Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 1.XVIII.

Full Text Chapter 1.XVIII.

Chapter 1.XVIII.

As the point was that night agreed, or rather determined, that my mother should lye-in of me in the country, she took her measures accordingly; for which purpose, when she was three days, or thereabouts, gone with child, she began to cast her eyes upon the midwife, whom you have so often heard me mention; and before the week was well got round, as the famous Dr. Manningham was not to be had, she had come to a final determination in her mind,—notwithstanding there was a scientific operator within so near a call as eight miles of us, and who, moreover, had expressly wrote a five shillings book upon the subject of midwifery, in which he had exposed, not only the blunders of the sisterhood itself,—but had likewise super-added many curious improvements for the quicker extraction of the foetus in cross births, and some other cases of danger, which belay us in getting into the world; notwithstanding all this, my mother, I say, was absolutely determined to trust her life, and mine with it, into no soul's hand but this old woman's only.—Now this I like;—when we cannot get at the very thing we wish—never to take up with the next best in degree to it:—no; that's pitiful beyond description;—it is no more than a week from this very day, in which I am now writing this book for the edification of the world;—which is March 9, 1759,—that my dear, dear Jenny, observing I looked a little grave, as she stood cheapening a silk of five-and-twenty shillings a yard,—told the mercer, she was sorry she had given him so much trouble;—and immediately went and bought herself a yard-wide stuff of ten-pence a yard.—'Tis the duplication of one and the same greatness of soul; only what lessened the honour of it, somewhat, in my mother's case, was, that she could not heroine it into so violent and hazardous an extreme, as one in her situation might have wished, because the old midwife had really some little claim to be depended upon,—as much, at least, as success could give her; having, in the course of her practice of near twenty years in the parish, brought every mother's son of them into the world without any one slip or accident which could fairly be laid to her account.

These facts, tho' they had their weight, yet did not altogether satisfy some few scruples and uneasinesses which hung upon my father's spirits in relation to this choice.—To say nothing of the natural workings of humanity and justice—or of the yearnings of parental and connubial love, all which prompted him to leave as little to hazard as possible in a case of this kind;—he felt himself concerned in a particular manner, that all should go right in the present case;—from the accumulated sorrow he lay open to, should any evil betide his wife and child in lying-in at Shandy-Hall.—He knew the world judged by events, and would add to his afflictions in such a misfortune, by loading him with the whole blame of it.—'Alas o'day;—had Mrs. Shandy, poor gentlewoman! had but her wish in going up to town just to lye-in and come down again;—which they say, she begged and prayed for upon her bare knees,—and which, in my opinion, considering the fortune which Mr. Shandy got with her,—was no such mighty matter to have complied with, the lady and her babe might both of them have been alive at this hour.'

This exclamation, my father knew, was unanswerable;—and yet, it was not merely to shelter himself,—nor was it altogether for the care of his offspring and wife that he seemed so extremely anxious about this point;—my father had extensive views of things,—and stood moreover, as he thought, deeply concerned in it for the publick good, from the dread he entertained of the bad uses an ill-fated instance might be put to.

He was very sensible that all political writers upon the subject had unanimously agreed and lamented, from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign down to his own time, that the current of men and money towards the metropolis, upon one frivolous errand or another,—set in so strong,—as to become dangerous to our civil rights,—though, by the bye,—a current was not the image he took most delight in,—a distemper was here his favourite metaphor, and he would run it down into a perfect allegory, by maintaining it was identically the same in the body national as in the body natural, where the blood and spirits were driven up into the head faster than they could find their ways down;—a stoppage of circulation must ensue, which was death in both cases.

There was little danger, he would say, of losing our liberties by French politicks or French invasions;—nor was he so much in pain of a consumption from the mass of corrupted matter and ulcerated humours in our constitution, which he hoped was not so bad as it was imagined;—but he verily feared, that in some violent push, we should go off, all at once, in a state-apoplexy;—and then he would say, The Lord have mercy upon us all.

My father was never able to give the history of this distemper,—without the remedy along with it.

'Was I an absolute prince,' he would say, pulling up his breeches with both his hands, as he rose from his arm-chair, 'I would appoint able judges, at every avenue of my metropolis, who should take cognizance of every fool's business who came there;—and if, upon a fair and candid hearing, it appeared not of weight sufficient to leave his own home, and come up, bag and baggage, with his wife and children, farmer's sons, &c. &c. at his backside, they should be all sent back, from constable to constable, like vagrants as they were, to the place of their legal settlements. By this means I shall take care, that my metropolis totter'd not thro' its own weight;—that the head be no longer too big for the body;—that the extremes, now wasted and pinn'd in, be restored to their due share of nourishment, and regain with it their natural strength and beauty:—I would effectually provide, That the meadows and corn fields of my dominions, should laugh and sing;—that good chear and hospitality flourish once more;—and that such weight and influence be put thereby into the hands of the Squirality of my kingdom, as should counterpoise what I perceive my Nobility are now taking from them.

