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Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 3.I.

Full Text Chapter 3.I.

Chapter 3.I.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.—volume the Third

Dixero si quid forte jocosius, hoc mihi juris Cum venia dabis.—Hor.
—Si quis calumnietur levius esse quam decet theologum, aut mordacius quam deceat Christianum—non Ego, sed Democritus dixit.—Erasmus.
Si quis Clericus, aut Monachus, verba joculatoria, risum moventia, sciebat, anathema esto. Second Council of Carthage.

To the Right Honorable John, Lord Viscount Spencer.

My Lord,

I Humbly beg leave to offer you these two Volumes (Volumes V. and VI. in the first Edition.); they are the best my talents, with such bad health as I have, could produce:—had Providence granted me a larger stock of either, they had been a much more proper present to your Lordship.

I beg your Lordship will forgive me, if, at the same time I dedicate this work to you, I join Lady Spencer, in the liberty I take of inscribing the story of Le Fever to her name; for which I have no other motive, which my heart has informed me of, but that the story is a humane one.

I am, My Lord, Your Lordship's most devoted and most humble Servant,

Laur. Sterne.

If it had not been for those two mettlesome tits, and that madcap of a postillion who drove them from Stilton to Stamford, the thought had never entered my head. He flew like lightning—there was a slope of three miles and a half—we scarce touched the ground—the motion was most rapid—most impetuous—'twas communicated to my brain—my heart partook of it—'By the great God of day,' said I, looking towards the sun, and thrusting my arm out of the fore-window of the chaise, as I made my vow, 'I will lock up my study-door the moment I get home, and throw the key of it ninety feet below the surface of the earth, into the draw-well at the back of my house.'

The London waggon confirmed me in my resolution; it hung tottering upon the hill, scarce progressive, drag'd—drag'd up by eight heavy beasts—'by main strength!—quoth I, nodding—but your betters draw the same way—and something of every body's!—O rare!'

Tell me, ye learned, shall we for ever be adding so much to the bulk—so little to the stock?

Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another?

Are we for ever to be twisting, and untwisting the same rope? for ever in the same track—for ever at the same pace?

Shall we be destined to the days of eternity, on holy-days, as well as working-days, to be shewing the relicks of learning, as monks do the relicks of their saints—without working one—one single miracle with them?

Who made Man, with powers which dart him from earth to heaven in a moment—that great, that most excellent, and most noble creature of the world—the miracle of nature, as Zoroaster in his book (Greek) called him—the Shekinah of the divine presence, as Chrysostom—the image of God, as Moses—the ray of divinity, as Plato—the marvel of marvels, as Aristotle—to go sneaking on at this pitiful—pimping—pettifogging rate?

I scorn to be as abusive as Horace upon the occasion—but if there is no catachresis in the wish, and no sin in it, I wish from my soul, that every imitator in Great Britain, France, and Ireland, had the farcy for his pains; and that there was a good farcical house, large enough to hold—aye—and sublimate them, shag rag and bob-tail, male and female, all together: and this leads me to the affair of Whiskers—but, by what chain of ideas—I leave as a legacy in mort-main to Prudes and Tartufs, to enjoy and make the most of.

Upon Whiskers.

I'm sorry I made it—'twas as inconsiderate a promise as ever entered a man's head—A chapter upon whiskers! alas! the world will not bear it—'tis a delicate world—but I knew not of what mettle it was made—nor had I ever seen the under-written fragment; otherwise, as surely as noses are noses, and whiskers are whiskers still (let the world say what it will to the contrary); so surely would I have steered clear of this dangerous chapter.

The Fragment.

...—You are half asleep, my good lady, said the old gentleman, taking hold of the old lady's hand, and giving it a gentle squeeze, as he pronounced the word Whiskers—shall we change the subject? By no means, replied the old lady—I like your account of those matters; so throwing a thin gauze handkerchief over her head, and leaning it back upon the chair with her face turned towards him, and advancing her two feet as she reclined herself—I desire, continued she, you will go on.

The old gentleman went on as follows:—Whiskers! cried the queen of Navarre, dropping her knotting ball, as La Fosseuse uttered the word—Whiskers, madam, said La Fosseuse, pinning the ball to the queen's apron, and making a courtesy as she repeated it.

La Fosseuse's voice was naturally soft and low, yet 'twas an articulate voice: and every letter of the word Whiskers fell distinctly upon the queen of Navarre's ear—Whiskers! cried the queen, laying a greater stress upon the word, and as if she had still distrusted her ears—Whiskers! replied La Fosseuse, repeating the word a third time—There is not a cavalier, madam, of his age in Navarre, continued the maid of honour, pressing the page's interest upon the queen, that has so gallant a pair—Of what? cried Margaret, smiling—Of whiskers, said La Fosseuse, with infinite modesty.

The word Whiskers still stood its ground, and continued to be made use of in most of the best companies throughout the little kingdom of Navarre, notwithstanding the indiscreet use which La Fosseuse had made of it: the truth was, La Fosseuse had pronounced the word, not only before the queen, but upon sundry other occasions at court, with an accent which always implied something of a mystery—And as the court of Margaret, as all the world knows, was at that time a mixture of gallantry and devotion—and whiskers being as applicable to the one, as the other, the word naturally stood its ground—it gained full as much as it lost; that is, the clergy were for it—the laity were against it—and for the women,—they were divided.

