Yorick's encounter with the peasant and his dead ass:
--And this, said he, putting the remains of a crust into this wallet--and this, should have been thy portion, said he, hadst thou been alive to have shared it with me. I thought by the accent, it had been an apostrophe to his child; but 'twas to his ass, and to the very ass we had seen dead in the road, which had occasioned La Fleur's misadventure. The man seemed to lament it much; and it instantly brought into my mind Sancho's lamentation for his; but he did it with more true touches of nature.
The mourner was sitting upon a stone bench at the door, with the ass's pannel and its bridle on one side, which he took up from time to time--then laid them down--looked at them, and shook his head. He then took his crust of bread out of his wallet again, as if to eat it; held it some time in his hand--then laid it upon the bit of his ass's bridle--looked wistfully at the little arrangement he had made--and then gave a sigh.
The simplicity of his grief drew numbers about him, and La Fleur amongst the rest, whilst the horses were getting ready; as I continued sitting in the post-chaise, I could see and hear over their heads.
--He said he had come last from Spain, where he had been from the furthest borders of Franconia; and had got so far on his return home, when his ass died. Every one seemed desirous to know what business could have taken so old and poor a man so far a journey from his home.
It had pleased heaven, he said, to bless him with three sons, the finest lads in all Germany; but having in one week lost two of the eldest of them by the small-pox, and the youngest falling ill of the same distemper, he was afraid of being bereft of them all; and made a vow, if Heaven would not take him from him also, he would go in gratitude to St Iago in Spain.
When the mourner got thus far on his story, he stopped to pay nature her tribute--and wept bitterly.
He said, Heaven had accepted the conditions, and that he had set out from his cottage with this poor creature, who had been a patient partner of his journey--that it had eaten the same bread with him all the way, and was unto him as a friend.
Everybody who stood about, heard the poor fellow with concern--La Fleur offered him money.--The mourner said he did not want it--it was not the value of the ass--but the loss of him.--The ass, he said, he was assured loved him--and upon this told them a long story of a mischance upon their passage over the Pyrenean mountains which had separated them from each other three days; during which time the ass had sought for him as much as he had sought the ass, and that they had neither scarce eat or drank till they met.
Thou hast one comfort, friend, said I, at least, in the loss of thy poor beast; I'm sure thou has been a merciful master to him.--Alas! said the mourner, I thought so, when he was alive--but now that he is dead, I think otherwise.--I fear the weight of myself and my afflictions together have been too much for him--they have shortened the poor creature's days, and I fear I have them to answer for.--Shame on the world! said I to myself--Did we love each other, as this poor soul but loved his ass--'twould be something.--
This over-the-top example of fellow-feeling (with the ass; and with the ass's owner) throws us twentieth-century readers into perplexity: is this real, or is it irony? The ability to feel strongly about those things to which we are usually insentient--the death of a work animal--is a hallmark of sensibility, however. I don't think this passage can be written off as parodic. It's worth noting too that the "mourner" mourns in reality not just an ass but an ass who is associated strongly with the memory of his dead sons and the survival of the remaining one.Related terms: