Religion is not a main topic of concern of Laurence Sterne in his A Sentimental Journey, it is however, mentioned just often enough to make it a topic of interest. Yorick, Sterne’s main character, begins his travel journal with a rejection of a religion via a Monk, but ends his tale with dancing in support of piety. The Monk changes Yorick’s perspectiving on giving, and is ultimately redeemed when Yorick himself is shown charity and kindness by a family who provides him dinner.
Yorick’s initial contact with religion in ASJ is when he meets a Monk in Calais, who “came into the room to beg something for his convent” (7). Yorick is determined “not to give him a single sous” (7) but quickly regrets his decision: “I had no right over the poor Franciscan, but to deny him; and that the punishment of that was enough” (9). Yorick’s initial attitude towards beggars is softened after meeting the Monk for more than a minute; he even reminds himself to “learn better manners” as he goes about his travels (10). Thus, Yorick has his first experience with religion during his travels.
Yorick’s experience with the Monk makes him a more generous man. In Montriul “the sons and daughters of poverty [surrounded]” Yorick and he found himself compel himself to give out a “few sous” (35). His generosity comes through later when he meets a girl in a book shop and gives her money: “I never gave a girl a crown in my life which gave me half the pleasure” (64). Though this girl is no beggar, Yorick is acquiring a taste for giving and one can see the transition from a miser to a much more generous man.
Lastly Yorick comes across a man who is able to sway women into giving him money by flattering them. Yorick is more than ready to give the man “a sous or two out of [his] pocket” but the man is only interested in “[asking] charity of [. . .] little women” (91). As Yorick watches the man as he “begg’d for a twelve-sous piece” from each woman (103), only to discover that the man sweet talks these women into giving him money. This last moment of charity for Yorick is interesting because it is literally the opposite of how his money giving adventures started. The Monk asked for nothing, but Yorick is let with a man who has the audacity to ask women for a specific amount of money
There is no mention of religiousness throughout the course of the novel, however, when charity is bestowed upon Yorick in the form of a dinner he is graced with a performance of a family’s religious devotion: “[The father] had made it a rule [for] his family to dance and rejoice; believing [. . .] a cheerful and contended mind was the best sort of thanks to heaven” (114). For Yorick, there is a twinge that religion ignites in him that leads him to cloister his money or turn loose his pocket strings. But in the only act of charity and grace bestowed upon him, Yorick is much more open to another man’s religiosity finally seeing how charity may work in one’s favor.