The letters to Eliza have recently been published in The Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne Vol 8. The Letters Part II 1765-1768 University Press of Florida ed. Melvyn New and Peter de Voogd 2009.
The letters are not the only testament to their relationship. Weeks before their separation, Sterne began writing a journal. It is mentioned in the fifth letter to Eliza. This journal begins thus:
This Journal wrote under the fictitious Names of Yorick & Draper––and sometimes of the Bramin & Bramine–– but tis a Diary of the miserable feelings of a person separated from a Lady for whose Society he languish’d––
He continued to write this Journal for many months and the last entry is dated
1 November 1767:
––And now Eliza! Let me talk to thee––But What can I say, of What can I write––But the Yearnings of heart wasted with looking & wishing for thy Return––Return––Return! my dear Eliza! May heaven smooth the Way for thee to send thee safely…
Here he reached the bottom of a leaf. In the top right corner of the next, in small letters, is written:
to us, & soj[ourn] for Ever.
The manuscript was found in a room of a house in Bath by an eleven-year-old boy, Thomas Washbourne Gibbs. Thomas recognised Sterne’s name and salvaged the Journal from the pile of papers that were used as spills to light candles. Gibbs became an expert on Sterne and in 1894 he bequeathed the MS to the British Museum. All of Sterne’s letters to Eliza are on display. And one other written by Eliza to her cousin whilst on board the Earl of Chatham.
‘From the vilest Spot of earth I ever saw & inhabited by the ugliest of Beings––I greet my beloved Cousin––St. Jago the Place––a Charming passage to it. fair winds and fine Weather all the way. ––Health too, my friend, is once more return’d to her enthusiastic Votary. I am all life and spirits––who’d have thought it, considering me in the light of an Exile––and how do you do my Sclater ? and how sat the thoughts of my departure on your eyes ? and how the reality of it ? I want you to answer me a thousand questions––yet hope not of an answer to them for many many months.––I am agreably situated with regard to a Captain––he is polite worthy and good humoured––the officers … but Miss Light my associate and Ship Mate (the latter of course if she is the former) very pretty––well behaved and sensible, so that I hope to be as happy as it is possible for a person so circumstanced to be. Did you receive a letter I wrote you from the Downs with a copy of one inclosed from Sterne to me with his sermons and Shandy ? I sent such to you.––
Notwithstanding the Bagatelle air I give myself my heart heaves with sighs and my eyes betray its agitating Emotions, every time I think of England and my valuable Connecions there––ah my Sclater I almost wish, I had not revisited that Charming Country, or that it had been my fate, to have resided in it for ever––but in the first Instance, the Lords Will has been done––mine I hope may be accomplished in the second.
How do you go on with your Savages ? rail not at me for styling them such, because they are not so by profession––believe me, a natural Characer of that sort is infinitely worse than a profess’d one. ––Are you and Harcourt friends ? ––what the deuce could you be cool or formal about ? Men friends to men––believe me I laugh as much at the Idea of it when their interest comes in competition––as I should at a couple of females swearing unalterable amity and good Will in ernest, on a Pyramid of Glass––till the fabric (brittle as their friendship) was broke––how long think you it would stand, if a pretty fellow (which they both liked) was to intervene, and tell each fair that the price of his vows was the Demolition of the sacred or sarcastic Alter ? think you both Helens would not endeavour to win a Paris by such a sacrifice––believe me they would––and ridicule not the Policy of our sex––we give up friends to lovers ‘tis true––but you give them to things inanimate––for Money or dirty Earth will at any time purchase them of ye––such sordid Wretches ye are. ––When I consider ye in that Miserly light I hate ye all, ye all.––
I have nothing more to say, I have no news to send but that you shall hear of me whenever I have an opportunity. That is no news either––nor is it a compliment––for I love ye so well, that I should debar myself of a pleasure if I refrained from it & that you know––if you’ve any faith in my sincerity. Adieu my Sclater––Merry be your Heart––and health, love and a competence your portion and I am, and ever shall be y’r affecionate’
Earl Chatham 2d May 1767