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Sterne and Sterneana : Letters of the late Rev. Mr. Laurence Sterne, to his most intimate friends with a fragment in the manner of Rabelais ; to...

Sterne, Laurence 1713-1768, De Medalle, L. S. (Lydia Sterne) 1747-

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><i>Letters of the late Rev. Mr Laurence Sterne</i> (1775) is the third edition of Laurence Sterne’s letters to be published after his death. This collection of 118 letters from Sterne written between 1739 and 1768, two letters to him, and a pair of literary fragments, edited by Sterne’s daughter Lydia Medalle (1747-1784), has provided the foundation for future editions of Sterne’s correspondence despite significant issues in its composition.</p><p>Following the almost entirely fictional and spurious <i>Sterne’s Letters to His Friends</i> of 1775 (Oates.385) ‘compiled’ by William Combe (1742-1823), Medalle’s edition bears the relative weight of only two clear forgeries. One such forgery (Letter 58, to Mrs Meadows) is simply borrowed from Combe’s edition, and the other, letter 2, is written in an attempt to reconfigure Sterne’s romantic entanglements to foreground Elizabeth Lumley (1714-1773), her mother, over his scandalous romance with Eliza Draper (1744-1778). The collection as a whole has, however, also been criticised for its editorial interventions. Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd have documented the ways in which Combe ‘changed diction, dropped sentences, reshaped intentions, corrected grammar, and played with syntax’ (New and de Voogd, p. l; Cash, p. 352). Despite these issues, her edition remained the foundation for the 1935 Curtis edition of Sterne’s correspondence, which itself became the foundation for the 2009 Florida edition, as well as the fully digitised <i>Electronic Enlightenment</i> edition of the text.</p><p>The letters themselves may be broadly grouped into four themes. Firstly we have letters of social gossip and primarily biographical interest, such as Sterne’s correspondence with figures like John Hall Stevenson and David Garrick, typified by items such as Letter 31, on the former’s renovations to Skelton Hall, and Letter 54, a display of virtuosic Shandyism in a playful address to the latter.</p><p>The second category of note is Sterne’s discussion of his writing process, and responses to the spurious continuations and Sternean miscellanea which emerged after the publication of each volume of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>. Letter 15, for example, describes Elizabeth and Lydia assisting Sterne with his writing, in a rare image of domestic bliss. Comments on Sterneana are best represented by the two non-Sterne letters Medalle includes. The first of these, Letter 14a (the first of the two letters titled XIV) from William Warburton, apprises Sterne of the spate of ‘profligate scribblers’ emerging to capitalise on <i>Tristram Shandy</i> volumes 1 and 2 in 1760, by which Warburton refers primarily to John Hall-Stevenson and Sir John Hill. The second, from Ignatius Sancho (Letter 84), along with Sterne’s reply (Letter 85), provides a profound example of reader response, with Sancho writing in praise of Sterne’s discussion of slavery in his sermons, and his characterisation of Uncle Toby. Sterne responds with a discussion of the episode with the African servant in <i>Tristram Shandy</i> volume 9, chapter 6, and an imagined amicable encounter between Sancho and Uncle Toby.</p><p>The third major trend in these letters, likely the source of the editorial commonplace repeated by New and de Voogd, that ‘in an age of great letter-writers, Sterne comes up a bit short’ (p. liv), is the fairly prosaic and quotidian series of letters he writes from France in 1762. With the exception of a couple of brief discussions of the reception of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> by the Parisian intelligentsia in a letter to Garrick (Letter 17), and a critique of French coquetry directed to Lydia (Letter 45), the bulk of Sterne’s correspondence from this trip consists of functional letters to his English and French bankers, Robert Foley and Isaac Panchaud, negotiating the transfer of funds to himself and Elizabeth while in Europe. The lack of detail in these letters is thrown into sharp relief by the realities of Sterne’s domestic situation across the last two years of his life, which represents the final category of letters encompassed by Medalle’s edition. Behind the mundane financial discussions of Sterne’s visit to France a portrait of the estrangement between himself and Elizabeth emerges, with the latter choosing to remain in France, not responding to Sterne’s letters (Letter 97), and only briefly returning to England in 1767 (Letters 108-9). During this period Sterne’s relationship with Eliza Draper develops, after being introduced to her by his friends Commodore James and his wife Anne (Letter 93). We see Medalle’s most direct editorial interventions in Letters 98 and 109, in which she expunges her father’s expostulations on his love for Eliza Draper. Alongside Sterne’s love letters, which are mirrored and excerpted in the <i>Journal to Eliza</i> and <i>Bramine’s Journal</i>, he questions Elizabeth’s plans to raise Lydia with her in France, deploying all the sentimental devices in his arsenal to add pathos to his separation from his daughter, as in Letter 108 to an unidentified Mr L-e. This letter combines affective declarations of paternal devotion – ‘My heart bleeds, L-e, when I think of parting with my child, ‘twill be like the separation of soul and body’ – with carefully phrased accusations that Elizabeth is orchestrating this separation: ‘She must return to France, and justice and humanity forbid me to oppose it.’