Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne ― Feb 10, 2012

  Martin Rowson's graphic version of Tristram Shandy

Sterne's novel has caused trouble enough in the past to readers; KRG won't be the last group tormented by the fanciful prose and the meandering narrative of this famous book. If the fault be Sterne's wayward tendency to stray wide and far from the narrative, listen to his defence: “Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading!”

Talitha reads about the right use and application of auxiliary verbs, according to Walter Shandy

KumKum's whingeing made Joe expect 'storm and rage' at the reading … but the surprise was the immense mirth that took hold once the readings started. Each reader tried to bring out the sense of fun and mild bawdiness which pervades much of the book.

KumKum swears she'll never again allow Joe to select a novel alone

'God' occurs 106 times and you might think it a treatise on religion. Indeed, Sterne subjects religion to satire, and brings the learning of an ordained minister to bear on the Inquisition, the rites of excommunication, circumcision, papists, hypocrisy, and other religious subjects. But his purpose is ungodly.

 Sunil reads Sterne's dictum that an ounce of a man's own wit is worth a ton of other people's

Perverse as Sterne might have been in his idea of a novel, there is no sign of fatigue on the faces of the group below ― only the sense of having had a good time!

Sterne's humour and satire prevailed over his troublesome digressions - 
Priya Talitha, Zakia, Thommo, Gopa, KumKum, Sunil, Joe

You may read a full account by clicking here ...
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Reading on Feb 10, 2012

Laurence Sterne, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Present: Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, Thommo, Gopa, Sunil, Joe
Absent: Soma (took ill after confirming), Bobby (engagement), Sivaram (meeting), Mathew (engagement), Verghese (on vacation)

The next session is Poetry, on Mar 16, 2012. The next novel for reading is the Stranger by Albert Camus on Apr 13, 2012. The next novel selection is up to Gopa and Sivaram – by Feb 29 please. After that by Sunil and Mathew.

KumKum swore she would not allow Joe alone to select the next book when the turn came. This time she was preoccupied and left it to Joe, and see what a troublesome book he chose, she said. Joe said he thought of coming in a hard-hat anticipating brickbats.

For a scholarly and comprehensive link to the novel see:

Update: Sunday Nov 24, 2013 was the tricentenary of the birth of Laurence Sterne. Here's a Quiz on how well you know Tristram Shandy, from Guardian Books:

Thank God, I never had to read this book in my student days. But another which comes close to this for a torturous reading experience is William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which was part of my M.A. syllabus.

However, I am glad Tristram Shandy was selected, for on my own I would have never read this book. It is considered a classic and, Sterne's style is said to have influenced many authors. But as for me, reading this book was an experience I wish to forget very soon. Thanks to Bobby for selecting The Stranger by Camus, as the next fiction, a short book that will pose no difficulty with its spare style.

From Book Eight of Tristram Shandy I selected the following two chapters to read today, for the reason that the narration of the episode, most unusually, does not get lost in digression.”

KumKum pointed out that beguines were single women in Belgium and The Netherlands who lived in groups and chose a semi-cloistered and frugal life; they took no religious vows, and did service, but were free to go out and marry later, if they wished. As Corporal Trim's knee wound is being massaged the beguine's fingers passed up the acclivity of his knee until his “passion rose to the highest pitch.” That brought on a spate of laughter, and a titter spread among the readers. At the conclusion KumKum said at least Sterne did not digress in this passage. But the beguine digressed, piped up Talitha! A witty remark that brought on even more laughter. Joe was reassured that at least after the first reading he did not need to shrink to a corner in disgrace. About the book itself, Talitha likened it to the Emperor's new clothes, meaning I suppose, that the reputation it comes with dissuades the criticism that it deserves.

There are many pieces that evoke mirth such as the accidental circumcision of the author at the window, but she chose to select the passage about auxiliary verbs – perhaps impelled by her avocation as an English teacher, Joe said, and extracted the maximum comedy. One can imagine Sterne as a child :

being subjected to these whimsical notions of education by his own father; if true, then one can account the wayward nature of the novel in part as owing to the eccentric notions of his father on education. Gopa adumbrated the considerations broached in the novel of 'kin', that it only descends downwards, and in law cannot refer to progenitors: “a man may beget a child upon his grandmother—in which case, supposing the issue a daughter, she would stand in relation both of ...” She also mentioned the staccato conversation of Walter with his wife about leather breeches:
When he gets these breeches made, cried my father in a higher tone, he’ll look like a beast in ‘em.
He will be very awkward in them at first, replied my mother.
And ‘twill be lucky, if that’s the worst on’t, added my father.
It will be very lucky, answered my mother.
I suppose, replied my father,—making some pause first,—he’ll be exactly like other people’s children.—

Exactly, said my mother.—
Though I shall be sorry for that, added my father: and so the debate stopp’d again.—
They should be of leather, said my father, turning him about again.—

Keyholes and the purposes they serve was the subject of the next reading. Sterne extracts quiet humour from the conversation of Walter and his wife. And the final sentence of the reading, “key-holes are the occasions of more sin and wickedness, than all other holes in this world put together.” brings a risqué conclusion with it. KumKum pointed out that in Bengal it is the custom at weddings to tease the couple by looking though the keyhole. Yes, nodded Gopa and Priya, that's how it is.

