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HANDEISM, like other creeds, has, as I have
observed before, its Big-endians and its Little
endians, the point of difference between them in this instance being the respective merits of Tristram and the Journey. There are those who hold that the latter is in everything but bulk, and even in that, inasmuch as there is no risk of tedium here, an advance on its predecessor—in finer, if less rollicking and kaleidoscopic humour, in delicacy and uniformity of sentiment, in composition—in fact, in almost all the requisites of art. The Big-endians reply that the Sentimental Journey is at best a piece of Tristram Shandy retouched and worked out in Meissonier-like detail ; that its merits are all contained in those of the larger and earlier book; that much of what is good in that book does not here reappear ; that such manliness as there was in Tristram has disappeared altogether; and that the further elaboration of " sensibility” is at best trifling, and at worst more tedious and more disgusting than the more exuberant and grosser exaggerations of “humour” in Tristram. It is perhaps not for me to assume a casting vote in this dispute. I like both
books, but I incline to the Tristramites, if it is absolutely necessary to give the palm ; for it is undoubtedly true that there is little in the Journey which is not in Tristram, and much in Tristram which is not in the Journey.
Another point in dispute, but in dispute of a different kind, is, whether any more of the Journey was ever written or, at the stage at which Sterne finished what we have, was ever intended to be written. In certain documents which were published after Sterne’s death, purporting to be communications from his valet, La Fleur, it is said that Sterne had written “ a large trunkful of papers” by the end of his Italian tour. But the best judges attach very little credence to this statement; and even if it were true, it would not follow that the papers were intended to be worked up into more of the Journey. For nobody needs to be told that the title, “ through France and Italy,” would no more have imposed on Sterne a sense of obligation in filling it up, than if it had been “through France to the Moon.” I believe that the industrious, though inconceivable, race of continuators have many times done after their kind to the book; but I do not think that I ever actually read a continuation of it.
Let us, therefore, take it as it is, and not as it is not. It is the actual “
swan-song of its writer, as few other books have been his most characteristic, most coherent, and most finished piece of work; at once his most popular (for the suppression of the strongly English element of Tristram opened a wide door of entrance to foreigners, of which they eagerly availed themselves), his most easily read, and perhaps for that reason his
most widely known. The book is short enough no doubt, but short as it is, I doubt whether there be another book in English prose of the same size which is 80 thoroughly known to readers. Artists, no less than men of letters, fastened at once upon Sterne ; and while Mackenzie and others in England, Diderot and others in France, and a whole school in Germany followed his style, the sharply isolated and easily bodied-forth scenes of the Journey were at once recommended to the pencil. Indeed, there is something irresistibly pictorial about the book itself; and it must never be forgotten that Sterne was an industrious practitioner with the brush, though he does not seem to have arrived at any great proficiency. The Journey is a series of written tableaux, each at once inviting and furnishing its own illustration, which is sometimes pointed out in the most obliging way by the very titles of the chapters. The portmanteau, the monk, the désobligeant, the remise, the lady, the monk again, and the snuff-box, in a series of sandwiched or dissolving views—this is but the beginning of a list which would easily carry me over this page and the next if I felt any difficulty in filling them otherwise, and which every reader, either in the past or as he reads anew, can fill up further as he goes along, till they end with the famous trio in the roadside inn near Madane.
This rapid succession of images, presented as they are with Sterne’s peculiar power, is, at any rate for so short a book, as certain to arrest the reader's attention as the most exciting and artfully constructed story. But the author was not satisfied with this single appeal. It is true, that he has here given none of the individual