Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)
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Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)
STERNE, LAURENCE (1713–1768), humourist and sentimentalist, was great-grandson of Richard Sterne [q. v.], archbishop of York, and grandson of Simon Sterne, the archbishop's third son. Laurence's grandfather married Mary, a Yorkshire heiress, daughter of Sir Roger Jaques, and she inherited her father's estate of Elvington. She bore her husband, who died at Halifax in 1703, three sons and three daughters (Thoresby, Ducatus Leodiensis, ed. Whitaker, p. 214). The eldest son, Richard (1680–1732), succeeded to Elvington, married twice, and left a son Richard and many daughters. The third son, Jaques (the humourist's uncle), pursued a successful career in the church.
Roger, the humourist's father, was the second son, and, despite the wealth of his mother, was left to make his own way in the world. He entered the army, but never rose to high rank. His son described him in an autobiographic fragment as ‘a little smart man, active to the last degree in all exercises—most patient of fatigue and disappointments, of which it pleased God to give him full measure; he was in his temper somewhat rapid and hasty, but of kindly disposition, void of all design, and so innocent in his own intentions that he suspected no one.’ About 1710 he was appointed ensign in the regiment (now the 34th foot) which, at the date of his joining it, was known as Colonel Hans Hamilton's, and next year as Colonel Chudleigh's. With it Roger Sterne served in Flanders. On 25 Sept. 1711, when he was quartered at Dunkirk, he married Agnes, widow of a brother officer, Captain Hebert, ‘of a good family.’ She was herself of humble Irish origin, and either daughter or stepdaughter of one Nuttle, ‘a noted sutler in Flanders in Queen Anne's wars.’ Ensign Roger owed Nuttle money when he took her off his hands, and ‘she brought not one sixpence into the family’ (Fitzgerald, i. 78–9). Her husband's kindred regarded her as of inferior social station, and she failed to inspire her son with respect or affection. Her first child—a daughter Mary—was born at Lille on 10 July 1712. Late in the autumn of the following year Roger's regiment was ordered to Clonmel in Tipperary; and Laurence was born there on 24 Nov. 1713, within a few days of the family's arrival. Chudleigh's regiment was reduced the same day, and the father, thus placed on half-pay, carried his wife and children to his mother's house at Elvington. There for nearly two years they subsisted on her bounty. In May 1715 the regiment was re-formed, and Roger resumed active service (Cannon, Records of 34th Foot). Wife and children followed him to Dublin, and thence, moving in the track of the regiment, to Exeter. In 1719 Ensign Roger left his family in the Isle of Wight while he served in the expedition to Vigo, but in 1720 they rejoined him at the barracks at Wicklow. At the end of a year Mrs. Sterne took the children on a half-year's visit to a relative, one Fetherston, parson of the neighbouring parish of Animo. There Laurence had ‘a wonderful escape in falling through the mill-race whilst the mill was going, and of being taken up unhurt.’ Like sojourns (each of about a year's duration) followed in barracks or with pitying kinsfolk—at Dublin (where, in the course of 1721, Laurence learned to write), at Mullingar, and at Carrickfergus. Meanwhile the family was growing, but most of Sterne's brothers and sisters were ‘of a fine delicate frame,’ ‘not made to last long.’ Four children—two sons and two daughters—who were born between 1715 and 1722, died before completing their fourth year. Only two children besides Laurence survived infancy: his sisters—Mary, the eldest of the family, and Catherine, the youngest (born at Londonderry in 1724).
In the autumn of 1723, when he was ten years old, Sterne's father ‘got leave of his colonel to fix him at a school at Halifax.’ Thus Sterne's wanderings for the time ceased, but the deep impression that soldiers and barrack life made on him was attested in his portraits of Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, and Lieutenant Le Fever. At school he spent ‘eight long years or more’ chafing at the tedium of ‘typtōing it at Latin and Greek.’ ‘He would learn when he pleased,’ but was ‘inquisitive after all kinds of knowledge,’ and spent his slender store of pocket money on chap-books. An exceptional sensitiveness to pain and pleasure soon declared itself, and in the class-room the stories of the ‘Iliad’ moved him to uncontrollable tears or laughter (cf. Tristram Shandy, bk. vi. chap. 32). Though of delicate constitution, he liked the open air and field sports, and was on occasion whimsically mischievous. When the schoolroom had been newly whitewashed, he mounted the workmen's ladder and ‘wrote with a brush in large capital letters “Lau. Sterne,” for which the usher severely whipped’ him. But the master, according to Sterne's account, took a different view of his freak, and declared that ‘that name should never be effaced, for [the lad] was a boy of genius and sure to come to preferment.’
Meanwhile in 1727 his father played a part in the defence of Gibraltar, and there ‘was run through the body by Captain [Christopher] Phillips in a duel: the quarrel began about a goose.’ His health was permanently injured, and when he subsequently went with his regiment to Jamaica in 1729, an attack of ‘the country fever’ ‘made a child of him.’ He died suddenly at Port Antonio in March 1731, holding the rank of lieutenant. All that he left his widow and children was a pension of 20l. a year. Mrs. Sterne, with her two daughters, was at the time of her husband's death with her relatives in Ireland. Her husband's family were unwilling to aid her, and she opened an embroidery school in her native land—probably at Clonmel. For eleven years her son heard little of her.
Sterne left school soon after his father's death, ‘without a shilling in the world.’ For two years he lived in idleness, apparently at Elvington, on the bounty of his first cousin, Richard Sterne—who alone of his father's kindred showed much disposition to help him. In 1733 this cousin, who became, he says, ‘a father to’ him, offered him 30l. a year wherewith to go to the university. Of Jesus College, Cambridge, his great-grandfather, the archbishop, had been master and benefactor, and his uncle Jaques a scholar. Accordingly, on 6 July 1733, when nearly twenty—an unusually late age—Laurence was admitted a sizar of the college. A year later, on 30 July 1734, he was promoted to an exhibition on the foundation of the archbishop. He did not matriculate in the university till 29 March 1735. The long break in his educational career between leaving school and going to Cambridge reinforced his natural impatience of disciplinary restraint, and the educational system in vogue in the university excited his abhorrence. For mathematics he had an inherent incapacity, and he discovered only matter for jesting in the terminology of formal logic and the writings of Aristotle, to which his tutors mainly directed his attention. But his time at Cambridge was not wasted. The classics he read with appreciation in a desultory fashion, and one academic text-book—Locke's ‘Essay on the Human Understanding’—which had recently been accorded a place in the university curriculum, awoke in him enthusiasm (cf. Tristram, i. 11, 86, 194, 203–4). Locke's perspicuity exerted a permanent influence on his mind, and evoked his intolerance of mock-learning and scholastic pedantry.
Sterne was of too volatile a temperament to make many friends at college, but at the close of his third year there entered Jesus College, as a fellow-commoner, John Hall, afterwards John Hall-Stevenson [q. v.], a precocious lad of seventeen, whose main delight was in coarse jesting and the perusal of obscene literature. With Hall-Stevenson, Sterne, despite his seniority, formed a close intimacy, which was only interrupted by death. They claimed to be distant cousins, but knew little of each other till they met at Cambridge. The tradition of their friendship during the only year (1735–6) that they were at college together was long current. ‘They used to study together under a large wallnutt tree in the inner court, where one of 'em wrote underneath these lines:
This shou'd be the Tree of Knowledge,
As it stands in so very wise a colledge’
(Croft, Anecdotes in Whitefoord's Papers, p. 229). In January 1736 Sterne graduated B.A., and he proceeded M.A. in due course in 1740. But he did not quit the university under the best auspices. Despite the allowances made him while an undergraduate by the college and by his cousin, he ran into debt, which long embarrassed him. In his last year at the university, too, an attack of hæmorrhage of the lungs bore witness to a permanent weakness of constitution.
His start in life he owed to his uncle Jaques, who, as precentor and canon of York, the holder of two rectories (Rise and Hornsea-cum-Riston), and an active whig politician, possessed much influence in clerical and political circles. Acting under his uncle's advice, Laurence took holy orders. He had no fitness for the vocation, but at the time the church was regarded, in the north especially, as a whig fortress against Jacobitism and toryism. Spiritual fervour was the last qualification expected in an aspirant to ecclesiastical preferment. Sterne was ordained deacon by Richard Reynolds [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln, on 6 March 1736, at Buckden, and appears to have served a curacy there. On 20 Aug. 1738 he was ordained priest by Samuel Peploe, bishop of Chester, and four days later, on 24 Aug. 1738, he was collated by the patron, the archbishop of York, on the recommendation of his uncle Jaques, to the vicarage of Sutton-in-the-Forest (of Galtres). This village, which was ‘in the forest’ only in name, lay on low ground, within eight miles north of York. The parish included the hamlet of Huby, more than a mile distant, and covered an area of 10,650 acres. Entries in Sterne's handwriting in the registers date from 1739. But Sterne kept a curate from 1740, and passed much time at York. His uncle added to his emoluments and duties by procuring his appointment, on 15 Jan. 1740–1, to the prebendal stall of Givendale in York Cathedral. About the same time he was appointed commissary of the court of Pickering and Pocklington, a sinecure office, which entitled him to a share of the fees on the issue of marriage licenses in those parishes. The prebend was worth about 40l. a year. Sterne thenceforth took his turn as a preacher in the cathedral; but he never acquired much fame in that capacity at York. It was reported that as soon as he mounted the pulpit ‘half of the congregation usually left the church, as his delivery and voice [were] so very disagreeable’ (Croft).
In 1739 there was living, in solitary seclusion in Little Alice Lane, under the shadow of the minster, a lady under thirty years of age named Elizabeth or Eliza Lumley. Both her parents were dead. Her father, Richard Lumley, held from 1721 to 1732 the rich rectory of Bedale, and brought up his family ‘in style.’ Her mother, Lydia, daughter of Anthony Light of Durham, had married the rector of Bedale, after the death in 1709 of a first husband, Thomas Kirke of Cookridge, near Leeds, ‘a great virtuoso in all sorts of learning.’ ‘Though Miss Lumley was but a homely woman, still she had many admirers, as she was reported to have a fortune, and she possessed a first-rate understanding’ (Croft). For two years Sterne courted her. ‘She owned,’ he wrote, ‘she liked me, but thought herself not rich enough or me too poor to be joined together.’ At the end of two years the lady paid a prolonged visit to a sister who lived in rural retreat in Staffordshire, and Sterne wrote to her of his desolation. These letters are the earliest extant examples of that tendency to lachrymose emotion or nervous sensibility which Sterne turned later to account in his literary work. In reminding the absent Miss Lumley in 1740 of ‘the sentimental repasts’ which he and she had enjoyed together, Sterne, for the first time in the known history of the language, used the epithet which was, under his auspices, to designate for all time a definite condition of the tender emotions.
On Miss Lumley's return to York, Sterne resumed his visits. The lady soon fell into what appeared to be a consumption. Thereupon she confided to her leisurely lover that she had bequeathed him all her property. ‘This generosity,’ Sterne confessed, ‘overpowered me. It pleased God she recovered.’ He married her in York Minster on Easter Monday (30 March) 1741, Richard Osbaldeston, the dean, officiating (Yorkshire Archæological Journal, iii. 93). Mrs. Sterne refused to have her fortune of some 40l. a year settled on her, wishing ‘for no better security’ than her husband's honour (Fitzgerald, i. 75).
Sterne supplied much autobiographic detail in his account of Parson Yorick in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ and he there credited Yorick with making a hasty journey through Europe in 1741 as governor to ‘Mr. Noddy's eldest son’ (bk. i. chap. xi.). It is quite possible that Sterne travelled abroad soon after his marriage, and that his pupil was related to Charles Gordon, fourth earl of Aboyne (1726–1794), as whose chaplain he was officially described two years later. In any case he improved his position at home early in 1742 by contriving to exchange his prebend of Givendale for that of North Newbald, which was of greater value (5 Jan. 1741–2), and gave him a house in Stonegate; the lease was at one time held by the York bookseller, Thomas Gent [q. v.], who recorded Sterne's succession to the property in his autobiography (Gent, Life, 1832, pp. 194–5). A year later, on 13 March 1742–3, Sterne was instituted to the living of Stillington—the parish adjoining Sutton—which he was permitted to hold in conjunction with his other preferments. The dispensation described him as chaplain to the Earl of Aboyne. Sterne owed Stillington to his wife's influence. ‘A friend of hers in the south,’ Sterne wrote, ‘had promised her that if she married a clergyman in Yorkshire, when the living became vacant he would make her a compliment of it.’ The actual patron who presented Sterne was Richard Levett, prebendary of Stillington in York Cathedral. The parsonage-house at Stillington he never occupied (cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 16158–66, comprising Sterne's certificates of ordination and of his institution to benefices).