Sterne's take on religion was the subject of the next reading. The question was asked ,”Why is the doctor's name 'Slop'?” At the end of the reading Joe wondered if it was a reflection on military duties that after the man's brain was half shot off Corporal Trim claims: “he did his duty very well without it.” Thommo confirmed the vacancy upstairs among many military officers in the days when commissions were bought with money, not by qualifying in a military academy which imposed serious selection criteria. This is was commented upon by Thommo. Take the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade, which took place in the wrong direction owing to miscommunication by a junior officer in communicating the commanding officer's instructions down the line. Perhaps the officers were short of grey matter (or their grey matter may have been 'shot', as in the case narrated by Corporal Trim). The Light Brigade charged down a valley into a line of the trained, menacing Russian guns, instead of charging up an incline at guns that were being dismantled by the Russians.

Gopa said in this passage Sterne is criticising the cruelty of the Inquisition.. Talitha mentioned that in the recent case of a Communist Party poster in Kerala they depicted Christ as being allied with Marx. She referred to a book by GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man. Chesterton is an apologist for Christianity, but as to why Talitha drew attention to this book was lost in the confusion of debate. Thommo remarked that it is true that Christ is closer in his preaching to the poor, and therefore to Communism, than the Capitalism of rich folk; but Christ did not espouse any '-ism', even in his time, as -isms are all concerned with this world, not the next. Thommo referred to the Nicene Creed, a particular statement of the essential beliefs of the Catholic Church, formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, summoned by Emperor Constantine. Why did Constantine summon the council, asked Sunil. The discussion wandered into the Arian heresy (questioning Christ's divinity), and we leave the readers who are so inclined to consult the Wikipedia entry on the subject:

Talitha mentioned that the chief merit of the Catholic Church was to have protected and preserved the doctrines of Christianity, traceable directly to the Gospels and the early tradition of the church fathers. Sunil disagreed about the rightness of those doctrines, and pointed out that Sterne had many digs against Papist beliefs in his novel. Gopa mentioned something about the Anglican Church which this scribe does not recall precisely, and about the Irish always being ready to laugh off various things to do with religion. Sunil recounted an experience in the 2nd standard when he was told by his mates in a Catholic school that he was not a Christian. He went home puzzled and asked his parents about it. He also mentioned that in his church nobody who goes up is denied Communion (receiving the consecrated host) whereas the Catholic Church expressly requests non-Catholics who attend services not to come up to receive the host at the Mass. Sunil quoted a bishop of his church about whether a non-believer should be allowed to receive the host or not.

There is an intolerant reaction when a person starts a new church, traditionally. Talitha, however, saw merit in persons starting new churches if the purpose is to right a wrong prevailing within the original church.

Joe read the story of a ride by two nuns who were going in a mule cart to a spa to be cured of a health problem. Their muleteer abandons them to have a tipple, and the mules walk off with the nuns in the cart ('calesh') and finally halt near a lonely bog where the nuns start fearing for their lives at the hands of brigands. The problem is how to get the mules moving again and two words that will do the trick are are bouger (bugger) and fouter (fucker), says the younger nun, Margarita.

How numerous are the writers from the eighteenth century still read in English today! Defoe, Fielding, Swift, Smollett and Laurence Sterne, the author today, are leading examples of vigorous writers, who dealt with the human experience as though no part of it was forbidden to literature.

Sterne's writing has a style anchored in the elevated and learned styles of the well-educated of his age, but he then bends it to a playful pseudo-autobiography, whose purpose is far from revealing the author's struggles of the soul or journey through a career. It is instead a catalogue of slender stories packed into a long narrative that will forever escape his ability to complete because it takes a year to complete the account of a day. That gives away his purpose, which is not at all to render and account of his life, but to tell of all the chance occurrences and discussions and hobby-horses of his father and his uncle, Toby, and sundry other lesser persons.

All novels by their length are necessarily replete with digressions, for the pleasure is in telling the story in all its florid detail and in describing the many accidental and irrelevant happenings. (“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; —& they are the life, the soul of reading; — take them out of this book for instance, — you might as well take the book along with them.”) Of this Sterne is quite a master. Talitha, however, pointed out that in normal novels, the thread of the story is taken up soon after such digressions. Sterne can divert you and lose you in the length of his sentences (often ten lines, sometimes twenty). Even if you stay focused, you can be lost. If you love digressions (Joe's wife is at pains to curb his age-related meanderings in conversation), you will find it hard to digest Tristram Shandy. I grant you he is at times, wearisome. But how animatedly he writes of the characters and their enthusiasms! How free he is of clichés, every phrase new-coined and fresh with his imagination. And we have to remember that when Sterne deals with trifling subjects employing splendid learning (as on the subject of noses or excommunication or fortifications), he is writing lively satire.

Sterne is animated and inventive in expression, being resolutely given to describing chance occurrences, and seemingly unmindful of time for himself as an author and for his characters. This is a paradoxical book, for it enlarges and engages the reader as few novels will since he takes the reader into confidence. He had huge fun himself out of writing it since he did not know what his characters might be up to in the next chapter.

Since Joe read it as though acting the parts of the two frightened nuns in all their silliness, there was a deal of fun. Talitha, like every reader, had trouble with Sterne's digressions, inexcusable in a novelist, according to her. Joe mentioned it was his thesis adviser who put him up to reading Tristram Shandy, and if there is one severe test the novel has stood up to, it is longevity. It is still in print in multiple editions, 250 years after its first (sold-out) printing.

Gopa was not sure in the end if Tristram was finally born or not! His father was afraid of losing his son, and then there is a discourse on the nose as the determinant of a man's fortunes. “I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me,” exclaims Tristram in frustration at the singular events attending his birthing. By sheer accident he got circumcised! The falling window could have hurt his son badly, but only ended up circumcising him with a sharp clip of its edge. But the father in his eccentricity is not concerned with the son's well-being, but busies himself in the library with whether it was done according to the law, bringing out the authority on the subject, namely Spenser's volume de Legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus. What concerns Walter is who among the “Jews, the Egyptians,—the Syrians,—the Phoenicians,—the Arabians,—the Cappadocians,—if the Colchi, and Troglodytes” did it first. The humour of the situation is abundant and the readers had a good laugh. Priya exclaimed, “With a father like that what do you expect of the son?”

