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Did he decline to assist his mother? Did he even know of the straits to which she was reduced? It is necessary to answer these questions unfavorably to him, before convicting of filial ingratitude a man who spent money only too freely, who had only too soft a heart, who supplied all his wife's necessities, and was solicitous for her physical comfort long after he had ceased to love her, and who by the mouth of Corporal Trim thus defined the Fifth Commandment: "Prithee, Trim,' quoth my father, turning round to him, what dost thou mean by "honoring thy father and thy mother"?" "Allowing them, an' please your Honor, three halfpence a day out of my pay, when they grow old.' And didst thou do that, Trim?' said Yorick. He did, indeed,' replied my Uncle Toby. Then, Trim,' said Yorick, springing out of his chair, and taking the Corporal by the hand, thou art the best commentator on this part of the decalogue; and I honor thee more for it, Corporal Trim, than if thou hadst had a hand in the Talmud itself.""
Sterne's apparent indifference to his mother should raise no presumption in support of this accusation against him; for it is one thing to resist a mother's just claims upon the purse, and a very different thing to be devoid of a strong natural affection for her. Sacred as the associations with the word "mother" generally are, they are not always so. Goldsmith-whose mother had encouraged his poetical aspirations, but had refused to receive the young prodigal on his return from Dublin - never manifested an attachment to her comparable with that he felt for his father, his brothers, his uncle Contarine, or his friend Bob Bryanton, the supposed original of Tony Lumpkin. Irving says -but gives no authority for the statement-that, "in the latter years of Goldsmith's life, when his mother had become blind, he contributed from his precarious resources to prevent her from feeling want"; but, however this may be, it is certain that he never made any effort after leaving Ireland to visit her, and never yearned towards her as he did towards other members of the family. In his writings, full as they are of the persons and places he liked to recall, she has not been found. But "the gentle spirit of his father," says Irving, "walked with him through life, a pure and virtuous monitor." It is he (or his son Henry, who closely resembled him) who is com
memorated in Dr. Primrose, in the benevolent father of the Man in Black, and in the preacher of the Deserted Village. Not inferior in excellence to these amiable characters is "my Uncle Toby," in whom the world loves Sterne's father. Many books celebrate mothers, some with real, and some, alas! with affected feeling. It is well to learn, on such good authority, that the head of the family does sometimes inspire his children with sentiments of regard as strong and tender as those frequently felt, and more frequently expressed, for the mother.
The most picturesque and pathetic scenes in Tristram Shandy come from Sterne's recollections of ten years' marching with his father's regiment, as some of Goldsmith's most charming passages embody his reminiscences of the humble parsonage where he was brought up at his father's knees. "Trim's montero-cap and Le Fevre's sword and dear Uncle Toby's roquelaure," writes Mr. Thackeray, "are doubtless reminiscences of the boy, who had lived with the followers of William and Marlborough, and had beat time with his little feet to the fifes of Ramillies in Dublin barrack-yard, or played with the torn flags and halberds of Malplaquet on the parade-ground at Clonmel." That montero-cap, with the story of the sufferings of Corporal Trim's brother in the Portuguese Inquisition, may have been brought home by Lieutenant Sterne from the Vigo expedition, which his wife and child did not accompany. That touching narrative of Le Fevre's death may have been told in the boy's hearing. Uncle Toby's famous apostrophe to the fly, to the accidental impression from which, at ten years of age, Tristram Shandy attributes one half of his philanthropy, may have been uttered by Lieutenant Sterne at his dinner-table, just before his son passed from beneath the influence of that "kindly, sweet disposition." Laurence must often have sat upon his father's knee while old soldiers fought their battles over again, and cursed the treaty which had robbed them of glory and promotion. He must often, too, in that coarse age, have heard stories of a character not to be named to-day; for not even the best of Queen Anne's officers were likely to display so much consideration for a boy's innocence as Colonel Newcome manifested when Captain Costigan sang an obscene song
in Clive's hearing. Whatever his father did when not upon duty, wherever he went, Laurey would be by his side.
