Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 4 Chapters 22 32 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 4, Chapters 22–32 | Summary



Tristram pauses to apologize for anything in his writing that might be misconstrued as controversial. His book, he insists, is not "wrote against predestination, or free-will, or taxes," but merely to entertain. Back at Shandy Hall, Walter asks Yorick about the possibility of renaming his child and agrees to go to a gathering of religious scholars to get their opinions. Vol. 4, Chapter 24 is purposefully omitted, as Tristram believes the book to be better off without it. By the beginning of Vol. 4, Chapter 25 Walter, Toby, and Yorick are all en route to the meeting place.

At the gathering the other clerics are horrified to find Yorick passing around strips of an old sermon of his for use in lighting their pipes. The sermon, Yorick explains, was overly academic and did not come from the heart, thus should not be preserved in writing. His discussion is interrupted by a pained scream from across the room: a hot chestnut has rolled off the table and landed in the codpiece of Yorick's colleague Phutatorius. Some of those present—including Phutatorius—suspect this to be a prank played by Yorick.

As Phutatorius seeks out a remedy for his singed crotch, the rest of the group considers the issue of Tristram's baptism. The clerics offer many pedantic and unhelpful examples of cases in which a baptism might be null and void. Tristram's baptism, however—and thus his name—is declared valid and binding. Mercifully, Walter is soon distracted by a different problem: how to spend an inheritance from his aunt Dinah. Two projects stand out: he can either send his elder son Bobby on a European tour to complete his education, or he can drain and improve the Ox-moor, an undeveloped plot on the Shandy estate. Before Walter can make up his mind, Bobby dies, leaving Tristram the "heir-apparent to the Shandy family."


The religious scholars gathered in Vol. 4, Chapters 26–29 comically invert one of the novel's major themes: rather than being "wise fools" like Tristram, they might be said to be "foolish sages." Deeply learned within their narrow discipline, they are ludicrously eager to show off their knowledge. Their explanations, peppered with details of Latin grammar and canon law, are focused entirely on this kind of intellectual showmanship, and not at all on answering Walter Shandy's original question. Walter, as it happens, enjoys this sort of erudite and impractical discussion, but it fails to give him any remedy for his misbaptized son. Reflecting on the meeting later, he will find it to be "like the anointing of a broken bone." Remarkably, Walter appears to be more distraught over Tristram's name than over the death of Bobby, who—like a redshirt in Star Trek—is an incidental character, introduced only to be killed off quickly.

The names of these learned divines also appear in the "Preface" to Vol. 3 (between Chapter 20 and Chapter 21), where they are collectively described as "doctors [i.e., academics] renowned for gravity and wisdom." Here, the satire is extended, and the names are shown to fit their bearers. "Phutatorius," as Brian Michael Norton points out in his essay "The Moral in Phutatorius's Breeches" (2012), can mean either "one who copulates" or "fastener." The name is an apt one: it reinforces the ribald nature of the chestnut episode, and it underscores Phutatorius's status as a lustful man, whose most notorious piece of scholarship is a treatise entitled De Concubinis Retinendis (Latin for "Of the Keeping of Concubines"). Gastripheres, the "stomach-haver," is as much of a glutton as his name suggests, and Somnolentus ("Sleepy") snoozes his way through most of the meeting.

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