Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
3. The Monk. Calais
I HAD scarce utterd the words, when a poor monk of the order of St. Francis came into the room to beg something for his convent. No man cares to have his virtues the sport of contingenciesor one man may be generous, as another man is puissantsed non quo ad hancor be it as it mayfor there is no regular reasoning upon the ebbs and flows of our humors; they may depend upon the same causes, for aught I know, which influence the tides themselvest would oft be no discredit to us, to suppose it was so; Im sure at least for myself, that in many a case I should be more highly satisfied to have it said by the world, I had had an affair with the moon, in which there was neither sin nor shame, than have it pass altogether as my own act and deed, wherein there was so much of both.
But be this as it may. The moment I cast my eyes upon him, I was predetermined not to give him a single sou; and accordingly I put my purse into my pocketbuttond it upset myself a little more upon my center, and advanced up gravely to him: there was something, I fear, forbidding in my look: I have his figure this moment before my eyes, and think there was that in it which deserved better.
The monk, as I judgd from the break in his tonsure, a few scatterd white hairs upon his temples being all that remained of it, might be about seventybut from his eyes, and that sort of fire which was in them, which seemd more temperd by courtesy than years, could be no more than sixtytruth might lie betweenhe was certainly sixty-five; and the general air of his countenance, notwithstanding something seemd to have been planting wrinkles in it before their time, agreed to the account.
It was one of those heads which Guido has often paintedmild, palepenetrating, free from all commonplace ideas of fat contented ignorance looking downwards upon the earthit lookd forwards; but lookd, as if it lookd at something beyond this world. How one of his order came by it, heaven above, who let it fall upon a monks shoulders, best knows; but it would have suited a Brahmin, and had I met it upon the plains of Indostan, I had reverenced it.
The rest of his outline may be given in a few strokes; one might put it into the hands of any one to design, for t was neither elegant or otherwise, but as character and expression made it so: it was a thin, spare form, something above the common size, if it lost not the distinction by a bend forwards in the figurebut it was the attitude of entreaty; and as it now stands presented to my imagination, it gaind more than it lost by it.
When he had enterd the room three paces, he stood still; and laying his left hand upon his breast (a slender white staff with which he journeyd being in his right)when I had got close up to him, he introduced himself with the little story of the wants of his convent, and the poverty of his orderand did it with so simple a graceand such an air of deprecation was there in the whole cast of his look and figureI was bewitchd not to have been struck with it.