The excellency of the figure and mien of the young Sieur De Croix, was at that time beginning to draw the attention of the maids of honour towards the terrace before the palace gate, where the guard was mounted. The lady De Baussiere fell deeply in love with him,—La Battarelle did the same—it was the finest weather for it, that ever was remembered in Navarre—La Guyol, La Maronette, La Sabatiere, fell in love with the Sieur De Croix also—La Rebours and La Fosseuse knew better—De Croix had failed in an attempt to recommend himself to La Rebours; and La Rebours and La Fosseuse were inseparable.

The queen of Navarre was sitting with her ladies in the painted bow-window, facing the gate of the second court, as De Croix passed through it—He is handsome, said the Lady Baussiere—He has a good mien, said La Battarelle—He is finely shaped, said La Guyol—I never saw an officer of the horse-guards in my life, said La Maronette, with two such legs—Or who stood so well upon them, said La Sabatiere—But he has no whiskers, cried La Fosseuse—Not a pile, said La Rebours.

The queen went directly to her oratory, musing all the way, as she walked through the gallery, upon the subject; turning it this way and that way in her fancy—Ave Maria!—what can La-Fosseuse mean? said she, kneeling down upon the cushion.

La Guyol, La Battarelle, La Maronette, La Sabatiere, retired instantly to their chambers—Whiskers! said all four of them to themselves, as they bolted their doors on the inside.

The Lady Carnavallette was counting her beads with both hands, unsuspected, under her farthingal—from St. Antony down to St. Ursula inclusive, not a saint passed through her fingers without whiskers; St. Francis, St. Dominick, St. Bennet, St. Basil, St. Bridget, had all whiskers.

The Lady Baussiere had got into a wilderness of conceits, with moralizing too intricately upon La Fosseuse's text—She mounted her palfrey, her page followed her—the host passed by—the Lady Baussiere rode on.

One denier, cried the order of mercy—one single denier, in behalf of a thousand patient captives, whose eyes look towards heaven and you for their redemption.

—The Lady Baussiere rode on.

Pity the unhappy, said a devout, venerable, hoary-headed man, meekly holding up a box, begirt with iron, in his withered hands—I beg for the unfortunate—good my Lady, 'tis for a prison—for an hospital—'tis for an old man—a poor man undone by shipwreck, by suretyship, by fire—I call God and all his angels to witness—'tis to clothe the naked—to feed the hungry—'tis to comfort the sick and the broken-hearted.

The Lady Baussiere rode on.

A decayed kinsman bowed himself to the ground.

—The Lady Baussiere rode on.

He ran begging bare-headed on one side of her palfrey, conjuring her by the former bonds of friendship, alliance, consanguinity, &c.—Cousin, aunt, sister, mother,—for virtue's sake, for your own, for mine, for Christ's sake, remember me—pity me.

—The Lady Baussiere rode on.

Take hold of my whiskers, said the Lady Baussiere—The page took hold of her palfrey. She dismounted at the end of the terrace.

There are some trains of certain ideas which leave prints of themselves about our eyes and eye-brows; and there is a consciousness of it, somewhere about the heart, which serves but to make these etchings the stronger—we see, spell, and put them together without a dictionary.

Ha, ha! he, hee! cried La Guyol and La Sabatiere, looking close at each other's prints—Ho, ho! cried La Battarelle and Maronette, doing the same:—Whist! cried one—ft, ft,—said a second—hush, quoth a third—poo, poo, replied a fourth—gramercy! cried the Lady Carnavallette;—'twas she who bewhisker'd St. Bridget.

La Fosseuse drew her bodkin from the knot of her hair, and having traced the outline of a small whisker, with the blunt end of it, upon one side of her upper lip, put in into La Rebours' hand—La Rebours shook her head.

The Lady Baussiere coughed thrice into the inside of her muff—La Guyol smiled—Fy, said the Lady Baussiere. The queen of Navarre touched her eye with the tip of her fore-finger—as much as to say, I understand you all.

'Twas plain to the whole court the word was ruined: La Fosseuse had given it a wound, and it was not the better for passing through all these defiles—It made a faint stand, however, for a few months, by the expiration of which, the Sieur De Croix, finding it high time to leave Navarre for want of whiskers—the word in course became indecent, and (after a few efforts) absolutely unfit for use.

The best word, in the best language of the best world, must have suffered under such combinations.—The curate of d'Estella wrote a book against them, setting forth the dangers of accessory ideas, and warning the Navarois against them.

Does not all the world know, said the curate d'Estella at the conclusion of his work, that Noses ran the same fate some centuries ago in most parts of Europe, which Whiskers have now done in the kingdom of Navarre?—The evil indeed spread no farther then—but have not beds and bolsters, and night-caps and chamber-pots stood upon the brink of destruction ever since? Are not trouse, and placket-holes, and pump-handles—and spigots and faucets, in danger still from the same association?—Chastity, by nature, the gentlest of all affections—give it but its head—'tis like a ramping and a roaring lion.

The drift of the curate d'Estella's argument was not understood.—They ran the scent the wrong way.—The world bridled his ass at the tail.—And when the extremes of Delicacy, and the beginnings of Concupiscence, hold their next provincial chapter together, they may decree that bawdy also.