Blesok no. 93, November-December, 2013
Prose


Tristram Shandy
(An excerpt)

Laurence Sterne


Chapter 1.XXXI.

—What can they be doing? brother, said my father.—I think, replied my uncle Toby,—taking, as I told you, his pipe from his mouth, and striking the ashes out of it as he began his sentence;—I think, replied he,—it would not be amiss, brother, if we rung the bell.
Pray, what's all that racket over our heads, Obadiah?—quoth my father;—my brother and I can scarce hear ourselves speak.
Sir, answered Obadiah, making a bow towards his left shoulder,—my Mistress is taken very badly.—And where's Susannah running down the garden there, as if they were going to ravish her?—Sir, she is running the shortest cut into the town, replied Obadiah, to fetch the old midwife.—Then saddle a horse, quoth my father, and do you go directly for Dr. Slop, the man-midwife, with all our services,—and let him know your mistress is fallen into labour—and that I desire he will return with you with all speed.
It is very strange, says my father, addressing himself to my uncle Toby, as Obadiah shut the door,—as there is so expert an operator as Dr. Slop so near,—that my wife should persist to the very last in this obstinate humour of hers, in trusting the life of my child, who has had one misfortune already, to the ignorance of an old woman;—and not only the life of my child, brother,—but her own life, and with it the lives of all the children I might, peradventure, have begot out of her hereafter.
Mayhap, brother, replied my uncle Toby, my sister does it to save the expence:—A pudding's end,—replied my father,—the Doctor must be paid the same for inaction as action,—if not better,—to keep him in temper.
—Then it can be out of nothing in the whole world, quoth my uncle Toby, in the simplicity of his heart,—but Modesty.—My sister, I dare say, added he, does not care to let a man come so near her…. I will not say whether my uncle Toby had completed the sentence or not;—'tis for his advantage to suppose he had,—as, I think, he could have added no One Word which would have improved it.
If, on the contrary, my uncle Toby had not fully arrived at the period's end—then the world stands indebted to the sudden snapping of my father's tobacco-pipe for one of the neatest examples of that ornamental figure in oratory, which Rhetoricians stile the Aposiopesis.—Just Heaven! how does the Poco piu and the Poco meno of the Italian artists;—the insensible more or less, determine the precise line of beauty in the sentence, as well as in the statue! How do the slight touches of the chisel, the pencil, the pen, the fiddle-stick, et caetera,—give the true swell, which gives the true pleasure!—O my countrymen:—be nice; be cautious of your language; and never, O! never let it be forgotten upon what small particles your eloquence and your fame depend.
—'My sister, mayhap,' quoth my uncle Toby, 'does not choose to let a man come so near her….' Make this dash,—'tis an Aposiopesis,—Take the dash away, and write Backside,—'tis Bawdy.—Scratch Backside out, and put Cover'd way in, 'tis a Metaphor;—and, I dare say, as fortification ran so much in my uncle Toby's head, that if he had been left to have added one word to the sentence,—that word was it.
But whether that was the case or not the case;—or whether the snapping of my father's tobacco-pipe, so critically, happened through accident or anger, will be seen in due time.

Chapter 1.XXXII.