Sterne was indebted for his education to a cousin upon the father's side, who paid most of his bills at a school in Halifax, England, and who sent him to Jesus College, Cambridge. Of his life during this period but a single authentic anecdote is preserved. The usher had whipped him for whitewashing LAU. STERNE upon the ceiling, in gigantic characters. "My master," says he, was very much hurt at this, and said that name should not be effaced, for I was a boy of genius, and he was sure I should come to preferment. This expression made me forget the stripes I had received." *
It was a matter of course that Sterne should enter the ministry, whatever his qualifications. His great-grandfather had been an archbishop, and one of his father's brothers was a canon of York Cathedral. Famille oblige. The canon got him the living of Sutton, and a prebend in the cathedral, and he was subsequently presented to two other small livings in the vicinity of York. Goldsmith, also, might have been a clergyman but for the love of gay clothes, which sent him in scarlet breeches to the examining bishop. People will regret that Sterne was ordained, or that Goldsmith was not ordained, according as they prefer that a man of genius should suffer from poverty and neglect, or that he should get his living by a profession whose duties he discharges well enough, but whose proprieties he sometimes violates. This was a period of transition. The days of patronage were over, and those of large sales and quick profits to successful authors had not yet begun. Booksellers prospered; but it required the physical health as well as the robust mind of Dr. Johnson to endure the hardships of a literary life. If we judge Sterne the more severely
*Mr. Thackeray's sketch in one of the "Roundabout Papers" is purely fanciful. "Yonder lean, shambling, cadaverous lad, who is always borrowing money, telling lies, and leering at the housemaids, is Master Laurence Sterne, a bishop's grandson, and himself intended for the Church. For shame, you little reprobate! But what a genius the boy has!" Dr. Hill's memoir of Sterne in the "Royal Female Magazine" for 1760, which is incorrect in many particulars, says that " at school he would learn only when he pleased, and not oftener than once a fortnight"; and that at Cambridge "he read a great deal, laughed more, and left the reputation of an odd man who had no harm in him, and had parts if he would only use them."
because he was a clergyman, we should remember that, but for the means of support afforded by his profession, Tristram Shandy and the Sentimental Journey might never have been written. He had inherited "a fine and delicate frame " from his father. He had a "pale face," "spider legs," and "a cadaverous bale of goods" for a body. He suffered from asthmatic and consumptive tendencies, broke a vessel in his lungs while in college, was sick with fevers and racked by a cough afterwards, and in the latter years of his life complained of being hotly pursued by Death, that "long-striding scoundrel of a scare-sinner," who knocks at every door. His health was tolerably good while he led a quiet life in the country, but it gave way under excitement. He could not have fought the world like Johnson, nor have lived from hand to mouth like Goldsmith.
Not that such considerations influenced his choice of a profession. His course had probably been marked out for him before he was sent to Cambridge: his uncle opened the church door, and he walked in. At this time he was, as he tells us in Tristram Shandy, "as mercurial and sublimated a composition, as heteroclite a creature in all his declensions, with as much life and whim and gaieté de cœur about him as the kindliest climate could have engendered and put together. With all this sail poor Yorick carried not one ounce of ballast. He was utterly unpractised in the world, and at the age of twenty-six knew just about as well how to steer his course in it as a romping, unsuspicious girl of thirteen. So that, upon his first setting out, the brisk gale of his spirits run him foul ten times a day of somebody's tackling; and as the grave and more slow-paced were oftenest in his way, 't was with such he had generally the ill-luck to be most entangled. . . . . And as his comments had usually the ill fate to be terminated either in a bon mot, or to be enlivened throughout with some drollery or humor of expression, it gave wings to Yorick's indiscretion. In a word, though he never sought, yet at the same time, as he seldom shunned occasions of saying what came uppermost, and without much ceremony, he had but too many temptations in life of scattering his wit and his humor, his gibes and his jests, about him. They were not lost for want of gathering."
"I remained near twenty years at Sutton," is Sterne's brief account of his stewardship, "doing duty at both places [Sutton and Stillington]. I had then very good health. Books, painting, fiddling, and shooting were my amusements." "Doing duty at both places"; but how well or ill Sterne does not tell us, and there is no other testimony on the subject. The sole means of judging him as a clergyman, apart from our general knowledge of his character, is by his published sermons. Here, again, he has been injured by an epigram. Gray, in a letter written shortly after the publication of the first two volumes, says of them: "They are in the style I think most proper for the pulpit, and show a strong imagination, and a sensible heart; but you see him often tottering on the verge of laughter, and ready to throw his periwig in the face of the audience." The last clause of this opinion, expressed by a man who had never heard Sterne preach, is remembered while the rest has been forgotten. Yet the last clause conveys a wrong idea. There are few passages in Sterne's sermons calculated to offend a stickler for the proprieties of the pulpit, and in these cases the stumbling-block is almost invariably found in the turn given to a phrase, or to a line of reasoning, serious in purpose, but unusual in form. The discourse entitled "The House of Feasting and the House of Mourning," for example, opens with a flat denial of the text, and proceeds to state the worldling's arguments against it; by which device the preacher insures closer attention to his refutation of them. Sterne does not totter on the verge of laughter more frequently than do many old-fashioned preachers in excellent standing. Writers conversant with pulpit literature affirm that his discourses compare favorably with those published by other clergymen of the Church of England during the last half of the eighteenth century (of which Goldsmith complains that they were "dry, methodical, and unaffecting," and were "delivered with the most insipid calmness"); the reviewers who abused as well as those who praised Tristram Shandy made copious quotations from the sermons, and found nothing in them to criticise, except their publication in Yorick's name. Lady Cowper wrote to a friend in Ireland: "I like them exceedingly, and I think the writer must be a very