MAKING OF AMERICA: Laurence Sterne
The Michigan version of Making of America includes various references to Sterne, including this 19th century article, which is really a brief biography: The North American review. / Volume 107, Issue 220. Publisher: University of Northern Iowa ; Publication Date: July 1868 City: Cedar Falls, Iowa, etc. Laurence Sterne, by Adams Sherman Hill: pp. 1-38 Conveniently, this volume is indexed:
Sterne, Laurence, article on, 1 —37
— portraits of himself and wife, 1, 2
— his parents and their family, 2, 8
— his indifference to his mother, 3—6
— his experiences in ten years’ marching with his father’s regiment, 6
— at Cambridge, 7
— enters the ministry, 7, 8
— character of his sermons, 9 — 12
— origin of Tristram Shandy, 13
— its immediate success, 14, 15
— popularity of Yarick’s sermons and A Sentimental Journey, 16, 16
— Goldsmith’s ill opinion of Sterne as an author, 16
—discontent at Sutton, 17
— sick, goes to France and is cordially welcomed, 17, 18
— his description of his manner of journeying, 18
I don't know how many surprises Sterne scholars will find here, but it might make a good introduction for others. Personally, I was struck by this tidbit:
A collection at the York races more than enabled Mrs. Sterne to pay her husband's debts, and the sale of the sweepings of his study added a little to her scanty means. She died in France, where her daughter, who had married a Frenchman named Medalle or Medaille, was guillotined (if an un-authenticated rumor may be credited) during the Revolution.
Lydia Sterne De Medalle's portrait can be viewed here.
Though I've found another mention of this rumor, John Bayley seems to imply that she died, like two children, of tuberculosis (John Bayley, Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 (10-11)). (He also suggests that her husband married her so that *his* father could get hold of her father's manuscripts.) Another article, "LAURENCE STERNE. HIS GENIUS, HIS HUMOR, AND HIS CHARACTER" (417-421,) is reprinted from Sharpe's London Magazine: The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical, devoted to literature, arts, and religion. Cincinnati: Methodist Episcopal Church [etc.] Volume 14, Issue: 9, Sept 1854 It begins with this extraordinary opening:
To us, who live in an age which, allowing for all its follies and failings, is so much more substantially virtuous, as well as more externally decorous, than "the good old times" of our grandsires, it is not easy to realize mentally the depth, the degree, the intensity of that moral corruption which prevailed among a large proportion of the "higher" classes during the first eight decades of the eighteenth century, and which received a serious admonition and check from the astounding convulsions of the French Revolution. It would be a puzzling task to inquire into the initiative causes of the degeneracy that existed in our own country-whether it were ascribable to a slothful reaction consequent on the cessation of the political discord and internecine warfare that had occupied the previous century, or whether it arose from the increasing fashionable intercourse with the atheistical male and female philosophes of France. Be the cause what it might have been, the fact was there, in sad and deplorable reality. When we hear of primates reproved by a juvenile monarch for the levity and luxury of their lives, of chaplains fighting duels with the officers of their regiments, killing or being killed in the unchristian conflict-of clergymen, now followed by all the town on the score of their "exciting" sermons against particular vices, and hanged, within a few weeks, for villainies perpetrated with the object of procuring the means of indulging in those very vices; when we hear of a man like Sterne, neglecting and violating all the duties of his sacred function, in order to run riot in London dissipation, and promulgate the pruriencies of "Tristam Shandy;" and when, in fine, we hear of bishops now patting the faithless pastor on the back in the hope of securing praise and support, and incontinently, in their disappointment, pronouncing him an "irrecoverable rascal," we shrug our shoulders in wonder, and ask ourselves, could such things have been in an age so very near to our own?
The relentless condemnation in the article - reminiscent in tone of French Restoration writings on Voltaire, et al - does lead to one interesting anecdote:
Sterne's sermons, some of which are models of verbal grace and polish, were popular in their day. For the copy-right of these he received large sums. They are not much read now-haply, because our modern taste has quarreled with the craven hypocrisy, which could lead such a man to preach and print compositions of the kind. In keeping with this hypocrisy is the warmth wherewith he denounces one of his own peculiar sins-that of matrimonial delinquency and cruelty; and equally consistent his protestation to Garrick, that "a man who ill used his wife ought to expect his very house to fall in and crush him;" to which the English Roscius wittily rejoined, "Then, Sterne, you must be the most courageous man in the world, or you never would venture to enter your own door."
Strangely, this writer seems to ADMIRE Sterne (albeit in a remarkably roundabout way):
His protest against plagiarism is itself a brazen plagiarism, but it is introduced in a style which nothing but genius could attempt or execute, and which makes the reader, who has, perhaps, often before perused it in another shape, forgive the theft in admiration of its dexterity.
Oh, and who does he blame for all this decadence?
