Sterne and Sterneana : The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman. Volume IX

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>The first text to appear as <i>The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Vol. IX</i> was not, in fact, the one written by Laurence Sterne. Rather, it was an unauthorised continuation of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> produced in 1766, the year after Sterne published his volumes 7 and 8 (and the year before the Sternean volume 9).</p><p>Like much of the other Shandeana of the 1760s, <i>Vol. IX</i> offers a combination of what its creators thought were the principal pleasures of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> with an attempt to fulfil Tristram's most ostentatiously unfulfilled promise: namely, to provide an account of his Uncle Toby's amours with the Widow Wadman. These pleasures apparently include Tristram's banter with his readers, a sense that Sterne's fame is inextricably tied to his extensive use of 'stars' (i.e. asterisks) to hint at the bawdry, and satire on the learned professions, especially medicine and theology. So, for example, Tristram teases readers eager to learn how Toby and the Widow have progressed by insisting 'that the next two chapters shall not contain one word of my uncle <i>Toby,</i> or any of his family, excepting myself' (13). Similarly, at the close of chapter XVIII, a digression on 'the amazing dependence of the mind upon the body,' he 'expect[s] this ... will let you into the theory of chapter third, which I desire you will read over again' (34, 35). Perhaps unsurprisingly, chapter III purports to be filler that Tristram devised when he knew 'not what the present chapter will consist of.... it may be love, law, politics, or astronomy' (4).</p><p>The latter is one of the many references we get to Tristram/Sterne's reliance on 'stars' as the source of his success (or at least what he thinks is the source of his success). Lest we forgot what these stars are doing, chapter LXX, which narrates the 'conversation' between Mr. and Mrs. Shandy on their monthly sex- and clock-winding night, is comprised entirely of thirty-eight asterisks, followed by 'Exeunt Omnes' (138). Perhaps the most interesting treatment of the 'stars,' though, comes in an engraving on the title page, where a man in a boat points up at four stars in a line in the sky (as if they were asterisks concealing a four-letter word), while a motto around the edge reads 'SI JE LES PERD JE SUIS PERDU' [if I lose them, I am lost]. Ostensibly, of course, this refers to celestial navigation, but it's not hard to see how one could (uncharitably) regard Tristram, or Sterne himself, as lost without his typographic bawdy.</p><p>An odd combination of that bawdy and the satire against the learned professions comes in toward the end when, intrigued by Toby's amours, Tristram seeks to understand 'the doctrine of generation' (100) and consults with Dr. Querpo (a polymath) and Mr. Martin, a 'little oily man of God' (38). He learns several theories of how sperm and eggs interact, which may have provided some of the mildly naughty pleasures of popular obstetric writing, such as <i>Aristotle's Masterpiece.</i> But those theories also become an opportunity for some anticlerical jabs, since Mr. Martin uses them to argue that modern science was entirely anticipated by scripture, but that one needs to be completely fluent in Hebrew (as he is) to properly understand how. Much of this is sufficiently Shandean that one can understand why <i>The Critical Review</i> should have insisted that while <i>Vol. IX</i> 'is not the production of the Rev. Mr. S- ... we may venture to assert, that the author has deprived that gentleman of the epithet of <i>inimitable'</i>. Alas, the long-awaited account of Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman is disappointing: after much delay, Toby declares himself, is accepted without too much coquetry, gives up his hobby-horse, learns to play quadrille and other 'polite games' (92), and joins the Widow in her new pastime: keeping pigeons.</p><p>The ledgers of the printer who produced this book record that the first edition was comprised of 505 copies, and it appears that the bookseller named on the title page, T. Caslon, was working as a front for the actual bookseller, James Dodsley, who had published the first four volumes of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> before Sterne switched over to Thomas Becket. Dodsley covered himself, though, by advertising that 'the said NINTH volume is not written by the Author of the EIGHTH volume.' A second edition of <i>Vol. IX</i> appeared the same year and W. G. Day has argued that a copy sold at Sotheby's in 2014 reveals that there was a third edition as well: it combines unsold sheets from the first edition with a new title page, a new one-page 'Advertisement,' and a new fifteen-page 'Key' by 'Hatspen Barnevelt.' Copies were also occasionally added to the nine volumes of Sterne's version, with the first digit of 'IX' rubbed out, so as to make it appear that this is Vol. X. The first German translation of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> included this version of Vol. IX, rather than Sterne's.</p><p>David A. Brewer</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Day, W.G., 'Surreptitious Publication of the Spurious Volume IX of <i>Tristram Shandy'</i>, <i>The Library</i> 16.4 (2015): 467-71</p></p>


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