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Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 2.LXII.

Full Text Chapter 2.LXII.

Chapter 2.LXII.

Zounds!—Z...ds! cried Phutatorius, partly to himself—and yet high enough to be heard—and what seemed odd, 'twas uttered in a construction of look, and in a tone of voice, somewhat between that of a man in amazement and one in bodily pain.

One or two who had very nice ears, and could distinguish the expression and mixture of the two tones as plainly as a third or a fifth, or any other chord in musick—were the most puzzled and perplexed with it—the concord was good in itself—but then 'twas quite out of the key, and no way applicable to the subject started;—so that with all their knowledge, they could not tell what in the world to make of it.

Others who knew nothing of musical expression, and merely lent their ears to the plain import of the word, imagined that Phutatorius, who was somewhat of a cholerick spirit, was just going to snatch the cudgels out of Didius's hands, in order to bemaul Yorick to some purpose—and that the desperate monosyllable Z...ds was the exordium to an oration, which, as they judged from the sample, presaged but a rough kind of handling of him; so that my uncle Toby's good-nature felt a pang for what Yorick was about to undergo. But seeing Phutatorius stop short, without any attempt or desire to go on—a third party began to suppose, that it was no more than an involuntary respiration, casually forming itself into the shape of a twelve-penny oath—without the sin or substance of one.

Others, and especially one or two who sat next him, looked upon it on the contrary as a real and substantial oath, propensly formed against Yorick, to whom he was known to bear no good liking—which said oath, as my father philosophized upon it, actually lay fretting and fuming at that very time in the upper regions of Phutatorius's purtenance; and so was naturally, and according to the due course of things, first squeezed out by the sudden influx of blood which was driven into the right ventricle of Phutatorius's heart, by the stroke of surprize which so strange a theory of preaching had excited.

How finely we argue upon mistaken facts!

There was not a soul busied in all these various reasonings upon the monosyllable which Phutatorius uttered—who did not take this for granted, proceeding upon it as from an axiom, namely, that Phutatorius's mind was intent upon the subject of debate which was arising between Didius and Yorick; and indeed as he looked first towards the one and then towards the other, with the air of a man listening to what was going forwards—who would not have thought the same? But the truth was, that Phutatorius knew not one word or one syllable of what was passing—but his whole thoughts and attention were taken up with a transaction which was going forwards at that very instant within the precincts of his own Galligaskins, and in a part of them, where of all others he stood most interested to watch accidents: So that notwithstanding he looked with all the attention in the world, and had gradually skrewed up every nerve and muscle in his face, to the utmost pitch the instrument would bear, in order, as it was thought, to give a sharp reply to Yorick, who sat over-against him—yet, I say, was Yorick never once in any one domicile of Phutatorius's brain—but the true cause of his exclamation lay at least a yard below.

This I will endeavour to explain to you with all imaginable decency.

You must be informed then, that Gastripheres, who had taken a turn into the kitchen a little before dinner, to see how things went on—observing a wicker-basket of fine chesnuts standing upon the dresser, had ordered that a hundred or two of them might be roasted and sent in, as soon as dinner was over—Gastripheres inforcing his orders about them, that Didius, but Phutatorius especially, were particularly fond of 'em.

About two minutes before the time that my uncle Toby interrupted Yorick's harangue—Gastripheres's chesnuts were brought in—and as Phutatorius's fondness for 'em was uppermost in the waiter's head, he laid them directly before Phutatorius, wrapt up hot in a clean damask napkin.

Now whether it was physically impossible, with half a dozen hands all thrust into the napkin at a time—but that some one chesnut, of more life and rotundity than the rest, must be put in motion—it so fell out, however, that one was actually sent rolling off the table; and as Phutatorius sat straddling under—it fell perpendicularly into that particular aperture of Phutatorius's breeches, for which, to the shame and indelicacy of our language be it spoke, there is no chaste word throughout all Johnson's dictionary—let it suffice to say—it was that particular aperture which, in all good societies, the laws of decorum do strictly require, like the temple of Janus (in peace at least) to be universally shut up.

The neglect of this punctilio in Phutatorius (which by-the-bye should be a warning to all mankind) had opened a door to this accident.—

Accident I call it, in compliance to a received mode of speaking—but in no opposition to the opinion either of Acrites or Mythogeras in this matter; I know they were both prepossessed and fully persuaded of it—and are so to this hour, That there was nothing of accident in the whole event—but that the chesnut's taking that particular course, and in a manner of its own accord—and then falling with all its heat directly into that one particular place, and no other—was a real judgment upon Phutatorius for that filthy and obscene treatise de Concubinis retinendis, which Phutatorius had published about twenty years ago—and was that identical week going to give the world a second edition of.

It is not my business to dip my pen in this controversy—much undoubtedly may be wrote on both sides of the question—all that concerns me as an historian, is to represent the matter of fact, and render it credible to the reader, that the hiatus in Phutatorius's breeches was sufficiently wide to receive the chesnut;—and that the chesnut, somehow or other, did fall perpendicularly, and piping hot into it, without Phutatorius's perceiving it, or any one else at that time.

