Puckett Report

Laurence Sterne A Sentimental Journey

Textual History

Laurence Sterne's _A Sentimental Journey was first published in February of 1768. Though Sterne intended _A Sentimental Journey_ to be published in four volumes chronicling Yorick's experiences in France and Italy, illness prevented it's completion, thus it was published in two volumes with an Advertisement inserted in subscriber's copies promising another two for the following winter . This first printing was presented in "two small octavo volumes with pages measuring about six inches by three and three quarters, and in two larger octavo volumes on imperial paper with wide-margined pages measuring about seven inches by four" (Cross, 477).

Sterne's death, about three weeks after the book's publication, kept him from making any substantial alterations to the text as it appeared. It is important, however, to point to the care he took with the book prior to its first public appearance. Wilbur Cross, in his biography of Sterne, points to the heavily worked-over condition of Sterne's hand-printed proof of the novel as an antidote to the misapprehension that Sterne "put down and printed whatever came into his head":

[It was] a neat, underlying copy, which after six weeks of intermittent labor was covered all over with deletions, and interlinear substitutions reaching out into margins and blank pages. (Cross, 471)
It is clear then that Sterne was extremely concerned with the way his book would appear, delaying its publication by a full month with his corrections.

The demand for Sterne's works required frequent and varied reprintings. A ten volume _Works of Laurence Sterne_ was published by "a group of London booksellers" in 1780. Though the volume was to remain a standard for the next 125 years, the market was nonetheless flooded with a variety of competing and often inferior editions of Sterne's works. The most popular of these in the 1780's was a selection entitled _The Beauties of Sterne; Including All His Pathetic Tales, & Most Distinguished Observations on Life_. It "purported to be 'Selected for the Heart of Sensibility'" (Howes, 62). The text turned Sterne into something of a dictionary of sentiment, providing an alphabetized index whereby one could look up Sterne's feelings on beauty, compassion, and so on. This volume, though extremely popular, was coolly received by the critics.

_A Sentimental Journey_ had a suitably bizarre afterlife, spawning a whole series of additions and imitations which sometimes claimed direct relation to Sterne. John Hall-Stevenson (a.k.a. Eugenius), for instance, published in 1769 _Yorick's Sentimental Journey Continued_, which was included with a reprint of _Sentimental Journey_. Hall-Stevenson claimed, erroneously, that Sterne had related his intentions for the second half of the series in conversation and that he was fulfilling the late author's wishes. The apparently hackneyed quality of the addition, a dull retelling of the same adventures which fill the pages of the _Sentimental Journey_, indicates otherwise. Another fraud came a year later in the form of Richard Griffith's _Posthumous Works of a Late Celebrated Genius_, also known as _The Koran_. Griffith claimed that the piece was Sterne's own attearly on, sne's reputation lasting damage (Howes, 47).

"There were sentimental effusions, lucubrations, sketches, essays, and tales; a sentimental diary; and even the story of a sentimental spy." (Howes, 43)
In Germany groups were formed for the study of Sterne, with members offering each other snuff from horn boxes reminiscent of the one the monk gave Yorick. Horace Walpole said the book was "very pleasing, though too much dilated. . .there is great good nature and strokes of delicacy" (Thomson, 275). Goethe, having read the 1769 translation of the text, said "Yorick Sterne is the best type of wit that ever exerted an influence in literature."

In reviews of the day, Sterne was praised for his "delicacy of feeling," his "tenderness of sentiment," and it was declared that his book "cannot fail to please every one who is not a stranger to social feelings," and that he had "added the moral and the pathetic" to the "original vein of humour which was so natural to him, and which constitutes that chief merits of his works" (Howes, 43). One reviewer for _Critical Review_, apparently a friend of the slighted Smollett (Smelfungus), said that the book was "calculated to instruct young travelers in what the author meant for the *bon ton* of pleasure and licentiousness," but he "survived his art of imposing upon his countrymen *whim* for *sentiment* , and *caprice* for *humour*" (Howes, 44).

Sterne and Travel

One way to look at _A Sentimental Journey_ is to consider its relation to the Grand Tour. The Tour had a peculiar evolution beginning in the Middle Ages as a religious pilgrimage starting from England and moving through France on the way to Rome. The earliest guide books were incidental descriptions of what one might encounter on the way to St. Peter's. In the Renaissance, the religious character of the Tour was challenged by a desire to revisit and recuperate classicism. Palladio's two guide books, _Le Antichita di Roma_ and the _Descritione de le Chiese, Stationi, Indulgenze & Reliquie dei Corpi Sancti, che sonno in la Citta de Roma_ both codified the classical architectural vocabulary and provided pilgrims with a uniquely aesthetic means of understanding the trip into Italy.