For more than twenty years (1738–59) Sterne resided at Sutton, and followed the ordinary pursuits of a rural parson who enjoyed substantial preferment. His income amounted to some 200l. a year. When he was not officiating in York, he preached each Sunday morning at Sutton and every Sunday afternoon at Stillington, walking thither across the fields from Sutton. But parochial duties were irksome to him. His parishioners did not understand the light-hearted indifference with which he viewed them and his sacred functions. He was a good shot, and the story is told that one Sunday, when ‘his pointer dog’ sprang a covey of partridges on his way to Stillington, he went home for his gun, and his congregation waited for him in vain (Croft). In the winter he skated, and was once nearly drowned by the breaking of the ice at Stillington and the unreadiness of his parishioners to rescue him. Following the example of other rural parsons, he endeavoured to increase his income by farming. With his wife's money he purchased some land in Sutton parish, and established a dairy farm. He kept seven milch cows, but his and his wife's only notion of business was to sell their butter cheaper than their neighbours, with the result that they lost money and increased their local unpopularity. Frequently Sterne recorded in his registers his planting of fruit-trees in his garden, and his extant correspondence (before 1760) contains many references to the annual yields of his barley and oats. But his agricultural experiments rarely ended successfully. ‘The following up of that affair (I mean farming),’ he wrote to a friend on 19 Sept. 1767 (Letter 107), ‘made me lose my temper, and a cart-load of turnips was (I thought) very dear at two hundred pounds.’ In his later years at Sutton he tried to ‘clear his hands and head of all country entanglements’ by finding tenants for his glebe and freehold, and by letting out his tithes (Fitzgerald, i. 92). His dealings in land were not unsuccessful. With characteristic disregard of the rights of his poor parishioners, he, in his capacity, not of clergyman, but of owner of land outside his glebe, actively supported Lord Fauconberg, the lord of the manor of Sutton, and his neighbour, Philip Harland, in securing the passage through parliament in 1756 of a private act ‘for dividing and enclosing several fields, meadows, and commons in the township of Sutton upon the Forest.’ The act recites how Laurence Sterne was ‘seized in his own right of a messuage and certain lands in the said township,’ and how, by arrangement with his two fellow-beneficiaries, he was granted various parcels of land in addition to his former holding, amounting in the aggregate to sixty acres, two roods, and ten perches (cf. Sutton Enclosure Act, 29 Geo. II). At a later date (in 1766) he interested himself in a similar act of enclosure in his parish of Stillington, when a share in the common land was bestowed on him in consideration of his surrender of ‘the tythes of wool and lamb’ (cf. Stillington Enclosure Act, 6 Geo. III).
While in the country Sterne sought relaxation within doors, ‘according as the fly stung,’ in ‘books, painting, and fiddling.’ He describes his proficiency on the bass-viol in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ and used familiarly the technical terms of harmony and counterpoint (cf. Tristram, i. 59, ii. 231; Sentimental Journey, pp. 36, 99, 104). As an amateur artist ‘he chiefly copied portraits; he had a good idea of drawing, but not the least of mixing his colours’ (Croft). Some designs by him were engraved in Woodhull's poems (1772). At the end of the eighteenth century many of his pictures were in private hands at York. James Atkinson, the author of ‘Medical Bibliography,’ showed to Thomas Frognall Dibdin [q. v.], when on a visit to York in 1820, a coarse painting in oils in which Sterne figured as a mountebank at a fair, and a friend, Thomas Brydges, as a quack doctor. The latter figure was by Sterne and the former by Brydges (see print in Dibdin's Bibliographical Tour, 1838, i. 212). An offensive caricature-sketch of Mrs. Sterne, signed ‘Pigrich fecit,’ and engraved in M. Paul Stapfer's ‘Life,’ is also assigned to Sterne's pencil. But it was on books and society that he chiefly depended to relieve the monotony of rural existence. His reading while at Sutton was multifarious and incessant. He rarely rode about the parish without a book in his hand. Rabelais and Cervantes he was constantly quoting, and he pored over romances in French and English, medical and military treatises, and collections of facetiæ. He was a book-collector, but the purchase of works in his favourite lines of study was often beyond his means. His friend, John Hall-Stevenson, on marrying an heiress, had, however, settled down at Skelton Hall in Cleveland, and acquired a large and curious library, which was freely at Sterne's disposal.
Congenial society was not wholly out of Sterne's reach at Sutton. If the farmers pitied his levity as proof of a cracked brain, Stephen Croft, the squire of Stillington, delighted in Sterne's whimsical vein of humour, and showed him ‘every kindness.’ With Philip Harland, the squire of Sutton, he was never ‘on a friendly footing,’ although he made various efforts to ingratiate himself with him. But at Newburgh Priory, near Coxwold, within nine or ten miles of Sutton, lived Lord Fauconberg, the lord of the manor of Sutton, who extended a profuse hospitality to Sterne and his wife. At York they regularly frequented concerts and balls. Sterne spent many an afternoon in jesting to an admiring audience at the coffee-house which served him as a club, or in visiting the booksellers. A week or two was occasionally spent at Scarborough or London. Outside his immediate neighbourhood he found his most boisterous recreation in sojourns with Hall-Stevenson at Skelton. Hall-Stevenson gathered there at certain seasons of the year a crew of kindred spirits drawn from the clergy and squirearchy of the county, whom he christened the club of ‘Demoniacks.’ It is said that Sterne was never formally enrolled a member, but he often joined in the orgies of drink and coarse merriment with which the ‘Demoniacks’ celebrated their meetings.
Throughout his career Sterne's health was a frequent source of anxiety. His lungs were always weak, and the wet climate and low-lying situation of Sutton encouraged a tendency to asthma. His love of social festivities was not salutary, but after a midnight debauch he usually dosed himself religiously with Bishop Berkeley's tar-water. He had his share of domestic worries, and, although they were largely of his own making, he was not on that account the less oppressed by them. The commonly accepted notion that Sterne drew his wife's portrait in Mrs. Shandy—both were named Elizabeth—has little to support it. Mrs. Sterne had none of Mrs. Shandy's placidity, taciturnity, or stupidity. She was of excitable and bustling temperament, and, while frugal in trifles, lacked capacity for orderly or economical housekeeping. But her husband was never blind to her intellectual ability. Even when smarting under her voluble rebukes and abusing her ill-humour to his friends, he admitted that ‘in point of understanding and finished address’ few of her sex rivalled her (Addit. MS. 34527, f. 50). She is said to have aided him in composing his sermons (Croft). Nor, in an irresponsible fashion, was he indifferent to her happiness. He claimed to be ‘easy’ with her, and he convinced himself that if he left her at liberty to go her own way, he might fairly go his undisturbed. But he never viewed his marital obligations seriously, and his immoral and self-indulgent temperament rendered sustained felicity impossible. He used no figurative language in his often repeated confession that it was his unhappy lot to be ‘always miserably in love with some one’ outside the domestic circle. There were, however, seasons of calm in the conjugal atmosphere. As parents both husband and wife appear in a favourable light. Their first child—a daughter—who was born on 1 Oct. 1745, was christened Lydia, after Mrs. Sterne's mother, within an hour or two of her birth, and died next day. On 1 Dec. 1747 a second child, again a daughter, was born, and was also baptised in the name of Lydia on the same day. There were no other children of the marriage. The second Lydia reached maturity, and the genuine affection that Sterne lavished until his death on his only child forms the pleasantest feature of his domestic life. A proof of the amity existing on occasion in the household during Lydia's early girlhood is extant in the register of marriages celebrated by Sterne among his poor parishioners at Sutton between 1755 and 1757. Mrs. Sterne more than once signed her name as a witness of the ceremony, and from the age of nine Lydia, who grew into a frolicsome girl, frequently served in the same capacity, on the first occasion signing her name beneath her mother's (31 Jan. 1757).
With others of his kinsfolk Sterne's relations were far less harmonious. His elder sister, Mary, was, as he wrote, ‘most unfortunate. She married one Weemans in Dublin, who used her most unmercifully, spent his substance, became a bankrupt, and left my poor sister to shift for herself, which she was able to do but for a few months, for she went to a friend's house in the country and died of a broken heart.’ His mother and younger sister (Catherine), of whom he apparently lost sight between his father's death and his marriage, proved sources of graver embarrassment. Soon after his marriage the news reached them in Ireland that his wife was a woman of fortune. They straightway crossed to Liverpool with a view to subsisting at Chester or York on Sterne's or his wife's bounty. His mother visited Sutton, was dismissed with difficulty with 20l. and a gift of clothes, and, in spite of Laurence's remonstrances, took up her residence with her daughter at Chester. In 1744 Sterne's sister Catherine travelled to Sutton to announce their pecuniary distress. His wife offered to set Catherine up as a mantua-maker or milliner in London, and actually secured for her a situation in a nobleman's family, but the arrangement was treated with scorn. Between 1743 and 1750 Sterne reckoned that he forwarded to his mother and sister sums amounting to 90l. Just before the second Lydia was born, in November 1747, the elder Mrs. Sterne again swooped down on Sutton, and, while accepting ten guineas, declined an offer of an annuity of 8l. unless it was legally settled on her. From Sutton she passed to York to complain to Sterne's uncle of her son's neglect. Much of her story was false, and in 1751 Sterne, after defending himself from her charges in a long letter to his uncle, with whom he was then involved in a bitter quarrel, declared that her pension of 20l. was adequate for her needs, and that he could not rob his wife and daughter in her interest (Brit. Mus. Addit. M. 25479, f. 12). His mother remained at York, and in 1759 he wrote of paying her and other friends a visit, as if he were on tolerable terms with her (Fitzgerald, i. 91). Some years later she died an insolvent debtor in ‘a wretched condition’ either in the common gaol at York ‘or soon after she was released’ (Croft). In her last days it is said that a subscription was set on foot to relieve her, and that Sterne made no sign (ib.) He was sensitive to public opinion, and it seems incredible that, had he known of her extremity, he should not have come to her rescue. His relations with her were passably amicable in 1759. After that date he was often absent from York, and the chances are that the news of her tragic end reached him when all was over. That he shirked his responsibilities in this as in other relations of life is possible; and in view of his published avowals of sensibility to all forms of distress, Byron's epigrammatic denunciation of him as the man who could whine over a dead ass while he let his mother starve has apparent justification. But allowance must be made for his early efforts to aid her, for her difficult temper, and for her malevolence in widening the breach between him and his influential uncle by retailing fanciful statements of his neglect of her when the quarrel was at its height.
For Sterne's alienation from his uncle, which began after 1745, two causes have been assigned. Jaques Sterne was an active whig politician. He corresponded with the Duke of Newcastle (cf. his manuscript letters in the Newcastle Correspondence in the British Museum), and his nephew, although he had no interest in politics, for a time deemed it wise to propitiate him by sending paragraphs to a York newspaper in the whig interest. When in 1745 a defence fund was raised in York at the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion, Laurence subscribed 10l., while his uncle subscribed 50l.; and Laurence wrote soon after for ‘Lloyd's Evening Post’ a congratulatory article on the arrest of Dr. Burton, a York physician, who, as a suspected Jacobite, had incurred his uncle's enmity. Sterne afterwards immortalised Burton as ‘Dr. Slop.’ In 1747 the elder Sterne, who was archdeacon of Cleveland in 1735 and of the East Riding from 1750, printed a charge to the clergy entitled ‘The Danger arising to our Civil and Religious Liberty from the great increase of Papists,’ and at the same time helped to inaugurate a new whig electioneering journal, ‘The York Journal, or the Protestant Courant.’ Sterne at first contributed, but suddenly informed his uncle that he would write for the whigs no more (Robert Davies, Memoir of the York Press, 1868, p. 324). ‘Though my uncle was a party man,’ Sterne declared, ‘I was not, and detested such dirty work, thinking it beneath me. From that period he became my bitterest enemy.’ This is Sterne's version of the quarrel. Coffee-house gossip, on the other hand, traced it to a less respectable origin. Laurence was said to have displaced his uncle in the affections of a lady who was living under Dr. Sterne's protection, with the result that Laurence became by her the father of a natural daughter; the girl was stated to be alive in 1796, and to closely resemble her reputed father (Croft). Uncle and nephew were never reconciled. When in December 1750 Sterne sought to add to his income by offering to take the turns of such appointed preachers in the minster as might be accidentally prevented from fulfilling their engagements, Dr. Sterne intervened and wrote that on no account was extra employment to be given to ‘the one person unacceptable to me in the whole church, an ungrateful and unworthy nephew of my own.’ When Dr. Sterne died in 1759 no mention was made of his nephew in his will, at which Laurence ‘was so offended that he did not put on mourning, though he had it ready, and, on the contrary, showed all possible marks of disrespect to his uncle's memory’ (ib.)
Despite such difficulties, Sterne maintained his position in York. In 1747 he first appeared in print under his own name, publishing, at the price of sixpence, ‘The Case of Elijah and the Widow Zerephath consider'd. A charity sermon, preach'd on Good Friday, April 17, 1747, in the parish church of St. Michael-le-Belfry, before the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, by Laurence Sterne, M.A., Prebendary of York’ (York, 1747). It was printed for John Hildyard, bookseller in Stonegate, but was sold, according to the title-page, by London booksellers. The dedication was addressed to Dean Richard Osbaldeston [q. v.] A presentation copy, inscribed by Sterne to the squire of Sutton, Philip Harland, is in the minster library at York. It was reissued in Sterne's collected sermons (vol. i. No. v.). Although this effort was, on its first publication, ‘read by very few,’ Sterne soon printed a second sermon, ‘The Abuses of Conscience, set forth in a Sermon preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Peter's, York, at the Summer Assizes, before the Hon. Mr. Baron Clive and the Hon. Mr. Baron Smythe on Sunday, July 29, 1750.’ This was stated to be ‘published at the request of the High Sheriff [Sir William Pennyman] and Grand Jury,’ to whom it was dedicated. This performance, like its forerunner, was little noticed at the time, but it acquired worldwide celebrity on being incorporated at a later date in ‘Tristram Shandy’ (bk. ii. chap. xvii.), and again in the collected ‘Sermons’ (vol. iv. No. xii.). The only literary effort, besides sermons and political paragraphs, with which Sterne has been credited in his early years is some fanciful reflections on problems of natural science, which were obviously suggested by Fontenelle's ‘Plurality of Worlds.’ These reflections were first published from a manuscript by M. Paul Stapfer in his ‘Vie de Sterne’ (pp. xvi–xlix); but their authenticity is by no means established.
On 29 Oct. 1750 Dean Fountayne, who succeeded Osbaldeston in 1747, bestowed on Sterne, despite his uncle's hostility, a second commissaryship—that of the peculiar court of Alne and Tollerton. The emoluments were insignificant, and, although a deputy exercised most of the slight functions, Sterne thenceforth made an annual visitation of the parishes which were subject to the commissary's court. They included Skelton (with Alne and Wigginton).
