The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent

by Laurence Sterne

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent Quotes

"A Tom Fool's Errand"

Context: According to the marriage settlement between his mother, Elizabeth Mollineux, and his father, Walter Shandy, we are informed by Tristram Shandy, the wife was to have the privilege, paid for by the husband out of his own money, of having her children born wherever she chose. The wife was allotted the sum of £ 120 for each lying-in. In September, 1717, Mrs. Shandy, believing herself to be pregnant, insisted upon her right and was taken by Walter Shandy to London for the birth of a child. To her chagrin, and her husband's vexation, the pregnancy proved false. On the way back home to Shandy Hall, Walter Shandy fretted about the needless trip his wife had imposed upon him, with its inconvenience and expense. What mattered most to the irritated husband was that his "wall-fruit and green gages" were ripe in September and required his personal attention at their picking. To indicate his extreme irritation, he said to his wife, while riding home in the coach:

. . . Had he been whistled up to London, upon a Tom Fool's errand, in any other month of the whole year, he should not have said three words about it.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "Cock And Bull Story"

Context: Laurence Sterne's novel displays his whimsical nature as an author throughout. He uses such tricks of typography as blank pages, black pages, pointing fingers, and a large assortment of dots, dashes, and asterisks. Even the Preface is at an unusual place, not being found by the reader till he reaches the twentieth chapter of Book III. The very end of the novel is as whimsical as the portions that precede it. The final chapter begins with Mr. Walter Shandy, Tristram's father, discoursing upon idiosyncrasies of man's attitudes toward sex, as compared to those we have about the honor attached to the killing of men, especially in war. While he is speaking he is interrupted by one of his tenants, who has come with a complaint about the bull that Walter Shandy keeps to serve the cows of the parish. The tenant's wife has been brought to bed with a child some six weeks before, but the man's cow, which should have calved at the same time, has not produced an offspring. At the end of the conversation which follows, about the bull and his paternal abilities, Mrs. Shandy asks what the story is all about. Parson Yorick comments to her about the story of the bull, but the ambiguity of his comment goes further, being a statement as well about the novel which Laurence Sterne has laid before the reader.

–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 Dr. 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-ssed, 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 this story all about?–
A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick–and one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "Now Or Never Was The Time"

Context: Tristram's father, at one point in the novel, receives a legacy of a thousand pounds from an aunt. This sudden largess places him in the difficult circumstance of deciding how "to lay it out mostly to the honour of his family." After pondering a vast range of projects, he finally narrows to two: either to send his son Bobby abroad for the Grand Tour, or to fence in the Oxmoor, "a fine, large, whinny, undrained, unimproved common, belonging to the Shandy estate." Some fifteen years earlier, Mr. Shandy had become involved in a lawsuit about the land; since then he had been most anxious to develop the property. The legacy, Tristram says, now stimulates anew Mr. Shandy's interest in the Oxmoor and

. . . naturally awakened every other argument in its favour; and upon summing them all up together, he saw, not merely in interest, but in honour, he was bound to do something for it;–and that now or never was the time.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "Persuasion Hung Upon His Lips"

Context: Among the crotchety hypotheses held by Walter Shandy, father of Tristram, was, "That there was a kind of magick bias, which good or bad names, as he called them, irresistibly impressed upon our characters and conduct." Thus, while waiting for his second child to be born he discoursed at length on his notion, expressing "the most unconquerable aversion for TRISTRAM; he had the lowest and most contemptible opinion of it of any thing in the world. . . ." Ironically, when he was told that his wife had presented him with another son, and he informed the maid Susannah that the boy was to be given the noble name of Trismegistus, Susannah misinformed the curate, who then christened the child Tristram, to the endless sorrow of both the father and, later, the son. When writing of the forensic powers of his father, Tristram remarks:

. . . But, indeed, to speak of my father as he was;–he was certainly irresistible, both in his orations and disputations;–he was born an orator; . . . Persuasion hung upon his lips, and the elements of Logick and Rhetorick were so blended up in him,–and, withall, he had so shrewd a guess at the weaknesses and passions of his respondent,–that NATURE might have stood up and said,–"This man is eloquent." . . .

