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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.(Volume4,chapter43)

2006-08-22 18:35

  Chapter 43

  It was a thousand pities—though I believe, an‘ please your honour, I am going to say but a foolish kind of a thing for a soldier—

  A soldier, cried my uncle Toby, interrupting the corporal, is no more exempt from saying a foolish thing, Trim, than a man of letters—But not so often, an‘ please your honour, replied the corporal—my uncle Toby gave a nod.

  It was a thousand pities then, said the corporal, casting his eye upon Dunkirk, and the mole, as Servius Sulpicius, in returning out of Asia (when he sailed from Aegina towards Megara), did upon Corinth and Pyreus—

  —‘It was a thousand pities, an’ please your honour, to destroy these works—and a thousand pities to have let them stood.‘—

  —Thou art right, Trim, in both cases; said my uncle Toby.—This, continued the corporal, is the reason, that from the beginning of their demolition to the end—I have never once whistled, or sung, or laugh‘d, or cry’d, or talk‘d of past done deeds, or told your honour one story good or bad—

  —Thou hast many excellencies, Trim, said my uncle Toby, and I hold it not the least of them, as thou happenest to be a story-teller, that of the number thou hast told me, either to amuse me in my painful hours, or divert me in my grave ones—thou hast seldom told me a bad one—

  —Because, an‘ please your honour, except one of a King of Bohemia and his seven castles,—they are all true; for they are about myself—

  I do not like the subject the worse, Trim, said my uncle Toby, on that score: But prithee what is this story? thou hast excited my curiosity.

  I‘ll tell it your honour, quoth the corporal, directly—Provided, said my uncle Toby, looking earnestly towards Dunkirk and the mole again—provided it is not a merry one; to such, Trim, a man should ever bring one half of the entertainment along with him; and the disposition I am in at present would wrong both thee, Trim, and thy story—It is not a merry one by any means, replied the corporal—Nor would I have it altogether a grave one, added my uncle Toby—It is neither the one nor the other, replied the corporal, but will suit your honour exactly—Then I’ll thank thee for it with all my heart, cried my uncle Toby; so prithee begin it, Trim.

  The corporal made his reverence; and though it is not so easy a matter as the world imagines, to pull off a lank Montero-cap with grace—or a whit less difficult, in my conceptions, when a man is sitting squat upon the ground, to make a bow so teeming with respect as the corporal was wont; yet by suffering the palm of his right hand, which was towards his master, to slip backwards upon the grass, a little beyond his body, in order to allow it the greater sweep—and by an unforced compression, at the same time, of his cap with the thumb and the two forefingers of his left, by which the diameter of the cap became reduced, so that it might be said, rather to be insensibly squeez‘d—than pull’d off with a flatus—the corporal acquitted himself of both in a better manner than the posture of his affairs promised; and having hemmed twice, to find in what key his story would best go, and best suit his master‘s humour,—he exchanged a single look of kindness with him, and set off thus.

  The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles.

  There was a certain king of Bo……he-

  As the corporal was entering the confines of Bohemia, my uncle Toby obliged him to halt for a single moment; he had set out bare-headed, having, since he pull‘d off his Montero-cap in the latter end of the last chapter, left it lying beside him on the ground.

  —The eye of Goodness espieth all things—so that before the corporal had well got through the first five words of his story, had my uncle Toby twice touch‘d his Montero-cap with the end of his cane, interrogatively—as much as to say, Why don’t you put it on, Trim? Trim took it up with the most respectful slowness, and casting a glance of humiliation as he did it, upon the embroidery of the fore-part, which being dismally tarnish‘d and fray’d moreover in some of the principal leaves and boldest parts of the pattern, he lay‘d it down again between his two feet, in order to moralize upon the subject.

  —‘Tis every word of it but too true, cried my uncle Toby, that thou art about to observe—

  ‘Nothing in this world, Trim, is made to last for ever.’

  —But when tokens, dear Tom, of thy love and remembrance wear out, said Trim, what shall we say?

  There is no occasion, Trim, quoth my uncle Toby, to say any thing else; and was a man to puzzle his brains till Doom‘s day, I believe, Trim, it would be impossible.

  The corporal, perceiving my uncle Toby was in the right, and that it would be in vain for the wit of man to think of extracting a purer moral from his cap, without further attempting it, he put it on; and passing his hand across his forehead to rub out a pensive wrinkle, which the text and the doctrine between them had engender‘d, he return’d, with the same look and tone of voice, to his story of the king of Bohemia and his seven castles.

  The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles, Continued.

  There was a certain king of Bohemia, but in whose reign, except his own, I am not able to inform your honour—

  I do not desire it of thee, Trim, by any means, cried my uncle Toby.

