If you look for Chapter 24 in the 4th volume of Tristram Shandy, you will find it missing. If you glance at the page numbers, you will find a gap of ten pages. At the start of Chapter 25, Sterne explains:
— NO doubt, Sir — there is a whole chapter wanting here — and a chasm of ten pages made in the book by it — but the book-binder is neither a fool, or a knave, or a puppy — nor is the book a jot more imperfect, (at least upon that score) — but, on the contrary, the book is more perfect and complete by wanting the chapter, than having it, as I shall demonstrate to your reverences in this manner —
He then spends the rest of this chapter telling us what had been in the previous chapter that he had decided to omit. And then, he explains why he had to omit that previous chapter: it was not because it was not good enough, but, rather, that it was too good:
[The omitted chapter] appears to be so much above the stile and manner of anything else I have been able to paint in this book, that it could not have remained in it, without depreciating every other scene ; and destroying at the same time that necessary equipoise and balance, (whether of good or bad) betwixt chapter and chapter, from whence the just proportions and harmony of the whole work results.
Now, I wish I could claim as much for my own missing chapter – the post that had appeared here yesterday afternoon, and, having been up here for an hour or so for all to see, mysteriously vanished. Now that it has vanished, there is no reason why I shouldn’t make grand claims for it – that it was written in a style and manner so much above anything else I have written here, that retaining it would have destroyed the inner harmony of the blog, and so on. But no: the sad truth is that it was an intemperate post written in a fit of extreme annoyance; and that, once I had calmed down, I realised that it did little to advance the image I try to project of myself of a jovial, avuncular figure, radiating to all a genial goodwill and a Pickwickian benevolence.
Or something like that.
This is the article that had aroused my ire. I have had occasion to take issue with Robert McCrum before, but on that occasion, I had been merely amused by what I took to be the foolishness of his writing; on this occasion, I was angry, and one really should not write when one is angry. Or, at least, having written, one should not reach for that “publish” button.
This particular article of his is, admittedly, jokey, and not intended to be taken seriously, but nonetheless, I couldn’t overlook what he had to say about Indian literature:
This could be seen as a subset of either Booker lit or Commonwealth Lit, and is represented by Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and many others. For a while, it seemed as if the English literary tradition would be sustained exclusively by writers from the sub-continent.
That the only Indian writings one need bother with are those written in a Western language for a predominantly Western readership, while those written in one those funny little languages of theirs need not even be acknowledged, is a contention widely accepted though never explicitly stated amongst Western literati; and, for me, it is the proverbial red rag to a bull: I find it offensive and insulting – especially when it comes from someone who had been editor-in-chief at Faber & Faber for twenty years, and really should know better. And in immediate response, I wrote a post that was written in heat, and generated little light. I shouldn’t have done
In any case, I have already had a bit of a rant about this matter only quite recently.
The last word should, I think, go to Laurence Sterne:
— I question first by the bye, whether the same experiment might not be made as successfully upon sundry other chapters —
If there is any other post that you think this blog would be better without, do please let me know!