Lanrence Sterne, an English author, born in.Clonmel, Ireland, Nov. 24, 1713, died in London, March 18, 1768. His parents were English, and his father, Roger Sterne, was a lieutenant in Handaside's regiment, the movements of which, "from barrack to transport, from Ireland to England," young Laurence followed until his 10th year, when he was put to school at Halifax in England. He graduated at Cambridge in 1736, took orders, and was presented to the living of Sutton in Yorkshire. In 1741 he married, and about the same time obtained the living of Stillington, adjoining Sutton, while his uncle procured him a prebend in York cathedral. For nearly 20 years his only acknowledged publications were two sermons, although he wrote political paragraphs for the newspapers, and is said to have conducted for some time a periodical electioneering paper in the whig interest. In 1759 he published at York, under the pseudonyme of "Mr. Yorick," the first two volumes of " Tristram Shandy," which were reprinted in London early in 1760. The 3d and 4th volumes appeared in 1761, the 5th and 6th in 1762, the 7th and 8th in 1765, and the 9th in 1767. Long before the completion of the work, the charm and the novelty of the style, the whimsical digressions, the exquisite touches of pathos and humor, and its many admirably conceived characters, had taken an extraordinary hold upon the public, and Sterne ranked with Fielding and Richardson and Smollett as a great writer of prose fiction.
He was lionized in London, where people were invited a fortnight in advance to dine with him; and Boswell has recorded Johnson's remark that " the man, Sterne, had engagements for three months." The erudition which so greatly astonished the not very learned readers who welcomed the appearance of "Tristram Shandy" will, however, scarcely stand the test of modern criticism, and it has been shown by Dr. Ferriar, in his " Illustrations of Sterne " (1798), that the quaint imagery and the quainter conceits scattered through the book were largely borrowed from Rabelais, Burton, and other authors. But after making liberal allowances for plagiarisms, his Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Mr. Shandy, Dr. Slop, and Widow Wadman must be considered among the most original personages in fiction. In 1760 and 1766, during the publication of " Tristram Shandy," appeared four volumes of sermons, also by "Mr. Yorick." In 1760 Sterne received an additional living at Coxwold in Yorkshire, and took a house in York for his wife and daughter, but passed most of his own time in London or on the continent. In 1762 he visited France, and in 1764 went to Italy for his health. Returning to York in 1767 he wrote the first and only part of " The Sentimental Journey," and took it to London for publication.
Soon after its appearance he died without a friend near him, and was privately buried at Edge ware. In 1775 his daughter Lydia published three volumes of his " Letters to his Friends," accompanied by a short autobiographical memoir; and in the same year appeared " Letters to Eliza," consisting of ten letters addressed by Sterne in March and April, 1767, to "Mrs. Elizabeth Draper, wife of Daniel Draper, Esq., counsellor at Bombay, and at present chief of the factory at Surat," and another collection of letters in one volume. " Seven Letters by Sterne and his Friends," edited by W. Durrant Cooper, were privately printed in 1844. The most complete edition of Sterne's works was edited by James P. Browne, M. D., and comprises in an appendix 13 letters hitherto unpublished (4 vols. 8vo, London, 1873). - Of the personal character of Sterne, as seen in his life and letters, no favorable impression can be formed. The latter show him to have been indifferent to the duties of his profession, lax in principle, a bad husband, a faithless lover, offering his affections to two or three married women at once, the dupe of every coarse flatterer, and false to his professions of virtue or sensibility.