Tristram Shandy C H A P. XLII

——FIVE years with a bib under his chin;

Four years in travelling from Christ-cross-row to Malachi;

A year and a half in learning to write his own name;

Seven long years and more τυπιω-ing it, at Greek and Latin;

Four years at his probations and his negations—the fine statue still lying in the middle of the marble block,—and nothing done, but his tools sharpened to hew it out!—’Tis a piteous delay!—Was not the great Julius Scaliger within an ace of never getting his tools sharpened at all?——Forty-four years old was he before he could manage his Greek;—and Peter Damianus, lord bishop of Ostia, as all the world knows, could not so much as read, when he was of man’s estate.—And Baldus himself, as eminent as he turned out after, entered upon the law so late in life, that every body imagined he intended to be an advocate in the other world: no wonder, when Eudamidas, the son of Archidamas, heard Xenocrates at seventy-five disputing about wisdom, that he asked gravely,—If the old man be yet disputing and enquiring concerning wisdom,—what time will he have to make use of it?

Yorick listened to my father with great attention; there was a seasoning of wisdom unaccountably mixed up with his strangest whims, and he had sometimes such illuminations in the darkest of his eclipses, as almost atoned for them:—be wary, Sir, when you imitate him.

I am convinced, Yorick, continued my father, half reading and half discoursing, that there is a North-west passage to the intellectual world; and that the soul of man has shorter ways of going to work, in furnishing itself with knowledge and instruction, than we generally take with it.——But, alack! all fields have not a river or a spring running besides them;—every child, Yorick, has not a parent to point it out.

——The whole entirely depends, added my father, in a low voice, upon the auxiliary verbs, Mr. Yorick.

Had Yorick trod upon Virgil ’s snake, he could not have looked more surprised.—I am surprised too, cried my father, observing it,—and I reckon it as one of the greatest calamities which ever befel the republic of letters, That those who have been entrusted with the education of our children, and whose business it was to open their minds, and stock them early with ideas, in order to set the imagination loose upon them, have made so little use of the auxiliary verbs in doing it, as they have done——So that, except Raymond Lullius, and the elder Pelegrini, the last of which arrived to such perfection in the use of ’em, with his topics, that, in a few lessons, he could teach a young gentleman to discourse with plausibility upon any subject, pro and con, and to say and write all that could be spoken or written concerning it, without blotting a word, to the admiration of all who beheld him.—I should be glad, said Yorick, interrupting my father, to be made to comprehend this matter. You shall, said my father.

The highest stretch of improvement a single word is capable of, is a high metaphor,——for which, in my opinion, the idea is generally the worse, and not the better;——but be that as it may,—when the mind has done that with it—there is an end,—the mind and the idea are at rest,—until a second idea enters;—and so on.

Now the use of the Auxiliaries is, at once to set the soul a-going by herself upon the materials as they are brought her; and by the versability of this great engine, round which they are twisted, to open new tracts of enquiry, and make every idea engender millions.

You excite my curiosity greatly, said Yorick.

For my own part, quoth my uncle Toby, I have given it up.——The Danes, an’ please your honour, quoth the corporal, who were on the left at the siege of Limerick, were all auxiliaries.——And very good ones, said my uncle Toby.—But the auxiliaries, Trim, my brother is talking about,—I conceive to be different things.——

——You do? said my father, rising up.