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Sterne and Sterneana : Letters from Yorick to Eliza

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>The 1773 publication of <i>Letters from Yorick to Eliza</i> revealed to a wider readership the actual inspiration behind the enigmatic Eliza, whom Laurence Sterne's alter ego Yorick addresses in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, even declaring his intention to carry her 'little picture' to his grave. However, as early as 1767, London's high society was already abuzz with rumours of the celebrated author's affair with a married woman. The fact that Sterne was both a clergyman and a married man only added to the scandal.</p><p>Elizabeth 'Eliza' Draper (née Sclater, 1744-1788) was born in India to a family of East India Company officials. Orphaned at a very young age, she married Daniel Draper, the Accountant-General of the East India Company, at the age of fourteen. Together, they had two children. In 1765, the Drapers visited England. In 1766, Daniel returned to India, leaving Eliza in London to arrange for their children's education at a boarding school. Shortly after her husband's departure, the 22-year-old Eliza met the 53-year-old Sterne for the first time at a social gathering in Soho, hosted by Commodore William James and his wife Anne, in January 1767. This encounter marked the beginning of Sterne's deep infatuation with Eliza, an infatuation that, according to his letters to Eliza and friends as well as his personal diary, now known as <i>Bramine's Journal</i>, seemed to exceed any of his previous romantic attachments. This relationship developed during a pivotal time in his career, as Sterne was securing subscribers for his second, then-unwritten fiction, <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>.</p><p>In April 1767, Eliza went back to India. Although Eliza justified her departure to India to Sterne by telling him she was going there to formally separate from her husband, she may have also sought to evade the harmful rumours that circulated, in part due to Sterne's open declarations of his attachment to Eliza to friends and acquaintances. Moreover, Sterne's wife and daughter, despite residing in France at the time, were rapidly informed about the scandalous situation. Eliza's own perspective on the affair remains largely unknown, as she managed to suppress the publication of her own letters after Sterne's death in 1768. In 1773, five years after Sterne's death, Eliza eventually eloped from her unhappy marriage with Daniel Draper, escaping her house in Bombay using a rope ladder. Eliza then for three years lived in 'the homosexual household' (Cash, p. 280) of her maternal uncle, John Whitehill, the chief of the factory of Masulipatam, 'who was quite devoted to her' (Ibid), before finally leaving for Europe in 1776 (See also Cash, p344-45).</p><p>The first 1773 edition of <i>Letters to Eliza</i>, containing ten letters by Sterne, is a rarity, having a small – 'semi-private' (Cross, p. 605) - print-run compared to the widely circulated 1775 editions (as J.C.T. Oates has shown, there were at least four versions of <i>Letters to Eliza</i> issued in 1775 from the publishers Kearsley and Evans). This compact octavo volume of fewer than 90 pages is the first collection of Sterne's correspondence ever to appear in print, preceding <i>Letters of the Late Rev. Mr. Laurence Sterne, to his most Intimate Friends</i> (1775) prepared by Sterne's daughter Lydia. In this edition, Sterne's letters are undated, but biographers and scholars agree that the correspondence took place between January and March 1767, that is between Sterne's initial encounter with Eliza and their separation, which Sterne erroneously believed to be temporary, in April 1767.</p><p>The publisher was identified by Peter de Voogd and Melvyn New as grammarian William Johnston, M.A., author of <i>A Pronouncing and Spelling Dictionary</i> (1764). It is believed that Eliza, the recipient of Sterne's letters, played a crucial role in their publication, though her exact level of involvement remains unknown. J.C.T. Oates' bibliographical study (1955) demonstrated that Eliza did not leave India until at least 1776, which means she was unlikely to have directly overseen the publication of either the 1773 first edition or the 1775 editions of the <i>Letters</i>.