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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)

The Siege of the Cities in the Kitchen-Garden

From “Tristram Shandy”

MY uncle Toby came down with plans along with him of almost every fortified town in Italy and Flanders; so let the Duke of Marlborough, or the Allies, have sat down before what town they pleased, my uncle Toby was prepared for them.

His way, which was the simplest one in the world, was this:

As soon as ever a town was invested (but sooner when the design was known), to take the plan of it (let it be what town it would), and enlarge it upon a scale to the exact size of his bowling-green; upon the surface of which, by means of a large roll of pack-thread, and a number of small piquets driven into the ground, at the several angles and redans, he transferred the lines from his paper; then taking the profile of the place, with its works, to determine the depths and slopes of the ditches, the talus of the glacis, and the precise height of the several banquettes, parapets, etc., he set the corporal to work, and sweetly went it on. The nature of the soil, the nature of the work itself, and above all, the good-nature of my uncle Toby, sitting by from morning till night and chatting kindly with the corporal upon past-done deeds, left labour little else but the ceremony of the name.

When the place was finished in this manner and put into a proper posture of defence, it was invested, and my uncle Toby and the corporal began to run their first parallel. I beg I may not be interrupted in my story by being told that the first parallel should be at least three hundred toises distant from the main body of the place, and that I have not left a single inch for it. For my uncle Toby took the liberty of encroaching upon his kitchen-garden for the sake of enlarging his works on the bowling-green; and, for that reason generally, ran his first and second parallels betwixt two rows of his cabbages and his cauliflowers: the conveniences and inconveniences of which will be considered at large in the history of my uncle Toby’s and the corporal’s campaigns, of which this I’m now writing is but a sketch, and will be finished, if I conjecture right, in three pages; but there is no guessing.

The campaigns themselves will take up as many books; and therefore I apprehend it would be hanging too great a weight of one kind of matter, in so flimsy a performance as this, to rhapsodise them, as I once intended, into the body of the work. Surely they had better be printed apart. We’ll consider the affair; so take the following sketch of them in the meantime:

When the town with its works was finished, my uncle Toby and the corporal began to run their first parallel, not at random, or anyhow, but from the same points and distances the Allies had begun to run theirs; and regulating their approaches and attacks by the accounts my uncle Toby received from the daily papers, they went on, during the whole siege, step by step, with the Allies.

When the Duke of Marlborough made a lodgment, my uncle Toby made a lodgment too; and when the face of a bastion was battered down, or a defence ruined, the corporal took his mattock and did as much, and so on; gaining ground, and making themselves masters of the works, till the town fell into their hands.

To one who took pleasure in the happy state of others there could not have been a greater sight in the world than on a post-morning, in which a practicable breach had been made by the Duke of Marlborough in the main body of the place, to have stood behind the hornbeam hedge and observed the spirit with which my uncle Toby, with Trim behind him, sallied forth, the one with the Gazette in his hand, the other with a spade on his shoulder, to execute the contents. What an honest triumph in my uncle Toby’s looks as he marched up to the ramparts! What intense pleasure swimming in his eye as he stood over the corporal, reading the paragraph ten times over to him as he was at work, lest, peradventure, he should make the breach an inch too wide, or leave it an inch too narrow! But when the chamade was beaten, and the corporal helped my uncle up it, and followed with the colours in his hand, to fix them upon the ramparts. Heaven! Earth! Sea! But what avail apostrophes? With all your elements, wet or dry, ye never compounded so intoxicating a draught.

In this track of happiness, for many years without one interruption to it, except now and then when the wind continued to blow due west for a week or ten days together, which detained the Flanders mail, and kept them so long in torture—but still it was the torture of the happy—in this track, I say, did my uncle Toby and Trim move for many years, every year of which, and sometimes every month, from the invention of either the one or the other of them, adding some little conceit or quirk of improvement to the operations, which always opened fresh springs of delight in carrying them on.

The first year’s campaign was carried on, from beginning to end, in the plain and simple method I’ve related.

In the second year, in which my uncle Toby took Liège and Ruremond, he thought he might afford the expense of four handsome drawbridges, of two of which I have given an exact description in the former part of my work.

At the latter end of the same year he added a couple of gates with portcullises—these last were converted afterward into orgues, as the better thing—and during the winter of the same year, my uncle Toby, instead of a new suit of clothes, which he always had at Christmas, treated himself with a handsome sentry-box, to stand at the corner of the bowling-green, betwixt which point and the foot of the glacis there was left a little kind of an esplanade, for him and the corporal to confer and hold councils of war upon.

The sentry-box was in case of rain.

All these were painted white three times over the ensuing spring, which enabled my uncle Toby to take the field with great splendour.

My father would often say to Yorick that if any mortal in the whole universe had done such a thing except his brother Toby, it would have been looked upon by the world as one of the most refined satires upon the parade and prancing manner in which Louis XIV., from the beginning of the war, but particularly that very year, had taken the field. But ’tis not in my brother Toby’s nature, kind soul! my father would add, to insult any one.

But let us go on.

I must observe that, although in the first year’s campaign the word town is often mentioned, yet there was no town at that time within the polygon; that addition was not made till the summer following the spring in which the bridges and sentry-box were painted, which was the third year of my uncle Toby’s campaigns; when upon his taking Amberg, Bonn, and Rhinberg, and Huy and Limbourg, one after another, a thought came into the corporal’s head that to talk of taking so many towns, without one town to show for it, was a very nonsensical way of going to work, and so proposed to my uncle Toby that they should have a little model of a town built for them, to be run up together of slit deals, and then painted, and clapped within the polygon to serve for all.

My uncle Toby felt the good of the project instantly, and instantly agreed to it, but with the addition of two singular improvements, of which he was almost as proud as if he had been the original inventor of the project itself.

The one was to have the town built exactly in the style of those of which it was most likely to be the representative, with grated windows and the gable-ends of the houses facing the streets, etc., as those in Ghent and Bruges, and the rest of the towns in Brabant and Flanders.

The other was not to have the houses run up together, as the corporal proposed, but have every house independent, to hook on or off, so as to form into the plan of whatever town they pleased. This was put directly into hand; and many and many a look of mutual congratulation was exchanged between my uncle Toby and the corporal as the carpenter did the work.

It answered prodigiously the next summer; the town was a perfect Proteus. It was Landen, and Trerebach, and Santvliet, and Drusen, and Hakenau; and then it was Ostend, and Menin, and Aeth, and Dendermond.

In the fourth year my uncle Toby, thinking a town looked foolishly without a church, added a very fine one with a steeple. Trim was for having bells in it. My uncle Toby said the metal had better be cast into cannon.

This led the way, the next part of the campaign, for half a dozen brass field-pieces, to be planted three on each side of my uncle Toby’s sentry-box; and in a short time these led the way for a train somewhat larger, and so on (as must always be the case in hobby-horsical affairs), from pieces of half-an-inch bore till it came at last to my father’s jack-boots.

The next year, which was that in which Lisle was besieged, and at the close of which both Ghent and Bruges fell into our hands, my uncle Toby was sadly put to it for proper ammunition. I say proper ammunition, because his great artillery would not bear powder; and ’twas well for the Shandy family they would not; for so full were the papers, from the beginning to the end of the siege, of the incessant firings kept up by the besiegers, and so heated was my uncle Toby’s imagination with the accounts of them, that he had infallibly shot away all his estate.