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ILLUSTRATIONS

of

STERNE.

STERNE, for whose sake I plod thro' miry ways
Of antic wit, and quibbling mazes drear,
Let not thy shade malignant censure fear,
Tho' aught of borrow'd mirth my search betrays.
Long slept that mirth in dust of ancient days,
(Erewhile to Guise, or wanton Valois dear)
Till wak'd by thee in Skelton's joyous pile,
She flung on TRISTRAM her capricious rays.
But the quick tear, that checks our wond'ring

smile,
In sudden pause, or unexpected story,
Owns thy true mast'ry; and Le Feure's woes,
Maria's wand'rings, and the Pris’ner's throes
Fix thee conspicuous on the shrine of glory,

ILLUSTRATIONS,

&c.

CHAPTER I.

Probable origin of Sterne's ludicrous writings.--General account of the nature of the ludicrous.-Why the sixteenth century produced many authors of this class.

It sometimes happens, in literary pursuits, as in the conduct of life, that particular attachments grow upon us by imperceptible degrees, and by a succession of attentions, trifling in themselves, though important in their consequences. When I published some desultory remarks on the writings of Sterne, a few years ago, having told all that I knew, I had no intention to resume the subject. But after an enquiry

has been successfully begun, facts appear to offer themselves of their own accord to the investigator. Materials have encreased on my hands, from a few casual notes and references, to the size of a formal treatise: I trust it will be found, however, that I have had sufficient discretion not to bestow all my tediousness on the public.

When the first volumes of Tristram Shandy appeared, they excited almost as much perplexity as admiration. The feeling, the wit, and reading which they displayed were sufficiently relished, but the wild digressions, the abruptness of the narratives and discussions, and the perpetual recurrence to obsolete notions in philosophy, gave them more the air of a collection of fragments, than of a regular work. Most of the writers from whom Sterne drew the general ideas, and many of the peculiarities of his book, were then forgotten. RaBelais' was the only French wit of the sixteenth century, who was generally read, and from his obscurity, it would have been vain to have expected any illustration of a modern writer.

Readers are often inclined to regard with veneration what they do not understand. They suppose a work to be deep, in proportion to its darkness, and give the author credit for recondite learning, in many passages, where his incapacity, or his carelessness, have prevented him from explaining himself with clearness. It was not the business of Sterne to undeceive those, who considered his Tristram as a work of unfathomable knowledge.

He had read with avidity the ludicrous writers, who flourished under the last princes of the race of Valois, and the first of the Bourbons. They were at once courtiers, men of wit, and some of them, profound scholars. They offered to a mind full of sensibility, and alive to every impression of curiosity and voluptuousness, the private history of an age, in which every class of readers feels a deep interest; in which the heroic spirit of chivalry seemed to be tempered by lettess, and the continued conflict

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