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Sterne and Sterneana : Excerpt from Miscellaneous poems by Ewan Clark

Clark, Ewan.

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Miscellaneous Poems is a collection of 106 works by the minor Cumbrian poet, Ewan Clark, nine of which versify moments from A Sentimental Journey, Tristram Shandy and Laurence Sterne's letters, drawing connections between Sternean sentimentalism and the abolitionist movement of the late eighteenth century. Born in 1734 at Standing-Stone, a village near Wigton, Clark was a teacher who was deeply invested in the education of his pupils. According to the Victorian antiquarian Sidney Gilpon, whose Songs and Ballads of Cumberland includes a biographical sketch of the poet, Clark kept a schoolhouse in his hometown that was renowned for turning out great readers (148). Abraham Skelton's dedication to Clark as 'a kind preceptor and a candid friend' (33) in his 1792 poem, A Temple of Friendship, underscores Clark's impact on the small Northwestern community.</p><p>As a poet, Clark was known for pioneering a regionally specific dialect. Aside from the Miscellaneous Poems, which were of peculiar interest to Cumberland readers because of their 'frequently local' subjects (Hutchinson, 475), his major work was The Rustic, a poem in four cantos, which reached print in 1805 when Clark was seventy years old. A two-page critique from The Monthly Review, however, is less enthusiastic about Clark's 'Cumbrian jargon' (211). Unconvinced by the poet's efforts to represent his Cumbrian heritage and identity, the review draws attention to several sentimentalist clichés which prevent it being 'more faithful to nature' (211).</p><p>Like other imitations of Sterne, Clark's nine poems adhere closely to Sterne's original prose. Drawing mostly from A Sentimental Journey, six of the nine emphasise moments of slavery, captivity, and confinement. The problem of slavery was a recurrent topic for Sterne, most notably in his tenth sermon on Job, when he considers 'what it is, - how bitter a draught, and how many millions have been made to drink of it' (99). Yet not only do the novels condemn the deplorable cruelty of slavery; they also satirise the limited perspective of white European onlookers such as Yorick, who are incapable of thinking critically without lapsing into an overwhelming sense of anguish and sorrow. Clark, on the other hand, prioritises the sentimental Sterne above the satirical. In the few versifications that stray from their source material, the Cumbrian poet stresses his intense earnestness and sympathy in the style of an antislavery polemic. In his recent study of abolitionist writing, Ryan Hanley contends that Clark anticipates 'the coupling of sentimentalism and antislavery discourse,' a combination later adopted by poets of the romantic tradition (39-40). Still, Clark's imitative verses lack the ambivalence and jest of Sterne's layered social commentary.</p><p>An example of Clark's forthright tone comes from the last Sternean poem in the collection, 'The Inquisition,' which is inspired by the mock sermon in Tristram Shandy, when Trim cannot complete a passage from the sermon 'On the Abuses of Conscience' (Hebrews xiii. 18) without shedding a tear for his brother, imprisoned in Lisbon. Bathos stems from Trim's many pauses for sobbing, reminders from his listeners that 'this is not a history, - 'tis a sermon thou art reading,' and their encouragement to 'begin the sentence again' (2.17.162). However, in his own variation, Clark omits the novel's running gag of lengthy digression. What we are left with instead is a horrifying description of Inquisition torture, with lines that describe the victim's 'piteous cries of pungent pain' and bodies which are 'stretch'd, maim'd, convuls'd & pang'd in ev'ry part' (219-220).</p><p>There is evidence to suggest that the antislavery rhetoric of Clark's Miscellaneous Poems garnered interest outside of the Cumberland area. The subscriber list includes 'His Grace the Duke of Richmond' (xviii), namely Charles Lennox, the third Duke of Richmond, who was a lieutenant colonel during the Seven Years' War and later a Whig parliamentarian known for his radical anti-colonial stance. Additionally, Clark's publisher, John Ware of Whitehaven, edited and managed The Cumberland Pacquet, a newspaper which became an important platform for locals, circulating news from the colonies. In her 2016 book, The Business of News in England, 1760-1820, Victoria Gardner positions the Pacquet as a transatlantic news outlet that printed antiwar correspondence sent to Whitehaven residents (124).</p><p>Perhaps the most noteworthy instances of antislavery discourse in the collection are the two poems that versify the letters exchanged between Sterne and Ignatius Sancho. Sancho, a former slave, polymath, and butler to the House of Montagu, became a minor celebrity when his letters and accounts of slavery were published by Frances Crewe, two years after his death in 1782. Although Hanley argues that, in his poetic interpretation, Clark accentuates Sancho's 'supposed lack of agency' and limits his identity to an 'ethnic and professional similitude to slaves' (40), the poet's commitment to a political agenda is also on display. In the poem 'From Mr. Sterne to Ignatius Sancho,' the lines 'What shame, good Sancho, oh, what dire disgrace, / That man should traffick in the human race: / Should awe the helpless with an iron rod, / In flat defiance of the laws of God!' (218) differ drastically from Sterne's original letter. Indeed, the promise 'to wipe one tear from off the cheeks of woe' (218) more closely recalls passages from A Sentimental Journey and Tristram Shandy. Thus, in true Sternean fashion, Clark blurs distinctions between Sterne's fictional and epistolary voice, while also illustrating how biting satire shaped the rhetoric of abolition and revolution.</p><p>The titles of Clark's nine poems, which all acknowledge Sterne, are each keyed to the relevant passage in the Florida Edition of Sterne in M-C. Newbould's 2013 book on Sterneana (90).</p><p>Dana Lew</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>'Art. 18. The Rustic: A Poem', The Monthly Review [London], vol. 50, 1 June 1806, 210-211.</p><p>Ellis, Markman, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (Cambridge University Press, 1996)</p><p>Gardner, Victoria E., The Business of News in England, 1760-1820 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)</p><p>Gilpin, Sidney, ed., The Songs and Ballads of Cumberland, to which are added dialect and other poems; with biographical sketches, notes, and glossary (London: Geo. Routledge & Sons; Edinburgh: John Menzies; Carlisle: Geo. Coward, MDCCCLXVI [1866])</p><p>Hanley, Ryan, 'Ignatius Sancho and Posthumous Literary Celebrity, 1779-1782', Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing, c. 1770-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp.31-50</p><p>Hutchinson, William, The History of the Country of Cumberland, and some places adjacent..., Vol. II (Carlisle: Printed by F. Jollie, and sold by B. Law and Son, W. Clark, and J. Taylor, London, MDCCXCIV [1794])</p><p>Newbould, M.-C., Adaptations of Laurence Sterne's Fiction, Sterneana, 1760-1840 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)</p><p>Sancho, Ignatius, Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African. In two volumes. To which are prefixed, memoirs of his life...Edited by Miss Crewe (London: printed by J. Nichols: and sold by J. Dodsley, in Pall Mall; J. Robson in New Bond Street; J. Walter, Charing Cross; R. Baldwin, Paternoster-Row; and J. Sewell, Cornhill, MDCCLXXXII [1782])</p><p>Skelton, Abraham, The Temple of Friendship. A Poem (York: printed by W. Blanchard, In Coppergate, 1792)</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, ed. Melvyn New and W.G. Day (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002)</p><p>---. The Letters: Part 2: 1765-1768, ed. Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd. The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, Vol. 8 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009)</p><p>---. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Melvyn New and Joan New (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1978-84)</p><p>---. The Sermons, ed, Melvyn New (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996)</p></p>

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