The genial warmth which the chesnut imparted, was not undelectable for the first twenty or five-and-twenty seconds—and did no more than gently solicit Phutatorius's attention towards the part:—But the heat gradually increasing, and in a few seconds more getting beyond the point of all sober pleasure, and then advancing with all speed into the regions of pain, the soul of Phutatorius, together with all his ideas, his thoughts, his attention, his imagination, judgment, resolution, deliberation, ratiocination, memory, fancy, with ten battalions of animal spirits, all tumultuously crowded down, through different defiles and circuits, to the place of danger, leaving all his upper regions, as you may imagine, as empty as my purse.

With the best intelligence which all these messengers could bring him back, Phutatorius was not able to dive into the secret of what was going forwards below, nor could he make any kind of conjecture, what the devil was the matter with it: However, as he knew not what the true cause might turn out, he deemed it most prudent in the situation he was in at present, to bear it, if possible, like a Stoick; which, with the help of some wry faces and compursions of the mouth, he had certainly accomplished, had his imagination continued neuter;—but the sallies of the imagination are ungovernable in things of this kind—a thought instantly darted into his mind, that tho' the anguish had the sensation of glowing heat—it might, notwithstanding that, be a bite as well as a burn; and if so, that possibly a Newt or an Asker, or some such detested reptile, had crept up, and was fastening his teeth—the horrid idea of which, with a fresh glow of pain arising that instant from the chesnut, seized Phutatorius with a sudden panick, and in the first terrifying disorder of the passion, it threw him, as it has done the best generals upon earth, quite off his guard:—the effect of which was this, that he leapt incontinently up, uttering as he rose that interjection of surprise so much descanted upon, with the aposiopestic break after it, marked thus, Z...ds—which, though not strictly canonical, was still as little as any man could have said upon the occasion;—and which, by-the-bye, whether canonical or not, Phutatorius could no more help than he could the cause of it.

Though this has taken up some time in the narrative, it took up little more time in the transaction, than just to allow time for Phutatorius to draw forth the chesnut, and throw it down with violence upon the floor—and for Yorick to rise from his chair, and pick the chesnut up.

It is curious to observe the triumph of slight incidents over the mind:—What incredible weight they have in forming and governing our opinions, both of men and things—that trifles, light as air, shall waft a belief into the soul, and plant it so immoveably within it—that Euclid's demonstrations, could they be brought to batter it in breach, should not all have power to overthrow it.

Yorick, I said, picked up the chesnut which Phutatorius's wrath had flung down—the action was trifling—I am ashamed to account for it—he did it, for no reason, but that he thought the chesnut not a jot worse for the adventure—and that he held a good chesnut worth stooping for.—But this incident, trifling as it was, wrought differently in Phutatorius's head: He considered this act of Yorick's in getting off his chair and picking up the chesnut, as a plain acknowledgment in him, that the chesnut was originally his—and in course, that it must have been the owner of the chesnut, and no one else, who could have played him such a prank with it: What greatly confirmed him in this opinion, was this, that the table being parallelogramical and very narrow, it afforded a fair opportunity for Yorick, who sat directly over against Phutatorius, of slipping the chesnut in—and consequently that he did it. The look of something more than suspicion, which Phutatorius cast full upon Yorick as these thoughts arose, too evidently spoke his opinion—and as Phutatorius was naturally supposed to know more of the matter than any person besides, his opinion at once became the general one;—and for a reason very different from any which have been yet given—in a little time it was put out of all manner of dispute.

When great or unexpected events fall out upon the stage of this sublunary world—the mind of man, which is an inquisitive kind of a substance, naturally takes a flight behind the scenes to see what is the cause and first spring of them.—The search was not long in this instance.

It was well known that Yorick had never a good opinion of the treatise which Phutatorius had wrote de Concubinis retinendis, as a thing which he feared had done hurt in the world—and 'twas easily found out, that there was a mystical meaning in Yorick's prank—and that his chucking the chesnut hot into Phutatorius's...—..., was a sarcastical fling at his book—the doctrines of which, they said, had enflamed many an honest man in the same place.

This conceit awaken'd Somnolentus—made Agelastes smile—and if you can recollect the precise look and air of a man's face intent in finding out a riddle—it threw Gastripheres's into that form—and in short was thought by many to be a master-stroke of arch-wit.

This, as the reader has seen from one end to the other, was as groundless as the dreams of philosophy: Yorick, no doubt, as Shakespeare said of his ancestor—'was a man of jest,' but it was temper'd with something which withheld him from that, and many other ungracious pranks, of which he as undeservedly bore the blame;—but it was his misfortune all his life long to bear the imputation of saying and doing a thousand things, of which (unless my esteem blinds me) his nature was incapable. All I blame him for—or rather, all I blame and alternately like him for, was that singularity of his temper, which would never suffer him to take pains to set a story right with the world, however in his power. In every ill usage of that sort, he acted precisely as in the affair of his lean horse—he could have explained it to his honour, but his spirit was above it; and besides, he ever looked upon the inventor, the propagator and believer of an illiberal report alike so injurious to him—he could not stoop to tell his story to them—and so trusted to time and truth to do it for him.

This heroic cast produced him inconveniences in many respects—in the present it was followed by the fixed resentment of Phutatorius, who, as Yorick had just made an end of his chesnut, rose up from his chair a second time, to let him know it—which indeed he did with a smile; saying only—that he would endeavour not to forget the obligation.

But you must mark and carefully separate and distinguish these two things in your mind.

—The smile was for the company.

—The threat was for Yorick.