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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)


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Birth of John Stearne, Founder of Irish College of Physicians

john-stearneJohn Stearne, Irish academic and founder of the Irish College of Physicians, is born at Ardbraccan, County Meath, on November 26, 1624.

At the time of Stearne’s birth, his grand-uncle, James Ussher, is Bishop of Meath. His father, John Stearne of Cambridge, who settled in County Down and married Mabel Bermingham, a niece of Ussher, is remote relation of Archbishop Richard Sterne.

Stearne enters Trinity College, Dublin at the age of fifteen in 1639, and obtains a scholarship in 1641. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Stearne leaves for England, and in 1643 goes to Cambridge, where he studies medicine at Sidney Sussex College, and collects material for his first work, Animi Medela. He remains at Cambridge about seven years, and then spends some time at Oxford, where he is welcomed by Seth Ward, then fellow of Wadham College. He is elected a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin in 1643, a position from which he is ejected by order of the Rump Parliament. Upon his return to Ireland in 1651 he is restored to his fellowship by Henry Cromwell, with whom he is on good terms, and to whom he dedicates one of his books.

In 1656 Stearne is appointed the first Hebrew lecturer in Trinity College, Dublin, receiving the degree of M.D. in 1658, and that of LL.D. in 1660. In 1659 he resigns his fellowship but is appointed to a senior fellowship in 1660, after the Restoration, receiving a dispensation from the statutes of the university respecting celibacy. He becomes in the same year professor of law. During his tenure of these various offices, Stearne practises as a physician in Dublin, obtaining special permission to reside outside the walls of the college.

Stearne is best known as the founder of the Irish College of Physicians. In 1660 he proposes to the university that Trinity Hall, situated in Back Lane, Dublin, then affiliated to the university, of which he has been constituted president in 1654, should be a college of physicians. The arrangement is sanctioned, and Stearne, on the nomination of the provost and senior fellows of Trinity College, in whom the appointment is vested, becomes its first president. No students are to be admitted who do not belong to Trinity College.

In 1662 Stearne is appointed for life professor of medicine in the university. In 1667 a charter is granted to the College of Physicians, under which a governing body of fourteen fellows is constituted, of whom Sir William Petty is one, with Stearne at their head as president for life.

Stearne dies in Dublin on November 18, 1669, and is buried, by his own request, in the chapel of Trinity College, where his epitaph, by his friend Henry Dodwell the elder, describes him as Philosophus, Medicus, summusque Theologus idem.