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.

Of Feminism and the Greenly Library

Portrait of Elizabeth SmithFeminism, as a movement, has engaged several projects to give women agency and secure women’s rights within society, and among the most relevant is the quest to uncover the contributions women have made throughout history. Depending on the era in question, women faced challenges and opportunities of a very different nature from men, their opinions and actions often not being taken seriously. Nonetheless, women have certainly had a substantial influence, in spite of the prominence of “Great Man” history and the emphasis of military actions.

Ancient cultural traditions, many based in Judeo-Christian culture, proscribe specific gender roles that limit opportunities for women, with the expectation of women occupying the private home-space, and men in the public/political realm. Often overlooked are succession laws, particularly the germanic gavelkind laws, which generally excluded women from the inheritance of property (a notable exception being Basque culture in spain, and in the state and empires of Western Africa.) One fascinating event forced major changes to this; the black death. The substantial loss of life throughout europe left many women as the only children left to inherit their father’s fortunes, giving a generation of women substantial amounts of property, which unlike a dowry, was truly theirs. We see other important examples of women gaining more power in the dynastic politics as well. Henry VIII, seeking to preserve the Tudor dynasty, gave both his daughters a place in succession, eventually resulting in the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabeth I. Of course, women attaining a place of power is not always good, with Mary I’s persecutions and the manipulative nature of the Medici women who were queen regents of France, but the faults we witness are equally possessed by men in power. Ultimately, the point of this progress and increase in the profile of women is to be inclusive of the 50% of the human population that has been hitherto marginalised, and show the evidence of their value humanity as a whole.

Portrait of Mary Wortley MontaguThe Eighteenth century offered some great examples of the increase of women’s public presence. Of course, the War of Austrian Succession saw Europe embroiled in extensive conflict over the Pragmatic Sanction, the subversion of Salic law and ascension of Maria Theresa von Habsburg to the throne of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. In literary circles, women like Anne Dacier provided some of the most insightful and valued work of the era. It was is this relatively good era for women, that Elizabeth Greenly grew up. Usually known as Eliza, Greenly was said to be ‘a person of so much real merit, & of such superior & general cultivation of mind, that her superiority to the contemporary and surrounding society was too self-evident not to excite astonishment.’ somewhat eccentric (writing sermons in the middle of the night) and an outgoing supporter of Welsh culture, she was well connected to influential literary and political circles. She was an avid patron, and assembled an excellent collection of volumes by the pre-eminent women authors of the time. Greenly left the world a remarkable library of excellent work, continued by her daughter, Elizabeth H. Greenly, who preserved and expanded the library and added the bookplate found in each volume. For modern feminism, the project of uncovering and highlighting the hitherto marginalised works of women is eased greatly by such engaging selections of works, both progressive (indeed sometimes transgressive) and conservative. Those work which Eliza Greenly chose for her shelves may now serve as a window into the lives of the women of her era.

Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid – The Great Mirror of Folly

To understand the Tafereel is a journey into history, greed and consequences. It is a key book on the folly of following speculative financial trends and a lesson that resonates through time. It is also a treasure hunt for any collector fortunate enough to own a copy, as each volume is unique with different combinations of text, engravings and collation of contents.

Mississippi map, Detail - Het Groote Tafreer der DwaasheidFor me, the Tafereel represents a modern day parable. While taking my Executive MBA at Ottawa University (1998 -2000), the module on The Fundamentals of Corporate Finance was taught by a visiting professor, Prof. Dominique Jacquet, of the University of Paris. We covered the fundamentals of free cash flow and value. He taught us how to see the real value of a company based on its fundamentals. In his lectures and discussion he also demonstrated “bubbles” and how the fundamentals can be fatal if ignored for too long. The tulip mania and the Mississippi bubble were covered. He demonstrated that many of the fundamentals in the then current High Tech bubble were flawed.

I had enrolled as a private student in the course (I paid my own way!) unlike 70% of the class, that were “sponsored” (paid for) by the High Tech industry, chief amongst them managers from various levels at Nortel Networks. This was at the height of the High Tech bubble in Ottawa (1999) and the demand from these companies for MBA training led to our group being split in two with classes meeting on alternate days. High Tech ruled with class stock pools (Nortel being a main item) and talk of the next big thing dominating discussions. (And yes I too lost some $5000 on a speculative play on the stock of one of my team mates.) We all know the story. The bubble collapsed taking Ottawa’s largest High Tech employer Nortel Networks and many others within a few short years. Many of my classmates were suddenly unemployed.

We have only owned our copy of the Tafereel for a few short months and are just now starting to learn about it. We have learned that the text of the Tafereel, like the prints, enjoyed an organic growth with each surviving copy representing a snapshot in the bibliographical publishing history of the volume.

We believe that our copy was most likely printed in the 1740’s, Owing to the following factors:

  • The paper that the text is printed on and the plates themselves are all thin and match paper from the 1730’s – 1740’s. Later copies were printed on thicker paper.
  • The text is complete for Parts One – Four, but lacks Part Five completely. As the binding is contemporary Part Five was never bound in.
  • The binding is contemporary, has never been restored and is consistent with the first half of the Eighteenth Century.
  • The title page is in the Second State of four.
  • The prints are of various sizes with the larger “super plates” bound along a central fold, indicative of a copy in between a late and early state.
  • Plates 26 and 29 are cut and pasted onto a folio sheet (middle state) as later copies had the four images printed on a single sheet.
  • The engravings are for the most part strong fresh impression

Finally, we speculate, that the inclusion of the supplemental plates of James III the Old Pretender as well as the map of the Mississippi all point to this copy being prepared for someone in the Court in Exile. Based in Avignon, France from 1715 onward, James III was a big promoter of the Mississippi scheme, among the major French investors in the Mississippi bubble.

We should note that many copies of the Tafereel referenced in our research did not contain the Mississippi map. Rare Book Hub lists two maps at auction in 2008 and 2010. We believe that our copy is of particular interest as the map is a superb impression on wide margined paper. We also invite you to check out the copy available on the Yale University website.

While identical to our copy in many ways we believe it to be a slightly later copy given the strength of the engravings. This of course only scratches the surface on the history of our particular copy and we invite those with greater experience in the Tafereel to view the archived photographs and help increase our understanding of our particular volume.