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Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 1.XXI.

Full Text Chapter 1.XXI.

Chapter 1.XXI.

—I wonder what's all that noise, and running backwards and forwards for, above stairs, quoth my father, addressing himself, after an hour and a half's silence, to my uncle Toby,—who, you must know, was sitting on the opposite side of the fire, smoaking his social pipe all the time, in mute contemplation of a new pair of black plush-breeches which he had got on:—What can they be doing, brother?—quoth my father,—we can scarce hear ourselves talk.

I think, replied my uncle Toby, taking his pipe from his mouth, and striking the head of it two or three times upon the nail of his left thumb, as he began his sentence,—I think, says he:—But to enter rightly into my uncle Toby's sentiments upon this matter, you must be made to enter first a little into his character, the out-lines of which I shall just give you, and then the dialogue between him and my father will go on as well again.

Pray what was that man's name,—for I write in such a hurry, I have no time to recollect or look for it,—who first made the observation, 'That there was great inconstancy in our air and climate?' Whoever he was, 'twas a just and good observation in him.—But the corollary drawn from it, namely, 'That it is this which has furnished us with such a variety of odd and whimsical characters;'—that was not his;—it was found out by another man, at least a century and a half after him: Then again,—that this copious store-house of original materials, is the true and natural cause that our Comedies are so much better than those of France, or any others that either have, or can be wrote upon the Continent:—that discovery was not fully made till about the middle of King William's reign,—when the great Dryden, in writing one of his long prefaces, (if I mistake not) most fortunately hit upon it. Indeed toward the latter end of queen Anne, the great Addison began to patronize the notion, and more fully explained it to the world in one or two of his Spectators;—but the discovery was not his.—Then, fourthly and lastly, that this strange irregularity in our climate, producing so strange an irregularity in our characters,—doth thereby, in some sort, make us amends, by giving us somewhat to make us merry with when the weather will not suffer us to go out of doors,—that observation is my own;—and was struck out by me this very rainy day, March 26, 1759, and betwixt the hours of nine and ten in the morning.

Thus—thus, my fellow-labourers and associates in this great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes; thus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, aenigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of 'em ending as these do, in ical) have for these two last centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Akme of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off.

When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, As war begets poverty; poverty peace,—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started.

—Happy! Thrice happy times! I only wish that the aera of my begetting, as well as the mode and manner of it, had been a little alter'd,—or that it could have been put off, with any convenience to my father or mother, for some twenty or five-and-twenty years longer, when a man in the literary world might have stood some chance.—

But I forget my uncle Toby, whom all this while we have left knocking the ashes out of his tobacco-pipe.

His humour was of that particular species, which does honour to our atmosphere; and I should have made no scruple of ranking him amongst one of the first-rate productions of it, had not there appeared too many strong lines in it of a family-likeness, which shewed that he derived the singularity of his temper more from blood, than either wind or water, or any modifications or combinations of them whatever: And I have, therefore, oft-times wondered, that my father, tho' I believe he had his reasons for it, upon his observing some tokens of eccentricity, in my course, when I was a boy,—should never once endeavour to account for them in this way: for all the Shandy Family were of an original character throughout:—I mean the males,—the females had no character at all,—except, indeed, my great aunt Dinah, who, about sixty years ago, was married and got with child by the coachman, for which my father, according to his hypothesis of christian names, would often say, She might thank her godfathers and godmothers.

It will seem strange,—and I would as soon think of dropping a riddle in the reader's way, which is not my interest to do, as set him upon guessing how it could come to pass, that an event of this kind, so many years after it had happened, should be reserved for the interruption of the peace and unity, which otherwise so cordially subsisted, between my father and my uncle Toby. One would have thought, that the whole force of the misfortune should have spent and wasted itself in the family at first,—as is generally the case.—But nothing ever wrought with our family after the ordinary way. Possibly at the very time this happened, it might have something else to afflict it; and as afflictions are sent down for our good, and that as this had never done the Shandy Family any good at all, it might lie waiting till apt times and circumstances should give it an opportunity to discharge its office.—Observe, I determine nothing upon this.—My way is ever to point out to the curious, different tracts of investigation, to come at the first springs of the events I tell;—not with a pedantic Fescue,—or in the decisive manner or Tacitus, who outwits himself and his reader;—but with the officious humility of a heart devoted to the assistance merely of the inquisitive;—to them I write,—and by them I shall be read,—if any such reading as this could be supposed to hold out so long,—to the very end of the world.

Why this cause of sorrow, therefore, was thus reserved for my father and uncle, is undetermined by me. But how and in what direction it exerted itself so as to become the cause of dissatisfaction between them, after it began to operate, is what I am able to explain with great exactness, and is as follows:

My uncle Toby Shandy, Madam, was a gentleman, who, with the virtues which usually constitute the character of a man of honour and rectitude,—possessed one in a very eminent degree, which is seldom or never put into the catalogue; and that was a most extreme and unparallel'd modesty of nature;—though I correct the word nature, for this reason, that I may not prejudge a point which must shortly come to a hearing, and that is, Whether this modesty of his was natural or acquir'd.—Whichever way my uncle Toby came by it, 'twas nevertheless modesty in the truest sense of it; and that is, Madam, not in regard to words, for he was so unhappy as to have very little choice in them,—but to things;—and this kind of modesty so possessed him, and it arose to such a height in him, as almost to equal, if such a thing could be, even the modesty of a woman: That female nicety, Madam, and inward cleanliness of mind and fancy, in your sex, which makes you so much the awe of ours.

