Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons

From Othello (3.3.329-332):

Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons.
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood.
Burn like the mines of Sulphur

And a similar notion, less direly construed – from Tristram Shandy v.2 ch.19:

I mention this, not only as matter of hypothesis or conjecture upon the progress and establishment of my father’s many odd opinions,—but as a warning to the learned reader against the indiscreet reception of such guests, who, after a free and undisturbed entrance, for some years, into our brains,—at length claim a kind of settlement there,——working sometimes like yeast;—but more generally after the manner of the gentle passion, beginning in jest,—but ending in downright earnest.

—of wondering why he was begot,—wishing himself dead;—sometimes worse

From Tristram Shandy, for those days wasted in war with bookcases and shelving:

My father, I say, had a way, when things went extremely wrong with him, especially upon the first sally of his impatience,—of wondering why he was begot,—wishing himself dead;—sometimes worse:——And when the provocation ran high, and grief touched his lips with more than ordinary powers—Sir, you scarce could have distinguished him from Socrates himself.——

A pelting kind of thersitical satire, as black as the very ink ’tis wrote with

A history of the reception of Thersites would be a fun project.

A prepping quote from Tristram Shandy:

And first, it may be said, there is a pelting kind of thersitical satire, as black as the very ink ’tis wrote with——(and by the bye, whoever says so, is indebted to the muster-master general of the Grecian army, for suffering the name of so ugly and foul-mouth’d a man as Thersites to continue upon his roll——for it has furnish’d him with an epithet)

And a sample of Shakespeare’s indulging in the thersitical vein, from Troilus and Cressida (5.1):

Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk:
thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.
Male varlet, you rogue! what’s that?
Why, his masculine whore. Now, the rotten diseases
of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs,
loads o’ gravel i’ the back, lethargies, cold
palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing
lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas,
limekilns i’ the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the
rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take
again such preposterous discoveries!

Arden adds these enlightening but effect-deflating glosses:

guts-griping … palsies ‘colic or other spasms of the abdoment, hernias, common colds or other infections of nose and throat, severe cases of kidney stones, illnesses like stroke that result in torpor or inertness, severe termor and paralysis

(From Longer notes) …The list comprises: chronic eye inflammation, liver ailments like hepatitis, asthma, bladder infections caused by cysts or abscesses (impostumes), lower back pain (sciaticas), gout (which can produce white lumps in the joints and knuckles) or else psoriasis (causing dry, reddish itchy patches on the skin of the hand), bone-ache (including the ‘Neapolitan bone-ache’ or syphilis), and pustular outbreaks of the skin caused by herpes, impetigo, ringworm, etc. This last, the tetter, produces a rivelled fee-simple or irreversible wrinkling.

Where the pleasure of the harangue was as ten, and the pain of the misfortune but as five

I rarely get upset. I can’t take anger – mine or anyone’s – seriously. But when, as earlier today, I do get upset, I soon shed it in the same way Walter Shandy shed his grief – by taking so much pleasure in the chance for expression that I forget altogether the cause. From Tristram Shandy (v. 3, ch. 3):

My father managed his affliction otherwise; and indeed differently from most men either ancient or modern; for he neither wept it away, as the Hebrews and the Romans—or slept it off, as the Laplanders—or hanged it, as the English, or drowned it, as the Germans,—nor did he curse it, or damn it, or excommunicate it, or rhyme it, or lillabullero it.——

——He got rid of it, however.

Will your worships give me leave to squeeze in a story between these two pages?

When Tully was bereft of his dear daughter Tullia, at first he laid it to his heart,—he listened to the voice of nature, and modulated his own unto it.—O my Tullia! my daughter! my child!—still, still, still,—’twas O my Tullia!—my Tullia! Methinks I see my Tullia, I hear my Tullia, I talk with my Tullia.—But as soon as he began to look into the stores of philosophy, and consider how many excellent things might be said upon the occasion—no body upon earth can conceive, says the great orator, how happy, how joyful it made me.

My father was as proud of his eloquence as MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO could be for his life, and, for aught I am convinced of to the contrary at present, with as much reason: it was indeed his strength—and his weakness too.——His strength—for he was by nature eloquent; and his weakness—for he was hourly a dupe to it; and, provided an occasion in life would but permit him to shew his talents, or say either a wise thing, a witty, or a shrewd one—(bating the case of a systematic misfortune)—he had all he wanted.—A blessing which tied up my father’s tongue, and a misfortune which let it loose with a good grace, were pretty equal: sometimes, indeed, the misfortune was the better of the two; for instance, where the pleasure of the harangue was as ten, and the pain of the misfortune but as five—my father gained half in half, and consequently was as well again off, as if it had never befallen him.

A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind

Number 257 of La Rochefoucauld’s Réflexions morales

La gravité est un mystère du corps inventé pour cacher les défauts de l’esprit.

Gravity is a mystery of the body invented in order to hide the defects of the mind.

Which Laurence Sterne cites in his perfect portrait of Yorick’s sensibilities regarding – because it comes to mind in my own struggle with this – what I’ll call ‘professionalism.’

For, to speak the truth, Yorick had an invincible dislike and opposition in his nature to gravity;—not to gravity as such;—for where gravity was wanted, he would be the most grave or serious of mortal men for days and weeks together;—but he was an enemy to the affectation of it, and declared open war against it, only as it appeared a cloak for ignorance, or for folly: and then, whenever it fell in his way, however sheltered and protected, he seldom gave it much quarter.

