“Could a historiographer drive on his history, as a muleteer drives on his mule,–straight forward;–for instance, from Rome all the way to Loretto, without ever once turning his head aside, either to the right hand or to the left,–he might venture to foretell you an hour when he should get to his journey’s end;–but the thing is, morally speaking, impossible: For, if he is a man of the least spirit, he will have fifty deviations from a straight line to make with this or that party as he
goes along, which he can no ways avoid. He will have views and prospects to himself perpetually soliciting his eye, which he can no more help standing still to look at than he can fly;”
“It is the nature of an hypothesis, when once a man has conceived it,that it assimilates every thing to itself, as proper nourishment; and, from the first moment of your begetting it, it generally grows the stronger by every thing you see, hear, read, or understand. This is of great use.”
“Have not I promised the world a chapter of knots? two chapters upon the right and the wrong end of a woman? a chapter upon whiskers? a chapter upon wishes?–a chapter of noses?–No, I have done that–a chapter upon my uncle Toby’s modesty? to say nothing of a chapter upon chapters, which I will finish before I sleep–by my great grandfather’s whiskers, I shall never get half of ’em through this year.”
“…that ’tis owing to the negligence and perverseness of writers in despising this precaution, and to nothing else–that all the polemical writings in divinity are not as clear and demonstrative as those upon a Will o’ the Wisp, or any other sound part of philosophy, and natural pursuit; in order to which, what have you to do, before you set out, unless you intend to go puzzling on to the day of judgment–but to give the world a good definition, and stand to it, of the main word you have most occasion for–changing it, Sir, as you would a guinea, into small coin?–which done–let the father of confusion puzzle you, if he can; or put a different idea either into your head, or your reader’s head, if he knows how.”
“O ye powers! (for powers ye are, and great ones too)–which enable mortal man to tell a story worth the hearing–that kindly shew him, where he is to begin it–and where he is to end it–what he is to put into it–and what he is to leave out–how much of it he is to cast into a shade–and whereabouts he is to throw his light!–Ye, who preside over this vast empire of biographical freebooters, and see how many scrapes and plunges your subjects hourly fall into;–will you do one thing?
I beg and beseech you (in case you will do nothing better for us) that wherever in any part of your dominions it so falls out, that three several roads meet in one point, as they have done just here–that at least you set up a guide-post in the centre of them, in mere charity, to direct an uncertain devil which of the three he is to take.”