The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 1. New elements in the English Novel of the period from 1760 to 1780: Personality, Emotion and Sentiment
The answer to the first of these questions may be given, in summary form, at once. In the hands of Sterne and a group of writers who, though it may be without sufficient reason, are commonly treated as disciples of Sterne, sentiment began to count for more than had hitherto been held allowable. As a natural consequence, the individuality of these writers impressed itself more and more unreservedly upon a theme which, in the days of Defoe and even Richardson, had been treated mainly from without. Sterne, it need hardly be said, is undisputed master in this way of writing; and here, so far, at least, as his own century is concerned, he stands absolutely alone. Others, such as Brooke and Mackenzie, may use the novel as a pulpit for preaching their own creed or advancing their own schemes of reform. But their relation to Sterne, on this head, is, manifestly, of the slightest, and the effect produced is utterly different. A little more of personality, a great deal more of emotion and sentiment, may come into their work than any novelist before Sterne would have thought possible. But that is all. That is the one link which binds them to him, the one tangible mark which he left upon the novel of his generation.