Gopa referred to the lack of a nose ensuring the great grand-mother had a large dowry:

I THINK IT A VERY UNREASONABLE DEMAND—cried my great-grandfather, twisting up the paper, and throwing it upon the table.—By this account, madam, you have but two thousand pounds fortune, and not a shilling more—and you insist upon having three hundred pounds a year jointure for it.—
—’Because,’ replied my great-grandmother, ‘you have little or no nose, Sir.’— (Chapter 2.XXIV.)

The passage selected was near the beginning of the book. Zakia let us into the fact that she could not complete the book, indeed could not go very far at all. But she commended herself, that at least she came! At the conclusion of Zakia's reading KumKum voted that we should give her a round of applause, and everyone joined in. Strangely, the passage contains advice from the author to skip the remaining part: ”I can give no better advice than that they skip over the remaining part of Tristram Shandy this chapter; for I declare before-hand, ’tis wrote only for the curious and inquisitive.” One might say the entire book is written only for the “curious and inquisitive.”

Priya read from two short sections at the beginning of the book. The first one is prefaced by this curious statement from the author to readers: “and if it was not necessary I should be born before I was christened, I would this moment give the reader an account of it.” It is a technique to defer a narrative that will be taken up at a later time, while digressing for the present into something that beckons to the author as more urgent material right now. Cunning as the device is, the author, does recall all his promises of future explication, but there are a few he cannot keep in spite of the tremendous sprawl of the book. The book was written in fascicles (nine in all) over several years, and enjoyed a great success; translations into French promptly gained Stern renown on the Continent also.

In conclusion KumKum felt she had to state once more the great trouble Joe had given them all in selecting this novel. Hobby-horse were once more discussed. The common meaning is a hobby or pursuit that becomes an obsession to the point of being comical; in the novel 'hobby-horse' is often used as a pun in the text to hint at both hobbies and sex or prostitution, since the word 'hobby-horse' is slang for a whore from Elizabethan times. Joe mentioned the curses in the rite of excommunication are so extravagant and absurd that one would be tempted to learn the Latin by-heart as a schoolboy just to use it in play.

The final comment from someone was that the book was like an abstract painting; you can take it to mean what you will. But that is not quite just to say of a book whose use of language is masterful; the author had a design, no matter that readers may be put to some trouble to discover it. There's much humour, a fair amount of satire against all sorts of targets, and when you consider that during these final years the author was in slow death from consumption, you can see it even as his final defiance in the face of death.

Gopa provided an excerpt of a piece that appeared in The Hindu newspaper (Metroplus section) on Jan 28, 2012:

It has the news about an obscure village called Anchuthengu near Trivandrum ('five coconut palms') where lies the tomb of Eliza Draper, the young woman immortalised in English literature by her lover, novelist Laurence Sterne in his Journal to Eliza.


Chapter 4.XLVI.

I HAD ESCAPED, continued the corporal, all that time from falling in love, and had gone on to the end of the chapter, had it not been predestined otherwise—there is no resisting our fate.

It was on a Sunday, in the afternoon, as I told your honour.

The old man and his wife had walked out—

Every thing was still and hush as midnight about the house—

There was not so much as a duck or a duckling about the yard—

When the fair Beguine came in to see me.

My wound was then in a fair way of doing well—the inflammation had been gone off for some time, but it was succeeded with an itching both above and below my knee, so insufferable, that I had not shut my eyes the whole night for it.

Let me see it, said she, kneeling down upon the ground parallel to my knee, and laying her hand upon the part below it—it only wants rubbing a little, said the Beguine; so covering it with the bed-clothes, she began with the fore-finger of her right hand to rub under my knee, guiding her fore-finger backwards and forwards by the edge of the flannel which kept on the dressing.

In five or six minutes I felt slightly the end of her second finger—and presently it was laid flat with the other, and she continued rubbing in that way round and round for a good while; it then came into my head, that I should fall in love—I blush’d when I saw how white a hand she had—I shall never, an’ please your honour, behold another hand so white whilst I live—

Not in that place, said my uncle Toby—

Though it was the most serious despair in nature to the corporal—he could not forbear smiling.

The young Beguine, continued the corporal, perceiving it was of great service to me—from rubbing for some time, with two fingers—proceeded to rub at length, with three—till by little and little she brought down the fourth, and then rubb’d with her whole hand: I will never say another word, an’ please your honour, upon hands again—but it was softer than satin—

Prithee, Trim, commend it as much as thou wilt, said my uncle Toby; I shall hear thy story with the more delight—The corporal thank’d his master most unfeignedly; but having nothing to say upon the Beguine’s hand but the same over again—he proceeded to the effects of it. The fair Beguine, said the corporal, continued rubbing with her whole hand under my knee—till I fear’d her zeal would weary her—’I would do a thousand times more,’ said she, ‘for the love of Christ’—In saying which, she pass’d her hand across the flannel, to the part above my knee, which I had equally complain’d of, and rubb’d it also.

I perceiv’d, then, I was beginning to be in love—

As she continued rub-rub-rubbing—I felt it spread from under her hand, an’ please your honour, to every part of my frame—

The more she rubb’d, and the longer strokes she took—the more the fire kindled in my veins—till at length, by two or three strokes longer than the rest—my passion rose to the highest pitch—I seiz’d her hand—

And then thou clapped’st it to thy lips, Trim, said my uncle Toby— and madest a speech.

