Laurence Sterne was an Eighteenth Century cleric and author of “Tristram Shandy”
When and Where was he Born?
24th November 1713, Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland where his father’s regiment was stationed.
Laurence Sterne was the son of a penniless Ensign in Chudleigh’s Regiment of Foot (although born a gentleman) under the and his wife Agnes (of relatively low birth). Great-grandson of Richard Sterne, Archbishop of York.
Hipperholme School, Halifax. Jesus College, Cambridge.
Chronology/Biography of Laurence Sterne:
1713: His father’s regiment was disbanded on the day of his birth and the family moved back to Yorkshire.
1723: Went to school in Halifax where he was taught Greek and Latin and stayed with his wealthy uncle Richard.
1727: Laurence Sterne’s father’s new regiment took part in the defence of Gibraltar. He received a wound in a duel over the theft of a goose and never fully recovered.
1731: Death of his father of a fever in Jamaica.
1733: Sterne went up to Cambridge where he studied mathematics and logic. He was more taken by literature and made a lifelong friend of fellow student John-Hall Stevenson. He ran up large debts whilst a student which were to dog him for some time.
1736: Receives a BA.
1737: Ordained a Deacon on the recommendation of his uncle Jaques who was Precentor and Canon of York.
1738: Laurence Sterne appointed vicar of Sutton-in-the-Forest, eight miles from York and was to live the life of a country parson for the next 28 years.
1740: Received an MA. Suffers from a hemorrhage of the lungs which was the first sign of his consumption.
1741–42: Sterne wrote political articles in support of Sir Robert Walpole for his uncle’s newspaper but soon had enough of politics and fell out with his uncle as well who was a staunch Whig.
1743: Took on the extra parish of Stillington. He was also a prebendary of York Minster.
1747: Birth of his daughter Lydia.
1758: His wife became temporarily insane when she found out about his affair with a maidservant and threatened suicide. She was taken away to a private house in York. He had failed in his attempts at farming. His own health was never good nor that of his daughter. It was around this time of melancholy that he started writing “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” which is one of the most joyful books in the English language.
1759: Death of his mother. Laurence Sterne wrote “A Political Romance” (later called “The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat”) to support his Dean which proved he could write but it also deeply upset the clergy who ordered it to be burned.,
1760: First two volumes of “Tristram Shandy” published in York and London and Sterne became famous overnight. He went to London and stayed in St Alban’s Street where visitors would flock to his rooms. He was also invited to all the most fashionable dinners in the capital and he became known as a witty speaker. His characters, loosely based on real people in York got him into trouble with local people and Doctor Johnson complained of the innuendo in the “Tristram Shandy.” Although Elizabeth’s state of mind improved Sterne stayed in London and fell in love with a French singer called Catherine Fourmantelle. In the summer he finally returned to Yorkshire and the family took on a cottage in Coxwold which he renamed Shandy Hall.
1761: Two more volumes of “Tristram Shandy” were published and he went to London to oversea their publication. He then went back to Shandy hall and completed the fifth and sixth volumes. In December he suffered a major hemorrhage of the lungs and he was advised to take a trip to the South of France for his health.
1762: Set out for Paris. He was accepted by polite society there as he had been in London and his wife and daughter finally followed him. They then moved on to Toulouse.
1763: They visited the Pyrenees and over wintered in Montpelier.
1764: He decided to return to England but Elizabeth and Lydia wanted to stay in France.
1765: The Seventh and Eighth volumes of Tristram Shandy” were published. He then went on a tour of France and Italy which he wrote about in his second novel “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy”. On his way back through France he met up with his wife who realised that she could live better without him.
1766: Sterne returned to England alone. His only companion now in Yorkshire was John Hall-Stevenson. He was now short of money having spent most of his earnings on foreign tours. Back in London in December he fell in love with Mrs Eliza Draper from Bombay. After two months she went home to Bombay but he never forgot her and wore her portrait around his neck.
1767: Laurence Sterne returned to Yorkshire and was visited by his wife and daughter. Sterne upped their allowance so that they could move back to the South of France and they were not with him when he died.
1747: Ordinary sermons
1750: Ordinary sermons
1759: “A Political Romance”. (The History of a Good Warm Watch Coat), “A Fragment in the Manner of Rabelais”
1760: “A Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy”.
1765: “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy”
1773: “Letters from Yorrick to Eliza”.
1775: “Letters to his Friends on Various Occasions”.
1741 to Elizabeth Lumley in York Minster.
When and Where did he Die?
18th March 1768, 41 Old Bond Street, London, England of consumption.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
Remains removed from St. George’s Burial Ground, Hanover Square, London, England when it was closed in 1969 to St. Michael’s Church, Coxwold, Yorkshire, England (A rumour persists that his body was stolen from London and sold for dissection to the professor of anatomy at Cambridge. His features were said to be recognised by a student at the dissecting table. His skeleton, it is said, was for a long time preserved in the anatomy school at Cambridge).
Places of Interest:
Sterne Museum at Shandy Hall, Coxwold, where Sterne Moved in 1760.