[Illustration: LAURENCE STERNE.]
[Illustration: UNCLE TOBY AND CORPORAL TRIM. From a drawing by B. Westmacott.]
[Illustration: TOBIAS SMOLLETT.]
Sterne and Smollett.—With Richardson and Fielding it is customary to associate two other mid-eighteenth century novelists, Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768) and Tobias Smollett (1721-1771). Between 1759 and 1767 Sterne wrote his first novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which presents the delightfully comic and eccentric members of the Shandy family, among whom Uncle Toby is the masterpiece. In 1768 Sterne gave to the world that compound of fiction, essays, and sketches of travel known as A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. The adjective “sentimental” in the title should be specially noted, for it defines Sterne’s attitude toward everything in life. He is habitually sentimental in treating not only those things fitted to awaken deep emotion, but also those trivial incidents which ordinarily cause scarcely a ripple of feeling. Although he is sometimes a master of pathos, he frequently gives an exhibition of weak and forced sentimentalism. He more uniformly excels in subtle humor, which is his next most conspicuous characteristic.
Roderick Random (1748), Peregrine Pickle (1751), and The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771) are Smollett’s best novels. They are composed mainly of a succession of stirring or humorous incidents. In relying for interest more on adventure than on the drawing of character, he reverts to the picaresque type of story.
The Relation of Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, and Smollett to Subsequent Fiction.—Although the modern reader frequently complains that these older novelists often seem heavy, slow in movement, unrefined, and too ready to draw a moral or preach a sermon, yet these four men hold an important place in the history of fiction. With varying degrees of excellence, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne all have the rare power of portraying character from within, of interpreting real life. Some novelists resort to the far easier task of painting merely external characteristics and mannerisms. Smollett belongs to the latter class. His effective focusing of external peculiarities and caricaturing of exceptional individuals has had a far-reaching influence, which may be traced even in the work of so great a novelist as Charles Dickens. Fielding, on the other hand, had great influence of Thackeray, who has recorded in The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century his admiration for his earlier fellow-craftsman.
Although subsequent English fiction has invaded many new fields, although it has entered the domain of history and of sociology, it is not too much to say that later novelists have advanced on the general lines marked out by these four mid-eighteenth century pioneers. We may even affirm with Gosse that “the type of novel invented in England about 1740-50 continued for sixty or seventy years to be the only model for Continental fiction; and criticism has traced in every French novelist, in particular, the stamp of Richardson, if not of Sterne, and of Fielding.”