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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Tristram Shandy: The Overthrow of Dr. Slop

File:The overthrow of dr. slop.jpg

The Overthrow of Dr. Slop: engraving by Henry Bunbury in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published by J. Bretherton, London, 1773. Obadiah mounted on coach-horse at full gallop attempting to pull up his horse. On the ground is Dr. Slop's pony. Behind the pony is Dr. Slop lying on his back; a spotted dog prances over him. The doctor lies under a sign-post terminating in a hand pointing To Shandy Hall. (British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

IMAGINE to yourself a little squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop, of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horse-guards.

Such were the out-lines of Dr. Slop's figure, which-----if you have read Hogarth's analysis of beauty, and if you have not, I wish you would;---you must know, may as certainly be caricatured, and conveyed to the mind by three strokes as three hundred.

Imagine such a one,---for such, I say, were the outlines of Dr. Slop's figure, coming slowly along, foot by foot, waddling thro' the dirt upon the vertebrae of a little diminutive pony, of a pretty colour-----but of strength,-----alack!-----scarce able to have made an amble of it, under such a fardel, had the roads been in an ambling condition.-----They were not.------Imagine to yourself, Obadiah mounted upon a strong monster of a coach-horse, pricked into a full gallop, and making all practicable speed the adverse way.

Pray, Sir, let me interest you a moment in this description.

Had Dr. Slop beheld Obadiah a mile off, posting in a narrow lane directly towards him, at that monstrous rate,------splashing and plunging like a devil thro' thick and thin, as he approached, would not such a phaenomenon, with such a vortex of mud and water moving along with it, round its axis,-----have been a subject of juster apprehension to Dr. Slop in his situation, than the worst of Whiston's comets?---To say nothing of the NUCLEUS; that is, of Obadiah and the coach-horse.--------In my idea, the vortex alone of 'em was enough to have involved and carried, if not the doctor, at least the doctor's pony, quite away with it. What then do you think must the terror and hydrophobia of Dr. Slop have been, when you read (which you are just going to do) that he was advancing thus warily along towards Shandy-Hall, and had approached to within sixty yards of it, and within five yards of a sudden turn, made by an acute angle of the garden-wall,-----and in the dirtiest part of a dirty lane,-------when Obadiah and his coach-horse turned the corner, rapid, furious,-----pop,---full upon him!---Nothing, I think, in nature, can be supposed more terrible than such a rencounter,-----so imprompt! so ill prepared to stand the shock of it as Dr. Slop was.

What could Dr. Slop do?---he crossed himself +-----Pugh!-----but the doctor, Sir, was a Papist.---No matter; he had better have kept hold of the pummel.---He had so;---nay, as it happened, he had better have done nothing at all; for in crossing himself he let go his whip,-----and in attempting to save his whip betwixt his knee and his saddle's skirt, as it slipped, he lost his stirrup,---in losing which he lost his seat;-----and in the multitude of all these losses (which, by the bye, shews what little advantage there is in crossing) the unfortunate doctor lost his presence of mind. So that without waiting for Obadiah's onset, he left his pony to its destiny, tumbling off it diagonally, something in the stile and manner of a pack of wool, and without any other consequence from the fall, save that of being left (as it would have been) with the broadest part of him sunk about twelve inches deep in the mire.

Obadiah pull'd off his cap twice to Dr. Slop;------once as he was falling,---and then again when he saw him seated.---Ill-timed complaisance;-----had not the fellow better have stopped his horse, and got off and help'd him?-----Sir, he did all that his situation would allow;---but the Momentum of the coach-horse was so great, that Obadiah could not do it all at once;-----he rode in a circle three times round Dr. Slop, before he could fully accomplish it any how;---and at the last, when he did stop his beast, 'twas done with such an explosion of mud, that Obadiah had better have been a league off. In short, never was a Dr. Slop so beluted, and so transubstantiated, since that affair came into fashion.

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Volume II (1760), Chapter IX

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