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

Laurence Sterne

"The Recording Angel Dropped A Tear Upon The Word, And Blotted It Out Forever"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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.