The Life of John Sterling
Thomas Carlyle

Part 2 out of 5

"understanding" will avail for that feat;--and it is terribly perilous
to try it in these provinces!

The truth is, I now see, Coleridge's talk and speculation was the
emblem of himself: in it as in him, a ray of heavenly inspiration
struggled, in a tragically ineffectual degree, with the weakness of
flesh and blood. He says once, he "had skirted the howling deserts of
Infidelity;" this was evident enough: but he had not had the courage,
in defiance of pain and terror, to press resolutely across said
deserts to the new firm lands of Faith beyond; he preferred to create
logical fata-morganas for himself on this hither side, and laboriously
solace himself with these.

To the man himself Nature had given, in high measure, the seeds of a
noble endowment; and to unfold it had been forbidden him. A subtle
lynx-eyed intellect, tremulous pious sensibility to all good and all
beautiful; truly a ray of empyrean light;--but embedded in such weak
laxity of character, in such indolences and esuriences as had made
strange work with it. Once more, the tragic story of a high endowment
with an insufficient will. An eye to discern the divineness of the
Heaven's spendors and lightnings, the insatiable wish to revel in
their godlike radiances and brilliances; but no heart to front the
scathing terrors of them, which is the first condition of your
conquering an abiding place there. The courage necessary for him,
above all things, had been denied this man. His life, with such ray
of the empyrean in it, was great and terrible to him; and he had not
valiantly grappled with it, he had fled from it; sought refuge in
vague daydreams, hollow compromises, in opium, in theosophic
metaphysics. Harsh pain, danger, necessity, slavish harnessed toil,
were of all things abhorrent to him. And so the empyrean element,
lying smothered under the terrene, and yet inextinguishable there,
made sad writhings. For pain, danger, difficulty, steady slaving
toil, and other highly disagreeable behests of destiny, shall in
nowise be shirked by any brightest mortal that will approve himself
loyal to his mission in this world; nay precisely the higher he is,
the deeper will be the disagreeableness, and the detestability to
flesh and blood, of the tasks laid on him; and the heavier too, and
more tragic, his penalties if he neglect them.

For the old Eternal Powers do live forever; nor do their laws know any
change, however we in our poor wigs and church-tippets may attempt to
read their laws. To _steal_ into Heaven,--by the modern method, of
sticking ostrich-like your head into fallacies on Earth, equally as by
the ancient and by all conceivable methods,--is forever forbidden.
High-treason is the name of that attempt; and it continues to be
punished as such. Strange enough: here once more was a kind of
Heaven-scaling Ixion; and to him, as to the old one, the just gods
were very stern! The ever-revolving, never-advancing Wheel (of a
kind) was his, through life; and from his Cloud-Juno did not he too
procreate strange Centaurs, spectral Puseyisms, monstrous illusory
Hybrids, and ecclesiastical Chimeras,--which now roam the earth in a
very lamentable manner!


This magical ingredient thrown into the wild caldron of such a mind,
which we have seen occupied hitherto with mere Ethnicism, Radicalism
and revolutionary tumult, but hungering all along for something higher
and better, was sure to be eagerly welcomed and imbibed, and could not
fail to produce important fermentations there. Fermentations;
important new directions, and withal important new perversions, in the
spiritual life of this man, as it has since done in the lives of so
many. Here then is the new celestial manna we were all in quest of?
This thrice-refined pabulum of transcendental moonshine? Whoso eateth
thereof,--yes, what, on the whole, will _he_ probably grow to?

Sterling never spoke much to me of his intercourse with Coleridge; and
when we did compare notes about him, it was usually rather in the way
of controversial discussion than of narrative. So that, from my own
resources, I can give no details of the business, nor specify anything
in it, except the general fact of an ardent attendance at Highgate
continued for many months, which was impressively known to all
Sterling's friends; and am unable to assign even the limitary dates,
Sterling's own papers on the subject having all been destroyed by him.
Inferences point to the end of 1828 as the beginning of this
intercourse; perhaps in 1829 it was at the highest point; and already
in 1830, when the intercourse itself was about to terminate, we have
proof of the influences it was producing,--in the Novel of _Arthur
Coningsby_, then on hand, the first and only Book that Sterling ever
wrote. His writings hitherto had been sketches, criticisms, brief
essays; he was now trying it on a wider scale; but not yet with
satisfactory results, and it proved to be his only trial in that form.

He had already, as was intimated, given up his brief proprietorship of
the _Athenaeum_; the commercial indications, and state of sales and of
costs, peremptorily ordering him to do so; the copyright went by sale
or gift, I know not at what precise date, into other fitter hands; and
with the copyright all connection on the part of Sterling. To
_Athenaeum_ Sketches had now (in 1829-30) succeeded _Arthur
Coningsby_, a Novel in three volumes; indicating (when it came to
light, a year or two afterwards) equally hasty and much more ambitious
aims in Literature;--giving strong evidence, too, of internal
spiritual revulsions going painfully forward, and in particular of the
impression Coleridge was producing on him. Without and within, it was
a wild tide of things this ardent light young soul was afloat upon, at
present; and his outlooks into the future, whether for his spiritual
or economic fortunes, were confused enough.

