"The Grace" (a dance) — headpiece for Jacque and Fussell's final scene in Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, Volume Two, first published in 1768. Artists: Bastin and G. Nichols, from original designs by Jacque and Fussell. Wood-engraving, 6.1 cm high by 7.9 cm wide, top half of p. 166. In the illustration, Mr. Yorick is standing by the leaded-paned window as the grandfather immediately beside him applies a long bow to the fiddle-like vielle. In this highly animated scene even the family dog (right) is dancing in what constitutes an anti-masque to the melancholy scene involving Maria of Moulines. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated

When supper was over, the old man gave a knock upon the table with the haft of his knife, to bid them prepare for the dance: the moment the signal was given, the women and girls ran altogether into a back apartment to tie up their hair, — and the young men to the door to wash their faces, and change their sabots; and in three minutes every soul was ready upon a little esplanade before the house to begin. — The old man and his wife came out last, and placing me betwixt them, sat down upon a sofa of turf by the door.

The old man had some fifty years ago been no mean performer upon the vielle, — and at the age he was then of, touch’d it well enough for the purpose. His wife sung now and then a little to the tune, — then intermitted, — and join’d her old man again, as their children and grand-children danced before them. ["The Grace," pp. 166-67]

Commentary: A Fittingly Sentimental Conclusion

These final scenes at the peasant farmhouse in the Bourbonnois district remind us that the Age of Sentiment, which A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, like Goldsmith's Deserted Village, exemplifies, anticipated in many ways the Romantic Revolution. Here, Sterne anticipates one of the salient characteristics of the literature of the Romantic Era, sympathy with those who live close to nature as part of its larger democratic ideallism and insistence on the rights of the individual, no matter what his or her class. Although Sterne does not betray an interest in the language of the peasantry, he effectively communicates their nobility of character, their emphasis on whole-hearted enjoyment of rustic pursuits and pastimes, and their family values. Sterne here presents these denizens of the unspoiled, natural world as a sharp contrast to the false sentiments of those who frequent the fashionable Paris salons.

Already by this point in the eighteenth century the cult of sensibility had captured the general imagination, and had established itself Victorian Sentimentality. The conclusion of the Sterne novella in an al fresco dance that encompasses the extended peasant family — even the children, and the family dog — involves a celebration of life, serving as a kind of Shakespearean anti-masque to the gentle melancholy of the previous scene with mad Maria of Moulines. The scene of the simple pleasures of life among the lower orders also anticipates the heart-warming resolutions of Dickens's Christmas Books in the Hungry Forties, particularly the out-of-doors celebration of Trotty Veck and his neighbours in The New Year's Dance in The Chimes (1844) and The Dance in The Cricket on the Hearth (1845). Although Sterne satirizes Yorick's supposed sentimentality on a number occasions, especially in such incidents as "The Gloves," here he seems to be embracing the romantic, idealized image of the virtuous peasantry.

Parallel Scenes from the 1792 and 1857 Editions

Left: The original Stohard copper-plate engraving which influenced later illustrators' interpretations of the peasant family's after-dinner dance, The Grace (1792). Right: Tony Johannot's derivative wood-engraving, conveying a greater sense of realism, The Country Dance (1910).


Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick. Illustrated by Thomas Stothard. London: J. Good, No. 159, New Bond Street; and E. and S. Harding, No. 102, Pall Mall, 1792.

Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Illustrated with one hundred engravings on wood, by Bastin and G. Nichols, from original designs by Jacque and Fussell. London: Joseph Thomas, 1841.

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

Last modified 27 September 2018