You will imagine, Madam, that my uncle Toby had contracted all this from this very source;—that he had spent a great part of his time in converse with your sex, and that from a thorough knowledge of you, and the force of imitation which such fair examples render irresistible, he had acquired this amiable turn of mind.

I wish I could say so,—for unless it was with his sister-in-law, my father's wife and my mother—my uncle Toby scarce exchanged three words with the sex in as many years;—no, he got it, Madam, by a blow.—A blow!—Yes, Madam, it was owing to a blow from a stone, broke off by a ball from the parapet of a horn-work at the siege of Namur, which struck full upon my uncle Toby's groin.—Which way could that effect it? The story of that, Madam, is long and interesting;—but it would be running my history all upon heaps to give it you here.—'Tis for an episode hereafter; and every circumstance relating to it, in its proper place, shall be faithfully laid before you:—'Till then, it is not in my power to give farther light into this matter, or say more than what I have said already,—That my uncle Toby was a gentleman of unparallel'd modesty, which happening to be somewhat subtilized and rarified by the constant heat of a little family pride,—they both so wrought together within him, that he could never bear to hear the affair of my aunt Dinah touch'd upon, but with the greatest emotion.—The least hint of it was enough to make the blood fly into his face;—but when my father enlarged upon the story in mixed companies, which the illustration of his hypothesis frequently obliged him to do,—the unfortunate blight of one of the fairest branches of the family, would set my uncle Toby's honour and modesty o'bleeding; and he would often take my father aside, in the greatest concern imaginable, to expostulate and tell him, he would give him any thing in the world, only to let the story rest.

My father, I believe, had the truest love and tenderness for my uncle Toby, that ever one brother bore towards another, and would have done any thing in nature, which one brother in reason could have desir'd of another, to have made my uncle Toby's heart easy in this, or any other point. But this lay out of his power.

—My father, as I told you was a philosopher in grain,—speculative,—systematical;—and my aunt Dinah's affair was a matter of as much consequence to him, as the retrogradation of the planets to Copernicus:—The backslidings of Venus in her orbit fortified the Copernican system, called so after his name; and the backslidings of my aunt Dinah in her orbit, did the same service in establishing my father's system, which, I trust, will for ever hereafter be called the Shandean System, after his.

In any other family dishonour, my father, I believe, had as nice a sense of shame as any man whatever;—and neither he, nor, I dare say, Copernicus, would have divulged the affair in either case, or have taken the least notice of it to the world, but for the obligations they owed, as they thought, to truth.—Amicus Plato, my father would say, construing the words to my uncle Toby, as he went along, Amicus Plato; that is, Dinah was my aunt;—sed magis amica veritas—but Truth is my sister.

This contrariety of humours betwixt my father and my uncle, was the source of many a fraternal squabble. The one could not bear to hear the tale of family disgrace recorded,—and the other would scarce ever let a day pass to an end without some hint at it.

For God's sake, my uncle Toby would cry,—and for my sake, and for all our sakes, my dear brother Shandy,—do let this story of our aunt's and her ashes sleep in peace;—how can you,—how can you have so little feeling and compassion for the character of our family?—What is the character of a family to an hypothesis? my father would reply.—Nay, if you come to that—what is the life of a family?—The life of a family!—my uncle Toby would say, throwing himself back in his arm chair, and lifting up his hands, his eyes, and one leg—Yes, the life,—my father would say, maintaining his point. How many thousands of 'em are there every year that come cast away, (in all civilized countries at least)—and considered as nothing but common air, in competition of an hypothesis. In my plain sense of things, my uncle Toby would answer,—every such instance is downright Murder, let who will commit it.—There lies your mistake, my father would reply;—for, in Foro Scientiae there is no such thing as Murder,—'tis only Death, brother.

My uncle Toby would never offer to answer this by any other kind of argument, than that of whistling half a dozen bars of Lillebullero.—You must know it was the usual channel thro' which his passions got vent, when any thing shocked or surprized him:—but especially when any thing, which he deem'd very absurd, was offered.

As not one of our logical writers, nor any of the commentators upon them, that I remember, have thought proper to give a name to this particular species of argument.—I here take the liberty to do it myself, for two reasons. First, That, in order to prevent all confusion in disputes, it may stand as much distinguished for ever, from every other species of argument—as the Argumentum ad Verecundiam, ex Absurdo, ex Fortiori, or any other argument whatsoever:—And, secondly, That it may be said by my children's children, when my head is laid to rest,—that their learn'd grandfather's head had been busied to as much purpose once, as other people's;—That he had invented a name, and generously thrown it into the Treasury of the Ars Logica, for one of the most unanswerable arguments in the whole science. And, if the end of disputation is more to silence than convince,—they may add, if they please, to one of the best arguments too.

I do, therefore, by these presents, strictly order and command, That it be known and distinguished by the name and title of the Argumentum Fistulatorium, and no other;—and that it rank hereafter with the Argumentum Baculinum and the Argumentum ad Crumenam, and for ever hereafter be treated of in the same chapter.

As for the Argumentum Tripodium, which is never used but by the woman against the man;—and the Argumentum ad Rem, which, contrarywise, is made use of by the man only against the woman;—As these two are enough in conscience for one lecture;—and, moreover, as the one is the best answer to the other,—let them likewise be kept apart, and be treated of in a place by themselves.