Whether the corporal’s amour terminated precisely in the way my uncle Toby described it, is not material; it is enough that it contained in it the essence of all the love romances which ever have been wrote since the beginning of the world.

1st Reading –
Chapter 3.XLIII.
MY FATHER TOOK a single turn across the room, then sat down, and finished the chapter.

The verbs auxiliary we are concerned in here, continued my father, are,am; was; have; had; do; did; make; made; suffer; shall; should; will; would;can; could; owe; ought; used; or is wont.—And these varied with tenses,present, past, future, and conjugated with the verb see,—or with these questions added to them;—Is it? Was it? Will it be? Would it be? May it be? Might it be? And these again put negatively, Is it not? Was it not?Ought it not?—Or affirmatively,—It is; It was; It ought to be. Or chronologically,—Has it been always? Lately? How long ago?—Or hypothetically,—If it was? If it was not? What would follow?—If the French should beat the English? If the Sun go out of the Zodiac?

Now, by the right use and application of these, continued my father, in which a child’s memory should be exercised, there is no one idea can enter his brain, how barren soever, but a magazine of conceptions and conclusions may be drawn forth from it.—Didst thou ever see a white bear?cried my father, turning his head round to Trim, who stood at the back of his chair:—No, an’ please your honour, replied the corporal.—But thou couldst discourse about one, Trim, said my father, in case of need?—How is it possible, brother, quoth my uncle Toby, if the corporal never saw one?—’Tis the fact I want, replied my father,—and the possibility of it is as follows.

A White Bear! Very well. Have I ever seen one? Might I ever have seen one? Am I ever to see one? Ought I ever to have seen one? Or can I ever see one?

Would I had seen a white bear! (for how can I imagine it?)

If I should see a white bear, what should I say? If I should never see a white bear, what then?

If I never have, can, must, or shall see a white bear alive; have I ever seen the skin of one? Did I ever see one painted?—described? Have I never dreamed of one?

Did my father, mother, uncle, aunt, brothers or sisters, ever see a white bear? What would they give? How would they behave? How would the white bear have behaved? Is he wild? Tame? Terrible? Rough? Smooth?

Is the white bear worth seeing?—

Is there no sin in it?—

Is it better than a Black One?

2nd ReadingChapter 3.XLV.
WHEN MY FATHER had danced his white bear backwards and forwards through half a dozen pages, he closed the book for good an’ all,—and in a kind of triumph redelivered it into Trim’s hand, with a nod to lay it upon the ‘scrutoire, where he found it.—Tristram, said he, shall be made to conjugate every word in the dictionary, backwards and forwards the same way;—every word, Yorick, by this means, you see, is converted into a thesis or an hypothesis;—every thesis and hypothesis have an off-spring of propositions;—and each proposition has its own consequences and conclusions; every one of which leads the mind on again, into fresh tracks of enquiries and doubtings.—The force of this engine, added my father, is incredible in opening a child’s head.—’Tis enough, brother Shandy, cried my uncle Toby, to burst it into a thousand splinters.—

1st Reading – Chapter 4.LIX.
WHILST MY FATHER was writing his letter of instructions, my uncle Toby and the corporal were busy in preparing every thing for the attack. As the turning of the thin scarlet breeches was laid aside (at least for the present), there was nothing which should put it off beyond the next morning; so accordingly it was resolv’d upon, for eleven o’clock.

Come, my dear, said my father to my mother—’twill be but like a brother and sister, if you and I take a walk down to my brother Toby’s—to countenance him in this attack of his.

My uncle Toby and the corporal had been accoutred both some time,when my father and mother enter’d, and the clock striking eleven, were thatmoment in motion to sally forth—but the account of this is worth morethan to be wove into the fag end of the eighth (Alluding to the first edition.)volume of such a work as this.—My father had no time but to put the letterof instructions into my uncle Toby’s coat-pocket—and join with my mother

in wishing his attack prosperous.

I could like, said my mother, to look through the key-hole out of curiosity—

Call it by its right name, my dear, quoth my father—

And look through the key-hole as long as you will.

2nd Reading – Chapter 4.LX.
I CALL ALL THE POWERS of time and chance, which severally check us in ourcareers in this world, to bear me witness, that I could never yet get fairly tomy uncle Toby’s amours, till this very moment, that my mother’s curiosity,as she stated the affair,—or a different impulse in her, as my fatherwould have it—wished her to take a peep at them through the key-hole.‘Call it, my dear, by its right name, quoth my father, and look throughthe key-hole as long as you will.’

Nothing but the fermentation of that little subacid humour, which Ihave often spoken of, in my father’s habit, could have vented such aninsinuation—he was however frank and generous in his nature, and at alltimes open to conviction; so that he had scarce got to the last word of thisungracious retort, when his conscience smote him.

My mother was then conjugally swinging with her left arm twisted underhis right, in such wise, that the inside of her hand rested upon theback of his—she raised her fingers, and let them fall—it could scarce becall’d a tap; or if it was a tap—’twould have puzzled a casuist to say, whether’twas a tap of remonstrance, or a tap of confession: my father, who was allsensibilities from head to foot, class’d it right—Conscience redoubled herblow—he turn’d his face suddenly the other way, and my mother supposinghis body was about to turn with it in order to move homewards, by across movement of her right leg, keeping her left as its centre, broughtherself so far in front, that as he turned his head, he met her eye—Confusionagain! he saw a thousand reasons to wipe out the reproach, and asmany to reproach himself—a thin, blue, chill, pellucid chrystal with all itshumours so at rest, the least mote or speck of desire might have been seen,at the bottom of it, had it existed—it did not—and how I happen to be solewd myself, particularly a little before the vernal and autumnal equinoxes—Heaven above knows—My mother—madam—was so at no time,either by nature, by institution, or example.