  —It was a little before the time, an‘ please your honour, when giants were beginning to leave off breeding:—but in what year of our Lord that was—

  I would not give a halfpenny to know, said my uncle Toby.

  —Only, an‘ please your honour, it makes a story look the better in the face—

  —‘Tis thy own, Trim, so ornament it after thy own fashion; and take any date, continued my uncle Toby, looking pleasantly upon him—take any date in the whole world thou chusest, and put it to—thou art heartily welcome—

  The corporal bowed; for of every century, and of every year of that century, from the first creation of the world down to Noah‘s flood; and from Noah’s flood to the birth of Abraham; through all the pilgrimages of the patriarchs, to the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt—and throughout all the Dynasties, Olympiads, Urbeconditas, and other memorable epochas of the different nations of the world, down to the coming of Christ, and from thence to the very moment in which the corporal was telling his story—had my uncle Toby subjected this vast empire of time and all its abysses at his feet; but as Modesty scarce touches with a finger what Liberality offers her with both hands open—the corporal contented himself with the very worst year of the whole bunch; which, to prevent your honours of the Majority and Minority from tearing the very flesh off your bones in contestation, ‘Whether that year is not always the last cast-year of the last cast-almanack’—I tell you plainly it was; but from a different reason than you wot of—

  —It was the year next him—which being the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and twelve, when the Duke of Ormond was playing the devil in Flanders—the corporal took it, and set out with it afresh on his expedition to Bohemia.

  The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles, Continued.

  In the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve, there was, an‘ please your honour—

  —To tell thee truly, Trim, quoth my uncle Toby, any other date would have pleased me much better, not only on account of the sad stain upon our history that year, in marching off our troops, and refusing to cover the siege of Quesnoi, though Fagel was carrying on the works with such incredible vigour—but likewise on the score, Trim, of thy own story; because if there are—and which, from what thou hast dropt, I partly suspect to be the fact—if there are giants in it—

  There is but one, an‘ please your honour—

  —‘Tis as bad as twenty, replied my uncle Toby—thou should’st have carried him back some seven or eight hundred years out of harm‘s way, both of critics and other people: and therefore I would advise thee, if ever thou tellest it again—

  —If I live, an‘ please your honour, but once to get through it, I will never tell it again, quoth Trim, either to man, woman, or child—Poo—poo! said my uncle Toby—but with accents of such sweet encouragement did he utter it, that the corporal went on with his story with more alacrity than ever.

  The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles, Continued.

  There was, an‘ please your honour, said the corporal, raising his voice and rubbing the palms of his two hands cheerily together as he begun, a certain king of Bohemia—

  —Leave out the date entirely, Trim, quoth my uncle Toby, leaning forwards, and laying his hand gently upon the corporal‘s shoulder to temper the interruption—leave it out entirely, Trim; a story passes very well without these niceties, unless one is pretty sure of ’em—Sure of ‘em! said the corporal, shaking his head—

  Right; answered my uncle Toby, it is not easy, Trim, for one, bred up as thou and I have been to arms, who seldom looks further forward than to the end of his musket, or backwards beyond his knapsack, to know much about this matter—God bless your honour! said the corporal, won by the manner of my uncle Toby‘s reasoning, as much as by the reasoning itself, he has something else to do; if not on action, or a march, or upon duty in his garrison—he has his firelock, an’ please your honour, to furbish—his accoutrements to take care of—his regimentals to mend—himself to shave and keep clean, so as to appear always like what he is upon the parade; what business, added the corporal triumphantly, has a soldier, an‘ please your honour, to know any thing at all of geography?

  —Thou would‘st have said chronology, Trim, said my uncle Toby; for as for geography, ’tis of absolute use to him; he must be acquainted intimately with every country and its boundaries where his profession carries him; he should know every town and city, and village and hamlet, with the canals, the roads, and hollow ways which lead up to them; there is not a river or a rivulet he passes, Trim, but he should be able at first sight to tell thee what is its name—in what mountains it takes its rise—what is its course— how far it is navigable—where fordable—where not; he should know the fertility of every valley, as well as the hind who ploughs it; and be able to describe, or, if it is required, to give thee an exact map of all the plains and defiles, the forts, the acclivities, the woods and morasses, thro‘ and by which his army is to march; he should know their produce, their plants, their minerals, their waters, their animals, their seasons, their climates, their heats and cold, their inhabitants, their customs, their language, their policy, and even their religion.