Sometimes, in his wild way of talking, he would say, that Gravity was an errant scoundrel, and he would add,—of the most dangerous kind too,—because a sly one; and that he verily believed, more honest, well-meaning people were bubbled out of their goods and money by it in one twelve-month, than by pocket-picking and shop-lifting in seven. In the naked temper which a merry heart discovered, he would say there was no danger,—but to itself:—whereas the very essence of gravity was design, and consequently deceit;—’twas a taught trick to gain credit of the world for more sense and knowledge than a man was worth; and that, with all its pretensions,—it was no better, but often worse, than what a French wit had long ago defined it,—viz. ‘A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind;’—which definition of gravity, Yorick, with great imprudence, would say, deserved to be wrote in letters of gold.

I think I knew – or could have guessed – the source but I hadn’t realized the similar connection with the reflexion immediately proceeding, number 256:

Dans toutes les professions chacun affecte une mine et un extérieur pour paraître ce qu’il veut qu’on le croie. Ainsi on peut dire que le monde n’est composé que de mines.

In all professions each person puts on an expression and an exterior in order to appear as what he wishes to be taken for.  Accordingly you could say that the world is composed only of appearances.

That thou among the wastes of time must go

From Shakespeare’s Sonnets – no. XII – but found in William Hazlitt’s On the Pleasure of Hating – with what I’m finding to be Hazlitt’s typical looseness of precision in quoting.  The beautiful origin aside, I marked this mainly for its closeness to ‘gutter of time’ – which I would not be against betting was another of Sterne’s intentionally warped echoes of Shakespeare

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
  And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
  Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Curing himself of adhesions in the lungs by polevaulting and dropping himself on the rocks below

Some Sternean conversational wit, from a footnote in the first volume of the Florida Editions Letters (pg. 150)

Dr. Hill had reported that, at a dinner hosted by Charles Stanhope, Sterne had ridiculed a “pedantic medicine monger” (Monsey?), who was lecturing on the “difference between the phrenitis and the paraphrenitis,” by telling a cock-and-bull story about curing himself of adhesions in the lungs by polevaulting and dropping himself on the rocks below (see Cross, Letters 1:43-45)

Nimium amator ingenii sui

From a letter of Laurence Sterne’s of Jan 1, 1760, responding to an unknown addressee’s cautionary remarks about Tristram Shandy.  There are three significantly enough different versions of this letter that the editors of the Florida Edition printed them separately, numbering each 35A, B, and C.  I’m pulling from A.

I know not whether I am entirely free <of> [from?] the fault Ovid is so justly censured for – of being nimum ingenij sui amator.  the hint however is right – to sport too much with a Man’s own wit is surfeiting: like toying with a man’s mistress, it may be delightful enough to the Inamorato but of little or no entertainment to By-standers.   in general I have ever endeavour’d to avoid it, by leaving off as soon as possible whenever a point of humour or Wit was started, for fear of saying too much…

The criticism of Ovid is from Quintilian 10.1.88:

Lascivus quidem in herois quoque Ovidius et nimium amator ingenii sui, laudandus tamen partibus…

Indeed Ovid is too sportive/playful/roguish/badin [lascivus] even in his heroes and too great a lover of his own talent/temperament – but nevertheless he must be praised in certain areas…

So much of motion, is so much of life, and so much of joy

From Tristram Shandy, as Tristram dashes through France:

‘Make them like unto a wheel,’ is a bitter sarcasm, as all the learned know, against the grand tour, and that restless spirit for making it, which David prophetically foresaw would haunt the children of men in the latter days; and therefore, as thinketh the great bishop Hall, ’tis one of the severest imprecations which David ever utter’d against the enemies of the Lord—and, as if he had said, ‘I wish them no worse luck than always to be rolling about.’—So much motion, continues he (for he was very corpulent)—is so much unquietness; and so much of rest, by the same analogy, is so much of heaven.

Now, I (being very thin) think differently; and that so much of motion, is so much of life, and so much of joy—and that to stand still, or get on but slowly, is death and the devil—


Suivre ses idées à la piste, comme le chasseur poursuit le gibier, sans affecter de tenir aucune route

From Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage Autour de ma Chambre.  I now wish I’d read this when I first heard of it several years ago since I found here a rare fellow Shandean.

I have no affection for people who are so effectively the masters of their steps and their ideas, who say: “Today, I will make three visits, write four letters, I will finish this work I’ve begun.” – My soul is so open to all sorts of ideas, tastes, and feelings; it receives so greedily everything that presents itself … – And why should it refuse the joys that are scattered on the difficult road of life?  They are so rare, so dispersed, that you’d have to be a fool not to stop, even to turn aside from the path, to gather all those that are in our reach.  Amongst these there is nothing more attractive – in my view – than following ideas in their course, as a hunter pursues his prey, without pretending to keep to any route.  Hence, when I travel in my chamber, I rarely travel a straight line.

Je n’aime pas les gens qui sont si fort les maîtres de leurs pas et de leurs idées, qui disent: “Aujourd’hui, je ferai trois visites, j’écrirai quatre lettres, je finirai cet ouvrage que j’ai commencé.”—Mon ame est tellement ouverte à toutes sortes d’idées, de goûts et de sentimens; elle reçoit si avidement tout ce qui se présente!…—Et pourquoi refuserait-elle les jouissances qui sont éparses sur le chemin difficile de la vie? Elles sont si rares, si clair-semées, qu’il faudrait être fou pour ne pas s’arrêter, se détourner même de son chemin, pour cueillir toutes celles qui sont à notre portée. Il n’en est pas de plus attrayante, selon moi, que de suivre ses idées à la piste, comme le chasseur poursuit le gibier, sans affecter de tenir aucune route. Aussi, lorsque je voyage dans ma chambre, je parcours rarement une ligne droite