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Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 1.XXVII.

Full Text Chapter 1.XXVII.

Chapter 1.XXVII.

There is nothing so foolish, when you are at the expence of making an entertainment of this kind, as to order things so badly, as to let your criticks and gentry of refined taste run it down: Nor is there any thing so likely to make them do it, as that of leaving them out of the party, or, what is full as offensive, of bestowing your attention upon the rest of your guests in so particular a way, as if there was no such thing as a critick (by occupation) at table.

—I guard against both; for, in the first place, I have left half a dozen places purposely open for them;—and in the next place, I pay them all court.—Gentlemen, I kiss your hands, I protest no company could give me half the pleasure,—by my soul I am glad to see you—I beg only you will make no strangers of yourselves, but sit down without any ceremony, and fall on heartily.

I said I had left six places, and I was upon the point of carrying my complaisance so far, as to have left a seventh open for them,—and in this very spot I stand on; but being told by a Critick (tho' not by occupation,—but by nature) that I had acquitted myself well enough, I shall fill it up directly, hoping, in the mean time, that I shall be able to make a great deal of more room next year.

—How, in the name of wonder! could your uncle Toby, who, it seems, was a military man, and whom you have represented as no fool,—be at the same time such a confused, pudding-headed, muddle-headed, fellow, as—Go look.

So, Sir Critick, I could have replied; but I scorn it.—'Tis language unurbane,—and only befitting the man who cannot give clear and satisfactory accounts of things, or dive deep enough into the first causes of human ignorance and confusion. It is moreover the reply valiant—and therefore I reject it; for tho' it might have suited my uncle Toby's character as a soldier excellently well,—and had he not accustomed himself, in such attacks, to whistle the Lillabullero, as he wanted no courage, 'tis the very answer he would have given; yet it would by no means have done for me. You see as plain as can be, that I write as a man of erudition;—that even my similies, my allusions, my illustrations, my metaphors, are erudite,—and that I must sustain my character properly, and contrast it properly too,—else what would become of me? Why, Sir, I should be undone;—at this very moment that I am going here to fill up one place against a critick,—I should have made an opening for a couple.

—Therefore I answer thus:

Pray, Sir, in all the reading which you have ever read, did you ever read such a book as Locke's Essay upon the Human Understanding?—Don't answer me rashly—because many, I know, quote the book, who have not read it—and many have read it who understand it not:—If either of these is your case, as I write to instruct, I will tell you in three words what the book is.—It is a history.—A history! of who? what? where? when? Don't hurry yourself—It is a history-book, Sir, (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man's own mind; and if you will say so much of the book, and no more, believe me, you will cut no contemptible figure in a metaphysick circle.

But this by the way.

Now if you will venture to go along with me, and look down into the bottom of this matter, it will be found that the cause of obscurity and confusion, in the mind of a man, is threefold.

Dull organs, dear Sir, in the first place. Secondly, slight and transient impressions made by the objects, when the said organs are not dull. And thirdly, a memory like unto a sieve, not able to retain what it has received.—Call down Dolly your chamber-maid, and I will give you my cap and bell along with it, if I make not this matter so plain that Dolly herself should understand it as well as Malbranch.—When Dolly has indited her epistle to Robin, and has thrust her arm into the bottom of her pocket hanging by her right side;—take that opportunity to recollect that the organs and faculties of perception can, by nothing in this world, be so aptly typified and explained as by that one thing which Dolly's hand is in search of.—Your organs are not so dull that I should inform you—'tis an inch, Sir, of red seal-wax.

When this is melted and dropped upon the letter, if Dolly fumbles too long for her thimble, till the wax is over hardened, it will not receive the mark of her thimble from the usual impulse which was wont to imprint it. Very well. If Dolly's wax, for want of better, is bees-wax, or of a temper too soft,—tho' it may receive,—it will not hold the impression, how hard soever Dolly thrusts against it; and last of all, supposing the wax good, and eke the thimble, but applied thereto in careless haste, as her Mistress rings the bell;—in any one of these three cases the print left by the thimble will be as unlike the prototype as a brass-jack.

Now you must understand that not one of these was the true cause of the confusion in my uncle Toby's discourse; and it is for that very reason I enlarge upon them so long, after the manner of great physiologists—to shew the world, what it did not arise from.

What it did arise from, I have hinted above, and a fertile source of obscurity it is,—and ever will be,—and that is the unsteady uses of words, which have perplexed the clearest and most exalted understandings.

It is ten to one (at Arthur's) whether you have ever read the literary histories of past ages;—if you have, what terrible battles, 'yclept logomachies, have they occasioned and perpetuated with so much gall and ink-shed,—that a good-natured man cannot read the accounts of them without tears in his eyes.

Gentle critick! when thou hast weighed all this, and considered within thyself how much of thy own knowledge, discourse, and conversation has been pestered and disordered, at one time or other, by this, and this only:—What a pudder and racket in Councils about (Greek); and in the Schools of the learned about power and about spirit;—about essences, and about quintessences;—about substances, and about space.—What confusion in greater Theatres from words of little meaning, and as indeterminate a sense! when thou considerest this, thou wilt not wonder at my uncle Toby's perplexities,—thou wilt drop a tear of pity upon his scarp and his counterscarp;—his glacis and his covered way;—his ravelin and his half-moon: 'Twas not by ideas,—by Heaven; his life was put in jeopardy by words.