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contemplate these exquisite and vivid pictures in a foreign country, without delight and gratitude ; for, without any exertion on his part, they introduce him to an intimate acquaintance with the varied and numerous birds which haunt the woods, sky, and waters, between Labrador and Florida, in hue, outline, and action, as vivid and true as those of nature; and their intrinsic value as memorials is enhanced by the consideration that a rapid disappearance of whole species of birds has been observed to attend the progress of civilization on this continent.
THERE is a peculiar incongruity in the associations which the name of Laurence Sterne excites. He represents several very distinct and in harmonious phases of character. There are the Prebendary of York, and the Vicar of Sutton in the Forest and of Stillington — most respectable designations; there is mirthful, plaintive, quaint Yorick, with his fancy and humor, his amorous trifling, his rollicking table-talk, and his vagrant sentimentalism; then the affectionate father of Lydia Sterne, a character worthy of esteem and love; again he appears as a fashionable preacher, a standard author, and a " loose fellow about town," whom it is somewhat disreputable to praise, and even about whose literary merits modesty is often instinctively silent ; publishing alternately a volume of Tristram Shandy and a volume of sermons- the man of the world and the priest making a simultaneous appeal to the reading public. Yet, withal, those of us who, in some old sunny, rural home, early became familiar with that long array of little volumes, in obsolete type, and found them here and there exhaling the mellow breath of a gentle, pensive mood, embodied in most apt and graceful phraseology, must confess a kindliness for the author, however we may condemn his freedom of speech, and resent his abuse of the canons of taste and the integrity of feeling.
Inclined as English writers are to literary biography, and constant as has been the revival of memorials and critiques of their standard authors, since the establishment of the leading reviews, Sterne has proved an exception. That he was born at Clonmel, in Ireland, November 24, 1713, and died in London, March 18, 1768; that he preached, dined out, visited the continent, published books, left debts, one daughter, and the fame of rare gifts and doubtful conduct, is the sum of what we know of the man, except from his writings. Time has added little to the sparse details recorded in his own sketch; and the scattered and meagre notices of his career have not been gathered and arranged with the reverential and loving care bestowed on whatever throws light upon such intellectual benefactors as Milton and Goldsmith. The feeling which prompts such tributary labor has been chilled, in this instance, by a consciousness that Sterne so violated the proprieties of life and the harmonies of character, as to afford a subject too perverse for hearty eulogium, and too imperfect for entire sympathy. The parish register of Sutton contains data, in his handwriting, from which we learn such unimportant items, as that at one time he planted an orchard, and at another the parsonage was destroyed by fire. In a work entitled the Memoires d'un Voyageur qui se repose, by M. Dutens (a refugee Abbé, one of Sydney Smith's visitors during his first sojourn in London), that appeared in London in 1806, occurs the following anecdote, which affords a vivid idea of his social peculiarities :
"Nous étions au temps de l'anniversaire du Roi d'Angleterre. Milord Tavistock invita la peu d'Anglois qui étoient à Paris à dîner avec lui, pour le celébrér. Je fus de la partie, où je ne trouvai de ma connoissance que ceux avec que j'étois venu à Paris. Je fus assis entre Milord Berkeley et le fameux Sterne, auteur de Tristram Shandy, regardé comme la Rabelais de l'Angleterre. On fut fort gai pendant le dîner et l'on but à l'Anglaise et selon le jour. La conversation vint à tomber sur Turin, où plusieurs de la compagnie alloient; sur quoi M. Sterne m'addressant la parole, demande si j'y connoissois Monsieur Dutens; je lui dis qu’oui et même fort intimement. Tout la compagnie se prit à rire; et Sterne, qui ne me croyoit si prês de lui, s'imagina ce Monsieur D. devoit être un homme assez bizarre, puisque son nom seul faisoit rire ceux qui l'entendoient. N'est ce pas
un homme singulier ?' ajouta il tout de suite; "Oui,' repris-je, 'un original."
Upon this hint, Sterne drew an imaginary, and by no means flattering, portrait of his neighbor, and related many amusing stories about him, unconscious, the while, that these inventions were heard by their good-natured subject. He did not discover the identity of his auditor with M. Dutens until the company separated, when he made ample apologies, which were graciously accepted. All wits have a mode of their own. Addison, we are told by Swift, would flatter the opinions of a man of extreme views on any subject, until he betrayed him into absurdity; Lamb had a way of startling literal people by humorous sallies ; Hook was a genius in practical jokes; and Sterne, it appears, used to draw fancy portraits of real characters, to divert his boon companions. Had his accidental victim, in the instance related, been other than an urbane Frenchman, who could make allowance for a spirituelle invention, even though it somewhat compromised his own dignity, the “ Rabelais d'Angleterre” might have been forced to protect himself from a duel under the very cloth whose immunities he so little deserved. A similar instance is recorded by Dr. Hill, who says that at a dinner-party the professional talk of a pedantic physician wearied the company and annoyed the host, when “good-humored Yorick fell into the cant and jargon of physic, as if he had been one of Radcliffe's travellers," and told such a ridiculous story of curing himself of an adhesion of the lungs by leaping fences, as restored the guests to mirthful
The alleged insensibility of Sterne, the man, may be ascribed, in part, to his extreme frankness. He calls discretion“ derstrapping virtue,” and seems to have been singularly deficient in caution and reserve. He gave expression to the alternations
. of his mood and feelings with a reckless disregard to the effect of such inconsistency. At the University, we are told, he “amused himself by puzzling the tutors," and "left Cambridge with the character of an odd man, who had no harm in him, and had parts if he would use them.” Thence he went to "the lap of the Church in a small village in Yorkshire," and, " as he advanced in literary fame, left his livings to the care of his curates," and preferred " luxurious living with the great." The following charitable epitaph well describes such a man:
“ Wit, humor, genius, hadst thou, all agree ;
One grain of wisdom had been worth the three.”
His patient courtship shows that he was truly in love with his wife. Their marriage, in the face of inauspicious circumstances, proves that they were both in earnest; and his frank acknowledgment, a year after, that he was tired of his conjugal partner, argues no uncommon experience, but a rare and unjustifiable candor. His letters to Mrs. Draper, however wrong in the social code, and unprincipled in a married divine, were undoubtedly sincere. His first efficient stroke as a lay writer consisted of a satire to oust the monopolist of a situation which one of his friends desired, and so successful was it that the incumbent offered to resign if the publication was suppressed. His parental affection has never been questioned; no one can doubt that his heart was devoted to, and engrossed with, his daughter Lydia. Inconstancy is one thing, insincerity quite another. The critics of Sterne invariably confound the two; and, because he was so unreliable in his attachments, and not proof against a succession of objects, they endeavor to discredit his pathos as artificial. As well might we seek to invalidate Bacon's philosophy because it failed to elevate him above sycophancy, or Scott's romantic genius in view of his material ambition, or Byron's love of nature on account of his dissipation.
Science, of late years, has thrown new light on the apparent contradictions of human nature, by investigating the laws of temperament, and the relation of the nervous system to intellectual development. A whole category of phenomena has been recognized by acute observation directed to susceptible organizations; and whoever is thus prepared will find no difficulty in explaining the incongruities so obvious between Sterne the man and Sterne the author. His will and intelligence were continually modified by physical causes. He lacked hardihood, and was peculiarly alive to magnetic agencies. Hence his vagaries, his tender moods reacting to selfish calculation, and the theory of