It would seem that as we get further into the 18th century the idea of superstitions among the educated and aristocratic were dying out which is reflected in the arc of literature we have went over in class. Getting rid of these superstitious ideals was the goal for the Enlightenment one might call it a huge success, however it certainly does not mean it is won forever. If we look back at D’Alembert who points out barbarism to be our natural state, then we can see enlightenment and ages of superstition to be cyclical but for now the battle is mostly won.
I say “for now” as in The Enlightenment, and I say “mostly” based on the combination of my understanding, the fact most of the writers we read from are privileged or well-educated and the fact that we can only read so much from the time period. Even then superstitions are not entirely banished from the realm of late 18th century writing, rather it’s exploited as tool for satire.
When reading some of Johnson I found an interesting echo back to D’Alembert. D’Alembert had express disdain for “poets” before his time because they wrote poems that were too frivolous and taught their readers nothing. Johnson believes that if you are to put out any work to be published you have an obligation to teach your reader something. Hence why he praises Shakespeare when talking about him for the first bit of his writing then rips into Shakespeare for having no moral lesson at the end of his works. Now while the connection here may not be the same exact thing since D’Alembert seems to making more of a point against Scholasticism and less about teaching morality there does seem to be this point of having some type of authority in what should be considered “great work” and what shouldn’t be. Which for the Enlightenment seems to create a problem because the individual is to come to their own conclusion.
In the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy I find that tracking Superstitions seems to be a bit more difficult to find. Upon my earlier parts of my reading I may have connected Tristram’s negative attitude about his life to be counted as superstitious. Reason being is that he would continually mention all these factors that he had no control over being the reason why he lived some a horrible life but as I read on each of those things that had hand in making his life so terrible were explained in detail. One thing I might still consider a bit superstitious is the idea Tristram describes as the homunculus though and how it may have been effected by his mother’s questioning about the clock but even then that doesn’t seem to be a basis for being a zealot rather someone describing something they do not fully understand as a result of their time period.
If any characters in Laurence Sterne’s volumes of this book are to be interpreted as over-zealous it would have to be Tristram’s father and his uncle Toby. Firstly Tristram’s father seems to have so insistent on having certain things planned out perfectly for the birth of his son. Factors like his son being born head first so that certain parts of his brain are pushed in the right places, or the breasts of the nurse being soft so that the nose isn’t flattened. It’s not superstitious in the sense that all this seems to be provided by God or the result of some devil but rather the fact that all these procedures ultimately will decide his son’s fate. However my argument for this seems to be more of an issue since a lot of these factors ultimately do decide a lot of Tristram’s life. Of course we are relying on Tristram as a narrator so because he believes that these have effect on his life and has the evidence to back himself up we have no choice but to BELIEVE Tristram.
The second thing that makes Tristram’s father over-zealous at least in a theoretical sense is that he insist on educating Tristram himself in his own way. Trouble is the way his father went about educating made it so that Tristram couldn’t really learn anything himself and it actually caused him to miss out on getting a school education as a result of his father being overtly passionate to raise his son under certain circumstances (his own). Sterne writing for Tristram as an adult clearly knows what he’s doing here therefore making the tone of this particular part satirical, which again seems to the way most writers at this point of the enlightenment treated this over-zealousness. These points are highlighted in EDUCATION. It would seem much there's a commonality between Shandy's father and Johnson in trying to become a most accurate authority on passing on knowledge to their audiences is the very thing that causes a disservice to the enlightenment. Not because they are ignorant but because one person is incapable of tracking all the changes that go on in society as well as teaching all the knowledge they have planned to teach to begin with
Toby isn’t quite over-zealous but he does have an obsession that does seem to come at the expense of others, that thing being his hobby horse. Toby’s obsession with battles and maps has him making full scale models in his house taking any materials he can find that even result in Tristram’s circumcision indirectly. Any time someone asks Toby about where he was wounded there is no chance of knowing initially since he instantly would refer to a map as to where he was wounded rather than on his body. In almost all of Toby’s conversation refers to his obsession with battles at some point or the other as though Toby can process no other type of conversation without it. Later on not quite as much but within the first four volumes it’s very apparent. Interestingly enough it is argued in PASSION that Toby develops this obsession to deal with the trauma he experience in getting the wound. Thinking on this one could be led to even understand why Crusoe becomes religious during his time on the island. These sudden obsessions from both characters are ways to cope with troubling experiences. It's not so much that people are turning to superstition because they are ignorant savages but they are relying on it because the bleakness of their reality is too much for them to deal with.
Here it seems as if Sterne is calling out anyone who is particularly over-zealous in any one subject matter. That instead of basing superstitions solely on those who are “too religious” they should focus on it as being “too anything.” This would be an interesting defense on religion from Sterne being that he himself is a pastor. Sterne does play fair though and does sort of discourage people from being “too religious” when he has Trim read a sermon as requested by Toby. Trim reads “…is zealous for some points of religion, ---- goes twice a day to church---attends the sacraments, ---- and amuses himself with a few instrumental parts of religion, ---- shall cheat his conscience into a judgment that, for this, he is a religious man, and has discharged truly his duty to God…” (V2 CH 17). It seems as though in this sermon Sterne is pointing out those who concern themselves only with religion and make no effort to learn of things outside of that realm fail God, at least in this part of the sermon.
It would seem the idea of superstitions as far as demons, or magic, at this point are seemingly banished from the literature we approached up to this point but there are some superstitions that seem to appear in a more theoretical sense during the time of the enlightenment. If we recall the point of the Encyclopedie we will remember the goal is only to serve as a basis and then using that basis come to our conclusions as to what we consider the terms and definitions to mean. Based my own individual of definition of superstitions during the Enlightenment I would say it was a success despite their naturally being some flaws in other areas.