« PreviousContinue »
It was an eye
But I shall be in love with it myself, if I say another word about it.
It did my uncle Toby's business.
THE STORY OF YORICK.
From Tristram Shandy.'
Yorick was this parson's name, and, what is very remarkable in it (as appears from a most ancient account of the family, wrote upon strong vellum, and now in perfect preservation), it had been exactly so spelt for near-I was within an ace of saying nine hundred years;-but I would not shake my credit in telling an improbable truth-how ever indisputable in itself;-and, therefore, I shall content myself with only saying-It had been exactly so spelt, without the least variation or transposition of a single letter, for I do not know how long; which is more than I would venture to say of one half of the best surnames in the kingdom; which, in a course of years, have generally undergone as many chops and changes as their owners.— Has this been owing to the pride, or to the shame, of the respective proprietors?-In honest truth, I think sometimes to the one and sometimes to the other, just as the temptation has wrought. But a villainous affair it is, and will one day so blend and confound us altogether that no one shall be able to stand up and swear" That his own great-grandfather was the man who did either this or
This evil has been sufficiently fenced against by the prudent care of the Yorick family, and their religious preservation of these records I quote; which do farther inform us that the family was originally of Danish extraction, and had been transplanted into England as early as in the reign of Horwendilus, king of Denmark, in whose court, it seems, an ancestor of this Mr. Yorick, and from whom he was lineally descended, held a considerable post to the day of his death. Of what nature this considerable post was this record saith not-it only adds that, for near two
centuries, it had been totally abolished as altogether unnecessary, not only in that court, but in every other court of the Christian world.
It has often come into my head that this post could be no other than that of the king's chief jester; and that Hamlet's Yorick, in our Shakespeare, many of whose plays, you know, are founded upon authenticated facts, was certainly the very man.
I have not the time to look into Saxo-Grammaticus's Danish history to know the certainty of this;-but, if you have leisure, and can easily get at the book, you may do it full as well yourself.
I had just time, in my travels through Denmark with Mr. Noddy's eldest son, whom, in the year 1741, I accompanied as governor, riding along with him at a prodigious rate through most parts of Europe, and of which original journey, performed by us two, a most delectable narrative will be given in the progress of this work; I had just time, I say, and that was all, to prove the truth of an observation made by a long sojourner in that country—namely, "That nature was neither very lavish, nor was she very stingy, in her gifts of genius, and capacity to its inhabitants; but, like a discreet parent, was moderately kind to them all; observing such an equal tenor in the distribution of her favors as to bring them, in those points, pretty near to a level with each other; so that you will meet with few instances in that kingdom of refined parts, but a great deal of good plain household understanding, amongst all ranks of people, of which everybody has a share;”—which is, I think, very right.
With us, you see, the case is quite different:—we are all ups and downs in this matter;-you are a great genius;— or, 't is fifty to one, sir, you are a great dunce and a blockhead; not that there is a total want of intermediate steps;-no,-we are not so irregular as that comes to;-but the two extremes are more common, and in a greater degree, in this unsettled island, where Nature, in her gifts and dispositions of this kind, is most whimsi cal and capricious; Fortune herself not being more so in the bequest of her goods and chattels than she.
This is all that ever staggered my faith in regard to Yorick's extraction, who, by what I can remember of him,
and by all the accounts I could ever get of him, seemed not to have had one single drop of Danish blood in his whole crasis-in nine hundred years it might possibly have all run out:-I will not philosophize one moment with you about it; for, happen how it would, the fact was this,that, instead of that cold phlegm and exact regularity of sense and humors you would have looked for in one so extracted—he was, on the contrary, as mercurial and sublimated a composition-as heteroclite a creature in all his declensions-with as much life and whim, and gaité de cœur about him, as the kindliest climate could have engendered and put together. With all this sail poor Yorick carried not one ounce of ballast; he was utterly unprac ticed in the world; and, at the age of twenty-six, knew just about as well how to steer his course in it as a romping, unsuspicious girl of thirteen: so that upon his first setting out, the brisk gale of his spirits, as you will imagine, ran him foul ten times in a day of somebody's tackling; and as the grave and more slow-paced were oftenest in his way, you may likewise imagine it was with such he had generally the ill-luck to get the most entangled. For aught I know, there might be some mixture of unlucky wit at the bottom of such fracas:-for, to speak the truth, Yorick had an invincible dislike and opposition in his nature to gravity;-not to gravity as such :-for, where gravity was wanted, he would be the most grave or serious of mortal men for days and weeks together; but he was an enemy to the affectation of it, and declared open war against it only as it appeared a cloak for ignorance or for folly: and then, whenever it fell in his way, however sheltered and protected, he seldom gave it much quarter.
