Page images

sycophancy Mr. Sterne breaks out sarcastically: “O Shimei! would to Heaven, when thou wert slain, that all thy family had been slain with thee, and not one of thy resemblance left! But ye have multiplied erceedingly, and replenished the earth; and, if I prophesy rightly, ye will in the end subdue it." These modern Shimeis are the most fatal evils of society. “'Tis a character we shall never want. Ob, it infests the court, the camp, the cabinet; it infests the Church. Go where you will, in every profession you see a Shimui, following the wheels of the fortunate through thick mire and clay."

This stroke does indeed seem pointed at a diaconal Shimei only eight miles away, and called “ Jacques Sterne, LL.D.”

“Haste, Shimei!” Mr. Sterne goes on, warming; “baste, or thou wilt be undone for ever!.. Shimei doubles his speed. . . Stay, Shimei; ’tis your patron! 'Tis all one to Shimei. Shimei is the barometer of every man's fortune; marks the rise and fall of it, with all the variations, from scorching hot to freezing cold, in his countenance, that the simile will admit of." (This stroke is Tristram all over.) “Hast thou been spoken for to the

“ king, or the captain of the host”-i.e. commander-in-chief—“ without success? Look not into the Court Calendar; the vacancy is filled up in Shimci's face.”

Another Sunday the Rev. Mr. Sterne gives out this text from Judges: “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Israelite sojourning on the side of Mount Ephraim, who took unto him a concubine.” A barren text enough, and scarcely of sufficient dignity to form a subject for a sermon. Hearken to Mr. Sterne :

A concubine! But the text accounts for it,—' for in those days there was no king in Israel,'--and the Levite, you will say, did what was right in his own eyes; and so, you may add, did his concubine too, for she,'" c.

Then he draws the picture of the bringing back with the servants and couple of asses," which made up the “sentimental group"

“ described before. He then alludes to Solomon and his number of wires, which he deals with in this odd fashion: this excess of Solomon's " became an insult upon the privileges of mankind; for by the same plan of luxury which made it necessary to have forty thousand stalls of horses, he had unfortunately miscalculated his other wants, and so had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.” And the preaclier thus expostulates with the king: “ Vise, deluded man! Was it not that thou madest some amends for thy bad practice by thy good preaching, what bad become of thee? Three hundred !-but let us turn aside, I beseech thee, from so bad a stumbling-block.”

This cast is the true theatrical aposiopesis; no doubt a liint from the

[ocr errors]

York stage.

* The rather plain and too forcible language of the text need not be reproduced here.

The Levite stood in need of such companionship “to fill up that uncomfortable blank in the heart in such a situation ; for notwithstanding all we meet with in books, in many of which, no doubt, there are a good many handsome things said upon the sweets of retirement, &c., • . . yet still it is not good for man to be alone; nor can all which the cold-hearted pedant stuns our ears with on the subject ever give one answer of satisfaction to the mind;" a profession of faith which, if Mr. Sterne had then begun travelling sentimentally up and down the bounds of his parish, would have been received with welcome by the young ladies of his congregation. With the same cordial adhesion would another statement of his be received, that "if Mercy and Truth thus met together in settling this account, Love surely would be of the party. Great, great is its power in cementing what has been broken !” a sentiment which the reverend preacher was hereafter to expand considerably, both in precept and in practice. Cruel is the fashion society has of visiting indiscretions. “Must BEAUTY for ever be trampled on in the dirt for one-one false step? And shall no one virtue or good quality out of the thousand the fair penitent may have left-shall not one of them be sufficient to stand by her? Just God of Heaven and Earth !"

A charming and a gallant cleric indeed, our new vicar, and puts things so very prettily. And yet there were harsh and sour people, who bought and read the book when the book was published, and spitefully and cruelly said that the preacher “would ascend the pulpit in a barlequin's jacket.”

As the nephew of an uncle of such stout constitutional politics, Mr. Sterne was not likely to let slip the proper opportunities of aiming sound

swashing” strokes—still in a Shandean manner-at the common enemy, the Roman Catholic Church. Allusions, therefore, are plenty to what he calls - the buffooneries of the Romish Church;" a Church, moreover, which gives“ a greater latitude to the designs of the clergy in imposing their own trumpery, and foisting whatever may best aggrandise themselves, or enslave the wretches committed to their trust." These are a happy illustration of the courteous charities of the pulpit, and of the gentle toleration of the day. In his praise of St. Peter, he finishes “not with a ranting encomium upon monastic qualifications, with which a popish pulpit would ring upon such an occasion ; . grounded not upon apocryphal accounts, &c., the wardrobe from whence Popery dresses-out her saints on these days." He then talks about "huckstering-out" indulgences, and “the pious fooleries of penances,” with other compliments equally forcible, but equally unsuited to the mouth of a Christian clergy man and the dignity of the pulpit. In short, he comes boldly to the point, and gives “the honest definition" of the religion, that it is a system “to pick men's pockets." Upon the Methodists, too, he is equally severe, and deals them strokes as savage.

With all these blemishes, and leavened with much affectation, they are still earnest, sincere, practical, and simple sermons, with prodigious

[ocr errors]



life and dramatic power, and which, when set off by voice and manner, must have been entertaining and instructive. Beside them, the tame conventionalities of Blair read feebly indeed. And there is in them a triumphant answer to those charges of plagiarism which have been so often swung from hoarse and jangling critical bells. There are few divines who do not keep their shelves stored with files of choice sermons, from which they can gather a flower here and there, and tie up for their Sunday's sacred bouquet. For these helpings from the fragrant botanic gardens there is no acknowledgment sought or given ; they are free to the clerical public. How much our hebdomadal discourses are improved by this pious larceny may be well conceived; so that perhaps it were most profitable of all to revert to that Sunday practice of Sir Roger-Mr. Spectator's Sir Roger—who had Doctor Tillotson and Doctor Barrow and Doctor Jeremy Taylor to preach for him in turn; a treat he secured by making his chaplain read a discourse of one of these divines every week.

