Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The imperfection of words

" - My young master in London is dead! said Obadiah. -
- A green satin night-gown of my mother's, which had been twice scoured, was the first idea which Obadiah's exclamation brought into Susannah's head. - Well might Locke write a chapter upon the imperfection of words. -
Then, quoth Susannah, we must all go into mourning.-
But note a second time: the word mourning, notwithstanding Susannah made use of it herself - failed also of doing its office; it excited not one single idea, tinged either with grey or with black, - all was green.- The green satin night-gown hung there still.
-O! 'twill be the death of my poor mistress, cried Susannah.- My mother's whole wardrobe followed.- What a procession! her red damask, -her orange tawney, - her white and yellow lute-strings, - her brown taffeta, - her bone-laced caps, her bed-gowns, and comfortable underpetticoats.- Not a rag was left behind.- 'No, - she will never look up again,' said Susannah."

Laurence Sterne (1759), the life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Penguin Books, Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England 1967, p, 354, 355


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