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and so just was the opinion of what would please the age in which he lived that we find the quiet country rector suddenly transformed into the most popular literary man of the day,– going up to London and receiving more invitations than he could accept. He had made his gold current by a considerable admixture of alloy; and endeavoured to excuse his offences of this kind by a variety of subterfuges. Upon one occasion, he compared them to the antics of children which although unseemly, are performed with perfect innocence.
Of course this was a jest. Sterne was not living in a Paradisaical age, and he intentionally overstept the boundaries of decorum. But granting he had an object in view, was he justified in adopting such means to obtain it? certainly not; but he had some right to laugh, as he does, at the inconsistency of the public, who, while they blamed his books, bought up the editions of them as fast as they could be issued.
If Sterne's humour was often offensive, we must in justice admit it was never cynical. Had it possessed more satire it would have, perhaps, been more instructive, but there was a bright trait in Sterne's character, that he never
accused others. On the contrary, he censures men who, “ wishing to be thought witty, and despairing of coming honestly by the title, try to affect it by shrewd and sarcastic reflections upon whatever is done in the world. This is setting up trade with the broken stock of other people's failings—perhaps their misfortunes-so, mueh good may it do them with what honour they can get-the farthest extent of which, I think, is to be praised, as we do some sauces—with tears in our eyes. It has helped to give a bad name to wit, as if the main essence of it was satire.”
Sterne had no personal enmities ; his faults were all on the amiable side, nor can we imagine a selfish cold-hearted sensualist writing “Dear Sensibility, source inexhausted by all that is precious in our joys, or costly in our sorrows." His letters to his wife before their marriage exhibit the most tender and beautiful sentiments;
"My L-- talks of leaving the country; may a kind angel guide thy steps bither-Thou sayest thou will quit the place with regret;-I think I see you looking twenty times a day at the house--almost counting every brick and pane of glass, and telling them at the same time with a sigh, you are going to leave them-Oh, happy modification of matter! they will remain insensible to thy loss. But how wilt thou be able to part with thy garden ? the recollection of so many pleasant walks must have endeared it to you. The trees, the shrubs, the flowers, which thou reared with thy own hands, will they not droop, and fade away
sooner upon thy departure? Who will be thy successor to raise them in thy absence? Thou wilt leave thy name upon the myrtle tree-If trees, shrubs, and flowers could compose an elegy, I should expect a very plaintive one on this subject.”
In the course of one of his sermons he writes very characteristically
“Let the torpid monk seek heaven comfortless and alone, God speed him! For my own part, I fear I should never 80 find the way ; let me be wlse and religious, but let me be man; wherever Thy Providence places me, or whatever be the road I take to get to Thee, give me some companion in my journey, be it only to remark to. 'How our shadows lengthen as the sun goes down,' to whom I may say, 'How fresh is the face of nature ! How sweet the flowers of the field! How delicious are these fruits !'”
We believe these to have been sincere expressions inside his motley garb he had a heart of tenderness. It went forth to all, even to the animal world—to the caged starling. Some may attribute the ebullitions of feeling in his works to affectation, but those who have read them attentively will observe the same impulses too generally predominant to be the work of design. The story of the prisoner Le Fevre and of Maria bear the brightest testimony to his character in this respect. What sentiments can surpass in poetic beauty or religious feeling that in which he commends the distraught girl to the beneficence of the Almighty who “tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.”
We have no proof that Sterne 'was a dissipated man. He expressly denies it in a letter
written shortly before his death, and in another, he says, “The world has imagined because I wrote “Tristram Shandy,' that I myself was more Shandean than I really was.” In his day many, not only of the laity, but of the clergy, thought little of indulging in coarse jests, and of writing poetry which contained much more wit than decency. Sterne having lived in retirement until 1759, must have had a feeble constitution, for in the Spring of 1762 he broke a blood vessel, and again in the same Autumn he “bled the bed full,” owing, as he says, to the temperature of Paris, which was “as hot as Nebuchadnezzar's oven.” He complains of the fatigue of writing and preaching, and these dangerous attacks were constantly recurring, until the time of his death.
Sterne's sermons went through seven editions. They are not doctrinal, but enjoin benevolence and charity. There is not so much humour in them as in some of the present day, but he sometimes gives point to his reflections.
On the subject of religious fanaticism he says:
“When a poor disconsolate drooping creature is terrified from all enjoyments-prays without ceasing till his imagi. nation is heated-fasts and mortifies and mopes till his body is in as bad a plight as his mind, is it a wonder that the mechanical disturbances and conflicts of an empty belly, interpreted by an empty head, should be mistaken for the workings of a different kind to what they are? or that in such a situation every commotion should help to fix him in
this malady, and make him a fitter subject for the treatment of a physician than of a divine.
“ The insolence of base minds in success is boundlessnot unlike some little particles of matter struck off from the surface of the dial by the sunshine, they dance and sport there while it lasts, but the moment it is withdrawn they fall down--for dust they are, and unto dust they will return.
“ When Absalom is cast down, Shimei is the first man who hastens to meet David ; and had the wheel turned round a hundred times. Shimei, I dare say, at every period of its rotation, would have been uppermost. Oh, Shimei ! would to heaven when thou wast slain, that all thy family had been slain with thee, and not one of thy resemblance left! but ye have multiplied exceedingly and replenished the earth; and if I prophecy rightly, ye will in the end subdue it.”
Dr. Johnson speaks of “the man Sterne,” and was jealous of his receiving so many more invitations than himself. But the good Doctor with all his learning and intellectual endowments was not so pleasant a companion as Sterne, and, although sometimes sarcastic, had none of his talent for humour.
Johnson wrote some pretty Anacreontics, but his turn of mind was rather grave than gay. He was generally pompous, which together with his self-sufficiency led Cowper, somewhat irreverently, to call him a “ prig.” Among his few light and humorous snatches, we have lines written in ridicule of certain poems published in 1777–
“ Wheresoe'er I turn my view,