Mr. Sterne, introducing his Sermons in a most modest preface, considering that he was then in all the flush and triumph of the first months of Tristram's success, thus deprecates harsh judgments :

“I have nothing to add,” he says, “ but that the reader upon old and beaten subjects must not look for many new thoughts ; 'tis well he has new language. In three or four passages, where he has neither one nor the other, I have quoted the author I made free with. There are some other passages where I suspect I may have taken the same liberty," &c.

And so he quotes the Christian hero, and Woolaston, and Tillotson, and others, which, with his own apology, is a sufficient answer to the laborious detection of “the ingenious Doctor Ferriar of Manchester," and others of the literary police.

When Mrs. Sterne, left a widow, and her flighty, sprightly Lydia were rummaging poor Yorick's desk and drawers for what he called the “sweepings of his study," to strive and turn up the smallest scraps of his that would fetch them a little money, was the bundle of sermons they lighted on done up in that eccentric manner that poor Le Fever's funeral sermon was, namely,“ tied lengthways and crossways with a yarn-thrum, and then rolled up and twisted round with a half-sheet of dirty blue paper"? Or were those two musically labelled “ Moderato,” as well as the half-dozen ticketed “So, so," put together in one bundle by themselves, and confined by the “piece of green whipcord, which seemed to have been the unravelling of Yorick's whip-lash”?

That was a rare Shandean notion, of scribbling a sort of musical judgment, “ usually upon the inside of it, which was turned towards the text," and summing up the merits of one by “A l' octava alta,” of another by “Siciliana;" “ Con l' aria” upon this, “ Senza l'aria” upon that, and, above all, “Con strepito” upon the back of another. This was one of Yorick's tricks, the incumbent of Tristram's purish; but we might be sure, could




[ocr errors]


we turn up the rough drafts of those parish sermons of the genuine Yorick of Sutton, to find the same eccentric criticism. For Mr. Sterne tells us in the same paragraph, that Yorick“ was a musical man.” The sermons on “the Levite,” and on “Hezekiah,” and on the home of mourning," and, above all, that bit of Rabelais on “Shimei,” should surely be labelled “Con strepito.” For they show ten times more knowledge of the human heart, “seventy times more wit and spirit, discover a thousand times more genius, and, to crown all, are infinitely more entertaining,than the “So, so's.” An odd description of a sacred work, and yet the best that has been offered as yet.

But what was the notable sermon, in the corner of which had been timidly “wrote, with a crow's quill, in a small Italian hand,” the word, “Bravo!" but which was afterwards modestly crossed out?

Was it not eminently Shandean to jot down such a postscript as this? “N.B. The excellency of this text is, that it will suit any sermon; and of this sermon, that it will suit any text."

Of another : “This is but a flimsy kind of a composition. What was in my head when I wrote it ?”

Of another, anticipating the flock of critical ferrets soon to be laid in his track : “For this sermon I shall be hanged; for I have stolen the greater part of it. Doctor Paidagunes found me out. "Set a thief to catch a thief.' The fitness of the criticism for the criticised is perfect. Sermon and preacher were of the same Cervantick cast.” For, as he said elsewhere, “'tis for all the world like humming a song ; be but in tune with yourself, madam, 'tis no matter how high or how low you take it."

Delightful, it may again be repeated, must it have been to have heard one of these Shandy sermons, in delivery (as well as in composition) Shandean. Figure, gait, and feature all combined to make a strange exhibition ; which does, indeed, dimly suggest a notorious Tabernacle preacher of our time. It seems certain that the delivery must have taken the shape of the composition; for otherwise they would have been feeble and powerless performances. We may, then, indorse the testimony of Gray, who held them to be “ in the style most proper for the pulpit, and show a strong imagination and a sensible heart.”

These sermons, too, forty-six in number, are powerful testimonies in favour of Mr. Sterne's character as a minister of his Church; a character in dealing with which all the common rules of compensation and gracious allowance would seem to have been suspended.* No man has ever received such harsh measure. He has been flung among the stag-hounds, and cruelly rended by their fangs, just as the curée takes place at Fontainebleau after an imperial day's sport in the forest. For one of his constitution, preaching was almost fatal. That “ breaking of vessels” in the lungs, which had taken place at Cambridge, and which took place so often afterwards, might at any time have happened in the pulpit; and yet he persisted, until within three or four years of his death, in this pastoral duty. “Preaching, which I have not strength for," he writes in '62, “is ever fatal to me; but I cannot avoid the latter yet.” And yet he persisted. It would seem to have been a distasteful office to him, which makes his success and diligence in this walk the more remarkable. When in Paris he praises a French actress as being in some points greater than Clairon. “Yet I cannot bear preaching. I fancy I got a surfeit of it in my younger days.” In a play, too, which he read, he found the speeches “too long, and savour too much of preaching—this may be a second reason ; it is not to my taste."

* The reader who is curious about the strange "Cervantick” career of this famous clergyman, and who would be glad to see him fairly vindicated from the savage but vigorous tomahawk of the author of The English Humorists, is referred to a series of papers on “Sterne and his Day," now publishing in The Dublin Uni. versity Magazine; which are full of new and curious information.

P. F.

« EelmineJätka »