Tristram Shandy By Laurence Sterne Summary and Analysis Book 6: Chapters 20-32

Summary

Tristram announces a "new scene of events." He is going to leave everything: "the breeches in the taylor's hands," "my mother," "Slop [with] the full profits of all my dishonours," "Le Fever to recover, and get home from Marseilles" as best he can. He would even leave himself, "but 'tis impossible, — I must go along with you to the end of the work."

He takes us back to the beginnings of Toby and Trim's fortifications, showing us what they built and how they went about it. The soil was good, the plans were precise, and Toby and Trim enjoyed it all. They would stake out in exact proportion the town currently under siege; then Trim would dig the ditches and build parapets and towers to scale. As the battle progressed, they moved accordingly: Toby, "with the Gazette in his hand," Trim "with a spade on his shoulder to execute the contents." They destroyed according to the newspaper description, also in exact proportion: "What intense pleasure swimming in his eye as he stood over the corporal, reading the paragraph ten times over to him, as he was at work, lest, peradventure, he should make the breach an inch too wide, — or leave it an inch too narrow."

They continued "in this track of happiness for many years" since it was a long war. Instead of a new suit for Christmas one year, Toby "treated himself with a handsome sentry-box" ("in case of rain"). After that, they had "a little model of a town built for them," and this town served for all the towns successively under siege: "It was Landen, and Trerebach, and Santvliet, and Drusen, and Hagenau, — and then it was Ostend and Menin, and Aeth and Dendermond." The only thing missing was ammunition for the little "brass field pieces." It was just as well, says Tristram, "For so full were the papers . . . of the incessant firings kept up by the besiegers, — and so heated was my uncle Toby's imagination with the accounts of them, that he . . . [would have] infallibly shot away all his estate." Trim supplied a solution, and "this will not be explained the worse, for setting off, as I generally do, at a little distance from the subject."

Trim's unfortunate brother, Tom (his misfortunes are spoken of in Book 2, Chapter 17, and Book 4, Chapter 4), had sent him "a Montero-cap and two Turkish tobacco pipes," and Trim has a plan. Before describing Trim's plan, Tristram eulogizes him — "Tread lightly on his ashes, ye men of genius, — for he was your kinsman" — and wishes that he were alive to share the benefits of Tristram's prosperity. He also looks to the future when, in his book, he must tell about the death of Uncle Toby: "Gracious powers! . . . when I shall arrive at this dreaded page, deal not with me, then, with a stinted hand."

Trim hooks up the tubes of the long Turkish tobacco pipes to the base of the cannon, loads them with tobacco, and begins to "fire" them. He is puffing away furiously when Toby arrives for the day's battle. "'Twas well for my father," comments Tristram, "that my uncle Toby had not his will to make that day." Toby is enchanted: "My uncle Toby smiled, — then looked grave, — then smiled for a moment, — then looked serious for a long time; — Give me hold of the ivory pipe, Trim."

Tristram asks the reader's help in wheeling off the cannon and the rest of the fortifications behind the scene so that he can "exhibit my uncle Toby dressed in a new character." The reason that the "greatest heroes of ancient and modern story . . . never felt what the sting of love was" is simple: "they had all of them something else to do." Toby was among them until "Fate . . . basely patched up the peace of Utrecht."

The Treaty of Utrecht was a great blow to Toby, and Walter naturally thinks that Toby is merely disappointed about the "loss of his hobby-horse." He consoles him: "Never mind, brother Toby, . . . by God's blessing we shall have another war break out again some of these days." Toby defends himself from the implication that he is a warmonger, and although he was not usually an eloquent person, he waxes eloquent on this subject. Tristram found a speech of Toby's among his father's papers: Walter was "so highly pleased with one of these apologetical orations of my uncle Toby's, which he had delivered one evening before him and Yorick, that he wrote it down before he went to bed."

Toby is aware that when a man wishes for war, "it has an ill aspect to the world." But he asks Walter whether he really thinks that in condemning the peace of Utrecht, Toby wants "more of his fellow creatures slain, — more slaves made, and more families driven from their peaceful habitations, merely for his own pleasure." He hates the cruelty of war as much as anyone, but man is forced into it "by NECESSITY." English wars have been fought "upon principles of liberty, and upon principles of honour"; their wars have been "the getting together of quiet and harmless people, with their swords in their hands, to keep the ambitious and the turbulent within bounds." The pleasure that Toby and Trim get from their fortifications and war games comes from their consciousness that they "were answering the great ends of our creation."

Analysis

The new scene of events features Toby as chief actor — at least until the end of Book 6. The previous story and its consequences — Tristram's last accident — are dropped: Tristram is leaving everyone behind, including himself (that is, little Tristram and his misfortunes); as storyteller, however, he must obviously go along with us to the end of the work even though he has no part in these new events.

The genesis of Toby's fortifications is shown us in detail; earlier we were told only that they went and engaged in the activity. Now we see just how they conducted their sieges parallel with those reported in the newspapers, and we can understand just how satisfying their involvement was to them. All of their ingenuity comes forward as they solve one problem after another in constructing their models and equivalent situations. The solution that Trim comes up with to make the cannon smoke is an admirable one, and Toby's joy is a delight to us. Tristram's presentation of Trim's solution is the familiar one of backing away and then coming up to the point, including the necessary background as he returns: Trim had once received from his brother a present of souvenirs, the cap and the Turkish pipes.

The author in his dual role of deliberate craftsman and participant in the lives of the other characters once more emerges: he knows that he will have to (at least he says that he intends to) describe at some future time the death of Uncle Toby, in writing his complete Life and Opinions, and he hopes for the necessary competence; he tells how he and his father felt at the funeral of their beloved uncle and brother. This dear Uncle Toby character is so real that we also can mourn his death — even if it doesn't occur in the book (except at this "timeless" point).

Although Tristram hasn't managed to change the scene radically, he is trying to: first he focuses exclusively on Toby, and then he will somehow make him fall in love. His explanation of why Toby never fell in love is adequate: besides his modesty — a very important characteristic, as we will see near the end of the story — he has been wrapped up in his military maneuvers. Wearing his stage-director hat, Tristram reminds us of the dimensions within his story: we are to help him move around the scenery, wheel away the cannon and the sentry box. We aren't readers of a mere novel; we aren't even passive spectators at a play. We are participants in Tristram's theater, and if we don't help him, maybe the show couldn't go on.

Having established his presence by now, Tristram doesn't really need to give explanations about the source of his information, how he learned, for example, about Toby's "apologetical oration." Toby made his speech five years before Tristram's birth, after all. Nevertheless, the author keeps us happy by avoiding the anachronism: Walter had written it down, and Tristram found it. One can't object to this as a farfetched "gimmick" because the author is wise enough to include Walter's marginal comments and even to raise his eyebrows at the comments.

Toby's oration is both convincing and unconvincing. As a rationalization about the necessity for war, it would probably pass muster; nobody could, after all, imagine that Toby would delight in war for the sake of glory, thrills, and excitement. And yet, after Toby had made it plain that war is sometimes a bitter but necessary duty, there is overwhelming bathos in the juxtaposition of "that infinite delight . . . [from] my sieges in my bowling green" and "the consciousness . . . that in carrying them [the sieges] on, we were answering the great ends of our creation." Although Toby is innocent, Tristram must surely see the ridiculousness of his statement; his love for his uncle, however, keeps him from commenting, we may assume. At any rate, Walter doesn't seem to be convinced by Toby's "oration," and he doesn't hesitate to say so.

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