Summary and Analysis
The author compares the different behavior in love of his father and his uncle. Toby was the opposite of Walter: he "took it like a lamb — sat still and let the poison work in his veins without resistance." Actually, he mistook it at first; riding his horse on an errand, he got a blister on his bottom, and when the pain remained after the blister had broken, he was convinced "that his wound was not a skin-deep-wound — but that it had gone to his heart."
He announces to Trim, "I am in love, corporal!" and considers the ways of letting the object of his passion know about it. "As we are neighbours, Trim, — the best way I think is to let her know it civilly first." As they discuss various maneuvers, Mrs. Wadman and Bridget are holding a council on the same subject. There is something that worries the widow: "I am terribly afraid, . . . in case I should marry him, Bridget — that the poor captain will not enjoy his health, with the monstrous wound upon his groin." Bridget reassures her that the wound is healed, and since she assumes that Corporal Trim will be courting her while his master is courting her mistress, she promises to find out all from him. "I could like to know — merely for his sake, said Mrs. Wadman."
Toby and Trim discuss the proper uniform, Trim advising against the "red plush ones" because "they will be too clumsy." When Toby instructs Trim to polish up his sword, Trim dissuades him from wearing it: "'Twill be only in your honour's way." Careful plans are made: "We'll march up boldly; . . . and whilst your honour engages Mrs. Wadman in the parlour, to the right — I'll attack Mrs. Bridget in the kitchen, to the left." Toby agrees with the plan, "but I declare, corporal I had rather march up to the very edge of a trench-."
Walter Shandy referred often to St. Hilarion's metaphor of ass for "body": self-punishment was "the means he [Hilarion] used, to make his ass (meaning his body) leave off kicking." Walter asks Toby, "upon his first seeing him after he fell in love — and how goes it with your ASSE?" Uncle Toby, "thinking more of the part where he had had the blister, than of Hilarion's metaphor," answers, "My A — e . . . is much better." General laughter "drove my father's Asse off the field." Mrs. Shandy asks Toby whether he is really in love, and he answers that it is true; "and when did you know it? quoth my mother — " " — When the blister broke; replied my uncle Toby."
Walter thinks that it is important for Toby to know which kind of love he is the victim of, "the Brain or Liver." The idea of Toby's marrying and having children worries him somewhat because he would cease to be Toby's heir. He recovers himself and goes on to talk of the goodness of Toby's potential offspring and the "system of Love and marriage" that Toby should follow; his guides should be Plato, Ficinus, and Valesius.
Apropos of his father's argument about the benefits of marriage, Tristram observes that "if there were twenty people in company — in less than half an hour he was sure to have every one of 'em against him." He doubts that there will be a wedding within a year in spite of the mutual "love" between Toby and Mrs. Wadman. Trim reassures Uncle Toby that Mrs. Wadman will fall in ten days. The company break up when Trim answers Dr. Slop's challenge of "whence . . . hast thou all this knowledge of woman, friend?": "By falling in love with a popish clergy-woman."
Before retiring for the night, Walter writes his brother a letter of advice about "the nature of women, and of love-making to them." It is full of hints on etiquette, on social discourse with women, and on the proper diet for lovers: "and carefully abstain — that is, as much as thou canst, from peacocks, cranes, coots."
Meanwhile, Toby and Trim plan their advance for eleven o'clock the following morning. Mr. and Mrs. Shandy are on hand to wish him luck and observe the skirmish. "I could like, said my mother, to look through the key-hole out of curiosity — Call it by it's right name, my dear, quoth my father — And look through the key-hole as long as you will."
Since Uncle Toby is as gentle as a lamb and like a lamb in many ways, Tristram compares him with the lamb going to the slaughter. The blister on his bottom is the catalyst in his awareness of being in love. Never having been in love before, he assumes that the pain — now unrelated to any obvious physical stimulus (since the blister has broken) — must be the pangs of love.
In Chapter 26 we find another of the "twice-removed" foot-notes: Walter and Toby were riding out "to save if possible a beautiful wood, which the dean and chapter were hewing down to give to the poor.*" At the bottom of the page there is this note: "*Mr. Shandy must mean the poor in spirit; inasmuch as they divided the money amongst themselves." Here, as in Book 2, Chapter 19, Sterne deliberately takes the role of editor, rather than that of novelist, in order to reinforce the fact that his book is about Tristram Shandy, the one who is doing all the writing and who sometimes makes mistakes.
Simple as a lamb, Toby thinks that he ought to go up to Mrs. Wadman and announce to her "civilly" that he loves her, but Trim talks him out of it. The maneuvers have to be gone through, in keeping with their absolutely military way of life: the element of surprise is most important in conducting an attack. The victim of the attack, meanwhile, is concerned about her future husband's sexual ability. We will see how the entire theme of Toby's "amours" pivots on this question, and when it is finally resolved, we will wonder what we actually know about it.
There is a familiar pun in the mistaken metaphor. Toby doesn't deal in any metaphors other than military ones, and the point of Walter's reference to Hilarion's metaphor of the Ass is lost on him: to him, ass and Arse are the same thing, especially since there is an appropriate blister involved.
Walter's idea of improving the quality of humanity — if he were "an Asiatick monarch" — by putting Toby to stud with "the most beautiful women in my empire" is a generous one, although it doesn't meet with Toby's approval. It is typical of Walter's efficient procedures, and when he adds, "I would oblige thee, nolens, volens [willing or unwilling], to beget for me one subject every month," part of his statement catches the attention of his wife: "As my father pronounced the last word of the sentence — my mother took a pinch of snuff." It is clear that Mrs. Shandy is less than content with their monthly domestic "arrangements."
Erudition is especially useful in the sphere of love, in Walter's not so humble estimation. His letter to Toby contains all the impractical advice anyone could ever give. We can almost see Toby scratching his head and passing the letter over to Trim for explanation.
Mr. and Mrs. Shandy's stroll serves as the bridge between this book and the next installment. The chapter ends on a note of prurience: is Mrs. Shandy simply curious, or does she enjoy the role of peeping-Tom? The question will occupy some pages in Book 9.