third, which he does not write out.

La Fleur joins Yorick in the chaise and they arrive at the post-house in Nampont. There, a grief-stricken man draws a crowd and Yorick and La Fleur endeavor to find out what is wrong. The man is the owner of the dead ass, and is lamenting its death. The man had three sons, two of whom have already died; he promised a pilgrimage if the third son could be saved. On the journey the ass died, but it was not just the inconvenience and financial loss that upset the man -- he loved the ass, who loved him back as a friend and a companion. Yorick observes that if everyone were to love each other as the man and the ass loved each other, the world would be a pleasant place, free from strife.

The driver of Yorick’s postilion cares little for the story and takes off loudly. This abruptness disconcerts the reflective Yorick, still sad about the story of the ass. He eventually falls asleep and wakes up in Amiens, the place where Madame de L*** went.

Upon arrival, Yorick chances to see the Count de L***’s chaise drive by with the woman in it; the woman and Yorick exchange bows. At the hotel, a servant comes with a billet from Madame, asking Yorick to deliver a letter to Madame R*** in Paris when he has a free moment. The servant further tells Yorick that the woman owes him her story; if he is ever to go through Brussels, he ought to find her so that she can discharge her obligation.

Yorick is intensely pleased with this information, and imagines himself hearing the woman's story and wiping her tears away from her fair face. He believes this “one of the singular blessings of my life, to be almost every hour of it miserably in love with someone” (36). He remembers his other love, Eliza, and how he swore his fidelity to her. He considers that he ought not to go to Brussels, but vacillates.

In the meantime, Count de L***’s servant and La Fleur pay their respects to each other. La Fleur pulls out his fife and the whole household grows merry. When Madame de L*** hears whose servant La Fleur is, she calls La Fleur to her. She asks if his master has sent her a response, and the young man is flustered. He lies and says he forgot it and will go get it.

La Fleur goes to Yorick and tells him what has happened. Yorick tries to pen a response, but cannot think of what to say. La Fleur says that he has in his possession a letter from a drummer in his regiment to his wife, and that this letter may suffice. Yorick asks to see the letter and La Fleur pulls it out.


In this section, Yorick continues along his journey, taking a servant and arriving in Montriul and Amiens. His choice of La Fleur mirrors his other spontaneous choices, for he decides upon merely seeing La Fleur that he will hire the young man, even though the La Fleur has no skills to speak of other than the ability to play musical instruments. Yorick has a clear tendency to judge people based on appearances alone, whether concluding that the monk is lazy, that La Fleur is competent, or that the ladies on his journey are worthy of his love.

Two parts of this section require a little scholarly assistance if their full content and meaning are to be understood. First, Yorick explains that he is pleased that La Fleur is always in love; Tim Parnell, editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of A Sentimental Journey, explains that this sentiment is echoed in a letter by Sterne from 1765, in which Sterne writes: “I am glad that you are in love –‘twill cure you (at least) of the spleen, which has a bad effect on man and woman –I myself must ever have some dulcinea in my head –it harmonises the soul –and in those cases I first endeavor to make the lady believe so, or rather I begin to first make myself believe that I am in love –but I carry on my affairs quite in the French way, sentimentally.” Parnell explains that “moderated love for the opposite sex -- rather than the perceived excesses of uncontrollable desire -- had a role to play in reforming more traditional and antisocial models of masculinity.” This moderating influence was a major component of the 18th-century culture of sensibility.

Second, there is a brief and seemingly aberrational fragment about the town of Abdera and its inhabitants' embrace of poetic speech and amiable temperament after their exposure to a play by Euripides. Sterne adapted this story from an anecdote in Burton’s Anatomy. Democritus was the head of the school of Abdera in Thrace, and was known as the “laughing philosopher” because he found the follies of human beings amusing. Sterne’s fragment reinforces the value of the desire for love, mutual affection, and open, guileless relationships -- all of which would have been welcomed by Democritus.

Yorick continues to make observations about the French and their communities, noting their popular phrases --“tant pis” and “tant mieux” -- lauding the simple yet earnest manners of the man with the dead ass, and showcasing the apparently deserving poor people of the town. Yorick’s encounter with this last group, which includes a “poor tatter’d soul without a shirt on,” a “poor little dwarfish fellow,” and “an old soldier with one hand” among others, is almost as problematic as the scene with the monk. Yorick somewhat pompously announces that he thinks it is a good idea to help the poor, but only takes out a few sous: critic Martin C. Battestin notes that this is “a French coin of low value, an insulting amount in exchange for the travails of the individuals.” Battestin sees a “patronistic tone” and observes that Yorick’s “penchant for placing monetary value on human suffering also suggests a worldly nature, and Yorick seems obsessed with commodifying human experience.”

Both this section and the previous segments deal with one of the enduring themes of Sterne’s work: Yorick’s romantic entanglements and obsessions, and their concomitant bearing on the text and its overall meaning. Yorick meets a young woman of good looks and sorrowful disposition at the doorway of the Remise and continues his flirtation with her into this section, when he attempts to write her a love letter. Madame de L*** will later be joined by other love interests -- including the grisset, the fille de chambre, Maria, and the lady and her fille de chambre at the inn. Indeed, Yorick describes himself as a man who, on a given day, is “almost every hour of it miserably in love with some one” (36). His preference for emotion and thought over actual action (witness his inability to even write a love letter -- or, earlier, to ask Madame de L*** where she is from) will be discussed in subsequent analyses.