The Life of John Sterling
Thomas Carlyle

Part 1 out of 5

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Taken from volume 2 of Carlyle's Complete Works, which additionally
contains the Latter-Day Pamphlets, to be provided as a separate etext.

By Thomas Carlyle.


Near seven years ago, a short while before his death in 1844, John
Sterling committed the care of his literary Character and printed
Writings to two friends, Archdeacon Hare and myself. His estimate of
the bequest was far from overweening; to few men could the small
sum-total of his activities in this world seem more inconsiderable
than, in those last solemn days, it did to him. He had burnt much;
found much unworthy; looking steadfastly into the silent continents of
Death and Eternity, a brave man's judgments about his own sorry work
in the field of Time are not apt to be too lenient. But, in fine,
here was some portion of his work which the world had already got hold
of, and which he could not burn. This too, since it was not to be
abolished and annihilated, but must still for some time live and act,
he wished to be wisely settled, as the rest had been. And so it was
left in charge to us, the survivors, to do for it what we judged
fittest, if indeed doing nothing did not seem the fittest to us. This
message, communicated after his decease, was naturally a sacred one to
Mr. Hare and me.

After some consultation on it, and survey of the difficulties and
delicate considerations involved in it, Archdeacon Hare and I agreed
that the whole task, of selecting what Writings were to be reprinted,
and of drawing up a Biography to introduce them, should be left to him
alone; and done without interference of mine:--as accordingly it
was,[1] in a manner surely far superior to the common, in every good quality
of editing; and visibly everywhere bearing testimony to the
friendliness, the piety, perspicacity and other gifts and virtues of
that eminent and amiable man.

In one respect, however, if in one only, the arrangement had been
unfortunate. Archdeacon Hare, both by natural tendency and by his
position as a Churchman, had been led, in editing a Work not free from
ecclesiastical heresies, and especially in writing a Life very full of
such, to dwell with preponderating emphasis on that part of his
subject; by no means extenuating the fact, nor yet passing lightly
over it (which a layman could have done) as needing no extenuation;
but carefully searching into it, with the view of excusing and
explaining it; dwelling on it, presenting all the documents of it, and
as it were spreading it over the whole field of his delineation; as if
religious heterodoxy had been the grand fact of Sterling's life, which
even to the Archdeacon's mind it could by no means seem to be. _Hinc
illae lachrymae_. For the Religious Newspapers, and Periodical
Heresy-hunters, getting very lively in those years, were prompt to
seize the cue; and have prosecuted and perhaps still prosecute it, in
their sad way, to all lengths and breadths. John Sterling's character
and writings, which had little business to be spoken of in any
Church-court, have hereby been carried thither as if for an exclusive
trial; and the mournfulest set of pleadings, out of which nothing but
a misjudgment _can_ be formed, prevail there ever since. The noble
Sterling, a radiant child of the empyrean, clad in bright auroral hues
in the memory of all that knew him,--what is he doing here in
inquisitorial _sanbenito_, with nothing but ghastly spectralities
prowling round him, and inarticulately screeching and gibbering what
they call their judgment on him!

"The sin of Hare's Book," says one of my Correspondents in those
years, "is easily defined, and not very condemnable, but it is
nevertheless ruinous to his task as Biographer. He takes up Sterling
as a clergyman merely. Sterling, I find, was a curate for exactly
eight months; during eight months and no more had he any special
relation to the Church. But he was a man, and had relation to the
Universe, for eight-and-thirty years: and it is in this latter
character, to which all the others were but features and transitory
hues, that we wish to know him. His battle with hereditary Church
formulas was severe; but it was by no means his one battle with things
inherited, nor indeed his chief battle; neither, according to my
observation of what it was, is it successfully delineated or summed up
in this Book. The truth is, nobody that had known Sterling would
recognize a feature of him here; you would never dream that this Book
treated of _him_ at all. A pale sickly shadow in torn surplice is
presented to us here; weltering bewildered amid heaps of what you call
'Hebrew Old-clothes;' wrestling, with impotent impetuosity, to free
itself from the baleful imbroglio, as if that had been its one
function in life: who in this miserable figure would recognize the
brilliant, beautiful and cheerful John Sterling, with his ever-flowing
wealth of ideas, fancies, imaginations; with his frank affections,
inexhaustible hopes, audacities, activities, and general radiant
vivacity of heart and intelligence, which made the presence of him an
illumination and inspiration wherever he went? It is too bad. Let a
man be honestly forgotten when his life ends; but let him not be
misremembered in this way. To be hung up as an ecclesiastical
scarecrow, as a target for heterodox and orthodox to practice archery
upon, is no fate that can be due to the memory of Sterling. It was
not as a ghastly phantasm, choked in Thirty-nine-article
controversies, or miserable Semitic, Anti-Semitic street-riots,--in
scepticisms, agonized self-seekings, that this man appeared in life;
nor as such, if the world still wishes to look at him should you
suffer the world's memory of him now to be. Once for all, it is
unjust; emphatically untrue as an image of John Sterling: perhaps to
few men that lived along with him could such an interpretation of
their existence be more inapplicable."

Whatever truth there might be in these rather passionate
representations, and to myself there wanted not a painful feeling of
their truth, it by no means appeared what help or remedy any friend of
Sterling's, and especially one so related to the matter as myself,
could attempt in the interim. Perhaps endure in patience till the
dust laid itself again, as all dust does if you leave it well alone?
Much obscuration would thus of its own accord fall away; and, in Mr.
Hare's narrative itself, apart from his commentary, many features of
Sterling's true character would become decipherable to such as sought
them. Censure, blame of this Work of Mr. Hare's was naturally far
from my thoughts. A work which distinguishes itself by human piety
and candid intelligence; which, in all details, is careful, lucid,
exact; and which offers, as we say, to the observant reader that will
interpret facts, many traits of Sterling besides his heterodoxy.
Censure of it, from me especially, is not the thing due; from me a far
other thing is due!--

On the whole, my private thought was: First, How happy it
comparatively is, for a man of any earnestness of life, to have no
Biography written of him; but to return silently, with his small,
sorely foiled bit of work, to the Supreme Silences, who alone can
judge of it or him; and not to trouble the reviewers, and greater or
lesser public, with attempting to judge it! The idea of "fame," as
they call it, posthumous or other, does not inspire one with much
ecstasy in these points of view.--Secondly, That Sterling's
performance and real or seeming importance in this world was actually
not of a kind to demand an express Biography, even according to the
world's usages. His character was not supremely original; neither was
his fate in the world wonderful. What he did was inconsiderable
enough; and as to what it lay in him to have done, this was but a
problem, now beyond possibility of settlement. Why had a Biography
been inflicted on this man; why had not No-biography, and the
privilege of all the weary, been his lot?--Thirdly, That such lot,
however, could now no longer be my good Sterling's; a tumult having
risen around his name, enough to impress some pretended likeness of
him (about as like as the Guy-Fauxes are, on Gunpowder-Day) upon the
minds of many men: so that he could not be forgotten, and could only
be misremembered, as matters now stood.

Whereupon, as practical conclusion to the whole, arose by degrees this
final thought, That, at some calmer season, when the theological dust
had well fallen, and both the matter itself, and my feelings on it,
were in a suitabler condition, I ought to give my testimony about this
friend whom I had known so well, and record clearly what my knowledge
of him was. This has ever since seemed a kind of duty I had to do in
the world before leaving it.

And so, having on my hands some leisure at this time, and being bound
to it by evident considerations, one of which ought to be especially
sacred to me, I decide to fling down on paper some outline of what my
recollections and reflections contain in reference to this most
friendly, bright and beautiful human soul; who walked with me for a
season in this world, and remains to me very memorable while I
continue in it. Gradually, if facts simple enough in themselves can
be narrated as they came to pass, it will be seen what kind of man
this was; to what extent condemnable for imaginary heresy and other
crimes, to what extent laudable and lovable for noble manful
_orthodoxy_ and other virtues;--and whether the lesson his life had to
teach us is not much the reverse of what the Religious Newspapers
hitherto educe from it.

Certainly it was not as a "sceptic" that you could define him,
whatever his definition might be. Belief, not doubt, attended him at
all points of his progress; rather a tendency to too hasty and
headlong belief. Of all men he was the least prone to what you could
call scepticism: diseased self-listenings, self-questionings,
impotently painful dubitations, all this fatal nosology of spiritual
maladies, so rife in our day, was eminently foreign to him. Quite on
the other side lay Sterling's faults, such as they were. In fact, you
could observe, in spite of his sleepless intellectual vivacity, he was
not properly a thinker at all; his faculties were of the active, not
of the passive or contemplative sort. A brilliant _improvisatore_;
rapid in thought, in word and in act; everywhere the promptest and
least hesitating of men. I likened him often, in my banterings, to
sheet-lightning; and reproachfully prayed that he would concentrate
himself into a bolt, and rive the mountain-barriers for us, instead of
merely playing on them and irradiating them.

True, he had his "religion" to seek, and painfully shape together for
himself, out of the abysses of conflicting disbelief and sham-belief
and bedlam delusion, now filling the world, as all men of reflection
have; and in this respect too,--more especially as his lot in the
battle appointed for us all was, if you can understand it, victory and
not defeat,--he is an expressive emblem of his time, and an
instruction and possession to his contemporaries. For, I say, it is
by no means as a vanquished _doubter_ that he figures in the memory of
those who knew him; but rather as a victorious _believer_, and under
great difficulties a victorious doer. An example to us all, not of
lamed misery, helpless spiritual bewilderment and sprawling despair,
or any kind of _drownage_ in the foul welter of our so-called
religious or other controversies and confusions; but of a swift and
valiant vanquisher of all these; a noble asserter of himself, as
worker and speaker, in spite of all these. Continually, so far as he
went, he was a teacher, by act and word, of hope, clearness, activity,
veracity, and human courage and nobleness: the preacher of a good
gospel to all men, not of a bad to any man. The man, whether in
priest's cassock or other costume of men, who is the enemy or hater of
John Sterling, may assure himself that he does not yet know him,--that
miserable differences of mere costume and dialect still divide him,
whatsoever is worthy, catholic and perennial in him, from a brother
soul who, more than most in his day, was his brother and not his
adversary in regard to all that.

Nor shall the irremediable drawback that Sterling was not current in
the Newspapers, that he achieved neither what the world calls
greatness nor what intrinsically is such, altogether discourage me.
What his natural size, and natural and accidental limits were, will
gradually appear, if my sketching be successful. And I have remarked
that a true delineation of the smallest man, and his scene of
pilgrimage through life, is capable of interesting the greatest man;
that all men are to an unspeakable degree brothers, each man's life a
strange emblem of every man's; and that Human Portraits, faithfully
drawn, are of all pictures the welcomest on human walls. Monitions
and moralities enough may lie in this small Work, if honestly written
and honestly read;--and, in particular, if any image of John Sterling
and his Pilgrimage through our poor Nineteenth Century be one day
wanted by the world, and they can find some shadow of a true image
here, my swift scribbling (which shall be very swift and immediate)
may prove useful by and by.


John Sterling was born at Kaimes Castle, a kind of dilapidated
baronial residence to which a small farm was then attached, rented by
his Father, in the Isle of Bute,--on the 20th July, 1806. Both his
parents were Irish by birth, Scotch by extraction; and became, as he
himself did, essentially English by long residence and habit. Of John
himself Scotland has little or nothing to claim except the birth and
genealogy, for he left it almost before the years of memory; and in
his mature days regarded it, if with a little more recognition and
intelligence, yet without more participation in any of its accents
outward or inward, than others natives of Middlesex or Surrey, where
the scene of his chief education lay.

The climate of Bute is rainy, soft of temperature; with skies of
unusual depth and brilliancy, while the weather is fair. In that soft
rainy climate, on that wild-wooded rocky coast, with its gnarled
mountains and green silent valleys, with its seething rain-storms and
many-sounding seas, was young Sterling ushered into his first
schooling in this world. I remember one little anecdote his Father
told me of those first years: One of the cows had calved; young John,
still in petticoats, was permitted to go, holding by his father's
hand, and look at the newly arrived calf; a mystery which he surveyed
with open intent eyes, and the silent exercise of all the scientific
faculties he had;--very strange mystery indeed, this new arrival, and
fresh denizen of our Universe: "Wull't eat a-body?" said John in his
first practical Scotch, inquiring into the tendencies this mystery
might have to fall upon a little fellow and consume him as provision:
"Will it eat one, Father?"--Poor little open-eyed John: the family
long bantered him with this anecdote; and we, in far other years,
laughed heartily on hearing it.--Simple peasant laborers, ploughers,
house-servants, occasional fisher-people too; and the sight of ships,
and crops, and Nature's doings where Art has little meddled with her:
this was the kind of schooling our young friend had, first of all; on
this bench of the grand world-school did he sit, for the first four
years of his life.

