The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

VOLUME II

CHAP . XVII.

--But before the Corporal begins, I must first give you a description of his attitude;--otherwise he will naturally stand represented, by your imagination, in an uneasy posture,--stiff,--perpendicular,--dividing the weight of his body equally upon both legs;--his eye fixed, as if on duty;-- his look determined,--clenching the sermon in his left hand, like his firelock.--In a word, you would be apt to paint Trim, as if he was standing in his platoon ready for action,--His attitude was as unlike all this as you can conceive.

He stood before them with his body swayed, and bent forwards just so far, as to make an angle of 85 degrees and a half upon the plain of the horizon;--which sound orators, to whom I address this, know very well to be the true persuasive angle of incidence;--in any other angle you may talk and preach;--'tis certain;--and it is done every day;--but with what effect,--I leave the world to judge!

The necessity of this precise angle of 85 degrees and a half to a mathematical exactness,--does it not shew us, by the way, how the arts and sciences mutually befriend each other?

How the duce Corporal Trim, who knew not so much as an acute angle from an obtuse one, came to hit it so exactly;--or whether it was chance or nature, or good sense or imitation, &c. shall be commented upon in that part of the cyclopaedia of arts and sciences, where the instrumental parts of the eloquence of the senate, the pulpit, and the bar, the coffee-house, the bed-chamber, and fire-side, fall under consideration.

He stood,--for I repeat it, to take the picture of him in at one view, with his body swayed, and somewhat bent forwards,--his right leg from under him, sustaining seven-eighths of his whole weight,--the foot of his left leg, the defect of which was no disadvantage to his attitude, advanced a little,--not laterally, nor forwards, but in a line betwixt them;--his knee bent, but that not violently,--but so as to fall within the limits of the line of beauty;--and I add, of the line of science too;--for consider, it had one eighth part of his body to bear up;--so that in this case the position of the leg is determined,--because the foot could be no farther advanced, or the knee more bent, than what would allow him, mechanically to receive an eighth part of his whole weight under it, and to carry it too.

This I recommend to painters;--need I add,--to orators!--I think not; for unless they practise it,--they must fall upon their noses.

So much for Corporal Trim's body and legs.--He held the sermon loosely, not carelessly, in his left hand, raised something above his stomach, and detached a little from his breast;--his right arm falling negligently by his side, as nature and the laws of gravity ordered it,--but with the palm of it open and turned towards his audience, ready to aid the sentiment in case it stood in need.

Corporal Trim's eyes and the muscles of his face were in full harmony with the other parts of him;--he looked frank,--unconstrained,--something assured,--but not bordering upon assurance.

Let not the critic ask how Corporal Trim could come by all this.--I've told him it should be explained;--but so he stood before my father, my uncle Toby, and Dr. Slop,--so swayed his body, so contrasted his limbs, and with such an oratorical sweep throughout the whole figure,--a statuary might have modelled from it;--nay, I doubt whether the oldest Fellow of a College,--or the Hebrew Professor himself, could have much mended it.

Trim made a bow, and read as follows:

The Sermon.
Hebrews xiii. 18.

--For we trust we have a good Conscience.

'Trust!--Trust we have a good conscience!'

(Certainly, Trim, quoth my father, interrupting him, you give that sentence a very improper accent; for you curl up your nose, man, and read it with such a sneering tone, as if the Parson was going to abuse the Apostle.

He is, an' please your Honour, replied Trim. Pugh! said my father, smiling.

Sir, quoth Dr. Slop, Trim is certainly in the right; for the writer (who I perceive is a Protestant) by the snappish manner in which he takes up the apostle, is certainly going to abuse him;--if this treatment of him has not done it already. But from whence, replied my father, have you concluded so soon, Dr. Slop, that the writer is of our church?--for aught I can see yet,--he may be of any church.--Because, answered Dr. Slop, if he was of ours,--he durst no more take such a licence,--than a bear by his beard:-- If, in our communion, Sir, a man was to insult an apostle,--a saint,--or even the paring of a saint's nail,--he would have his eyes scratched out.-- What, by the saint? quoth my uncle Toby. No, replied Dr. Slop, he would have an old house over his head. Pray is the Inquisition an ancient building, answered my uncle Toby, or is it a modern one?--I know nothing of architecture, replied Dr. Slop.--An' please your Honours, quoth Trim, the Inquisition is the vilest--Prithee spare thy description, Trim, I hate the very name of it, said my father.--No matter for that, answered Dr. Slop,-- it has its uses; for tho' I'm no great advocate for it, yet, in such a case as this, he would soon be taught better manners; and I can tell him, if he went on at that rate, would be flung into the Inquisition for his pains. God help him then, quoth my uncle Toby. Amen, added Trim; for Heaven above knows, I have a poor brother who has been fourteen years a captive in it.-- I never heard one word of it before, said my uncle Toby, hastily:--How came he there, Trim?--O, Sir, the story will make your heart bleed,--as it has made mine a thousand times;--but it is too long to be told now;--your Honour shall hear it from first to last some day when I am working beside you in our fortifications;--but the short of the story is this;--That my brother Tom went over a servant to Lisbon,--and then married a Jew's widow, who kept a small shop, and sold sausages, which somehow or other, was the cause of his being taken in the middle of the night out of his bed, where he was lying with his wife and two small children, and carried directly to the Inquisition, where, God help him, continued Trim, fetching a sigh from the bottom of his heart,--the poor honest lad lies confined at this hour; he was as honest a soul, added Trim, (pulling out his handkerchief) as ever blood warmed.--

--The tears trickled down Trim's cheeks faster than he could well wipe them away.--A dead silence in the room ensued for some minutes.--Certain proof of pity!

Come Trim, quoth my father, after he saw the poor fellow's grief had got a little vent,--read on,--and put this melancholy story out of thy head:--I grieve that I interrupted thee; but prithee begin the sermon again;--for if the first sentence in it is matter of abuse, as thou sayest, I have a great desire to know what kind of provocation the apostle has given.

Corporal Trim wiped his face, and returned his handkerchief into his pocket, and, making a bow as he did it,--he began again.)

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Laurence Sterne

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