Supplementary Appendix 36.1

Concerning the starling in Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick, 2 vols. (London 1768), 2:22–26 (in the chapter “The Passport. The Hotel at Paris”):

— 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 you can’t get out of . . . 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 fossé — 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, or 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.

[Illustration from Cassell’s Illustrated Readings, vol. 1 (London 1875), 16:]


I stood looking at the bird.

[Illustration from A Sentimental Journey, new edition (London 1801), following p. 86:]


and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach’d 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 to 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 flew to the place where I was attempting the deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, press’d 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,” said the starling.”

I vow, I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirites, 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 walk’d up stairs, unsaying everyword I had said in going down them.