"[A]nd this kind of modesty so possess'd him, and it arose to such a height in him, as almost to equal, if such a thing could be, even the modesty of a woman: That female nicety, Madam, and inward cleanliness of mind and fancy, in your sex, which makes you so much the awe of ours."
— Sterne, Laurence (1713-1768)
My uncle Toby Shandy, Madam, was a gentleman, who, with the virtues which usually constitute the character of a man of honour and rectitude,--possessed one in a very eminent degree, which is seldom or never put into the catalogue; and that was a most extream and unparallel'd modesty of nature;--tho' I correct the word nature, for this reason, that I may not prejudge a point which must shortly come to a hearing; and that is, Whether this modesty of his was natural or acquir'd. --Which ever way my uncle Toby came by it, 'twas nevertheless modesty in the truest sense of it; and that is, Madam, not in regard to words, for he was so unhappy as to have very little choice in them,--but to things;--and this kind of modesty so possess'd him, and it arose to such a height in him, as almost to equal, if such a thing could be, even the modesty of a woman: That female nicety, Madam, and inward cleanliness of mind and fancy, in your sex, which makes you so much the awe of ours.
You will imagine, Madam, that my uncle Toby had contracted all this from this very source;--that he had spent a great part of his time in converse with your sex; and that, from a thorough knowledge of you, and the force of imitation which such fair examples render irresistable, --he had acquired this amiable turn of mind .
I wish I could say so,--for unless it was with his sister-in-law, my father's wife and my mother,--my uncle Toby scarce exchanged three words with the sex in as many years;--no, he got it, Madam, by a blow. --A blow! --Yes, Madam, it was owing to a blow from a stone, broke off by a ball from the parapet of a horn-work at the siege of Namur, which struck full upon my uncle Toby's groin. --Which way could that effect it? The story of that, Madam, is long and interesting;--but it would be running my history all upon heaps to give it you here. --'Tis for an episode hereafter; and every circumstance relating to it in its proper place, shall be faithfully laid before you: --'Till then, it is not in my power to give further light into this matter, or say more than what I have said already,--That my uncle Toby was a gentleman of unparallel'd modesty, which happening to be somewhat subtilized and rarified by the constant heat of a little family-pride,--they both so wrought together within him, that he could never bear to hear the affair of my aunt Dinah touch'd upon, but with the greatest emotion. --The least hint of it was enough to make the blood fly into his face;--but when my father enlarged upon the story in mixed companies, which the illustration of his hypothesis frequently obliged him to do,--the unfortunate blight of one of the fairest branches of the family, would set my uncle Toby's honour and modesty o'bleeding; and he would often take my father aside, in the greatest concern imaginable, to expostulate and tell him, he would give him any thing in the world, only to let the story rest.
(pp. 149-53; Norton, 48)
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).