The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
Uncle Tobys Courtship
By Laurence Sterne (17131768)
From Tristram Shandy
I AM half-distracted, Captain Shandy, said Mrs. Wadman, holding up her cambric handkerchief to her left eye, as she approached the door of my uncle Tobys sentry-box; a mote, or sand, or something, I know not what, has got into this eye of mine. Do look into it; it is not in the white.
In saying which, Mrs. Wadman edged herself close in beside my uncle Toby, and, squeezing herself down upon the corner of his bench, she gave him an opportunity of doing it without rising up. Do look into it, said she.
My uncle Toby never did; and I will answer for him that he would have sat quietly upon a sofa from June to January (which you know takes in both the hot and cold months) with an eye as fine as the Thracian Rhodopes beside him, without being able to tell whether it was a black or a blue one.
I see him yonder, with his pipe pendulous in his hand, and the ashes falling out of it, looking, and looking, then rubbing his eyes and looking again, with twice the good nature that ever Galileo looked for a spot in the sun.
In vain! For, by all the powers which animate the organ, Widow Wadmans left eye shines this moment as lucid as her right; there is neither mote, nor sand, nor dust, nor chaff, nor speck, nor particle of opaque matter floating in it. There is nothing, my dear paternal uncle, but one lambent, delicious fire, furtively shooting out from every part of it in all directions into thine.
An eye is, for all the world, exactly like a cannon in this respect, that it is not so much the eye or the cannon in themselves, as it is the carriage of the eye and the carriage of the cannon; by which both the one and the other are enabled to do so much execution. I dont think the comparison a bad one; however, as tis made, and placed at the head of the chapter, as much for use as ornament, all I desire in return is, that whenever I speak of Mrs. Wadmans eyes (except once in the next period), that you keep it in your fancy.
Now, of all the eyes which ever were created, from your own, madam, up to those of Venus herself, which certainly were as venereal a pair of eyes as ever stood in a head, there never was an eye of them all so fitted to rob my uncle Toby of his repose as the very eye at which he was looking. It was not, madam, a rolling eye, a romping, or a wanton one; nor was it an eye sparkling, petulant, or imperious, of high claims and terrifying exactions, which would have curdled at once that milk of human nature of which my uncle Toby was made up; but twas an eye full of gentle salutations and soft responses, speaking, not like the trumpet-stop of some ill-made organ, in which many an eye I talk to holds coarse converse, but whispering soft, like the last low accents of an expiring saint: How can you live comfortless, Captain Shandy, and alone, without a bosom to lean your head on or trust your cares to?
The world is ashamed of being virtuous. My uncle Toby knew little of the world; and therefore, when he felt he was in love with Widow Wadman, he had no conception that the thing was any more to be made a mystery of than if Mrs. Wadman had given him a cut with a gaped knife across his finger. Had it been otherwise Yet, as he looked upon Trim as an humble friend, and saw fresh reasons every day of his life to treat him as such, it would have made no variation in the manner in which he informed him of the affair.
Then I would begin, an it please your Honour, with making a good thundering attack upon her in return, and telling her civilly afterward; for if she knows anything of your Honours being in love beforehand, Lord help her!
Mrs. Wadman had told it, with all its circumstances, to Mrs. Bridget, twenty-four hours before, and was at that very moment sitting in council with her touching some slight misgivings with regard to the issue of the affair, which the devil, who never lies dead in a ditch, had put into her head before he would allow her half time to get quietly through her Te Deum.
Well know the long and broad of it in ten days, answered Mrs. Bridget; for whilst the captain is paying his addresses to you, Im confident Mr. Trim will be for making love to me; and Ill let him, as much as he will, added Bridget, to get it all out of him.
Now, quoth the corporal, setting his left hand akimbo, and giving such a flourish with his right as just promised success, and no more, if your Honour will give me leave to lay down the plan of this attack.
Then, an please your Honour, said the corporal, making a bow first for his commission, we will begin by getting your Honours laced clothes out of the great campaign-trunk, to be well aired, and have the blue and gold taken up at the sleeves; and Ill put your white ramillie-wig fresh into pipes; and send for a tailor to have your Honours thin scarlet breeches turned.
Your Honours two razors shall be new set, and I will get my Montero cap furbished up, and put on poor Lieutenant Le Fèvres regimental coat, which your Honour gave me to wear for his sake; and as soon as your Honour is clean shaved, and has got your clean shirt on, with your blue and gold or your fine scarlet, sometimes one and sometimes tother, and everything is ready for the attack, well march up boldly, as if twas to the face of a bastion; and whilst your Honour engages Mrs. Wadman in the parlour to the right, Ill attack Mrs. Bridget in the kitchen to the left; and having seized that pass, Ill answer for it, said the corporal, snapping his fingers over his head, that the day is your own.