Edward Sterling his Father, a man who subsequently came to
considerable notice in the world, was originally of Waterford in
Munster; son of the Episcopalian Clergyman there; and chief
representative of a family of some standing in those parts. Family
founded, it appears, by a Colonel Robert Sterling, called also Sir
Robert Sterling; a Scottish Gustavus-Adolphus soldier, whom the
breaking out of the Civil War had recalled from his German
campaignings, and had before long, though not till after some
waverings on his part, attached firmly to the Duke of Ormond and to
the King's Party in that quarrel. A little bit of genealogy, since it
lies ready to my hand, gathered long ago out of wider studies, and
pleasantly connects things individual and present with the dim
universal crowd of things past,--may as well be inserted here as
thrown away.

This Colonel Robert designates himself Sterling "of Glorat;" I
believe, a younger branch of the well-known Stirlings of Keir in
Stirlingshire. It appears he prospered in his soldiering and other
business, in those bad Ormond times; being a man of energy, ardor and
intelligence,--probably prompt enough both with his word and with his
stroke. There survives yet, in the Commons Journals,[2] dim notice of
his controversies and adventures; especially of one controversy he had
got into with certain victorious Parliamentary official parties, while
his own party lay vanquished, during what was called the Ormond
Cessation, or Temporary Peace made by Ormond with the Parliament in
1646:--in which controversy Colonel Robert, after repeated
applications, journeyings to London, attendances upon committees, and
such like, finds himself worsted, declared to be in the wrong; and so
vanishes from the Commons Journals.

What became of him when Cromwell got to Ireland, and to Munster, I
have not heard: his knighthood, dating from the very year of
Cromwell's Invasion (1649), indicates a man expected to do his best on
the occasion:--as in all probability he did; had not Tredah Storm
proved ruinous, and the neck of this Irish War been broken at once.
Doubtless the Colonel Sir Robert followed or attended his Duke of
Ormond into foreign parts, and gave up his management of Munster,
while it was yet time: for after the Restoration we find him again,
safe, and as was natural, flourishing with new splendor; gifted,
recompensed with lands;--settled, in short, on fair revenues in those
Munster regions. He appears to have had no children; but to have left
his property to William, a younger brother who had followed him into
Ireland. From this William descends the family which, in the years we
treat of, had Edward Sterling, Father of our John, for its
representative. And now enough of genealogy.

Of Edward Sterling, Captain Edward Sterling as his title was, who in
the latter period of his life became well known in London political
society, whom indeed all England, with a curious mixture of mockery
and respect and even fear, knew well as "the Thunderer of the Times
Newspaper," there were much to be said, did the present task and its
limits permit. As perhaps it might, on certain terms? What is
indispensable let us not omit to say. The history of a man's
childhood is the description of his parents and environment: this is
his inarticulate but highly important history, in those first times,
while of articulate he has yet none.

Edward Sterling had now just entered on his thirty-fourth year; and
was already a man experienced in fortunes and changes. A native of
Waterford in Munster, as already mentioned; born in the "Deanery House
of Waterford, 27th February, 1773," say the registers. For his
Father, as we learn, resided in the Deanery House, though he was not
himself Dean, but only "Curate of the Cathedral" (whatever that may
mean); he was withal rector of two other livings, and the Dean's
friend,--friend indeed of the Dean's kinsmen the Beresfords generally;
whose grand house of Curraghmore, near by Waterford, was a familiar
haunt of his and his children's. This reverend gentleman, along with
his three livings and high acquaintanceships, had inherited political
connections;--inherited especially a Government Pension, with
survivorship for still one life beyond his own; his father having been
Clerk of the Irish House of Commons at the time of the Union, of which
office the lost salary was compensated in this way. The Pension was
of two hundred pounds; and only expired with the life of Edward,
John's Father, in 1847. There were, and still are, daughters of the
family; but Edward was the only son;--descended, too, from the
Scottish hero Wallace, as the old gentleman would sometimes admonish
him; his own wife, Edward's mother, being of that name, and boasting
herself, as most Scotch Wallaces do, to have that blood in her veins.

This Edward had picked up, at Waterford, and among the young
Beresfords of Curraghmore and elsewhere, a thoroughly Irish form of
character: fire and fervor, vitality of all kinds, in genial
abundance; but in a much more loquacious, ostentatious, much _louder_
style than is freely patronized on this side of the Channel. Of Irish
accent in speech he had entirely divested himself, so as not to be
traced by any vestige in that respect; but his Irish accent of
character, in all manner of other more important respects, was very
recognizable. An impetuous man, full of real energy, and immensely
conscious of the same; who transacted everything not with the minimum
of fuss and noise, but with the maximum: a very Captain Whirlwind, as
one was tempted to call him.

In youth, he had studied at Trinity College, Dublin; visited the Inns
of Court here, and trained himself for the Irish Bar. To the Bar he
had been duly called, and was waiting for the results,--when, in his
twenty-fifth year, the Irish Rebellion broke out; whereupon the Irish
Barristers decided to raise a corps of loyal Volunteers, and a
complete change introduced itself into Edward Sterling's way of life.
For, naturally, he had joined the array of Volunteers;--fought, I have
heard, "in three actions with the rebels" (Vinegar Hill, for one); and
doubtless fought well: but in the mess-rooms, among the young
military and civil officials, with all of whom he was a favorite, he
had acquired a taste for soldier life, and perhaps high hopes of
succeeding in it: at all events, having a commission in the
Lancashire Militia offered him, he accepted that; altogether quitted
the Bar, and became Captain Sterling thenceforth. From the Militia,
it appears, he had volunteered with his Company into the Line; and,
under some disappointments, and official delays of expected promotion,
was continuing to serve as Captain there, "Captain of the Eighth
Battalion of Reserve," say the Military Almanacs of 1803,--in which
year the quarters happened to be Derry, where new events awaited him.
At a ball in Derry he met with Miss Hester Coningham, the queen of the
scene, and of the fair world in Derry at that time. The acquaintance,
in spite of some Opposition, grew with vigor, and rapidly ripened:
and "at Fehan Church, Diocese of Derry," where the Bride's father had
a country-house, "on Thursday 5th April, 1804, Hester Coningham, only
daughter of John Coningham, Esquire, Merchant in Derry, and of
Elizabeth Campbell his wife," was wedded to Captain Sterling; she
happiest to him happiest,--as by Nature's kind law it is arranged.

Mrs. Sterling, even in her later days, had still traces of the old
beauty: then and always she was a woman of delicate, pious,
affectionate character; exemplary as a wife, a mother and a friend. A
refined female nature; something tremulous in it, timid, and with a
certain rural freshness still unweakened by long converse with the
world. The tall slim figure, always of a kind of quaker neatness; the
innocent anxious face, anxious bright hazel eyes; the timid, yet
gracefully cordial ways, the natural intelligence, instinctive sense
and worth, were very characteristic. Her voice too; with its
something of soft querulousness, easily adapting itself to a light
thin-flowing style of mirth on occasion, was characteristic: she had
retained her Ulster intonations, and was withal somewhat copious in
speech. A fine tremulously sensitive nature, strong chiefly on the
side of the affections, and the graceful insights and activities that
depend on these:--truly a beautiful, much-suffering, much-loving
house-mother. From her chiefly, as one could discern, John Sterling
had derived the delicate _aroma_ of his nature, its piety, clearness,
sincerity; as from his Father, the ready practical gifts, the
impetuosities and the audacities, were also (though in strange new
form) visibly inherited. A man was lucky to have such a Mother; to
have such Parents as both his were.

Meanwhile the new Wife appears to have had, for the present, no
marriage-portion; neither was Edward Sterling rich,--according to his
own ideas and aims, far from it. Of course he soon found that the
fluctuating barrack-life, especially with no outlooks of speedy
promotion, was little suited to his new circumstances: but how change
it? His father was now dead; from whom he had inherited the Speaker
Pension of two hundred pounds; but of available probably little or
nothing more. The rents of the small family estate, I suppose, and
other property, had gone to portion sisters. Two hundred pounds, and
the pay of a marching captain: within the limits of that revenue all
plans of his had to restrict themselves at present.

He continued for some time longer in the Army; his wife undivided from
him by the hardships, of that way of life. Their first son Anthony
(Captain Anthony Sterling, the only child who now survives) was born
to them in this position, while lying at Dundalk, in January, 1805.
Two months later, some eleven months after their marriage, the
regiment was broken; and Captain Sterling, declining to serve
elsewhere on the terms offered, and willingly accepting such decision
of his doubts, was reduced to half-pay. This was the end of his
soldiering: some five or six years in all; from which he had derived
for life, among other things, a decided military bearing, whereof he
was rather proud; an incapacity for practicing law;--and considerable
uncertainty as to what his next course of life was now to be.

For the present, his views lay towards farming: to establish himself,
if not as country gentleman, which was an unattainable ambition, then
at least as some kind of gentleman-farmer which had a flattering
resemblance to that. Kaimes Castle with a reasonable extent of land,
which, in his inquiries after farms, had turned up, was his first
place of settlement in this new capacity; and here, for some few
months, he had established himself when John his second child was
born. This was Captain Sterling's first attempt towards a fixed
course of life; not a very wise one, I have understood:--yet on the
whole, who, then and there, could have pointed out to him a wiser?

A fixed course of life and activity he could never attain, or not till
very late; and this doubtless was among the important points of his
destiny, and acted both on his own character and that of those who had
to attend him on his wayfarings.


Edward Sterling never shone in farming; indeed I believe he never took
heartily to it, or tried it except in fits. His Bute farm was, at
best, a kind of apology for some far different ideal of a country
establishment which could not be realized; practically a temporary
landing-place from which he could make sallies and excursions in
search of some more generous field of enterprise. Stormy brief
efforts at energetic husbandry, at agricultural improvement and rapid
field-labor, alternated with sudden flights to Dublin, to London,
whithersoever any flush of bright outlook which he could denominate
practical, or any gleam of hope which his impatient ennui could
represent as such, allured him. This latter was often enough the
case. In wet hay-times and harvest-times, the dripping outdoor world,
and lounging indoor one, in the absence of the master, offered far
from a satisfactory appearance! Here was, in fact, a man much
imprisoned; haunted, I doubt not, by demons enough; though ever brisk
and brave withal,--iracund, but cheerfully vigorous, opulent in wise
or unwise hope. A fiery energetic soul consciously and unconsciously
storming for deliverance into better arenas; and this in a restless,
rapid, impetuous, rather than in a strong, silent and deliberate way.

In rainy Bute and the dilapidated Kaimes Castle, it was evident, there
lay no Goshen for such a man. The lease, originally but for some
three years and a half, drawing now to a close, he resolved to quit
Bute; had heard, I know not where, of an eligible cottage without farm
attached, in the pleasant little village of Llanblethian close by
Cowbridge in Glamorganshire; of this he took a lease, and thither with
his family he moved in search of new fortunes. Glamorganshire was at
least a better climate than Bute; no groups of idle or of busy reapers
could here stand waiting on the guidance of a master, for there was no
farm here;--and among its other and probably its chief though secret
advantages, Llanblethian was much more convenient both for Dublin and
London than Kaimes Castle had been.