</p><p>This foregrounding of Sterne’s relationship with his daughter is given an understandable prominence in Medalle’s edition, but it is two of the final three letters in the collection, 115 and 116, which reconfigure the emotional narrative of the book itself. Far from a bowdlerised edition of an eighteenth-century intellectual’s letters, akin to Matthew Montagu’s edition of the letters of Elizabeth Montagu (1809) or Montagu Pennington’s editions of the correspondence of his aunt Elizabeth Carter with Catherine Talbot (1809) and letters to Elizabeth Montagu (1817), the text emerges as a deliberate defence of Elizabeth and Lydia Sterne. Exploiting the chronology of her father’s final letters, Lydia allows her edition to close with Sterne’s affirmation of his commitment to her and her mother. The first of the last two letters, to Lydia herself, describes a rumour which Lydia had heard, that she was to become the ward of Eliza Draper, should Elizabeth Sterne predecease her husband. Sterne denies this directly. </p><p>In the last letter of the collection, Sterne writes to Anne James, asking if she and her husband would take Lydia in. This final turning away from Eliza Draper, and ultimate affirmation of the domestic over the romantic, makes Lydia’s own existence the site of Sterne’s ultimate redemption, in a move which parallel’s Sterne’s own process of sentimental growth in the composition of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> (1768), described in a conversation reported by Richard Griffith (d.1788), husband of the playwright and actress Elizabeth Griffith (1727-1793), as Sterne’s ‘Work of Redemption’ (Griffith and Griffith, p.83, New and de Voogd, pp. 625-6).</p><p>The two fragments which close the volume, ‘An Impromptu’ and ‘A Fragment in the Manner of Rabelais’, are presented as early experiments in Sterne’s Shandean writing. The ‘Fragment’, which has been dated to 1759 by Melvyn New and W. B. Gerard, represents a significant generic and stylistic moment in Sterne’s intellectual development (New and Gerard, <i>Miscellaneous Writings</i>, 2014, pp.152-3). A satire on constructing sermons out of intertextual references, it bridges Sterne’s highly referential process in writing sermons with the deeply allusive nature of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, and indeed Sterne would draw on the ‘Fragment’ in writing the first two volumes of that work. The ‘Fragment’ has also proved useful to critics in tracing a line in learned satire from Swift and Pope through to Sterne, with the pseudo-academic structure of ‘A Fragment’ having as much in common with the Scriblerian <i>Peri Bathous; or the Art of Sinking in Poetry</i> (1727) as it does with Sterne’s more recognised novelistic influences like Rabelais and Cervantes (New and Gerard, pp. 154-6). The ‘Impromptu’ is a bawdy piece rhapsodizing on the joys of wearing a coat, likely a play on <i>capote anglaise</i>, or English overcoat, the French euphemism for condoms. The authenticity of this fragment is in severe doubt, having been recognised by Melvyn New as a stock example of bawdy tropes, reflecting little of Sterne’s style. (New, 2011). Its inclusion in Medalle’s edition has caused editors to speculate that she did not understand the rude joke (as appears to have been the case in the untranslated Latin ribaldry of Letter 91). However, the fact that she includes a prefatory letter from ‘S.P.’ to ‘Mr B.’ (Thomas Becket, Sterne’s editor for volumes 5 and 6 of <i>TS</i>), asking for the publication of the text, suggests that she has taken a deliberate editorial step away from the fragment. The deliberate disconnection of this fragment from the narrative in Medalle’s edition, and the separate introduction justifying its inclusion in print, makes it clear that she does not want it incorporated into the identity she has constructed for Sterne through his letters. It is included as a gesture towards the stock public persona of Sterne, with his identity fluctuating between Shandy and Yorick, implicitly juxtaposed with the personal, private Sterne of his letters, explored in the rest of the volume. </p><p>Jack Orchard</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p><i>Electronic Enlightenment Scholarly Edition of Correspondence</i>, ed. Robert McNamee et al.</p><p>Griffith, Elizabeth, and Griffith, Richard, <i>A Series of Genuine Letters Between Henry and Frances</i>, 6 vols (London: W. Richardson, 1750), Volume 5</p><p>New, Melvyn, ‘Sterne’s Bawdry: A Cautionary Tale’, <i>Review of English Studies</i>, 62 (2011), 80-89</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, <i>Letters of Laurence Sterne</i>, ed. Lewis Perry Curtis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935)</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, <i>The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, Vols 7&8: The Letters: Part 1: 1739–1764</i>, ed. Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2009)</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, <i>The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, Vol. 9: The Miscellaneous Writings and Sterne’s Subscribers, an Identification List</i>, ed. Melvyn New and W. B. Gerard (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2014)</p></p>

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