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.