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "That's Another Story"

Context: One of the memorable characters in Tristram Shandy is Corporal Trim, who served in the wars under Uncle Toby and later became his body servant. Like Uncle Toby, he is kindly and warm-hearted; also like Uncle Toby, he is deeply interested in matters military. Tristram tells of an occasion when Corporal Trim read a sermon on conscience to Mr. Shandy, Uncle Toby, and Dr. Slop. Throughout the reading, the three kept interrupting Trim to argue about the validity of the theology in the sermon, with Uncle Toby interjecting observations about battle strategy and tactics. Moreover, as the sermon proceeded, Trim was reminded, through a reference to the Inquisition, of his brother, who was at the time a prisoner in Portugal. So upset did he become that he began interrupting himself; and so distraught was he, as he approached the end, that Mr. Shandy had to complete the reading:

"––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."

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "The Recording Angel Dropped A Tear Upon The Word, And Blotted It Out Forever"

Context: Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby is a man devoted to the study of military history, strategy, and tactics. With him lives his servant, Corporal Trim. The corporal discovers, at a local inn, an army lieutenant and his child, a son, in great distress; the father is very ill and suffering, as well, from lack of funds. Discovering that Lieutenant Le Fever is known to Captain Shandy, Corporal Trim promises to get help for him. Uncle Toby is quite stricken for the lieutenant, whose wife was killed in his arms by an enemy bullet at Breda. So moved is the amateur strategist that he utterly gives up for the moment his reënactment of the siege of Dendermond, in order to help Le Fever, vowing to do all he can with his hospitality, purse, and nursing to put the sick man back on his feet. An argument ensues between Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim over whether the man can be cured; during the argument Uncle Toby lets fly an oath which, says the author, was forgiven on high:

. . . He shall march, cried my uncle Toby, marching the foot which had a shoe on, though without advancing an inch,–he shall march to his regiment.–He cannot stand it, said the corporal;–He shall be supported, said my uncle Toby;–He'll drop at last, said the corporal, and what will become of his boy?–He shall not drop, said my uncle Toby firmly.–A-well-a-o'day,–do what we can for him, said Trim, maintaining his point,–the poor soul will die:–He shall not die, by G–, cried my uncle Toby.
–The Accusing Spirit, which flew up to heaven's chancery with the oath, blushed as he gave it in;–and the Recording Angel, as he wrote it down, dropped a tear upon the word, and blotted it out for ever.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "This World Surely Is Wide Enough To Hold Both Thee And Me"

Context: When Sterne began to write Tristram Shandy, he intended to continue it in annual installments for the rest of his life. This plan perhaps accounts partially for the casual, digressive narrative technique in the book. The author seems to take a great deal of time to arrive nowhere at all. This very rambling quality is, however, one of the delights of the novel. It enables Sterne to treat in detail the characters and events he has created. One of the most vivid personalities is Uncle Toby, a retired army officer who talks incessantly of battles and fortifications. For all his warlike talk, Uncle Toby is, however, "of a peaceful, placid nature–no jarring element in it–all was mixed up so kindly within; my Uncle Toby had scarce a heart to retaliate upon a fly." To illustrate this quality, Sterne describes how Uncle Toby once, after many attempts, caught a fly which had been buzzing about his head all through dinner:

". . . I'll not hurt thee," says my Uncle Toby rising from his chair, and going across the room with the fly in his hand . . . "Go," says he, lifting up the sash, and opening his hand as he spoke, to let it escape;–"go, poor devil, get thee gone; why should I hurt thee?–This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me."

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent "'Twould Be As Much As My Life Was Worth"

Context: Laurence Sterne's whimsical nature is nowhere better displayed than in the numerous tricks of typography and format in Tristram Shandy. He uses countless dots, dashes, and asterisks, blank pages, black pages, pointing fingers, and even one-sentence chapters. Another oddity is that the preface to the novel, instead of appearing at the outset, occurs as Chapter 20 of Book III. Sterne announces first that all his characters are adequately occupied elsewhere at the moment. Therefore, he observes, "–'tis the first time I have had a moment to spare,–and I'll make use of it, and write my Preface." The preface concerns itself with the problem of the general lack of wit and judgment in the world. Sterne selects various particular groups and castigates them–the politicians, the educators, the physicians, and others. But when he comes to the clergy he pulls up short:

As for the Clergy,–No;–if I say a word against them, I'll be shot. . . . with such weak nerves and spirits, and in the condition I am in at present, 'twould be as much as my life was worth, to deject and contrist myself with so bad and melancholy an account–and therefore, 'tis safer to draw a curtain across, and hasten . . . to the main . . . point I have undertaken to clear up; . . . How it comes to pass, that your men of least wit are reported to be men of most judgment?