Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
My Uncle Tobys Siege Operations
By Laurence Sterne (17131768)
From Tristram Shandy
WHEN Corporal Trim had brought his two mortars to bear, he was delighted with his handy-work above measure; knowing what a pleasure it would be to his master to see them, he was not able to resist the desire he had of carrying them directly into his parlour.
Or, for example, as cleverly as our government has been turning upon its hinges,(that is, in case things have all along gone well with your worship,otherwise I give up my simile)in this case, I say, there had been no danger, either to master or man, in Corporal Trims peeping in: the moment he had beheld my father and my uncle Toby fast asleep,the respectfulness of his carriage was such, he would have retired as silent as death, and left them both in their arm-chairs, dreaming as happy as he had found them: but the thing was, morally speaking, so very impracticible, that for the many years in which this hinge was suffered to be out of order, and amongst the hourly grievances my father submitted to on its account,this was one; that he never folded his arms to take his nap after dinner, but the thoughts of being unavoidably awakened by the first person who should open the door, was almost uppermost in his imagination, and so incessantly stepped in betwixt him and the first balmy presage of his repose, as to rob him, as he often declared, of the whole sweets of it.
Pray whats the matter? Who is there? cried my father, waking, the moment the door began to creak, I wish the smith would give a peep at that confounded hinge. It is nothing, an please your honour, said Trim, but two mortars I am bringing in. They shant make a clatter with them here, cried my father, hastily. If Doctor Slop has any drugs to pound, let him do it in the kitchen. May it please your honour, cried Trim, they are two mortar-pieces for a siege next summer, which I have been making out of a pair of jack-boots, which Obadiah told me your honour had left off wearing. By heaven! cried my father, springing out of his chair, as he swore, I have not one appointment belonging to me, which I set so much store by, as I do by these jack-boots: they were our great-grandfathers, brother Toby: they were hereditary. Then I fear, quoth my uncle Toby, Trim has cut off the entail. I have only cut off the tops, an please your honour, cried Trim, I hate perpetuities as much as any man alive, cried my father, but these jack-boots, continued he (smiling, though very angry at the same time) have been in the family, brother, ever since the civil wars: Sir Roger Shandy wore them at the battle of Marston-Moor. I declare I would not have taken ten pounds for them. Ill pay you the money, brother Shandy, quoth my uncle Toby, looking at the two mortars with infinite pleasure, and putting his hand into his breeches pocket as he viewed them, Ill pay you the ten pounds this moment, with all my heart and soul.
Brother Toby, replied my father, altering his tone, you care not what money you dissipate and throw away provided, continued he, it is but upon a siege. Have I not a hundred and twenty pounds a year, besides my half-pay? cried my uncle Toby. What is that, replied my father hastily, to ten pounds for a pair of jack-boots? twelve guineas for your pontoons? half as much for your Dutch drawbridge? to say nothing of the train of little brass artillery you bespoke last week, with twenty other preparations for the siege of Messina. Believe me, dear brother Toby, continued my father, taking him kindly by the hand, these military operations of yours are above your strength: you mean well, brother, but they carry you into greater expenses than you were first aware of; and take my word, dear Toby, they will in the end, quite ruin your fortune, and make a beggar of you. What signifies it if they do, brother, replied my uncle Toby, so long as we know it is for the good of the nation?
My father could not help smiling, for his soulhis anger, at the worst, was never more than a sparkand the zeal and simplicity of Trim, and the generous (though hobby-horsical) gallantry of my uncle Toby, brought him into perfect good humour with them in an instant.