Tho' my father was a good natural philosopher,—yet he was something of a moral philosopher too; for which reason, when his tobacco-pipe snapp'd short in the middle,—he had nothing to do, as such, but to have taken hold of the two pieces, and thrown them gently upon the back of the fire.—He did no such thing;—he threw them with all the violence in the world;—and, to give the action still more emphasis,—he started upon both his legs to do it.
This looked something like heat;—and the manner of his reply to what my uncle Toby was saying, proved it was so.
—'Not choose,' quoth my father, (repeating my uncle Toby's words) 'to let a man come so near her!'—By Heaven, brother Toby! you would try the patience of Job;—and I think I have the plagues of one already without it.—Why?—Where?—Wherein?—Wherefore?—Upon what account? replied my uncle Toby: in the utmost astonishment.—To think, said my father, of a man living to your age, brother, and knowing so little about women!—I know nothing at all about them,—replied my uncle Toby: And I think, continued he, that the shock I received the year after the demolition of Dunkirk, in my affair with widow Wadman;—which shock you know I should not have received, but from my total ignorance of the sex,—has given me just cause to say, That I neither know nor do pretend to know any thing about 'em or their concerns either.—Methinks, brother, replied my father, you might, at least, know so much as the right end of a woman from the wrong.
It is said in Aristotle's Master Piece, 'That when a man doth think of any thing which is past,—he looketh down upon the ground;—but that when he thinketh of something that is to come, he looketh up towards the heavens.'
My uncle Toby, I suppose, thought of neither, for he look'd horizontally.—Right end! quoth my uncle Toby, muttering the two words low to himself, and fixing his two eyes insensibly as he muttered them, upon a small crevice, formed by a bad joint in the chimney-piece—Right end of a woman!—I declare, quoth my uncle, I know no more which it is than the man in the moon;—and if I was to think, continued my uncle Toby (keeping his eyes still fixed upon the bad joint) this month together, I am sure I should not be able to find it out.
Then, brother Toby, replied my father, I will tell you.
Every thing in this world, continued my father (filling a fresh pipe)—every thing in this world, my dear brother Toby, has two handles.—Not always, quoth my uncle Toby.—At least, replied my father, every one has two hands,—which comes to the same thing.—Now, if a man was to sit down coolly, and consider within himself the make, the shape, the construction, come-at-ability, and convenience of all the parts which constitute the whole of that animal, called Woman, and compare them analogically—I never understood rightly the meaning of that word,—quoth my uncle Toby.—
Analogy, replied my father, is the certain relation and agreement which different—Here a devil of a rap at the door snapped my father's definition (like his tobacco-pipe) in two,—and, at the same time, crushed the head of as notable and curious a dissertation as ever was engendered in the womb of speculation;—it was some months before my father could get an opportunity to be safely delivered of it:—And, at this hour, it is a thing full as problematical as the subject of the dissertation itself,—(considering the confusion and distresses of our domestick misadventures, which are now coming thick one upon the back of another) whether I shall be able to find a place for it in the third volume or not.

Chapter 1.XXXIII.

It is about an hour and a half's tolerable good reading since my uncle Toby rung the bell, when Obadiah was ordered to saddle a horse, and go for Dr. Slop, the man-midwife;—so that no one can say, with reason, that I have not allowed Obadiah time enough, poetically speaking, and considering the emergency too, both to go and come;—though, morally and truly speaking, the man perhaps has scarce had time to get on his boots.
If the hypercritick will go upon this; and is resolved after all to take a pendulum, and measure the true distance betwixt the ringing of the bell, and the rap at the door;—and, after finding it to be no more than two minutes, thirteen seconds, and three-fifths,—should take upon him to insult over me for such a breach in the unity, or rather probability of time;—I would remind him, that the idea of duration, and of its simple modes, is got merely from the train and succession of our ideas—and is the true scholastic pendulum,—and by which, as a scholar, I will be tried in this matter,—abjuring and detesting the jurisdiction of all other pendulums whatever.
I would therefore desire him to consider that it is but poor eight miles from Shandy-Hall to Dr. Slop, the man-midwife's house:—and that whilst Obadiah has been going those said miles and back, I have brought my uncle Toby from Namur, quite across all Flanders, into England:—That I have had him ill upon my hands near four years;—and have since travelled him and Corporal Trim in a chariot-and-four, a journey of near two hundred miles down into Yorkshire.—all which put together, must have prepared the reader's imagination for the entrance of Dr. Slop upon the stage,—as much, at least (I hope) as a dance, a song, or a concerto between the acts.
If my hypercritick is intractable, alledging, that two minutes and thirteen seconds are no more than two minutes and thirteen seconds,—when I have said all I can about them; and that this plea, though it might save me dramatically, will damn me biographically, rendering my book from this very moment, a professed Romance, which, before, was a book apocryphal:—If I am thus pressed—I then put an end to the whole objection and controversy about it all at once,—by acquainting him, that Obadiah had not got above threescore yards from the stable-yard, before he met with Dr. Slop;—and indeed he gave a dirty proof that he had met with him, and was within an ace of giving a tragical one too.
Imagine to yourself;—but this had better begin a new chapter.

Chapter 1.XXXIV.

