Adventures in Criticism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 236 pages of information about Adventures in Criticism.

Still, on the whole Mr. Whibley has justice.  Sterne is a sentimentalist.  Sterne is indecent by reason of his reticence—­more indecent than Rabelais, because he uses a hint where Rabelais would have said what he meant, and prints a dash where Rabelais would have plumped out with a coarse word and a laugh.  Sterne is a convicted thief.  On a famous occasion Charles Reade drew a line between plagiary and justifiable borrowing.  To draw material from a heterogeneous work—­to found, for instance, the play of Coriolanus upon Plutarch’s Life—­is justifiable:  to take from a homogeneous work—­to enrich your drama from another man’s drama—­is plagiary.  But even on this interpretation of the law Sterne must be condemned; for in decking out Tristram with feathers from the history of Gargantua he was pillaging a homogeneous work.  Nor can it be pleaded in extenuation that he improved upon his originals—­though it can, I think, be pleaded that he made his borrowings his own.  I do not think much of Mr. Whibley’s instance of Servius Sulpicius’ letter.  No doubt Sterne took his translation of it from Burton; but the letter is a very well known one, and Burton’s translation happened to be uncommonly good, and the borrowing of a good rendering without acknowledgment was not, as far as I know, then forbidden by custom.  In any case, the whole passage is intended merely to lead up to the beautiful perplexity of My Uncle Toby.  And that is Sterne’s own, and could never have been another man’s.  “After all,” says Mr. Whibley, “all the best in Sterne is still Sterne’s own.”

But the more I agree with Mr. Whibley’s strictures the more I desire to remove them from an Introduction to Tristram Shandy, and to read them in a volume of Mr. Whibley’s collected essays.  Were it not better, in reading Tristram Shandy, to take Sterne for once (if only for a change) at his own valuation, or at least to accept the original postulates of the story?  If only for the entertainment he provides we owe him the effort.  There will be time enough afterwards to turn to the cold judgment of this or that critic, or to the evidence of this or that thief-taker.  For the moment he claims to be heard without prejudice; he has genius enough to make it worth our while to listen without prejudice; and the most lenient “appreciation” of his sins, if we read it beforehand, is bound to raise prejudice and infect our enjoyment as we read.  And, as a corollary of this demand, let us ask that he shall be allowed to present his book to us exactly as he chooses.  Mr. Whibley says, “He set out upon the road of authorship with a false ideal:  ‘Writing,’ said he, ’when properly managed, is but a different name for conversation.’  It would be juster to assert that writing is never properly managed, unless it be removed from conversation as far as possible.”  Very true; or, at least, very likely.  But since Sterne had this ideal, let us grant him full liberty to make his spoon

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Adventures in Criticism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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