Among his familiars in this period, I might have mentioned one Charles
Barton, formerly his fellow-student at Cambridge, now an amiable,
cheerful, rather idle young fellow about Town; who led the way into
certain new experiences, and lighter fields, for Sterling. His
Father, Lieutenant-General Barton of the Life-guards, an Irish
landlord, I think in Fermanagh County, and a man of connections about
Court, lived in a certain figure here in Town; had a wife of
fashionable habits, with other sons, and also daughters, bred in this
sphere. These, all of them, were amiable, elegant and pleasant
people;--such was especially an eldest daughter, Susannah Barton, a
stately blooming black-eyed young woman, attractive enough in form and
character; full of gay softness, of indolent sense and enthusiasm;
about Sterling's own age, if not a little older. In this house, which
opened to him, more decisively than his Father's, a new stratum of
society, and where his reception for Charles's sake and his own was of
the kindest, he liked very well to be; and spent, I suppose, many of
his vacant half-hours, lightly chatting with the elders or the
youngsters,--doubtless with the young lady too, though as yet without
particular intentions on either side.

Nor, with all the Coleridge fermentation, was democratic Radicalism by
any means given up;--though how it was to live if the Coleridgean
moonshine took effect, might have been an abtruse question. Hitherto,
while said moonshine was but taking effect, and coloring the outer
surface of things without quite penetrating into the heart, democratic
Liberalism, revolt against superstition and oppression, and help to
whosoever would revolt, was still the grand element in Sterling's
creed; and practically he stood, not ready only, but full of alacrity
to fulfil all its behests. We heard long since of the "black
dragoons,"--whom doubtless the new moonshine had considerably
silvered-over into new hues, by this time;--but here now, while
Radicalism is tottering for him and threatening to crumble, comes
suddenly the grand consummation and explosion of Radicalism in his
life; whereby, all at once, Radicalism exhausted and ended itself, and
appeared no more there.

In those years a visible section of the London population, and
conspicuous out of all proportion to its size or value, was a small
knot of Spaniards, who had sought shelter here as Political Refugees.
"Political Refugees:" a tragic succession of that class is one of the
possessions of England in our time. Six-and-twenty years ago, when I
first saw London, I remember those unfortunate Spaniards among the new
phenomena. Daily in the cold spring air, under skies so unlike their
own, you could see a group of fifty or a hundred stately tragic
figures, in proud threadbare cloaks; perambulating, mostly with closed
lips, the broad pavements of Euston Square and the regions about St.
Pancras new Church. Their lodging was chiefly in Somers Town, as I
understood: and those open pavements about St. Pancras Church were
the general place of rendezvous. They spoke little or no English;
knew nobody, could employ themselves on nothing, in this new scene.
Old steel-gray heads, many of them; the shaggy, thick, blue-black hair
of others struck you; their brown complexion, dusky look of suppressed
fire, in general their tragic condition as of caged Numidian lions.

That particular Flight of Unfortunates has long since fled again, and
vanished; and new have come and fled. In this convulsed revolutionary
epoch, which already lasts above sixty years, what tragic flights of
such have we not seen arrive on the one safe coast which is open to
them, as they get successively vanquished, and chased into exile to
avoid worse! Swarm after swarm, of ever-new complexion, from Spain as
from other countries, is thrown off, in those ever-recurring
paroxysms; and will continue to be thrown off. As there could be
(suggests Linnaeus) a "flower-clock," measuring the hours of the day,
and the months of the year, by the kinds of flowers that go to sleep
and awaken, that blow into beauty and fade into dust: so in the great
Revolutionary Horologe, one might mark the years and epochs by the
successive kinds of exiles that walk London streets, and, in grim
silent manner, demand pity from us and reflections from us.--This then
extant group of Spanish Exiles was the Trocadero swarm, thrown off in
1823, in the Riego and Quirogas quarrel. These were they whom Charles
Tenth had, by sheer force, driven from their constitutionalisms and
their Trocadero fortresses,--Charles Tenth, who himself was soon
driven out, manifoldly by sheer force; and had to head his own swarm
of fugitives; and has now himself quite vanished, and given place to
others. For there is no end of them; propelling and propelled!--

Of these poor Spanish Exiles, now vegetating about Somers Town, and
painfully beating the pavement in Euston Square, the acknowledged
chief was General Torrijos, a man of high qualities and fortunes,
still in the vigor of his years, and in these desperate circumstances
refusing to despair; with whom Sterling had, at this time, become


Torrijos, who had now in 1829 been here some four or five years,
having come over in 1824, had from the first enjoyed a superior
reception in England. Possessing not only a language to speak, which
few of the others did, but manifold experiences courtly, military,
diplomatic, with fine natural faculties, and high Spanish manners
tempered into cosmopolitan, he had been welcomed in various circles of
society; and found, perhaps he alone of those Spaniards, a certain
human companionship among persons of some standing in this country.
With the elder Sterlings, among others, he had made acquaintance;
became familiar in the social circle at South Place, and was much
esteemed there. With Madam Torrijos, who also was a person of amiable
and distinguished qualities, an affectionate friendship grew up on the
part of Mrs. Sterling, which ended only with the death of these two
ladies. John Sterling, on arriving in London from his University
work, naturally inherited what he liked to take up of this relation:
and in the lodgings in Regent Street, and the democratico-literary
element there, Torrijos became a very prominent, and at length almost
the central object.