A temperate current of blood ran orderly through her veins in all monthsof the year, and in all critical moments both of the day and night alike;nor did she superinduce the least heat into her humours from the manual effervescencies of devotional tracts, which having little or no meaning inthem, nature is oft-times obliged to find one—And as for my father’sexample! ’twas so far from being either aiding or abetting thereunto, that ’twas the whole business of his life, to keep all fancies of that kind out of her head—Nature had done her part, to have spared him this trouble; and what was not a little inconsistent, my father knew it—And here am I sitting, this 12th day of August 1766, in a purple jerkin and yellow pair of slippers, without either wig or cap on, a most tragi comical completion of his prediction, ‘That I should neither think, nor act like any other man’s child, upon that very account.’

The mistake in my father, was in attacking my mother’s motive, instead of the act itself; for certainly key-holes were made for other purposes; and considering the act, as an act which interfered with a true proposition,and denied a key-hole to be what it was—it became a violation of nature;and was so far, you see, criminal.

It is for this reason, an’ please your Reverences, That key-holes are the occasions of more sin and wickedness, than all other holes in this world put together.

Reading 1
Cursed luck!— said he to himself, one afternoon, as he walked out of the room, after he had been stating it for an hour and a half to her, to no manner of purpose;— cursed luck! said he, biting his lip as he shut the door,—for a man to be master of one of the finest chains of reasoning in nature,—and have a wife at the same time with such a head-piece, that he cannot hang up a single inference within side of it, to save his soul from destruction.

This argument, though it was entirely lost upon my mother,—had more weight with him, than all his other arguments joined together:—I will therefore endeavour to do it justice,—and set it forth with all the perspicuity I am master of.

My father set out upon the strength of these two following axioms:

First, That an ounce of a man’s own wit, was worth a ton of other people’s; and,

Secondly, (Which by the bye, was the ground-work of the first axiom,— tho’ it comes last) That every man’s wit must come from every man’s own soul,—and no other body’s.

Now, as it was plain to my father, that all souls were by nature equal,— and that the great difference between the most acute and the most obtuse understanding—was from no original sharpness or bluntness of one thinking substance above or below another,—but arose merely from the lucky or unlucky organization of the body, in that part where the soul principally took up her residence,—he had made it the subject of his enquiry to find out the identical place.

Now, from the best accounts he had been able to get of this matter, he was satisfied it could not be where Des Cartes had fixed it, upon the top of the pineal gland of the brain; which, as he philosophized, formed a cushion for her about the size of a marrow pea; tho’ to speak the truth, as so many nerves did terminate all in that one place,—’twas no bad conjecture;— and my father had certainly fallen with that great philosopher plumb into the centre of the mistake, had it not been for my uncle Toby, who rescued him out of it, by a story he told him of a Walloon officer at the battle of Landen, who had one part of his brain shot away by a musketball,— and another part of it taken out after by a French surgeon; and after all, recovered, and did his duty very well without it.

If death, said my father, reasoning with himself, is nothing but the separation of the soul from the body;—and if it is true that people can walk about and do their business without brains,—then certes the soul does not inhabit there. Q.E.D.

Reading 2
As, therefore, we can have no dependence upon morality without religion;—so, on the other hand, there is nothing better to be expected from religion without morality; nevertheless, ’tis no prodigy to see a man whose real moral character stands very low, who yet entertains the highest notion of himself in the light of a religious man.

He shall not only be covetous, revengeful, implacable,—but even wanting in points of common honesty; yet inasmuch as he talks aloud against the infidelity of the age,—is zealous for some points of religion,—goes twice a day to church,—attends the sacraments,—and amuses himself with a few instrumental parts of religion,—shall cheat his conscience into a judgment, that, for this, he is a religious man, and has discharged truly his duty to God: And you will find that such a man, through force of this delusion, generally looks down with spiritual pride upon every other man who has less affectation of piety,—though, perhaps, ten times more real honesty than himself.

This likewise is a sore evil under the sun; and I believe, there is no one mistaken principle, which, for its time, has wrought more serious mischiefs.— For a general proof of this,—examine the history of the Romish church;’—(Well what can you make of that? cried Dr. Slop)—’see what scenes of cruelty, murder, rapine, bloodshed,’—(They may thank their own obstinacy, cried Dr. Slop)—have all been sanctified by a religion not strictly governed by morality.

In how many kingdoms of the world’—(Here Trim kept waving his right-hand from the sermon to the extent of his arm, returning it backwards and forwards to the conclusion of the paragraph.)

In how many kingdoms of the world has the crusading sword of this misguided saint-errant, spared neither age or merit, or sex, or condition?— and, as he fought under the banners of a religion which set him loose from justice and humanity, he shewed none; mercilessly trampled upon both,— heard neither the cries of the unfortunate, nor pitied their distresses.’

(I have been in many a battle, an’ please your Honour, quoth Trim, sighing, but never in so melancholy a one as this,—I would not have drawn a tricker in it against these poor souls,—to have been made a general officer.—Why? what do you understand of the affair? said Dr. Slop, looking towards Trim, with something more of contempt than the Corporal’s honest heart deserved.—What do you know, friend, about this battle you talk of?—I know, replied Trim, that I never refused quarter in my life to any man who cried out for it;—but to a woman or a child, continued Trim, before I would level my musket at them, I would loose my life a thousand times.—Here’s a crown for thee, Trim, to drink with Obadiah to-night, quoth my uncle Toby, and I’ll give Obadiah another too.—God bless your Honour, replied Trim,—I had rather these poor women and children had it.—thou art an honest fellow, quoth my uncle Toby.—My father nodded his head, as much as to say—and so he is.—

But prithee, Trim, said my father, make an end,—for I see thou hast but a leaf or two left.

