In February 1768 Laurence Sterne published his second novel, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Its 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 – only 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 52. 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.
250 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.
Now, in 2018, we celebrate the sestercentennial anniversary of A Sentimental Journey’s publication and of its author’s death, and the major impact this publication exerted on the reading public and on wider culture. This anniversary will be marked by a major international conference to be held at Jesus College, Cambridge, in March 2018 and by a published essay collection.