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good man"; and Gray declares that they are "written in the style most proper for the pulpit," "show a warm imagination and a sensible heart," and contain "good writing and good sense."*
It cannot be gainsaid that some of Sterne's sermons contain shrewd observations on life and manners, such as would be looked for in "The Spectator" or "The Citizen of the World," as others are little more than the graceful amplification of a parable, or the skilful analysis of a scriptural character. They often deserve Mr. Shandy's judgment upon that one which Corporal Trim read aloud: "I like the sermon well," said my father; "'t is dramatic; and there is something in that way of writing, when skilfully managed, that catches the attention";- and they contain picturesque as well as dramatic passages, the author's taste for painting helping him to bring a scene before the eye. But the sermons of what divine, in what generation, are all sermon? Who preaches nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Not Jeremy Taylor, nor Tillotson, nor South, nor Barrow, nor he whose discourses. are still wet from the press.
Sterne has been called a pagan, upon the ground, as it would appear, that he does not sufficiently dwell upon the rewards and punishments of a future life; that his God is not a jealous God, and that his world is not a gloomy world; but if Christianity be the gospel of love, if the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son epitomize the religion of the New Testament, his sermons are as fully entitled to benefit of clergy and to Christian burial as are most of those which sleep in the odor of sanctity. He has himself in Tristram Shandy acquainted the world with the general aim of his dis"To preach to show the extent of our reading or the subtility of our wit; to parade it in the eyes of the vulgar with the beggarly accounts of a little learning, tinselled over
“His principal merit consisted in his pathetic powers," says Gray elsewhere, "in which he never failed." In another letter Gray writes: "I have long thought of reading Jeremy Taylor, for I am persuaded that chopping logic in the pulpit, as our divines have done ever since the Revolution, is not the thing; but that imagination and warmth of expression are in their place there as much as on the stage, moderated, however, and chastised a little by the purity and severity of religion."
with a few words which glitter, but convey little light and less warmth; is a dishonest use of the poor single half-hour in a week which is put into our hands: 't is not preaching the Gospel, but ourselves. For my own part, continued Yorick, I had rather direct five words point-blank to the heart." Six years later, when presenting a friend with his works, Sterne said: "The sermons came hot from the heart." He believed, with Goldsmith, that the Christian preacher "ought to arm one passion against another," and he endeavored to do so. His praises are given to the benevolent, in whom "the impulse to pity is so sudden that, like instruments of music which obey the touch, the objects which are fitted to excite such emotions work so instantaneously that you would scarce think the will was concerned"; the humble, "who provoke no man by contempt, thrust themselves forward as the mark of no man's envy," who are "even in contentions mild and placid," and are consequently "fenced and guarded by the love, the friendship, and good wishes of all mankind"; the "chaste and spotless within, conscious of no dirty thought or dishonest action"; the truthful; the impulsive, who carry the heart in the hand, and "at whom discretion shakes her head." He inveighs against pride, hypocrisy, evil-speaking, time-serving, ostentatious generosity, all whose works are worth less than "one honest tear shed in private over the unfortunate." He has no mercy for "the poor, sordid, selfish wretch, whose little, contracted heart melts at no man's afflictions." He declares that riches are "given to glad the heart, to open it, and to make it more kind"; and that "the single hint of the camel and the narrow passage he has to go through has more coercion in it than all the seesaws of philosophy." He esteems the example of Job" of more universal use, and speaking more to the heart, than all the heroic precepts" of the Stoics, which were "good sayings rather than good remedies." He exhorts his hearers to "be open, be honest, give themselves for what they are"; and "to think worthily of our nature as one step towards acting well." According to Sterne, "the great end of religion, is to purify our hearts and conquer our passions, make us wiser and better men, better neighbors, better servants to God." "Christianity, when
rightly understood and practised, is all meekness and candor and love and courtesy"; and "the chief enjoyment of Heaven is in the pure exercise of love." He appeals to religious and moral sentiments rather than principles, seeks to strengthen the affections rather than to improve the judgment or to harden the will, dwells on the amiable virtues almost exclusively.
This "religion of the heart" Sterne preached to small country congregations for twenty years. Had his life been flagrantly at variance with his teachings, it seems incredible that the world should not have known it. He " was not upon a very friendly footing" with the Squire of the parish; he had made other enemies by his plentiful lack of "that understrapping virtue called discretion"; complaints could easily have been lodged with the Archbishop, his ecclesiastical superior, who lived within six miles of his church; and his subsequent reputation made him a shining mark for attack. But there is no testimony from Sutton or Stillington to control the evidence of Bishop Warburton, who in 1760 wrote to Garrick: "I am glad there is no reason to change my opinion of so agreeable and original a writer as Mr. Sterne, —I mean of his moral character, of which I have received from several of my acquaintances so very advantageous an account."
