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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
by Laurence Sterne
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A fiddlestick! quoth she.



Chapter 4.the Seventy-eighth.

Now there are such an infinitude of notes, tunes, cants, chants, airs, looks, and accents with which the word fiddlestick may be pronounced in all such causes as this, every one of 'em impressing a sense and meaning as different from the other, as dirt from cleanliness—That Casuists (for it is an affair of conscience on that score) reckon up no less than fourteen thousand in which you may do either right or wrong.

Mrs. Wadman hit upon the fiddlestick, which summoned up all my uncle Toby's modest blood into his cheeks—so feeling within himself that he had somehow or other got beyond his depth, he stopt short; and without entering further either into the pains or pleasures of matrimony, he laid his hand upon his heart, and made an offer to take them as they were, and share them along with her.

When my uncle Toby had said this, he did not care to say it again; so casting his eye upon the Bible which Mrs. Wadman had laid upon the table, he took it up; and popping, dear soul! upon a passage in it, of all others the most interesting to him—which was the siege of Jericho—he set himself to read it over—leaving his proposal of marriage, as he had done his declaration of love, to work with her after its own way. Now it wrought neither as an astringent or a loosener; nor like opium, or bark, or mercury, or buckthorn, or any one drug which nature had bestowed upon the world—in short, it work'd not at all in her; and the cause of that was, that there was something working there before—Babbler that I am! I have anticipated what it was a dozen times; but there is fire still in the subject—allons.



Chapter 4.LXXXV.

It is natural for a perfect stranger who is going from London to Edinburgh, to enquire before he sets out, how many miles to York; which is about the half way—nor does any body wonder, if he goes on and asks about the corporation, &c....

It was just as natural for Mrs. Wadman, whose first husband was all his time afflicted with a Sciatica, to wish to know how far from the hip to the groin; and how far she was likely to suffer more or less in her feelings, in the one case than in the other.

She had accordingly read Drake's anatomy from one end to the other. She had peeped into Wharton upon the brain, and borrowed Graaf (This must be a mistake in Mr. Shandy; for Graaf wrote upon the pancreatick juice, and the parts of generation.) upon the bones and muscles; but could make nothing of it.

She had reason'd likewise from her own powers—laid down theorems—drawn consequences, and come to no conclusion.

To clear up all, she had twice asked Doctor Slop, 'if poor captain Shandy was ever likely to recover of his wound—?'

—He is recovered, Doctor Slop would say—

What! quite?

Quite: madam—

But what do you mean by a recovery? Mrs. Wadman would say.

Doctor Slop was the worst man alive at definitions; and so Mrs. Wadman could get no knowledge: in short, there was no way to extract it, but from my uncle Toby himself.

There is an accent of humanity in an enquiry of this kind which lulls Suspicion to rest—and I am half persuaded the serpent got pretty near it, in his discourse with Eve; for the propensity in the sex to be deceived could not be so great, that she should have boldness to hold chat with the devil, without it—But there is an accent of humanity—how shall I describe it?—'tis an accent which covers the part with a garment, and gives the enquirer a right to be as particular with it, as your body-surgeon.

'—Was it without remission?—

'—Was it more tolerable in bed?

'—Could he lie on both sides alike with it?

'—Was he able to mount a horse?

'—Was motion bad for it?' et caetera, were so tenderly spoke to, and so directed towards my uncle Toby's heart, that every item of them sunk ten times deeper into it than the evils themselves—but when Mrs. Wadman went round about by Namur to get at my uncle Toby's groin; and engaged him to attack the point of the advanced counterscarp, and pele mele with the Dutch to take the counterguard of St. Roch sword in hand—and then with tender notes playing upon his ear, led him all bleeding by the hand out of the trench, wiping her eye, as he was carried to his tent—Heaven! Earth! Sea!—all was lifted up—the springs of nature rose above their levels—an angel of mercy sat besides him on the sopha—his heart glow'd with fire—and had he been worth a thousand, he had lost every heart of them to Mrs. Wadman.

