Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 1.XXXVII.

Full Text Chapter 1.XXXVII.

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.

I was but ten years old when this happened: but whether it was, that the action itself was more in unison to my nerves at that age of pity, which instantly set my whole frame into one vibration of most pleasurable sensation;—or how far the manner and expression of it might go towards it;—or in what degree, or by what secret magick,—a tone of voice and harmony of movement, attuned by mercy, might find a passage to my heart, I know not;—this I know, that the lesson of universal good-will then taught and imprinted by my uncle Toby, has never since been worn out of my mind: And tho' I would not depreciate what the study of the Literae humaniores, at the university, have done for me in that respect, or discredit the other helps of an expensive education bestowed upon me, both at home and abroad since;—yet I often think that I owe one half of my philanthropy to that one accidental impression.

This is to serve for parents and governors instead of a whole volume upon the subject.

I could not give the reader this stroke in my uncle Toby's picture, by the instrument with which I drew the other parts of it,—that taking in no more than the mere Hobby-Horsical likeness:—this is a part of his moral character. My father, in this patient endurance of wrongs, which I mention, was very different, as the reader must long ago have noted; he had a much more acute and quick sensibility of nature, attended with a little soreness of temper; tho' this never transported him to any thing which looked like malignancy:—yet in the little rubs and vexations of life, 'twas apt to shew itself in a drollish and witty kind of peevishness:—He was, however, frank and generous in his nature;—at all times open to conviction; and in the little ebullitions of this subacid humour towards others, but particularly towards my uncle Toby, whom he truly loved:—he would feel more pain, ten times told (except in the affair of my aunt Dinah, or where an hypothesis was concerned) than what he ever gave.

The characters of the two brothers, in this view of them, reflected light upon each other, and appeared with great advantage in this affair which arose about Stevinus.

I need not tell the reader, if he keeps a Hobby-Horse,—that a man's Hobby-Horse is as tender a part as he has about him; and that these unprovoked strokes at my uncle Toby's could not be unfelt by him.—No:—as I said above, my uncle Toby did feel them, and very sensibly too.

Pray, Sir, what said he?—How did he behave?—O, Sir!—it was great: For as soon as my father had done insulting his Hobby-Horse,—he turned his head without the least emotion, from Dr. Slop, to whom he was addressing his discourse, and looking up into my father's face, with a countenance spread over with so much good-nature;—so placid;—so fraternal;—so inexpressibly tender towards him:—it penetrated my father to his heart: He rose up hastily from his chair, and seizing hold of both my uncle Toby's hands as he spoke:—Brother Toby, said he:—I beg thy pardon;—forgive, I pray thee, this rash humour which my mother gave me.—My dear, dear brother, answered my uncle Toby, rising up by my father's help, say no more about it;—you are heartily welcome, had it been ten times as much, brother. But 'tis ungenerous, replied my father, to hurt any man;—a brother worse;—but to hurt a brother of such gentle manners,—so unprovoking,—and so unresenting;—'tis base:—By Heaven, 'tis cowardly.—You are heartily welcome, brother, quoth my uncle Toby,—had it been fifty times as much.—Besides, what have I to do, my dear Toby, cried my father, either with your amusements or your pleasures, unless it was in my power (which it is not) to increase their measure?

—Brother Shandy, answered my uncle Toby, looking wistfully in his face,—you are much mistaken in this point:—for you do increase my pleasure very much, in begetting children for the Shandy family at your time of life.—But, by that, Sir, quoth Dr. Slop, Mr. Shandy increases his own.—Not a jot, quoth my father.