By the Reformation, the religious aspects of the Tour had all but evaporated. The Grand Tour had become, instead, a crucial part of the political and aesthetic education of young Brittish men. The idea was to enter into a living dialogue with the humanist tradition both in terms of Aristotelian good government and an emerging Georgian artistic sensibility. The Tour was imported into and reified in English society through the formation of organizations like the Society of Dilettanti, "a kind of Old Boys' Club of Grand Tourists" (Burke, 237). The Grand Tour, as it became more and more concerned with aesthetics, informed English cultural life on all levels, providing British architects and artists with material to work with and in some cases an external foil to react against.

So, it was in this tradition of travel that Sterne took his sentimental journey. It is interesting, I think, to try to place Sterne's version of the Tour in an evolving picture of travel. The earliest travelers were concerned with the betterment of the soul, the spiritual enrichment of the individual sought through physical proximity to Rome and its sacred monuments. One approached the soul from the outside and made a journey between two strictly defined points. The material in between was interesting though secondary. The Tour became, as time progressed, more and more secular, at first placing special emphasis on good government. Thus, one's experience with France and Italy became a matter of acquiring a historical justification for leadership and the status quo political climate. As the Tour became more and more aesthetic, it was useful in terms of connecting oneself and one's country with the classical humanist tradition. In both cases, however, the point of the Tour was to meditate on a series of "classical" objects in order to increase social potency. This later Tour became a string of important points instead of a unidirectional trip. There was now no "in between."

It seems to me one could see _A Sentimental Journey_ as a sort of return to the earlier version of the Tour, though without the cathedral at the end. That is, the incidental, casual picture of seeing what one might see on the way to somewhere else seems quite like the picaresque vision we find in the _Journey_, though there is only incident. Thus, the betterment of the soul must exist in the process rather than in the end point of the process. Sterne's meditative objects then become displaced, diffuse. He can look at anything as if it were a basilica because his object of contemplation is, finally, the very process of contemplation, the mechanism of sensibility.

It was, then, this mechanism and the desire for a form which could accommodate it which attracted Sterne to travel literature. He had been thinking of creating some kind of travel book as early as 1762 when he went to Toulouse and apparently worked on other versions of the _Journey_ based on purely episodic guide books of the time. These earlier versions were, however, largely unsuccessful. They were, as one would expect, witty but the purely incidental, episodic nature of guide book wasn't as gripping a Sterne wanted. It wasn't until Sterne saw Smollett's book, _Travels in France and Italy_, that he understood how he should proceed:

"Like Smollett's, his travels were to deal with observation, personal and direct, rather than with incident, comic or exciting; but 'my observations,' he said, 'shall be altogether of a different cast that any of my forerunners,' just as my temperament, he might have added, differs from theirs." (Cross, 462) Though Sterne's journey was certainly "of a different cast" from Smollett's, it is, I think, useful to consider the ways in which the two overlap. For one, both narratives are infected with the point of view of the teller. Of course, this is no great insight but, in terms of sensibility, it might point towards a different understanding of the very origin of temperament. Sterne refers to Smollett (Smelfungus) as the "splenetic traveler," a perspective colored not only by an innate negativity, but actually polluted by a physical humour. In fact, Smollett was very ill when he was traveling though Europe. He was apparently suffering from chronic rheumatism and potentially from an untreated ulcer. Thus, when Sterne refers to Smelfungus's having set out with "the spleen and jaundice, and every object he passed by was discoloured or distorted," he isn't referring merely to Smollett's psychology; rather he is pointing towards a physical basis of one's sentiment.

In his "Nerves, Spirits and Fibres," G. S. Rousseau attempts a "Kuhnian" reading of the origins of sentiment. Rousseau looks to Locke (in the 1690's) as something of a starting point for the paradigm shift which would become full-fledged sentimentality a century later under Richardson's pen. Rousseau suggests that after Locke returned the soul to the body (against Descartes), a new science of nerves and the nervous system developed. The idea was to try to determine how, if the brain was the seat of the soul, external stimuli found their way inside as feeling. It was suggested by a variety of scientists that nerves, hollow tubes running throughout the body, carried the brain's secretions around the body. To simplify Rousseau's very interesting article, the vision of the nervous system became "classed," and, I think, nationalized with distinctions made between nervous systems of different calibers. Thus, one could be, in the most immediate sense, more "sensible" than someone else. This view of sentiment, Rousseau suggests, allows us to "understand realms that hitherto have seemed disparate: the cults of melancholy, hypochondria as a national institution, the 'English Malady,' as Cheyne called it, Richardson's novel of sentiment, later on the well-formed and mature 'man-of-feeling,'" and "Sterne's bizarre variations and subtle alterations on this theme. . ." We can also see why it would be common to "directly link (in the sense of outright cause and effect) Richardson's wretched health with his far more than usual sensibility as a writer. . ." (Rousseau, 151-152).