(Corporal Trim read on.)

If the testimony of past centuries in this matter is not sufficient,— consider at this instant, how the votaries of that religion are every day thinking to do service and honour to God, by actions which are a dishonour and scandal to themselves.

To be convinced of this, go with me for a moment into the prisons of the Inquisition.’—(God help my poor brother Tom.)—‘Behold Religion, with Mercy and Justice chained down under her feet,—there sitting ghastly upon a black tribunal, propped up with racks and instruments of torment. Hark!—hark! what a piteous groan!’—(Here Trim’s face turned as pale as ashes.)—’See the melancholy wretch who uttered it’—(Here the tears began to trickle down)—’just brought forth to undergo the anguish of a mock trial, and endure the utmost pains that a studied system of cruelty has been able to invent.’—(D..n them all, quoth Trim, his colour returning into his face as red as blood.)—’Behold this helpless victim delivered up to his tormentors,—his body so wasted with sorrow and confinement.’—(Oh! ’tis my brother, cried poor Trim in a most passionate exclamation, dropping the sermon upon the ground, and clapping his hands together—I fear ’tis poor Tom. My father’s and my uncle Toby’s heart yearned with sympathy for the poor fellow’s distress; even Slop himself acknowledged pity for him.—Why, Trim, said my father, this is not a history,—’tis a sermon thou art reading; prithee begin the sentence again.)—’Behold this helpless victim delivered up to his tormentors,—his body so wasted with sorrow and confinement, you will see every nerve and muscle as it suffers.

Observe the last movement of that horrid engine!’—(I would rather face a cannon, quoth Trim, stamping.)—’See what convulsions it has thrown him into!—Consider the nature of the posture in which he how lies stretched,—what exquisite tortures he endures by it!’—(I hope ’tis not in Portugal.)—’’Tis all nature can bear! Good God! see how it keeps his weary soul hanging upon his trembling lips!’ (I would not read another line of it, quoth Trim for all this world;—I fear, an’ please your Honours, all this is in Portugal, where my poor brother Tom is. I tell thee, Trim, again, quoth my father, ’tis not an historical account,—’tis a description.— ’Tis only a description, honest man, quoth Slop, there’s not a word of truth in it.—That’s another story, replied my father.—However, as Trim reads it with so much concern,—’tis cruelty to force him to go on with it.—Give me hold of the sermon, Trim,—I’ll finish it for thee, and thou may’st go. I must stay and hear it too, replied Trim, if your Honour will allow me;—tho’ I would not read it myself for a Colonel’s pay.—Poor Trim! quoth my uncle Toby. My father went on.)

‘—Consider the nature of the posture in which he now lies stretched,— what exquisite torture he endures by it!—’Tis all nature can bear! Good God! See how it keeps his weary soul hanging upon his trembling lips,— willing to take its leave,—but not suffered to depart!—Behold the unhappy wretch led back to his cell!’—(Then, thank God, however, quoth Trim, they have not killed him.)—’See him dragged out of it again to meet the flames, and the insults in his last agonies, which this principle,— this principle, that there can be religion without mercy, has prepared for him.’—(Then, thank God,—he is dead, quoth Trim,—he is out of his pain,—and they have done their worst at him.—O Sirs!—Hold your peace, Trim, said my father, going on with the sermon, lest Trim should incense Dr. Slop,—we shall never have done at this rate.)

The surest way to try the merit of any disputed notion is, to trace down the consequences such a notion has produced, and compare them with the spirit of Christianity;—’tis the short and decisive rule which our Saviour hath left us, for these and such like cases, and it is worth a thousand arguments—By their fruits ye shall know them.

I will add no farther to the length of this sermon, than by two or three short and independent rules deducible from it. ‘

First, Whenever a man talks loudly against religion, always suspect that it is not his reason, but his passions, which have got the better of his Creed. A bad life and a good belief are disagreeable and troublesome neighbours, and where they separate, depend upon it, ’tis for no other cause but quietness sake.

Secondly, When a man, thus represented, tells you in any particular instance,—That such a thing goes against his conscience,—always believe he means exactly the same thing, as when he tells you such a thing goes against his stomach;—a present want of appetite being generally the true cause of both.

In a word,—trust that man in nothing, who has not a Conscience in every thing.

And, in your own case, remember this plain distinction, a mistake in which has ruined thousands,—that your conscience is not a law;—No, God and reason made the law, and have placed conscience within you to determine;—not, like an Asiatic Cadi, according to the ebbs and flows of his own passions,—but like a British judge in this land of liberty and good sense, who makes no new law, but faithfully declares that law which he knows already written.’


Book 7 Ch 21 top of p.351 or Ch 4.II – How the nuns managed to say two naughty words
By virtue of the muleteer’s to last strokes the mules had gone quietly on, following their own consciences up the hill, till they had conquer’d about one half of it; when the elder of them, a shrewd crafty old devil, at the turn of an angle, giving a side glance, and no muleteer behind them,— By my fig! said she, swearing, I’ll go no further—And if I do, replied the other, they shall make a drum of my hide.—

And so with one consent they stopp’d thus—

(Chapter 4.III. Contd.)
GET ON WITH YOU, said the abbess.

Wh...ysh—ysh—cried Margarita.

Sh...a—shu..u—shu..u—sh..aw—shaw’d the abbess.

Whu—v—w—whew—w—w—whuv’d Margarita, pursing up her sweet lips betwixt a hoot and a whistle.

