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Sterne and Sterneana : C.13.79

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>Sterne’s reductive satire <i>A Political Romance</i> was the fourth (and final) pamphlet foray in a long-gestating ecclesiastical quarrel in York that erupted into a ‘paper warr’ during the winter of 1758-59. The main antagonists were Francis Topham (c1713-1770), Church lawyer, and John Fountayne (1715-1802), Dean of York, whose dispute over appointments in the ecclesiastical courts had been ongoing for a decade. Topham escalated the disagreement in December 1758 with <i>A Letter Address’d to the Reverend Dean of York….</i>, soon followed by the dean’s <i>An Answer to a Letter…</i>, and Topham’s retort, <i>A Reply to the Answer…</i> Sterne’s stake in the dispute was similarly long-standing. Having thrown over his first patronage network in 1742, the appointment of his college acquaintance Fountayne as dean in 1747 brought Sterne renewed hopes of preferment, but the rewards he eventually received were, at best, slight. In 1751, Sterne was appointed as commissary to the peculiar of Pocklington and Pickering – a minor post at the heart of the conflict. </p><p>By 1758, Sterne had relocated to York to seek further advancement, and was there engaged in the tedious task of transcribing relevant papers that documented the dean’s festering dispute with Topham. Sterne initially composed his own contribution to the quarrel in the weeks around New Year 1759, seeking the opinion of his friends on the substance of its content. The appearance of Topham’s <i>A Reply to the Answer…</i> prompted Sterne to double the original size of his work to sixty pages. Sterne’s ‘burlesque performance’ was eventually issued as an octavo pamphlet by the York printer Caesar Ward in the final days of January 1759 in a run of several hundred copies. <i>A Political Romance</i> lampooned the participants in the dispute by reducing them to the stature of parish officers vying for Church places represented as a pair of ‘breeches’, and an ‘old Watch-coat’. The archbishop became the parson; the dean, parish clerk, and Topham, as Trim the sexton. </p><p>Despite circumspection in the portrayal of his superiors, the potency of Sterne’s satire was enough to disquiet Archbishop Gilbert. Summoning Fountayne and Topham to London, all copies of A Political Romance were ordered to be destroyed. Crucially, however, the experience of composing his most considerable literary composition to-date enlivened Sterne’s creativity. Over the months that followed, he began to develop his masterpiece, <i>Tristram Shandy</i>. Despite electing to remove all ‘locality’ from his next work, <i>A Political Romance</i> contains several precursors to Sterne’s great novel. The figure of Trim was reimagined as Uncle Toby’s faithful servant, whereas an earlier version of <i>A Political Romance</i> described events as taking place in the Shandean ‘Cocksbull’. </p><p>By 1761, Sterne (his literary talents now recognised) deemed <i>A Political Romance</i> to have been excessive as both a compliment to Fountayne, and rebuke of Topham. Despite the Church’s attempts to suppress the pamphlet, and Sterne’s private misgivings, <i>A Political Romance</i> was first republished in 1769 and frequently adjoined to editions of his works since. Printed copies were not identified until the second half of the nineteenth century, and this copy is one of only six copies known to survive.</p><p>Daniel Reed</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>East Riding of Yorkshire Archives & Local Studies Service. DDBR/11/4, letters to Robert Bower of Micklegate, York, 1743-1769</p><p>Campbell Ross, Ian, <i>Laurence Sterne: A Life</i> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., ‘Sterne as a Judge in the Spiritual Courts: The Groundwork of A Political Romance’, in John H. Middendorf (ed.), <i>English Writers of the Eighteenth Century</i> (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), pp. 17-36</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., and John M. Stedmond (eds.), <i>The Winged Skull, Papers from the Laurence Sterne Bicentenary Conference</i> (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1971)</p><p>Cash, Arthur H., <i>Laurence Sterne: The Early and Middle Years</i> (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1975)</p><p>Day, W. G., ‘Attribution Problems in Sterne’s Ecclesiastical and Secular Politickings’, in <i>Swiftly Sterneward, Essays on Laurence Sterne and His Times in Honor of Melvyn New</i>, ed. W. B. Gerard, Derek E. Taylor, and Robert G. Walker (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011), pp. 207-222</p><p>de Voogd, Peter, and Melvyn New (eds.), <i>The Letters of Laurence Sterne, Part I: 1739-1764</i>, The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, vol. 7 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009)</p><p>New, Mevlyn, and W. B. Gerard (eds.), <i>The Miscellaneous Writings and Sterne’s Subscribers, an Identification List</i>, The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, vol. 9 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014)</p><p>Reed, Daniel, ‘Ambition and Disappointment? Two New Sterne Letters of 1752’, <i>The Shandean</i>, 28 (2018), 13-44</p><p>Simmen, Edward, ‘Sterne’s A Political Romance: new light from a printer’s copy’, <i>Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America</i>, LXIV (1970), 419-29</p><p>Sterne, Laurence, <i>A Political Romance, 1759</i> (Menston: Scolar Press, 1971)</p></p>

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