Dessein and his hotel (1768)

Sterne, Laurence
Stothard, Thomas, ['The Remise Door'], A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick. New Edition. Adorned with Plates (London: West and Hughes, 1801)


"I perceived that something darken’d the passage more than myself, as I stepp’d along it to my room; it was effectually Mons. Dessein, the master of the hôtel, who had just returned from vespers, and with his hat under his arm, was most complaisantly following me, to put me in mind of my wants."


I perceived that something darken’d the passage more than myself, as I stepp’d along it to my room; it was effectually Mons. Dessein, the master of the hôtel, who had just returned from vespers, and with his hat under his arm, was most complaisantly following me, to put me in mind of my wants. I had wrote myself pretty well out of conceit with the désobligeant, and Mons. Dessein speaking of it, with a shrug, as if it would no way suit me, it immediately struck my fancy that it belong’d to some Innocent Traveller, who, on his return home, had left it to Mons. Dessein’s honour to make the most of. Four months had elapsed since it had finished its career of Europe in the corner of Mons. Dessein’s coach-yard; and having sallied out from thence but a vampt-up business at the first, though it had been twice taken to pieces on Mount Sennis, it had not profited much by its adventures,—but by none so little as the standing so many months unpitied in the corner of Mons. Dessein’s coach-yard. Much indeed was not to be said for it,—but something might;—and when a few words will rescue misery out of her distress, I hate the man who can be a churl of them.

—Now was I the master of this hôtel, said I, laying the point of my fore-finger on Mons. Dessein’s breast, I would inevitably make a point of getting rid of this unfortunate désobligeant;—it stands swinging reproaches at you every time you pass by it.

Mon Dieu! said Mons. Dessein,—I have no interest—Except the interest, said I, which men of a certain turn of mind take, Mons. Dessein, in their own sensations,—I’m persuaded, to a man who feels for others as well as for himself, every rainy night, disguise it as you will, must cast a damp upon your spirits:—You suffer, Mons. Dessein, as much as the machine—

I have always observed, when there is as much sour as sweet in a compliment, that an Englishman is eternally at a loss within himself, whether to take it, or let it alone: a Frenchman never is: Mons. Dessein made me a bow.

C’est bien vrai, said he.—But in this case I should only exchange one disquietude for another, and with loss: figure to yourself, my dear Sir, that in giving you a chaise which would fall to pieces before you had got half-way to Paris,—figure to yourself how much I should suffer, in giving an ill impression of myself to a man of honour, and lying at the mercy, as I must do, d’un homme d’esprit.

The dose was made up exactly after my own prescription; so I could not help tasting it,—and, returning Mons. Dessein his bow, without more casuistry we walk’d together towards his Remise, to take a view of his magazine of chaises.


It must needs be a hostile kind of a world, when the buyer (if it be but of a sorry post-chaise) cannot go forth with the seller thereof into the street to terminate the difference betwixt them, but he instantly falls into the same frame of mind, and views his conventionist with the same sort of eye, as if he was going along with him to Hyde-park corner to fight a duel. For my own part, being but a poor swordsman, and no way a match for Monsieur Dessein, I felt the rotation of all the movements within me, to which the situation is incident;—I looked at Monsieur Dessein through and through—eyed him as he walk’d along in profile,—then, en face;—thought like a Jew,—then a Turk,—disliked his wig,—cursed him by my gods,—wished him at the devil.—

—And is all this to be lighted up in the heart for a beggarly account of three or four louis d’ors, which is the most I can be overreached in?—Base passion! said I, turning myself about, as a man naturally does upon a sudden reverse of sentiment,—base, ungentle passion! thy hand is against every man, and every man’s hand against thee.—Heaven forbid! said she, raising her hand up to her forehead, for I had turned full in front upon the lady whom I had seen in conference with the monk:—she had followed us unperceived.—Heaven forbid, indeed! said I, offering her my own;—she had a black pair of silk gloves, open only at the thumb and two fore-fingers, so accepted it without reserve,—and I led her up to the door of the Remise.

Monsieur Dessein had diabled the key above fifty times before he had found out he had come with a wrong one in his hand: we were as impatient as himself to have it opened; and so attentive to the obstacle that I continued holding her hand almost without knowing it: so that Monsieur Dessein left us together with her hand in mine, and with our faces turned towards the door of the Remise, and said he would be back in five minutes.

Now a colloquy of five minutes, in such a situation, is worth one of as many ages, with your faces turned towards the street: in the latter case, ’tis drawn from the objects and occurrences without;—when your eyes are fixed upon a dead blank,—you draw purely from yourselves. A silence of a single moment upon Mons. Dessein’s leaving us, had been fatal to the situation—she had infallibly turned about;—so I begun the conversation instantly.—


Taken from Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. London: T. Becket and P.A. DE Hondt, 1768). Full text at Project Gutenberg.