Soon after the issue of his second sermon a quarrel among the cathedral officials suggested to Sterne a literary effort in a different style. About 1748 Dr. Topham, a lawyer, who held many ecclesiastico-legal offices in the diocese, obtained for his son from Matthew Hutton, archbishop of York (since 1747), a promise of the reversion of one of his patent places. Dean Fountayne complained that Topham had misrepresented the matter, and the archbishop revoked his assent to the arrangement. Topham declared open war on Fountayne, and Sterne supported the dean. Subsequently Topham laid claim to the commissaryship of Pocklington and Pickering, which Sterne himself enjoyed. The dispute lingered on for many years, and Sterne amused himself by humorously satirising in a pretended letter to a friend the ferment in cathedral circles which Topham's greed aroused. He represented York as a village of which Trim (i.e. Topham) was sexton and whipper-in; the archbishop was the parson, the dean the parish clerk, and himself, Lorry Slim, an insignificant parishioner. According to Sterne's sketch, Trim was detected in carrying home ‘the warm watch-coat’ which was parish property, and was held by him in right only of his office of sexton. But the parish clerk came upon Trim just in time to prevent him from cutting out of the parochial garment an under-petticoat for his wife and a jerkin for himself. Thereupon Trim, thwarted in one direction, endeavoured to rob his neighbour Lorry Slim, ‘an unlucky wight,’ of a threadbare pair of black plush breeches. The sketch ends with Trim's signal humiliation. Much of the jesting is coarse, but throughout Sterne gave proofs of his capacity as a literary artist in humour. In its general tone it adumbrates many characteristic features of ‘Tristram Shandy.’ The name Trim Sterne transferred to his novel unaltered. The sketch was furtively circulated among Sterne's friends—doubtless in manuscript—but was deemed unfit for publication. It was first published in 1769, in the year after Sterne's death, under the title of ‘A Political Romance addressed to ——, esq. of York,’ with a list of dramatis personæ and the names of the persons they were intended to represent. The advertisement vaguely described the piece as ‘written in 1759,’ but it doubtless dated further back. The edition of 1769 is of some rarity. There are copies in York minster and the British Museum libraries. It was subsequently appended to Sterne's ‘Correspondence,’ and often reprinted under the title of ‘The History of a Warm Watch Coat.’
This skit indicated Sterne's vocation, and in fantastic accord with his irresponsible temperament, a crisis which he disreputably provoked in his domestic affairs gave him, at the mature age of forty-six, an opportunity of pursuing it. Writing in Latin during 1758 to his friend Hall-Stevenson, he expressed himself weary of his wife's society, and announced a visit to London on an adulterous errand (this letter is often misdated 1767). Within a few months of its composition, in 1758, Sterne's wife was stricken by an attack of insanity. The immediate cause was a fit of anger occasioned by her discovery of her husband in compromising relations with a maid-servant (CROFT, Anecdotes). Sterne suffered for a time such remorse as was possible to his disposition, and in the early stages of the illness took whimsical pains to humour his wife's diseased imaginings. ‘She fancied herself the queen of Bohemia. He treated her as such, with all the supposed respect due to a crowned head.’ ‘To induce her to take the air, he proposed coursing in the way practised in Bohemia. For that purpose he procured bladders and filled them with beans and tied them to the wheels of a single horse-chair, when he drove madam into a stubble field. With the motion of the carriage and the bladders' rattle it alarmed the hares, and the greyhounds were ready to take them’ (Croft, Scrapeana, p. 22). But such remedies proved of little avail, and Mrs. Sterne was at length placed in ‘confinement under a lunatic doctor in a private house at York’ (Croft, Anecdotes). In his wife's absence Sterne lived at first much alone. His daughter's health seemed failing, and his spirits declined. It was then that he turned for solace to literary work, and by way of relieving his melancholy wrote the opening books of ‘Tristram Shandy.’ He laboured with a rare zest. Although he corrected his manuscript liberally, he had completed fourteen chapters in six weeks (bk. i. chap. xiv.), and reached his twenty-first chapter on 26 March 1759. The employment dissipated most of his cares. He was so delighted with his facility that he jestingly promised to write two volumes every year for the rest of his days (cf. bk. i. chap. xxii.).
Meanwhile his yearning for feminine sympathy revived, and happening to meet at York a very young and intelligent French lady of unblemished reputation, who was lodging with her mother, Madame Fourmantelle, in the Stonegate, he, with indefensible disregard of his domestic position, amused himself with a flirtation. During the year (1759) that he was shaping his magnum opus, a playful correspondence and a series of interviews with Mlle. Fourmantelle, his ‘dear, dear Kitty,’ formed his main source of recreation. In the book he refers to the lady as his ‘dear, dear Jenny,’ between whom and himself there subsisted ‘that twice tender and delicious sentiment which ever mixes in friendship where there is a difference of sex.’ He sent her sweetmeats and honey, and declared himself hers ‘to eternity’ (the correspondence was published from the originals in the possession of Mr. John Murray by the Philobiblon Society in 1855–6, vol. ii.).
When Sterne had gone some way with ‘Tristram Shandy,’ his friend Croft assembled a select company at Stillington Hall after dinner to hear portions read by the author; but the company fell asleep, and Sterne is said to have flung the manuscript in anger into the fire. Luckily his host rescued the scorched papers from the flames (Croft). Other friends who examined it declared it to be laughable. The rumour spread that it would prove ‘extraordinary,’ and when by the autumn of 1759 two books were completed, Sterne offered them to Dodsley, the great London publisher, for 50l. with much self-satisfaction. The offer was declined. A friend, Arthur Lee, lent him 100l., and he printed at York a small edition of two or three hundred copies, which John Hinxham, the successor of Hildrop, the publisher of his sermons, agreed to publish for him. Dodsley was one of Hinxham's London agents, and took a few copies with many misgivings. On 1 Jan. 1760 advertisements in the ‘Publick Advertiser’ announced that the work was on sale. The York public at once recognised its attraction; but it was more gratifying to its author, who declared that he wrote ‘not to be fed but to be famous,’ to learn within a few weeks that it had startled London. Garrick was one of its earliest admirers. Bishop Warburton read it and recommended it to all ‘the best company in town.’ In March Horace Walpole wrote that nothing else was talked of or admired. A wager was laid in London that a letter addressed to ‘Tristram Shandy in Europe’ would reach Sterne at Sutton, and the letter was safely delivered (ib.) Sterne's first genuine experiment in literature brought him in an instant a world-wide reputation.
Mrs. Sterne's health was meanwhile improving, and in November 1759 he took a house in the minster yard for her and her daughter, whom he was resolved to educate thoroughly. Anxiety on his wife's account in 1760 made him hesitate to accept Stephen Croft's offer to carry him to London and thus enable him the better to estimate the extent of ‘Tristram's’ triumph. But Croft pointed out that his presence did his wife no good. In the first week of March they hurried south and put up with a common friend, Cholmley, in Chapel Street, Mayfair. Sterne was welcomed by Dodsley, who accepted without hesitation Sterne's offer of a collected edition of his sermons. One on conscience had already figured in ‘Tristram’ (bk. ii.). For the sermons and a new edition of ‘Tristram’ Dodsley paid down 480l. At the same time he commissioned Sterne to supply a fresh volume of ‘Tristram’ every remaining year of his life. Sterne, although he had asked Dodsley for 650l., skipped back to Cholmley's rooms, declaring that ‘he was the richest man in Europe,’ and, resolving to prolong his stay in London, took lodgings in St. Alban's Street, not far from Dodsley's shop in Pall Mall. News of his presence there was soon abroad, visitors thronged his rooms, and invitations to fashionable dinners and receptions abounded. Almost every hour of his day and night was straightway engaged for a month in advance. At his suggestion Mlle. Fourmantelle and her mother arrived in Soho to see the town under his auspices, but his social preoccupations left him little time for dalliance with humble admirers. Although, with repellent levity, he hinted to the young lady at what might befall them if ‘an obstacle to their happiness’ (i.e. Mrs. Sterne) were removed, their interviews in London were brief and rare. That Sterne's neglect drove Mlle. Fourmantelle mad, and that a chance meeting with her later in France suggested to him his portrait of Maria, are stupid fables. The sentimental passion with which he inspired a bewilderingly rapid succession of Dulcineas in London was not treated very seriously on either side. But he flattered himself that his gallantries were admired (ib.) His witty talk in society was applauded on all hands. According to the poet Gray, the man proved as great an object of admiration as the book (Letters, ed. Gosse, iii. 36). Lord Ossory commissioned Reynolds to paint his portrait. Old Earl Bathurst treated him with all the deference he had extended in early life to Pope and Addison. Lord Rockingham took him to Windsor in his suite on 6 May. Garrick's attentions were incessant.
A large second edition of ‘Tristram’ was published in April, with a dedication addressed to Pitt and a frontispiece by Hogarth. On 22 May following there appeared fifteen ‘Sermons of Mr. Yorick’ in two 12mo volumes. The preliminary list of subscribers numbered over five hundred, and included a long array of noblemen. An engraving by Ravenet of Reynolds's portrait—‘his own comic figure’—formed the frontispiece. Admirers of ‘Tristram’ were not disappointed. Gray declared the ‘Sermons’ to be ‘most proper for the pulpit,’ and indicative of ‘strong imagination and a sensible heart.’ But their main recommendation was that the preacher was ‘often tottering on the verge of laughter and ready to throw his periwig in the face of his audience’ (ib. iii. 53; cf. Mrs. Delany, Autobiography, 1st ser. iii. 602).
But Sterne's triumph was not unalloyed. In private and in public ‘Tristram’ excited much adverse criticism. Every character and locality mentioned in the work seemed identifiable by York readers, and Sterne was freely charged there with vilifying his neighbours alive and dead (cf. Letter vi). The man-midwife, Dr. Slop, was Dr. John Burton [q. v.], the leading accoucheur of York, and the minutely described scene of Slop's farcical tumble in the mire at the sudden turn in the road is still recognisable by any traveller approaching Sutton vicarage from York. Parson Yorick was without disguise Sterne himself, and Yorick's large parish, Sutton-in-the-Forest. The account of Mr. Shandy's ancestor, Sir Roger Shandy, who fought at Marston Moor, bore an obvious relation to an ancestor of the unamiable squire of Sutton, who had set forth his ancestor's prowess at Marston Moor in an epitaph that he caused to be inscribed in the church while Sterne was vicar. Ox Lane and Ox Close are still names of fields in Sutton parish, and Oxmoor figures largely in the conversation of Yorick with the Shandy brothers.
In London ‘Tristram’ was denounced on wider grounds. Dr. Johnson was offended by its indecent innuendo, and always spoke with scorn of ‘the man Sterne.’ They met only once, and then Sterne further outraged his censor by displaying to the company an obscene drawing. Richardson declared Sterne's book ‘execrable.’ Horace Walpole found the digressions insupportable, and the whole ‘a very insipid and tedious performance.’ Dr. Farmer warned the undergraduates at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who rated it highly, that, ‘however much it may be talked about at present, in the course of twenty years, should any one wish to refer to it, he will be obliged to go to an antiquary to refer to it’ (cf. Mrs. Delany, 1st ser. iii. 588, 593). Professional critics in the press, who envied Sterne's reception by the world of fashion, pursued him with unremitting hostility. Goldsmith wrote of him in the ‘Citizen of the World’ (No. 74): ‘In England, if a bawdy blockhead thus breaks in on the community, he sets his whole fraternity [of brother-authors] in a roar, nor can he escape, even though he should fly to the nobility for shelter.’ Smollett in the ‘Critical Review,’ and Griffith in the ‘Monthly Review,’ made furious onslaughts. A report got abroad in the newspapers that Sterne designed to introduce Warburton into a later volume as Tristram's tutor, and was bought off. Sterne hotly denied the rumour in a letter to Garrick (Letter vii.) It seems due to the fact that soon after his arrival in town Warburton, who recognised his genius, sent for him, and sought to obtain a promise that he would restrain his tendency to obscenity in future volumes. On parting Warburton gave him a purse of money and sent him books. Sterne corresponded amicably with the bishop later in the year; but subsequent volumes of ‘Tristram’ were not purged of indecency, and Warburton, while acknowledging their wit, expressed a fear that Sterne was ‘an irrecoverable scoundrel’ (cf. J. S. Watson, Life of Warburton, 1863; Kilvert, Warburton Papers, pp. 239–46; Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, v. 616–18; Sterne, Letters, vii. x. xi.). When in 1760 Sterne's friend, Hall-Stevenson, published a vapid adulatory ode on his ‘Cousin Shandy's’ visit to town, which disgusted many of Sterne's supporters, the newspapers bespattered Hall-Stevenson as well as his hero. The attack was developed in separately issued pamphlets. ‘The Clockmaker's Outcry against the Author of “Tristram Shandy”’ was soon followed by ‘A Methodist Preacher's Letter to Sterne,’ 1760, and ‘Explanatory Remarks upon the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, by Jeremiah Kunastrokius, M.D.,’ 1760. ‘A Funeral Discourse occasioned by the much lamented death of Mr. Yorick … by Christopher Flagellan, A.M.’ (1761), was a well-sustained piece of irony. A more impudent attack was the issue, late in 1760, of a spurious third volume of ‘Tristram’ by a hack-writer named John Carr [q. v.] Sterne at first bore such blows good-humouredly. ‘The scribblers use me ill,’ he wrote to Warburton on 9 June 1760, ‘but they have used my betters much worse.’ Subsequently he complained of ‘the cant of criticism’ with a good deal of heat.
