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Key Dates in Laurence Sterne’s Life

1595/6: birth of Richard Sterne (d.18 June 1683) who was elected Archbishop of York on 28 April 1664, having been Master of Jesus College, Cambridge (7 March 1634 – ejected March 1644; reinstated 1660). He established the finances of the Sterne family.

1713: 24 November, birth in Clonmel, County Tipperary, of Laurence Sterne, great-grandson of Archbishop Sterne, and the second of the seven offspring of Ensign Roger Sterne (c.1692–1731), and Agnes Nuttle (d. 1759), daughter of an army victualler. At six months of age Sterne was taken to the family seat at Elvington, where his paternal grandmother lived, but after a ten-month stay set off initially for Ireland again, where Sterne’s early years were spent following his father from one military camp to another: Dublin, Exeter via Plymouth, back to Dublin, the Isle of Wight, Wicklow for a year (1720), Animo, Dublin once more, and Carrickfergus.

1725: sent to school at Hipperholme near Halifax.

1731: 31 July, death of Roger Sterne at Port Antonio, Jamaica, probably of malaria.

1733: 6 July, registered as a student at Jesus College, Cambridge, where his great-grandfather had been the Master. Sterne was a sizar, a student whose living costs were subsidised in return for engaging in various menial duties, though in his Memoir he claimed he was sent to university by his uncle, Richard Sterne of Elvington.

1737: January, graduates from Jesus College; 6 March, ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln and installed as assistant curate in St Ives, Huntingdon.

1738: 18 February, installed as assistant curate at Catton, East Riding of Yorkshire; August, ordained priest, and inducted as vicar of Sutton-on-the-Forest, North Riding of Yorkshire.

1740: 12 February, officiates at the wedding of his university friend, John Hall of Skelton Castle, to Anne Stevenson: Hall takes the name Hall-Stevenson; July, takes the degree of Master of Arts at Cambridge.

1741: 19 January, installed in York Minster as prebendary of Givendale, (near Ripon, North Riding of Yorkshire); 30 March, marries Elizabeth Lumley; June 1741-July 1742, involved with the County of York by-election, mainly writing minor pieces of journalism for the York Courant and York Gazetteer in support of the Whig candidate, Cholmley Turner, in a campaign carefully orchestrated by Dr Jaques Sterne, Laurence’s uncle.

1742: 8 January, installed in York Minster as prebendary of North Newbald (East Riding of Yorkshire); 27 July, publicly announces his defection from the political group led by his uncle in the York Courant, No 867.

1743: July, Sterne’s poem ‘The Unknown World’ published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, and reprinted in The Scots Magazine the same month.

1744: 14 March, installed as vicar of Stillington in addition to his living at Sutton-on-the-Forest; November, starts a not very successful career as a farmer on the Tindal Farm in Sutton, which continues until 1758.

1745: 1 October, his first daughter, Lydia, dies within 24 hours of birth.

1745-6: engages in journalism again during the Jacobite Rebellion, writing at least one separately published pamphlet.

1747: Good Friday (31 March), preached a charity sermon in St Michael-le-Belfry, York, The Case of Elijah and the Widow of Zerephath; 1 December, birth of a daughter, also named Lydia (1747-1780).

1750: 29 July, preached the assize sermon in York Minster; 29 December, appointed commissary of the Peculiar Court of Alne and Tollerton (North Riding of Yorkshire), which meant Sterne sat in judgment in the church court. Appointed by the Earl of Fauconberg, who lived at Newburgh Priory, Coxwold.

1751: wrote a Latin sermon for John Fountayne, Dean of York, to submit to the University of Cambridge in order to receive the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This sermon does not appear to have survived. 12 July, appointed by Dr Fountayne to the commissaryship of the Peculiar Court of Pickering and Pocklington (East Riding of Yorkshire). Sterne’s mother, Agnes, committed to prison for debt. These last two events were to create subsequent difficulties.

1758: abandons farming at Tindal Farm; Sterne’s wife, Elizabeth, shows signs of mental instability; December, collaborates with John Fountayne on a manuscript account of the Dean’s dealings, ten years earlier, with the Archbishop’s church lawyer, Dr Francis Topham, and, 29 December, in the publication of An answer to a letter address’d to the Dean of York, in the name of Dr. Topham.

1759: late January, A Political Romance, based upon the previous month’s published exchanges between Fountayne and Topham, published and almost immediately withdrawn and destroyed on the orders of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Gilbert. Only six copies are known to have survived. 3 March, completes the manuscript Memoir of his life for his daughter Lydia; starts work on Tristram Shandy; 23 May, offers the manuscript to the London publisher, Robert Dodsley, but is rebuffed; 18 December, the first two volumes are printed in a small edition at York.

1760: 21 March – 21 April, in London Sterne’s sits for his portrait by Joshua Reynolds. 28 March, Sterne is preferred to the living of Coxwold by the Earl of Fauconberg; 2 April, second edition of first two volumes of Tristram Shandy published by R. and J. Dodsley, with new frontispiece by Hogarth; 22 May, first two volumes of The Sermons of Mr Yorick published by Robert and James Dodsley, with a subscription list of 642 subscribing for 677 copies, names include Garrick, Thomas Hollis, Hogarth, Reynolds, ‘Athenian’ Stuart, and John Wilkes, M.P. December, returns to London with MS of volumes 3 and 4 of Tristram Shandy.