Sterne's uncle, the canon, a violent anti-Jacobite partisan, sought to avail himself of his pen, but "he quarrelled with me," says his nephew, "because I would not write paragraphs for the newspapers: though he was a party-man I was not, and detested such dirty work, thinking it beneath me." It is said, however, that Sterne did for a time write in support of the Whig interest; and it is certain that he has given one of his uncle's Jacobite enemies, Dr. Burton, an accoucheur of York, an unpleasant extension of existence in the person of Dr. Slop, that "squat uncourtly figure, waddling through the dirt on the vertebra of a little, diminutive pony," whose encounter with Obadiah on the powerful coach-horse every school-boy remembers. Though Sterne names shooting among his amusements, he rarely uses sportsmen's language, whilst his works abound with illustrations from music and painting. For society he could re
sort to York, within an hour's ride, where the leading families of Northern England used to pass the winter. Nearer to the parsonage lived the Croft family, of whom Sterne speaks with affection in his autobiography, — and John Hall Stevenson, a college friend, who, like Dr. Johnson's crony, Topham Beauclerc, combined a loose life and conversation with elegant manners and scholarly tastes, and who filled Crazy Castle, where he kept bachelor's hall, with boon companions. At Hall's not over-decorous board Sterne frequently sat, contributing with his wit and his bass-viol to the entertainment. Possessing few books himself, until the success of Tristram Shandy enabled him to make some purchases, he read in Hall's library. There he found, not only Shakespeare, Cervantes, Rabelais, Montaigne, Swift, Bacon, and Locke, of his familiarity with whom his writings afford ample evidence, but also rare authors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, whose quaint theories and broad humor fascinated him. His imagination clothed the dry bones of these forgotten writers with flesh and blood, breathed into them the breath of life, christened the creature thus called into being Mr. Shandy of Shandy Hall, and set him down in the England of the eighteenth century, marrying him to the incarnation of commonplace, in whom he is believed to have represented his own wife,-engaging him in discussions with her and with excellent Uncle Toby of the problem of life ab ovo, and in endeavors to solve it in practice as the books solved it in theory. Those who weary of these parts of Tristram Shandy should observe how much the humor is assisted by the contrast between the syllogizing philosopher and the straightforward soldier, and how the blind wall of Mrs. Shandy's nature brings into relief the living figures. Add to the effect upon Sterne's impressible mind of these occupations of his leisure hours his experience as a clergyman, which must have increased his acquaintance with mankind and his mastery over the chords of feeling, and we see how middle life, like boyhood, was preparing him for the composition of a book as "heteroclite in all its declensions" as Yorick himself.
With the publication of the first two volumes of Tristram
Shandy, toward the close of 1759, commences the shortest and the last period of Sterne's life, with which, perhaps unfortunately for him, we are best acquainted, his letters henceforward being preserved and his actions known. Never was the transition from obscurity to celebrity more sudden. The little village of Sutton was not, even in those days of slow travelling, more remote from London than was the life of its pastor hitherto from that upon which he now entered. "I have turned author," he writes to a friend, "because I am tired of employing my brains for other people's advantage. "Tis a foolish sacrifice I have made for some years to an ungrateful person." "I have written," he says in another letter, "not to be fed, but to be famous." Fame came at a bound, and with it good feeding. Though the first edition of Tristram Shandy was printed at York at Sterne's risk, Dodsley having refused him £50 for it, though the first parcel that went up to London was a small one, though only one or two modest advertisements heralded its arrival,- though the author had no credit with the world, no influential friends to help him, except Garrick, whom he did not yet know, but whose attention was called to the work by a letter written by Sterne, but copied and signed by a lady friend of both gentlemen, - yet few literary ventures have had greater success. "At present," writes Walpole, "nothing is talked of, nothing admired, but a kind of novel called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.' . . . . The man's head, indeed, was a little turned before, and is now topsy-turvy with his success and fame. Dodsley has given him six hundred and fifty pounds for the second edition and two more volumes; Lord Falconberg, a donative of one hundred and sixty pounds a year; † and Bishop Warburton gave him a purse of gold and this compliment (which happened to be a contradiction), 'that it was quite an original composition, and in the true Cervantic vein'; and, not content with this, recommended the book to
*£480, says Mr. Fitzgerald, upon the authority of the written agreement. †That is, the living of Coxwold.
This statement has been called in question; but in one of Sterne's letters to Kitty he says: "I had a purse of guineas given me yesterday by a bishop."