Nearly all our information about the first forty-six years of his life before he became famous as the author of Tristram Shandy is derived from a short memoir jotted down by himself for the use of his daughter.
Without Stevenson, Sterne would probably have been a more decorous parish priest, but he would probably never have written Tristram Shandy or left any other memorial of his singular genius.
The first two volumes of Tristram Shandy were issued at York in 1759 and advertised in London on the 1st of January 1760, and at once made a sensation.
At the end of the sermon in Tristram he had intimated that, if this sample of Yorick's pulpit eloquence was liked, "there are now in the possession of the Shandy family as many as will make a handsome volume, at the world's service, and much good may they do it."
Sterne's clerical character was far from being universally injured by his indecorous freaks as a humorist: Lord Fauconberg presented the author of Tristram Shandy with the perpetual curacy of Coxwold.
Through all his pleasant experiences of French society, and through the fits of dangerous illness by which they were diversified, he continued to build up his history of the Shandy family, but the work did not progress as rapidly as it had done.
Vii., leaving the Shandy family for a time, gave a lively sketch of the writer's own travels to the south of France in search of health.
The work is allowed to stand still while the writer is being transported from Shandy Hall to Languedoc. The only progress we make is in the illustration of the buoyant and joyous temper of Tristram himself, who, after all, is a member of the Shandy family, and was due a volume for the elucidation of his character.
In Toby Shandy he has drawn a character universally lovable and admirable; but Walter Shandy is almost greater as an artistic triumph, considering the difficulty of the achievement.