Assuming the degree
To open the festivities (and prepare a series of upcoming posts designed to circumvent my garrulous inclinations), I leave you with an excerpt from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, that most seditious and intolerable of works in the English language, by Laurence Sterne. Come now, it’s occasionally hilarious as well.
The scene is simple and requires no great context. Corporal Trim is a servant to Tristram’s Uncle Toby, now a retired captain. If memory serves me right, and even though this description takes place well into the book, Tristram himself is yet to be born; his father, Uncle Toby and Trim spaciously await in a downstairs chamber for Doctor Slop and Susannah to deliver the baby Trismegistus.
— But before the Corporal begins, I must first give you a description of his attitude; —otherwise he will naturally stand represented, by your imagination, in an uneasy posture,—stiff,—perpendicular,—dividing the weight of his body equally upon both legs;—his eye fix’d, as if on duty;—his look determined,—clinching the sermon in his left-hand, like his firelock:—In a word, you would be apt to paint Trim, as if he was standing in his platoon ready for action :— His attitude was as unlike all this as you can conceive.
He stood before them with his body swayed, and bent forwards just so far, as to make an angle of 85 degrees and a half upon the plain of the horizon ;— which sound orators, to whom I address this, know very well, to be the true persuasive angle of incidence ;—in any other angle you may talk and preach ;—’tis certain,—and it is done every day ;— but with what effect—I leave the world to judge!
The necessity of this precise angle of 85 degrees and a half to a mathematical exactness,—does it not shew us, by the way,—how the arts and sciences mutually befriend each other?
How the duce Corporal Trim, who knew not so much as an acute angle from an obtuse one, came to hit it so exactly ; —or whether it was chance or nature, or good sense, or imitation, &c. shall be commented upon in that part of this cyclopædia of arts and sciences, where the instrumental parts of the eloquence of the senate, the pulpit, the bar, the coffee-house, the bed-chamber, and fire-side, fall under consideration.
He stood,—for I repeat it, to take the picture of him in at one view, with his body sway’d, and somewhat bent forwards,—his right-leg firm under him, sustaining seven-eighths of his whole weight,—the foot of his left-leg, the defect of which was no disadvantage to his attitude, advanced a little,—not laterally, nor forwards, but in a line betwixt them;—his knee bent, but that not violently,—but so as to fall within the limits of the line of beauty ;—and I add, of the line of science too ;—for consider, it had one eighth part of his body to bear up ;—so that in this case the position of the leg is determined,—because the foot could be no further advanced, or the knee more bent, than what would allow him mechanically, to receive an eighth part of his whole weight under it,—and to carry it too.
This I recommend to painters ?— need I add,—to orators ?—I think not; for, unless they practise it,—they must fall upon their noses.
So much for Corporal Trim’s body and legs.—He held the sermon loosely,—not carelessly, in his left-hand, raised something above his stomach, and detach’d a little from his breast ;—his right-arm falling negligently by his side, as nature and the laws of gravity ordered it,—but with the palm of it open and turned towards his audience, ready to aid the sentiment, in case it stood in need.
Corporal Trim’s eyes and the muscles of his face were in full harmony with the other parts of him ;—he look’d frank,— unconstrained,—something assured,— but not bordering upon assurance.