Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 3.III.

Full Text Chapter 3.III.

Chapter 3.III.

...—And a chapter it shall have, and a devil of a one too—so look to yourselves.

'Tis either Plato, or Plutarch, or Seneca, or Xenophon, or Epictetus, or Theophrastus, or Lucian—or some one perhaps of later date—either Cardan, or Budaeus, or Petrarch, or Stella—or possibly it may be some divine or father of the church, St. Austin, or St. Cyprian, or Barnard, who affirms that it is an irresistible and natural passion to weep for the loss of our friends or children—and Seneca (I'm positive) tells us somewhere, that such griefs evacuate themselves best by that particular channel—And accordingly we find, that David wept for his son Absalom—Adrian for his Antinous—Niobe for her children, and that Apollodorus and Crito both shed tears for Socrates before his death.

My father managed his affliction otherwise; and indeed differently from most men either ancient or modern; for he neither wept it away, as the Hebrews and the Romans—or slept it off, as the Laplanders—or hanged it, as the English, or drowned it, as the Germans,—nor did he curse it, or damn it, or excommunicate it, or rhyme it, or lillabullero it.—

—He got rid of it, however.

Will your worships give me leave to squeeze in a story between these two pages?

When Tully was bereft of his dear daughter Tullia, at first he laid it to his heart,—he listened to the voice of nature, and modulated his own unto it.—O my Tullia! my daughter! my child!—still, still, still,—'twas O my Tullia!—my Tullia! Methinks I see my Tullia, I hear my Tullia, I talk with my Tullia.—But as soon as he began to look into the stores of philosophy, and consider how many excellent things might be said upon the occasion—no body upon earth can conceive, says the great orator, how happy, how joyful it made me.

My father was as proud of his eloquence as Marcus Tullius Cicero could be for his life, and, for aught I am convinced of to the contrary at present, with as much reason: it was indeed his strength—and his weakness too.—His strength—for he was by nature eloquent; and his weakness—for he was hourly a dupe to it; and, provided an occasion in life would but permit him to shew his talents, or say either a wise thing, a witty, or a shrewd one—(bating the case of a systematic misfortune)—he had all he wanted.—A blessing which tied up my father's tongue, and a misfortune which let it loose with a good grace, were pretty equal: sometimes, indeed, the misfortune was the better of the two; for instance, where the pleasure of the harangue was as ten, and the pain of the misfortune but as five—my father gained half in half, and consequently was as well again off, as if it had never befallen him.

This clue will unravel what otherwise would seem very inconsistent in my father's domestic character; and it is this, that, in the provocations arising from the neglects and blunders of servants, or other mishaps unavoidable in a family, his anger, or rather the duration of it, eternally ran counter to all conjecture.

My father had a favourite little mare, which he had consigned over to a most beautiful Arabian horse, in order to have a pad out of her for his own riding: he was sanguine in all his projects; so talked about his pad every day with as absolute a security, as if it had been reared, broke,—and bridled and saddled at his door ready for mounting. By some neglect or other in Obadiah, it so fell out, that my father's expectations were answered with nothing better than a mule, and as ugly a beast of the kind as ever was produced.

My mother and my uncle Toby expected my father would be the death of Obadiah—and that there never would be an end of the disaster—See here! you rascal, cried my father, pointing to the mule, what you have done!—It was not me, said Obadiah.—How do I know that? replied my father.

Triumph swam in my father's eyes, at the repartee—the Attic salt brought water into them—and so Obadiah heard no more about it.

Now let us go back to my brother's death.

Philosophy has a fine saying for every thing.—For Death it has an entire set; the misery was, they all at once rushed into my father's head, that 'twas difficult to string them together, so as to make any thing of a consistent show out of them.—He took them as they came.

''Tis an inevitable chance—the first statute in Magna Charta—it is an everlasting act of parliament, my dear brother,—All must die.

'If my son could not have died, it had been matter of wonder,—not that he is dead.

'Monarchs and princes dance in the same ring with us.

'—To die, is the great debt and tribute due unto nature: tombs and monuments, which should perpetuate our memories, pay it themselves; and the proudest pyramid of them all, which wealth and science have erected, has lost its apex, and stands obtruncated in the traveller's horizon.' (My father found he got great ease, and went on)—'Kingdoms and provinces, and towns and cities, have they not their periods? and when those principles and powers, which at first cemented and put them together, have performed their several evolutions, they fall back.'—Brother Shandy, said my uncle Toby, laying down his pipe at the word evolutions—Revolutions, I meant, quoth my father,—by heaven! I meant revolutions, brother Toby—evolutions is nonsense.—'Tis not nonsense—said my uncle Toby.—But is it not nonsense to break the thread of such a discourse upon such an occasion? cried my father—do not—dear Toby, continued he, taking him by the hand, do not—do not, I beseech thee, interrupt me at this crisis.—My uncle Toby put his pipe into his mouth.