—And whereabouts, dear sir, quoth Mrs. Wadman, a little categorically, did you receive this sad blow?—In asking this question, Mrs. Wadman gave a slight glance towards the waistband of my uncle Toby's red plush breeches, expecting naturally, as the shortest reply to it, that my uncle Toby would lay his fore-finger upon the place—It fell out otherwise—for my uncle Toby having got his wound before the gate of St. Nicolas, in one of the traverses of the trench opposite to the salient angle of the demibastion of St. Roch; he could at any time stick a pin upon the identical spot of ground where he was standing when the stone struck him: this struck instantly upon my uncle Toby's sensorium—and with it, struck his large map of the town and citadel of Namur and its environs, which he had purchased and pasted down upon a board, by the corporal's aid, during his long illness—it had lain with other military lumber in the garret ever since, and accordingly the corporal was detached to the garret to fetch it.

My uncle Toby measured off thirty toises, with Mrs. Wadman's scissars, from the returning angle before the gate of St. Nicolas; and with such a virgin modesty laid her finger upon the place, that the goddess of Decency, if then in being—if not, 'twas her shade—shook her head, and with a finger wavering across her eyes—forbid her to explain the mistake.

Unhappy Mrs. Wadman!

—For nothing can make this chapter go off with spirit but an apostrophe to thee—but my heart tells me, that in such a crisis an apostrophe is but an insult in disguise, and ere I would offer one to a woman in distress—let the chapter go to the devil; provided any damn'd critic in keeping will be but at the trouble to take it with him.



Chapter 4.LXXXVI.

My uncle Toby's Map is carried down into the kitchen.



Chapter 4.LXXXVII.

—And here is the Maes—and this is the Sambre; said the corporal, pointing with his right hand extended a little towards the map, and his left upon Mrs. Bridget's shoulder—but not the shoulder next him—and this, said he, is the town of Namur—and this the citadel—and there lay the French—and here lay his honour and myself—and in this cursed trench, Mrs. Bridget, quoth the corporal, taking her by the hand, did he receive the wound which crush'd him so miserably here.—In pronouncing which, he slightly press'd the back of her hand towards the part he felt for—and let it fall.

We thought, Mr. Trim, it had been more in the middle,—said Mrs. Bridget—

That would have undone us for ever—said the corporal.

—And left my poor mistress undone too, said Bridget.

The corporal made no reply to the repartee, but by giving Mrs. Bridget a kiss.

Come—come—said Bridget—holding the palm of her left hand parallel to the plane of the horizon, and sliding the fingers of the other over it, in a way which could not have been done, had there been the least wart or protruberance—'Tis every syllable of it false, cried the corporal, before she had half finished the sentence—

—I know it to be fact, said Bridget, from credible witnesses.

—Upon my honour, said the corporal, laying his hand upon his heart, and blushing, as he spoke, with honest resentment—'tis a story, Mrs. Bridget, as false as hell—Not, said Bridget, interrupting him, that either I or my mistress care a halfpenny about it, whether 'tis so or no—only that when one is married, one would chuse to have such a thing by one at least—

It was somewhat unfortunate for Mrs. Bridget, that she had begun the attack with her manual exercise; for the corporal instantly....



Chapter 4.LXXXVIII.

It was like the momentary contest in the moist eye-lids of an April morning, 'Whether Bridget should laugh or cry.'

She snatch'd up a rolling-pin—'twas ten to one, she had laugh'd—

She laid it down—she cried; and had one single tear of 'em but tasted of bitterness, full sorrowful would the corporal's heart have been that he had used the argument; but the corporal understood the sex, a quart major to a terce at least, better than my uncle Toby, and accordingly he assailed Mrs. Bridget after this manner.

I know, Mrs. Bridget, said the corporal, giving her a most respectful kiss, that thou art good and modest by nature, and art withal so generous a girl in thyself, that, if I know thee rightly, thou would'st not wound an insect, much less the honour of so gallant and worthy a soul as my master, wast thou sure to be made a countess of—but thou hast been set on, and deluded, dear Bridget, as is often a woman's case, 'to please others more than themselves—'

Bridget's eyes poured down at the sensations the corporal excited.

—Tell me—tell me, then, my dear Bridget, continued the corporal, taking hold of her hand, which hung down dead by her side,—and giving a second kiss—whose suspicion has misled thee?

Bridget sobb'd a sob or two—then open'd her eyes—the corporal wiped 'em with the bottom of her apron—she then open'd her heart and told him all.



Chapter 4.LXXXIX.

My uncle Toby and the corporal had gone on separately with their operations the greatest part of the campaign, and as effectually cut off from all communication of what either the one or the other had been doing, as if they had been separated from each other by the Maes or the Sambre.

