Ballistics and Politics: Military Architecture Books at the Newberry Library
In Lawrence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, published in 1760-1767, Uncle Toby is the perfect type of a veteran who cannot stop reliving his glory days, in his case, the siege of Namur, William of Orange’s decisive victory in the defense of the Netherlands against Louis XIV. Uncle Toby becomes consumed by what Sterne calls his “Hobby-Horse,” reliving in books and maps the wars of both past and present:
"The desire for knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it. The more my Uncle Toby pored over his map, the more he took a liking to it ... [and] the greater was the heat and impatience of his thirst, so that before the first year of his confinement had well gone round, there was scarce a fortified town in Italy or Flanders, of which, by one means or other, he had not procured a plan, reading over as he got them, and carefully collating therewith, the histories of their sieges, their demolitions, their improvements and new works, all which he would read with that intense application and delight, that he would forget himself, his wound, his confinement, his dinner."
The fortifications, siege, and battles of Namur were reported widely and portrayed in maps almost immediately. Uncle Toby’s mania is a fitting introduction to the widespread European phenomenon of publishing books of military architecture. He was the consumer many publishers longed for, the repeat customer who never had enough books on his chosen subject.