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Sterne and Sterneana : The clockmakers outcry against the author of The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy Dedicated to the most humble of Christian...

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This pamphlet was printed in 1760, immediately following both the publication of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent and the triumphant arrival of its author into the London scene. Within a matter of months Sterne had cultivated a public friendship with David Garrick, obtained a frontispiece by William Hogarth and sat for Joshua Reynolds. For Christopher Fanning, these events established Sterne as ‘our first author to achieve celebrity status in the modern sense of the term [and] one who grounds his fame in public performance and market manipulation’. This phenomenon did not go unnoticed by the author of The Clockmakers Outcry who, fearing that Sterne’s ‘damnable and heretical’ tome had done irreparable reputational damage to the clockmaking trade (14), compared him unfavourably to Jonathan Swift:<br />"[Swift] did not choose to be presented with the compliments of the silly and the idle; nor to run gossiping from tea-table to tea-table, and cry "Here am I the wonderful author, there are no works but mine." Swift did not hawk his face about [...]to all the portrait painters in town, vainly begging to have his mazzard multiplied. (14)"</p><p>The pamphlet affects to dissect Tristram Shandy page by page until it reaches page 167, at which point it declares ‘the remainder of his work beneath regular criticism’ (43). Accusations about Sterne’s literary crimes escalate from the charge that the novel is unintentionally digressive, derivative and guilty of ‘a kind of plagiarism’, to insinuations that the text is crypto-Jacobite propaganda (45), to assertions that Sterne is a ‘type of antichrist’ (49), ‘a monster’ (50) and a ‘foe to everything that is good’ (49). Central to the clockmaker’s grievance is the episode at the opening of the novel in which Tristram explains that much of his misfortune can be attributed to his mother having asked his father if he had remembered to wind up the clock at the brink of both his father’s climax and his own conception. This anecdote, the clockmaker claims, has forever burdened the clock-making industry with connotations both carnal and lewd. As he explains, ‘no modest lady now dares to mention a word about “winding up a clock” without exposing herself to the sly leers and jokes of the family’ (48).</p><p>Sterne was frequently suspected of publishing attacks on himself as a means of retaining public interest. The Critical Review alleged that another anonymous pamphlet of 1760, Explanatory Remarks by Jeremiah Kunastrokius, saw ‘the author himself [giving] breath to the trumpet of his own fame’. It has been suggested that The Clockmakers Outcry was written and published by Sterne himself as part of this strategy. The pamphlet’s concern that Sterne has become too famous (‘nobody speaks now but in the Shandean style’, one character complains) only serves to underscore the fact that the author is famous (46). The clockmaker’s complaints about the novel’s form double as an audit of Sterne’s innovations, simultaneously lampooning those critics who might misread his experimentation as ineptitude. By the time we reach Ned Paradox’s observation that because Sterne is critical of hobbyhorses, and horses appear on the caps of Hanoverian grenadiers, the novel must be Jacobite propaganda, the joke is clear.</p><p>The pamphlet also promotes the intended openness of Tristram Shandy, a novel that invites re-reading, tantalising the reader with the possibility of coded messages and hidden meanings. It is no mistake that the clockmaker repeatedly frames Sterne’s efforts as a failed imitation of Swift’s A Tale of a Tub (1704), a text which similarly immerses itself in the very print culture it seeks both to satirise and, to some extent, to celebrate.</p><p>Adam J. Smith</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Briggs, Peter M., ‘Laurence Sterne and Literary Celebrity in 1760’, Age of Johnson, 4 (1991), 251-80</p><p>Fanning, Christopher, ‘Sterne and Print Culture’, in The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne, ed. Thomas Keymer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 125-141</p><p>Keymer, Thomas, Sterne, the Moderns, and the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)</p><p>Sterne: The Critical Heritage, ed. by Alan B. Howes (London: Routledge, 1974)</p></p>

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