The removal thither took place in the autumn of 1809. Chief part of
the journey (perhaps from Greenock to Swansea or Bristol) was by sea:
John, just turned of three years, could in after-times remember
nothing of this voyage; Anthony, some eighteen months older, has still
a vivid recollection of the gray splashing tumult, and dim sorrow,
uncertainty, regret and distress he underwent: to him a
"dissolving-view" which not only left its effect on the _plate_ (as
all views and dissolving-views doubtless do on that kind of "plate"),
but remained consciously present there. John, in the close of his
twenty-first year, professes not to remember anything whatever of
Bute; his whole existence, in that earliest scene of it, had faded
away from him: Bute also, with its shaggy mountains, moaning woods,
and summer and winter seas, had been wholly a dissolving-view for him,
and had left no conscious impression, but only, like this voyage, an

Llanblethian hangs pleasantly, with its white cottages, and orchard
and other trees, on the western slope of a green hill looking far and
wide over green meadows and little or bigger hills, in the pleasant
plain of Glamorgan; a short mile to the south of Cowbridge, to which
smart little town it is properly a kind of suburb. Plain of
Glamorgan, some ten miles wide and thirty or forty long, which they
call the Vale of Glamorgan;--though properly it is not quite a Vale,
there being only one range of mountains to it, if even one: certainly
the central Mountains of Wales do gradually rise, in a miscellaneous
manner, on the north side of it; but on the south are no mountains,
not even land, only the Bristol Channel, and far off, the Hills of
Devonshire, for boundary,--the "English Hills," as the natives call
them, visible from every eminence in those parts. On such wide terms
is it called Vale of Glamorgan. But called by whatever name, it is a
most pleasant fruitful region: kind to the native, interesting to the
visitor. A waving grassy region; cut with innumerable ragged lanes;
dotted with sleepy unswept human hamlets, old ruinous castles with
their ivy and their daws, gray sleepy churches with their ditto ditto:
for ivy everywhere abounds; and generally a rank fragrant vegetation
clothes all things; hanging, in rude many-colored festoons and fringed
odoriferous tapestries, on your right and on your left, in every lane.
A country kinder to the sluggard husbandman than any I have ever seen.
For it lies all on limestone, needs no draining; the soil, everywhere
of handsome depth and finest quality, will grow good crops for you
with the most imperfect tilling. At a safe distance of a day's riding
lie the tartarean copper-forges of Swansea, the tartarean iron-forges
of Merthyr; their sooty battle far away, and not, at such safe
distance, a defilement to the face of the earth and sky, but rather an
encouragement to the earth at least; encouraging the husbandman to
plough better, if he only would.

The peasantry seem indolent and stagnant, but peaceable and
well-provided; much given to Methodism when they have any
character;--for the rest, an innocent good-humored people, who all
drink home-brewed beer, and have brown loaves of the most excellent
home-baked bread. The native peasant village is not generally
beautiful, though it might be, were it swept and trimmed; it gives one
rather the idea of sluttish stagnancy,--an interesting peep into the
Welsh Paradise of Sleepy Hollow. Stones, old kettles, naves of
wheels, all kinds of broken litter, with live pigs and etceteras, lie
about the street: for, as a rule, no rubbish is removed, but waits
patiently the action of mere natural chemistry and accident; if even a
house is burnt or falls, you will find it there after half a century,
only cloaked by the ever-ready ivy. Sluggish man seems never to have
struck a pick into it; his new hut is built close by on ground not
encumbered, and the old stones are still left lying.

This is the ordinary Welsh village; but there are exceptions, where
people of more cultivated tastes have been led to settle, and
Llanblethian is one of the more signal of these. A decidedly cheerful
group of human homes, the greater part of them indeed belonging to
persons of refined habits; trimness, shady shelter, whitewash, neither
conveniency nor decoration has been neglected here. Its effect from
the distance on the eastward is very pretty: you see it like a little
sleeping cataract of white houses, with trees overshadowing and
fringing it; and there the cataract hangs, and does not rush away from

John Sterling spent his next five years in this locality. He did not
again see it for a quarter of a century; but retained, all his life, a
lively remembrance of it; and, just in the end of his twenty-first
year, among his earliest printed pieces, we find an elaborate and
diffuse description of it and its relations to him,--part of which
piece, in spite of its otherwise insignificant quality, may find place

"The fields on which I first looked, and the sands which were marked
by my earliest footsteps, are completely lost to my memory; and of
those ancient walls among which I began to breathe, I retain no
recollection more clear than the outlines of a cloud in a moonless
sky. But of L----, the village where I afterwards lived, I persuade
myself that every line and hue is more deeply and accurately fixed
than those of any spot I have since beheld, even though borne in upon
the heart by the association of the strongest feelings.

"My home was built upon the slope of a hill, with a little orchard
stretching down before it, and a garden rising behind. At a
considerable distance beyond and beneath the orchard, a rivulet flowed
through meadows and turned a mill; while, above the garden, the summit
of the hill was crowned by a few gray rocks, from which a yew-tree
grew, solitary and bare. Extending at each side of the orchard,
toward the brook, two scattered patches of cottages lay nestled among
their gardens; and beyond this streamlet and the little mill and
bridge, another slight eminence arose, divided into green fields,
tufted and bordered with copsewood, and crested by a ruined castle,
contemporary, as was said, with the Conquest. I know not whether these
things in truth made up a prospect of much beauty. Since I was eight
years old, I have never seen them; but I well know that no landscape I
have since beheld, no picture of Claude or Salvator, gave me half the
impression of living, heartfelt, perfect beauty which fills my mind
when I think of that green valley, that sparkling rivulet, that broken
fortress of dark antiquity, and that hill with its aged yew and breezy
summit, from which I have so often looked over the broad stretch of
verdure beneath it, and the country-town, and church-tower, silent and
white beyond.

"In that little town there was, and I believe is, a school where the
elements of human knowledge were communicated to me, for some hours of
every day, during a considerable time. The path to it lay across the
rivulet and past the mill; from which point we could either journey
through the fields below the old castle, and the wood which surrounded
it, or along a road at the other side of the ruin, close to the
gateway of which it passed. The former track led through two or three
beautiful fields, the sylvan domain of the keep on one hand, and the
brook on the other; while an oak or two, like giant warders advanced
from the wood, broke the sunshine of the green with a soft and
graceful shadow. How often, on my way to school, have I stopped
beneath the tree to collect the fallen acorns; how often run down to
the stream to pluck a branch of the hawthorn which hung over the
water! The road which passed the castle joined, beyond these fields,
the path which traversed them. It took, I well remember, a certain
solemn and mysterious interest from the ruin. The shadow of the
archway, the discolorizations of time on all the walls, the dimness of
the little thicket which encircled it, the traditions of its
immeasurable age, made St. Quentin's Castle a wonderful and awful
fabric in the imagination of a child; and long after I last saw its
mouldering roughness, I never read of fortresses, or heights, or
spectres, or banditti, without connecting them with the one ruin of my

"It was close to this spot that one of the few adventures occurred
which marked, in my mind, my boyish days with importance. When
loitering beyond the castle, on the way to school, with a brother
somewhat older than myself, who was uniformly my champion and
protector, we espied a round sloe high up in the hedge-row. We
determined to obtain it; and I do not remember whether both of us, or
only my brother, climbed the tree. However, when the prize was all
but reached,--and no alchemist ever looked more eagerly for the moment
of projection which was to give him immortality and omnipotence,--a
gruff voice startled us with an oath, and an order to desist; and I
well recollect looking back, for long after, with terror to the vision
of an old and ill-tempered farmer, armed with a bill-hook, and vowing
our decapitation; nor did I subsequently remember without triumph the
eloquence whereby alone, in my firm belief, my brother and myself had
been rescued from instant death.

"At the entrance of the little town stood an old gateway, with a
pointed arch and decaying battlements. It gave admittance to the
street which contained the church, and which terminated in another
street, the principal one in the town of C----. In this was situated
the school to which I daily wended. I cannot now recall to mind the
face of its good conductor, nor of any of his scholars; but I have
before me a strong general image of the interior of his establishment.
I remember the reverence with which I was wont to carry to his seat a
well-thumbed duodecimo, the _History of Greece_ by Oliver Goldsmith.
I remember the mental agonies I endured in attempting to master the
art and mystery of penmanship; a craft in which, alas, I remained too
short a time under Mr. R---- to become as great a proficient as he
made his other scholars, and which my awkwardness has prevented me
from attaining in any considerable perfection under my various
subsequent pedagogues. But that which has left behind it a brilliant
trait of light was the exhibition of what are called 'Christmas
pieces;' things unknown in aristocratic seminaries, but constantly
used at the comparatively humble academy which supplied the best
knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic to be attained in that
remote neighborhood.

"The long desks covered from end to end with those painted
masterpieces, the Life of Robinson Crusoe, the Hunting of Chevy-Chase,
the History of Jack the Giant-Killer, and all the little eager faces
and trembling hands bent over these, and filling them up with some
choice quotation, sacred or profane;--no, the galleries of art, the
theatrical exhibitions, the reviews and processions,--which are only
not childish because they are practiced and admired by men instead of
children,--all the pomps and vanities of great cities, have shown me
no revelation of glory such as did that crowded school-room the week
before the Christmas holidays. But these were the splendors of life.
The truest and the strongest feelings do not connect themselves with
any scenes of gorgeous and gaudy magnificence; they are bound up in
the remembrances of home.

"The narrow orchard, with its grove of old apple-trees against one of
which I used to lean, and while I brandished a beanstalk, roar out
with Fitzjames,--

'Come one, come all; this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I!'--

while I was ready to squall at the sight of a cur, and run valorously
away from a casually approaching cow; the field close beside it, where
I rolled about in summer among the hay; the brook in which, despite of
maid and mother, I waded by the hour; the garden where I sowed
flower-seeds, and then turned up the ground again and planted
potatoes, and then rooted out the potatoes to insert acorns and
apple-pips, and at last, as may be supposed, reaped neither roses, nor
potatoes, nor oak-trees, nor apples; the grass-plots on which I played
among those with whom I never can play nor work again: all these are
places and employments,--and, alas, playmates,--such as, if it were
worth while to weep at all, it would be worth weeping that I enjoy no

"I remember the house where I first grew familiar with peacocks; and
the mill-stream into which I once fell; and the religious awe
wherewith I heard, in the warm twilight, the psalm-singing around the
house of the Methodist miller; and the door-post against which I
discharged my brazen artillery; I remember the window by which I sat
while my mother taught me French; and the patch of garden which I dug
for-- But her name is best left blank; it was indeed writ in water.
These recollections are to me like the wealth of a departed friend, a
mournful treasure. But the public has heard enough of them; to it
they are worthless: they are a coin which only circulates at its true
value between the different periods of an individual's existence, and
good for nothing but to keep up a commerce between boyhood and
manhood. I have for years looked forward to the possibility of
visiting L----; but I am told that it is a changed village; and not
only has man been at work, but the old yew on the hill has fallen, and
scarcely a low stump remains of the tree which I delighted in
childhood to think might have furnished bows for the Norman

In Cowbridge is some kind of free school, or grammar-school, of a
certain distinction; and this to Captain Sterling was probably a
motive for settling in the neighborhood of it with his children. Of
this however, as it turned out, there was no use made: the Sterling
family, during its continuance in those parts, did not need more than
a primary school. The worthy master who presided over these Christmas
galas, and had the honor to teach John Sterling his reading and
writing, was an elderly Mr. Reece of Cowbridge, who still (in 1851)
survives, or lately did; and is still remembered by his old pupils as
a worthy, ingenious and kindly man, "who wore drab breeches and white
stockings." Beyond the Reece sphere of tuition John Sterling did not
go in this locality.

In fact the Sterling household was still fluctuating; the problem of a
task for Edward Sterling's powers, and of anchorage for his affairs in
any sense, was restlessly struggling to solve itself, but was still a
good way from being solved. Anthony, in revisiting these scenes with
John in 1839, mentions going to the spot "where we used to stand with
our Father, looking out for the arrival of the London mail:" a little
chink through which is disclosed to us a big restless section of a
human life. The Hill of Welsh Llanblethian, then, is like the mythic
Caucasus in its degree (as indeed all hills and habitations where men
sojourn are); and here too, on a small scale, is a Prometheus Chained!
Edward Sterling, I can well understand, was a man to tug at the chains
that held him idle in those the prime of his years; and to ask
restlessly, yet not in anger and remorse, so much as in hope,
locomotive speculation, and ever-new adventure and attempt, Is there
no task nearer my own natural size, then? So he looks out from the
Hill-side "for the arrival of the London mail;" thence hurries into
Cowbridge to the Post-office; and has a wide web, of threads and
gossamers, upon his loom, and many shuttles flying, in this world.

