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Sterne and Sterneana : Travels for the heart Written in France, by Courtney Melmoth. In two volumes. Vol. 2

Pratt, (Samuel Jackson) Mr 1749-1814

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>A former clergyman, unsuccessful Covent Garden actor, and eventually a book-seller and writer, Samuel Jackson Pratt (1749-1814) took a while to realise that he needed the talent of others to make a career. Such titles as Tears of Genius. Occasioned by the Death of Dr Goldsmith (1774) or An Apology for the Life of Hume (1777), both published shortly after the deaths of the eponymous figures - as well as several other pieces invoking or alluding to the names of David Garrick, William Shakespeare or John Milton - show that Pratt would have associated income with the literary canon that was otherwise denied him. In this context, his Sternean imitation Travels for the heart, published in 1777 under the pseudonym of Courtney Melmouth (his stage persona), is very much in keeping, given the fashion for sentimental journeys. The text takes Sterne's sensibility for granted and forgets his otherwise (and elsewhere) celebrated double entendre, an interpretation of the author's legacy that had already developed by the 1770s. Among several similar examples, Pratt's text immediately follows on from the popularity of A Sentimental Journey, by a Lady, published in instalments in the Lady's Magazine between 1770 and 1777.</p><p>In the preface, Pratt is straightforward in locating his literary debts. He mentions Henry Fielding, to whose work he would later return in adapting Joseph Andrews for the stage, and Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, openly identifying with Yorick and his 'quiet journey of the heart'. Like its model, Travels for the Heart is a semi-autobiographical travel account featuring a sentimental traveller accompanied by the similarly predisposed Amelia. It begins with a re-enactment of Sterne's episode 'The Pulse', which here serves as the inciting incident setting the protagonist on the move, in quest of health, a journey objective that continues for two volumes before the travellers finally reach Paris. It is peppered with Sternean calques, such as alms-giving, encountering a Franciscan brother or seeing 'the Children of Nature' dance. Pratt's narrator extensively, if irritably, elaborates upon the ethical implications of meeting the Other for himself, beyond prejudice and national stereotypes, as if to challenge Sterne's opening line: - 'They order [...] this matter better in France'.</p><p>The text also offers crafted passages exploring the physiological dimensions to sensibility, doing justice to the eponymous focus on the heart and the prefatory promise to record 'the true impressions of the heart'. Arguably, Pratt is at his best when exploring Sternean self-reflexivity at moments when he comments on the process of writing, plays with narrative structure, or reflects meta-linguistically on the language of the heart.</p><p>Jakub Lipski</p></p>

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