My uncle Toby, on his side, had presented himself every afternoon in his red and silver, and blue and gold alternately, and sustained an infinity of attacks in them, without knowing them to be attacks—and so had nothing to communicate—

The corporal, on his side, in taking Bridget, by it had gain'd considerable advantages—and consequently had much to communicate—but what were the advantages—as well as what was the manner by which he had seiz'd them, required so nice an historian, that the corporal durst not venture upon it; and as sensible as he was of glory, would rather have been contented to have gone bareheaded and without laurels for ever, than torture his master's modesty for a single moment—

—Best of honest and gallant servants!—But I have apostrophiz'd thee, Trim! once before—and could I apotheosize thee also (that is to say) with good company—I would do it without ceremony in the very next page.



Chapter 4.XC.

Now my uncle Toby had one evening laid down his pipe upon the table, and was counting over to himself upon his finger ends (beginning at his thumb) all Mrs. Wadman's perfections one by one; and happening two or three times together, either by omitting some, or counting others twice over, to puzzle himself sadly before he could get beyond his middle finger—Prithee, Trim! said he, taking up his pipe again,—bring me a pen and ink: Trim brought paper also.

Take a full sheet—Trim! said my uncle Toby, making a sign with his pipe at the same time to take a chair and sit down close by him at the table. The corporal obeyed—placed the paper directly before him—took a pen, and dipp'd it in the ink.

—She has a thousand virtues, Trim! said my uncle Toby—

Am I to set them down, an' please your honour? quoth the corporal.

—But they must be taken in their ranks, replied my uncle Toby; for of them all, Trim, that which wins me most, and which is a security for all the rest, is the compassionate turn and singular humanity of her character—I protest, added my uncle Toby, looking up, as he protested it, towards the top of the ceiling—That was I her brother, Trim, a thousand fold, she could not make more constant or more tender enquiries after my sufferings—though now no more.

The corporal made no reply to my uncle Toby's protestation, but by a short cough—he dipp'd the pen a second time into the inkhorn; and my uncle Toby, pointing with the end of his pipe as close to the top of the sheet at the left hand corner of it, as he could get it—the corporal wrote down the word HUMANITY...thus.

Prithee, corporal, said my uncle Toby, as soon as Trim had done it—how often does Mrs. Bridget enquire after the wound on the cap of thy knee, which thou received'st at the battle of Landen?

She never, an' please your honour, enquires after it at all.

That, corporal, said my uncle Toby, with all the triumph the goodness of his nature would permit—That shews the difference in the character of the mistress and maid—had the fortune of war allotted the same mischance to me, Mrs. Wadman would have enquired into every circumstance relating to it a hundred times—She would have enquired, an' please your honour, ten times as often about your honour's groin—The pain, Trim, is equally excruciating,—and Compassion has as much to do with the one as the other—

—God bless your honour! cried the corporal—what has a woman's compassion to do with a wound upon the cap of a man's knee? had your honour's been shot into ten thousand splinters at the affair of Landen, Mrs. Wadman would have troubled her head as little about it as Bridget; because, added the corporal, lowering his voice, and speaking very distinctly, as he assigned his reason—

'The knee is such a distance from the main body—whereas the groin, your honour knows, is upon the very curtain of the place.'

My uncle Toby gave a long whistle—but in a note which could scarce be heard across the table.

The corporal had advanced too far to retire—in three words he told the rest—

My uncle Toby laid down his pipe as gently upon the fender, as if it had been spun from the unravellings of a spider's web—

—Let us go to my brother Shandy's, said he.



Chapter 4.XCI.

There will be just time, whilst my uncle Toby and Trim are walking to my father's, to inform you that Mrs. Wadman had, some moons before this, made a confident of my mother; and that Mrs. Bridget, who had the burden of her own, as well as her mistress's secret to carry, had got happily delivered of both to Susannah behind the garden-wall.