Thump—thump—thump—obstreperated the abbess of Andouillets with the end of her gold-headed cane against the bottom of the calesh—

The old mule let a f …

WE ARE RUIN’D and undone, my child, said the abbess to Margarita,—we shall be here all night—we shall be plunder’d—we shall be ravished— —We shall be ravish’d, said Margarita, as sure as a gun. Sancta Maria! cried the abbess (forgetting the O!)—why was I govern’d by this wicked stiff joint? why did I leave the convent of Andouillets? and why didst thou not suffer thy servant to go unpolluted to her tomb?

MY DEAR MOTHER, quoth the novice, coming a little to herself,—there are two certain words, which I have been told will force any horse, or ass, or mule, to go up a hill whether he will or no; be he never so obstinate or illwill’d, the moment he hears them utter’d, he obeys. They are words magic! cried the abbess in the utmost horror—No; replied Margarita calmly— but they are words sinful—What are they? quoth the abbess, interrupting her: They are sinful in the first degree, answered Margarita,—they are mortal—and if we are ravished and die unabsolved of them, we shall bothbut you may pronounce them to me, quoth the abbess of Andouillets— They cannot, my dear mother, said the novice, be pronounced at all; they will make all the blood in one’s body fly up into one’s face—But you may whisper them in my ear, quoth the abbess.

ALL SINS WHATEVER, quoth the abbess, turning casuist in the distress they were under, are held by the confessor of our convent to be either mortal or venial: there is no further division. Now a venial sin being the slightest and least of all sins—being halved—by taking either only the half of it, and leaving the rest—or, by taking it all, and amicably halving it betwixt yourself and another person—in course becomes diluted into no sin at all. Now I see no sin in saying, bou, bou, bou, bou, bou, a hundred times together; nor is there any turpitude in pronouncing the syllable ger, ger, ger, ger, ger, were it from our matins to our vespers: Therefore, my dear daughter, continued the abbess of Andouillets—I will say bou, and thou shalt say ger; and then alternately, as there is no more sin in fou than in bou—Thou shalt say fou—and I will come in (like fa, sol, la, re, mi, ut, at our complines) with ter. And accordingly the abbess, giving the pitch note, set off thus:

Abbess,.....) Bou … bou … bou … Margarita,…)—ger,..ger,..ger.

Margarita,..) Fou … fou … fou.. Abbess,.....)—ter,..ter,..ter.

The two mules acknowledged the notes by a mutual lash of their tails; but it went no further—’Twill answer by an’ by, said the novice.

Abbess,.....) Bou. bou. bou. bou. bou. bou. Margarita,..) —ger, ger, ger,ger, ger, ger.

Quicker still, cried Margarita. Fou, fou, fou, fou, fou, fou, fou, fou,fou.

Quicker still, cried Margarita. Bou, bou, bou, bou, bou, bou, bou, bou, bou.

Quicker still—God preserve me; said the abbess—They do not understand us, cried Margarita—But the Devil does, said the abbess of Andouillets.

Reading 1 –
Chapter 3.XXVI.
FIFTY THOUSAND PANNIER loads of devils—(not of the Archbishop of Benevento’s—I mean of Rabelais’s devils), with their tails chopped off by their rumps, could not have made so diabolical a scream of it, as I did— when the accident befel me: it summoned up my mother instantly into the nursery,—so that Susannah had but just time to make her escape down the back stairs, as my mother came up the fore.

Now, though I was old enough to have told the story myself,—and young enough, I hope, to have done it without malignity; yet Susannah, in passing by the kitchen, for fear of accidents, had left it in short-hand with the cook—the cook had told it with a commentary to Jonathan, and Jonathan to Obadiah; so that by the time my father had rung the bell half a dozen times, to know what was the matter above,—was Obadiah enabled to give him a particular account of it, just as it had happened.—I thought as much, said my father, tucking up his night-gown;—and so walked up stairs.

One would imagine from this—(though for my own part I somewhat question it)—that my father, before that time, had actually wrote that remarkable character in the Tristra-paedia, which to me is the most original and entertaining one in the whole book;—and that is the chapter upon sash-windows, with a bitter Philippick at the end of it, upon the forgetfulness of chamber-maids.—I have but two reasons for thinking otherwise.

First, Had the matter been taken into consideration, before the event happened, my father certainly would have nailed up the sash window for good an’ all;—which, considering with what difficulty he composed books,—he might have done with ten times less trouble, than he could have wrote the chapter: this argument I foresee holds good against his writing a chapter, even after the event; but ’tis obviated under the second reason, which I have the honour to offer to the world in support of my opinion, that my father did not write the chapter upon sash-windows and chamber-pots, at the time supposed,—and it is this.

That, in order to render the Tristra-paedia complete,—I wrote the chapter myself.

Reading 2 – Chapter 3.XXVII
MY FATHER PUT ON HIS SPECTACLES—looked,—took them off,—put them into the case—all in less than a statutable minute; and without opening his lips, turned about and walked precipitately down stairs: my mother imagined he had stepped down for lint and basilicon; but seeing him return with a couple of folios under his arm, and Obadiah following him with a large reading-desk, she took it for granted ’twas an herbal, and so drew him a chair to the bedside, that he might consult upon the case at his ease.

If it be but right done,—said my father, turning to the Section—de sede vel subjecto circumcisionis,—for he had brought up Spenser de Legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus—and Maimonides, in order to confront and examine us altogether.—

If it be but right done, quoth he:—only tell us, cried my mother, interrupting him, what herbs?—For that, replied my father, you must send for Dr. Slop.

