amazing Ambiance


Minggu, 12 Februari 2012

amazing Ambiance

Something for a Cold Night in February

Posted: 11 Feb 2012 03:17 PM PST

Something for a Cold Night in February

February 11, 2012 at 7:17 pm (By Tim)

Reduced, as we are, to the enforced aphorisms of Twitter, or a few laconic lines in Facebook, the scolded diktat to be pithy in blog posts seems like a piece of Victorian social morality, (pace Strunk & White and Professor Althouse) made quaint by technology and new circumstances. So, I don't think it impolite to ask you to read something that might tax a Twitterer's dried-up brain.

Not having the Latin of Martial to write epigrams,  it might do this blog, and our brains, a little good to see some lengthy, honest English prose, albeit from a time when the educated knew Martial, and their English wasn't as honest as it might have been. They also generally understood the allusions Laurence Sterne put into Tristram Shandy, his comic masterpiece that came out in nine volumes between 1761 and 1767. It was full of everything from Rabelais and Cervantes to the Bible and obscure bits of Classical learning, not to mention Sterne's bawdy humor and ridicule of solemnity. Schopenhauer counted Tristram Shandy as one of the four most important novels written, along with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloïse, and Cervantes' Don Quixote.

So, here is the first chapter of Book VII of Tristram Shandy, published in 1765, and which I hope can loosen our virtual tongues to say something about in 2012. Sterne, so full of good spirits, and ready to fly halfway around the world to avoid him, did have the honor of Death knocking at his door three years after these lines were written, having been summoned by the "vile cough" he writes of, or as we know it in our modern, clinical way, tuberculosis:

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

No——I think, I said, I would write two volumes every year, provided the vile cough which then tormented me, and which to this hour I dread worse than the devil, would but give me leave——and in another place—(but where, I can't recollect now) speaking of my book as a machine, and laying my pen and ruler down cross-wise upon the table, in order to gain the greater credit to it—I swore it should be kept a going at that rate these forty years if it pleased but the fountain of life to bless me so long with health and good spirits.

Now as for my spirits, little have I to lay to their charge—nay so very little (unless the mounting me upon a long stick, and playing the fool with me nineteen hours out of the twenty-four, be accusations) that on the contrary, I have much—much to thank 'em for: cheerily have ye made me tread the path of life with all the burdens of it (except its cares) upon my back; in no one moment of my existence, that I remember, have ye once deserted me, or tinged the objects which came in my way, either with sable, or with a sickly green; in dangers ye gilded my horizon with hope, and when DEATH himself knocked at my door—ye bade him come again; and in so gay a tone of careless indifference did ye do it, that he doubted of his commission——

"There must certainly be some mistake in this matter," quoth he.

Now there is nothing in this world I abominate worse, than to be interrupted in a story——and I was that moment telling Eugenius a most tawdry one in my way, of a nun who fancied herself a shell-fish, and of a monk damned for eating a mussel, and was shewing him the grounds and justice of the procedure——

"—Did ever so grave a personage get into so vile a scrape?" quoth Death. Thou hast had a narrow escape, Tristram, said Eugenius, taking hold of my hand as I finished my story——

But there is no living, Eugenius, replied I, at this rate; for as this son of a whore has found out my lodgings——

—You call him rightly, said Eugenius,—for by sin, we are told, he entered the world——I care not which way he entered, quoth I, provided he be not in such a hurry to take me out with him—for I have forty volumes to write, and forty thousand things to say and do, which no body in the world will say and do for me, except thyself; and as thou seest he has got me by the throat (for Eugenius could scarce hear me speak across the table) and that I am no match for him in the open field, had I not better, whilst these few scattered spirits remain, and these two spider legs of mine (holding one of them up to him) are able to support me—had I not better, Eugenius, fly for my life? 'Tis my advice, my dear Tristram, said Eugenius——Then by heaven! I will lead him a dance he little thinks of—for I will gallop, quoth I, without looking once behind me, to the banks of the Garonne; and if I hear him clattering at my heels——I'll scamper away to Mount Vesuvius——from thence to Joppa, and from Joppa to the world's end, where, if he follows me, I pray God he may break his neck——

—He runs more risk there, said Eugenius, than thou.

Eugenius's wit and affection brought blood into the cheek from whence it had been some months banished—'twas a vile moment to bid adieu in; he led me to my chaise——Allons! said I; the postboy gave a crack with his whip——off I went like a cannon, and in half a dozen bounds got into Dover.


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