Imagine to yourself a little squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop, of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horse-guards.
Such were the out-lines of Dr. Slop's figure, which—if you have read Hogarth's analysis of beauty, and if you have not, I wish you would;—you must know, may as certainly be caricatured, and conveyed to the mind by three strokes as three hundred.
Imagine such a one,—for such, I say, were the outlines of Dr. Slop's figure, coming slowly along, foot by foot, waddling thro' the dirt upon the vertebrae of a little diminutive pony, of a pretty colour—but of strength,—alack!—scarce able to have made an amble of it, under such a fardel, had the roads been in an ambling condition.—They were not.—Imagine to yourself, Obadiah mounted upon a strong monster of a coach-horse, pricked into a full gallop, and making all practicable speed the adverse way.
Pray, Sir, let me interest you a moment in this description.
Had Dr. Slop beheld Obadiah a mile off, posting in a narrow lane directly towards him, at that monstrous rate,—splashing and plunging like a devil thro' thick and thin, as he approached, would not such a phaenomenon, with such a vortex of mud and water moving along with it, round its axis,—have been a subject of juster apprehension to Dr. Slop in his situation, than the worst of Whiston's comets?—To say nothing of the Nucleus; that is, of Obadiah and the coach-horse.—In my idea, the vortex alone of 'em was enough to have involved and carried, if not the doctor, at least the doctor's pony, quite away with it. What then do you think must the terror and hydrophobia of Dr. Slop have been, when you read (which you are just going to do) that he was advancing thus warily along towards Shandy-Hall, and had approached to within sixty yards of it, and within five yards of a sudden turn, made by an acute angle of the garden-wall,—and in the dirtiest part of a dirty lane,—when Obadiah and his coach-horse turned the corner, rapid, furious,—pop,—full upon him!—Nothing, I think, in nature, can be supposed more terrible than such a rencounter,—so imprompt! so ill prepared to stand the shock of it as Dr. Slop was.
What could Dr. Slop do?—he crossed himself + —Pugh!—but the doctor, Sir, was a Papist.—No matter; he had better have kept hold of the pummel.—He had so;—nay, as it happened, he had better have done nothing at all; for in crossing himself he let go his whip,—and in attempting to save his whip betwixt his knee and his saddle's skirt, as it slipped, he lost his stirrup,—in losing which he lost his seat;—and in the multitude of all these losses (which, by the bye, shews what little advantage there is in crossing) the unfortunate doctor lost his presence of mind. So that without waiting for Obadiah's onset, he left his pony to its destiny, tumbling off it diagonally, something in the stile and manner of a pack of wool, and without any other consequence from the fall, save that of being left (as it would have been) with the broadest part of him sunk about twelve inches deep in the mire.
Obadiah pull'd off his cap twice to Dr. Slop;—once as he was falling,—and then again when he saw him seated.—Ill-timed complaisance;—had not the fellow better have stopped his horse, and got off and help'd him?—Sir, he did all that his situation would allow;—but the Momentum of the coach-horse was so great, that Obadiah could not do it all at once; he rode in a circle three times round Dr. Slop, before he could fully accomplish it any how;—and at the last, when he did stop his beast, 'twas done with such an explosion of mud, that Obadiah had better have been a league off. In short, never was a Dr. Slop so beluted, and so transubstantiated, since that affair came into fashion.

Chapter 1.XXXV.

