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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by
TICKNOR AND FIELDS,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: WELCH, BIGELOW, & Co.,
NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. -1. The Works of LAURENCE STERNE ; containing the
Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent., a Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, Sermons, Letters, fc. With a Life of the Author, written by himself. London:
Henry G. Bohn. 1853. 2. Biographical and Critical Notices of Eminent Novelists.
By Sir WALTER SCOTT. Edinburgh. 1827. 3. The Life of Laurence Sterne: By PERCY FITZGERALD.
London: Chapman and Hall. 2 vols. 1864. 4. Illustrations of Sterne. By JOHN FERRIAR, M. D. London.
1812. 5. Miscellanies of Literature. By Isaac D'ISRAELI. Vol. I.
“On the wall” (of a bookstore in Boston, England), writes Hawthorne,“ hung a crayon portrait of Sterne, never engraved, representing him as a rather young man, blooming, and not uncomely. It was the worldly face of a man fond of pleasure, but without the ugly, keen, sarcastic, odd expression that we see in his only engraved portrait. The picture is an original,
. and must needs be very valuable; and we wish it might be prefixed to some new and worthier biography of a writer whose character the world has always treated with singular harshness, considering how much it owes him. There was likewise a portrait of Sterne's wife, looking so haughty and unamiable, that the wonder is, not that he ultimately left her, but how he ever contrived to live a week with such an awful woman.' - NO. 220.
Since the publication of “ Our Old Home,” a new biography of Sterne has appeared from the pen of Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, a diffuse and tiresome writer, who confuses suppositions with known facts, and frequently wanders from his line of march,faults not unusual with recent English writers of literary history, - but who is diligent and kindly disposed. He has published a few additional letters, and has proved anew that Sterne’s life and character are to be sought in his writings. But Mr. Fitzgerald does not give us engravings of the portraits which Hawthorne found; nor of the pen-and-ink etching of Mrs. Sterne in profile, which its possessor * calls - the most unprepossessing piece of femininity” he ever saw ; nor of Sterne's portrait taken in France; nor of the bust made at a later period of his life by Roubiliac, in which, says a recent writer,f “the coarseness of the mouth is diminished, and a thoughtful tenderness expressed in the upper part of the face gives value to the humor and vivacity playing about the lips.” The face of Mrs. Sterne is still left to the reader's imagination. The familiar engraving from the Reynolds portrait of Mr. Sterne, a mezzotint of which adorned the first edition of Yorick's sermons, is reproduced. Yet all who know what prominence has been given to Sterne's domestic relations would like to see that “awful woman's" portrait; and all who can appreciate the best parts of Tristram Shandy and of the Sentimental Journey must, with Hawthorne, be at a loss to reconcile the expression of that “ Voltairean mouth" with the spirit of those admirable writings, and must desire to correct by the other likenesses the unpleasant impression produced by this one.
Of the three pages covered by the sketch of his life which Sterne drew up for his daughter, a few months before his death, two concern his boyhood. His father, a grandson of Archbishop Sterne of York, was a lieutenant in one of Marlborough's regiments. His mother, Mrs. Agnes Hebert, was Irish, was the widow of a captain of good family, and the stepdaughter of “a noted sutler in Flanders." A parenthesis
* P. S. C. Notes and Queries. | Gossip about Portraits, by Walter F. Tiffin. London, 1867.
“(N. B. he [Lieutenant Sterne] was indebted to him [Mr. Sutler Nuttle])” suggests that the marriage was a business transaction, the officer consenting to take the widow off her step-father's hands, in consideration of a receipt from him in full of all demands. Laurence, their second child, was born in barracks at Clonmel, Ireland, November 28, 1713, the year of the Peace of Utrecht. In consequence of the cessation of hostilities, Lieutenant Sterne's regiment was disbanded, but was soon re-formed, and Laurence with his mother followed its fortunes for ten years from post to post, by land and by water. Child after child was born in camp or upon the march; but Sterne's “father's babes, being of a fine delicate frame not made to last long," were all“ left behind in the weary journey,” except Mary, the eldest, who married a bankrupt, was
" deserted, and died broken-hearted, Catherine, the youngest, who was “ most unhappily estranged from me," says Sterne, “ by my uncle's wickedness and her own folly," and Lau
Through the simplicity of Sterne's narrative break tender remembrances of each “ pretty blossom that fell by the way," and a strong affection for his father, who was a little smart man, active to the last degree in all exercises, most patient of fatigue and disappointments, of which it pleased God to give him full measure. He was in his temper somewhat rapid and hasty, but of a kindly, sweet disposition, void of all design ; and so innocent in his own intentions that he suspected no one; so that you might have cheated him ten times a day, if nine had not been sufficient for your purpose." Lieutenant Sterne was run through the body at Gibraltar, in a duel caused by a quarrel" about a goose.” He survived, but with an impaired constitution, and died in Jamaica, March, 1731.
Nowhere in his autobiography does Sterne speak tenderly of his mother. No portrait of her hangs in the Shandy gallery. The only allusion to her, in her son's letters, occurs in one of those addressed, in 1758, to Mr. Blake, a fellowprebendary of York Cathedral, extracts from which Mr. Fitzgerald publishes for the first time. Sterne speaks of going to York to see his mother, “having much to say to her.” And he adds: “I trust my poor mother's affair is by this time ended, to our comfort, and, I trust, to hers.” It is possible,
but only possible, that the "affair" referred to may have been that which formed the basis of a story for which the editor of Walpoliana is responsible. Here is what Mr. Walpole is reported to have said: "What is called sentimental writing, though it be understood to appeal solely to the heart, may be the product of a bad one. One would imagine that Sterne had been a man of a very tender heart; yet I know from indubitable authority, that his mother, who kept a school, having run in debt on account of an extravagant daughter, would have rotted in a jail if the parents of her scholars had not raised a subscription for her. Her own son had too much sentiment to have any feeling. A dead ass was more important to him than a living mother." The rest of the paragraph is forgotten, but the last sentence still lives in the more epigrammatic and more cruel form which Byron gave it," Sterne preferred whining over a dead ass to relieving the necessities of a living mother," and is adopted even by Henri Taine. Wit preserves a slander, as alcohol preserves other reptiles. Bacon's reputation is still scarred by the epithet which gives the sting to Pope's famous couplet. Goldsmith's devoted biographers have vainly striven to blot out of men's memories Walpole's description of him as an "inspired idiot." And Keats still suffers from Byron's sneer:
The Byron-Walpole antithesis implies an opinion which has no support in facts. If Walpole used the language imputed to him, which is uncertain, it must be borne in mind that he affected to despise Sterne, pronouncing the first part of Tristram Shandy "a very insipid and tedious performance," and the second part "the dregs of nonsense"; that, like Rogers and other gossips, he was ready to sacrifice truth to point; that "indubitable authority" might with him mean common report; and that the story is without particulars. If true, what does it amount to? That Mrs. Sterne, having been plunged in debt by an extravagant daughter, the same from whom her son was "most unhappily estranged," — was lieved through a subscription from the parents of her scholars. Was it Sterne's duty or was he able to bear the whole burden?