Sometimes, in his wild way of talking, he would say that gravity was an arrant scoundrel, and he would addof the most dangerous kind too,-because a sly one; and that, he verily believed, more honest, well-meaning people were bubbled out of their goods and money by it in one twelvemonth than by pocket-picking and shop-lifting in seven. In the naked temper which a merry heart discovered, he would say there was no danger-but to itself:whereas the very essence of gravity was design, and consequently deceit :—it was a taught trick to gain credit of the world for more sense and knowledge than a man was
worth; and that, with all its pretensions, it was no better. but often worse, than what a French wit had long ago de fined it, viz. A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind;—which definition of gravity Yorick, with great imprudence, would say deserved to be written in letters of gold.
But, in plain truth, he was a man unhackneyed and unpracticed in the world, and was altogether as indiscreet and foolish on every other subject of discourse where pol icy is wont to impress restraint. Yorick had no impres sion but one, and that was what arose from the nature of the deed spoken of; which impression he would usually translate into plain English, without any periphrasis; and too oft without much distinction of either person, time, or place; so that when mention was made of a pitiful or an ungenerous proceeding-he never gave himself a moment's time to reflect who was the hero of the piece, what his station, or how far he had power to hurt him hereafter; but if it was a dirty action,-without more ado, The man was a dirty fellow, and so on. And as his comments had usually the ill fate to be terminated either in a bon mot, or to be enlivened throughout with some drollery or humor of expression, it gave wings to Yorick's indiscretion. In a word, though he never sought, yet, at the same time, as he seldom shunned, occasions of saying what came uppermost, and without much ceremony-he had but too many temptations in life of scattering his wit and his humor, his gibes and his jests, about him.-They were not lost for want of gathering.
What were the consequences, and what was Yorick's catastrophe, you will read in the next chapter.
The mortgager and mortgagee differ, the one from the other, not more in length of purse than the jester and jestee do in that of memory. But in this the comparison between them runs, as the scholiasts call it, upon all-four; -which, by the by, is upon one or two legs more than some of the best of Homer's can pretend to;-namely, That the one raises a sum, and the other a laugh, at your expense, and thinks no more about it. Interest, however, still runs on in both cases;-the periodical or accidental payments of it just serving to keep the memory of the affair alive; till, at length, in some evil hour, pop comes the creditor
upon each, and by demanding principal upon the spot, together with full interest to the very day, makes them both feel the full extent of their obligations.
As the reader (for I hate your ifs) has a thorough knowledge of human nature, I need not say more to satisfy him that my hero could not go on at this rate without some slight experience of these incidental mementos. To speak the truth, he had wantonly involved himself in a multitude of small book-debts of this stamp, which, notwithstanding Eugenius's frequent advice, he too much disregarded; thinking that, as not one of them was contracted through any malignancy-but, on the contrary, from an honesty of mind, and a mere jocundity of humor, they would all of them be crossed out in course.
Eugenius would never admit this; and would often tell him that, one day or other, he would certainly be reckoned with; and he would often add-in an accent of sorrowful apprehension-to the uttermost mite. To which Yorick, with his usual carelessness of heart, would as often answer with a pshaw!-and if the subject was started in the fields,-with a hop, skip, and a jump at the end of it; but, if close pent-up in the social chimney-corner, where the culprit was barricadoed in, with a table and a couple of arm-chairs, and could not so readily fly off in a tangent, Eugenius would then go on with his lecture upon discretion in words to this purpose, though somewhat better put together:
"Trust me, dear Yorick, this unwary pleasantry of thine will sooner or later bring thee into scrapes and difficulties, which no after-wit can extricate thee out of.-In these sallies, too oft, I see it happens that a person laughed at considers himself in the light of a person injured, with all the rights of such a situation belonging to him; and when thou viewest him in that light too, and reckonest up his friends, his family, his kindred and allies-and dost muster up, with them, the many recruits which will list under him from a sense of common danger 't is no extravagant arithmetic to say that, for every ten jokes, thou hast got a hundred enemies; and till thou hast gone on, and raised a swarm of wasps about thine ears, and art half stung to death by them, thou wilt never be convinced it is so.