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Sterne and Sterneana : The beauties of Sterne including several of his letters, all his pathetic tales, humorous descriptions, and most distinguished...

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><i>The Beauties of Sterne</i> - an anthology of excerpts from across Sterne's works selected to appeal to 'the heart of sensibility' - was so successful following its first appearance in 1782, published by enterprising bookseller George Kearsley, that it swiftly went into further editions. However, these did not simply reproduce the selection or arrangement of the first edition of <i>Beauties</i> (see Oates.109). Instead, modifications to existing selections, new items, and some reorganisation meant that the <i>Beauties of Sterne</i> took new forms.</p><p>As Sterne's varied output gradually came to be appreciated as representative of a brilliant - if flawed - genius, so the emphasis on culling only one type of 'beauty' and attempting to eliminate more dubious passages lessened. The first editions of <i>Beauties</i> certainly presented a version of Sterne in which sensibility prevailed over satiric humour, pulling him away from more immediate association with the bawdier <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and emphasising sentimentalism. The motive was largely didactic, demonstrating how true feeling was best suited to serving the ends of (often religious) morality. Selections from Sterne's sermons reinforced the point. However, within a relatively short space of time - one partly mapped over the lifetime of <i>The Beauties of Sterne</i> - Sterne increasingly came to be appraised less as an adept at tear-jerking sensibility, and more with a more profound talent at 'pathetic' writing that was welded to his unique, idiosyncratic genius. Whereas previously the wittier, innuendo-prone Sterne had been largely excised from the <i>Beauties</i> project, he increasingly made an appearance in later iterations of the volume.</p><p>By the time that the tenth edition appeared in 1787 the editor had changed from 'W.H.' (probably the radical printer William Holland) to 'A.F.' Now, '<i>Humorous Descriptions</i>' was added to the volume's title, expanding its remit beyond 'sensibility' alone. According to the volume's preface, the editor had introduced changes to suit readers' tastes and their reaction to earlier versions, but also to satisfy the desire for a more representative selection of Sterne's output, responding to criticism that previous excerpts had leaned too heavily on Sterne's '<i>morality</i>' rather than his '<i>humour</i>' (vi). The younger, impressionable audience formerly envisaged for the volume had also now expanded to include a wiser, more sober type of reader - one perhaps better able to balance Sterne's levity and gravity in appropriate measure; so why not leave adjudication of the chosen passages to that reader? Now, 'for the first time' the reader is offered passages of 'such exquisite fancy-such true Shandean coloring' (vii) that had previously been excluded. Among them, 'Mr. Shandy's Beds of Justice––Dr. Slop and Susannah––Parson Yorick's Horse––' (vii). This mixture of scenes involves both the comically 'Shandean' and pathetic humour.</p><p>Not only the passages selected, but their organisation suggests a different approach to Sterne's 'genius' compared with that of just a few years earlier. Now, greater prominence is given to those metafictive elements of his style that identify him as invested in the innovatory narrative methods practised by some of his contemporaries. 'On Writing' is the first passage in the volume: it offers Tristram Shandy's facetious explanation of his approach to writing as 'another name for conversation' (1). A particularly zesty example of Sterne's letter-writing follows - 'WHEN a man's brains are as dry as a squeez'd orange', he writes to 'My Witty Widow, Mrs. F——' (2) - and following that, an equally witty letter to David Garrick (4), a reminder of Sterne's astounding rise to celebrity and his well-placed early acquaintance. Whimsical humour blends into pathos, however, in selections from Sterne's letters to his beloved Eliza (11ff) - which had first been published in a separate volume in 1775 - while the most affecting scenes of sensibility found in the first edition also find their place here: two versions of the Maria episode, from both <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> (87; 90), and the later novel's much-loved 'The Monk' (107). Selections from Sterne's sermons, again, speak to themes of universal morality, of good conduct, and fellow-feeling. Now, however, by redressing the balance between sensibility and humour, this editor's selection seems better equipped to show how these two qualities are complementary, not antagonistic: it is in Sterne's humorous passages that readers feel his humanity, in all its respects. And, by foregrounding Sterne's authorial status rather than seeking to suppress it beneath an editorial agenda - his 'Memoirs' follow the volume's preface, and selections from his correspondence play a prominent role - this tenth edition of <i>Beauties</i> shows the increasing appreciation of Sterne as a 'classic'.</p><p>Like some other editions of <i>The Beauties of Sterne</i>, the appeal of the author's name and of the volume's contents is enhanced by its aesthetic qualities: these pocket-sized, transportable, purchasable volumes often included illustrations, alongside attractive decorative features and elegant typographic layout. The frontispiece to this tenth edition depicts the death of Le Fever, one of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>'s most renowned moments of sensibility, and a popular choice for book illustration. Similarly, this volume includes an engraving of John Nixon's depiction of Trim's oration on mortality in the Shandy kitchen, following the news of Bobby's death (220av). But, true to the Preface's statement of intent, a more amusing image is included: the Shandy brothers discussing Toby's fortification plans, for instance (170av). This particular of the tenth edition presents a particularly attractive coloured marbled binding, apt complement to the idiosyncratic but 'beautiful' selections within.</p><p>Mary Newbould</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Daniel Cook, 'Authors Unformed: Reading "Beauties" in the Eighteenth Century', <i>Philological Quarterly</i>, 89:2-3 (2010), 283-309</p><p>M-C. Newbould, 'Wit and Humour for the Heart of Sensibility: The Beauties of Fielding and Sterne', in <i>Afterlives of Eighteenth-Century Fiction</i>, ed. Daniel Cook and Nicholas Seager (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 133-52</p><p>Thomas Keymer, 'A Sentimental Journey and the Failure of Feeling', in <i>The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne</i>, ed. Thomas Keymer (Cambridge University Press: 2009), pp. 79-94 (79-80; 93, n.1).</p></p>

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