As for my mother, she saw nothing at all in it, to make the least bustle about—but Susannah was sufficient by herself for all the ends and purposes you could possibly have, in exporting a family secret; for she instantly imparted it by signs to Jonathan—and Jonathan by tokens to the cook as she was basting a loin of mutton; the cook sold it with some kitchen-fat to the postillion for a groat, who truck'd it with the dairy maid for something of about the same value—and though whisper'd in the hay-loft, Fame caught the notes with her brazen trumpet, and sounded them upon the house-top—In a word, not an old woman in the village or five miles round, who did not understand the difficulties of my uncle Toby's siege, and what were the secret articles which had delayed the surrender.—

My father, whose way was to force every event in nature into an hypothesis, by which means never man crucified Truth at the rate he did—had but just heard of the report as my uncle Toby set out; and catching fire suddenly at the trespass done his brother by it, was demonstrating to Yorick, notwithstanding my mother was sitting by—not only, 'That the devil was in women, and that the whole of the affair was lust;' but that every evil and disorder in the world, of what kind or nature soever, from the first fall of Adam, down to my uncle Toby's (inclusive), was owing one way or other to the same unruly appetite.

Yorick was just bringing my father's hypothesis to some temper, when my uncle Toby entering the room with marks of infinite benevolence and forgiveness in his looks, my father's eloquence re-kindled against the passion—and as he was not very nice in the choice of his words when he was wroth—as soon as my uncle Toby was seated by the fire, and had filled his pipe, my father broke out in this manner.



Chapter 4.XCII.

—That provision should be made for continuing the race of so great, so exalted and godlike a Being as man—I am far from denying—but philosophy speaks freely of every thing; and therefore I still think and do maintain it to be a pity, that it should be done by means of a passion which bends down the faculties, and turns all the wisdom, contemplations, and operations of the soul backwards—a passion, my dear, continued my father, addressing himself to my mother, which couples and equals wise men with fools, and makes us come out of our caverns and hiding-places more like satyrs and four-footed beasts than men.

I know it will be said, continued my father (availing himself of the Prolepsis), that in itself, and simply taken—like hunger, or thirst, or sleep—'tis an affair neither good or bad—or shameful or otherwise.—Why then did the delicacy of Diogenes and Plato so recalcitrate against it? and wherefore, when we go about to make and plant a man, do we put out the candle? and for what reason is it, that all the parts thereof—the congredients—the preparations—the instruments, and whatever serves thereto, are so held as to be conveyed to a cleanly mind by no language, translation, or periphrasis whatever?

—The act of killing and destroying a man, continued my father, raising his voice—and turning to my uncle Toby—you see, is glorious—and the weapons by which we do it are honourable—We march with them upon our shoulders—We strut with them by our sides—We gild them—We carve them—We in-lay them—We enrich them—Nay, if it be but a scoundrel cannon, we cast an ornament upon the breach of it.—

—My uncle Toby laid down his pipe to intercede for a better epithet—and Yorick was rising up to batter the whole hypothesis to pieces—

—When Obadiah broke into the middle of the room with a complaint, which cried out for an immediate hearing.

The case was this:

My father, whether by ancient custom of the manor, or as impropriator of the great tythes, was obliged to keep a Bull for the service of the Parish, and Obadiah had led his cow upon a pop-visit to him one day or other the preceding summer—I say, one day or other—because as chance would have it, it was the day on which he was married to my father's house-maid—so one was a reckoning to the other. Therefore when Obadiah's wife was brought to bed—Obadiah thanked God—

—Now, said Obadiah, I shall have a calf: so Obadiah went daily to visit his cow.

She'll calve on Monday—on Tuesday—on Wednesday at the farthest—

The cow did not calve—no—she'll not calve till next week—the cow put it off terribly—till at the end of the sixth week Obadiah's suspicions (like a good man's) fell upon the Bull.

Now the parish being very large, my father's Bull, to speak the truth of him, was no way equal to the department; he had, however, got himself, somehow or other, thrust into employment—and as he went through the business with a grave face, my father had a high opinion of him.

—Most of the townsmen, an' please your worship, quoth Obadiah, believe that 'tis all the Bull's fault—

—But may not a cow be barren? replied my father, turning to Doctor Slop.

It never happens: said Dr. Slop, but the man's wife may have come before her time naturally enough—Prithee has the child hair upon his head?—added Dr. Slop—

—It is as hairy as I am; said Obadiah.—Obadiah had not been shaved for three weeks—Wheu...u...u...cried my father; beginning the sentence with an exclamatory whistle—and so, brother Toby, this poor Bull of mine, who is as good a Bull as ever p..ss'd, and might have done for Europa herself in purer times—had he but two legs less, might have been driven into Doctors Commons and lost his character—which to a Town Bull, brother Toby, is the very same thing as his life—

L..d! said my mother, what is all this story about?—

A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.

End of the Fourth Volume.

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