Thursday, March 18, 2010

Laurence Sterne

" Any man who has a name, or who has the power of pleasing," said Johnson, "will be very generally invited in London. The man Sterme, I am told, has had engagements for three months." Johnson's feelings of morality, and respect for the priesthood, led him to speak of Sterne with contempt; but when Goldsmith added, " And a very dull fellow," he replied with his emphatic, " Why, no, sir."

Walter Scott included this snippet of conversation between Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith to portray the Anglican clergyman and novelist Laurence Sterne as his contemporaries saw him.  The text is part of Scott's article on Laurence Sterne in his "The Lives of the Novelists".  The dialogue above captures something of the moral discomfort people felt at the time, about the novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman"; especially as this work came from the pen of a clergyman.  Scott comments in his lives that:

"...Tristram Shandy is no narrative, but a collection of scenes, dialogues, and portraits, humorous or affecting, intermixed with much wit, and with much learning, original or borrowed. It resembles the irregularities of a Gothic room, built by some fanciful collector, to contain the miscellaneous remnants of antiquity which his pains have accumulated, and bearing as little proportion in its parts, as there is connexion between the pieces of rusty armor with which it is decorated..."

Tristam Shandy was much better appreciated after Sterne's death, up to the current time.  As was the author, Laurence Sterne, who died on March 18, 1768.

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