'Why are there so few palaces and gentlemen's seats,' he would ask, with some emotion, as he walked across the room, 'throughout so many delicious provinces in France? Whence is it that the few remaining Chateaus amongst them are so dismantled,—so unfurnished, and in so ruinous and desolate a condition?—Because, Sir' (he would say) 'in that kingdom no man has any country-interest to support;—the little interest of any kind which any man has any where in it, is concentrated in the court, and the looks of the Grand Monarch: by the sunshine of whose countenance, or the clouds which pass across it, every French man lives or dies.'

Another political reason which prompted my father so strongly to guard against the least evil accident in my mother's lying-in in the country,—was, That any such instance would infallibly throw a balance of power, too great already, into the weaker vessels of the gentry, in his own, or higher stations;—which, with the many other usurped rights which that part of the constitution was hourly establishing,—would, in the end, prove fatal to the monarchical system of domestick government established in the first creation of things by God.

In this point he was entirely of Sir Robert Filmer's opinion, That the plans and institutions of the greatest monarchies in the eastern parts of the world, were, originally, all stolen from that admirable pattern and prototype of this houshold and paternal power;—which, for a century, he said, and more, had gradually been degenerating away into a mix'd government;—the form of which, however desirable in great combinations of the species,—was very troublesome in small ones,—and seldom produced any thing, that he saw, but sorrow and confusion.

For all these reasons, private and publick, put together,—my father was for having the man-midwife by all means,—my mother, by no means. My father begg'd and intreated, she would for once recede from her prerogative in this matter, and suffer him to choose for her;—my mother, on the contrary, insisted upon her privilege in this matter, to choose for herself,—and have no mortal's help but the old woman's.—What could my father do? He was almost at his wit's end;—talked it over with her in all moods;—placed his arguments in all lights;—argued the matter with her like a christian,—like a heathen,—like a husband,—like a father,—like a patriot,—like a man:—My mother answered every thing only like a woman; which was a little hard upon her;—for as she could not assume and fight it out behind such a variety of characters,—'twas no fair match:—'twas seven to one.—What could my mother do?—She had the advantage (otherwise she had been certainly overpowered) of a small reinforcement of chagrin personal at the bottom, which bore her up, and enabled her to dispute the affair with my father with so equal an advantage,—that both sides sung Te Deum. In a word, my mother was to have the old woman,—and the operator was to have licence to drink a bottle of wine with my father and my uncle Toby Shandy in the back parlour,—for which he was to be paid five guineas.

I must beg leave, before I finish this chapter, to enter a caveat in the breast of my fair reader;—and it is this,—Not to take it absolutely for granted, from an unguarded word or two which I have dropp'd in it,—'That I am a married man.'—I own, the tender appellation of my dear, dear Jenny,—with some other strokes of conjugal knowledge, interspersed here and there, might, naturally enough, have misled the most candid judge in the world into such a determination against me.—All I plead for, in this case, Madam, is strict justice, and that you do so much of it, to me as well as to yourself,—as not to prejudge, or receive such an impression of me, till you have better evidence, than, I am positive, at present can be produced against me.—Not that I can be so vain or unreasonable, Madam, as to desire you should therefore think, that my dear, dear Jenny is my kept mistress;—no,—that would be flattering my character in the other extreme, and giving it an air of freedom, which, perhaps, it has no kind of right to. All I contend for, is the utter impossibility, for some volumes, that you, or the most penetrating spirit upon earth, should know how this matter really stands.—It is not impossible, but that my dear, dear Jenny! tender as the appellation is, may be my child.—Consider,—I was born in the year eighteen.—Nor is there any thing unnatural or extravagant in the supposition, that my dear Jenny may be my friend.—Friend!—My friend.—Surely, Madam, a friendship between the two sexes may subsist, and be supported without—Fy! Mr. Shandy:—Without any thing, Madam, but that tender and delicious sentiment which ever mixes in friendship, where there is a difference of sex. Let me intreat you to study the pure and sentimental parts of the best French Romances;—it will really, Madam, astonish you to see with what a variety of chaste expressions this delicious sentiment, which I have the honour to speak of, is dress'd out.