Study Guide

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Book 3, Chapter 20

By Laurence Sterne

Book 3, Chapter 20

  • Mr. Shandy is getting jazzed up thinking about Toby's mind as a roasting spit. He thinks about it so intently that he … nods off to lullaby land. Toby, too, conks out.
  • Since everyone else is occupied—Dr. Slop is upstairs with the midwife and Mrs. Shandy, and Trim is cooking up some equipment for Toby's model fortifications—this is a good time for Tristram to write the preface.
  • THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE (in Tristram's own words)
  • Tristram says the book basically speaks for itself—it's that good. Always the modest one, that Tristram. He paraphrases Locke, who says that wit and judgment don't go together—just like farting and hiccupping.
  • We're not sure if we read that part of Locke, but it sounds true enough.
  • Anyway, Tristram hopes that his readers have as much wit and judgment as they possibly can hold. If so, then they'd be sure to like this book—but they'd also be impossible to live with. Witty people also tend to be kind of rude.
  • Of course, good judgment always comes in handy. But the world holds only so much wit and judgment. Of course, very cold places use hardly any wit and judgment. As you go farther south, however, wit and common sense start popping up all over the place.
  • So Tristram's going to come clean with you. Wishing that his readers have lots of wit and judgment is just a way of buttering you up. If you got more than your fair share, you'd rob other people of theirs, and all professions—from lawyers to the clergy—would run wild.
  • Okay, breaking it down a little bit more: Wit and Judgment are like two symmetrical decorations. If you remove one, the whole thing looks ridiculous. Better not to have either than to have only one. This is where Tristram differs from Locke, who doesn't give a fig about wit.
  • … and, end preface.