Monthly Archives: August 2009

Tristram vs. the critics

If you find the style irritating, Matt Cozart, commenter, who’s apparently reading this simultaneously, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d overtaken me by now, suggests pacing and reading it out loud. This has been exceedingly helpful. I’m now mumbling to myself on various forms of public transportation. If you’re not in public, I find it’s best to have a beer and sort of declaim it to yourself (no pacing for me, as multitasking’s difficult). It gets funnier.

Here he bitches about connoisseurs:

…the whole set of ’em are so hung round and befetished with the bobs and trinkets of criticism,–or to drop my metaphor, which by the bye is a pity,–for I have fetched it as far as from the coast of Guiney;–their heads, Sir, are stuck so full of rules and compasses, and have that eternal propensity to apply them upon all occasions, that a work of genius had better go to the devil at once, than stand to be pricked and tortured to death by ’em.

[Several examples of people saying things that are dumb, and then:]

I would go fifty miles on foot, for I have not a horse worth riding on, to kiss the hand of that man whose generous heart will give up the reins of his imagination into his author’s hands–be pleased he knows not why, and cares not wherefore.

Great Apollo! if thou art in a giving humour–give me–I ask no more, but one stroke of native humour, with a single spark of thy own fire along with it–and send Mercury, with the rules and compasses, if he can be spared, with my compliments to–no matter.

Although his is a benevolent distaste, or else only directed at amateurs:

—-You Messrs. the Monthy reviewers!–how could you cut and slash my jerkin as you did?–how did you know but you would cut my lining too?

Heartily and from my soul, to the protection of that Being who will injure none of us, do I recommend you and your affairs,–so God bless you;–only next month, if any one of you should gnash his teeth, and storm and rage at me, as some of you did last May (in which I remember the weather was very hot)–don’t be exasperated, if I pass it by again with good temper,–being determined as long as I live or write (which in my case means the same thing) never to give the honest gentleman a worse word or a worse wish than my uncle Toby gave the fly which buzzed about his nose all dinner-time,—-“Go,–go, poor devil,” quoth he,–“get thee gone,–why should I hurt thee? This world is surely wide enough to hold both thee and me.”

But, is he suggesting he could crush them like a bug? Anyway, later, and you’ll have to take my word for it, since it’s embedded in a longish chapter in a way that makes any independent segment incomprehensible, he says that anyone who accuses him of being witty to the detriment of good judgment is Just Jealous. I’m sure this is not the last I’ll read of it, either.

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Tristram has literary priggishness.

—-How could you, Madam, be so inattentive in reading the last chapter? I told you in it, That my mother was not a papist.—-Papist! You told me no such thing, Sir.–Madam, I beg leave to repeat it over again, that I told you as plain, at least, as words, by direct inference, could tell you such a thing.–Then, Sir, I must have missed a page.–No, Madam,–you have not missed a word.—-Then I was asleep, Sir.–My pride, Madam, cannot allow you that refuge.—-Then, I declare, I know nothing at all about the matter.–That, Madam, is the very fault I lay to your charge; and as a punishment for it, I do insist upon it, that you immediately turn back, that is, as soon as you get to the next full stop, and read the whole chapter over again. I have imposed this penance upon the lady, neither out of wantonness nor cruelty; but from the best of motives; and therefore shall make her no apology for it when she returns back:–‘Tis to rebuke a vicious taste, which has crept into thousands besides herself,–of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them—-The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along; the habitude of which made Pliny the younger affirm, “That he never read a book so bad, but he drew some profit from it.” The stories of Greece and Rome, run over without this turn and application,–do less service, I affirm it, than the history of Parismus and Parismenus, or of the Seven Champions of England, read with it.

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