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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.(Volume4,chapter13)

2006-08-22 18:35

  Chapter 13

  —‘Twas by a poor ass, who had just turned in with a couple of large panniers upon his back, to collect eleemosynary turnip-tops and cabbage- leaves; and stood dubious, with his two fore-feet on the inside of the threshold, and with his two hinder feet towards the street, as not knowing very well whether he was to go in or no.

  Now, ‘tis an animal (be in what hurry I may) I cannot bear to strike—there is a patient endurance of sufferings, wrote so unaffectedly in his looks and carriage, which pleads so mightily for him, that it always disarms me; and to that degree, that I do not like to speak unkindly to him: on the contrary, meet him where I will—whether in town or country—in cart or under panniers—whether in liberty or bondage—I have ever something civil to say to him on my part; and as one word begets another (if he has as little to do as I)—I generally fall into conversation with him; and surely never is my imagination so busy as in framing his responses from the etchings of his countenance—and where those carry me not deep enough—in flying from my own heart into his, and seeing what is natural for an ass to think—as well as a man, upon the occasion. In truth, it is the only creature of all the classes of beings below me, with whom I can do this: for parrots, jackdaws, &c.—I never exchange a word with them—nor with the apes, &c. for pretty near the same reason; they act by rote, as the others speak by it, and equally make me silent: nay my dog and my cat, though I value them both—(and for my dog he would speak if he could)—yet somehow or other, they neither of them possess the talents for conversation—I can make nothing of a discourse with them, beyond the proposition, the reply, and rejoinder, which terminated my father’s and my mother‘s conversations, in his beds of justice—and those utter’d—there‘s an end of the dialogue—

  —But with an ass, I can commune for ever.

  Come, Honesty! said I,—seeing it was impracticable to pass betwixt him and the gate—art thou for coming in, or going out?

  The ass twisted his head round to look up the street—

  Well—replied I—we‘ll wait a minute for thy driver:

  —He turned his head thoughtful about, and looked wistfully the opposite way—

  I understand thee perfectly, answered I—If thou takest a wrong step in this affair, he will cudgel thee to death—Well! a minute is but a minute, and if it saves a fellow-creature a drubbing, it shall not be set down as ill-spent.

  He was eating the stem of an artichoke as this discourse went on, and in the little peevish contentions of nature betwixt hunger and unsavouriness, had dropt it out of his mouth half a dozen times, and pick‘d it up again— God help thee, Jack! said I, thou hast a bitter breakfast on’t—and many a bitter day‘s labour,—and many a bitter blow, I fear, for its wages—’tis all—all bitterness to thee, whatever life is to others.—And now thy mouth, if one knew the truth of it, is as bitter, I dare say, as soot—(for he had cast aside the stem) and thou hast not a friend perhaps in all this world, that will give thee a macaroon.—In saying this, I pull‘d out a paper of ’em, which I had just purchased, and gave him one—and at this moment that I am telling it, my heart smites me, that there was more of pleasantry in the conceit, of seeing how an ass would eat a macaroon—than of benevolence in giving him one, which presided in the act.

  When the ass had eaten his macaroon, I press‘d him to come in—the poor beast was heavy loaded—his legs seem’d to tremble under him—he hung rather backwards, and as I pull‘d at his halter, it broke short in my hand- -he look’d up pensive in my face—‘Don’t thrash me with it—but if you will, you may‘—If I do, said I, I’ll be d……d.

  The word was but one-half of it pronounced, like the abbess of Andouillet‘s—(so there was no sin in it)—when a person coming in, let fall a thundering bastinado upon the poor devil’s crupper, which put an end to the ceremony.

  Out upon it! cried I—but the interjection was equivocal—and, I think, wrong placed too—for the end of an osier which had started out from the contexture of the ass‘s panier, had caught hold of my breeches pocket, as he rush’d by me, and rent it in the most disastrous direction you can imagine—so that the

  Out upon it! in my opinion, should have come in here—but this I leave to be settled by

  The

  Reviewers

  of

  My Breeches,

  which I have brought over along with me for that purpose.

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