Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne


IN MORE than one place Laurence Sterne claims a medicinal value for his great comic masterpiece Tristram Shandy :

--If 'tis wrote against anything,--'tis wrote, an' please your worships, against the spleen! in order, by a more frequent and a more convulsive elevation and depression of the diaphragm, and the succussations of the intercostal and abdominal muscles in laughter, to drive the gall and other bitter juices from the gall-bladder, liver, and sweet-bread of his majesty's subjects, with all the inimicitious passions which belong to them, down into their duodenums.

In another passage he writes:

True Shandeism, think what you will against it, opens the heart and lungs, and like all those affections which partake of its nature, it forces the blood and other vital fluids of the body to run freely through its channels, makes the wheel of life run long and cheerfully round.

But turning from Tristram Shandy to a letter written to his amiable companion, John Hall-Stevenson, in which he complains of 'a thin death-doing pestiferous north-east wind' blowing upon him, we see the virtues of the Shandean philosophy in another light:

. . . and if God . . . had not poured forth the spirit of Shandeism into me, which will not suffer me to think two minutes upon any grave subject, I would else just now lay down and die. . . .

Sterne was long a sick man, a victim to hæmorrhages of the lungs, driven to travel abroad for his health. The gaiety of Tristram Shandy and also of A Sentimental Journey takes on a different significance against this background.

Sterne's character is of a kind which needs, but which also inspires, tender and careful handling. No reputation has suffered more than his from nineteenth-century moral pre-

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