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Sterne and Sterneana : The Posthumous Works of the Celebrated Dr. Sterne

Griffith, Richard -1788

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><i>The Posthumous Works of the Celebrated Dr. Sterne</i> is a two-volume prose work by Richard Griffith (d. 1788), an author of uncertain nativity whose published writings claimed allegiances to both Ireland and Wales. Both an imitator and a critic of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, Griffith had met Sterne in Scarborough in September 1767, an event described in the fifth volume of <i>A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances </i> (1770), written by Griffith with his wife, the author and dramatist Elizabeth Griffith. Terming Sterne a 'second Democritus', the editorial introduction to <i>The Posthumous Works</i> claims that the text comprises notes towards a 'larger work' that Sterne was prevented from completing by his 'untimely and unexpected death' in 1768. Consequently, the volumes take the fragmentary fform of 'incorrect pieces, and unfinished sketches'.</p><p>Mixing plausible fiction with literary invention, Volume 1 comprises a loosely structured pseudo-autobiography interspersed with miscellaneous reflections: in effect, a fictionalised 'life and opinions' of Sterne himself. Some account is given of Sterne's early life in Ireland, his relationship with his uncle, Jaques Sterne, and his liaison with Eliza Draper. Notably, a real-life model is posited for the character of Lieutenant Le Fever in <i>Tristram Shandy</i>. Alongside broader reflections on topics such as authorship, wit, religion, cheerfulness and melancholy, the volume addresses the genesis, writing and reception of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and Sterne's ideas for future projects.</p><p>Within this fictional memoir, Sterne becomes conflated at points with his literary personae, Tristram and Yorick. His own life-story, for instance, is said to be given in <i>Tristram Shandy</i>; like Yorick in that work, he possesses an unlucky turn of wit that gets him into trouble. Added to these is a third persona, that of 'Tria juncta in uno' - 'three joined in one', the motto of the Order of the Bath. The volume also contains allusions to Griffith's own novel of 1764/5, <i>The Triumvirate</i> (see Oates.445-6), which had criticised Sterne's obscenity. 'Sterne' here defends the morality of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> against Griffith's charges and compares Tristram with Biographer Triglyph, the intrusive narrator in <i>The Triumvirate</i>, asking 'is not Triglyph full as arch and free as Tristram?' (1:45).</p><p>Volume 2, in two parts, presents a compendium of 'thoughts or remarks' by the putative persona, 'Tria juncta in uno' (2:[iii]). Defending himself against accusations of plagiarism, the 'author' claims that 'I have ever wrote without study, books, or example, and yet have been over-charged with having borrowed this hint from Rabelais, that from Montaigne, another from Martinus Scriblerus, &c. without having ever read the first, or remembered a word of the latter' (2:vii-viii). With varying degrees of facetiousness, earnestness, and obliquity, the 359 entries address aspects of literature, philosophy, morality, religion, politics, education and language. They also entwine Griffith's writing more fully with Sterne's. An entry in part two, for instance, indicates that 'Tria juncta in uno' refers not just to Sterne but to 'Andrews, Beville, and Carewe': the central characters in Griffith's <i>Triumvirate</i> (2:113).</p><p>As J.C.T. Oates noted on the front inside cover of his own copy, the 1775 edition of the <i>Posthumous Works</i> appears to be a copy of the first edition of 1770 but with a new title-page, dated 1775. The 1775 edition alters the work's title, which had originally read <i>The Posthumous Works of a Late Celebrated Genius, Deceased</i>. As Oates also noted, the 1775 edition omits from Volume 1 a second title-page, which in the first edition had presented the work as 'The Koran' - a title that was occasionally given to the entire work in later editions (see CUL, CCD.18.86). This unusual title is explained, somewhat disingenuously, in the work itself: in Arabic, the author claims, the word 'Koran' signifies merely '<i>a collection of chapters</i>' (1:4).</p><p>Reviews of the first edition of 1770 were mixed. The <i>Critical Review</i> (February 1770) reprinted sections of Volume 1's memoir, which is conceived to be 'partly true and partly fictitious', but found the entrie in Volume 2 'disjointed and hasty', the compilation being 'so incorrect and incoherent, that we are often at a loss for the author's meaning'. John Hawkesworth's verdict was more damning: the volumes were 'manifestly spurious, a fraudulent imposition upon the Public, and a flagrant injustice to the memory of the dead' (<i>Monthly Review</i> for May 1770). Nevertheless, the <i>Posthumous Works</i> was comparatively successful: it was printed four times in 1770 alone and was sometimes included in editions of Sterne's complete works.</p><p>Shaun Regan</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Bosch, René, <i>Labyrinth of Digressions: 'Tristram Shandy' as Perceived and Influenced by Sterne's Early Imitators,</i> trans. Piet Verhoeff (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007)</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., <i>Laurence Sterne: The Early & Middle Years</i> (London: Methuen, 1975)</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., <i>Laurence Sterne: The Later Years</i> (London: Methuen, 1986)</p><p>Griffith, Elizabeth, and Richard Griffith, <i>A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances</i>, 6 vols (London, 1757-1770)</p><p>Griffith, Richard, <i>The Triumvirate; or, The Authentic Memoirs of A. B. and C.</i>, 2 vols (London, 1764 [1765])</p><p>Regan, Shaun, 'Locating Richard Griffith: Genre, Nation, Canon', <i>Irish University Review</i>, Special Issue on <i>Irish Fiction, 1660-1830</i>, 41:1 (Spring 2011), 95-114</p><p>Tompkins, J.M.S., 'Triglyph and Tristram', <i>TLS</i>, 1432 (11 July 1929), 558</p></p>

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