Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral

The next Mystery Story is like no other in these volumes. The

editor's defense lies in the plea that Laurence Sterne is not like

other writers of English. He is certainly one of the very

greatest. Yet nowadays he is generally unknown. His rollicking

frankness, his audacious unconventionality, are enough to account

for the neglect. Even the easy mannered England of 1760 opened its

eyes in horror when "Tristram Shan
y" appeared. "A most unclerical

clergyman," the public pronounced the rector of Sutton and

prebendary of York.

Besides, his style was rambling to the last degree. Plot concerned

him least of all authors of fiction.

For instance, it is more than doubtful that the whimsical parson

really INTENDED a moral to be read into the adventures of his

"Sentimental Journey" that follow in these pages. He used to

declare that he never intended anything--he never knew whither his

pen was leading--the rash implement, once in hand, was likely to

fly with him from Yorkshire to Italy--or to Paris--or across the

road to Uncle Toby's; and what could the helpless author do but

improve each occasion?

So here is one such "occasion" thus "improved" by disjointed

sequels--heedless, one would say, and yet glittering with the

unreturnable thrust of subtle wit, or softening with simple

emotion, like a thousand immortal passages of this random


Even the slightest turns of Sterne's pen bear inspiration. No less

a critic than the severe Hazlitt was satisfied that "his works

consist only of brilliant passages."

And because the editors of the present volumes found added to "The

Mystery" not only a "Solution" but an "Application" of worldly

wisdom, and a "Contrast" in Sterne's best vein of quiet happiness--

they have felt emboldened to ascribe the passage "A Mystery with a


As regards the "Application": Sterne knew whereof he wrote. He

sought the South of France for health in 1762, and was run after

and feted by the most brilliant circles of Parisian litterateurs.

This foreign sojourn failed to cure his lung complaint, but

suggested the idea to him of the rambling and charming "Sentimental

Journey." Only three weeks after its publication, on March 18,

1768, Sterne died alone in his London lodgings.


Spite of all that marred his genius, his work has lived and wil1

live, if only for the exquisite literary art which ever made great

things out of little.

Laurence Sterne