Tristram Shandy

Full Text

Chapter 3.XVI.

Full Text Chapter 3.XVI.

Chapter 3.XVI.

The first thing which entered my father's head, after affairs were a little settled in the family, and Susanna had got possession of my mother's green sattin night-gown,—was to sit down coolly, after the example of Xenophon, and write a Tristra-paedia, or system of education for me; collecting first for that purpose his own scattered thoughts, counsels, and notions; and binding them together, so as to form an Institute for the government of my childhood and adolescence. I was my father's last stake—he had lost my brother Bobby entirely,—he had lost, by his own computation, full three-fourths of me—that is, he had been unfortunate in his three first great casts for me—my geniture, nose, and name,—there was but this one left; and accordingly my father gave himself up to it with as much devotion as ever my uncle Toby had done to his doctrine of projectils.—The difference between them was, that my uncle Toby drew his whole knowledge of projectils from Nicholas Tartaglia—My father spun his, every thread of it, out of his own brain,—or reeled and cross-twisted what all other spinners and spinsters had spun before him, that 'twas pretty near the same torture to him.

In about three years, or something more, my father had got advanced almost into the middle of his work.—Like all other writers, he met with disappointments.—He imagined he should be able to bring whatever he had to say, into so small a compass, that when it was finished and bound, it might be rolled up in my mother's hussive.—Matter grows under our hands.—Let no man say,—'Come—I'll write a duodecimo.'

My father gave himself up to it, however, with the most painful diligence, proceeding step by step in every line, with the same kind of caution and circumspection (though I cannot say upon quite so religious a principle) as was used by John de la Casse, the lord archbishop of Benevento, in compassing his Galatea; in which his Grace of Benevento spent near forty years of his life; and when the thing came out, it was not of above half the size or the thickness of a Rider's Almanack.—How the holy man managed the affair, unless he spent the greatest part of his time in combing his whiskers, or playing at primero with his chaplain,—would pose any mortal not let into the true secret;—and therefore 'tis worth explaining to the world, was it only for the encouragement of those few in it, who write not so much to be fed—as to be famous.

I own had John de la Casse, the archbishop of Benevento, for whose memory (notwithstanding his Galatea,) I retain the highest veneration,—had he been, Sir, a slender clerk—of dull wit—slow parts—costive head, and so forth,—he and his Galatea might have jogged on together to the age of Methuselah for me,—the phaenomenon had not been worth a parenthesis.—

But the reverse of this was the truth: John de la Casse was a genius of fine parts and fertile fancy; and yet with all these great advantages of nature, which should have pricked him forwards with his Galatea, he lay under an impuissance at the same time of advancing above a line and a half in the compass of a whole summer's day: this disability in his Grace arose from an opinion he was afflicted with,—which opinion was this,—viz. that whenever a Christian was writing a book (not for his private amusement, but) where his intent and purpose was, bona fide, to print and publish it to the world, his first thoughts were always the temptations of the evil one.—This was the state of ordinary writers: but when a personage of venerable character and high station, either in church or state, once turned author,—he maintained, that from the very moment he took pen in hand—all the devils in hell broke out of their holes to cajole him.—'Twas Term-time with them,—every thought, first and last, was captious;—how specious and good soever,—'twas all one;—in whatever form or colour it presented itself to the imagination,—'twas still a stroke of one or other of 'em levell'd at him, and was to be fenced off.—So that the life of a writer, whatever he might fancy to the contrary, was not so much a state of composition, as a state of warfare; and his probation in it, precisely that of any other man militant upon earth,—both depending alike, not half so much upon the degrees of his wit—as his Resistance.

My father was hugely pleased with this theory of John de la Casse, archbishop of Benevento; and (had it not cramped him a little in his creed) I believe would have given ten of the best acres in the Shandy estate, to have been the broacher of it.—How far my father actually believed in the devil, will be seen, when I come to speak of my father's religious notions, in the progress of this work: 'tis enough to say here, as he could not have the honour of it, in the literal sense of the doctrine—he took up with the allegory of it; and would often say, especially when his pen was a little retrograde, there was as much good meaning, truth, and knowledge, couched under the veil of John de la Casse's parabolical representation,—as was to be found in any one poetic fiction or mystic record of antiquity.—Prejudice of education, he would say, is the devil,—and the multitudes of them which we suck in with our mother's milk—are the devil and all.—We are haunted with them, brother Toby, in all our lucubrations and researches; and was a man fool enough to submit tamely to what they obtruded upon him,—what would his book be? Nothing,—he would add, throwing his pen away with a vengeance,—nothing but a farrago of the clack of nurses, and of the nonsense of the old women (of both sexes) throughout the kingdom.

This is the best account I am determined to give of the slow progress my father made in his Tristra-paedia; at which (as I said) he was three years, and something more, indefatigably at work, and, at last, had scarce completed, by this own reckoning, one half of his undertaking: the misfortune was, that I was all that time totally neglected and abandoned to my mother; and what was almost as bad, by the very delay, the first part of the work, upon which my father had spent the most of his pains, was rendered entirely useless,—every day a page or two became of no consequence.—

—Certainly it was ordained as a scourge upon the pride of human wisdom, That the wisest of us all should thus outwit ourselves, and eternally forego our purposes in the intemperate act of pursuing them.

In short my father was so long in all his acts of resistance,—or in other words,—he advanced so very slow with his work, and I began to live and get forwards at such a rate, that if an event had not happened,—which, when we get to it, if it can be told with decency, shall not be concealed a moment from the reader—I verily believe, I had put by my father, and left him drawing a sundial, for no better purpose than to be buried under ground.