By the Marquis of Bute's appointment he had, very shortly after his
arrival in that region, become Adjutant of the Glamorganshire Militia,
"Local Militia," I suppose; and was, in this way, turning his military
capabilities to some use. The office involved pretty frequent
absences, in Cardiff and elsewhere. This doubtless was a welcome
outlet, though a small one. He had also begun to try writing,
especially on public subjects; a much more copious outlet,--which
indeed, gradually widening itself, became the final solution for him.
Of the year 1811 we have a Pamphlet of his, entitled _Military
Reform_; this is the second edition, "dedicated to the Duke of Kent;"
the first appears to have come out the year before, and had thus
attained a certain notice, which of course was encouraging. He now
furthermore opened a correspondence with the _Times_ Newspaper; wrote
to it, in 1812, a series of Letters under the signature _Vetus_:
voluntary Letters I suppose, without payment or pre-engagement, one
successful Letter calling out another; till _Vetus_ and his doctrines
came to be a distinguishable entity, and the business amounted to
something. Out of my own earliest Newspaper reading, I can remember
the name _Vetus_, as a kind of editorial hacklog on which able-editors
were wont to chop straw now and then. Nay the Letters were collected
and reprinted; both this first series, of 1812, and then a second of
next year: two very thin, very dim-colored cheap octavos; stray
copies of which still exist, and may one day become distillable into a
drop of History (should such be wanted of our poor "Scavenger Age" in
time coming), though the reading of them has long ceased in this
generation.[4] The first series, we perceive, had even gone to a
second edition. The tone, wherever one timidly glances into this
extinct cockpit, is trenchant and emphatic: the name of _Vetus_,
strenuously fighting there, had become considerable in the talking
political world; and, no doubt, was especially of mark, as that of a
writer who might otherwise be important, with the proprietors of the
_Times_. The connection continued: widened and deepened itself,--in
a slow tentative manner; passing naturally from voluntary into
remunerated: and indeed proving more and more to be the true ultimate
arena, and battle-field and seed-field, for the exuberant
impetuosities and faculties of this man.

What the _Letters of Vetus_ treated of I do not know; doubtless they
ran upon Napoleon, Catholic Emancipation, true methods of national
defence, of effective foreign Anti-gallicism, and of domestic ditto;
which formed the staple of editorial speculation at that time. I have
heard in general that Captain Sterling, then and afterwards, advocated
"the Marquis of Wellesley's policy;" but that also, what it was, I
have forgotten, and the world has been willing to forget. Enough, the
heads of the _Times_ establishment, perhaps already the Marquis of
Wellesley and other important persons, had their eye on this writer;
and it began to be surmised by him that here at last was the career he
had been seeking.

Accordingly, in 1814, when victorious Peace unexpectedly arrived; and
the gates of the Continent after five-and-twenty years of fierce
closure were suddenly thrown open; and the hearts of all English and
European men awoke staggering as if from a nightmare suddenly removed,
and ran hither and thither,--Edward Sterling also determined on a new
adventure, that of crossing to Paris, and trying what might lie in
store for him. For curiosity, in its idler sense, there was evidently
pabulum enough. But he had hopes moreover of learning much that might
perhaps avail him afterwards;--hopes withal, I have understood, of
getting to be Foreign Correspondent of the _Times_ Newspaper, and so
adding to his income in the mean while. He left Llanblethian in May;
dates from Dieppe the 27th of that month. He lived in occasional
contact with Parisian notabilities (all of them except Madame de Stael
forgotten now), all summer, diligently surveying his ground;--returned
for his family, who were still in Wales but ready to move, in the
beginning of August; took them immediately across with him; a house in
the neighborhood of Paris, in the pleasant village of Passy at once
town and country, being now ready; and so, under foreign skies, again
set up his household there.

Here was a strange new "school" for our friend John now in his eighth
year! Out of which the little Anthony and he drank doubtless at all
pores, vigorously as they had done in no school before. A change
total and immediate. Somniferous green Llanblethian has suddenly been
blotted out; presto, here are wakeful Passy and the noises of paved
Paris instead. Innocent ingenious Mr. Reece in drab breeches and
white stockings, he with his mild Christmas galas and peaceable rules
of Dilworth and Butterworth, has given place to such a saturnalia of
panoramic, symbolic and other teachers and monitors, addressing all
the five senses at once. Who John's express tutors were, at Passy, I
never heard; nor indeed, especially in his case, was it much worth
inquiring. To him and to all of us, the expressly appointed
schoolmasters and schoolings we get are as nothing, compared with the
unappointed incidental and continual ones, whose school-hours are all
the days and nights of our existence, and whose lessons, noticed or
unnoticed, stream in upon us with every breath we draw. Anthony says
they attended a French school, though only for about three months; and
he well remembers the last scene of it, "the boys shouting _Vive
l'Empereur_ when Napoleon came back."

Of John Sterling's express schooling, perhaps the most important
feature, and by no means a favorable one to him, was the excessive
fluctuation that prevailed in it. Change of scene, change of teacher,
_both_ express and implied, was incessant with him; and gave his young
life a nomadic character,--which surely, of all the adventitious
tendencies that could have been impressed upon him, so volatile, swift
and airy a being as him, was the one he needed least. His gentle
pious-hearted Mother, ever watching over him in all outward changes,
and assiduously keeping human pieties and good affections alive in
him, was probably the best counteracting element in his lot. And on
the whole, have we not all to run our chance in that respect; and
take, the most victoriously we can, such schooling as pleases to be
attainable in our year and place? Not very victoriously, the most of
us! A wise well-calculated breeding of a young genial soul in this
world, or alas of any young soul in it, lies fatally over the horizon
in these epochs!--This French scene of things, a grand school of its
sort, and also a perpetual banquet for the young soul, naturally
captivated John Sterling; he said afterwards, "New things and
experiences here were poured upon his mind and sense, not in streams,
but in a Niagara cataract." This too, however, was but a scene;
lasted only some six or seven months; and in the spring of the next
year terminated as abruptly as any of the rest could do.

For in the spring of the next year, Napoleon abruptly emerged from
Elba; and set all the populations of the world in motion, in a strange
manner;--set the Sterling household afloat, in particular; the big
European tide rushing into all smallest creeks, at Passy and
elsewhere. In brief, on the 20th of March, 1815, the family had to
shift, almost to fly, towards home and the sea-coast; and for a day or
two were under apprehension of being detained and not reaching home.
Mrs. Sterling, with her children and effects, all in one big carriage
with two horses, made the journey to Dieppe; in perfect safety, though
in continual tremor: here they were joined by Captain Sterling, who
had stayed behind at Paris to see the actual advent of Napoleon, and
to report what the aspect of affairs was, "Downcast looks of citizens,
with fierce saturnalian acclaim of soldiery:" after which they
proceeded together to London without farther apprehension;--there to
witness, in due time, the tar-barrels of Waterloo, and other phenomena
that followed.

Captain Sterling never quitted London as a residence any more; and
indeed was never absent from it, except on autumnal or other
excursions of a few weeks, till the end of his life. Nevertheless his
course there was as yet by no means clear; nor had his relations with
the heads of the _Times_, or with other high heads, assumed a form
which could be called definite, but were hanging as a cloudy maze of
possibilities, firm substance not yet divided from shadow. It
continued so for some years. The Sterling household shifted twice or
thrice to new streets or localities,--Russell Square or Queen Square,
Blackfriars Road, and longest at the Grove, Blackheath,-- before the
vapors of Wellesley promotions and such like slowly sank as useless
precipitate, and the firm rock, which was definite employment, ending
in lucrative co-proprietorship and more and more important connection
with the _Times_ Newspaper, slowly disclosed itself.

These changes of place naturally brought changes in John Sterling's
schoolmasters: nor were domestic tragedies wanting, still more
important to him. New brothers and sisters had been born; two little
brothers more, three little sisters he had in all; some of whom came
to their eleventh year beside him, some passed away in their second or
fourth: but from his ninth to his sixteenth year they all died; and
in 1821 only Anthony and John were left.[5] How many tears, and
passionate pangs, and soft infinite regrets; such as are appointed to
all mortals! In one year, I find, indeed in one half-year, he lost
three little playmates, two of them within one month. His own age was
not yet quite twelve. For one of these three, for little Edward, his
next younger, who died now at the age of nine, Mr. Hare records that
John copied out, in large school-hand, a _History of Valentine and
Orson_, to beguile the poor child's sickness, which ended in death
soon, leaving a sad cloud on John.

Of his grammar and other schools, which, as I said, are hardly worth
enumerating in comparison, the most important seems to have been a Dr.
Burney's at Greenwich; a large day-schoo] and boarding-school, where
Anthony and John gave their attendance for a year or two (1818-19)
from Blackheath. "John frequently did themes for the boys," says
Anthony, "and for myself when I was aground." His progress in all
school learning was certain to be rapid, if he even moderately took to
it. A lean, tallish, loose-made boy of twelve; strange alacrity,
rapidity and joyous eagerness looking out of his eyes, and of all his
ways and movements. I have a Picture of him at this stage; a little
portrait, which carries its verification with it. In manhood too, the
chief expression of his eyes and physiognomy was what I might call
alacrity, cheerful rapidity. You could see, here looked forth a soul
which was winged; which dwelt in hope and action, not in hesitation or
fear. Anthony says, he was "an affectionate and gallant kind of boy,
adventurous and generous, daring to a singular degree." Apt enough
withal to be "petulant now and then;" on the whole, "very
self-willed;" doubtless not a little discursive in his thoughts and
ways, and "difficult to manage."

I rather think Anthony, as the steadier, more substantial boy, was the
Mother's favorite; and that John, though the quicker and cleverer,
perhaps cost her many anxieties. Among the Papers given me, is an old
browned half-sheet in stiff school hand, unpunctuated, occasionally
ill spelt,--John Sterling's earliest remaining Letter,--which gives
record of a crowning escapade of his, the first and the last of its
kind; and so may be inserted here. A very headlong adventure on the
boy's part; so hasty and so futile, at once audacious and
impracticable; emblematic of much that befell in the history of the

"_To Mrs. Sterling, Blackheath_.
"21st September, 1818.

"DEAR MAMMA,--I am now at Dover, where I arrived this morning about
seven o'clock. When you thought I was going to church, I went down
the Kent Road, and walked on till I came to Gravesend, which is
upwards of twenty miles from Blackheath; at about seven o'clock in the
evening, without having eat anything the whole time. I applied to an
inkeeper (_sic_) there, pretending that I had served a haberdasher in
London, who left of (_sic_) business, and turned me away. He believed
me; and got me a passage in the coach here, for I said that I had an
Uncle here, and that my Father and Mother were dead;--when I wandered
about the quays for some time, till I met Captain Keys, whom I asked
to give me a passage to Boulogne; which he promised to do, and took me
home to breakfast with him: but Mrs. Keys questioned me a good deal;
when I not being able to make my story good, I was obliged to confess
to her that I had run away from you. Captain Keys says that he will
keep me at his house till you answer my letter.


Anthony remembers the business well; but can assign no origin to
it,--some penalty, indignity or cross put suddenly on John, which the
hasty John considered unbearable. His Mother's inconsolable weeping,
and then his own astonishment at such a culprit's being forgiven, are
all that remain with Anthony. The steady historical style of the
young runaway of twelve, narrating merely, not in the least
apologizing, is also noticeable.

This was some six months after his little brother Edward's death;
three months after that of Hester, his little sister next in the
family series to him: troubled days for the poor Mother in that small
household on Blackheath, as there are for mothers in so many
households in this world! I have heard that Mrs. Sterling passed much
of her time alone, at this period. Her husband's pursuits, with his
Wellesleys and the like, often carrying him into Town and detaining
him late there, she would sit among her sleeping children, such of
them as death had still spared, perhaps thriftily plying her needle,
full of mournful affectionate night-thoughts,--apprehensive too, in
her tremulous heart, that the head of the house might have fallen
among robbers in his way homeward.


At a later stage, John had some instruction from a Dr. Waite at
Blackheath; and lastly, the family having now removed into Town, to
Seymour Street in the fashionable region there, he "read for a while
with Dr. Trollope, Master of Christ's Hospital;" which ended his
school history.