In the middle of May (1760) he returned to Yorkshire, travelling in unwonted state, as befitted in his opinion his newly acquired fame. He preached in the cathedral on the 18th before the judges of the assizes. In the preceding March he had the good fortune to receive from his old friend Lord Fauconberg an offer of the perpetual curacy of Coxwold, worth 160l. a year. The village was admirably situated upon high ground on the Thirsk road, some twenty-two miles from York, and lay within easy reach of the moors. Newburgh Priory, the patron's house, was a mile off. Sterne accepted the benefice with alacrity, receiving permission to retain the livings of Sutton and Stillington, which were thenceforth served solely by curates. After a twenty-two years' settlement at Sutton, the climate of which he always found unhealthy, Sterne accordingly moved in the summer of 1760 to the invigorating elevation of Coxwold. There seems to have been no parsonage, but Sterne lived on the Thirsk road, near the church, in a large cottage, which he christened Shandy Hall. The house, which he was constantly extending and improving, has been recently renovated, and is now adorned by a tablet attesting Sterne's occupancy. The change reconciled him for a time to the contrast between the dull monotony of country life and the brilliant variety of his metropolitan experiences. But he had, as Garrick wrote, ‘degenerated in London like an ill-transplanted shrub; the incense of the great spoiled his head as their ragouts had done his stomach’ (cf. Horace Walpole, Letters, iii. 298). He spent wastefully the money that his books brought him, and resented his wife's biting rebukes of his extravagance. But he found some compensations at Coxwold for Mrs. Sterne's increased and well-justified mistrust—in the society of his daughter, in the hospitable attentions of Lord Fauconberg, and in the delights of literary work. By August he had finished a third book of ‘Tristram,’ which he believed to contain ‘more laughable humour’ than its forerunners, with ‘an equal degree of Cervantic satire’ (Letter xii.) By October a fourth book was ready for the press, and before Christmas he hurried to London to superintend the issue of the two new volumes. They appeared at the beginning of the new year with a second plate by Hogarth, and met with mingled cries of abuse and applause. Fashionable society heartily welcomed him back, and for another three months he was immersed in social gaieties. The wits, Foote and Delavall, courted him; Wilkes found him a companion after his own heart. He associated on even terms with politicians like Lord Rockingham, Shelburne, Charles Spencer, and Charles Townshend, and retailed political gossip, with an increasing sense of his own importance, in letters to Yorkshire acquaintances. John, first viscount and afterwards first earl Spencer, sent him a silver ink standish, and offered him repeated hospitalities. On 3 May he preached at the Foundling Hospital, when the collection amounted to 55l. 9s.
Next month he cursed anew the churlish fate which rendered resumption of residence at Coxwold needful. His wife, ‘in pure, sober good sense, built on sound experience,’ declared herself happier in his absence, and suggested that he should cure his discontent by leading ‘a bear round Europe.’ But he resolved to make the best of his situation, bought seven hundred books, ‘dog cheap and many good,’ and found all his old satisfaction in working at a fifth volume of ‘Tristram.’ An unusually amiable impulse led him to read the chapters to his wife as they were finished, while, despite their improprieties, his daughter helped him to copy them (Letter xix.) On 6 Sept. 1761 he wrote a paper (still in York Minster Library) promising the dean and chapter to pay the Rev. Marmaduke Collier 16l. a year for taking entire charge of his parish of Sutton, and subsequently engaged a curate for Stillington, it is said, at 40l. a year. On the day that George III was crowned (22 Sept.) there were extended festivities at Coxwold. Sterne preached extemporarily in the morning ‘an excellent sermon,’ which ‘gave great content’ to a crowded congregation; he published the text in the London and York newspapers (Letter to Lord Fauconberg from his Coxwold agent, Richard Chapman, 25 Sept. 1761; cf. Sermons, No. 21). By December he completed the fifth and sixth volumes of ‘Tristram,’ including the beautiful story of ‘Le Fever,’ and, while dedicating them to Lord Spencer, inscribed ‘the story of Le Fever to’ the name of Lady Spencer. A manuscript draft of that story, partly in his autograph, which he sent to his patrons before its publication, is still preserved among Earl Spencer's archives (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 20). Becket took Dodsley's place as the publisher, and to Becket Sterne remained faithful to the end.
While supervising the publication of these books in London Sterne fell violently ill, and a journey to the south of France was judged imperative by the physicians. Obtaining a year's absence of leave from the archbishop of York, and hastily borrowing from Garrick 20l., which he never repaid, he left for Paris in January 1762. His fame had preceded him in the French capital, and his health improved sufficiently to enable him to plunge with enthusiasm into the whirl of social dissipation that was offered him. Politicians and men of letters alike welcomed him. The Duc d'Orléans added his portrait to his collection of ‘odd men;’ Diderot gave him a commission to buy English books. He was a familiar figure in the salons of Choiseul, Crébillon fils, Holbach, Suard, and the Comte de Bissy. He visited the theatres, and was introduced as Garrick's friend to the leading actresses. Charles James Fox, who was also visiting Paris, carried him off to spend a week with him at St. Germain in February (Wombwell MS.). In March he wrote to his wife of his rapid progress in the French tongue (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. v. 254); but, although he spoke and wrote it fluently, he never did either well. In May he sent for Mrs. Sterne and Lydia, who was suffering from asthma; and he forwarded detailed instructions for the journey which would have done credit to the most pragmatic paterfamilias. On 4 June 1762—George III's birthday—he dined with a distinguished company at the English ambassador's (Lord Tavistock's), and allowed himself to be tricked by some fellow-guests into giving an imaginary sketch of the Abbé Dutens, the French envoy at Turin, in ignorance of the fact that the abbé, who was personally unknown to him, was his neighbour at the table (Dutens, Memoires d'un Voyageur, i. 165–7). Later in the month another attack of hæmorrhage of the lungs proved the unwisdom of further indulgence in Parisian gaieties. Mrs. Sterne and Lydia joined him in July, and within two weeks they all went south to Toulouse, where he had hired a house at a rental of 30l. a year. Although he often talked of returning to Paris, he stayed with them at Toulouse for more than twelve months. Lydia was soon ‘hard at it with music, dancing, and French speaking.’ Mrs. Sterne, ‘a great economist,’ was ‘charmed’ by the cheapness of provisions, but would never let her husband out of her sight, following him everywhere so persistently as to excite pity for him among his friends (Cooper, p. 5). Sterne tried to relieve ennui by fabricating a seventh volume of ‘Tristram,’ in which he embodied his recent experience of foreign travel. He had originally intended, he told his political friends, to conduct his hero to various European courts so as to give himself the opportunity of comparing the political constitutions of foreign countries to their disadvantage with the government of England (Croft). But this design was very imperfectly executed. At Christmas he took part with other English visitors in private theatricals, playing in the ‘Busy Body’ or ‘The Journey to London.’ Life at Toulouse grew more irksome in the spring. Sterne suffered from ague, and things at home were not promising. Becket wrote that the sale of the last books of ‘Tristram’ was slackening. Of the four thousand copies, nearly a thousand hung fire (Morrison MS.) In July 1763 they removed to Bagnères de Bigorre in the Pyrenees. Thence they visited Aix and Marseilles, and in September settled down at Montpellier for the winter. On 30 Sept. Sterne wrote to Lord Fauconberg offering to purchase for him a hogshead of claret, and expressing his longing to be back at Coxwold (Wombwell MS.) In February 1764 he was ‘heartily tired of France,’ and next month he set his face homewards.
Mrs. Sterne did not share her husband's yearning for home. She declared her intention of staying behind at Montauban. Their daughter, she argued, ought to complete her education abroad, and they could save as much money in a year in France as would keep them in clothes for seven in England. ‘My system,’ Sterne wrote to Lord Fauconberg of his wife, ‘is to let her please herself;’ and although he deplored a long separation from his daughter, he accepted Mrs. Sterne's arguments. Her expenditure was to be restricted to two hundred guineas a year. Malicious friends treated the arrangement as a formal separation, suggested by Sterne. But Mrs. Sterne was wholly responsible for Sterne's return to England alone, and it was very unwillingly that he reconciled himself to the maintenance by his wife and daughter of a separate establishment.
On quitting his family Sterne remained a month (April–May) in Paris, and renewed his intimacy with French society (cf. Morrison MS.). Wilkes wrote to Churchill from Paris (10 April 1764) that Sterne and he were often in each other's company (Wilkes MS. in British Museum). He preached at the English ambassador's chapel on Hezekiah to ‘a concourse of all nations and religions’ (Sermons, No. 17), and sent his daughter books and a guitar. The summer was mainly spent in London, and in the early autumn he went to Scarborough to drink the waters. In August he settled down at Coxwold, after an absence of more than two and a half years. He was soon immersed in a further instalment of ‘Tristram,’ which was to narrate Uncle Toby's amour with the Widow Wadman. In December he had completed books vii. and viii., and took them to London. They were published on 26 Jan. 1765. Dinner engagements set in ‘a fortnight deep.’ Garrick and his wife were assiduous in their attentions, and he began a flirtation with a fashionable admirer, Lady Percy, a daughter of Lord Bute. His lungs gave him trouble, and he withdrew in April to Bath, where Gainsborough painted his portrait in a single sitting. He returned to his solitude at Coxwold in May, and in the autumn a second expedition abroad was recommended. In October 1765 he set out on a seven months' tour through France and Italy, which he immortalised in his ‘Sentimental Journey.’
At Calais he put up at M. Dessein's hotel (now pulled down), which gained so wide a reputation from the account Sterne gave of it that for more than half a century it was a place of pilgrimage for French and English travellers. At his next stopping-place, Montreuil, he engaged the drummer-boy La Fleur as his valet. A few weeks were spent with friends in Paris before a start was made for Lyons. There Sterne enjoyed the society of Wilkes's friend, Horne Tooke. Eight days were required for the journey through the mountain passes of Savoy, and at a wayside inn on the road to Modane, in the plains beyond, occurred, according to the ‘Sentimental Journey,’ the notorious incident with which that work abruptly closes. But there seems little doubt that this episode never came within the author's experience. It was borrowed from the lips of a fashionable London friend, John Crawford of Errol, who declared that the adventure befell him at an inn between Verviers and Aix-la-Chapelle.
By 15 Nov. Sterne joined Sir James Macdonald, a cultivated young man, at Turin, and together they passed through Milan, Parma, and Florence to Rome. There he was well received in both English and Italian society, and met his censor Smollett, whom he depicted in his ‘Journey’ as the type of the grumbling traveller under the sobriquet of ‘Smelfungus.’ In February 1766 he arrived at Naples, still in company of Sir James Macdonald. On the return journey he turned aside while in the south of France to pay a hasty visit to his wife and daughter. They had long since left Montauban, and Sterne sought them in five or six different towns before running them to earth in ‘Franche-compté’ in May. His wife was ‘very cordial,’ but begged to stay abroad another year. Lydia was greatly improved in everything her father wished. On parting with them towards the end of May, he wrote to Hall-Stevenson from Dijon in the highest spirits. He was ‘most unaccountably well and most unaccountably nonsensical.’ He was back in Yorkshire in time to dine with Hall-Stevenson at Skelton on the king's birthday (4 June 1766). In the autumn he completed in his ‘peaceful retreat’ of Coxwold the ninth and last volume of ‘Tristram,’ and planned in four volumes his ‘Sentimental Journey’ (Letter lxxi.).
Sterne suffered much depression at the close of 1766. Money was not abundant. He had spent most of his literary profits on his foreign tours. His wife, who, it is obvious, wofully mismanaged her finances, found two hundred guineas an inadequate allowance, and, with a fuller sense of responsibility than was habitual to him, Sterne made every effort to supply her growing needs. Numberless appeals are extant from him to his agents and bankers in Paris (Mr. Foley and M. Panchaud) to forward money instantly to Mrs. Sterne in the south of France, and all give practical proof of Sterne's anxiety to study her and his daughter's material comfort. ‘Whilst I have a shilling,’ he wrote to his daughter (Letter lxxix), ‘shall not you both have ninepence of it?’ In 1764 the parsonage at Sutton had been accidentally burnt down while in charge of the curate, and Sterne became responsible for the cost of rebuilding, an obligation which he tried to evade. At Stillington the Enclosure Act required his attention, and at the end of 1766 letters from Lydia announced that his wife was seriously ill at Avignon. But the danger passed, and in January 1767 he was once more in London, hoping to retrieve his position by the issue of the ninth volume of ‘Tristram.’ Two new volumes of sermons had appeared in the preceding January. The last volume of ‘Tristram’ came out in Jan. 1767. It was dedicated to the patron of the first, the Earl of Chatham, who was reminded that ‘honours, like impressions upon coin, may give an ideal and local value to a bit of base metal, but not to gold and silver’—a sentence whence Burns, a warm admirer of ‘Tristram,’ is credited with deriving his notion of ‘the guinea-stamp;’ Sterne probably borrowed his simile from a passage in Thomas Tenison's preface to ‘Baconiana’ (1679), although it could be matched in Thomas Carew's ‘Poems’ and Wycherley's ‘Plain Dealer.’ To the ‘Sermons’ (vols. iii. and iv.) was prefixed a list of over six hundred subscribers, including, besides ‘toute la noblesse,’ Voltaire, Holbach, and other French authors. The winter's campaign proved lucrative. ‘Shandy’ sold well, and 300l. fell to Sterne from the subscriptions to the ‘Sermons’ apart from payment for the copy. The last volume of ‘Tristram’ was not more refined than its predecessors, and in March 1767 the archbishop of York (Robert Hay Drummond [q. v.]) was the recipient of an anonymous petition from London inviting his attention to the scandalous contrast between the indecent tone of Sterne's writing and his sacred vocation.