  Is it else to be conceived, corporal, continued my uncle Toby, rising up in his sentry-box, as he began to warm in this part of his discourse—how Marlborough could have marched his army from the banks of the Maes to Belburg; from Belburg to Kerpenord—(here the corporal could sit no longer) from Kerpenord, Trim, to Kalsaken; from Kalsaken to Newdorf; from Newdorf to Landenbourg; from Landenbourg to Mildenheim; from Mildenheim to Elchingen; from Elchingen to Gingen; from Gingen to Balmerchoffen; from Balmerchoffen to Skellenburg, where he broke in upon the enemy‘s works; forced his passage over the Danube; cross’d the Lech—push‘d on his troops into the heart of the empire, marching at the head of them through Fribourg, Hokenwert, and Schonevelt, to the plains of Blenheim and Hochstet?—Great as he was, corporal, he could not have advanced a step, or made one single day’s march without the aids of Geography.—As for Chronology, I own, Trim, continued my uncle Toby, sitting down again coolly in his sentry-box, that of all others, it seems a science which the soldier might best spare, was it not for the lights which that science must one day give him, in determining the invention of powder; the furious execution of which, renversing every thing like thunder before it, has become a new aera to us of military improvements, changing so totally the nature of attacks and defences both by sea and land, and awakening so much art and skill in doing it, that the world cannot be too exact in ascertaining the precise time of its discovery, or too inquisitive in knowing what great man was the discoverer, and what occasions gave birth to it.

  I am far from controverting, continued my uncle Toby, what historians agree in, that in the year of our Lord 1380, under the reign of Wencelaus, son of Charles the Fourth—a certain priest, whose name was Schwartz, shew‘d the use of powder to the Venetians, in their wars against the Genoese; but ’tis certain he was not the first; because if we are to believe Don Pedro, the bishop of Leon—How came priests and bishops, an‘ please your honour, to trouble their heads so much about gun-powder? God knows, said my uncle Toby—his providence brings good out of every thing—and he avers, in his chronicle of King Alphonsus, who reduced Toledo, That in the year 1343, which was full thirty-seven years before that time, the secret of powder was well known, and employed with success, both by Moors and Christians, not only in their sea-combats, at that period, but in many of their most memorable sieges in Spain and Barbary—And all the world knows, that Friar Bacon had wrote expressly about it, and had generously given the world a receipt to make it by, above a hundred and fifty years before even Schwartz was born—And that the Chinese, added my uncle Toby, embarrass us, and all accounts of it, still more, by boasting of the invention some hundreds of years even before him—

  They are a pack of liars, I believe, cried Trim—

  —They are somehow or other deceived, said my uncle Toby, in this matter, as is plain to me from the present miserable state of military architecture amongst them; which consists of nothing more than a fossé with a brick wall without flanks—and for what they gave us as a bastion at each angle of it, ‘tis so barbarously constructed, that it looks for all the world—Like one of my seven castles, an’ please your honour, quoth Trim.

  My uncle Toby, tho‘ in the utmost distress for a comparison, most courteously refused Trim’s offer—till Trim telling him, he had half a dozen more in Bohemia, which he knew not how to get off his hands—my uncle Toby was so touch‘d with the pleasantry of heart of the corporal—that he discontinued his dissertation upon gun-powder—and begged the corporal forthwith to go on with his story of the King of Bohemia and his seven castles.

  The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles, Continued.

  This unfortunate King of Bohemia, said Trim,—Was he unfortunate, then? cried my uncle Toby, for he had been so wrapt up in his dissertation upon gun-powder, and other military affairs, that tho‘ he had desired the corporal to go on, yet the many interruptions he had given, dwelt not so strong upon his fancy as to account for the epithet—Was he unfortunate, then, Trim? said my uncle Toby, pathetically—The corporal, wishing first the word and all its synonimas at the devil, forthwith began to run back in his mind, the principal events in the King of Bohemia’s story; from every one of which, it appearing that he was the most fortunate man that ever existed in the world—it put the corporal to a stand: for not caring to retract his epithet—and less to explain it—and least of all, to twist his tale (like men of lore) to serve a system—he looked up in my uncle Toby‘s face for assistance—but seeing it was the very thing my uncle Toby sat in expectation of himself—after a hum and a haw, he went on—

  The King of Bohemia, an‘ please your honour, replied the corporal, was unfortunate, as thus—That taking great pleasure and delight in navigation and all sort of sea affairs—and there happening throughout the whole kingdom of Bohemia, to be no sea-port town whatever—

  How the duce should there—Trim? cried my uncle Toby; for Bohemia being totally inland, it could have happen‘d no otherwise—It might, said Trim, if it had pleased God—

  My uncle Toby never spoke of the being and natural attributes of God, but with diffidence and hesitation—

  —I believe not, replied my uncle Toby, after some pause—for being inland, as I said, and having Silesia and Moravia to the east; Lusatia and Upper Saxony to the north; Franconia to the west; and Bavaria to the south; Bohemia could not have been propell‘d to the sea without ceasing to be Bohemia—nor could the sea, on the other hand, have come up to Bohemia, without overflowing a great part of Germany, and destroying millions of unfortunate inhabitants who could make no defence against it—Scandalous! cried Trim—Which would bespeak, added my uncle Toby, mildly, such a want of compassion in him who is the father of it—that, I think, Trim—the thing could have happen’d no way.