In this his ever-changing course, from Reece at Cowbridge to Trollope
in Christ's, which was passed so nomadically, under ferulas of various
color, the boy had, on the whole, snatched successfully a fair share
of what was going. Competent skill in construing Latin, I think also
an elementary knowledge of Greek; add ciphering to a small extent,
Euclid perhaps in a rather imaginary condition; a swift but not very
legible or handsome penmanship, and the copious prompt habit of
employing it in all manner of unconscious English prose composition,
or even occasionally in verse itself: this, or something like this,
he had gained from his grammar-schools: this is the most of what they
offer to the poor young soul in general, in these indigent times. The
express schoolmaster is not equal to much at present,--while the
_un_express, for good or for evil, is so busy with a poor little
fellow! Other departments of schooling had been infinitely more
productive, for our young friend, than the gerund-grinding one. A
voracious reader I believe he all along was,--had "read the whole
Edinburgh Review" in these boyish years, and out of the circulating
libraries one knows not what cartloads; wading like Ulysses towards
his palace "through infinite dung." A voracious observer and
participator in all things he likewise all along was; and had had his
sights, and reflections, and sorrows and adventures, from Kaimes
Castle onward,--and had gone at least to Dover on his own score.
_Puer bonae spei_, as the school-albums say; a boy of whom much may be
hoped? Surely, in many senses, yes. A frank veracity is in him,
truth and courage, as the basis of all; and of wild gifts and graces
there is abundance. I figure him a brilliant, swift, voluble,
affectionate and pleasant creature; out of whom, if it were not that
symptoms of delicate health already show themselves, great things
might be made. Promotions at least, especially in this country and
epoch of parliaments and eloquent palavers, are surely very possible
for such a one!

Being now turned of sixteen, and the family economics getting yearly
more propitious and flourishing, he, as his brother had already been,
was sent to Glasgow University, in which city their Mother had
connections. His brother and he were now all that remained of the
young family; much attached to one another in their College years as
afterwards. Glasgow, however, was not properly their College scene:
here, except that they had some tuition from Mr. Jacobson, then a
senior fellow-student, now (1851) the learned editor of St. Basil, and
Regius Professor of Divinity in Oxford, who continued ever afterwards
a valued intimate of John's, I find nothing special recorded of them.
The Glasgow curriculum, for John especially, lasted but one year; who,
after some farther tutorage from Mr. Jacobson or Dr. Trollope, was
appointed for a more ambitious sphere of education.

In the beginning of his nineteenth year, "in the autumn of 1824," he
went to Trinity College, Cambridge. His brother Anthony, who had
already been there a year, had just quitted this Establishment, and
entered on a military life under good omens; I think, at Dublin under
the Lord Lieutenant's patronage, to whose service he was, in some
capacity, attached. The two brothers, ever in company hitherto,
parted roads at this point; and, except on holiday visits and by
frequent correspondence, did not again live together; but they
continued in a true fraternal attachment while life lasted, and I
believe never had any even temporary estrangement, or on either side a
cause for such. The family, as I said, was now, for the last three
years, reduced to these two; the rest of the young ones, with their
laughter and their sorrows, all gone. The parents otherwise were
prosperous in outward circumstances; the Father's position more and
more developing itself into affluent security, an agreeable circle of
acquaintance, and a certain real influence, though of a peculiar sort,
according to his gifts for work in this world.

Sterling's Tutor at Trinity College was Julius Hare, now the
distinguished Archdeacon of Lewes:--who soon conceived a great esteem
for him, and continued ever afterwards, in looser or closer
connection, his loved and loving friend. As the Biographical and
Editorial work above alluded to abundantly evinces. Mr. Hare
celebrates the wonderful and beautiful gifts, the sparkling ingenuity,
ready logic, eloquent utterance, and noble generosities and pieties of
his pupil;--records in particular how once, on a sudden alarm of fire
in some neighboring College edifice while his lecture was proceeding,
all hands rushed out to help; how the undergraduates instantly formed
themselves in lines from the fire to the river, and in swift
continuance kept passing buckets as was needful, till the enemy was
visibly fast yielding,--when Mr. Hare, going along the line, was
astonished to find Sterling, at the river-end of it, standing up to
his waist in water, deftly dealing with the buckets as they came and
went. You in the river, Sterling; you with your coughs, and dangerous
tendencies of health!--"Somebody must be in it," answered Sterling;
"why not I, as well as another?" Sterling's friends may remember many
traits of that kind. The swiftest in all things, he was apt to be
found at the head of the column, whithersoever the march might be; if
towards any brunt of danger, there was he surest to be at the head;
and of himself and his peculiar risks or impediments he was negligent
at all times, even to an excessive and plainly unreasonable degree.

Mr. Hare justly refuses him the character of an exact scholar, or
technical proficient at any time in either of the ancient literatures.
But he freely read in Greek and Latin, as in various modern languages;
and in all fields, in the classical as well, his lively faculty of
recognition and assimilation had given him large booty in proportion
to his labor. One cannot under any circumstances conceive of Sterling
as a steady dictionary philologue, historian, or archaeologist; nor
did he here, nor could he well, attempt that course. At the same
time, Greek and the Greeks being here before him, he could not fail to
gather somewhat from it, to take some hue and shape from it.
Accordingly there is, to a singular extent, especially in his early
writings, a certain tinge of Grecism and Heathen classicality
traceable in him;--Classicality, indeed, which does not satisfy one's
sense as real or truly living, but which glitters with a certain
genial, if perhaps almost meretricious half-_japannish_
splendor,--greatly distinguishable from mere gerund-grinding, and
death in longs and shorts. If Classicality mean the practical
conception, or attempt to conceive, what human life was in the epoch
called classical,--perhaps few or none of Sterling's contemporaries in
that Cambridge establishment carried away more of available
Classicality than even he.

But here, as in his former schools, his studies and inquiries,
diligently prosecuted I believe, were of the most discursive
wide-flowing character; not steadily advancing along beaten roads
towards College honors, but pulsing out with impetuous irregularity
now on this tract, now on that, towards whatever spiritual Delphi
might promise to unfold the mystery of this world, and announce to him
what was, in our new day, the authentic message of the gods. His
speculations, readings, inferences, glances and conclusions were
doubtless sufficiently encyclopedic; his grand tutors the multifarious
set of Books he devoured. And perhaps,--as is the singular case in
most schools and educational establishments of this unexampled
epoch,--it was not the express set of arrangements in this or any
extant University that could essentially forward him, but only the
implied and silent ones; less in the prescribed "course of study,"
which seems to tend no-whither, than--if you will consider it--in the
generous (not ungenerous) rebellion against said prescribed course,
and the voluntary spirit of endeavor and adventure excited thereby,
does help lie for a brave youth in such places. Curious to consider.
The fagging, the illicit boating, and the things _forbidden_ by the
schoolmaster,--these, I often notice in my Eton acquaintances, are the
things that have done them good; these, and not their inconsiderable
or considerable knowledge of the Greek accidence almost at all! What
is Greek accidence, compared to Spartan discipline, if it can be had?
That latter is a real and grand attainment. Certainly, if rebellion
is unfortunately needful, and you can rebel in a generous manner,
several things may be acquired in that operation,--rigorous mutual
fidelity, reticence, steadfastness, mild stoicism, and other virtues
far transcending your Greek accidence. Nor can the unwisest
"prescribed course of study" be considered quite useless, if it have
incited you to try nobly on all sides for a course of your own. A
singular condition of Schools and High-schools, which have come down,
in their strange old clothes and "courses of study," from the monkish
ages into this highly unmonkish one;--tragical condition, at which the
intelligent observer makes deep pause!

One benefit, not to be dissevered from the most obsolete University
still frequented by young ingenuous living souls, is that of manifold
collision and communication with the said young souls; which, to every
one of these coevals, is undoubtedly the most important branch of
breeding for him. In this point, as the learned Huber has
insisted,[6] the two English Universities,--their studies otherwise being
granted to be nearly useless, and even ill done of their kind,--far
excel all other Universities: so valuable are the rules of human
behavior which from of old have tacitly established themselves there;
so manful, with all its sad drawbacks, is the style of English
character, "frank, simple, rugged and yet courteous," which has
tacitly but imperatively got itself sanctioned and prescribed there.
Such, in full sight of Continental and other Universities, is Huber's
opinion. Alas, the question of University Reform goes deep at
present; deep as the world;--and the real University of these new
epochs is yet a great way from us! Another judge in whom I have
confidence declares further, That of these two Universities, Cambridge
is decidedly the more catholic (not Roman catholic, but Human
catholic) in its tendencies and habitudes; and that in fact, of all
the miserable Schools and High-schools in the England of these years,
he, if reduced to choose from them, would choose Cambridge as a place
of culture for the young idea. So that, in these bad circumstances,
Sterling had perhaps rather made a hit than otherwise?

Sterling at Cambridge had undoubtedly a wide and rather genial circle
of comrades; and could not fail to be regarded and beloved by many of
them. Their life seems to have been an ardently speculating and
talking one; by no means excessively restrained within limits; and, in
the more adventurous heads like Sterling's, decidedly tending towards
the latitudinarian in most things. They had among them a Debating
Society called The Union; where on stated evenings was much logic, and
other spiritual fencing and ingenuous collision,--probably of a really
superior quality in that kind; for not a few of the then disputants
have since proved themselves men of parts, and attained distinction in
the intellectual walks of life. Frederic Maurice, Richard Trench,
John Kemble, Spedding, Venables, Charles Buller, Richard Milnes and
others:--I have heard that in speaking and arguing, Sterling was the
acknowledged chief in this Union Club; and that "none even came near
him, except the late Charles Buller," whose distinction in this and
higher respects was also already notable.

The questions agitated seem occasionally to have touched on the
political department, and even on the ecclesiastical. I have heard
one trait of Sterling's eloquence, which survived on the wings of
grinning rumor, and had evidently borne upon Church Conservatism in
some form: "Have they not,"--or perhaps it was, Has she (the Church)
not,--"a black dragoon in every parish, on good pay and rations,
horse-meat and man's-meat, to patrol and battle for these things?"
The "black dragoon," which naturally at the moment ruffled the general
young imagination into stormy laughter, points towards important
conclusions in respect to Sterling at this time. I conclude he had,
with his usual alacrity and impetuous daring, frankly adopted the
anti-superstitious side of things; and stood scornfully prepared to
repel all aggressions or pretensions from the opposite quarter. In
short, that he was already, what afterwards there is no doubt about
his being, at all points a Radical, as the name or nickname then went.
In other words, a young ardent soul looking with hope and joy into a
world which was infinitely beautiful to him, though overhung with
falsities and foul cobwebs as world never was before; overloaded,
overclouded, to the zenith and the nadir of it, by incredible
uncredited traditions, solemnly sordid hypocrisies, and beggarly
deliriums old and new; which latter class of objects it was clearly
the part of every noble heart to expend all its lightnings and
energies in burning up without delay, and sweeping into their native
Chaos out of such a Cosmos as this. Which process, it did not then
seem to him could be very difficult; or attended with much other than
heroic joy, and enthusiasm of victory or of battle, to the gallant
operator, in his part of it. This was, with modifications such as
might be, the humor and creed of College Radicalism five-and-twenty
years ago. Rather horrible at that time; seen to be not so horrible
now, at least to have grown very universal, and to need no concealment
now. The natural humor and attitude, we may well regret to say,--and
honorable not dishonorable, for a brave young soul such as Sterling's,
in those years in those localities!

I do not find that Sterling had, at that stage, adopted the then
prevalent Utilitarian theory of human things. But neither,
apparently, had he rejected it; still less did he yet at all denounce
it with the damnatory vehemence we were used to in him at a later
period. Probably he, so much occupied with the negative side of
things, had not yet thought seriously of any positive basis for his
world; or asked himself, too earnestly, What, then, is the noble rule
of living for a man? In this world so eclipsed and scandalously
overhung with fable and hypocrisy, what is the eternal fact, on which
a man may front the Destinies and the Immensities? The day for such
questions, sure enough to come in his case, was still but coming.
Sufficient for this day be the work thereof; that of blasting into
merited annihilation the innumerable and immeasurable recognized
deliriums, and extirpating or coercing to the due pitch those legions
of "black dragoons," of all varieties and purposes, who patrol, with
horse-meat and man's-meat, this afflicted earth, so hugely to the
detriment of it.

Sterling, it appears, after above a year of Trinity College, followed
his friend Maurice into Trinity Hall, with the intention of taking a
degree in Law; which intention, like many others with him, came to
nothing; and in 1827 he left Trinity Hall and Cambridge altogether;
here ending, after two years, his brief University life.


Here, then, is a young soul, brought to the years of legal majority,
furnished from his training-schools with such and such shining
capabilities, and ushered on the scene of things to inquire
practically, What he will do there? Piety is in the man, noble human
valor, bright intelligence, ardent proud veracity; light and fire, in
none of their many senses, wanting for him, but abundantly bestowed:
a kingly kind of man;--whose "kingdom," however, in this bewildered
place and epoch of the world will probably be difficult to find and

For, alas, the world, as we said, already stands convicted to this
young soul of being an untrue, unblessed world; its high dignitaries
many of them phantasms and players'-masks; its worthships and worships
unworshipful: from Dan to Beersheba, a mad world, my masters. And
surely we may say, and none will now gainsay, this his idea of the
world at that epoch was nearer to the fact than at most other epochs
it has been. Truly, in all times and places, the young ardent soul
that enters on this world with heroic purpose, with veracious insight,
and the yet unclouded "inspiration of the Almighty" which has given us
our intelligence, will find this world a very mad one: why else is
he, with his little outfit of heroisms and inspirations, come hither
into it, except to make it diligently a little saner? Of him there
would have been no need, had it been quite sane. This is true; this
will, in all centuries and countries, be true.

