“You may take my word that nine parts in ten of a man’s sense or his nonsense, his success and miscarriages in this world, depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set going—whether right or wrong, ’tis not a halfpenny matter—away they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and smooth as a garden walk, which, when once they are used to, the devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.”
This, at any rate, is Sterne’s own postulate. And I had rather judge him with all his faults after reading the book than be prepared beforehand to make allowances.
* * * * *
Nov. 12, 1895. Sterne’s Good-nature.
Let one thing be recorded to the credit of this much-abused man. He wrote two masterpieces of fiction (one of them a work of considerable length), and in neither will you find an ill-natured character or an ill-natured word. On the admission of all critics My Father, My Mother, My Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, and Mrs. Wadman are immortal creations. To the making of them there has gone no single sour or uncharitable thought. They are essentially amiable: and the same may be said of all the minor characters and of the author’s disquisitions. Sterne has given us a thousand occasions to laugh, but never an occasion to laugh on the wrong side of the mouth. For savagery or bitterness you will search his books in vain. He is obscene, to be sure. But who, pray, was ever the worse for having read him? Alas, poor Yorick! He had his obvious and deplorable failings. I never heard that he communicated them. Good-humor he has been communicating now for a hundred and fifty years.
[A] But why “elder”?
[B] “Pan might indeed be proud if ever
Such an Allibone ...”
SCOTT AND BURNS
Dec. 9, 1893. Scott’s Letters.
novels occupy one shelf. The new edition fifty