1761: 28 January, R. and J. Dodsley publish volumes 3 and 4 of Tristram Shandy, with a frontispiece by Hogarth; August, Sterne redesigns and supervises internal alterations to St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, and preaches an extempore coronation sermon to a congregation many of whom have to stand in the choir and aisle because of the numbers present; 21 December, publication of volumes 5 and 6 of Tristram Shandy by his new publishers, Thomas Becket and P. A. Dehondt, Sterne signs all known copies of volume V.

1762: towards the end of January, travels to Paris; 8 July, Mrs Sterne and Lydia join him in Paris; late July – early August, the three travel to Toulouse for the winter.

1763: until at least 12 June, in Toulouse; 15 July, in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, a French commune in the south-western Hautes-Pyrénées; by 30 September, in Montpellier.

1764: till at least 1 February, in Montpellier; leaving wife and daughter in the south of France, Sterne heads north to Paris, preaching in the ambassador’s chapel, 25 March, and staying in Paris until at latest 19 May, before returning to Yorkshire; continues Tristram Shandy.

1765: 23 January, Becket and Dehondt publish volumes 7 and 8 of Tristram Shandy, with Sterne’s signature in volume 7; Sterne stays in London (though in Bath, 6-15 April) and solicits subscriptions for two more volumes of sermons; May, returns to Yorkshire; 7 October, London, then crosses the Channel again, briefly staying in Paris, including 19 October, where he meets D’Holbach, Diderot, John Wilkes, Samuel Foote and Horace Walpole, and travels over the Alps to Turin (15-28 November), Milan, Florence (by 18 December), where he meets Thomas Patch, who subsequently drew two cartoons of Sterne, and Rome, where Joseph Nollekens sculpts a fine marble bust of Sterne, which after Sterne’s death was reproduced in marble and plaster versions.

1766: January-March, in Naples; by 17 March, in Rome, where he attended a service in the Sistine Chapel in Holy Week, on his way back to England, via a brief stopover with Mrs Sterne and Lydia near Dijon mid-May; 24 April, Becket and Dehondt publish volumes 3 and 4 of The Sermons of Mr Yorick, with a list of 693 subscribers, including Garrick, and, as evidence of his time in France, Crébillon, Diderot, d’Holbach and Voltaire; June, returns to Yorkshire.

1767: by 6 January, in London; 29 January, Becket and Dehondt publish volume 9 of Tristram Shandy, with Sterne’s signature; from January, Sterne engages in a romantic relationship with Mrs Eliza Draper, the wife of an official in the East India Company. She is in England for the sake of her health. 3 April, Mrs Draper returns to India; Sterne starts a semi-fictitious journal, part of which survives in MS in the British Library (BL Addit. MSS 34527, ff. 1-40); on an unknown date, before 18 June, Sterne returns to Coxwold to write A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. By Mr Yorick; October, Mrs Sterne and Lydia join him in Coxwold.

1768: 27 February, A Sentimental Journey published by Becket and Dehondt in February, in an edition of 2500, with a list of 281 names, subscribing for 334 copies, of which 132 on ‘Imperial Paper’, some copies also contain an advertisement in which Sterne acknowledges that there should be a further two volumes, which the subscribers have paid for, and promises to deliver them within the year; 18 March, Sterne dies in lodgings in Old Bond Street, his death witnessed by John Macdonald, footman to John ‘Fish’ Craufurd; 22 March, is buried, his corpse is stolen, delivered to the Anatomy School at Cambridge University, where the body is recognised on the dissecting table, and after a demonstration craniotomy is returned to the London burial ground; 12 April, ‘All the household goods and furniture of the late Mr. Sterne’ sold by auction at Shandy Hall; 23 August, Todd and Sotheran, booksellers in Stonegate, York, hold an auction which includes, they claim, the ‘Entire Library of the late Reverend and Learned Laurence Sterne.’

1769: June, volumes 5-7 of sermons published by Becket, with a list of 699 names, subscribing for 738 copies – there are reasonable doubts about the accuracy of this subscription list which was compiled by Mrs Sterne and Lydia; Mrs Sterne and Lydia return to France.

1773: 13 January, death of Mrs Sterne at Albi.

1775: October, Lydia Sterne, having married Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre-Anne Médalle (28 April, 1772), returns to London to publish her unreliable and disreputably edited Letters of the late Rev Mr Laurence Sterne, to his most intimate friends, manuscript evidence for much of which does not exist; the volumes, published by Becket also contain her unauthorised revision and expansion of her father’s ‘Memoir’, together with ‘An impromptu’ and an expurgated version of his ‘Rabelaisian fragment.’

1969: 8 June, reburial of what are claimed to be Sterne’s remains in the churchyard of St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, following the Church Commissioners’ decision to develop the burial ground at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Compiled by Dr W.G. Day