Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 2.XXVII.

Full Text Chapter 2.XXVII.

Chapter 2.XXVII.

It is a singular blessing, that nature has form'd the mind of man with the same happy backwardness and renitency against conviction, which is observed in old dogs—'of not learning new tricks.'

What a shuttlecock of a fellow would the greatest philosopher that ever existed be whisk'd into at once, did he read such books, and observe such facts, and think such thoughts, as would eternally be making him change sides!

Now, my father, as I told you last year, detested all this—He pick'd up an opinion, Sir, as a man in a state of nature picks up an apple.—It becomes his own—and if he is a man of spirit, he would lose his life rather than give it up.

I am aware that Didius, the great civilian, will contest this point; and cry out against me, Whence comes this man's right to this apple? ex confesso, he will say—things were in a state of nature—The apple, is as much Frank's apple as John's. Pray, Mr. Shandy, what patent has he to shew for it? and how did it begin to be his? was it, when he set his heart upon it? or when he gathered it? or when he chew'd it? or when he roasted it? or when he peel'd, or when he brought it home? or when he digested?—or when he—?—For 'tis plain, Sir, if the first picking up of the apple, made it not his—that no subsequent act could.

Brother Didius, Tribonius will answer—(now Tribonius the civilian and church lawyer's beard being three inches and a half and three eighths longer than Didius his beard—I'm glad he takes up the cudgels for me, so I give myself no farther trouble about the answer.)—Brother Didius, Tribonius will say, it is a decreed case, as you may find it in the fragments of Gregorius and Hermogines's codes, and in all the codes from Justinian's down to the codes of Louis and Des Eaux—That the sweat of a man's brows, and the exsudations of a man's brains, are as much a man's own property as the breeches upon his backside;—which said exsudations, &c. being dropp'd upon the said apple by the labour of finding it, and picking it up; and being moreover indissolubly wasted, and as indissolubly annex'd, by the picker up, to the thing pick'd up, carried home, roasted, peel'd, eaten, digested, and so on;—'tis evident that the gatherer of the apple, in so doing, has mix'd up something which was his own, with the apple which was not his own, by which means he has acquired a property;—or, in other words, the apple is John's apple.

By the same learned chain of reasoning my father stood up for all his opinions; he had spared no pains in picking them up, and the more they lay out of the common way, the better still was his title.—No mortal claimed them; they had cost him moreover as much labour in cooking and digesting as in the case above, so that they might well and truly be said to be of his own goods and chattels.—Accordingly he held fast by 'em, both by teeth and claws—would fly to whatever he could lay his hands on—and, in a word, would intrench and fortify them round with as many circumvallations and breast-works, as my uncle Toby would a citadel.

There was one plaguy rub in the way of this—the scarcity of materials to make any thing of a defence with, in case of a smart attack; inasmuch as few men of great genius had exercised their parts in writing books upon the subject of great noses: by the trotting of my lean horse, the thing is incredible! and I am quite lost in my understanding, when I am considering what a treasure of precious time and talents together has been wasted upon worse subjects—and how many millions of books in all languages and in all possible types and bindings, have been fabricated upon points not half so much tending to the unity and peace-making of the world. What was to be had, however, he set the greater store by; and though my father would oft-times sport with my uncle Toby's library—which, by-the-bye, was ridiculous enough—yet at the very same time he did it, he collected every book and treatise which had been systematically wrote upon noses, with as much care as my honest uncle Toby had done those upon military architecture.—'Tis true, a much less table would have held them—but that was not thy transgression, my dear uncle.—

Here—but why here—rather than in any other part of my story—I am not able to tell:—but here it is—my heart stops me to pay to thee, my dear uncle Toby, once for all, the tribute I owe thy goodness.—Here let me thrust my chair aside, and kneel down upon the ground, whilst I am pouring forth the warmest sentiment of love for thee, and veneration for the excellency of thy character, that ever virtue and nature kindled in a nephew's bosom.—Peace and comfort rest for evermore upon thy head!—Thou enviedst no man's comforts—insultedst no man's opinions—Thou blackenedst no man's character—devouredst no man's bread: gently, with faithful Trim behind thee, didst thou amble round the little circle of thy pleasures, jostling no creature in thy way:—for each one's sorrows, thou hadst a tear,—for each man's need, thou hadst a shilling.

Whilst I am worth one, to pay a weeder—thy path from thy door to thy bowling-green shall never be grown up.—Whilst there is a rood and a half of land in the Shandy family, thy fortifications, my dear uncle Toby, shall never be demolish'd.