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

Laurence Sterne

"'Twould Be As Much As My Life Was Worth"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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?