Chapter 21

—I wonder what’s all that noise, and running backwards and forwards for, above stairs, quoth my father, addressing himself, after an hour and a half’s silence, to my uncle Toby,—who, you must know, was sitting on the opposite side of the fire, smoaking his social pipe all the time, in mute contemplation of a new pair of black plush-breeches which he had got on:— What can they be doing, brother?—quoth my father,—we can scarce hear ourselves talk.

I think, replied my uncle Toby, taking his pipe from his mouth, and striking the head of it two or three times upon the nail of his left thumb, as he began his sentence,—I think, says he:—But to enter rightly into my uncle Toby’s sentiments upon this matter, you must be made to enter first a little into his character, the out-lines of which I shall just give you, and then the dialogue between him and my father will go on as well again.

Pray what was that man’s name,—for I write in such a hurry, I have no time to recollect or look for it,—who first made the observation, ’That there was great inconstancy in our air and climate?’ Whoever he was, ’twas a just and good observation in him.—But the corollary drawn from it, namely, ’That it is this which has furnished us with such a variety of odd and whimsical characters;’—that was not his;—it was found out by another man, at least a century and a half after him: Then again,—that this copious store- house of original materials, is the true and natural cause that our Comedies are so much better than those of France, or any others that either have, or can be wrote upon the Continent:—that discovery was not fully made till about the middle of King William’s reign,—when the great Dryden, in writing one of his long prefaces, (if I mistake not) most fortunately hit upon it. Indeed toward the latter end of queen Anne, the great Addison began to patronize the notion, and more fully explained it to the world in one or two of his Spectators;—but the discovery was not his.—Then, fourthly and lastly, that this strange irregularity in our climate, producing so strange an irregularity in our characters,—doth thereby, in some sort, make us amends, by giving us somewhat to make us merry with when the weather will not suffer us to go out of doors,—that observation is my own;—and was struck out by me this very rainy day, March 26, 1759, and betwixt the hours of nine and ten in the morning.

Thus—thus, my fellow-labourers and associates in this great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes; thus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, aenigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of ’em ending as these do, in ical), have for these two last centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Akme of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off.

When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, as war begets poverty, poverty peace—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started.

—Happy! Thrice happy times! I only wish that the aera of my begetting, as well as the mode and manner of it, had been a little alter’d,—or that it could have been put off, with any convenience to my father or mother, for some twenty or five-and-twenty years longer, when a man in the literary world might have stood some chance.—

But I forget my uncle Toby, whom all this while we have left knocking the ashes out of his tobacco-pipe.

His humour was of that particular species, which does honour to our atmosphere; and I should have made no scruple of ranking him amongst one of the first-rate productions of it, had not there appeared too many strong lines in it of a family-likeness, which shewed that he derived the singularity of his temper more from blood, than either wind or water, or any modifications or combinations of them whatever: And I have, therefore, oft-times wondered, that my father, tho’ I believe he had his reasons for it, upon his observing some tokens of eccentricity, in my course, when I was a boy,—should never once endeavour

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