Though my father was hugely tickled with the subtleties of these learned discourses—'twas still but like the anointing of a broken bone—The moment he got home, the weight of his afflictions returned upon him but so much the heavier, as is ever the case when the staff we lean on slips from under us.—He became pensive—walked frequently forth to the fish-pond—let down one loop of his hat—sigh'd often—forbore to snap—and, as the hasty sparks of temper, which occasion snapping, so much assist perspiration and digestion, as Hippocrates tells us—he had certainly fallen ill with the extinction of them, had not his thoughts been critically drawn off, and his health rescued by a fresh train of disquietudes left him, with a legacy of a thousand pounds, by my aunt Dinah.
My father had scarce read the letter, when taking the thing by the right end, he instantly began to plague and puzzle his head how to lay it out mostly to the honour of his family.—A hundred-and-fifty odd projects took possession of his brains by turns—he would do this, and that and t'other—He would go to Rome—he would go to law—he would buy stock—he would buy John Hobson's farm—he would new fore front his house, and add a new wing to make it even—There was a fine water-mill on this side, and he would build a wind-mill on the other side of the river in full view to answer it—But above all things in the world, he would inclose the great Ox-moor, and send out my brother Bobby immediately upon his travels.
But as the sum was finite, and consequently could not do every thing—and in truth very few of these to any purpose—of all the projects which offered themselves upon this occasion, the two last seemed to make the deepest impression; and he would infallibly have determined upon both at once, but for the small inconvenience hinted at above, which absolutely put him under a necessity of deciding in favour either of the one or the other.
This was not altogether so easy to be done; for though 'tis certain my father had long before set his heart upon this necessary part of my brother's education, and like a prudent man had actually determined to carry it into execution, with the first money that returned from the second creation of actions in the Missisippi-scheme, in which he was an adventurer—yet the Ox-moor, which was a fine, large, whinny, undrained, unimproved common, belonging to the Shandy-estate, had almost as old a claim upon him: he had long and affectionately set his heart upon turning it likewise to some account.
But having never hitherto been pressed with such a conjuncture of things, as made it necessary to settle either the priority or justice of their claims—like a wise man he had refrained entering into any nice or critical examination about them: so that upon the dismission of every other project at this crisis—the two old projects, the Ox-moor and my Brother, divided him again; and so equal a match were they for each other, as to become the occasion of no small contest in the old gentleman's mind—which of the two should be set o'going first.
—People may laugh as they will—but the case was this.
It had ever been the custom of the family, and by length of time was almost become a matter of common right, that the eldest son of it should have free ingress, egress, and regress into foreign parts before marriage—not only for the sake of bettering his own private parts, by the benefit of exercise and change of so much air—but simply for the mere delectation of his fancy, by the feather put into his cap, of having been abroad—tantum valet, my father would say, quantum sonat.
Now as this was a reasonable, and in course a most christian indulgence—to deprive him of it, without why or wherefore—and thereby make an example of him, as the first Shandy unwhirl'd about Europe in a post-chaise, and only because he was a heavy lad—would be using him ten times worse than a Turk.
On the other hand, the case of the Ox-moor was full as hard.
Exclusive of the original purchase-money, which was eight hundred pounds—it had cost the family eight hundred pounds more in a law-suit about fifteen years before—besides the Lord knows what trouble and vexation.
It had been moreover in possession of the Shandy-family ever since the middle of the last century; and though it lay full in view before the house, bounded on one extremity by the water-mill, and on the other by the projected wind-mill spoken of above—and for all these reasons seemed to have the fairest title of any part of the estate to the care and protection of the family—yet by an unaccountable fatality, common to men, as well as the ground they tread on—it had all along most shamefully been overlook'd; and to speak the truth of it, had suffered so much by it, that it would have made any man's heart have bled (Obadiah said) who understood the value of the land, to have rode over it, and only seen the condition it was in.
However, as neither the purchasing this tract of ground—nor indeed the placing of it where it lay, were either of them, properly speaking, of my father's doing—he had never thought himself any way concerned in the affair—till the fifteen years before, when the breaking out of that cursed law-suit mentioned above (and which had arose about its boundaries)—which being altogether my father's own act and deed, it naturally awakened every other argument in its favour, and upon summing them all up together, he saw, not merely in interest, but in honour, he was bound to do something for it—and that now or never was the time.
I think there must certainly have been a mixture of ill-luck in it, that the reasons on both sides should happen to be so equally balanced by each other; for though my father weigh'd them in all humours and conditions—spent many an anxious hour in the most profound and abstracted meditation upon what was best to be done—reading books of farming one day—books of travels another—laying aside all passion whatever—viewing the arguments on both sides in all their lights and circumstances—communing every day with my uncle Toby—arguing with Yorick, and talking over the whole affair of the Ox-moor with Obadiah—yet nothing in all that time appeared so strongly in behalf of the one, which was not either strictly applicable to the other, or at least so far counterbalanced by some consideration of equal weight, as to keep the scales even.
For to be sure, with proper helps, in the hands of some people, tho' the Ox-moor would undoubtedly have made a different appearance in the world from what it did, or ever could do in the condition it lay—yet every tittle of this was true, with regard to my brother Bobby—let Obadiah say what he would.—
In point of interest—the contest, I own, at first sight, did not appear so undecisive betwixt them; for whenever my father took pen and ink in hand, and set about calculating the simple expence of paring and burning, and fencing in the Ox-moor, &c. &c.—with the certain profit it would bring him in return—the latter turned out so prodigiously in his way of working the account, that you would have sworn the Ox-moor would have carried all before it. For it was plain he should reap a hundred lasts of rape, at twenty pounds a last, the very first year—besides an excellent crop of wheat the year following—and the year after that, to speak within bounds, a hundred—but in all likelihood, a hundred and fifty—if not two hundred quarters of pease and beans—besides potatoes without end.—But then, to think he was all this while breeding up my brother, like a hog to eat them—knocked all on the head again, and generally left the old gentleman in such a state of suspense—that, as he often declared to my uncle Toby—he knew no more than his heels what to do.
No body, but he who has felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man's mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength, both obstinately pulling in a contrary direction at the same time: for to say nothing of the havock, which by a certain consequence is unavoidably made by it all over the finer system of the nerves, which you know convey the animal spirits and more subtle juices from the heart to the head, and so on—it is not to be told in what a degree such a wayward kind of friction works upon the more gross and solid parts, wasting the fat and impairing the strength of a man every time as it goes backwards and forwards.
My father had certainly sunk under this evil, as certainly as he had done under that of my Christian Name—had he not been rescued out of it, as he was out of that, by a fresh evil—the misfortune of my brother Bobby's death.
What is the life of man! Is it not to shift from side to side?—from sorrow to sorrow?—to button up one cause of vexation—and unbutton another?