250-Year-Old Novel Tied To Danish Sperm Science!

First of all, to prevent confusion, and in hopes of not being sued, let me state that this post is NOT about the 70’s British pop band called Tristram Shandy, shown in the featured image, nor to the best of my knowledge are any of the band members Danish or involved in any way with Danish sperm. But their NAME is relevant, and their hair is so FLUFFY. Hence my use of the photo.

In my quest to read the 149 Greatest Novels of the English Language, I’ve made it to #7, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Lawrence Sterne. But this isn’t about that.

This is about how a 250-year-old novel and a news story from last week both came to my attention on the same day, and told me the same thing.

The book starts with an anecdote about Tristram’s conception – about how he can be so sure of its exact timing due to a confluence of London travel, Sciatica, strict clock-winding habits, and a mother’s ill-timed query*. He relates this to show how the events surrounding this conception led directly to his “thousand weaknesses both of body and mind”.

The TL;DR version: during her impregnation, Mother Shandy annoyed Father Shandy with a question, and this led directly to the resulting child having “a disordered state of nerves”.

Ok, that’s cute, from before the time when we understood how biology and inheritance works. But then, I was reading this article by Carl Zimmer, New York Times, in which is discussed:

this controversial hypothesis: that a man’s experiences can alter his sperm, and that those changes in turn may alter his children.

That’s just what STERNE said 250 years ago! Granted, the scientific study going on in Denmark is about physical changes to a man’s body resulting in physical traits in his children, and the book is referencing the man being annoyed during procreation (how delicate I’m being!) leading to the child being a Nervous Nellie – but still… a funny coincidence of the universe bringing my attention to these two very different sources at about the same time.

Life’s a funny old thing, ain’t she?


*Read the book yourself to see how these all worked together.

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