‘I have nothing to bequeath, which will pay the expense of bequeathing, except the history of myself, which I could not die in peace, unless I left it as a legacy to the world’. A Sentimental Journey
In February 1768 Laurence Sterne published A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. A few weeks later, this mercurial author died.
A Sentimental Journey’s narrator, Parson Yorick, was seemingly resurrected from the pages of Sterne’s earlier Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67), and from the title-page of volumes of his own sermons.
Tristram Shandy’s enormous success was replicated in the rapturous response to Sterne’s second fictional venture, which takes its narrator on a mock-Grand Tour; now, however, Yorick favours the touching encounters of the sentimental traveller over visiting famous landmarks and sites.
Shortly after A Sentimental Journey’s publication, Sterne died at the age of 54. Many readers mourned the passing of ‘poor Yorick’, as author and fictional creations became entwined in a popular consciousness which simultaneously laughed with Tristram, Yorick, and Sterne, and wept at the most affecting moments they described.
200 years later Laurence Sterne’s remains – already subject to an episode of body-snatching shortly after his death – were disinterred from their resting place in St George’s, Hanover Square, whose graveyard was to undergo redevelopment. A group of scholars and enthusiasts grouped together to re-inter Sterne at St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, Yorkshire – the author-clergyman’s former parish and home, which was saved from destruction thanks to the formation of the Laurence Sterne Trust. Shandy Hall is now a museum dedicated to preserving Sterne’s legacy, and to promoting its endurance in new creative and educational enterprises.
A host of academic activities throughout 2018 marked the 250-year anniversary of the publication of A Sentimental Journey and of Sterne’s death. Among them, a major international conference was held at Jesus College, Cambridge in March.
Scholarly study of Sterne, and general interest in both author and works, continues to thrive. The International Laurence Sterne Foundation and journal The Shandean provide important platforms for fostering academic work on Sterne, and for forging collaborative links between fellow Sterneans. Publications flourish, and Sterne is regularly represented at conferences dedicated to the author, and at conferences with broader themes.
2019 sees the next ILSF conference in Utrecht in November, and the launch of a two-year collaborative project to develop a Digital Library of Sterne’s work and of Sterneana, in collaboration with Cambridge University Library. Plans are underway for an essay collection that foregrounds the significance of A Sentimental Journey, due to be published later this year.
This site hopes to bring awareness of these activities to a wider audience with a view to broadening the Sternean community.