  The corporal made the bow of unfeign‘d conviction; and went on.

  Now the King of Bohemia with his queen and courtiers happening one fine summer‘s evening to walk out—Aye! there the word happening is right, Trim, cried my uncle Toby; for the King of Bohemia and his queen might have walk’d out or let it alone:—‘twas a matter of contingency, which might happen, or not, just as chance ordered it.

  King William was of an opinion, an‘ please your honour, quoth Trim, that every thing was predestined for us in this world; insomuch, that he would often say to his soldiers, that ’every ball had its billet.‘ He was a great man, said my uncle Toby—And I believe, continued Trim, to this day, that the shot which disabled me at the battle of Landen, was pointed at my knee for no other purpose, but to take me out of his service, and place me in your honour’s, where I should be taken so much better care of in my old age—It shall never, Trim, be construed otherwise, said my uncle Toby.

  The heart, both of the master and the man, were alike subject to sudden over-flowings;—a short silence ensued.

  Besides, said the corporal, resuming the discourse—but in a gayer accent— if it had not been for that single shot, I had never, ‘an please your honour, been in love—

  So, thou wast once in love, Trim! said my uncle Toby, smiling—

  Souse! replied the corporal—over head and ears! an‘ please your honour. Prithee when? where?—and how came it to pass?—I never heard one word of it before; quoth my uncle Toby:—I dare say, answered Trim, that every drummer and serjeant’s son in the regiment knew of it—It‘s high time I should—said my uncle Toby.

  Your honour remembers with concern, said the corporal, the total rout and confusion of our camp and army at the affair of Landen; every one was left to shift for himself; and if it had not been for the regiments of Wyndham, Lumley, and Galway, which covered the retreat over the bridge Neerspeeken, the king himself could scarce have gained it—he was press‘d hard, as your honour knows, on every side of him—

  Gallant mortal! cried my uncle Toby, caught up with enthusiasm—this moment, now that all is lost, I see him galloping across me, corporal, to the left, to bring up the remains of the English horse along with him to support the right, and tear the laurel from Luxembourg‘s brows, if yet ’tis possible—I see him with the knot of his scarfe just shot off, infusing fresh spirits into poor Galway‘s regiment—riding along the line—then wheeling about, and charging Conti at the head of it—Brave, brave, by heaven! cried my uncle Toby—he deserves a crown—As richly, as a thief a halter; shouted Trim.

  My uncle Toby knew the corporal‘s loyalty;—otherwise the comparison was not at all to his mind—it did not altogether strike the corporal’s fancy when he had made it—but it could not be recall‘d—so he had nothing to do, but proceed.

  As the number of wounded was prodigious, and no one had time to think of any thing but his own safety—Though Talmash, said my uncle Toby, brought off the foot with great prudence—But I was left upon the field, said the corporal. Thou wast so; poor fellow! replied my uncle Toby—So that it was noon the next day, continued the corporal, before I was exchanged, and put into a cart with thirteen or fourteen more, in order to be convey‘d to our hospital.

  There is no part of the body, an‘ please your honour, where a wound occasions more intolerable anguish than upon the knee—

  Except the groin; said my uncle Toby. An‘ please your honour, replied the corporal, the knee, in my opinion, must certainly be the most acute, there being so many tendons and what-d’ye-call-‘ems all about it.

  It is for that reason, quoth my uncle Toby, that the groin is infinitely more sensible—there being not only as many tendons and what-d‘ye-call-’ems (for I know their names as little as thou dost)—about it—but moreover ……—

  Mrs. Wadman, who had been all the time in her arbour—instantly stopp‘d her breath—unpinn’d her mob at the chin, and stood upon one leg—

  The dispute was maintained with amicable and equal force betwixt my uncle Toby and Trim for some time; till Trim at length recollecting that he had often cried at his master‘s sufferings, but never shed a tear at his own— was for giving up the point, which my uncle Toby would not allow—’Tis a proof of nothing, Trim, said he, but the generosity of thy temper—

  So that whether the pain of a wound in the groin (c?teris paribus) is greater than the pain of a wound in the knee—or

  Whether the pain of a wound in the knee is not greater than the pain of a wound in the groin—are points which to this day remain unsettled.

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