Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 2.V.

Full Text Chapter 2.V.

Chapter 2.V.

Now don't let us give ourselves a parcel of airs, and pretend that the oaths we make free with in this land of liberty of ours are our own; and because we have the spirit to swear them,—imagine that we have had the wit to invent them too.

I'll undertake this moment to prove it to any man in the world, except to a connoisseur:—though I declare I object only to a connoisseur in swearing,—as I would do to a connoisseur in painting, &c. &c. the whole set of 'em are so hung round and befetish'd with the bobs and trinkets of criticism,—or to drop my metaphor, which by the bye is a pity—for I have fetch'd it as far as from the coast of Guiney;—their heads, Sir, are stuck so full of rules and compasses, and have that eternal propensity to apply them upon all occasions, that a work of genius had better go to the devil at once, than stand to be prick'd and tortured to death by 'em.

—And how did Garrick speak the soliloquy last night?—Oh, against all rule, my lord,—most ungrammatically! betwixt the substantive and the adjective, which should agree together in number, case, and gender, he made a breach thus,—stopping, as if the point wanted settling;—and betwixt the nominative case, which your lordship knows should govern the verb, he suspended his voice in the epilogue a dozen times three seconds and three fifths by a stop watch, my lord, each time.—Admirable grammarian!—But in suspending his voice—was the sense suspended likewise? Did no expression of attitude or countenance fill up the chasm?—Was the eye silent? Did you narrowly look?—I look'd only at the stop-watch, my lord.—Excellent observer!

And what of this new book the whole world makes such a rout about?—Oh! 'tis out of all plumb, my lord,—quite an irregular thing!—not one of the angles at the four corners was a right angle.—I had my rule and compasses, &c. my lord, in my pocket.—Excellent critick!

—And for the epick poem your lordship bid me look at—upon taking the length, breadth, height, and depth of it, and trying them at home upon an exact scale of Bossu's—'tis out, my lord, in every one of its dimensions.—Admirable connoisseur!

—And did you step in, to take a look at the grand picture in your way back?—'Tis a melancholy daub! my lord; not one principle of the pyramid in any one group!—and what a price!—for there is nothing of the colouring of Titian—the expression of Rubens—the grace of Raphael—the purity of Dominichino—the corregiescity of Corregio—the learning of Poussin—the airs of Guido—the taste of the Carrachis—or the grand contour of Angelo.—Grant me patience, just Heaven!—Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!

I would go fifty miles on foot, for I have not a horse worth riding on, to kiss the hand of that man whose generous heart will give up the reins of his imagination into his author's hands—be pleased he knows not why, and cares not wherefore.

Great Apollo! if thou art in a giving humour—give me—I ask no more, but one stroke of native humour, with a single spark of thy own fire along with it—and send Mercury, with the rules and compasses, if he can be spared, with my compliments to—no matter.

Now to any one else I will undertake to prove, that all the oaths and imprecations which we have been puffing off upon the world for these two hundred and fifty years last past as originals—except St. Paul's thumb—God's flesh and God's fish, which were oaths monarchical, and, considering who made them, not much amiss; and as kings oaths, 'tis not much matter whether they were fish or flesh;—else I say, there is not an oath, or at least a curse amongst them, which has not been copied over and over again out of Ernulphus a thousand times: but, like all other copies, how infinitely short of the force and spirit of the original!—it is thought to be no bad oath—and by itself passes very well—'G-d damn you.'—Set it beside Ernulphus's—'God almighty the Father damn you—God the Son damn you—God the Holy Ghost damn you'—you see 'tis nothing.—There is an orientality in his, we cannot rise up to: besides, he is more copious in his invention—possess'd more of the excellencies of a swearer—had such a thorough knowledge of the human frame, its membranes, nerves, ligaments, knittings of the joints, and articulations,—that when Ernulphus cursed—no part escaped him.—'Tis true there is something of a hardness in his manner—and, as in Michael Angelo, a want of grace—but then there is such a greatness of gusto!

My father, who generally look'd upon every thing in a light very different from all mankind, would, after all, never allow this to be an original.—He considered rather Ernulphus's anathema, as an institute of swearing, in which, as he suspected, upon the decline of swearing in some milder pontificate, Ernulphus, by order of the succeeding pope, had with great learning and diligence collected together all the laws of it;—for the same reason that Justinian, in the decline of the empire, had ordered his chancellor Tribonian to collect the Roman or civil laws all together into one code or digest—lest, through the rust of time—and the fatality of all things committed to oral tradition—they should be lost to the world for ever.

For this reason my father would oft-times affirm, there was not an oath from the great and tremendous oath of William the conqueror (By the splendour of God) down to the lowest oath of a scavenger (Damn your eyes) which was not to be found in Ernulphus.—In short, he would add—I defy a man to swear out of it.

The hypothesis is, like most of my father's, singular and ingenious too;—nor have I any objection to it, but that it overturns my own.