'Where is Troy and Mycenae, and Thebes and Delos, and Persepolis and Agrigentum?'—continued my father, taking up his book of post-roads, which he had laid down.—'What is become, brother Toby, of Nineveh and Babylon, of Cizicum and Mitylenae? The fairest towns that ever the sun rose upon, are now no more; the names only are left, and those (for many of them are wrong spelt) are falling themselves by piece-meals to decay, and in length of time will be forgotten, and involved with every thing in a perpetual night: the world itself, brother Toby, must—must come to an end.

'Returning out of Asia, when I sailed from Aegina towards Megara,' (when can this have been? thought my uncle Toby,) 'I began to view the country round about. Aegina was behind me, Megara was before, Pyraeus on the right hand, Corinth on the left.—What flourishing towns now prostrate upon the earth! Alas! alas! said I to myself, that man should disturb his soul for the loss of a child, when so much as this lies awfully buried in his presence—Remember, said I to myself again—remember thou art a man.'—

Now my uncle Toby knew not that this last paragraph was an extract of Servius Sulpicius's consolatory letter to Tully.—He had as little skill, honest man, in the fragments, as he had in the whole pieces of antiquity.—And as my father, whilst he was concerned in the Turkey trade, had been three or four different times in the Levant, in one of which he had stayed a whole year and an half at Zant, my uncle Toby naturally concluded, that, in some one of these periods, he had taken a trip across the Archipelago into Asia; and that all this sailing affair with Aegina behind, and Megara before, and Pyraeus on the right hand, &c. &c. was nothing more than the true course of my father's voyage and reflections.—'Twas certainly in his manner, and many an undertaking critic would have built two stories higher upon worse foundations.—And pray, brother, quoth my uncle Toby, laying the end of his pipe upon my father's hand in a kindly way of interruption—but waiting till he finished the account—what year of our Lord was this?—'Twas no year of our Lord, replied my father.—That's impossible, cried my uncle Toby.—Simpleton! said my father,—'twas forty years before Christ was born.

My uncle Toby had but two things for it; either to suppose his brother to be the wandering Jew, or that his misfortunes had disordered his brain.—'May the Lord God of heaven and earth protect him and restore him!' said my uncle Toby, praying silently for my father, and with tears in his eyes.

—My father placed the tears to a proper account, and went on with his harangue with great spirit.

'There is not such great odds, brother Toby, betwixt good and evil, as the world imagines'—(this way of setting off, by the bye, was not likely to cure my uncle Toby's suspicions).—'Labour, sorrow, grief, sickness, want, and woe, are the sauces of life.'—Much good may do them—said my uncle Toby to himself.—

'My son is dead!—so much the better;—'tis a shame in such a tempest to have but one anchor.

'But he is gone for ever from us!—be it so. He is got from under the hands of his barber before he was bald—he is but risen from a feast before he was surfeited—from a banquet before he had got drunken.

'The Thracians wept when a child was born,'—(and we were very near it, quoth my uncle Toby,)—'and feasted and made merry when a man went out of the world; and with reason.—Death opens the gate of fame, and shuts the gate of envy after it,—it unlooses the chain of the captive, and puts the bondsman's task into another man's hands.

'Shew me the man, who knows what life is, who dreads it, and I'll shew thee a prisoner who dreads his liberty.'

Is it not better, my dear brother Toby, (for mark—our appetites are but diseases,)—is it not better not to hunger at all, than to eat?—not to thirst, than to take physic to cure it?

Is it not better to be freed from cares and agues, from love and melancholy, and the other hot and cold fits of life, than, like a galled traveller, who comes weary to his inn, to be bound to begin his journey afresh?

There is no terrour, brother Toby, in its looks, but what it borrows from groans and convulsions—and the blowing of noses and the wiping away of tears with the bottoms of curtains, in a dying man's room.—Strip it of these, what is it?—'Tis better in battle than in bed, said my uncle Toby.—Take away its hearses, its mutes, and its mourning,—its plumes, scutcheons, and other mechanic aids—What is it?—Better in battle! continued my father, smiling, for he had absolutely forgot my brother Bobby—'tis terrible no way—for consider, brother Toby,—when we are—death is not;—and when death is—we are not. My uncle Toby laid down his pipe to consider the proposition; my father's eloquence was too rapid to stay for any man—away it went,—and hurried my uncle Toby's ideas along with it.—

For this reason, continued my father, 'tis worthy to recollect, how little alteration, in great men, the approaches of death have made.—Vespasian died in a jest upon his close-stool—Galba with a sentence—Septimus Severus in a dispatch—Tiberius in dissimulation, and Caesar Augustus in a compliment.—I hope 'twas a sincere one—quoth my uncle Toby.

—'Twas to his wife,—said my father.