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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Sterne: The Progress of an Amour, or, The Love of Corporal Trim


Saint Valentine Number
: Frank Nankivel, cover illustration, Puck, v. 69, no. 1771, 8 February 1911 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

I had escaped, continued the corporal, all that time from falling in love, and had gone on to the end of the chapter, had it not been predestined otherwise -- there is no resisting our fate.

It was on a Sunday, in the afternoon, as I told your honour --

The old man and his wife had walked out --

Every thing was still and hush as midnight about the house --

There was not so much as a duck or a duckling about the yard --

-- When the fair Beguine came in to see me.

My wound was then in a fair way of doing well -- the inflammation had been gone off for some time, but it was succeeded with an itching both above and below my knee, so insufferable, that I had not shut my eyes the whole night for it.

Let me see it, said she, kneeling down upon the ground parallel to my knee, and laying her hand upon the part below it ---- It only wants rubbing a little, said the Beguine; so covering it with the bed clothes, she began with the forefinger of her right-hand to rub under my knee, guiding her fore-finger backwards and forwards by the edge of the flannel which kept on the dressing.

In five or six minutes I felt slightly the end of her second finger --- and presently it was laid flat with the other, and she continued rubbing in that way round and round for a good while; it then came into my head, that I should fall in love -- I blush'd when I saw how white a hand she had -- I shall never, an' please your honour, behold another hand so white whilst I live --

-- Not in that place: said my uncle Toby --

Though it was the most serious despair in nature to the corporal -- he could not forbear smiling.

The young Beguine, continued the corporal, perceiving it was of great service to me -- from rubbing, for some time, with two fingers -- proceeded to rub at length, with three -- till by little and little she brought down the fourth, and then rubb'd with her whole hand: I will never say another word, an' please your honour, upon hands again -- but it was softer than satin --

-- Prithee, Trim, commend it as much as thou wilt, said my uncle Toby; I shall hear thy story with the more delight -- The corporal thank'd his master most unfeignedly; but having nothing to say upon the Beguine's hand, but the same over again -- he proceeded to the effects of it.

The fair Beguine, said the corporal, continued rubbing with her whole hand under my knee -- till I feared her zeal would weary her -- "I would do a thousand times more,'' said she, "for the love of Christ'' -- In saying which she pass'd her hand across the flannel, to the part above my knee, which I had equally complained of, and rubbed it also.

I perceived, then, I was beginning to be in love --

As she continued rub-rub-rubbing -- I felt it spread from under her hand, an' please your honour, to every part of my frame --

The more she rubb'd, and the longer strokes she took -- the more the fire kindled in my veins -- till at length, by two or three strokes longer than the rest -- my passion rose to the highest pitch -- I seized her hand --

-- And then, thou clapped'st it to thy lips, Trim, said my uncle Toby -- and madest a speech.

Whether the corporal's amour terminated precisely in the way my uncle Toby described it, is not material; it is enough that it contain'd in it the essence of all the love-romances which ever have been wrote since the beginning of the world.

The Narrowing Target
. Cupid -- I'm doing the best I can, old man, but if I make one hit in twenty these days I'm lucky: Nelson Greene, cover illustration, Puck, v. 75, no. 1928, 14 February 1914 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), Vol. 8 Chapter XXII


ACravan said...

I guess I really need to read Tristram Shandy. I'm very glad I'm awake to read this, to learn about Beguines and Beghards, and to see the Puck illustrations, which are terrific. (I really love the top one.) Reading this makes a good start for trying to have a lighthearted day. Progress charting begins now -- the dogs are calling. Curtis

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ah, "the essence of all the love-romances" - thanks for the reminder of the how and why this wonderful book bears revisiting again and and again (and again) ...

A little above the knee, please, if you will, Mr. Sterne ...

TC said...


It is a brilliantly funny and inventive work.

Some however grow impatient... I suppose it depends on your tolerance for chaos (or anyway for disorder).

The man who first taught it to me was a remarkable scholar, but this book was a blind spot for him. Though it was on a list of required books set for an Honours course, he counselled that it was not necessary to read every page. "Read every seventh page," he advised, "and you will get the point of the thing, and save a fair bit of time." One might have equally suggested that it was not necessary to view all seven of the Seven Wonders of the World -- seen one, seen 'em all.

TC said...


Glad to hear we are fellow sharers of this joy. Tristram Shandy has long been one of my favourite hobbyhorses (to speak of it in Sterne language):

Unwinding the Clock: Time in Tristram Shandy

Sterne: A White Bear

Tristram Shandy: The Battle of the Cataplasm

Tristram Shandy: The Damnation of Obadiah

Tristram Shandy: The Overthrow of Dr. Slop

Tristram Shandy: The Siege of Namur by Captain Shandy and Corporal Trim

Conrad DiDiodato said...

If the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E gang had read (and seen it for what it is, viz. an 'ironic' anticipation centuries ago of their own language experiments), they would have had nothing to say or do.

Sterne, with humour and affection for his reader, beat them all to the punch.

TC said...


One fears the ominous consequences that might have ensued, had they ever been exposed to laughter.

(Much less affection.)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

When I came to the page that was completely blacked out, I swooned with pure, unadulterated admiration for a man who had been dead centuries.

Conrad, you are spot on.

Tom, these links will keep me busy for quite sometime, thanks.

And for the affection, with humor.

TC said...


That soft sighing sound crossing the continent from the light end to the dark -- must be our unison swooning over Sterne!

TC said...

Our friend Ronald Padgett, Gent., sends along this complementary tale of the progress of an amour (or two):

Love on the Rails

A large pink Valentine is brought onstage by two railroad brakemen.

FIRST BRAKEMAN: Here is the Valentine.

SECOND BRAKEMAN: Yes, and may it prove to be as worthy as she who shall receive it.

Enter Girl.

GIRL: I am to receive it.


He hands her the Valentine.

GIRL: Thank you.

They leave. A large railroad brakeman is brought in by two Valentines.





Oh my, how exciting! Happy V Day!


pink cloud in pale blue sky above still
dark ridge, white half moon by branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

if we had chosen this would
not be so, with those

this which, physical effect,
so happens to be only

grey rain cloud against shadowed ridge,
silver of drops splashing into channel

TC said...


Beautiful Valentine poem

this which, physical effect,
so happens

Cold day here, electrified gardeners making havoc (and hay) nonetheless, at next door insurance guy's place. But at least rain has now stopped falling upon the duelling tribute/threat memorial site of a kid killed last week down the block.

Hope the reading went well last night, I sent my silent blessings while cowering undercover(s)...



Thanks, reading was good -- some pages from Conversation, some pages from CLOUD / RIDGE, followed by 10 most recent days here. . . . White frost on neighbor's roof this morning, sunlight on shoulder of ridge just now, poor boy (kid) down your street. . .