Book 4, Chapters 19-25 Summary
Mr. Shandy feels that he has been cursed and tells Toby why he thinks so. Mr. Shandy believes that he has been given a very unlucky son and wonders why this has happened. He wonders if it was his fault. Was he too old to have fathered a child? Were all his life energies so low because of his advancing age that he produced an inferior child?
Or was it Mrs. Shandy's fault? Did she do something wrong during her pregnancy? He recalls that Mrs. Shandy wanted to have the baby delivered in the city, under the care of a reputable doctor. Mr. Shandy refused to do this, preferring a delivery at home. He claims that his wife worried over this matter so much that the baby was harmed.
Toby states that Mrs. Shandy seemed to have taken her disappointment in the arrangement without any difficulty. Toby saw no stress in her, he says. However, Mr. Shandy states that his wife suffered in silence. She hid all of her emotions; because they were not noticeable on the outside, they must have done considerable harm to the child.
Mr. Shandy also worries that if the forceps the doctor used broke his son's nose, the child also might suffer from brain damage caused by applying pressure to the baby's skull with those same forceps. Then Mr. Shandy says that in spite of all of these circumstances his son has endured, the boy might still have had a chance at a decent life, but the final blow was the mistaken name bestowed upon him. If only he had been named something other than "Tristram."
The narrator breaks away from the storyline to relate the tale of Francis the First, king of France, who wanted to strengthen his country's relationship with Switzerland and so offered Switzerland the opportunity to be the "godfather" of his son at the child's christening.
Switzerland accepted this offer but insisted on having the right to name the boy. King Francis assumed that a proper name would be chosen and was shocked when Switzerland selected the name "Shadrach, Mesech, Abed-nego." Upon hearing this, King Francis insisted on having nothing to do with Switzerland except go to war with them.
In the following chapter, the narrator sounds as if he is defending his story, stating that he by no means means to insult the king of France nor anyone else in writing this novel. He merely wants to make people laugh or "to drive the gall and other bitter juices" out of the bodies of everyone who reads his book.
In the meantime, Mr. Shandy has gathered together a group of prominent men in his community and is appealing to them to find a way that he might change his son's name from "Tristram" to "Tristramgistus" even though the baby boy has already been christened with the former name.