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Sterne and Sterneana : Yorick's meditations upon various interesting and important subjects. Viz. Upon nothing. Upon something. Upon the thing

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Published under Laurence Sterne's moniker, <i>Yorick's Meditations</i> is one text amongst an influx of imitative print produced in the wake of the first two volumes of Sterne's <i>The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman</i> (Vols. 1-2: 1759-60). Comprising twenty-two 'meditations', the text attempts to imitate the digressive and idiosyncratic style of Sterne's prose. Unlike the stoic aphorisms and didactic anecdotes of Marcus Aurelius or the devotional meditations of James Hervey, these contemplative essays are a loosely connected series of thoughts framed as a single effusive episode. One topic begets another, although often in a roundabout or tenuous manner. The text begins with a 'Meditation upon Nothing' (a reference to the end of chapter one, volume one of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, but also a witty retort to critics of Sterne's work), building up to a 'Meditation upon Something', and from that position Yorick's thoughts radiate out into a variety of topics finally ending, in a rather circular manner, with 'a Meditation upon Meditations'.</p><p>The table of contents is littered with subjects that any reader of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> would be familiar with, midwives, hobby-horses, and even digressions are all considered in this short publication. Beyond that, the text emulates Sterne's interest in Lockean reason and the humour of Cervantes (79, 53). Each meditation varies in length and coherence, and, in typical Shandean fashion, the whims of the author and the interruptions of an imagined audience alter the direction of prose. Tristram's beloved uncle Toby Shandy, for example, makes an appearance in the chapter on hobby-horses; he chides the author's (whom he refers to as his nephew) 'light and ludicrous' treatment of the subject, humorously suggesting that if he continues in this manner people may view government, religion, and even 'the good of the nation' as hobby-horses (53-4). The conflation of Tristram and Yorick reinforces the creed of the author that '[o]bscurity was always my idol' (68). At the same time, it also reflects an integral aspect of the reading public's fascination with Sterne, namely, the blurred distinction between himself and his fictional personae.</p><p>The burgeoning genre of Sterneana was, even at such an early stage, self-referential. New publications frequently responded to, and incorporated, other imitative works. This publication is no different. In the chapter on midwives the author refers to <i>The Clockmakers Outcry against the Author of the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy</i> (1760), a satirical "critique" of Sterne's bawdiness <i>Meditations</i> plays up to this criticism for comedic effect: Yorick argues that he is in favour of modesty, not vulgarity, as evidenced by his 'chaste' sermons. He also adds that it is in fact the 'impure imaginations' of the critics, pamphleteers, and clockmakers who perceive obscenity where there is none (42).</p><p>The author supposedly wrote another imitation of Sterne which served as a continuation of the first two volumes of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>. <i>A Supplement to the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Gent.</i> (1760), written by 'the author of Yorick's Meditations', is a text intended to provide some form of closure to the novel 'serving to elucidate that Work'. The specificity of the authorship seems to partially take ownership of its imitative status; however, the text still emulates Sterne's prose. The <i>Supplement</i> resolves the mystery of Tristram's birth including how he was named (a development which would not be explicated until volume four of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> in 1761), before moving swiftly onto his early life and education (<i>Supplement</i>, 14-16, 83).</p><p>The text ends with Tristram as a budding gentleman virtuoso, espousing his hopes to join the Royal Society. Both the natural philosophy-loving virtuoso and the Royal Society are the subject of much satire in <i>Meditations</i>, further emphasising the centrality of the obscure and the nonsensical in the writing of this would-be Yorick (92).</p><p>Edward Hardiman</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Anonymous ['By the Author of Yorick's Meditations'], <i>A Supplement to the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.</i> (London: Printed for the author, 1760)</p><p>Hervey, James, <i>Meditations and Contemplations in Two Volumes</i> (Boston: Printed and Sold by Daniel Fowle, 1750)</p><p>Marcus Aurelius, <i>The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus</i> (Glasgow: Printed by R. Feulis, 1749)</p><p>Newbould, M-C., <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne's Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (Routledge, 2016)</p></p>

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