On this his penultimate visit to London (January to May 1767) Sterne occupied new lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street, above a silk-bagwig-maker's. He spent much time at the house of Sir William James [q. v.], a retired Indian commodore, who lived in fashionable style in Gerrard Street, Soho. He had met James casually in society, and James's wife and little daughter attracted him. In the repeated hospitalities they offered him he took a genuine delight. Visitors from India were often his fellow-guests at James's table, and there late in December 1766 Sterne first met Mrs. Eliza (or more properly Elizabeth) Draper, a visitor from Bombay, who was to play an important part in what remained of his life. She was a daughter of May Sclater (b. 1719), a member of a good west-country family, who had gone out to India in 1736 [see under Sclater, William, (1575–1626)]. In India her father married a lady named Whitehill, and apparently settled at Anjengo on the Malabar coast, where Eliza was born on 5 April 1744. After being educated in England, she reached Bombay on the return voyage on 27 Dec. 1757, and when little more than fourteen she married, at Bombay on 28 July 1758, Daniel Draper, at the time a writer in the East India Company's service, who next year became secretary to the government at Bombay. Draper was a dull official, fully twenty years his wife's senior. A boy was born in 1759, and a daughter (Elizabeth or Betsy) in October 1761. In 1765 Mrs. Draper and her husband paid a visit to England with a view to placing their children at school. Draper soon returned alone to his post at Bombay, and left his wife to follow him later.
Mrs. Draper, when Sterne met her, was no more than a coquettish schoolgirl, who had read widely, and aped the ethical theories of the blue-stocking school. She chattered of ‘the rights of women’ in matters of education and marriage. But there was no doubt of the reality of her conviction that a wrong had been done her by yoking her in immature years to a husband of formal manner and illiterate tastes, who rendered conjugal life detestable to her. Sterne was not slow in winning her confidence. The sympathy of a distinguished man of letters flattered her vanity. She knew him as the ‘mild, generous, and good Yorick,’ and became a whole-hearted ‘idolater of his worth.’ He opened a correspondence with her in his customary vein, calling her his ‘Bramine,’ in allusion to her Indian connections. He cursed fate that both were married already, sent her his books, and having had her portrait painted, wore it round his neck. But within a month or two of their first meeting Draper summoned his wife home. Eliza fell ill at the thought of leaving her children and relatives. Sterne assigned her melancholy to the coming separation from him. On 3 April 1767 Eliza sailed from Deal for Bombay in the Earl of Chatham, East Indiaman. Sterne and she never met again. Her health and spirits recovered on the voyage. New admirers were forthcoming, and most of the impression Sterne had made on her passed away.
But Sterne had no wish to close the episode hastily. He recognised in Eliza a young woman of intellectual capacity and emotional temperament not unlike his own, and he determined to maintain relations with her in her absence after the manner in which Swift had maintained relations with Stella. He was to keep a journal addressed to Eliza while she was in India. In the fifth of his extant letters written to Mrs. Draper while she was in England he told her ‘the journal is as it should be all but its contents.’ ‘I began a new journal this morning,’ he writes in his next letter; ‘you shall see it, for if I live not till your return to England I will leave it you as a legacy; 'tis a sorrowful page, but I will write cheerful ones.’ On the day they parted Eliza agreed to keep a journal too. At the moment of her sailing Sterne forwarded to her all that he had yet written. Of that effort of Sterne nothing is known. On 9 April, six days after the Earl of Chatham set sail, he wrote in desperation to his daughter (Letter xci.) of his loneliness now that his ‘dear friend’ had left him and his family was at a distance. ‘For God's sake, persuade [thy mother],’ he added, ‘to come and fix in England … I want thee near me, thou child and darling of my heart.’ On 13 April Sterne sought relief from his melancholy by applying himself to a continuation of his ‘Journal to Eliza.’ He carried it on regularly till 2 Aug. A fragmentary entry dated 1 Nov. brings it to a conclusion. The whole still survives in manuscript at the British Museum (Addit. MS. 34527), and has not been printed. Sterne called it ‘The Bramine's Journal,’ and described it as ‘a diary of the miserable feelings of a person separated from a lady for whose society he languished.’ It is mainly a mawkish record of his yearning for Eliza's society, of his vague hope of making her his wife, of his antipathy to Mrs. Sterne, of his declining health, and of his social diversions in London and Coxwold. Signs are apparent throughout of the decay of physical strength. One curious feature of the ‘Journal’ is its frequent plagiarism of his own letters which are extant elsewhere. The sense of desolation with which Eliza's departure fills him is expressed in almost the same language that is applied in his published correspondence to the grief caused by his wife's absence in their courting days, twenty-seven years before. It is just possible that his daughter, who recklessly edited his correspondence, foisted some passages from the ‘Journal’ on her mother's love-letters. It is barely credible that the close resemblance should be due to an accidental freak of memory on Sterne's part, or that he should have copied his old letters, even in the improbable case that he had access to them. The accounts he gives in the ‘Journal’ of his illness in London in April, and of the rural charms of life at Coxwold in July, both figure with little verbal change in letters that he sent at the time to other friends. But this accorded with his common epistolary practice.
For the first five weeks after Eliza's departure (13 April–22 May) Sterne lay seriously ill in his lodgings in New Bond Street. But as soon as he was convalescent the old routine of gaiety recommenced. He imprudently ventured on visits by night to Ranelagh or to Madame Cornelys's concerts in Soho Square. He breakfasted or dined with Lord and Lady Spencer, and flirted with female admirers in Hyde Park. At the end of May he travelled down to Coxwold ‘like a bale of cadaverous goods consigned to Pluto and company,’ and stayed with the archbishop of York before reaching Coxwold. There his health improved, and he began in earnest his ‘Sentimental Journey;’ but a letter on 2 June from Lydia and her mother confirmed an earlier threat that they were about to pay him a visit. Mrs. Sterne demanded a new financial settlement, and Sterne's equanimity completely failed him. But with characteristic inconsistency he was distressed to learn that some recent letters to his wife had miscarried. The mishap wore, he lamented, the aspect of unkindness, which his wife by no means merited from him. The threatened meeting threw him, as the appointed date approached, into paroxysms of hysteria. In July visits to Skelton Castle and Harrogate raised his drooping spirits, and friends sympathised with him in his twofold grief—the home-coming of Mrs. Sterne and his vain passion for Eliza. The bishop of Cork and Ross (Jemmet Brown) offered him preferment in Ireland, and there was talk of his exchanging his York livings for a benefice in Surrey worth 350l. a year.
At the end of August his wife and ‘dear girl’ arrived. Lydia had developed into an elegant and unprincipled coquette, but her father thanked Heaven for her brilliant endowments. Mrs. Sterne kept her temper. After a stay of two months she and Lydia left Coxwold on 1 Nov. to winter in a hired house at York. It was then formally agreed that in the ensuing spring Mrs. Sterne was to return to the south of France with an annual allowance of three hundred guineas, and not to stir again till death. She was well satisfied. The climate of England made life insupportable to her, she said, and she vowed, if her husband would only maintain her at a distance from him, never to give him another sorrowful or discontented hour. ‘She leaves me,’ Sterne wrote to Eliza, ‘more than half in love with me.’ To his daughter he gave 2,000l., which his wife, despite his objection, insisted on investing in the French funds. But he assented to permanent separation from Lydia in genuine sorrow. ‘This dear part of me must be torn from my arms,’ he lamented, ‘to follow her mother.’ ‘My heart bleeds,’ he wrote to his friend Lee, ‘when I think of parting with my child; 'twill be like the separation of body and soul.’
In November the ‘Sentimental Journey’ was resumed, and relieved its author's feelings. He designed ‘it to teach us to love the world and our fellow-creatures better than we do,’ and he enjoyed dwelling on ‘those gentler passions and affections which and so much to’ general goodwill. Many references to Eliza—to the little portrait of her that he wore round his neck, and to his vows of eternal fidelity—figured in the ‘Sentimental Journey’ (pp. 48, 85, 113, 129). His wife's return had compelled the abandonment of the ‘Journal to Eliza,’ and it was not resumed. Nevertheless Sterne continued to pen sprightly billets-doux to other ladies of his acquaintance in London, and one at least was despatched while his wife was under his roof.
By December 1767 two books of the ‘Sentimental Journey’ were completed, and, taking leave of his family in the hired house in York, Sterne set out with his friend Hall-Stevenson for London to superintend the publication. It proved his last journey. His lodgings in Bond Street were soon filled with visitors, and hospitalities were offered him in profusion. His weak health depressed him, but he was gratified by the receipt of a curiously carved walking-stick from Dr. Eustace, an American admirer, who was personally a stranger to him. He saw much of Mr. and Mrs. James in Gerrard Street, and strained all his social influence to procure for Mrs. James a ticket of admission to Mrs. Cornelys's fashionable entertainments in Soho Square, to which he had omitted to take out a subscription. On 27 Feb. the ‘Sentimental Journey’ was published in two 12mo volumes, and added greatly to his reputation. Even Horace Walpole, who could never get through three volumes of the ‘tiresome’ ‘Shandy,’ admitted that the new book was ‘very pleasing though too much dilated,’ and was marked by ‘great good-nature and strokes of delicacy’ (Letters, ed. Cunningham, v. 91). In March Sterne wrote to his daughter that a vile influenza was bowing him down, but he hoped to get the better of it. He repudiated with much heat a rumour which Lydia had brought to his notice, that he intended to bequeath her as a legacy to Mrs. Draper. ‘I wish I had thee to nurse me,’ he concludes; ‘but I am denied that. Write to me twice a week at least. God bless thee, my child, and believe me ever, ever, thy affectionate father.’ He rapidly grew worse; pleurisy set in; he was bled and blistered, and his strength waned. On 15 March he took up his pen for the last time, and wrote a touching note to Mrs. James, confiding his daughter to her care in case he should be vanquished in ‘this wrestling.’ ‘My spirits are fled,’ he wrote; ‘'tis a bad omen.’ Four days later, at four o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, 18 March, he died. At the moment of his death his friend John Crawford of Errol was entertaining a distinguished party, including many of Sterne's acquaintances, at his house in Clifford Street. The Dukes of Grafton and Roxburghe were there, with the Earls of March and Ossory, Garrick, Hume, and James. Crawford's Scottish footman, James Macdonald, who afterwards published memoirs, was sent by the company to Old Bond Street to make inquiries. Macdonald was told by the landlady to go to Sterne's bedroom. As he approached the bedside he heard the dying man mutter, ‘Now it has come,’ and a few moments later life was extinct. According to Dr. Ferriar, the lodging-house servant, who was his sole attendant, tore the gold buttons from the sleeves of the garment he was wearing while he was uttering his last breath. Croft says that many compromising letters from ladies of rank were found in his rooms and were burnt by a friendly hand. There seems little ground for crediting Sterne's London hosts and patrons with neglect in his last hours. James was constantly with him in his last days. Late in the evening of his death Lady Mary Coke met some of his titled friends. ‘Lord Ossory told us,’ she wrote, ‘that the famous Dr. Sterne dyed that morning; he seem'd to lament him very much. Lord Eglinton said (but not in a ludicrous manner) that he had taken his “Sentimental Journey”’ (Lady Mary Coke, Letters and Journal, ii. 216).
Sterne was buried on the 22nd in the St. George's burial-ground in the Bayswater Road. According to a ghastly story that seems authentic, on 24 March, two days after the burial, the body was ‘resurrected’ and sold for purposes of dissection to Charles Collignon [q. v.], the professor of anatomy at Cambridge. The features are said to have been recognised by a friend who stood beside the dissecting table. The skeleton, it is stated, was long preserved at Cambridge. A monumental stone, with an inscription (inaccurate as to the date of death), was afterwards erected near the site of his grave in the St. George's burial-ground by ‘two brother masons,’ a disinterested act of reverence which they assigned to Sterne's possession of all the qualities that freemasonry honoured, although Sterne himself was not of the fraternity. The burial-ground, long neglected, has lately been put in good order, and the stone has been recut and placed in the mortuary chapel.