The "Sentimental Journey" signed the death-warrant of the turgid absurdities which, since the commencement of the age of bad taste in England, on the introduction of Dutch influences into places of power and patronage, had gone by the name of "sentiment."
That's right. The Dutch. Known, apparently, for their dissolute, dissipated behavior. FINALLY something we can blame them for! If you like this kind of thing, the same periodical (Volume 16, Issue: 3, Mar 1856) offers "Incongruity Between Principle and Character" (167-168) by a Marion Morglay, who takes swipes at both Sterne and Rousseau. This item from an article on a private library: Southern literary messenger; devoted to every department of literature and the fine arts. Richmond, Virginia: T.W. White [etc.] Volume 17, Issue: 10, Nov 1851 is almost as condemnatory, but provides some hard facts as well:
An original MS. of Laurence Sterne, the author of the "Sentimental Journey," " Tristram Shandy," &c., next demands attention. It is an entire autograph of his "Fragment, in the manner of Rabelais," one of the most singular, of his singular works. The manuscript varies materially from the copy. published by his daughter, Mrs. Medall, in 1775, as it contains expressions too coarse for publication. The autograph of this celebrated and eccentric writer is of great rarity. His published works, however, are numerous, but of a very unequal character; mingling with charity and assize sermons, "Yorick's Meditations" on noses and "hobby horses;" on quacks, and "the man in the moon." His life and writings were totally at variance with the profession he espoused, and the sacred things in which he ministered. In 1822, the wig of Sterne was sold in London, at public auction for two hundred guineas, nearly a thousand dollars!"
A work on Laurence Hutton includes descriptions of various death masks he'd collected, often with interesting anecdotes on the subject: Talks in a library with Laurence Hutton, recorded by Isabel Moore. Hutton, Laurence, 1843-1904.Moore, Isabel Kellogg, Mrs., 1872- New York, London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905. Here he is on his 'Sterne' mask:
I had so little faith in the so-called mask of Laurence Sterne that I did not put it into my book. No contemporary record of it exists, and I did not see in the peculiarly distressing and unusual circumstances of Sterne's death, how it could possibly have been made. He died in poverty and almost alone. His body-servant, nearly the only friend he had, subsequently told the harrowing story to the world with all its painful details and he mentioned no taking of a mask. The subsequent proceedings were the most gruesome of all. According to tradition, a friend of his, a medical student, going from some festive party to a secret dissecting clinic, found to his horror upon the work-table what was left of Laurence Sterne. He saved the fragments, gathered them up, and buried them in St. George's Cemetery, Bayswater Road, London. Under these conditions it seems hardly possible that then or earlier a mask could have been made. Nevertheless the face is very like that of the Nolleken's bust, the portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough, and particularly like the full-length water-colour drawing at Chantilly. But I cannot vouch for it. The world is not so apt to associate Sterne particularly with York Minster, but he was for many years a prebendary of that Cathedral; learning there, no doubt, that the universe was wide enough to hold both him and the poor fly and that God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, although he could have had there but little actual knowledge as to how terribly our armies swore in Flanders."
(Hutton also had Burr's death mask, authenticated by a man who claimed to have taken it.) The site also has Thackeray's look at Sterne in the "Roundabout Papers", collected in: Miscellanies, by William M. Thackeray. New York: Harper, [187- for those who prefer the page images. For straight text, Gutenberg might be simpler. Hawthorne's praise of Sterne's sermons is only part of the interest of this passage from Yesterdays with authors, By James T. Fields. Boston: J. R. Osgood and company, 1872.:
Hawthorne was a hearty devourer of books, and in certain moods of mind it made very little difference what the volume before him happened to be. An old play or an old newspaper sometimes gave him wondrous great content, and he would ponder the sleepy, uninteresting sentences as if they contained immortal mental aliment. He once told me he found such delight in old advertisements in the newspaper files at the Boston Athenaeum, that he had passed delicious hours among them. At other times he was very fastidious, and threw aside book after book until he found the right one. De Quincey was a special favorite with him, and the Sermons of Laurence Sterne he once commended to me as the best sermons ever written. In his library was an early copy of Sir Philip Sidney's "Arcadia," which had floated down to him from a remote ancestry, and which he had read so industriously for forty years that it was nearly worn out of its thick leathern cover. Hearing him say once that the old English State Trials were enchanting reading, and knowing that he did not possess a copy of those heavy folios, I picked up a set one day in a bookshop and sent them to him."
I'm sure Hawthorne's "delight in old advertisements" and state trials will touch a chord with some here. Finally, for a very hearty chuckle, you might see this image of Sterne next to one of 'an Indian chief', used to illustrate the trait (or lack thereof) of mirthfulness - as defined by phrenology. (New illustrated self-instructor in phrenology and physiology; with over one hundred engravings; By O. S. and L. N. Fowler. (137)