(London: various printers [see below], 1760-68). 159 x 102 mm. (6 1/4 x 4"). Half titles in volumes IV, V, VI, and IX, blank A1 in volumes II, V, and VIII (but no half title), A1 missing in volumes I, III, and VII, volumes V and IX with terminal blanks. Nine volumes. Sixth Edition of volume I (Dodsley, 1767); Fourth Edition of volume II (Dodsley, 1760); "New" Edition of volumes III and IV (Becket & De Hondt, 1768); Second Edition of volumes V and VI (Becket & De Hondt, 1767); FIRST EDITION, FIRST STATE of volume VII (Becket & De Hondt, 1765); FIRST EDITION of volume VIII (Becket & De Hondt, 1765); FIRST EDITION of volume IX (Becket & De Hondt, 1767).
Very pleasing contemporary marbled calf, raised bands, spine gilt in double-ruled compartments filled with lattice-work, red and green morocco labels. Frontispieces after William Hogarth in volumes I and III, marbled leaf inserted after L4 in third volume. Head of first page of text SIGNED BY STERNE IN VOLUMES V, VII, and IX, as usual (see below). Cross, pp. 600-03; Rothschild 1970; Ashley Library V, 204. Joints with very slight rubbing and flaking, corners a bit worn, two covers with small loss of patina from insect activity, one page with faint (watercolor?) blur, light stain on rear endpapers of one volume, a few other trivial imperfections, but A VERY NEARLY FINE CONTEMPORARY SET, the entirely unrestored original bindings completely sound and showing little wear, and THE TEXT UNUSUALLY FRESH AND CLEAN.
Laurence Sterne (1713-68) is the perfect example of an author whose scandalous personal behavior initially overshadowed his achievements as a writer. The journalist and editor Robert Shelton Mackenzie said in his "Noctes Ambrosianæ" of 1854 that Sterne was "so infamous [in] his private character, that when he entered the pulpit to preach in York Minster, of which he was a prebend, many of the congregation rose from their seats and left the cathedral." Most notorious, perhaps, was Sterne's membership in good standing in the "Club of Demoniacks," a group of Yorkshire rakehells who met frequently in the half-ruined Skelton Castle to undertake heavy drinking and coarse jests. At least as outrageous, Sterne made no attempt to cover up his infidelities. Even DNB, which normally strains to put the behavior of its subjects in the best possible light, says that Sterne's "deficiency in self-control induced a condition of moral apathy." Still, none of this should diminish the importance of, or achievement represented by, "Tristram Shandy," the dynamic work that made Sterne famous and that is generally regarded as the first novel dominated by a conscious psychological theory. Full of digressions, and with very little in the way of a conventional plot, Sterne's great contribution to the English novel consists mainly of an exposition of the author's personality and whimsical imagination. The first two volumes of the work were greatly (and surprisingly) successful, caused an immediate sensation, and generated several piracies and imitations. Partly to authenticate the copies issuing from the Becket & De Hondt press, Sterne decided to sign the later volumes as they appeared--both the 1762 first and our 1767 second edition of volume V (which was issued along with volume VI), the 1765 printing of volume VII (issued with VIII), and the 1767 printing of volume IX. It has been estimated that this precaution required Sterne to sign his name 12,750 times. Our copy of volume VII may be identified as the first state by the presence of the errata on the verso of the title page; corrections were made to the text for the later state. The work is normally sold in mixed editions, as here, because the first editions of volumes I and II numbered only about 200 copies and are, thus, very hard to come by. Sets combining one printing or another come into the marketplace with regularity, but one seldom sees excellent contemporary copies like the present one. (CTS0908)
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PJP Catalog: Cat 69.229