And yet perhaps of no time or country, for the last two thousand
years, was it _so_ true as here in this waste-weltering epoch of
Sterling's and ours. A world all rocking and plunging, like that old
Roman one when the measure of its iniquities was full; the abysses,
and subterranean and supernal deluges, plainly broken loose; in the
wild dim-lighted chaos all stars of Heaven gone out. No star of
Heaven visible, hardly now to any man; the pestiferous fogs, and foul
exhalations grown continual, have, except on the highest mountaintops,
blotted out all stars: will-o'-wisps, of various course and color,
take the place of stars. Over the wild-surging chaos, in the leaden
air, are only sudden glares of revolutionary lightning; then mere
darkness, with philanthropistic phosphorescences, empty meteoric
lights; here and there an ecclesiastical luminary still hovering,
hanging on to its old quaking fixtures, pretending still to be a Moon
or Sun,--though visibly it is but a Chinese lantern made of _paper_
mainly, with candle-end foully dying in the heart of it. Surely as
mad a world as you could wish!

If you want to make sudden fortunes in it, and achieve the temporary
hallelujah of flunkies for yourself, renouncing the perennial esteem
of wise men; if you can believe that the chief end of man is to
collect about him a bigger heap of gold than ever before, in a shorter
time than ever before, you will find it a most handy and every way
furthersome, blessed and felicitous world. But for any other human
aim, I think you will find it not furthersome. If you in any way ask
practically, How a noble life is to be led in it? you will be luckier
than Sterling or I if you get any credible answer, or find any made
road whatever. Alas, it is even so. Your heart's question, if it be
of that sort, most things and persons will answer with a "Nonsense!
Noble life is in Drury Lane, and wears yellow boots. You fool,
compose yourself to your pudding!"--Surely, in these times, if ever in
any, the young heroic soul entering on life, so opulent, full of sunny
hope, of noble valor and divine intention, is tragical as well as
beautiful to us.

Of the three learned Professions none offered any likelihood for
Sterling. From the Church his notions of the "black dragoon," had
there been no other obstacle, were sufficient to exclude him. Law he
had just renounced, his own Radical philosophies disheartening him, in
face of the ponderous impediments, continual up-hill struggles and
formidable toils inherent in such a pursuit: with Medicine he had
never been in any contiguity, that he should dream of it as a course
for him. Clearly enough the professions were unsuitable; they to him,
he to them. Professions, built so largely on speciosity instead of
performance; clogged, in this bad epoch, and defaced under such
suspicions of fatal imposture, were hateful not lovable to the young
radical soul, scornful of gross profit, and intent on ideals and human
noblenesses. Again, the professions, were they never so perfect and
veracious, will require slow steady pulling, to which this individual
young radical, with his swift, far-darting brilliancies, and nomadic
desultory ways, is of all men the most averse and unfitted. No
profession could, in any case, have well gained the early love of
Sterling. And perhaps withal the most tragic element of his life is
even this, That there now was none to which he could fitly, by those
wiser than himself, have been bound and constrained, that he might
learn to love it. So swift, light-limbed and fiery an Arab courser
ought, for all manner of reasons, to have been trained to saddle and
harness. Roaming at full gallop over the heaths,--especially when
your heath was London, and English and European life, in the
nineteenth century,--he suffered much, and did comparatively little.
I have known few creatures whom it was more wasteful to send forth
with the bridle thrown up, and to set to steeple-hunting instead of
running on highways! But it is the lot of many such, in this
dislocated time,--Heaven mend it! In a better time there will be
other "professions" than those three extremely cramp, confused and
indeed almost obsolete ones: professions, if possible, that are true,
and do _not_ require you at the threshold to constitute yourself an
impostor. Human association,--which will mean discipline, vigorous
wise subordination and co-ordination,--is so unspeakably important.
Professions, "regimented human pursuits," how many of honorable and
manful might be possible for men; and which should _not_, in their
results to society, need to stumble along, in such an unwieldy futile
manner, with legs swollen into such enormous elephantiasis and no go
at all in them! Men will one day think of the force they squander in
every generation, and the fatal damage they encounter, by this

The career likeliest for Sterling, in his and the world's
circumstances, would have been what is called public life: some
secretarial, diplomatic or other official training, to issue if
possible in Parliament as the true field for him. And here, beyond
question, had the gross material conditions been allowed, his
spiritual capabilities were first-rate. In any arena where eloquence
and argument was the point, this man was calculated to have borne the
bell from all competitors. In lucid ingenious talk and logic, in all
manner of brilliant utterance and tongue-fence, I have hardly known
his fellow. So ready lay his store of knowledge round him, so perfect
was his ready utterance of the same,--in coruscating wit, in jocund
drollery, in compact articulated clearness or high poignant emphasis,
as the case required,--he was a match for any man in argument before a
crowd of men. One of the most supple-wristed, dexterous, graceful and
successful fencers in that kind. A man, as Mr. Hare has said, "able
to argue with four or five at once;" could do the parrying all round,
in a succession swift as light, and plant his hits wherever a chance
offered. In Parliament, such a soul put into a body of the due
toughness might have carried it far. If ours is to be called, as I
hear some call it, the Talking Era, Sterling of all men had the talent
to excel in it.

Probably it was with some vague view towards chances in this direction
that Sterling's first engagement was entered upon; a brief connection
as Secretary to some Club or Association into which certain public
men, of the reforming sort, Mr. Crawford (the Oriental Diplomatist and
Writer), Mr. Kirkman Finlay (then Member for Glasgow), and other
political notabilities had now formed themselves,--with what specific
objects I do not know, nor with what result if any. I have heard
vaguely, it was "to open the trade to India." Of course they intended
to stir up the public mind into co-operation, whatever their goal or
object was: Mr. Crawford, an intimate in the Sterling household,
recognized the fine literary gift of John; and might think it a lucky
hit that he had caught such a Secretary for three hundred pounds a
year. That was the salary agreed upon; and for some months actually
worked for and paid; Sterling becoming for the time an intimate and
almost an inmate in Mr. Crawford's circle, doubtless not without
results to himself beyond the secretarial work and pounds sterling:
so much is certain. But neither the Secretaryship nor the Association
itself had any continuance; nor can I now learn accurately more of it
than what is here stated;--in which vague state it must vanish from
Sterling's history again, as it in great measure did from his life.
From himself in after-years I never heard mention of it; nor were his
pursuits connected afterwards with those of Mr. Crawford, though the
mutual good-will continued unbroken.

In fact, however splendid and indubitable Sterling's qualifications
for a parliamentary life, there was that in him withal which flatly
put a negative on any such project. He had not the slow
steady-pulling diligence which is indispensable in that, as in all
important pursuits and strenuous human competitions whatsoever. In
every sense, his momentum depended on velocity of stroke, rather than
on weight of metal; "beautifulest sheet-lightning," as I often said,
"not to be condensed into thunder-bolts." Add to this,--what indeed
is perhaps but the same phenomenon in another form,--his bodily frame
was thin, excitable, already manifesting pulmonary symptoms; a body
which the tear and wear of Parliament would infallibly in few months
have wrecked and ended. By this path there was clearly no mounting.
The far-darting, restlessly coruscating soul, equips beyond all others
to shine in the Talking Era, and lead National Palavers with their
_spolia opima_ captive, is imprisoned in a fragile hectic body which
quite forbids the adventure. "_Es ist dafur gesorgt_," says Goethe,
"Provision has been made that the trees do not grow into the
sky;"--means are always there to stop them short of the sky.


Of all forms of public life, in the Talking Era, it was clear that
only one completely suited Sterling,--the anarchic, nomadic, entirely
aerial and unconditional one, called Literature. To this all his
tendencies, and fine gifts positive and negative, were evidently
pointing; and here, after such brief attempting or thoughts to attempt
at other posts, he already in this same year arrives. As many do, and
ever more must do, in these our years and times. This is the chaotic
haven of so many frustrate activities; where all manner of good gifts
go up in far-seen smoke or conflagration; and whole fleets, that might
have been war-fleets to conquer kingdoms, are _consumed_ (too truly,
often), amid "fame" enough, and the admiring shouts of the vulgar,
which is always fond to see fire going on. The true Canaan and Mount
Zion of a Talking Era must ever be Literature: the extraneous,
miscellaneous, self-elected, indescribable _Parliamentum_, or Talking
Apparatus, which talks by books and printed papers.

A literary Newspaper called _The Athenaeum_, the same which still
subsists, had been founded in those years by Mr. Buckingham; James
Silk Buckingham, who has since continued notable under various
figures. Mr. Buckingham's _Athenaeum_ had not as yet got into a
flourishing condition; and he was willing to sell the copyright of it
for a consideration. Perhaps Sterling and old Cambridge friends of
his had been already writing for it. At all events, Sterling, who had
already privately begun writing a Novel, and was clearly looking
towards Literature, perceived that his gifted Cambridge friend,
Frederic Maurice, was now also at large in a somewhat similar
situation; and that here was an opening for both of them, and for
other gifted friends. The copyright was purchased for I know not what
sum, nor with whose money, but guess it may have been Sterling's, and
no great sum;--and so, under free auspices, themselves their own
captains, Maurice and he spread sail for this new voyage of adventure
into all the world. It was about the end of 1828 that readers of
periodical literature, and quidnuncs in those departments, began to
report the appearance, in a Paper called the _Athenaeum, of_ writings
showing a superior brilliancy, and height of aim; one or perhaps two
slight specimens of which came into my own hands, in my remote corner,
about that time, and were duly recognized by me, while the authors
were still far off and hidden behind deep veils.

Some of Sterling's best Papers from the _Athenaeum_ have been
published by Archdeacon Hare: first-fruits by a young man of
twenty-two; crude, imperfect, yet singularly beautiful and attractive;
which will still testify what high literary promise lay in him. The
ruddiest glow of young enthusiasm, of noble incipient spiritual
manhood reigns over them; once more a divine Universe unveiling itself
in gloom and splendor, in auroral firelight and many-tinted shadow,
full of hope and full of awe, to a young melodious pious heart just
arrived upon it. Often enough the delineation has a certain flowing
completeness, not to be expected from so young an artist; here and
there is a decided felicity of insight; everywhere the point of view
adopted is a high and noble one, and the result worked out a result to
be sympathized with, and accepted so far as it will go. Good reading
still, those Papers, for the less-furnished mind,--thrice-excellent
reading compared with what is usually going. For the rest, a grand
melancholy is the prevailing impression they leave;--partly as if,
while the surface was so blooming and opulent, the heart of them was
still vacant, sad and cold. Here is a beautiful mirage, in the dry
wilderness; but you cannot quench your thirst there! The writer's
heart is indeed still too vacant, except of beautiful shadows and
reflexes and resonances; and is far from joyful, though it wears
commonly a smile.

In some of the Greek delineations (_The Lycian Painter_, for example),
we have already noticed a strange opulence of splendor,
characterizable as half-legitimate, half-meretricious,--a splendor
hovering between the raffaelesque and the japannish. What other
things Sterling wrote there, I never knew; nor would he in any mood,
in those later days, have told you, had you asked. This period of his
life he always rather accounted, as the Arabs do the idolatrous times
before Mahomet's advent, the "period of darkness."


0n the commercial side the _Athenaeum_ still lacked success; nor was
like to find it under the highly uncommercial management it had now
got into. This, by and by, began to be a serious consideration. For
money is the sinews of Periodical Literature almost as much as of war
itself; without money, and under a constant drain of loss, Periodical
Literature is one of the things that cannot be carried on. In no long
time Sterling began to be practically sensible of this truth, and that
an unpleasant resolution in accordance with it would be necessary. By
him also, after a while, the _Athenaeum_ was transferred to other
hands, better fitted in that respect; and under these it did take
vigorous root, and still bears fruit according to its kind.