When Dr. Slop entered the back parlour, where my father and my uncle Toby were discoursing upon the nature of women,—it was hard to determine whether Dr. Slop's figure, or Dr. Slop's presence, occasioned more surprize to them; for as the accident happened so near the house, as not to make it worth while for Obadiah to remount him,—Obadiah had led him in as he was, unwiped, unappointed, unannealed, with all his stains and blotches on him.—He stood like Hamlet's ghost, motionless and speechless, for a full minute and a half at the parlour-door (Obadiah still holding his hand) with all the majesty of mud. His hinder parts, upon which he had received his fall, totally besmeared,—and in every other part of him, blotched over in such a manner with Obadiah's explosion, that you would have sworn (without mental reservation) that every grain of it had taken effect.
Here was a fair opportunity for my uncle Toby to have triumphed over my father in his turn;—for no mortal, who had beheld Dr. Slop in that pickle, could have dissented from so much, at least, of my uncle Toby's opinion, 'That mayhap his sister might not care to let such a Dr. Slop come so near her….' But it was the Argumentum ad hominem; and if my uncle Toby was not very expert at it, you may think, he might not care to use it.—No; the reason was,—'twas not his nature to insult.
Dr. Slop's presence at that time, was no less problematical than the mode of it; tho' it is certain, one moment's reflexion in my father might have solved it; for he had apprized Dr. Slop but the week before, that my mother was at her full reckoning; and as the doctor had heard nothing since, 'twas natural and very political too in him, to have taken a ride to Shandy-Hall, as he did, merely to see how matters went on.
But my father's mind took unfortunately a wrong turn in the investigation; running, like the hypercritick's, altogether upon the ringing of the bell and the rap upon the door,—measuring their distance, and keeping his mind so intent upon the operation, as to have power to think of nothing else,—common-place infirmity of the greatest mathematicians! working with might and main at the demonstration, and so wasting all their strength upon it, that they have none left in them to draw the corollary, to do good with.
The ringing of the bell, and the rap upon the door, struck likewise strong upon the sensorium of my uncle Toby,—but it excited a very different train of thoughts;—the two irreconcileable pulsations instantly brought Stevinus, the great engineer, along with them, into my uncle Toby's mind. What business Stevinus had in this affair,—is the greatest problem of all:—It shall be solved,—but not in the next chapter.

Chapter 1.XXXVI.

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all;—so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good-breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader's understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.
For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.
'Tis his turn now;—I have given an ample description of Dr. Slop's sad overthrow, and of his sad appearance in the back-parlour;—his imagination must now go on with it for a while.
Let the reader imagine then, that Dr. Slop has told his tale—and in what words, and with what aggravations, his fancy chooses;—Let him suppose, that Obadiah has told his tale also, and with such rueful looks of affected concern, as he thinks best will contrast the two figures as they stand by each other.—Let him imagine, that my father has stepped up stairs to see my mother.—And, to conclude this work of imagination,—let him imagine the doctor washed,—rubbed down, and condoled,—felicitated,—got into a pair of Obadiah's pumps, stepping forwards towards the door, upon the very point of entering upon action.
Truce!—truce, good Dr. Slop!—stay thy obstetrick hand;—return it safe into thy bosom to keep it warm;—little dost thou know what obstacles,—little dost thou think what hidden causes, retard its operation!—Hast thou, Dr. Slop,—hast thou been entrusted with the secret articles of the solemn treaty which has brought thee into this place?—Art thou aware that at this instant, a daughter of Lucina is put obstetrically over thy head? Alas!—'tis too true.—Besides, great son of Pilumnus! what canst thou do?—Thou hast come forth unarm'd;—thou hast left thy tire-tete,—thy new-invented forceps,—thy crotchet,—thy squirt, and all thy instruments of salvation and deliverance, behind thee,—By Heaven! at this moment they are hanging up in a green bays bag, betwixt thy two pistols, at the bed's head!—Ring;—call;—send Obadiah back upon the coach-horse to bring them with all speed.
—Make great haste, Obadiah, quoth my father, and I'll give thee a crown! and quoth my uncle Toby, I'll give him another.

Chapter 1.XXXVII.

