A Discovery – Sterne Explains some Literary Devices

A Discovery – Sterne Explains some Literary Devices


Recently we purchased an early collection of Sterne’s books now offered for auction, including a lovely first edition, second state of A Sentimental Journey, The Sermons of Yorick, and Tristram Shandy. The Tristram Shandy set, while a nice Second and First Edition run, sadly lacked volume two, but had the scarce Second Edition copy of Volume One. this would be the first to bear the Dodsley name as printer, and would have been purchased in March or April 1760, when Sterne was in residence near Dodsley’s shop.

When collating our copy we came across one page, that had been carefully folded over before binding to preserve the contents (see photograph). We recognized the handwriting as possibly Sterne’s. We compared the handwriting with our reference library and on-line sources. They appear identical. The ink also is of the same composition as the ink in the Sterne signatures and with other errata corrections that we have observed in other Sterne sets and in this set. We have included a side by side comparison of a Sterne letter dated 1761 with our copy of Page 126 of Volume One. They appear identical in all aspects.

Pp. 126 & 127 - Tristram Shandy

On Page 126 of Volume One, Sterne writes;  “—-he would sometimes break off in sudden and spirited Epiphonema. or rather Erotesis, raised a third, and sometimes a full fifth , above the key of the discourse,—“

In his own handwriting Sterne explains the literary devices linked to the words he chose to use. (see photographs)

On “Epiphonema” he writes:

“an Exclamator containing some sentence of more than ordinary sense, which (i)s placed at the End of a Discourse”

On “Erotesis” he writes

“An Interrogation” “a figure when by asking questions, the matter is aggravated.”

Handwriting Comparison - Tristram Shandy

A comparison of Sterne’s handwriting from * with that found in our copy.

Later on Page 140 Sterne provides a translation of a passage where he writes “Mr Shandy apprehends it may, par le moyen d’une petite canulle, and sans faire aucun tort au pere.”
Underneath this printed passage he writes in his own handwriting;

“- By means of a Syringe, & without doing an injury to ye Parent—“

Translation Detail, Pp. 140 - Tristram Shandy

The First Edition of Tristram Shandy, privately printed by Sterne, having sold out in a matter of days and having taken London by storm with public figures of taste such as Garrick publicly endorsing the new book; led to Sterne making a deal with the Dodsley’s, with the Second Edition appearing in March 1760. The Third and Fourth Editions would follow later the same year. It was the Second Edition that truly conquered London, and that appeared for sale just as Sterne embraced London High Society.

“the news that the author of Tristram Shandy was really in London ran like a flame through society. With a view to impending social demands , Sterne left Cholmley’s on the eighth of March [1760]; and after looking over Piccadilly and the Haymarket, moved into commodious lodgings at the second house in St Alban’s street, now no more, just off Pall Mall…The new apartments, near Dodsley’s shop and in the very heart of fashion, became the centre of extraordinary scenes. “From, Morning to night,” Sterne wrote to Miss Fourmantelle, “my Lodgings, which by the by, are the genteelest in Town, are full of the greatest Company. I dined these two days with two ladies of the Bedchamber; then with Lord Rockingham, Lord Edgecomb, Lord Winchelsea, Lord Littleton, a Bishop, &c., &c. I assure you, my Kitty, that Tristram is the Fashion.”

Cross, The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne, Yale University Press, MDCCCCXXV, Vol 1, Pg. 194

The picture of Sterne entertaining London Society must have included, from time to time, Sterne providing annotations to his volumes for an admirer or critic asking for the meaning of a controversial passage. Witty wordplay is a hallmark of Sterne’s writing, as he bends words this way and that, so we are delighted to present a rare insight into the famed author’s mind.

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