This is one of the many stories told by the master storyteller, F W Boreham, that are posted on The Official F W Boreham Blog Site:
The novelist Laurence Sterne was a member of an extraordinary family. They were incessantly on the move. They seem to have gone into a place; stayed there until a child had been born and a child buried; and then jogged on again.
He would be a bold historian who would declare, with any approach to dogmatism, how many babies were born and buried in the course of these nomadic gipsyings. They seem to have lived for a year or so in all sorts of towns and villages, and, with pitiful monotony, we read of their regret at having to leave such-and-such a child sleeping in the churchyard. ‘My father's children,’ as Sterne himself observes, ‘were not made to last long.’ Lawrence himself, however, was one of the lucky ones.
At the age of ten, having survived the jaunts and jolts to which the wanderings of the family exposed him, he was ‘fixed’ in a school at Halifax, and was profoundly impressed by the conviction of his Yorkshire schoolmaster that he was destined to become a distinguished man.
… On one occasion the ceiling of the school room was being white-washed. The ladder was left against the wall. ‘One unlucky day,’ says Sterne, ‘I mounted that ladder, seized the brush, and wrote my name in large capital letters high up on the wall. For this offence the usher thrashed me severely. But the master was angry with him for doing so, and declared that the name on the wall should never be erased. For, he added, I was a boy of genius, and would one day become famous, and he should then look with pride on the letters on the schoolroom wall. These words made me forget the cruel blows that I had just received.’
The words did more. They implanted a glorious hope in the boy's breast: they inspired efforts that he would never otherwise have made: they account, in large measure, for his phenomenal success.
If the schoolmaster who welcomed the awkward little ten-year-old in 1723 lived, by any chance, until 1760, he must have felt that his handful of hopeseed had produced a most bounteous harvest. For, in 1760, Tristram Shandy took the country by storm. It was chaotic: it was incoherent: it was an audacious defiance of all the conventions: but it was irresistible. Its originality, its grotesque oddity, its rippling whimsicality set everybody chuckling.
Immediately after its publication, Sterne went up to London. He was the lion of the hour. His lodgings in Pall Mall were besieged from morning to night. ‘My rooms,’ he writes, ‘are filling every hour with great people of the first rank who vie with each other in heaping honors upon me.’ Never before had a literary venture elicited such homage. And when, a few months later, he crossed the Channel, a similar banquet of adulation awaited him in France.
F W Boreham, The Three Half-Moons (London: The Epworth Press, 1929), 89-91.
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: ‘I mounted that ladder, seized the brush, and wrote my name in large capital letters high up on the wall.’