Sims Reed Rare Books×

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Sterne, Laurence

York / London. (John Hinxman, vols. I - II, without imprint); R. & J. Dodsley, vols. III - IV; T. Becket & P. A. Dehondt, vols. V - IX. 1760–1767
A very good example of the scarce first edition of Laurence Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy' one of the most extraordinary and important novels in English.

'In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive too, - and at the same time.' (Chapter XXII).

Lauded by many and disdained by many others, Laurence Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' follows in the Cervantean tradition of the novel in treating small events in the manner ofthe great, in his own words 'describing silly and trifling Events, with the Circumstantial Pomp of Great Ones'. Sterne is never serious, except perhaps in his satirical aim, anticipating any criticism beforehand. Thackeray, for one, found this uncomfortable, considering that Sterne 'is always looking in my face, watching his effect' and it is this quality that makes the book so successful: any analysis of the book is undermined - Sterne has built this into his text - by the book itself. To say that 'Tristram Shandy' is post-Modern would not be inaccurate but would do a disservice to Sterne and his profoundly influential text.

The book, published over the course of nearly ten years had a complicated history: the first two volumes were rejected initially by Dodsley, who published the following two, and were printed privately in York in a small edition (likely 300 copies) without imprint, but they brought enormous and near instant fame to Sterne when issued on January 1st, 1760. The following two years, with Sterne in London, saw further volumes (II - V), entrance to society and the court, Sterne's portrait by Reynolds and a decline in Sterne's health, attributed often to his fast London living. In 1762 he travelled to France on the grounds of ill health, returning in 1765 to publish vols. VI - VIII. The final volume was published in 1767 a year or so before Sterne's death; his only other novel 'A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy' was never completed and was published a month before his death.

[Ashley V, pg. 204; Cross II, pg. 268; Rothschild 1970; Tinker 1973].
9 vols. in 5. 8vo. (151 x 92 mm). Half-titles to vols. IV, V, VI and IX as called for, black leaf E5 to vol. I, engraved plate by Ravanet after Hogarth as frontispiece in vol. III, vol. III also with marbled inserted leaf, vol. IV with the blank leaf for the reader's portrait of Widow Wadman, vol. V with initial blank, vol. V with errata to title verso, vol. IX with variant setting for Sterne's 'Dedication', Sterne's signature to vols. V, VII and IX (his protection against piracy) as called for. Contemporary speckled calf, banded spines in six compartments with red morocco labels with gilt titles: 'TRISTRAM / SHANDY' with decorative surrounds, vol. nos. direct to spines and rules in gilt, red speckled edges, later box.