For the present, it brought him into the thick of London Literature,
especially of young London Literature and speculation; in which turbid
exciting element he swam and revelled, nothing loath, for certain
months longer,--a period short of two years in all. He had lodgings
in Regent Street: his Father's house, now a flourishing and stirring
establishment, in South Place, Knightsbridge, where, under the warmth
of increasing revenue and success, miscellaneous cheerful socialities
and abundant speculations, chiefly political (and not John's kind, but
that of the _Times_ Newspaper and the Clubs), were rife, he could
visit daily, and yet be master of his own studies and pursuits.
Maurice, Trench, John Mill, Charles Buller: these, and some few
others, among a wide circle of a transitory phantasmal character, whom
he speedily forgot and cared not to remember, were much about him;
with these he in all ways employed and disported himself: a first
favorite with them all.

No pleasanter companion, I suppose, had any of them. So frank, open,
guileless, fearless, a brother to all worthy souls whatsoever. Come
when you might, here is he open-hearted, rich in cheerful fancies, in
grave logic, in all kinds of bright activity. If perceptibly or
imperceptibly there is a touch of ostentation in him, blame it not; it
is so innocent, so good and childlike. He is still fonder of jingling
publicly, and spreading on the table, your big purse of opulences than
his own. Abrupt too he is, cares little for big-wigs and garnitures;
perhaps laughs more than the real fun he has would order; but of
arrogance there is no vestige, of insincerity or of ill-nature none.
These must have been pleasant evenings in Regent Street, when the
circle chanced to be well adjusted there. At other times, Philistines
would enter, what we call bores, dullards, Children of Darkness; and
then,--except in a hunt of dullards, and a _bore-baiting_, which might
be permissible,--the evening was dark. Sterling, of course, had
innumerable cares withal; and was toiling like a slave; his very
recreations almost a kind of work. An enormous activity was in the
man;--sufficient, in a body that could have held it without breaking,
to have gone far, even under the unstable guidance it was like to

Thus, too, an extensive, very variegated circle of connections was
forming round him. Besides his _Athenaeum_ work, and evenings in
Regent Street and elsewhere, he makes visits to country-houses, the
Bullers' and others; converses with established gentlemen, with
honorable women not a few; is gay and welcome with the young of his
own age; knows also religious, witty, and other distinguished ladies,
and is admiringly known by them. On the whole, he is already
locomotive; visits hither and thither in a very rapid flying manner.
Thus I find he had made one flying visit to the Cumberland Lake-region
in 1828, and got sight of Wordsworth; and in the same year another
flying one to Paris, and seen with no undue enthusiasm the
Saint-Simonian Portent just beginning to preach for itself, and France
in general simmering under a scum of impieties, levities,
Saint-Simonisms, and frothy fantasticalities of all kinds, towards the
boiling-over which soon made the Three Days of July famous. But by
far the most important foreign home he visited was that of Coleridge
on the Hill of Highgate,--if it were not rather a foreign shrine and
Dodona-Oracle, as he then reckoned,--to which (onwards from 1828, as
would appear) he was already an assiduous pilgrim. Concerning whom,
and Sterling's all-important connection with him, there will be much
to say anon.

Here, from this period, is a Letter of Sterling's, which the glimpses
it affords of bright scenes and figures now sunk, so many of them,
sorrowfully to the realm of shadows, will render interesting to some
of my readers. To me on the mere Letter, not on its contents alone,
there is accidentally a kind of fateful stamp. A few months after
Charles Buller's death, while his loss was mourned by many hearts, and
to his poor Mother all light except what hung upon his memory had gone
out in the world, a certain delicate and friendly hand, hoping to give
the poor bereaved lady a good moment, sought out this Letter of
Sterling's, one morning, and called, with intent to read it to
her:--alas, the poor lady had herself fallen suddenly into the
languors of death, help of another grander sort now close at hand; and
to her this Letter was never read!

On "Fanny Kemble," it appears, there is an Essay by Sterling in the
_Athenaeum_ of this year: "16th December, 1829." Very laudatory, I
conclude. He much admired her genius, nay was thought at one time to
be vaguely on the edge of still more chivalrous feelings. As the
Letter itself may perhaps indicate.

"_To Anthony Sterling, Esq., 24th Regiment, Dublin_.
"KNIGHTSBRIDGE, 10th Nov., 1829.

"MY DEAR ANTHONY,--Here in the Capital of England and of Europe, there
is less, so far as I hear, of movement and variety than in your
provincial Dublin, or among the Wicklow Mountains. We have the old
prospect of bricks and smoke, the old crowd of busy stupid faces, the
old occupations, the old sleepy amusements; and the latest news that
reaches us daily has an air of tiresome, doting antiquity. The world
has nothing for it but to exclaim with Faust, "Give me my youth
again." And as for me, my month of Cornish amusement is over; and I
must tie myself to my old employments. I have not much to tell you
about these; but perhaps you may like to hear of my expedition to the

"I wrote to Polvellan (Mr. Buller's) to announce the day on which I
intended to be there, so shortly before setting out, that there was no
time to receive an answer; and when I reached Devonport, which is
fifteen or sixteen miles from my place of destination, I found a
letter from Mrs. Buller, saying that she was coming in two days to a
Ball at Plymouth, and if I chose to stay in the mean while and look
about me, she would take me back with her. She added an introduction
to a relation of her husband's, a certain Captain Buller of the
Rifles, who was with the Depot there,--a pleasant person, who I
believe had been acquainted with Charlotte,[7] or at least had seen
her. Under his superintendence--...

"On leaving Devonport with Mrs. Buller, I went some of the way by
water, up the harbor and river; and the prospects are certainly very
beautiful; to say nothing of the large ships, which I admire almost as
much as you, though without knowing so much about them. There is a
great deal of fine scenery all along the road to Looe; and the House
itself, a very unpretending Gothic cottage, stands beautifully among
trees, hills and water, with the sea at the distance of a quarter of a

"And here, among pleasant, good-natured, well-informed and clever
people, I spent an idle month. I dined at one or two Corporation
dinners; spent a few days at the old Mansion of Mr. Buller of Morval,
the patron of West Looe; and during the rest of the time, read, wrote,
played chess, lounged, and ate red mullet (he who has not done this
has not begun to live); talked of cookery to the philosophers, and of
metaphysics to Mrs. Buller; and altogether cultivated indolence, and
developed the faculty of nonsense with considerable pleasure and
unexampled success. Charles Buller you know: he has just come to
town, but I have not yet seen him. Arthur, his younger brother, I
take to be one of the handsomest men in England; and he too has
considerable talent. Mr. Buller the father is rather a clever man of
sense, and particularly good-natured and gentlemanly; and his wife,
who was a renowned beauty and queen of Calcutta, has still many
striking and delicate traces of what she was. Her conversation is
more brilliant and pleasant than that of any one I know; and, at all
events, I am bound to admire her for the kindness with which she
patronizes me. I hope that, some day or other, you may be acquainted
with her.

"I believe I have seen no one in London about whom you would care to
hear,--unless the fame of Fanny Kemble has passed the Channel, and
astonished the Irish Barbarians in the midst of their bloody-minded
politics. Young Kemble, whom you have seen, is in Germany: but I
have the happiness of being also acquainted with his sister, the
divine Fanny; and I have seen her twice on the stage, and three or
four times in private, since my return from Cornwall. I had seen some
beautiful verses of hers, long before she was an actress; and her
conversation is full of spirit and talent. She never was taught to
act at all; and though there are many faults in her performance of
Juliet, there is more power than in any female playing I ever saw,
except Pasta's Medea. She is not handsome, rather short, and by no
means delicately formed; but her face is marked, and the eyes are
brilliant, dark, and full of character. She has far more ability than
she ever can display on the stage; but I have no doubt that, by
practice and self-culture, she will be a far finer actress at least
than any one since Mrs. Siddons. I was at Charles Kemble's a few
evenings ago, when a drawing of Miss Kemble, by Sir Thomas Lawrence,
was brought in; and I have no doubt that you will shortly see, even in
Dublin, an engraving of her from it, very unlike the caricatures that
have hitherto appeared. I hate the stage; and but for her, should very
likely never have gone to a theatre again. Even as it is, the
annoyance is much more than the pleasure; but I suppose I must go to
see her in every character in which she acts. If Charlotte cares for
plays, let me know, and I will write in more detail about this new
Melpomene. I fear there are very few subjects on which I can say
anything that will in the least interest her.

"Ever affectionately yours,

Sterling and his circle, as their ardent speculation and activity
fermented along, were in all things clear for progress, liberalism;
their politics, and view of the Universe, decisively of the Radical
sort. As indeed that of England then was, more than ever; the crust
of old hide-bound Toryism being now openly cracking towards some
incurable disruption, which accordingly ensued as the Reform Bill
before long. The Reform Bill already hung in the wind. Old
hide-bound Toryism, long recognized by all the world, and now at last
obliged to recognize its very self, for an overgrown Imposture,
supporting itself not by human reason, but by flunky blustering and
brazen lying, superadded to mere brute force, could be no creed for
young Sterling and his friends. In all things he and they were
liberals, and, as was natural at this stage, democrats; contemplating
root-and-branch innovation by aid of the hustings and ballot-box.
Hustings and ballot-box had speedily to vanish out of Sterling's
thoughts: but the character of root-and-branch innovator, essentially
of "Radical Reformer," was indelible with him, and under all forms
could be traced as his character through life.

For the present, his and those young people's aim was: By democracy,
or what means there are, be all impostures put down. Speedy end to
Superstition,--a gentle one if you can contrive it, but an end. What
can it profit any mortal to adopt locutions and imaginations which do
not correspond to fact; which no sane mortal can deliberately adopt in
his soul as true; which the most orthodox of mortals can only, and
this after infinite essentially _impious_ effort to put out the eyes
of his mind, persuade himself to "believe that he believes"? Away
with it; in the name of God, come out of it, all true men!

Piety of heart, a certain reality of religious faith, was always
Sterling's, the gift of nature to him which he would not and could not
throw away; but I find at this time his religion is as good as
altogether Ethnic, Greekish, what Goethe calls the Heathen form of
religion. The Church, with her articles, is without relation to him.
And along with obsolete spiritualisms, he sees all manner of obsolete
thrones and big-wigged temporalities; and for them also can prophesy,
and wish, only a speedy doom. Doom inevitable, registered in Heaven's
Chancery from the beginning of days, doom unalterable as the pillars
of the world; the gods are angry, and all nature groans, till this
doom of eternal justice be fulfilled.

With gay audacity, with enthusiasm tempered by mockery, as is the
manner of young gifted men, this faith, grounded for the present on
democracy and hustings operations, and giving to all life the aspect
of a chivalrous battle-field, or almost of a gay though perilous
tournament, and bout of "A hundred knights against all comers,"--was
maintained by Sterling and his friends. And in fine, after whatever
loud remonstrances, and solemn considerations, and such shaking of our
wigs as is undoubtedly natural in the case, let us be just to it and
him. We shall have to admit, nay it will behoove us to see and
practically know, for ourselves and him and others, that the essence
of this creed, in times like ours, was right and not wrong. That,
however the ground and form of it might change, essentially it was the
monition of his natal genius to this as it is to every brave man; the
behest of all his clear insight into this Universe, the message of
Heaven through him, which he could not suppress, but was inspired and
compelled to utter in this world by such methods as he had. There for
him lay the first commandment; _this_ is what it would have been the
unforgivable sin to swerve from and desert: the treason of treasons
for him, it were there; compared with which all other sins are venial!

The message did not cease at all, as we shall see; the message was
ardently, if fitfully, continued to the end: but the methods, the
tone and dialect and all outer conditions of uttering it, underwent
most important modifications!


Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill, in those years, looking
down on London and its smoke-tumult, like a sage escaped from the
inanity of life's battle; attracting towards him the thoughts of
innumerable brave souls still engaged there. His express
contributions to poetry, philosophy, or any specific province of human
literature or enlightenment, had been small and sadly intermittent;
but he had, especially among young inquiring men, a higher than
literary, a kind of prophetic or magician character. He was thought
to hold, he alone in England, the key of German and other
Transcendentalisms; knew the sublime secret of believing by "the
reason" what "the understanding" had been obliged to fling out as
incredible; and could still, after Hume and Voltaire had done their
best and worst with him, profess himself an orthodox Christian, and
say and print to the Church of England, with its singular old rubrics
and surplices at Allhallowtide, _Esto perpetua_. A sublime man; who,
alone in those dark days, had saved his crown of spiritual manhood;
escaping from the black materialisms, and revolutionary deluges, with
"God, Freedom, Immortality" still his: a king of men. The practical
intellects of the world did not much heed him, or carelessly reckoned
him a metaphysical dreamer: but to the rising spirits of the young
generation he had this dusky sublime character; and sat there as a
kind of _Magus_, girt in mystery and enigma; his Dodona oak-grove (Mr.
Gilman's house at Highgate) whispering strange things, uncertain
whether oracles or jargon.