My mother went down, and my father went on, reading the section as follows,

… —Very well,—said my father, … —nay, if it has that convenience— and so without stopping a moment to settle it first in his mind, whether the Jews had it from the Egyptians, or the Egyptians from the Jews,—he rose up, and rubbing his forehead two or three times across with the palm of his hand, in the manner we rub out the footsteps of care, when evil has trod lighter upon us than we foreboded,—he shut the book, and walked down stairs.—Nay, said he, mentioning the name of a different great nation upon every step as he set his foot upon it—if the Egyptians,—the Syrians,—the Phoenicians,—the Arabians,—the Cappadocians,—if the Colchi, and Troglodytes did it—if Solon and Pythagoras submitted,— what is Tristram?—Who am I, that I should fret or fume one moment about the matter?

Chapter 1.IV.
I know there are readers in the world, as well as many other good people in it, who are no readers at all,—who find themselves ill at ease, unless they are let into the whole secret from first to last, of every thing which concerns you.

It is in pure compliance with this humour of theirs, and from a backwardness in my nature to disappoint any one soul living, that I have been so very particular already. As my life and opinions are likely to make some noise in the world, and, if I conjecture right, will take in all ranks, professions, and denominations of men whatever,—be no less read than the Pilgrim’s Progress itself—and in the end, prove the very thing which Montaigne dreaded his Essays should turn out, that is, a book for a parlour window;—

I find it necessary to consult every one a little in his turn; and therefore must beg pardon for going on a little farther in the same way: For which cause, right glad I am, that I have begun the history of myself in the way I have done; and that I am able to go on, tracing every thing in it, as Horace says, ab Ovo.

Horace, I know, does not recommend this fashion altogether: But that gentleman is speaking only of an epic poem or a tragedy;—(I forget which,) besides, if it was not so, I should beg Mr. Horace’s pardon;—for in writing what I have set about, I shall confine myself neither to his rules, nor to any man’s rules that ever lived.

To such however as do not choose to go so far back into these things, I can give no better advice than that they skip over the remaining part of Tristram Shandy this chapter; for I declare before-hand, ’tis wrote only for the curious and inquisitive.

Shut the door.—

I was begot in the night betwixt the first Sunday and the first Monday in the month of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighteen. I am positive I was.—But how I came to be so very particular in my account of a thing which happened before I was born, is owing to another small anecdote known only in our own family, but now made publick for the better clearing up this point.

My father, you must know, who was originally a Turkey merchant, but had left off business for some years, in order to retire to, and die upon, his paternal estate in the county of ——, was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every thing he did, whether ’twas matter of business, or matter of amusement, that ever lived. As a small specimen of this extreme exactness of his, to which he was in truth a slave, he had made it a rule for many years of his life,—on the first Sunday-night of every month throughout the whole year,—as certain as ever the Sunday-night came,—to wind up a large house-clock, which we had standing on the back-stairs head, with his own hands:—And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age at the time I have been speaking of,—he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month.

It was attended but with one misfortune, which, in a great measure, fell upon myself, and the effects of which I fear I shall carry with me to my grave; namely, that from an unhappy association of ideas, which have no connection in nature, it so fell out at length, that my poor mother could never hear the said clock wound up,—but the thoughts of some other things unavoidably popped into her head—& vice versa:—Which strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly understood the nature of these things better than most men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than all other sources of prejudice whatsoever. But this by the bye.

Now it appears by a memorandum in my father’s pocket-book, which now lies upon the table, ‘That on Lady-day, which was on the 25th of the same month in which I date my geniture,—my father set upon his journey to London, with my eldest brother Bobby, to fix him at Westminster school;’ and, as it appears from the same authority, ‘That he did not get down to his wife and family till the second week in May following,’—it brings the thing almost to a certainty. However, what follows in the beginning of the next chapter, puts it beyond all possibility of a doubt.

But pray, Sir, What was your father doing all December, January, and February?—Why, Madam,—he was all that time afflicted with a Sciatica.

Reading 1 – Chapter 1.XX.
HOW COULD YOU, Madam, be so inattentive in reading the last chapter? I told you in it, That my mother was not a papist.—Papist! You told me no such thing, Sir.—Madam, I beg leave to repeat it over again, that I told you as plain, at least, as words, by direct inference, could tell you such a thing.—Then, Sir, I must have miss’d a page.—No, Madam, you have not miss’d a word.—Then I was asleep, Sir.—My pride, Madam, cannot allow you that refuge.—Then, I declare, I know nothing at all about the matter.—That, Madam, is the very fault I lay to your charge; and as a punishment for it, I do insist upon it, that you immediately turn back, that is as soon as you get to the next full stop, and read the whole chapter over again. I have imposed this penance upon the lady, neither out of wantonness nor cruelty; but from the best of motives; and therefore shall make her no apology for it when she returns back:—‘Tis to rebuke a vicious taste, which has crept into thousands besides herself,—of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them—The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along; the habitude of which made Pliny the younger affirm, ‘That he never read a book so bad, but he drew some profit from it.’

Reading 2
Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading!—take them out of this book, for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;—one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer;—he steps forth like a bridegroom,— bids All-hail; brings in variety, and forbids the appetite to fail.

All the dexterity is in the good cookery and management of them, so as to be not only for the advantage of the reader, but also of the author, whose distress, in this matter, is truly pitiable: For, if he begins a digression,— from that moment, I observe, his whole work stands stock still;— and if he goes on with his main work,—then there is an end of his digression.

This is vile work.—For which reason, from the beginning of this, you see, I have constructed the main work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and have so complicated and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going;—and, what’s more, it shall be kept a-going these forty years, if it pleases the fountain of health to bless me so long with life and good spirits.

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