Painting of Laurence Sterne at Shandy Hall

Laurence Sterne (1713 - 1768)

Novelist, born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland. Laurence Sterne came of a distinguished family, though he gained no advantage from it, and, having been born in Ireland where his father was stationed, he spent his youth first as a camp-follower and then as a schoolboy in Yorkshire under the guardianship of his uncle. At Cambridge, where he was a poor discontented scholar, he became friendly with John Hall-Stevenson who later in life placed at his disposal a large private library and encouraged him to join the carousing and crack-brained fun of a club called the Demoniacs which met at Crazy Castle.

Apart from these bouts of conviviality, Sterne was ordained in 1738 and settled to his career as a conscientious country parson who earned some reputation both as a wit and as a preacher. Despite his growing fame in Yorkshire, he gained no ecclesiastical promotion; he became estranged from his wife, and she eventually suffered from mental collapse.

In 1759, under such melancholy circumstances, he wrote he wrote the first two volumes of his eccentric and influential comic novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. These were issued locally at his own expense; soon, however, they were so popular in London itself that he was able to obtain a contract for a new volume each year during the rest of his life.

The remaining volumes appearing between 1761 and 1767. Unfortunately, success had barely reached him when tuberculosis showed itself. From 1762 he lived mainly abroad for health reasons, there he was feted by influential people as a man with a European reputation. A second trip in search of health resulted in A Sentimental Journey in 1768, a jocose mixture of travel, gossip and novel spiced with oddity yet sweetened with sentimentalism. It was while he was in London supervising the publication of this book that he suffered a sudden relapse and died.

His Letters from Yorick to Eliza (1775-1779) contained his correspondence with a young married woman to whom he was devoted.