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Sterne and Sterneana : Fragments: in the manner of Sterne

Brandon, Isaac.

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><i>Fragments: In the Manner of Sterne</i> is a single-volume collection of pathetic fragments, consisting of nine episodes that borrow the Shandean style for musings on war, religion, and slavery, among other themes. Though the work is derivative, reproducing many of Sterne’s idiosyncrasies (quotations from <i>Tristram Shandy</i> and <i>A Sentimental Journey</i> are interpolated to intensify the effect), <i>Fragments</i> uses the sentimental mode to engage with the political climate of the 1790s, building upon and exaggerating Sterne’s own Whig sympathies. </p><p>The work was first published in 1797, in London, and sold by John Murray and Samuel Highley, and John Debrett. Debrett, an upscale Piccadilly printer, published peerages and was known for his fashionable printshop. Murray and Highley, partners in Fleet Street, were similarly recognized for their voguish publications; Murray would go on to produce works for Lord Byron and other prominent writers. With illustrations by Thomas Kirk, a Royal Academy artist, engraved by William Ridley, <i>Fragments</i> was undoubtably intended for the affluent reading public. The work was initially sold for six shillings and described as an ‘elegantly printed’ volume in <i>The Star and Evening Advertiser</i> (September 27, 1797). Though it was minimally advertised (likely because the work was ‘printed for the author’), <i>Fragments</i> generated enough interest to justify a cheaper edition in 1798, priced at four shillings (<i>Morning Chronicle</i>, July 10, 1798), and German and French translations in 1800.</p><p>Despite being published nearly thirty years after Sterne’s death, the book was well received: <i>Fragments</i> occasioned critical attention in seven publications, including the leading <i>Monthly Review</i> and Critical Review. The volume was praised for its sentiment and, as <i>Analytical Review</i> wrote in October 1797, was distinguished from ‘the various unsuccessful imitations which have been attempted of [Sterne’s] original and eccentric style’ (417). Following the positive reception, advertisements for the second edition included similar excerpts, emphasizing the author’s pre-eminence among Sterne’s many imitators. Despite this singular praise, no author name was ever attached to <i>Fragments</i>; the question of authorship has been the subject of some deliberation. </p><p>Lewis P. Curtis attributed the volume to William Combe, citing ‘a copy […] addressed in Combe’s hand to the actor Richard Wroughton “with the author’s respects”’ (1105). Though <i>Fragments</i> is omitted from lists of Combe’s works, this attribution was once standard, considering his reputation for spurious publishing. Recent scholarship has credited the work to Isaac Brandon, who identifies himself as the author in the title page to <i>Kais: Or, Love in the Deserts</i> (1808). The reprint of <i>Fragments</i>, issued by Garland Publishing as part of the <i>Sterneana</i> series (v. 21, 1974), maintains this attribution. </p><p>Little is known about Isaac Brandon, an English Jew who lived in Paddington at the time of his death and attended Bevis Marks Synagogue in Aldgate. In addition to <i>Fragments</i> and <i>Kais</i>, Brandon published <i>Address to Jenner</i> (1807), <i>Instruction: A Poem</i> (1811), and <i>Poland: A Patriotic Ode</i> (1831). Of these works, <i>Kais</i>, a libretto inspired by Isaac Disraeli’s <i>Mejnoun and Leila</i> (1797), was closest to replicating the commercial success of <i>Fragments</i>. The opera had multiple print editions, and was staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane to mixed critical response. </p><p>Though <i>Fragments</i> can largely be reduced to its Sternean archetype, the text is indicative of its political context. Brandon’s volume is emphatically Whiggish, and he employs Sterne’s sensibility to admonish war, slavery, and religious persecution. This political aspect is evinced in <i>Monthly Review</i> of November 1797, as the critic notes ‘readers […] <i>may, in the present temper of the times</i>, censure the author for giving it the appearance of a <i>party</i> production’. Considering the precarious position of the Whigs in the 1790s, Brandon’s use of sentiment to ‘glance the ambition of princes, to display the cruelty of war, and to expatiate on the distress […] it ever brings to individuals, with the desolation of countries’ makes a pointed political statement (272). </p><p>Philip Trotter</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>‘Art. VI. <i>Fragments: in the Manner of Sterne</i>’, <i>Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal</i> 24, no. 3 (1797): 271-274.</p><p>‘Art. XXXVII. <i>Fragments: in the Manner of Sterne</i>’, The Analytical Review: or, History of Literature 26, no. 4 (1797): 416-418. </p><p>Bosch, René, <i>Labyrinth of Digressions:</i> Tristram Shandy <i>as Perceived and Influenced by Sterne’s Early Imitators</i>, translated by Piet Verhoeff (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007)</p><p>Brandon, Isaac, <i>Kais: Or, Love in the Deserts</i> (London: Murray, 1808)</p><p>Cole, Robert, ‘William Combe and his works’, <i>Gentleman’s Magazine</i> (June 1852)</p><p>Curtis, Lewis P., ‘Forged Letters of Laurence Sterne’, <i>PMLA</i> 50, no. 4 (1935): 1076-1106</p><p>Forster, Antonia, <i>Index to Book Reviews in England, 1775-1800</i> (London: British Library, 1997)</p><p>Garside, Peter, James Raven, and Rainer Schöwerling, <i>The English Novel, 1770-1829: a bibliographical survey of prose fiction published in the British Isles</i> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)</p><p>Howes, Alan B., <i>Yorick and the Critics: Sterne’s Reputation in England, 1760-1868</i> (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958)</p><p>‘Isaac Brandon, Esq.’, <i>Gentleman’s Magazine</i> (June 1847)</p><p>Newbould, M.-C., <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)</p></p>

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