Katy’s recent blog on clocks in novels reminded me of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in several parts between 1759 and 1767. Sterne’s novel also appeared in a recent Guardian list of clocks in books, which succinctly explains the timekeeper’s role in nearly preventing Tristram’s conception.
Referring to Tristram Shandy gives me an excuse to mention a couple of other quotes from this extraordinary work, which manages to refer to a bewildering array of topics, longitude included.
What’s interesting is that the novel’s publication dates span the various developments leading to the 1765 Longitude Act, which arose from the (largely) successful testing of two methods for finding longitude at sea – lunar distances and Harrison’s timekeeper (H4). Sterne’s brief references seem, however, to stem from an earlier period when the quest for longitude was considered one of the great imponderables.
In the first, Tristram’s uncle is in a quandary in his attempts to offer sympathy:
Before an affliction is digested – consolation ever comes too soon; – after it is digested – it comes too late: so that you see, madam, there is but a mark between these two, as fine almost as a a hair, for a comforter to take aim at: my uncle Toby was always either on this side, or on that of it, and would often say, he believed in his heart he could as soon hit the longitude…
The second is from Parson Yorick and needs little in the way of comment:
I think the procreation of children as beneficial to the world… as the finding out the longitude.