"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 enterance, 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."
— Sterne, Laurence (1713-1768)
I never knew a man able to answer this argument. --But, indeed, to speak of my father as he was;--he was certainly irresistible, both in his orations and disputations;--he was born an orator;-- θεοδίδακτος. --Persuasion hung upon his lips, and the elements of Logick and Rhetorick were so blended up in him,-- and, withall, he had so shrewd guess at the weaknesses and passions of his respondent, --that Nature might have stood up and said,--"This man is eloquent." In short, whether he was on the weak or the strong side of the question, 'twas hazardous in either case to attack him: --And yet, 'tis strange, he had never read Cicero nor Quintilian de Oratore, nor Isocrates, nor Aristotle, nor Longinus amongst the antients;--nor Vossius, nor Skioppius, nor Ramus, nor Farnaby amongst the moderns;--and what is more astonishing, he had never in his whole life the least light or spark of subtilty struck into his mind, by one single lecture upon Crackenthorp or Burgersdicius, or any Dutch logician or commentator;--he knew not so much as in what the difference of an argument ad ignorantiam, and an argument ad hominem consisted; so that I well remember, when he went up along with me to enter my name at Jesus College in ****,--it was a matter of just wonder with my worthy tutor, and two or three fellows of that learned society,--that a man who knew not so much as the names of his tools, should be able to work after that fashion with 'em.
To work with them in the best manner he could, was what my father was, however, perpetually forced upon;-- for he had a thousand little sceptical notions of the comick kind to defend,-- most of which notions, I verily believe, at first enter'd upon the footing of mere whims, and of a vive la Bagatelle ; and as such he would make merry with them for half an hour or so, and having sharpen'd his wit upon 'em, dismiss them till another day.
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 enterance, 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.
Whether this was the case of the singularity of my father's notions,--or that his judgment, at length, became the dupe of his wit;--or how far, in many of his notions, he might, tho' odd, be absolutely right;--the reader, as he comes at them, shall decide. All that I maintain here, is, that in this one, of the influence of Christian names, however it gain'd footing, he was serious;-- he was all uniformity;--he was systematical, and, like all systematick reasoners, he would move both heaven and earth, and twist and torture every thing in nature to support his hypothesis. In a word, I repeat it over again;--he was serious;--and, in consequence of it, he would lose all kind of patience whenever he saw people, especially of condition, who should have known better,--as careless and as indifferent about the name they imposed upon their child,--or more so, than in the choice of Ponto or Cupid for their puppy dog.
(pp. 118-123; Norton, 37-9)
See Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, 9 vols. (London: Printed for D. Lynch, 1760-1767). <Link to ECCO><Link to 1759 York edition in ECCO>
First two volumes available in ECCO-TCP: <Vol. 1><Vol. 2>. Most text drawn from second (London) edition <Link to LION>.
For vols. 3-4, see ESTC T14705 <R. and J. Dodsley, 1761>. For vols. 5-6, see ESTC T14706 <T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt, 1762>. For vols. 7-8, see ESTC T14820 <T. Becket and P. A. Dehont, 1765>. For vol. 9, <T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt, 1767>.
Reading in Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism, Ed. Howard Anderson (New York: Norton, 1980).