Uncaptioned Headpiece — "The Case of Conscience, Paris" in Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, first published in 1768. Wood-engraving, 5.3 cm high by 10.3 cm wide, top of p. 166. Johannot uses symbolic objects to suggest the power over the frequenters of the Parisian salons that Yorick aquires from telling everybody what he or she wants to hear. He has no pangs of conscience about having the lovely fille-de-chambre in his room at the hotel because he withstood temptation. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Introduced

I was immediately followed up by the master of the hotel, who came into my room to tell me I must provide lodgings elsewhere. 'How so, friend?" said I. He answered, I had had a young woman lock’d up with me two hours that evening in my bedchamber, and ’twas against the rules of his house. "Very well, said I, we’ll all part friends then; for the girl is no worse, and I am no worse, and you will be just as I found you." It was enough, he said, to overthrow the credit of his hotel. "Voyez vous, Monsieur," said he, pointing to the foot of the bed we had been sitting upon. I own it had something of the appearance of an evidence; but my pride not suffering me to enter into any detail of the case, I exhorted him to let his soul sleep in peace, as I resolved to let mine do that night, and that I would discharge what I owed him at breakfast.

"I should not have minded, Monsieur," said he, "if you had had twenty girls —" "’Tis a score more," replied I, interrupting him, "than I ever reckon’d upon." "Provided," added he, "it had been but in a morning." "And does the difference of the time of the day at Paris make a difference in the sin?" It made a difference, he said, in the scandal. I like a good distinction in my heart; and cannot say I was intolerably out of temper with the man. "I own it is necessary," resumed the master of the hotel, "that a stranger at Paris should have the opportunities presented to him of buying lace and silk stockings and ruffles, et tout cela; and ’tis nothing if a woman comes with a band-box." "O, my conscience!" said I, "she had one but I never looked into it." "Then Monsieur," said he, "has bought nothing?" "Not one earthly thing," replied I. "Because," said he, "I could recommend one to you who would use you en conscience." "But I must see her this night," said I. He made me a low bow, and walk’d down. ["The Case of Conscience. Paris," pp. 166-67]


At this point, Yorick has little on his conscience, but the symbols of power and learning such as a warrior-pope's helmet, a lance, a globe and sextant, and a samovar point towards a later chapter (entitled simply "Paris") in which fashionable Parisian society fetes the obliging Yorick as a philosophe. He eats and drinks nothing but the best in exchange for supporting the views of French aristocrats — and feels like an utter fraud:

For three weeks together I was of every man’s opinion I met. — "Pardi! ce Monsieur Yorick a autant d’esprit que nous autres." "Il raisonne bien," said another. "C’est un bon enfant," said a third. And at this price I could have eaten and drank and been merry all the days of my life at Paris; but ’twas a dishonest reckoning. I grew ashamed of it — It was the gain of a slave — every sentiment of honour revolted against it. The higher I got, the more was I forced upon my beggarly system — the better the coterie, — the more children of Art. I languish’d for those of Nature: and one night, after a most vile prostitution of myself to half a dozen different people — I grew sick — went to bed — ordered La Fleur to get me horses in the morning to set out for Italy. [p. 195]


Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. With 100 illustrations by Tony Johannot. London: Willoughby, 1857.

Last modified 28 September 2018