I’ve discovered of late an awful lot of c18th pamphlets and novels lying about in some overlooked – and sadly, restricted – parts of the internet, so I’ve been cavalierly downloading them. – These are original manuscripts, many of which I’ve little doubt have never been republished. – Now, ok – like any great mass of literature, the vast majority seems to be tedious, unreadable rubbish; – but there’s some interesting stuff to be found nonetheless.
So we have The Rake of Taste; – and this is where we begin to see the profound and enormous influence of the great literary sensation that was Tristram Shandy; – though these imitators are not like our moderns, for they proclaim their plagiarism at every available opportunity, rather than be accused of the slightest originality. Our mystery author here has taken the possibilities of Sterne’s grammar (yes, they must all use – and indeed, as is the way of the c18th, comment upon – Sterne’s grammar, above all things), perhaps just a little further than Sterne himself: – but what starts, perhaps, as pastiche, soon develops a rhythm of its own.
Here’s a passage: – two men and two women, acquainted on a coach journey, are sitting down in a pub for a drink: – watch out for shift in narratorial perspective and the happy elision from 1st to 3rd person (borrowed, naturally, from much later writers):
The wine then appeared, – and Honoria was desired to give her toast; – she gave one; – What was it? Madam? – you cannot guess; – and, if you could, – you would not name it; – A CLEAN SHIRT AND A GUINEA.
By heavens! cries Obadiah, – an excellent toast! – it went round – in a bumper. Miss Witts, – your toast; – give me leave to think, gentlemen; – and, in the meantime, yours – if you please; – mine Madam? – cries Obadiah, – mine is ready cut – and – dryed for you; – “Tristram Shandy’s four stars ****.”
What a fool was I, – exclaims Honoria, – what a fool was I, – not to think of that! – Think of what, Madam? – Think Sir, – why – think of that; – think of – think of the four stars, ****.
I should have imagined, – cries Obadiah. – that a lady should rather think of the five stars **** – you understand me, Madam; – I don’t know Sir – rejoins Honoria, – whether I understand you or not; – but, if I do, – one can hardly think of the four stars **** or the five ***** – without connecting with one the idea of the other.
Rather than conversation, here is an example of description of character:
Now does he live deliciously, upon the dainties which other people pay for; – his appetite and his pride are at once indulged; – ten or a dozen servants, – and a most plentiful table, – give him importance, – and yield him as much happiness as he is capable of enjoying; – for his grov’ling soul, – dead to all the finer feelings, – dead to every tender impulse of humanity, – is so compleatly carnalized, – that his existence, – hardly superior to vegetation, – is supported at the expence of his nobler faculties; – so that, – with an education, capable of inspiring him with nobler sentiments, – and a better taste, – he lives, – to the regret of his family, – and his own disgrace – the low – very low – life of a publican.
And finally, a brief example of how the technique can be used to indicate emotion:
My goddess, however, – rising from her seat, – with a bon repos, raised me from my lethargy; – when, – springing from my seat, – I fell on my knees before her, – and intreated – that – as she regarded my happiness, she would not leave me in so cruel a manner, – at the same time assuring her, – that I must at once be wretched, – if she deprived me of the happiness of her company. – With a smile of bewitching sweetness, – she took my hand, – and desiring me to rise, – observed, – that we men always made use of the supplicating, – as the prologue to a very different posture.
Unlike Tristram Shandy perhaps, style is all in The Rake of Taste: – it is a hollow affair otherwise, an uninteresting romance, though it does – yet again – show a profound disregard for religious faith, – and is, as the last quotation perhaps shows, filled with sexual innuendo and a fairly healthy attitude towards sex.
Next up, perhaps, in our Shandeiana: The Life, Travels, and Adventures of Christopher Wagstaff, Gentleman, Grandfather to Tristram Shandy (again, as far as I can tell, anonymous – though obviously, it was written by Wagstaff himself, as is claimed on the frontispiece!).