Sterne left no will, and his widow took out letters of administration on 4 June. His books were sold to Messrs. Sotheran & Todd, booksellers, of York, and many of them figured among the 5,500 entries in the catalogue, published by Todd in 1775, ‘of several libraries and parcels of books lately purchased, containing upwards of ten thousand volumes’ (copy in Hailstone Library in York Minster). Sterne's debts amounted to 1,100l., and his assets to 400l. Mrs. Sterne, with an income of only 40l. a year in her own right, was not in a position either to pay the creditors or to provide for herself satisfactorily. Sterne's vicarage at Sutton, which had been burnt down, was still in ruins, and when a suit was instituted against his widow to recover damages, she made an oath of insolvency, but subsequently tendered 60l. which was accepted, although the cost of rebuilding amounted to near 600l. (Sutton Parish Reg.) In August, under Hall-Stevenson's auspices, 800l. was collected for her and her daughter at the York races. Early next year three further volumes of sermons were issued for their benefit, and subscribers were numerous (cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 22261, f. 48, receipt by Mrs. Sterne of a payment by Lady Strafford). Resolving to dispose of the rest of Sterne's manuscripts to the best advantage, widow and daughter travelled to London, and took lodgings in Gerrard Street. But they rapidly alienated most of Sterne's friends by the reckless indifference to either his or their own reputation which they displayed in their efforts to make money out of Sterne's literary remains. Mrs. Draper, on learning of Sterne's death from Mrs. James, and of his wife's and daughter's distress, collected six hundred rupees herself in their behalf, and induced a friend, Colonel Donald Campbell, to collect an equal sum among his fellow officers. Campbell brought the money to Miss Sterne with an introduction from Mrs. Draper, who thought he might prove an eligible suitor. In any case, Mrs. Draper offered to provide for Lydia if she would join her in India. Lydia wrote resenting Mrs. Draper's patronage, and defending her mother's character from the aspersions her father had cast on it. With less excuse she joined her mother in a threat to publish, from copies in their possession, Sterne's letters to Mrs. Draper unless a heavy sum of money was at once remitted to them. Mrs. Draper, violently perturbed, wrote to Becket the bookseller, promising any reasonable recompense if he would secure the letters in case they were offered for sale, and hand them to Mrs. James. Mrs. Sterne was better than her word, and the letters did not at the time pass out of her hands. Meanwhile Lydia applied to Wilkes to write a full biography of her father (cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS., Wilkes MS. 30877, ff. 70–8). Wilkes assented, and Hall-Stevenson promised his cooperation. In the summer of 1769 Lydia and her mother left England and settled at Angoulême. Thence she wrote repeatedly to Wilkes and Hall-Stevenson, begging them to proceed with her father's biography. But they had no serious intention of gratifying her wish, and her letters remained unanswered. About 1771 mother and daughter removed to Alby on the Tarn in Languedoc. Mrs. Sterne was in bad health, probably suffering from a recurrence of her mental malady. Lydia made the acquaintance of Alexander Anne Medalle, son of a ‘receveur des décimes’ in the custom-house, who was a year her junior. On 28 April 1772 she abjured the protestant religion in the private chapel of the provost's house at Alby, and was married to the young man on the same day. The registers of Alby state that the marriage was ‘forcé, urgent,’ epithets to which the gloss is appended: ‘car alors la loi autorisait la recherche de la paternité’ (Inventaire des Archives Communales d'Alby). The words seem to cast a slur on Lydia's chastity. A son was born soon after the marriage. Lydia's mother, who, owing to continued illness, was absent from the wedding ceremony, died at Alby in the house of a doctor named Lionières (No. 9 Rue St. Antoine) in January 1773. Lydia's husband did not long survive (CROFT). In June 1775 the widowed Madame de Medalle arrived in London, and published in Oct., as a substitute for a biography, her father's letters to her and his friends, to which was prefixed, in the worst taste, a portrait of herself bending over a bust of her father. She then returned to the south of France, and soon died. On 19 Sept. 1783 her son, her only known child, died in the school of the Benedictines at Sorère, and it was stated at the time that the boy's mother predeceased him (Athenæum, 18 June and 2 July 1870). The legend that Madame de Medalle was, with her husband, a victim of the French revolution is apocryphal.
The later history of Sterne's Eliza was followed with interest by Sterne's admirers. On arriving at Bombay at the end of 1767, she made the best of the situation, and in 1769 removed with her husband to Tellichery, where he had been appointed chief of the factory. She acted as his amanuensis, and was not, despite the death of her son in England, unhappy there. She described the town as the Montpellier of India, and enjoyed the social distinction accorded her by both English settlers and natives (cf. Journal of Indian Art, January 1891, vol. iv. No. 33, letter from Mrs. Draper from Tellichery, April 1769, edited by Sir George Birdwood). Her main anxiety at Tellichery was due to the malicious conduct of Sterne's wife and daughter in threatening to publish her correspondence with Sterne. Every member of the family, including Sterne himself, whom she now declared to have been tainted with the ‘vices of injustice, meanness, and folly,’ became the subject of Mrs. Draper's warm denunciation. In 1771 Draper removed from Tellichery to fill the same post of chief of the factory at Surat. But intrigues at Bombay jeopardised his prospects. He was recalled thither in 1772, and was for a time without remunerative employment. Life in Bombay was increasingly irksome to Mrs. Draper as the chance of returning to England with a competency grew more remote. On 15 April 1772, in a long rambling letter to Mrs. James, she defended the attitude she had maintained to Sterne's family, and set forth in elaborate detail her impatience with her husband and Indian society, as well as her views on life and literature. At length, driven to desperation by her renewed antipathy to her husband, she fled on 12 Jan. 1773 from his house—called both Marine House and Belvidere House—at Mazagon, which overlooked Bombay Harbour (see her farewell letters in Times of India, 24 Feb. 1894). It is said that she was aided in her escape by Captain Sir John Clark, and let herself down to his ship by a rope from a window. But she denied, in letters to her friends at home, that she compromised herself in any other way. Mrs. Draper's disappearance created a sensation throughout India. Writs were taken out against Clark in the mayor's court at Bombay, but he eluded them successfully (David Price, Memoirs, 1839). Mrs. Draper retired to the residence of her maternal uncle, Thomas Whitehill, at Rajahmundry, eighty miles from Masulipatam, and wrote home with composure of her contentment there, and of her intention to retaliate if Draper proceeded to extremities. A year later she returned to England. There she met Wilkes, William Combe [q. v.], and other literary men, and exercised over them some of her old fascination (cf. Rogers, Table Talk, ed. Dyce, p. 117). Her pride in her relations with Sterne revived, and in February 1775—later in which year Sterne's daughter published some of his correspondence without making any reference to her—she authorised the publication, under the title of ‘Letters from Yorick to Eliza,’ of ten letters that Sterne had addressed to her between January and April 1767. The volume was dedicated to Lord-chancellor Apsley by an anonymous editor, who said he had copied the letters with Eliza's permission from the originals in her possession. Her replies were not given. ‘Letters from Eliza to Yorick’ (1775, ‘printed for the editor’) and William Combe's ‘Letters, supposed to have been written by Yorick and Eliza’ (1779, 2 vols.), were forgeries, some of which were foisted on reprints of the genuine collection. That volume gave ‘Sterne's Eliza’ a reputation little less universal than Sterne's. But she did not long enjoy the equivocal distinction. Dying at Bristol on 3 Aug. 1778, before she had completed her thirty-fifth year, she was buried in the cloisters of the cathedral there on 6 Aug. A sculptured monument still stands there to her memory. Eliza's husband, who was the object of much sympathy both in India and England, attained the first place in the Bombay council, and finally returned to England on 10 Oct. 1782. His and Eliza's daughter, their only surviving child, married, on 10 Jan. 1785, one Thomas Nevill, esq. (Gent. Mag. 1785, i. 75). Draper died in St. James's Street in March 1805.
Eliza's fame died hard (cf. James Douglas, Bombay and West India). L'Abbé Raynal, who met her in India, gave it new vigour when, in the second edition of his ‘Histoire des Indes’ (1779), he rapturously and at great length apostrophised her in his account of Anjengo, her birthplace. In 1813 James Forbes, in his ‘Oriental Memoirs’ (i. 338–9), wrote of ‘Abbé Raynal's rhapsody of Anjengo’ that, ‘however insignificant the settlement may be in itself, it will be for ever celebrated as the birthplace of his and Sterne's Eliza, a lady with whom I had the pleasure of being acquainted at Bombay, whose refined taste and elegant accomplishments require no encomium from my pen.’ A tree at Masulipatam, where she stayed for a time with her uncle Whitehill, was known, until it was swept away in 1864, as ‘Eliza's Tree;’ and the house that she had occupied in Bombay was, until its demolition in 1874, regarded as a literary shrine. A picture of it formed in 1831 a scene in Burford's famous panorama in London (cf. Mirror of Literature, 1831, xviii. 17, with view of house and an apocryphal account of the later life of Sterne's Eliza).
The fine portrait of Sterne (two-thirds length) by Sir Joshua Reynolds belongs to the Marquis of Lansdowne. The expression is slyly humorous, but far less roguish than it appears in the numerous engravings that have been made from it. Sterne wears a clerical gown. A second portrait (half length), painted by Gainsborough at Bath in a single sitting in April 1765, formerly belonged to Thomas Turton, bishop of Ely (Fulcher, Life of Gainsborough, p. 223). It is now at the Peel Park Museum, Salford, to which it was presented by Mr. Thomas Agnew. The expression of countenance is far less distinctive than in Reynolds's portrait. Sterne holds an open illustrated volume in his right hand. It is not known to have been engraved. A watercolour drawing (full length) by Carmontelle is in the Duc d'Aumale's collection at Chantilly. A few copies were reproduced by Messrs. Colnaghi in 1890. Of the rough oil-painting in which Sterne was introduced by his friend Bridges as a mountebank, the original is lost; an engraving appears in Dibdin's ‘Bibliographical Tour,’ 1838 (i. 213). The bust by Nollekens, executed on Sterne's visit to Rome in 1766, passed to the Yarborough collection. A marble replica is at Skelton Castle in the possession of J. T. Wharton, esq. The bust is reckoned one of Nollekens's finest performances, and it is figured in Dance's portrait of the sculptor.
Sterne's reasoning faculty was incapable of controlling his constitutional sensitiveness to pain and pleasure. His deficiency in self-control induced a condition of moral apathy, and was the cause alike of the indecency and of the sentimentality which abound in ‘Tristram Shandy’ and the ‘Sentimental Journey.’ Both the indecency and the sentimentality faithfully and without artifice reflected Sterne's emotional nature. The indelicate innuendoes which he foists on sedate words and situations, and the tears that he represented himself as shedding over dead asses and caged starlings, had an equally spontaneous origin in what was in him the normal state of his nerves.
In itself—with the slightest possible reference to the exciting object—his sensibility evoked a pleasurable nervous excitement, and the fulness of the gratification that it generated in his own being discouraged him from seeking to translate its suggestions into act. The divorce of sensibility from practical benevolence will always justify charges of insincerity. All that can be pleaded in extenuation in Sterne's case is that he made no secret that his conduct was the sport of his emotional impulses, and, obeying no other promptings, was guided by no active moral sentiment. Gravity, he warned his readers, was foreign to his nature. Morality, which ordinarily checks the free play of feeling and passion by the exercise of virtuous reason, lay, he admitted, outside his sphere. Such infirmities signally unfitted him for the vocation of a teacher of religion, but his confessions remove hypocrisy from the list of his offences. His declared temperament renders it matter for surprise not that he so often disfigured his career as a husband and author by a wanton defiance of the accepted moral canons, but that he achieved so indisputable a nobility of sentiment as in his creation of Uncle Toby, and so unselfish a devotion as in his relations with his daughter. He was no ‘scamp’ in any accepted use of the term, as Thackeray designates him. He was a volatile, self-centred, morally apathetic man of genius, who was not destitute of generous instincts.
In portraying sympathetically the hysterical working of the tender emotions Sterne was an innovator. He knew little of his greater contemporary Rousseau, who was similarly constituted to himself; and there is no ground for tracing Sterne's sentimentality to any spring outside his natural temperament. But, like Rousseau, Sterne unconsciously represented the reaction which was in the air of western Europe against those dominant principles of thought and action, both in politics and religion, which ignored the emotions altogether. Sterne's sentimentality was not militant, like Rousseau's, but its mildness rendered it even more contagious in both England and France. This characteristic was not altogether disadvantageous. Even in its most mawkish manifestations Sterne's sentimentality had the saving grace of running directly counter to inhuman prejudices of long standing. The exaggerated sympathy that Sterne expressed for dumb animals (even flies) helped to create a new and humanising relation between man and animals. His tearful references to the evils of slavery and to the right of slaves to recognition as human beings helped to set the negroes free (cf. Letters, lxxv–vi.; Tristram, iii. 185; Journey, p. 80; art. Sancho, Ignatius). The worst result that may be traced to Sterne's sentimentality is the vogue of mawkishness and unreality that it introduced for a time into English literature, and the hypocrisy that, according to Coleridge, it long encouraged in English life (Aids to Reflection, 1839, p. 27). Henry Mackenzie's ‘Man of Feeling’ (1771) illustrates its immediate effect on literature. For three years—from 1773 to 1775—worshippers of Sterne concocted month by month in the ‘Sentimental Magazine’ imbecile imitations of his characteristic style and feeling. A little later his sentimentality was responsible for the affectations of Burns's epistolary style. The persistence of its influence may be estimated by the circumstance that it inspired much of the emotional writing of Dickens and Lytton only half a century ago. Seriously minded bystanders could not stem the tide which made Sterne's sentimentality fashionable in thought and speech. Wesley wrote in his ‘Journal’ on 11 Feb. 1772, after looking at the ‘Sentimental Journey:’ ‘Sentimental! What is that? It is not English; he might as well say Continental. It is not sense. It conveys no determinate idea; yet one fool makes many. And this nonsensical word (who would believe it?) is become a fashionable one!’ In France the ‘Sentimental Journey,’ mainly on account of its emotional extravagances, enjoyed a popularity even greater than that it could claim in the country of its birth. ‘Sterne à Paris: ou le Voyageur Sentimental,’ by Révoil and Forbin, was a popular vaudeville on the Parisian stage. Saintine's ‘Picciola’ was written largely under Sterne's inspiration. In Germany his sentimentality was avowedly imitated by the novelist Hippel in his ‘Die Lebenslaufe’ (1778–81), and more subtly by Wieland and Jean Paul Richter; while its influence has been detected as far afield as in Russian novels of the close of the eighteenth century (Dunlop, Hist. of Fiction, ii. 649).
