Because Laurence Sterne suggested that sermons should come from the heart and should be practical rather than polemical, his own sermons have often been read as products of a sentimental and secular midcentury ethos, moral essays without theological meaning. However, the appearance of exactly the same advice in the 4,000 lines of John Dunton's The Pulpit-Fool, published in 1707, serves to alert us to the possibility that Sterne echoes a long tradition of irenic and moral preaching after the religious wars of the seventeenth century. Dunton offers more than 200 preachers, across the Christian spectrum, who are not “fools”—who preach from the heart and preach reconciliation rather than exclusion. It would be useful to students of Sterne to familiarize themselves with just a tenth of this vast body of sermon literature before suggesting that Sterne had no commitment to the religious doctrines he preached during his entire adult life; the writings of John Norris, of Bemerton, highly praised by both Dunton and Sterne, would be a good place to begin.
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Melvyn New; Laurence Sterne's Sermons and The Pulpit-Fool. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2011; 35 (2): 1–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-1214072
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