It seems to me we can relate Sterne's sense travel to these physical explanations. Smollett disparages the Venus de Medici and refers to the Tuscan accent as if it were a physical impediment because of his physically damaged sensibility; his hollow tubes (to perhaps take the point too far) are clogged up with something other than good "animal spirits." Yorick's extreme sentiment is also connected to physical sources (perhaps also to Sterne's delicate physical condition), but in his case it is the acuteness of his nerves, their too fine ability to transmit that leads to his sentimental perspective. Though it's far from clear what Sterne believed in terms of the workings of the body, he was certainly interested in the absolute intersection of the body and mind and there is some evidence he adhered to a Newtonian "vibration theory." The body acted like a musical instrument, picking up vibrations and giving them off (Dussinger, 5).

Perhaps then, we can understand, at least in part, why Sterne may have been attracted, as he certainly was, to the form of Smollett's travel book. Sterne, who had already diagnosed Smollett, saw in the immediate observational tone of _Travels Through France and Italy_ a space in which he could utilize his own illness, a roaming, nervous sentiment, a point of view which, as was suggested above, could not long focus on an external detail or meditative object, but rather pointed invariably toward something else. "It is [Sterne's] need to re-invent everything he sees, to subordinate it to the dominating throb of his own reactions, that denies him the solace of ever feeling at home" (Thomas, 215). Sterne can't let his eye linger on even his own things long enough to describe any single object, so, spending a day or two in each place, as traveler does, wouldn't likely lead to any systematic description of the places seen:

_A Sentimental Journey_ for Sterne was not just the haphazard ranging of a benign and flirtatious eye, but the absorption of the author in all the bland warmth of day-dream. For all that it was a method that produced some of Sterne's finest writing, it was also a means to seal him off completely from actuality. (Thomas, 215)
It seems to me true that Yorick's travels were least about the places he visited; I would however qualify Thomas's statement because it seems to me that Sterne's meditations on process, though absolutely removed from an outward description, avoid falling into dull solipsism. Neither, though, does _Sentimental Journey_ seem to me to be the "progress from solipsism toward communion," that Martin Battestin describes (225).

Travel presents Sterne with a different picture of subjectivity, a sense of self which exists outside linear, purposeful living. For Sterne travel, even the Grand Tour, is more like the hobby horse in _Tristram Shandy_, a stationary object, like the rocking Desobligeant, in which creativity is unleashed because it is undirected. Sterne's Grand Tour focuses on the dangers of travel, the close calls and near misses which characterize any journey but rarely make it into the guide books. Thus, his description exists not in his own head, but between the lines, between the obvious landmarks and places of interest which found their way into the Palladian guide books. Iain McGilchrist refers in his _Against Criticsim_, to Sterne's love of the curved line. Like Hogarth, Sterne, himself an amateur painter, would have appreciated the beauty of a curve. Of course, what separates Sterne's sensibility from other's, is that he is willing to apply the curved line, never the shortest distance between two points, to the map.

In his desire to describe the mechanism of sensibility (and so much of _A Sentimental Journey_ is about mechanism: aside from Sterne's complex relationship to mechanistic theories of the body/mind relationship, many of the encounters in the _Journey_ [the sparrow, the scene with the Grissette, the cottagers' dance] resemble delicate toys or automatons repeating graceful, though finally purposeless moves for the pleasure of some onlooker), the curious device which can "sensitize" the dead ass, the comic La Fleur, and the plight of the dwarf in the opera, Sterne isn't merely describing himself; he is rather turning space inside out and describing the places in between points, liminal territories perhaps apprehendable only to the extremely sensitive or the extremely ill.

_A Sentimental Journey_ seems to me a fabliau; it is profane, physical, funny, and discrete. To Yorick, however, the events which comprise his journey are not farce; they are high sentiment. It is not however the picture of the absurd which interests Sterne or the reader, neither is it necessarily the sentimental vision Yorick describes. Both are available. Rather, it is the space between these, the process by which one is transmuted into the other that interests. The subject of the novel and the object of Sterne's acute sense is this difficult mechanism which can turn any encounter into an encounter of sensibility.


1 Sterne suggested that his book would "teach us to love the world and our fellow creatures better than we do. . . ." We spoke of _Clarissa_ in these terms so why not _A Sentimental Journey_- is it a didactic novel? If so, what is its lesson?

2 Like Clarissa, Yorick seems to enjoy nothing better (at least some of the time) than aiding the poor and, in a general sense, giving away money. What exactly is at stake in the sentimental economy? Is the gift of sensibility, as Robert Markley suggests, "a palpable, materialist manifestation of good nature as a commodity," and if so, what exactly is bought and sold here?

3 A burning question: Is _A Sentimental Journey_ ironic? Is it outright comedy? We're told that Sterne quite intended for his readers to cry when they read it and all accounts suggest he was successful, so why is it so hard for us to imagine it as anything but hilarious? (I know modernists aren't supposed to cry, but figured laughter was off limits too.)

4 Lastly, what about the ending? Sterne said he'd have the next half done in a year, but it seems he might have had little faith in his chances of surviving. Besides, it ends in the dead middle of the most bawdy of the book's scenes, with the road below blocked. Are we meant to ever reach Italy in any meaningful way? And what's there, Battestin's community or a mystical date with God's sensorium?