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And here, I know, Eugenius, thou wilt smile at the remembrance of a short dialogue which passed betwixt us, the moment I was going to set out. I must tell it here.
Eugenius, knowing that I was as little subject to be overburthened with money as thought, had drawn me aside to interrogate me how much I had taken care for? Upon telling him the exact sum, Eugenius shook his head and said it would not do; so pulled out his purse, in order to empty it into mine..... I've enough, in conscience, Eugenius, said I. .... Indeed Yorick, you have not, replied Eugenius; I know France and Italy better than you. .... But you don't consider, Eugenius, said I, refusing his offer, that before I have been three days in Paris, I shall take care to say or do something or other for which I shall get clapped up into the Bastile, and that I shall live there a couple of months entirely at the King of France's expense.
I beg pardon, said Eugenius, drily; really, I had forgot that resource.
Now the event I treated gaily came serious to my door.
Is it folly, or nonchalance, or philosophy, or pertinacity; or what is it in me, that, after all, when La Fleur had gone down stairs and I was quite alone, I could not bring down my mind to think of it otherwise than I had then spoken of it to Eugenius?
And as for the Bastile the terror is in the word. Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the Bastile is but another word for a tower; and a tower is but another word for a house
can't get out of. — Mercy on the gouty! for they are in it
But with nine livres a day, and pen
twice a year.
and ink and paper and patience, albeit a man can't get out, he may do very well within, at least for a month or six weeks; at the end of which, if he is a harmless fellow, his innocence appears, and he comes out a better and wiser man than he went in.
I had some occasion (I forget what) to step into the court-yard, as I settled this account; and remember I walked down stairs in no small triumph with the conceit of my reasoning. Beshrew the sombre pencil! said I, vauntingly for I envy not its power, which paints the evils of life with so hard and deadly a colouring. The mind sits terrified at the objects she has magnified herself, and blackened: reduce them to their proper size and hue, she overlooks them. 'Tis true, said I, correcting the proposition – the Bastile is not an evil to be despised. — But strip it of its towers fill up the foss unbarricade the doors — call it simply a confinement, and suppose 'tis some tyrant of a distemper
and not of a man, which holds you in it the evil vanishes, and
you bear the other half without complaint.
I was interrupted in the hey-day of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained "it could not get out." - I look'd up and down the passage, and, seeing neither man, woman, nor child, I went out without further attention.
In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and, looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage. “I can't get out I can't get out,” said the starling.
I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage, it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approached it, with the same
lamentation of its captivity, “I can't get out,” said the starling.
God help thee! said I. but I'll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turned about the cage to get the door: it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire there was no getting it open
without pulling the cage to pieces. I took both hands to it.
The bird few to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and, thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it, as if impatient. I fear, poor creature, said I, I cannot set thee at liberty. "No," said the starling; "I can't get out
I can't get out.”
I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; nor do I remember an incident in
life where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call'd home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastile; and I heavily walked up stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.
Disguise thyself as thou wilt, still, Slavery, said I,
still thou art a bitter draught! and, though thousands in all ages have been made to drink of thee, thou art no less bitter on that account. 'Tis thou, thrice sweet and gracious goddess, addressing myself to Liberty, whom all, in public or in private, worship, whose taste is grateful, and ever will be so, till Nature herself shall change. No tint of words can spot thy snowy mantle, nor chymic power turn thy sceptre into iron;
with thee, to smile upon him as he eats his crust, the swain is happier than his monarch, from whose Court thou art exiled. Gracious Heaven! cried I,
kneeling down upon the last step but one in my ascent, grant me but health, thou great Bestower of it, and give me but this fair goddess as my companion, — and shower down thy mitres, if it seem good unto thy Divine Providence, upon those heads which are aching for them!
The bird in his cage pursued me into my room. I sat down close by my table, and, leaning my head upon my hand, I began to figure to myself the miseries of confinement. I was in a right frame for it, and so I gave full scope to my imagination. I was going to begin with the millions of
fellow-creatures born to no inheritance but slavery: but finding, however affecting the picture was, that I could not bring it near me, and that the multitude of sad groups in it did but distract me,
I took a single captive; and, having first shut him up in his dungeon, I then looked through the twilight of his grated door to take his picture.
I beheld his body half wasted away with long expectation and confinement, and felt what kind of sickness of the heart it was which arises from hope deferred. Upon looking nearer, I saw him pale and feverish; in thirty years the western breeze had not once fanned his blood; he had seen no sun, no moon, in all that time; nor had the voice of friend or kinsman breathed through his lattice! His children!
But here my heart began to bleed; and I was forced to go on with another part of the portrait.
He was sitting upon the ground upon a little straw, in the furthest corner of his dungeon, which was alternately his chair and bed: a little calender of small sticks was laid at the head, notched all over with the dismal days and nights he had passed there: he had one of these little sticks in his hand, and, with a rusty nail, he was etching another day of misery to add to the heap. As I darkened the little light he had, he lifted up a hopeless eye towards the door, then cast it down, shook his head, and went on with his work of affliction. I heard his chains upon his legs, as he turned his body to lay his little stick upon the bundle.
He gave a deep sigh. I saw the Iron enter into his soul! - I burst into tears. - I could not sustain the picture of confinement which my fancy had drawn.
I started up from my chair, and, calling La Fleur, - I bid him bespeak me a remise, and have it ready at the door of the hotel by nine in the morning.
I'll go directly, said I, myself to Monsieur le Duc de Choiseul.
La Fleur would have put me to bed: but not willing he should see any thing upon my cheek which would cost the honest fellow a heart-ache I told him I would go to bed by myself - and bid him go do the same.