One proof of Sterne's popularity lies in the many spurious works published under his name, and in the many barefaced imitations of his efforts that appeared before or immediately after his death. The fraudulent third volume of ‘Tristram Shandy’ (1760), by the impudent hack-writer John Carr (1732–1807) [q. v.], was followed by Samuel Paterson's ‘Another Traveller’ (1767–9), and by John Hall-Stevenson's more mendacious continuation of the ‘Sentimental Journey’ in 1769. These heralded a very long series of contemptible imitations of Sterne's travels. ‘La Quinzaine Angloise à Paris, ou l'art de s'y ruiner en peu de tems, ouvrage posthume du Doctor Stearne traduit de l'anglois par un observateur’ (London, 1776), was an original work in French by James Rutledge [q. v.] William Combe, Samuel Jackson Pratt, Martin Sherlock, and Samuel Ireland showed varying degrees of adroitness in the same direction. Probably the most impudent of the deliberate forgeries undertaken by literary hacks was a volume entitled ‘The Posthumous Works of a late Celebrated Genius, deceased, A.M.’ (1770, 2 vols.), which consisted of a work in two parts called ‘The Koran, or the Life, Character, and Sentiments of Tria Juncta in Uno, M.N.A., or Master of No Arts!’ It was by Richard Griffith (d. 1788) [q. v.] There was some clever parodying of the style of thought and language of ‘Tristram Shandy.’ Reprints were frequent. It was included in the first collected edition of Sterne's works (Dublin, 1779), and it was translated into French by A. Hédouin in 1853. In 1783 Leonard McNally [q. v.] plagiarised for dramatic purposes, with better justification, many passages from Sterne in ‘Tristram Shandy: A Sentimental, Shandean Bagatelle in Two Acts;’ McNally dedicated it to Sterne's patron, Lord Fauconberg. In 1779 William Combe fathered on Sterne a spurious collection of ‘letters between Yorick and Eliza.’ ‘Letters from Eliza to Yorick’ (1775; printed for the editor) and ‘Original Letters of the late Rev. Laurence Sterne,’ 1788, came from similar manufactories of fraud.
But writers of position and ability have shown little less hesitation than the denizens of Grub Street in emulating Sterne. Travellers of literary genius like Heine and Robert Louis Stevenson have, as recorders of their impressions of travel, marched under Sterne's banner. On fiction dealing with domestic life his influence has been no less pronounced. Dickens often reflected his humour as distinctly as his sentimentality. Marryat in ‘Midshipman Easy,’ and more notably Lytton in the ‘Caxtons,’ levied ampler loans on Sterne's pictures of Mr. Shandy and his household than a stern sense of probity might justify. Conscious mimicry of Sterne's tricks of style—his use of ‘'tis’ and ‘'twas,’ his picturesque abruptness, his quaint paradoxes—is apparent in much modern essay writing. ‘That's another story’ fell originally—in the sense that Mr. Rudyard Kipling has made it his own—from the lips of Mr. Shandy in bk. ii. chap. xvii. of his son Tristram's ‘Life and Opinions’ (ed. Saintsbury, i. 141).
But the plagiarism of which Sterne has been the victim is retributive justice. Hundreds of writers of all ages and nations are quoted in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ and attest the width of Sterne's reading. ‘My dear Rabelais and dearer Cervantes’ were, with Montaigne, the authors he declared that he loved the best, and their influence is very obvious throughout ‘Tristram.’ In Shakespeare and Lucian he also avowed delight. But he did not always confess his debts to his predecessors, and his plagiarisms, although they fail to detract from the literary interest of his achievement, convict him of effrontery, if not of downright dishonesty. Many impressive phrases did he borrow direct and without acknowledgment from Burton's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy.’ Whole paragraphs in his ‘Sermons’ come from the published works of Bishop Hall and Wollaston. The story of the dwarf at the theatre in the ‘Sentimental Journey’ is largely a translation from a chapter of Scarron's ‘Roman Comique.’ Nor was the general scheme of ‘Tristram’ more original than many of its details. John Dunton's ‘A Voyage round the World, or Pocket Library divided into several volumes: the first of which contains the rare adventures of Don Kainophilus from his cradle to his fifteenth year,’ London [1720?], was beyond reasonable doubt the parent of ‘Tristram Shandy's Life and Opinions,’ with the whimsical and perverse digressions on which the author prided himself. The resemblance between Tristram's and Don Kainophilus's fortunes has been overlooked by later critics, but it led to the publication in 1762 of an adaptation of Dunton's novel under the title of ‘The Life, Travels, and Adventures of Christopher Wagstaffe, Gentleman, grandfather to Tristram Shandy, adapted by the editor’ (London, 8vo). He was clearly acquainted, too, with Arbuthnot's ‘Memoirs of Martin Scriblerus.’ Sterne told the Crofts that many of the ludicrous discussions of the brothers Shandy were due to the less brilliant conferences reported in Béroalde's ‘Moyen de Parvenir’ (1599). Others were clearly suggested by Bouchet's ‘Serées’ (Paris, 1608). Sterne's disquisition on noses was adapted from Bruscambille's ‘Pensées Facetieuses’ (1623). Copies of these three French books were in Sterne's library, and his copy of Béroalde, which bore the inscription ‘L. Sterne à Paris, viii livres,’ afterwards belonged to Heber. It is notable that his sentimental episodes owed on the whole less to his reading than his humorous episodes. But he knew thoroughly the so-called pathetic romance of ‘Le Doyen de Coleraine,’ and he assimilated some of the wearisome sentiment of Marivaux's ‘Le Paysan Parvenu’ which was popular in Mrs. Eliza Haywood's English translation (1735). Sterne's most widely known apophthegm, ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb’ (Sentimental Journey), was a Languedoc proverb which had often been in print in France (cf. John Ferriar , Illustrations of Sterne, London, 1798; Warrington, 1812, 2 vols.). Doubt is admissible whether Uncle Toby owes much (as has been suggested) to the Commodore Trunnion of Smollett's ‘Peregrine Pickle’ (cf. Anna Seward, Letters, ii. 30 Oct. 1788). Another tradition represents Uncle Toby as a portrait of one Captain Hinde of Preston Castle, Hertfordshire, a neighbour of Lord Dacre, who occasionally entertained Sterne (Macmillan's Mag. July 1873, p. 238). But after all Sterne's thefts have been admitted, it is clear that his wealth alike of humour, sensibility, and dramatic instinct enabled him to steal material from all quarters without obscuring his individuality. His style was his own. At its best it is, in Hazlitt's words, ‘the most rapid, the most happy, the most idiomatic of any that is to be found. It is the pure essence of English conversational style.’ It is seen to best advantage throughout the ‘Sentimental Journey.’ In ‘Tristram Shandy’ he at times descends into the rambling incoherence of the buffoon. But his habit of abrupt transition from one topic to another maintains the interest of patient readers. In both books his impertinent grossness occasionally causes irritation. In spite of his trick of masking his predilection for double-entendre by a free use of aposiopesis, his words are often as indecent as his thoughts.
Sterne's sermons are as a rule professional efforts on common-sense lines, and mainly interest the literary critic by the perspicuity, orderliness, and restrained eloquence of which they prove his literary style to be capable. He claimed that they were ‘dramatic’ (Tristram, ii. 231), and admitted that passages were stolen. His careless philosophy of life and his impatience of gravity led him into other incongruities which tend to profanity. The parable of the prodigal son suggests to him remarks on the advantages of foreign travel, and the desirability of confiding one's son when on the grand tour to a tutor of gentlemanly habits and worldly experience. Cardinal Newman admitted Sterne's eloquence when quoting from his sermon (xlii) on the literary value of the bible (Newman, Idea of a University, 1889, pp. 270–2).
But after full account has been taken of Sterne's numerous deflections from the paths of literary rectitude—of his indecency, his buffoonery, his mawkishness, his plagiarisms, his wanton digressiveness—he remains, as the author of ‘Tristram Shandy,’ a delineator of the comedy of human life before whom only three or four humorous writers, in any tongue or of any age, can justly claim precedence. Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Dr. Slop, Mr. and Mrs. Shandy, Obadiah, and the Widow Wadman are of the kin—however the degrees of kinship may be estimated—of Pantagruel and Don Quixote, of Falstaff and Juliet's Nurse, of Monsieur Jourdain and Tartuffe. For the guerilla warfare that he incidentally waged in his own freakish fashion throughout the novel on the pedantries and pretences of learning he deserves many of the honours that have been paid to Pope and Swift. No modern writer has shown a more certain touch in transferring to his canvas commonplace domestic scenes which only a master's hand can invest with point or interest. It is this kind of power especially that glorifies ‘A Sentimental Journey.’ Defects due to the author's overstrained sensibility practically count for nothing against the artistic and finished beauty of the series of vignettes which Sterne, by his sureness of insight and descriptive faculty, created in ‘A Sentimental Journey’ out of the simplest and most pedestrian episodes of travel.
Apart from ‘The Case of Elijah, a charity sermon,’ 1747; ‘The Abuses of Conscience,’ 1750; and ‘The Political Romance,’ 1769; Sterne's authentic works (with eighteenth-century reprints) are: 1. ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,’ vols. i. and ii. York, 1759 (2nd edit. London, 1760, with plate by Hogarth); vols. iii. and iv. 1761, with a second plate by Hogarth; vols. v. and vi. 1762; vols. vii. and viii. 1765; vol. ix. 1767. The volumes of the original edition numbered v. vii. and ix. often bear Sterne's genuine autograph on the title-page. The first collective edition, in nine 12mo volumes, appeared in 1767, and the second in 1768. Other editions were, 1777, 6 vols.; 1779, 2 vols. 2. ‘Sermons of Mr. Yorick,’ London, 1760, vols. i. and ii. 12mo (2nd edit. 1763, Dublin, 1761); vols. iii. and iv. 1766; vols. v. vi. and vii. 1769. Reissues appeared in 1775 and 1777, 6 vols.; 1779, 2 vols.; 1784, and 1787. 3. ‘A Sentimental Journey,’ 1768, 2 vols. 12mo; 1778, 2 vols. 12mo; 1792, with six plates after Stothard. 4. ‘Letters from Yorick to Eliza,’ 1775 (Feb.) 5. ‘Twelve Letters to his Friends on various occasions, to which is added his history of a watch-coat, with explanatory notes,’ London (July), 1775 (letters iv–xi are of very doubtful authenticity). 6. ‘Letters of the Late Reverend Laurence Sterne to his most intimate friends, with a fragment in the manner of Rabelais [apparently a first draft of a projected scene in ‘Tristram’], to which are prefixed memoirs of his life and family, written by himself, published by his daughter, Lydia Sterne de Medalle,’ 1775 (Oct.) 7. ‘Seven Letters written by Sterne and his Friends [two only by Sterne],’ edited by W. Durrant Cooper, 1844 (privately printed).
Several volumes of extracts appeared under such titles as ‘Sterne's Witticisms’ or ‘The Beauties of Sterne’ (1783). The latter reached a tenth edition in 1787, and was often reissued.
The first collected edition of Sterne's works appeared in Dublin in 7 vols. in 1779. It was dedicated to Eugenius [i.e. John Hall-Stevenson], and includes the spurious ‘Koran,’ but no letters were admitted. A fifth Dublin edition in five 12mo volumes, ‘with additions,’ omitted the ‘Koran’ and included Madame de Medalle's letters. The best early collected edition appeared in London, with all the genuine letters and a few (Nos. 129–31) of doubtful authenticity, in 10 vols. in 1780, with plates by Hogarth; the ‘Sentimental Journey’ has plates by E. Edwards. Another issue in 1780, in 5 vols., included Eugenius's continuation of the ‘Journey.’ Other early collected editions of authenticity are dated 1788, 1793, 1803, and 1810. A complete edition in two volumes, edited by Dr. J. P. Browne, appeared in 1873, in 2 vols., with much of the newly recovered correspondence. An edition (6 vols.) with selected sermons, and without the newly recovered letters, was edited by Mr. George Saintsbury in 1894 (the paged references to ‘Tristram’ and the ‘Journey’ in this article are to the reprints in this edition).
A French translation of the complete works, by F. Michel, appeared at Paris in 1835. The ‘Sentimental Journey’ was translated by Frénais (Liège, 1770, often reprinted), by J. Janin (Paris, 1854), by A. Hédouin (Paris, 1875), and by E. Blémont (with Leloir's illustrations, 1884). ‘Tristram’ appeared in French by Frénais (London, 1784), by L. de Wailly (Paris, 1842), and by A. Hédouin (1890–1). The ‘Sentimental Journey’ has also appeared in German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Russian. A German translation of ‘Tristram’ appeared at Leipzig in 1801. An Italian translation of the ‘Sermons’ by Campagnona appeared at Milan in 1833. The ‘Letters’ have also been rendered into Germana (Leipzig, 1776).
Of Sterne's manuscripts, the British Museum owns the first half (vol. i.) of the ‘Sentimental Journey,’ with autograph corrections (Egerton MS. 1610), and the whole of the ‘Journal to Eliza’ (Addit. MS. 34527). The draft of the story of Le Fever in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ which Sterne sent to Lord Spencer, has notes in his handwriting; it is still at Spencer House. A copy of the ‘Sentimental Journey,’ in the same hand as Lord Spencer's transcript from ‘Tristram Shandy,’ belongs to Sir Andrew Agnew, bart., of Lochnaw Castle, Stranraer. An autograph manuscript of Sterne's sermon on ‘The temporal advantages of religion’ (vol. v. No. 1), which formerly belonged to Henry Fauntleroy [q. v.], was the property of Frederick Locker-Lampson at Rowfant. The original copy of only one of Sterne's letters to Eliza has been preserved—the first in the series; it belongs to Lord Basing, at Hoddington. Several letters in Sterne's autograph are in the British Museum; others belong to Sir George Wombwell, or are in the Alfred Morrison collection.