The Gilmans did not encourage much company, or excitation of any sort,
round their sage; nevertheless access to him, if a youth did
reverently wish it, was not difficult. He would stroll about the
pleasant garden with you, sit in the pleasant rooms of the
place,--perhaps take you to his own peculiar room, high up, with a
rearward view, which was the chief view of all. A really charming
outlook, in fine weather. Close at hand, wide sweep of flowery leafy
gardens, their few houses mostly hidden, the very chimney-pots veiled
under blossomy umbrage, flowed gloriously down hill; gloriously
issuing in wide-tufted undulating plain-country, rich in all charms of
field and town. Waving blooming country of the brightest green;
dotted all over with handsome villas, handsome groves; crossed by
roads and human traffic, here inaudible or heard only as a musical
hum: and behind all swam, under olive-tinted haze, the illimitable
limitary ocean of London, with its domes and steeples definite in the
sun, big Paul's and the many memories attached to it hanging high over
all. Nowhere, of its kind, could you see a grander prospect on a
bright summer day, with the set of the air going
southward,--southward, and so draping with the city-smoke not you but
the city. Here for hours would Coleridge talk, concerning all
conceivable or inconceivable things; and liked nothing better than to
have an intelligent, or failing that, even a silent and patient human
listener. He distinguished himself to all that ever heard him as at
least the most surprising talker extant in this world,--and to some
small minority, by no means to all, as the most excellent.

The good man, he was now getting old, towards sixty perhaps; and gave
you the idea of a life that had been full of sufferings; a life
heavy-laden, half-vanquished, still swimming painfully in seas of
manifold physical and other bewilderment. Brow and head were round,
and of massive weight, but the face was flabby and irresolute. The
deep eyes, of a light hazel, were as full of sorrow as of inspiration;
confused pain looked mildly from them, as in a kind of mild
astonishment. The whole figure and air, good and amiable otherwise,
might be called flabby and irresolute; expressive of weakness under
possibility of strength. He hung loosely on his limbs, with knees
bent, and stooping attitude; in walking, he rather shuffled than
decisively steps; and a lady once remarked, he never could fix which
side of the garden walk would suit him best, but continually shifted,
in corkscrew fashion, and kept trying both. A heavy-laden,
high-aspiring and surely much-suffering man. His voice, naturally
soft and good, had contracted itself into a plaintive snuffle and
singsong; he spoke as if preaching,--you would have said, preaching
earnestly and also hopelessly the weightiest things. I still
recollect his "object" and "subject," terms of continual recurrence in
the Kantean province; and how he sang and snuffled them into
"om-m-mject" and "sum-m-mject," with a kind of solemn shake or quaver,
as he rolled along. No talk, in his century or in any other, could be
more surprising.

Sterling, who assiduously attended him, with profound reverence, and
was often with him by himself, for a good many months, gives a record
of their first colloquy.[8] Their colloquies were numerous, and he
had taken note of many; but they are all gone to the fire, except this
first, which Mr. Hare has printed,--unluckily without date. It
contains a number of ingenious, true and half-true observations, and
is of course a faithful epitome of the things said; but it gives small
idea of Coleridge's way of talking;--this one feature is perhaps the
most recognizable, "Our interview lasted for three hours, during which
he talked two hours and three quarters." Nothing could be more
copious than his talk; and furthermore it was always, virtually or
literally, of the nature of a monologue; suffering no interruption,
however reverent; hastily putting aside all foreign additions,
annotations, or most ingenuous desires for elucidation, as well-meant
superfluities which would never do. Besides, it was talk not flowing
any-whither like a river, but spreading every-whither in inextricable
currents and regurgitations like a lake or sea; terribly deficient in
definite goal or aim, nay often in logical intelligibility; _what_ you
were to believe or do, on any earthly or heavenly thing, obstinately
refusing to appear from it. So that, most times, you felt logically
lost; swamped near to drowning in this tide of ingenious vocables,
spreading out boundless as if to submerge the world.

To sit as a passive bucket and be pumped into, whether you consent or
not, can in the long-run be exhilarating to no creature; how eloquent
soever the flood of utterance that is descending. But if it be withal
a confused unintelligible flood of utterance, threatening to submerge
all known landmarks of thought, and drown the world and you!--I have
heard Coleridge talk, with eager musical energy, two stricken hours,
his face radiant and moist, and communicate no meaning whatsoever to
any individual of his hearers,--certain of whom, I for one, still kept
eagerly listening in hope; the most had long before given up, and
formed (if the room were large enough) secondary humming groups of
their own. He began anywhere: you put some question to him, made
some suggestive observation: instead of answering this, or decidedly
setting out towards answer of it, he would accumulate formidable
apparatus, logical swim-bladders, transcendental life-preservers and
other precautionary and vehiculatory gear, for setting out; perhaps
did at last get under way,--but was swiftly solicited, turned aside by
the glance of some radiant new game on this hand or that, into new
courses; and ever into new; and before long into all the Universe,
where it was uncertain what game you would catch, or whether any.

His talk, alas, was distinguished, like himself, by irresolution: it
disliked to he troubled with conditions, abstinences, definite
fulfilments;--loved to wander at its own sweet will, and make its
auditor and his claims and humble wishes a mere passive bucket for
itself! He had knowledge about many things and topics, much curious
reading; but generally all topics led him, after a pass or two, into
the high seas of theosophic philosophy, the hazy infinitude of Kantean
transcendentalism, with its "sum-m-mjects " and " om-m-mjects." Sad
enough; for with such indolent impatience of the claims and ignorances
of others, he had not the least talent for explaining this or anything
unknown to them; and you swam and fluttered in the mistiest wide
unintelligible deluge of things, for most part in a rather profitless
uncomfortable manner.

Glorious islets, too, I have seen rise out of the haze; but they were
few, and soon swallowed in the general element again. Balmy sunny
islets, islets of the blest and the intelligible:--on which occasions
those secondary humming groups would all cease humming, and hang
breathless upon the eloquent words; till once your islet got wrapt in
the mist again, and they could recommence humming. Eloquent
artistically expressive words you always had; piercing radiances of a
most subtle insight came at intervals; tones of noble pious sympathy,
recognizable as pious though strangely colored, were never wanting
long: but in general you could not call this aimless, cloud-capt,
cloud-based, lawlessly meandering human discourse of reason by the
name of "excellent talk," but only of "surprising;" and were reminded
bitterly of Hazlitt's account of it: "Excellent talker, very,--if you
let him start from no premises and come to no conclusion." Coleridge
was not without what talkers call wit, and there were touches of
prickly sarcasm in him, contemptuous enough of the world and its idols
and popular dignitaries; he had traits even of poetic humor: but in
general he seemed deficient in laughter; or indeed in sympathy for
concrete human things either on the sunny or on the stormy side. One
right peal of concrete laughter at some convicted flesh-and-blood
absurdity, one burst of noble indignation at some injustice or
depravity, rubbing elbows with us on this solid Earth, how strange
would it have been in that Kantean haze-world, and how infinitely
cheering amid its vacant air-castles and dim-melting ghosts and
shadows! None such ever came. His life had been an abstract thinking
and dreaming, idealistic, passed amid the ghosts of defunct bodies and
of unborn ones. The moaning singsong of that theosophico-metaphysical
monotony left on you, at last, a very dreary feeling.

In close colloquy, flowing within narrower banks, I suppose he was
more definite and apprehensible; Sterling in after-times did not
complain of his unintelligibility, or imputed it only to the abtruse
high nature of the topics handled. Let us hope so, let us try to
believe so! There is no doubt but Coleridge could speak plain words
on things plain: his observations and responses on the trivial
matters that occurred were as simple as the commonest man's, or were
even distinguished by superior simplicity as well as pertinency. "Ah,
your tea is too cold, Mr. Coleridge!" mourned the good Mrs. Gilman
once, in her kind, reverential and yet protective manner, handing him
a very tolerable though belated cup.--"It's better than I deserve!"
snuffled he, in a low hoarse murmur, partly courteous, chiefly pious,
the tone of which still abides with me: "It's better than I deserve!"

But indeed, to the young ardent mind, instinct with pious nobleness,
yet driven to the grim deserts of Radicalism for a faith, his
speculations had a charm much more than literary, a charm almost
religious and prophetic. The constant gist of his discourse was
lamentation over the sunk condition of the world; which he recognized
to be given up to Atheism and Materialism, full of mere sordid
misbeliefs, mispursuits and misresults. All Science had become
mechanical; the science not of men, but of a kind of human beavers.
Churches themselves had died away into a godless mechanical condition;
and stood there as mere Cases of Articles, mere Forms of Churches;
like the dried carcasses of once swift camels, which you find left
withering in the thirst of the universal desert,--ghastly portents for
the present, beneficent ships of the desert no more. Men's souls were
blinded, hebetated; and sunk under the influence of Atheism and
Materialism, and Hume and Voltaire: the world for the present was as
an extinct world, deserted of God, and incapable of well-doing till it
changed its heart and spirit. This, expressed I think with less of
indignation and with more of long-drawn querulousness, was always
recognizable as the ground-tone:--in which truly a pious young heart,
driven into Radicalism and the opposition party, could not but
recognize a too sorrowful truth; and ask of the Oracle, with all
earnestness, What remedy, then?

The remedy, though Coleridge himself professed to see it as in
sunbeams, could not, except by processes unspeakably difficult, be
described to you at all. On the whole, those dead Churches, this dead
English Church especially, must be brought to life again. Why not?
It was not dead; the soul of it, in this parched-up body, was
tragically asleep only. Atheistic Philosophy was true on its side,
and Hume and Voltaire could on their own ground speak irrefragably for
themselves against any Church: but lift the Church and them into a
higher sphere. Of argument, _they_ died into inanition, the Church
revivified itself into pristine florid vigor,--became once more a
living ship of the desert, and invincibly bore you over stock and
stone. But how, but how! By attending to the "reason" of man, said
Coleridge, and duly chaining up the "understanding" of man: the
_Vernunft_ (Reason) and _Verstand_ (Understanding) of the Germans, it
all turned upon these, if you could well understand them,--which you
couldn't. For the rest, Mr. Coleridge had on the anvil various Books,
especially was about to write one grand Book _On the Logos_, which
would help to bridge the chasm for us. So much appeared, however:
Churches, though proved false (as you had imagined), were still true
(as you were to imagine): here was an Artist who could burn you up an
old Church, root and branch; and then as the Alchemists professed to
do with organic substances in general, distil you an "Astral Spirit"
from the ashes, which was the very image of the old burnt article, its
air-drawn counterpart,--this you still had, or might get, and draw
uses from, if you could. Wait till the Book on the Logos were
done;--alas, till your own terrene eyes, blind with conceit and the
dust of logic, were purged, subtilized and spiritualized into the
sharpness of vision requisite for discerning such an
"om-m-mject."--The ingenuous young English head, of those days, stood
strangely puzzled by such revelations; uncertain whether it were
getting inspired, or getting infatuated into flat imbecility; and
strange effulgence, of new day or else of deeper meteoric night,
colored the horizon of the future for it.

Let me not be unjust to this memorable man. Surely there was here, in
his pious, ever-laboring, subtle mind, a precious truth, or
prefigurement of truth; and yet a fatal delusion withal.
Prefigurement that, in spite of beaver sciences and temporary
spiritual hebetude and cecity, man and his Universe were eternally
divine; and that no past nobleness, or revelation of the divine, could
or would ever be lost to him. Most true, surely, and worthy of all
acceptance. Good also to do what you can with old Churches and
practical Symbols of the Noble: nay quit not the burnt ruins of them
while you find there is still gold to be dug there. But, on the
whole, do not think you can, by logical alchemy, distil astral spirits
from them; or if you could, that said astral spirits, or defunct
logical phantasms, could serve you in anything. What the light of
your mind, which is the direct inspiration of the Almighty, pronounces
incredible,--that, in God's name, leave uncredited; at your peril do
not try believing that. No subtlest hocus-pocus of "reason" versus


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