Still reading A Sentimental Journey, I found myself completely flummoxed by this passage:
Having settled all these little matters, I got into my post-chaise with more ease than ever I got into a post-chaise in my life; and La Fleur having got one large jack-boot on the far side of a little bidet, and another on this (for I count nothing of his legs) – he canter’d away before me as happy and as perpendicular as a prince.
Like many Americans, I have had my own moments of confusion when confronted by a French bidet, but I had never had one canter away before me. A look at the OED enlightened me:
[a. French bidet pony; of unknown origin: cf. Old French bider (Godefroy) to trot. In 16th cent. the F. word meant also some small kind of dagger. (The Celtic comparisons made by Diez and Littré are rejected by Thurneysen.)]
1. A small horse.
1630 B. Jonson Chlorid. Wks. (1838) 656, I will returne to myself, mount my bidet, in a dance; and curvet upon my curtal. 1828 I. D’Israeli Chas. I, I. ii. Then there are thanks for two bidets which Henry sends him. 1863 Sala Capt. Dangerous II. vi. 202, I trotted behind on a little Bidet.
2. ‘A vessel on a low, narrow stand, which can be bestridden’ (Syd. Soc. Lex.) for bathing purposes.
I quote my old dead-tree Compact Edition because my computer was off when this occurred. The online edition, while substantially the same, has added a few quotes for the newer sense; the first is from Tobias Smollett’s 1766 Travels through France and Italy I. v. 64: “Will custom exempt from the imputation of gross indecency a French lady, who shifts her frousy smock in presence of a male visitant, and talks to him of her lavement, her medecine, and her bidet!” It was Smollett whom Sterne satirized as the “learned Smelfungus,” who “set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass’d by was discoloured or distorted. – He wrote an account of them, but ’twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings.”