</p><p>The editor states that he obtained the letters from some trustworthy 'gentleman who had the perusal of the originals, and, with Eliza's permission, faithfully copied them in Bombay in the East Indies' (iv). Some speculate that the publication of <i>Letters from Yorick to Eliza</i> was a way for Eliza to guarantee her financial stability and maintain her independence after her planned escape from Daniel Draper. However, as Cash puts it, her 'motives were probably not monetary, for the book was not advertised, so far as anyone has discovered, or pushed in any way' (Cash, p. 345). The lack of original manuscripts makes it unclear to what extent the content was modified during the publishing process, including possible alterations by Eliza herself. Importantly, in 1772, Eliza was corresponding with her friend Anne James, attempting, ultimately successfully, to suppress the publication of her own letters to Sterne, which were held by Lydia and Elizabeth Sterne. The volume is dedicated to Henry Bathurst, Second Earl Bathurst, who was then the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain. The dedication cleverly uses Sterne's own words from one of his letters to Eliza, describing his meeting with Lord Allen Bathurst, Henry's father, and a celebrated literary patron. Lord Bathurst was a friend of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, and complimented Sterne by comparing him to 'geniuses of that cast' (7).</p><p>The sincerity of Sterne's letters, and whether they are a product of conscious self-fashioning or genuine feeling, has long been a contentious topic among both enthusiasts and detractors of Sterne. After all, Sterne treated his writing pragmatically, often reusing successful excerpts in both private and public texts; he reused some passages from his letters in <i>Bramine's Journal</i>, whereas <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> contains numerous intertextual links to both <i>Bramine's Journal</i> and <i>Letters to Eliza</i>. While various interpretations are possible, it is evident that Sterne's relationship with Eliza profoundly influenced Sterne's final months. However, it is also clear that Sterne saw his relationship with Eliza through a literary lens, drawing parallels to Swift and Stella, and even contemplating the future publication of his letters to her, asking Eliza to keep the manuscripts.</p><p>In <i>Bramine's Journal</i> and throughout his letters to Eliza, Sterne occasionally adopts the Shakespearean name of his fictional alter-ego, Yorick, but more often refers to himself as 'Bramin', a nickname invented by Eliza that alludes to Sterne's clerical profession and Eliza's Indian origin (he affectionately calls Eliza 'his Bramine'). In one letter to Eliza, Sterne uses the mask of his 'bawdier' alter-ego, Tristram Shandy, to address a riskier topic: the fantasy of their reunion after the deaths of his wife and Eliza's husband. Although covered by playfulness, this scandalous letter reveals something about Sterne's state of mind at that time (51-55).</p><p>Despite its controversial nature, the publication of <i>Letters from Yorick to Eliza</i> played a crucial role in shaping Sterne's early reception and posthumous reputation. Often appearing as an appendix to Sterne's <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>, the <i>Letters</i>, probably aided by the extreme popularity of Rousseau's <i>La Nouvelle Héloïse</i> (1761) and other texts written in its wake, became cult material for late eighteenth-century readers, offering an insight into Sterne's personal life and an example of touching sentimental rhetoric. The <i>Letters</i> enjoyed pan-European circulation and translation, inspiring numerous imitations and creative responses. This included spurious replies by Eliza, titled <i>Letters from Eliza to Yorick</i> (1775), generally considered authentic in the late eighteenth century. Rediscovered in 1878 and fully published in 1904, Sterne's <i>Bramine's Journal</i>, a text that appears more intimate and less outwardly 'constructed', went on to become the canonical text concerning Sterne's last romantic attachment, overshadowing <i>Letters from Yorick to Eliza</i>.</p><p>Peter Budrin</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Barnes, Celia B., 'Orna Me: Laurence Sterne's Open Letter to Literary History', <i>Authorship</i> (Gent), vol. 5, no. 2 (2016), 10</p><p>Budrin, Peter, 'The Shadow of Eliza: Sterne's Underplot in <i>A Sentimental Journey</i>', in <i>Laurence Sterne's 'A Sentimental Journey': A Legacy to the World</i>, ed. by W. B. Gerrard and M-C. Newbould (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2021), 194-212</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., <i>Laurence Sterne: The Later Years</i> (London: Methuen, 1986)</p><p>Day, W.G., essay for Precious Cargo website, the Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall for ‘Eliza Draper: an Absent Presence’ exhibition (29 April – 29 June 2012),</p><p>New, Melvyn, and Peter de Voogd, 'The 1773 Letters from Yorick to Eliza: A Facsimile', <i>The Shandean</i>, 15 (2004), 79-82</p><p>Oates, J. C. T., 'Notes on the Bibliography of Sterne', <i>Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society</i>, vol. 2, no. 2 (1955), 155-169</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, <i>The Letters, Part 2: 1765-1768</i>, ed. Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd, The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, vol. 8 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009)</p><p>Wright, Arnold, and William Lutley Sclater, <i>Sterne's Eliza: Some Account of Her Life in India: With Her Letters Written between 1757 and 1774</i> (London: W. Heinemann, 1922)</p></p>

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