Your sudden and unexpected arrival, quoth my uncle Toby, addressing himself to Dr. Slop, (all three of them sitting down to the fire together, as my uncle Toby began to speak)—instantly brought the great Stevinus into my head, who, you must know, is a favourite author with me.—Then, added my father, making use of the argument Ad Crumenam,—I will lay twenty guineas to a single crown-piece (which will serve to give away to Obadiah when he gets back) that this same Stevinus was some engineer or other—or has wrote something or other, either directly or indirectly, upon the science of fortification.
He has so,—replied my uncle Toby.—I knew it, said my father, though, for the soul of me, I cannot see what kind of connection there can be betwixt Dr. Slop's sudden coming, and a discourse upon fortification;—yet I fear'd it.—Talk of what we will, brother,—or let the occasion be never so foreign or unfit for the subject,—you are sure to bring it in. I would not, brother Toby, continued my father,—I declare I would not have my head so full of curtins and horn-works.—That I dare say you would not, quoth Dr. Slop, interrupting him, and laughing most immoderately at his pun.
Dennis the critic could not detest and abhor a pun, or the insinuation of a pun, more cordially than my father;—he would grow testy upon it at any time;—but to be broke in upon by one, in a serious discourse, was as bad, he would say, as a fillip upon the nose;—he saw no difference.
Sir, quoth my uncle Toby, addressing himself to Dr. Slop,—the curtins my brother Shandy mentions here, have nothing to do with beadsteads;—tho', I know Du Cange says, 'That bed-curtains, in all probability, have taken their name from them;'—nor have the horn-works he speaks of, any thing in the world to do with the horn-works of cuckoldom: But the Curtin, Sir, is the word we use in fortification, for that part of the wall or rampart which lies between the two bastions and joins them—Besiegers seldom offer to carry on their attacks directly against the curtin, for this reason, because they are so well flanked. ('Tis the case of other curtains, quoth Dr. Slop, laughing.) However, continued my uncle Toby, to make them sure, we generally choose to place ravelins before them, taking care only to extend them beyond the fosse or ditch:—The common men, who know very little of fortification, confound the ravelin and the half-moon together,—tho' they are very different things;—not in their figure or construction, for we make them exactly alike, in all points; for they always consist of two faces, making a salient angle, with the gorges, not straight, but in form of a crescent;—Where then lies the difference? (quoth my father, a little testily.)—In their situations, answered my uncle Toby:—For when a ravelin, brother, stands before the curtin, it is a ravelin; and when a ravelin stands before a bastion, then the ravelin is not a ravelin;—it is a half-moon;—a half-moon likewise is a half-moon, and no more, so long as it stands before its bastion;—but was it to change place, and get before the curtin,—'twould be no longer a half-moon; a half-moon, in that case, is not a half-moon;—'tis no more than a ravelin.—I think, quoth my father, that the noble science of defence has its weak sides—as well as others.
As for the horn-work (high! ho! sigh'd my father) which, continued my uncle Toby, my brother was speaking of, they are a very considerable part of an outwork;—they are called by the French engineers, Ouvrage a corne, and we generally make them to cover such places as we suspect to be weaker than the rest;—'tis formed by two epaulments or demi-bastions—they are very pretty,—and if you will take a walk, I'll engage to shew you one well worth your trouble.—I own, continued my uncle Toby, when we crown them,—they are much stronger, but then they are very expensive, and take up a great deal of ground, so that, in my opinion, they are most of use to cover or defend the head of a camp; otherwise the double tenaille—By the mother who bore us!—brother Toby, quoth my father, not able to hold out any longer,—you would provoke a saint;—here have you got us, I know not how, not only souse into the middle of the old subject again:—But so full is your head of these confounded works, that though my wife is this moment in the pains of labour, and you hear her cry out, yet nothing will serve you but to carry off the man-midwife.—Accoucheur,—if you please, quoth Dr. Slop.—With all my heart, replied my father, I don't care what they call you,—but I wish the whole science of fortification, with all its inventors, at the devil;—it has been the death of thousands,—and it will be mine in the end.—I would not, I would not, brother Toby, have my brains so full of saps, mines, blinds, gabions, pallisadoes, ravelins, half-moons, and such trumpery, to be proprietor of Namur, and of all the towns in Flanders with it.
My uncle Toby was a man patient of injuries;—not from want of courage,—I have told you in a former chapter, 'that he was a man of courage:'—And will add here, that where just occasions presented, or called it forth,—I know no man under whose arm I would have sooner taken shelter;—nor did this arise from any insensibility or obtuseness of his intellectual parts;—for he felt this insult of my father's as feelingly as a man could do;—but he was of a peaceful, placid nature,—no jarring element in it,—all was mixed up so kindly within him; my uncle Toby had scarce a heart to retaliate upon a fly.
—Go—says he, one day at dinner, to an over-grown one which had buzzed about his nose, and tormented him cruelly all dinner-time,—and which after infinite attempts, he had caught at last, as it flew by him;—I'll not hurt thee, says my uncle Toby, rising from his chair, and going across the room, with the fly in his hand,—I'll not hurt a hair of thy head:—Go, says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as he spoke, to let it escape;—go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt thee?—This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.




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