The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 2. Pre-eminence of Sterne
Sterne is the sole novelist of first-rate importance in the period under review; for even Fanny Burney, inventive and sparkling though she is, can hardly lay claim to that description. And, thanks to his very originality, he stands aloof from the main stream of contemporary fiction. Apart from him, the writers of the time fall, roughly, into three groups: the novelists of “sentiment and reflection,” who, though far enough from Sterne, are yet nearer to him than any of the others; the novelists of home life, who, in the main, and with marked innovations of their own, follow the chief lines laid down by Richardson in the preceding generation; and, finally, the novelists of a more distinctly romantic bent, Horace Walpole and Clara Reeve, who drew their theme from the medieval past, and supported the interest by an appeal to the sense of mystery and terror—Horace Walpole, no doubt, the more defiantly of the two and, perhaps, with less seriousness than has sometimes been imputed to him. It should be added that the romantic writers are of far less importance for their own sake than for that of the writers who followed during the next fifty years, and of whom, in some measure, they may be regarded as precursors.