Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Tristram and the Ass
By Laurence Sterne (17131768)
From Tristram Shandy
TWAS by a poor ass, who had just turned in with a couple of large panniers upon his back, to collect eleemosynary turnip-tops and cabbage leaves; and stood dubious, with his two fore feet on the inside of the threshold, and with his two hinder feet towards the street, as not knowing very well whether he was to go in or not.
Now, it is an animal (be in what hurry I may) I cannot bear to strike; there is a patient endurance of sufferings wrote so unaffectedly in his looks and carriage, which pleads so mightily for him, that it always disarms me; and to that degree, that I do not like to speak unkindly to him: on the contrary, meet him where I will, whether in town or country, in cart or under panniers,whether in liberty or bondage, I have ever something civil to say to him on my part; and, as one word begets another (if he has as little to do as I) I generally fall into conversation with him; and surely never is my imagination so busy as in framing his responses from the etchings of his countenance,and where those carry me not deep enough,in flying from my own heart into his, and seeing what is natural for an ass to think,as well as a man upon the occasion. In truth, it is the only creature of all the classes of beings below me, with whom I can do this; for parrots, jackdaws, etc., I never exchange a word with them,nor with apes, etc., for pretty near the same reason; they act by rote, as the others speak by it, and equally make me silent: nay, my dog and my cat, though I value them both (and, for my dog, he would speak if he could) yet somehow or other, they neither of them possess the talents for conversation; I can make nothing of a discourse with them beyond the proposition, the reply, and rejoinder, which terminated my fathers and my mothers conversations in his beds of justice;and those uttered, theres an end of the dialogue.
I understand thee perfectly, answered I; if thou takest a wrong step in this affair, he will cudgel thee to death. Well! a minute is but a minute, and if it saves a fellow-creature a drubbing, it shall not be set down as ill-spent.
He was eating the stem of an artichoke as this discourse went on, and in the little peevish contentions of nature betwixt hunger and unsavouriness, had dropped it out of his mouth half a dozen times, and picked it up again. God help thee, Jack! said I, thou hast a bitter breakfast ont, and many a bitter days labour, and many a bitter blow, I fear for its wages! tis allall bitterness to thee, whatever life is to others! And now thy mouth, if one knew the truth of it, is as bitter I dare say as soot(for he had cast aside the stem), and thou hast not a friend perhaps in all this world, that will give thee a macaroon. In saying this, I pulled out a paper of them, which I had just purchased, and gave him one, and at this moment that I am telling it, my heart smites me, that there was more of pleasantry in the conceit of seeing how an ass would eat a macaroon, than of benevolence in giving him one, which presided in the act.
When the ass had eaten his macaroon, I pressed him to come in; the poor beast was heavily loaded, his legs seemed to tremble under him, he hung rather backwards; and as I pulled at his halter it broke short in my hand. He looked up pensive in my faceDont thrash me with it; but, if you will you may. If I do, said I, Ill be dd.
The word was but one half of it pronounced, like the Abbess of Andonilletsso there was no sin in itwhen a person coming in, let fall a thundering bastinado upon the poor devils crupper, which put an end to the ceremony.