Tristram Shandy By Laurence Sterne Summary and Analysis Book 6: Chapters 14-19

Summary

Dr. Slop, "like a son of a w — , as my father called him," spreads a rumor that the accident with the window had disastrous results, "that poor Master Shandy * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * entirely"; and even worse than that, "that the nursery window had not only * * * * * . . .; — but that * * * * * . . . also." Walter is furious, and Toby recommends putting the child on display "at the market cross."

Walter decides to dress the child in breeches (tight pants), but he reached this decision only after prolonged discussion with Mrs. Shandy in what he calls his "beds of justice."

The "beds of justice" were Walter's equivalent of a "wise custom" of the "ancient Goths of Germany," that "of debating every thing of importance to their state, twice . . . once drunk, and once sober." Walter, who was "entirely a water-drinker," finally found a way to approximate that "wise custom": "he fixed and set apart the first Sunday night in the month, and the Saturday night which immediately preceded it, to argue it over, in bed with my mother." (The reader will remember that the novel begins on the first Sunday night of a month — March 1718.)

Tristram takes us to the scene of the discussion:

We should begin, said my father, turning himself half round in bed, and shifting his pillow a little towards my mother's, as he opened the debate — We should begin to think, Mrs. Shandy, of putting this boy into breeches. —

We should so, — said my mother. — We defer it, my dear, quoth my father, shamefully. —

I think we do, Mr. Shandy, — said my mother.

The "discussion" goes on, Mr. Shandy trying to get Mrs. Shandy to do more than simply agree; she never does more, however. Walter gives up; "this was on the Sunday night," Tristram says waggishly.

Walter searches the texts of the Authorities for advice about breeches, but although the wardrobe of the ancients is described in fine detail, he can find no word about breeches. By devious and arbitrary reasoning — "My father lost the horse, but not the saddle" — he manages to conclude that Tristram's breeches should be made "with hooks and eyes."

Analysis

Using asterisks rather more broadly, the author manages to convey approximately what people are saying about Tristram's accident; there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the window did a thorough job. It is all an exaggeration, however. Toby, as usual, recommends the direct route: show the child (naked, we assume) in public. Walter, devious as ever, decides that breeches will serve to outline little Tristram's manly build.

Always trying to model his life and actions along the lines laid out by the ancients, Walter uses his quaint domestic arrangements to help him arrive at a considered judgment. The bedroom scene is as funny for the picture it gives us of Mrs. Shandy's "reasoning" as it is for itself: Mrs. Shandy cannot argue, discuss, or question. There is no way that Walter can provoke her into his kind of intellectual activity or, for that matter, into any kind of intellectual activity. She is content.

Even for a decision about what kind of breeches to get for the child, Walter must consult scholarly books. Although he doesn't find anything on breeches, he comes up with information (mistaken) about how to fasten them.

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