Cover of book Sterne
Categories: Nonfiction

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8TBAM SHANDY," VOLS. I. AND II. (1759-1760.) Hitherto we have had to construct our conception of Sterne out of materials of more or less plausible conjecture. We are now at last approaching the region of positive evidence, and henceforward, down almost to the last scene of all, Sterne's doings will be chronicled, and his character revealed, by one who happens, in this case, to be the best of all possible biographers?the man himself. Not that such records are by any means always the most trustworthy of evidence. There are some men whose real character is never more effectually concealed than in their correspondence. But it is not so with Sterne. The careless, slipshod letters which Madame de Medalle "pitchforked" into the book-market, rather than edited, are highly valuable as pieces of autobiography. They are easy, nai've, and natural, rich in simple self-disclosure in almost every page; and if they have more to tell us about the man than the writer, they are yet not wanting in instructive hints as to Sterne's methods of composition and his theories of art. It was in the year 1759 that the Vicar of Sutton and Prebendary of York?already, no doubt, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to many worthy people in thecounty?conceived the idea of astonishing and scandalizing them still further after a new and original fashion. His impulses to literary production were probably various, and not all of them, or perhaps the strongest of them, of the artistic order. The first and most urgent was, it may be suspected, the simplest and most common of all such motive forces. Sterne, in all likelihood, was in want of money. He was not, perhaps, under the actual instruction of that magister artium whom the Roman satirist has celebrated; for he declared, indeed, af...

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