LAURENCE STERNE 1713 -
xxxxxThe English writer Laurence Sterne began his bawdy, off-
xxxxxThe English novelist and humorist Laurence Sterne, author of the bawdy, off-
xxxxxHis literary career began in 1759 when, to support his dean in an argument, he wrote a work entitled A Political Romance, later known as The History of a Good Warm Watch-
xxxxxThe novel Tristram Shandy -
xxxxxTo a large extent, the books were composed of a string of witty stories and character sketches, and these introduced some memorable literary figures from Tristram's friends and family, like Parson Yorick -
xxxxxIn 1760, following a second edition of the first two volumes, the "naughty Tristram Shandy", as Sterne came to be called, returned to the north, taking over another parish at Coxwold. Here in a delightful old house he named "Shandy Hall" (now a museum) he carried on writing additional volumes to his masterpiece, returning south in the winter time to mix with London's high and low society. Then in 1762, after a serious bout of tuberculosis, he went to live in Toulouse, France, together with his wife and daughter. He stayed there for a number of years, and his travels on the continent provided the material for his last work. He eventually returned to London alone and died in his lodgings in Old Bond Street in March 1768.
xxxxxSterne's colourful, rambling narrative about his comic gentleman hero Tristram Shandy , stretching to nine volumes and completed in 1767, is now regarded as one of the great masterpieces of 18th century English fiction. Other works by him included three collections of his sermons under the title The Sermons of Mr. Yorick. The first was published in 1760, and was popular enough, but following his instant success with Tristram Shandy, the two other collections, published in 1766 and 1769, were snapped up! He is also remembered for his Sentimental Journey, an amusing and oft-
xxxxxIncidentally, soon after burial, Sterne's body was stolen by grave diggers and taken to Cambridge. It was recognised, however, when used for an anatomy lecture, and the body was returned to its grave. In 1969, 200 years after his death, the remains were exhumed and laid to rest in the churchyard at Coxwold, close to his beloved home, Shandy Hall.
Sterne: detail, by the English portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-
xxxxxThe contemporary Scottish writer, Tobias Smollett, unlike Sterne, conformed to the format of the novel, clearly influenced by the works of the English writer Henry Fielding and the French writer Alain-
xxxxxA contemporary Scottish writer who, unlike Sterne, conformed to the format and spirit of the novel, was Tobias Smollett (1721-
xxxxxHe produced his finest work, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, three years after Sterne's death in 1771. Written mostly in Italy, it tells by means of a series of letters the adventures of a family as they travel through England and Scotland. The comic incidents it records and the farcical, somewhat larger than life characters who emerge along the way, make it a memorable and enjoyable journey.
xxxxxHe was born in Cardross, Dumbartonshire, went to school in Dumbarton, and studied medicine at Glasgow University. However, having always been keen upon a literary career, he travelled to London at the age of 18 to try his hand at writing. But his tragedy The Regicide got nowhere, and he was obliged to make his living elsewhere. He joined the navy in 1741 and became a surgeon's mate. He served in the war against Spain, and then left the service in 1744 and began practising as a surgeon in Downing Street, London.
xxxxxIt was at this point, however, that he turned again to writing and, basing his first novel on his experiences in the navy, produced The Adventures of Roderick Random in 1748, a satirical and raw account of a young man's life in London and the navy. Action-
xxxxxDespite these publications, however, Smollett was often in financial difficulties, being heavily fined and sent to prison for libel on one occasion. Furthermore, though quick to anger, he was a generous man by nature, lending money to those in need and, at one period of his career, providing food and beer on a Sunday for his "unfortunate brothers of the quill". He had therefore to continue as a hack writer, composing pieces of poetry, producing travel books, and writing one or two plays. He was at one time editor of two political journals, The Critical Review and The Briton, and in 1756 had a modicum of success with his A Complete History of England. He also earned money by translating two novels into English, Gil Blas by the French writer Alain-
xxxxxLike Sterne, he suffered from tuberculosis and settled on the continent towards the end of his life. In 1763, following the tragic death of his 15 year old daughter, he went with his wife to live at Nice, and returned in 1766 to start work on The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Then two years later he made his home at Pisa, and it was in Italy, near Livorno in Tuscany, that he died in 1771.
xxxxxIncidentally, inxhis Humphry Clinker, Smollett paints a realistic picture of a dinner party in Grub Street, London. This street, originally known as Moorfields, was where the literary "hacks" -
xxxxx...... As we have seen, Smollett himself was often obliged to produce hackwork. One of his poems, however, The Tears of Scotland, written after the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, was well above the standard associated with Grub Street.