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Sterne and Sterneana : Sentiments on the death of the sentimental Yorick / by one of Uncle Toby's illegitimate children. With rules for writing...

One of Uncle Toby's illegitimate children.

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Hacks and admirers had been turning out continuations, send-ups, and other kinds of imitation throughout Laurence Sterne’s career, but after his death on 18 March 1768, booksellers and their hired pens intensified their production of catchpenny publications. <i>Sentiments on the Death of the Sentimental Yorick</i> was among the first of these cash-ins. Reviewed in the March number of the <i>Critical Review</i>, it was advertised as ‘This Day is Published’ in the <i>Gazetteer</i> for 9 April 1768, though it probably lost the race to <i>Veni, Vidi, Vici, Ivi; or, He’s Gone!</i>, for which earlier advertisements have been found. The publisher Staples Steare priced his anonymously authored pamphlet at one shilling—a standard price—though the printing shows evidence of both haste and poor quality: undulating lines, conspicuous show-though, and misaligned page backing. A twenty-four-page pamphlet seems to have been envisaged, but despite generous spacing and margins, the unknown printer failed to stretch his material to that extent, leaving two stubs visible between gatherings B and C (12-13). Reviewers paid little attention to the bibliographical defects, however. Instead, they critiqued the pamphlet for its obvious opportunism as ‘a mere bubble, blown from the froth of Yorick’s writings, without wit, humour, or learning to recommend it’ (<i>Critical Review</i>, March) and ‘an attempt to be witty, in Mr. Sterne’s manner, on the death of Mr. Sterne’ (<i>Monthly Review</i>, April). </p><p>And yet, the critics in their typical cruelty miss the most interesting qualities of <i>Sentiments</i>: its self-conscious critique of hack writing and its celebration of Sterne’s work as simultaneously sentimental and satirical. Although there are moments of pure farce—the narrator’s cat is thrown out of a window—the text can also be read as a more serious satire on book trade opportunism. The fictional author of the pamphlet is self-aware but unabashed about his position as a writer for hire. At one point he even recommends stamping all wit on lead and measuring it against gold to determine its worth, only to suggest later that the best advice for ‘modern elegy writing,’ as a hack activity, is ‘not to set Pen to Paper at all’ (22). The ironies continue to cascade as a fictional hack (the unnamed narrator) invented by a real hack (the anonymous author) produces hack writing, heedless of standards. He rapidly provides three seemingly sincere elegies, each of which celebrates and laments one aspect of the many-faced Sterne/Yorick: ‘Genius,’ ‘Humour,’ and ‘Stanzas’ (the last of these being about Sterne’s ‘Sentiment’ since the hack’s cat distracts him from writing on Sterne’s ‘morals’). What is remarkable about these three poems is obviously not their quality, but their equality of approach. Though their individual rhyme schemes and metres vary (sometimes even internally), no aspect of Sterne seems to triumph over the others. One of the problems Sterne’s contemporaries encountered in his writing was its quality of having ‘more handles than one’ (Sterne to John Eustace, 9 February 1768). Implicitly, Sterne invited his readers to approach his texts as either sentimental or satirical, with critics and fans arguing for either interpretation. The hack behind <i>Sentiments</i>, however, seems to suggest that we can have both; that the many sides of Sterne need not be exclusive. Instead, Sterne is best appreciated both then and now as at once humorous, sentimental, and most of all, as a genius.</p><p>Another way to approach <i>Sentiments on the Death of the Sentimental Yorick</i> is via its obscure but intriguing publisher, Staples Steare. Steare was apprenticed to the bookseller George Keith in 1760, and upon completing his apprenticeship, set up shop at 93 Fleet Street in autumn 1767. He started off publishing rather banal commercial fodder including books of proverbs and <i>The New Impenetrable Secret; or, Young Lady and Gentleman’s Polite Puzzle. Being an entire new set of entertaining Cards</i> based on Richardson novels. However, around the time he first advertised his pamphlet on Sterne’s death, Steare also started publishing Wilkesite texts such as <i>The Exile Triumphant</i> (17 March 1768) and <i>The Victim: A Poem</i> (20 April 1768), and this radical political material came to dominate his output. Steare’s foray into opposition politics proved to be both brief and fatal to his career. After publishing several numbers of the <i>Extraordinary North Briton</i>, Steare was arrested for contempt of court (for questioning Lord Mansfield’s handling of Wilkes’s case) and briefly imprisoned in June 1768. It appears he managed to pay his bail, and recklessly returned to political publishing. It is unclear exactly when he was forced out of business, but on 21 October his house and all his luxurious housewares appear in the auction columns of the <i>Gazetteer</i>. By the end of November, he had been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, which clearly ended his publishing career. Happily, this Grubstreet Icarus did not die in jail, and later found a second life as Storekeeper at the Salt Office in the 1790s, making a comfortable eighty pounds per annum. At this time, his name also appears on the prestigious subscription list of Olaudah Equiano’s <i>The Interesting Narrative</i> (1789).</p><p>Cambridge University Library’s copy of <i>Sentiments on the Death of the Sentimental Yorick</i> is one of only four known to be extant, the others being at Harvard, the British Library, and the Guildhall Library, London. The Cambridge copy has no distinguishing features apart from a marginal mark next to a line comparing Sterne’s originality to that of Shakespeare (‘Like Shakespeare scorn’d the Trammels of the Schools’ (12)). The pamphlet was never reprinted, but an extract (lines 1-28 of the poem ‘Genius’) appears in Katherine Turner’s edition of <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> (2010, Appendix F).</p><p>Austin J. Long</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>, translated by Piet Verhoeff (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007)</p><p>Cash, Arthur, <i>Laurence Sterne: The Later Years</i> (London: Methuen, 1986)</p><p>Keymer, Thomas, ‘Sentimental Fiction: Ethics, Social Critique and Philanthropy’, <i>The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660–1780</i>, ed. John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 572–601</p><p>Newbould, M-C., <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)</p><p> Sterne, Laurence, <i>A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy</i>, ed. Katherine Turner (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2010)</p></p>

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