Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I Love Tristram Shandy

(Excerpted from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne)

(Btw, "Madam" in this chapter is you, the reader)


--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 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 or 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;

[...] --But here comes my fair Lady. Have you read over again the chapter, Madam, as I desired you? --You have: And did you not observe the passage, upon the second reading, which admits the inference? --Not a word like it! Then, Madam, be pleased to ponder well the last line but one of the chapter, where I take upon me to say, "It was necessary I should be born before I was christen'd." Had my mother, Madam, been a Papist, that consequence did not follow.

It is a terrible misfortune for this same book of mine, but more so to the Republick of Letters; --so that my own is quite swallowed up in the consideration of it, --that this self-same vile pruriency for fresh adventure in all things, has got so strongly into our habit and humours, --and so wholly intent are we upon satisfying the impatience of our concupiscence that way, --that nothing but the gross and more carnal parts of a composition will go down: --The subtle hints and sly communications of science fly off, like spirits, upwards; --the heavy moral escapes downwards; and both the one and the other are as much lost to the world, as if they were still left in the bottom of the ink-horn.

I wish the male-reader has not pass'd by many a one, as quaint and curious as this one, in which the female-reader has been detected. I wish it may have its effects; --and that all good people, both male and female, from her example, may be taught to think as well as read.

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