[Material, previously unpublished, containing much new information, has been utilised for this article. John Croft, who was brought up under Sterne at Stillington, and was a younger brother of Stephen Croft, Sterne's intimate friend there, collected from the humourist's acquaintances about York a series of anecdotes respecting his career in the north, which he forwarded to Caleb Whitefoord in letters dated from York in August 1795 and June 1796. These letters remain in manuscript among the archives of the Whitefoord family, and were first published in the Whitefoord Papers which Mr. W. A. S. Hewins edited for the Clarendon Press in 1898. Three slight anecdotes of Sterne, which have been neglected by Sterne's biographers, also figure in John Croft's Scrapeana, 1792, pp. 22, 25, 33. The parochial registers of Sutton, Stillington, and Coxwold have been perused by the present writer. Two long unpublished letters from Sterne to Lord Fauconberg, one dated Paris, 10 April 1762, and the other Montpellier, 30 Sept. 1763, with a letter respecting Sterne's life at Coxwold, from Lord Fauconberg's agent, Richard Chapman, dated 25 Sept. 1761, have been copied by kind permission of their owner, Sir George Wombwell of Newburgh Priory. Two other unpublished letters to Becket the bookseller, one dated Toulouse, 12 March 1763, and the other Paris, 20 March 1764, are in the Alfred Morrison collection. The unpublished Journal to Eliza was for many years in the possession of Mr. Thomas Washbourne Gibbs of Bath, who lent it to Thackeray in 1851 when he was lecturing on Sterne. Thackeray made small use of it. On Mr. Gibbs's death, in 1894, it passed under his will to the British Museum. It is now numbered Addit. 34527, ff. 1–40; letters from Sterne to Daniel Draper and to the Jameses are attached to it (ff. 45–6). The former is printed by Mr. Fitzgerald, apparently from a description of Mr. Gibbs's Sterne MSS. supplied to the Athenæum on 30 March 1878; the latter appears somewhat mutilated in Sterne's published correspondence. A letter from Mrs. Draper to her friend Mrs. James, dated Bombay, 15 April 1772, covering twenty-four folios, is also bound up with the unpublished Journal at the British Museum (Addit. MS. 34527, ff. 47–70). Other unpublished sources for Mrs. Draper's career are thirteen letters from her to members of her father's family, belonging to Lord Basing, who descends from Richard Sclater, a brother of May Sclater, Mrs. Draper's father; Lord Basing has kindly supplied copies for the purposes of this article. The first, dated Bombay, 13 March 1758, was written before her marriage, and is signed Eliza Sclater; the latest is dated from Rajahmundry, 20 Jan. 1774. The letter from Mrs. Draper from Tellichery in 1769, which was printed in the Journal of Indian Art, is now in the British Museum. Those printed in the Times of India in 1894, which are in private hands in Bombay, were communicated by Mr. James Douglas of Bombay. The earliest biographical notice of Sterne, apart from a notice by ‘Sir’ John Hill in the newspapers of 1760, is by his friend Hall-Stevenson, prefixed to the spurious continuation of the Sentimental Journey (1769). Sterne's daughter, Madame Medalle, supplied in her collection of Sterne's letters (1775) a brief autobiographic fragment of great value. Both Tristram Shandy and the Sentimental Journey abound in autobiographic material. Thomas Gill's Vallis Eboracensis collects local information from Coxwold and the neighbourhood.
The only full life of Sterne is by Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, which was published in 1864 (2 vols.), and was reissued somewhat condensed, but with much new information—mainly derived from manuscript letters in the British Museum—in 1896 (2 vols.). Not all the old errors are corrected in the new edition. Laurence Sterne, sa personne et ses ouvrages, étude précédée d'un Fragment inédit de Sterne (Paris, 1870), is a valuable piece of expository criticism and biography by M. Paul Stapfer. Mr. H. D. Traill's Life of Sterne, in the Men of Letters series, supplies no new information, but some sensible criticism. The chief English critical notices are Thackeray's lecture in his Lectures on the Humourists, an essay by the Rev. Whitwell Elwin in the Quarterly Review, 1854, xciv. 303–53, and Mr. Leslie Stephen's essay in his Hours in a Library, 1892, iii. 139–74. Among French critics it is worth noting that Voltaire devoted the whole of section iii., entitled De la Conscience trompeuse, of his article on conscience in his Dictionnaire Philosophique (ed. 1765), to an appreciative account of Shandy and of Sterne's insight into the character of David (Œuvres Complètes, Paris, 1838, vii. 369). In the Journal de Politique et de la Littérature, 25 April 1777, Voltaire condemned Sterne's ‘bouffonnerie continuelle dans le goût de Scarron.’ Notices by Montégut, Essais sur la Littérature Anglaise, p. 281; Scherer, Etudes Critiques, 1876, pp. 195–221; and Texte, Cosmopolitisme Littéraire, pp. 337–354, are also suggestive.]
Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.258
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line
|201||i||20 f.e.||Sterne, Laurence: for Ritson read Riston|
|202||i||12 f.e.||for MSS. read Charters|
|205||ii||27||for Totteston read Tollerton|
Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)
STERNE, LAURENCE (1713–1768), English humorist, was the son of Roger Sterne, an English officer, and great-grandson of an archbishop of York. Nearly all our information about the first forty-six years of his life before he became famous as the author of Tristram Shandy is derived from a short memoir jotted down by himself for the use of his daughter. It gives aothing but the barest facts, excepting three anecdotes about his infancy, his school days and his marriage. He was born at Clonmel, Ireland, on the 24th of November 1713, a few days after the arrival of his father's regiment from Dunkirk. The regiment was then disbanded, but very soon after re-established, and for ten years the boy and his mother moved from place to place after the regiment, from England to Ireland, and from one part of Ireland to another. The familiarity thus acquired with military life and character stood Sterne in good stead when he drew the portraits of Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim. After ten years of wandering, he was fixed for eight or nine years at a school at Halifax in Yorkshire. His father died when he was in his eighteenth year, and he was indebted for his university education to one of the members of his father's family. His great-grandfather the archbishop had been master of Jesus College, Cambridge, and to Jesus College he was sent. He was admitted to a sizarship in July 1733, took his B.A. degree in 1736 and proceeded M.A. in 1740. One of his uncles was precentor and canon of York. Young Sterne took orders, and through this uncle's influence obtained in 1738 the living of Sutton-in-the-Forest, some 8 m. north of York. Two years after his marriage in 1741 to a lady named Elizabeth Lumley he was presented to the neighbouring living of Stillington, and did duty at both places. He was also a prebendary of York Cathedral.
Sutton was Sterne's residence for twenty uneventful years. He kept up an intimacy which had begun at Cambridge with John Hall-Stevenson (1718-1785), a witty and accomplished epicurean, owner of Skelton Hall (" Crazy Castle ") in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire. Skelton Hall is nearly 40 m. from Sutton, but Sterne, in spite of his double duties, seems to have been a frequent visitor there, and to have found in his not too strait-laced friend a highly congenial companion. Sterne is said to have never formally become a member of the circle of gay squires and clerics at Skelton known as the " Demoni- acks"; but no doubt he shared their festivities. Stevenson's various occasional sallies in verse and prose â€” his Fables for Grown Gentlemen (1761-1770), his Crazy Tales (1762), and his numerous skits at the political opponents of Wilkes, among whose " macaronies" he numbered himself â€” were collected after his death, and it is impossible to read them without being struck with their close family resemblance in spirit and turn of thought to Sterne's work, inferior as they are in literary genius. Without Stevenson, Sterne would probably have been a more decorous parish priest, but he would probably never have written Tristram Shandy or left any other memorial of his singular genius. In 1747 Sterne published a sermon preached in York under the title of The Case of Elijah. This was followed in 1750 by The Abuses of Conscience, afterwards inserted in vol. ii. of Tristram Shandy. In 1759 he wrote a skit on a quarrel between Dean Fountayne and Dr Topham, a York lawyer, over the bestowal of an office in the gift of the archbishop. This sketch, in which Topham figures as Trim the sexton, and the author as Lorry Slim, gives an earnest of Sterne's powers as a humorist. It was not published until after his death, when it appeared in 1769 under the title of A Political Romance, and afterwards the History of a Warm Watch-Coat. The first two volumes of Tristram Shandy were issued at York in 1759 and advertised in London on the 1st of January 1760, and at once made a sensation. York was scandalized at its clergyman's indecency, and indignant at his caricature as " Slop " of a local physician (Dr John Burton); London was charmed with his audacity, wit and graphic uncon- ventional power. He went to London early in the year to enjoy his triumph, and found himself at once a personage in society â€” â– was called upon and invited out by lion-hunters, was taken to Windsor by Lord Rockingham, and had the honour of supping with the duke of York.
For the last eight years of his life after this sudden leap out of obscurity we have a faithful record of Sterne's feelings and movements in letters to various persons, published in 1775 by his sole child and daughter, Lydia Sterne de Medalle, and in the Letters from Yorick to Eliza (1766-1767), also published in 1775. At the end of the sermon in Tristram he had intimated that, if this sample of Yorick's pulpit eloquence was liked, " there are now in the possession of the Shandy family as many as will make a handsome volume, at the world's service, and much good may they do it." Accordingly, when a second edition of the first instalment of Tristram was called for in three months, two volumes of Sermons by Yorick were announced. Although they had little or none of the eccentricity of the history, they proved almost as popular. Sterne's clerical character was far from being universally injured by his indecorous freaks as a humorist: Lord Fauconberg presented the author of Tristram Shandy with the perpetual curacy of Coxwold. To this new residence he went in high spirits with his success, " fully deter- mined to write as hard as could be," seeing no reason why he should not give the public two volumes of Shandyism every year and why this should not go on for forty years. By the beginning of August 1760 he had another volume written, and was so " delighted with Uncle Toby's imaginary character that he was become an enthusiast." The author's delight in this wonderful creation was not misleading; it has been fully shared by every generation of readers since. For two years in succession Sterne kept his bargain with himself to provide two volumes a year. Vols. iii. and iv. appeared in 1761; vols. v. and vi. in January 1762. But his sanguine hopes of continuing at this rate were frustrated by ill-health. He was ordered to the south of France; it was two years and a half before he returned; and he came back with very little accession of strength. His reception by literary circles in France was very flattering. He was overjoyed with it. " 'Tis comme d Londres," he wrote to Garrick from Paris; " I have just now a fortnight's dinners and suppers upon my hands." Through all his pleasant experiences of French society, and through the fits of dangerous illness by which they were diversified, he continued to build up his history of the Shandy family, but the work did not progress as rapidly as it had done. Not till January 1765 was he ready with the fourth instalment of two volumes; and one of them, vol. vii., leaving the Shandy family for a time, gave a lively sketch of the writer's own travels to the south of France in search of health. This was a digression of a new kind, if any- thing can be called a digression in a work the plan of which is to fly off at a tangent whenever and wherever the writer's whim tempts him. In the first volume, anticipating an obvious com- plaint, he had protested against digressions that left the main work to stand still, and had boasted â€” not without justice in a Shandean sense â€” that he had reconciled digressive motion with progressive. But in vol. vii. the work is allowed to stand still while the writer is being transported from Shandy Hall to Languedoc. The only progress we make is in the illustration of the buoyant and joyous temper of Tristram himself, who, after all, is a member of the Shandy family, and was due a volume for the elucidation of his character. Vol. viii. begins the long- promised story of Uncle Toby's amours with the Widow Wadman. After seeing to the publication of this instalment of Tristram and of another set of sermons â€” more pronouncedly Shandean in their eccentricity â€” he quitted England again in the summer of 1765, and tavelled in Italy as far as Naples. The ninth and last and shortest volume of Tristram, concluding the episode of Toby Shandy's amours, appeared in 1767. This despatched, Sterne turned to a new project, which had probably been sug- gested by the ease and freedom with which he had moved through the travelling volume in Tristram. The Sentimental Journey through France and Italy was intended to be a long work: the plan admitted of any length that the author chose, but, after seeing the first two volumes through the press in the early months of 1768, Sterne's strength failed him, and he died in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street on the 18th of March, three weeks after the publication. The loneliness of his end has often been com- mented on; it was probably due to its unexpectedness. He had pulled through so many sharp attacks of his "vile influenza" and other lung disorders that he began to be seriously alarmed only three days before his death. Sterne's character defies analysis in brief space. It is too subtle and individual to be conveyed in general terms. For comments upon him from points of view more or less diverse the reader may be referred to Thackeray's Humourists, Professor Masson's British Novelists (1859), and H. D. Traill's sketch in the " English Men of Letters " Series. The fullest biography is Mr Percy Fitzgerald's (1864). But the reader who cares to have an opinion about Sterne should hesitate till he has read and re-read in various moods considerable portions of Sterne's own writing. This writing is so singularly frank and unconventional that its drift is not at once apparent to the literary student. The indefensible indecency and overstrained sentimentality are on the surface; but after a time every repellent defect is forgotten in the enjoyment of the exquisite literary art. In the delineation of character by graphically significant speech and action, introduced at unexpected turns, left with happy audacity to point their own meaning, and pointing it with a force that the dullest cannot but understand, he takes rank with the very greatest masters. In Toby Shandy he has drawn a character universally lovable and admirable; but Walter Shandy is almost greater as an artistic triumph, considering the difficulty of the achievement. Dr Ferriar, in his Illustrations of Sterne (published in 1798), pointed out several unacknowledged plagiarisms from Rabelais, Burton and others; but it is only fair to the critic to say that he was fully aware that they were only plagiarisms of material, and do not detract in the slightest from Sterne's reputation as one of the greatest of literary artists.
A revised edition of Mr Percy Fitzgerald's Life of Sterne, containing much new information, appeared in 1896. There is also a valuable study of Sterne by M. Paul Stapfer (1870, 2nd ed., 1882) ; and many fresh particulars as to Sterne's relations with his wife and daughter, and also with the lady known as " Eliza " (Mrs Elizabeth Draper), are collected in Mr Sidney Lee's article in the Dict. Nat. Biog. Sterne's original journal to Mrs Draper (" The Bramine's Journal "), after she had gone back to India, and extending from the 13th of April to the 4th of August 1767, is now in the department of MSS., British Museum (addit. MS. 34,527). A convenient edition of Sterne's works, edited by Professor George Saintsbury, was issued in six volumes in 1894. See also Wilbur L. Cross, The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne (New York, 1909) ; and Walter Sichel, Sterne: a Study (1910).
(W. M.; A. D.)