Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
The Death of Bobby
By Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)
 
From Tristram Shandy

NOW let us go back to my brother’s death.
  1
  Philosophy has a fine saying for everything. For death it has an entire set; the misery was, they all at once rushed into my father’s head, that ’twas difficult to string them together, so as to make anything of a consistent show out of them. He took them as they came.  2
  “It is an inevitable chance—the first statute in Magnâ Chartâ—it is an everlasting act of parliament, my dear brother, all must die.  3
  “If my son could not have died it had been matter of wonder—not that he is dead.  4
  “Monarchs and princes dance in the same ring with us.  5
  “To die, is the great debt and tribute due unto nature: tombs and monuments, which should perpetuate our memories, pay it themselves; and the proudest pyramid of them all, which wealth and science have erected, has lost its apex, and stands obtruncated in the traveller’s horizon.”  6
  (My father found he got great ease, and went on)—“Kingdoms and provinces, towns and cities, have they not their periods? And when those principles and powers, which at first cemented and put them together, have performed their several evolutions, they fall back.” “Brother Shandy,” said my uncle Toby, laying down his pipe at the word evolutions. “Revolutions, I meant,” quoth my father; by Heaven! I meant revolutions, brother Toby; evolutions is nonsense.” “It is not nonsense,” said my uncle Toby. “But is it not nonsense to break the thread of such a discourse, upon such an occasion?” cried my father, “do not—dear Toby,” continued he, taking him by the hand “do not—do not, I beseech thee, interrupt me at this crisis.” My uncle Toby put his pipe into his mouth.  7
  “Where is Troy and Mycenæ, and Thebes and Delos, and Persepolis, and Agrigentum?” continued my father, taking up his book of post-roads, which he had laid down. “What is become, brother Toby, of Nineveh and Babylon, of Cyzicum and Mitylenæ? The fairest towns that ever the sun rose upon are now no more; the names only are left, and those (for many of them are wrong spelt) are falling themselves by piecemeals to decay, and in length of time will be forgotten, and involved with everything in a perpetual night; the world itself, brother Toby, must—must come to an end.  8
  “Returning out of Asia, when I sailed from Ægina towards Megara,” [“When can this have been?” thought my uncle Toby] “I began to view the country round about. Ægina. was behind me, Megara was before, Piræus on the right hand, Corinth on the left.—What flourishing towns now prostrate upon the earth! ‘Alas! alas!’ said I to myself, ‘that man should disturb his soul for the loss of a child, when so much as this lies awfully buried in his presence!’ ‘Remember,’ said I to myself again, ‘Remember thou art a man.’”  9
  Now, my uncle Toby knew not that this last paragraph was an extract of Servius Sulpicius’s consolatory letter to Tully. He had as little skill, honest man, in the fragments, as he had in the whole pieces of antiquity. And as my father, whilst he was concerned in the Turkey trade, had been three or four different times in the Levant, in one of which he had staid a whole year and a half at Zante, my uncle Toby naturally concluded that, in some one of these periods, he had taken a trip across the Archipelago into Asia; and that all this sailing affair, with Ægina behind, and Megara before, and Piræus on the right hand, etc., etc., was nothing more than the true course of my father’s voyage and reflections.  10
  ’Twas certainly in his manner, and many an undertaking critic would have built two stories higher upon worse foundations. “And pray, brother,” quoth my uncle Toby, laying the end of his pipe upon my father’s hand in a kindly way of interruption, but waiting till he had finished the account,—“what year of our Lord was this?” “It was no year of our Lord,” replied my father. “That’s impossible!” cried my uncle Toby. “Simpleton!” said my father—“it was forty years before Christ was born.”  11
  My uncle Toby had but two things for it; either to suppose his brother to be the Wandering Jew, or that his misfortunes had disordered his brain.—“May the Lord God of Heaven and earth protect him and restore him!” said my uncle Toby, praying silently for my father, and with tears in his eyes.  12
  My father placed the tears to a proper account, and went on with his harangue with great spirit.  13
  “There is not such great odds, brother Toby, betwixt good and evil, as the world imagines.” (This way of setting off, by the bye, was not likely to cure my uncle Toby’s suspicions.) “Labour, sorrow, grief, sickness, want, and woe, are the sauces of life.” “Much good may it do them!” said my uncle Toby to himself.  14
  “My son is dead!—so much the better;—’tis a shame, in such a tempest to have but one anchor.  15
  “But he is gone for ever from us!—Be it so. He is got from under the hands of his barber before he was bald; but he is risen from a feast before he was surfeited; from a banquet before he had got drunken.  16
  “The Thracians wept when a child was born” (“And we were very near it,” quoth my uncle Toby), “and feasted and made merry when a man went out of the world; and with reason. Death opens the gate of Fame and shuts the gate of Envy after it: it unlooses the chain of the captive, and puts the bondsman’s task into another man’s hands.  17
  “Show me the man, who knows what life is, who dreads it, and I’ll show thee a prisoner who dreads his liberty.  18
  “Is it not better my dear brother Toby (for mark, our appetites are but diseases), is it not better not to hunger at all, than to eat? not to thirst, than to take physic to cure it?  19
  “Is it not better to be freed from cares and agues, from love and melancholy, and the other hot and cold fits of life, than, like a galled traveller, who comes weary to his inn, to be bound to begin his journey afresh?  20
  “There is no terror, brother Toby, in its looks, but what it borrows from groans and convulsions, and the blowing of noses and the wiping away of tears with the bottoms of curtains, in a dying man’s room. Strip it of these, What is it?” “It is better in battle than in bed,” said my uncle Toby. “Take away its hearses, its mutes, and its mourning, its plumes, scutcheons, and other mechanic aids, What is it? Better in battle!” continued my father, smiling, for he had absolutely forgot my brother Bobby; “’tis terrible no way, for consider, brother Toby, when we are, death is not; and when death is, we are not.” My uncle Toby laid down his pipe to consider the proposition: my father’s eloquence was too rapid to stay for any man; away it went, and hurried my uncle Toby’s ideas along with it.  21
 
 
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