The man himself, it is well known, was a valiant, gallant man; of
lively intellect, of noble chivalrous character: fine talents, fine
accomplishments, all grounding themselves on a certain rugged
veracity, recommended him to the discerning. He had begun youth in
the Court of Ferdinand; had gone on in Wellington and other arduous,
victorious and unvictorious, soldierings; familiar in camps and
council-rooms, in presence-chambers and in prisons. He knew romantic
Spain;--he was himself, standing withal in the vanguard of Freedom's
fight, a kind of living romance. Infinitely interesting to John
Sterling, for one.

It was to Torrijos that the poor Spaniards of Somers Town looked
mainly, in their helplessness, for every species of help. Torrijos,
it was hoped, would yet lead them into Spain and glorious victory
there; meanwhile here in England, under defeat, he was their captain
and sovereign in another painfully inverse sense. To whom, in
extremity, everybody might apply. When all present resources failed,
and the exchequer was quite out, there still remained Torrijos.
Torrijos has to find new resources for his destitute patriots, find
loans, find Spanish lessons for them among his English friends: in
all which charitable operations, it need not be said, John Sterling
was his foremost man; zealous to empty his own purse for the object;
impetuous in rushing hither or thither to enlist the aid of others,
and find lessons or something that would do. His friends, of course,
had to assist; the Bartons, among others, were wont to assist;--and I
have heard that the fair Susan, stirring up her indolent enthusiasm
into practicality, was very successful in finding Spanish lessons, and
the like, for these distressed men. Sterling and his friends were yet
new in this business; but Torrijos and the others were getting old in
it?--and doubtless weary and almost desperate of it. They had now
been seven years in it, many of them; and were asking, When will the
end be?

Torrijos is described as a man of excellent discernment: who knows
how long he had repressed the unreasonable schemes of his followers,
and turned a deaf ear to the temptings of fallacious hope? But there
comes at length a sum-total of oppressive burdens which is
intolerable, which tempts the wisest towards fallacies for relief.
These weary groups, pacing the Euston-Square pavements, had often said
in their despair, "Were not death in battle better? Here are we
slowly mouldering into nothingness; there we might reach it rapidly,
in flaming splendor. Flame, either of victory to Spain and us, or of
a patriot death, the sure harbinger of victory to Spain. Flame fit to
kindle a fire which no Ferdinand, with all his Inquisitions and
Charles Tenths, could put out." Enough, in the end of 1829, Torrijos
himself had yielded to this pressure; and hoping against hope,
persuaded himself that if he could but land in the South of Spain with
a small patriot band well armed and well resolved, a band carrying
fire in its heart,--then Spain, all inflammable as touchwood, and
groaning indignantly under its brutal tyrant, might blaze wholly into
flame round him, and incalculable victory be won. Such was his
conclusion; not sudden, yet surely not deliberate either,--desperate
rather, and forced on by circumstances. He thought with himself that,
considering Somers Town and considering Spain, the terrible chance was
worth trying; that this big game of Fate, go how it might, was one
which the omens credibly declared he and these poor Spaniards ought to

His whole industries and energies were thereupon bent towards starting
the said game; and his thought and continual speech and song now was,
That if he had a few thousand pounds to buy arms, to freight a ship
and make the other preparations, he and these poor gentlemen, and
Spain and the world, were made men and a saved Spain and world. What
talks and consultations in the apartment in Regent Street, during
those winter days of 1829-30; setting into open conflagration the
young democracy that was wont to assemble there! Of which there is
now left next to no remembrance. For Sterling never spoke a word of
this affair in after-days, nor was any of the actors much tempted to
speak. We can understand too well that here were young fervid hearts
in an explosive condition; young rash heads, sanctioned by a man's
experienced head. Here at last shall enthusiasm and theory become
practice and fact; fiery dreams are at last permitted to realize
themselves; and now is the time or never!--How the Coleridge moonshine
comported itself amid these hot telluric flames, or whether it had not
yet begun to play there (which I rather doubt), must be left to

Mr. Hare speaks of Sterling "sailing over to St. Valery in an open
boat along with others," upon one occasion, in this enterprise;--in
the _final_ English scene of it, I suppose. Which is very possible.
Unquestionably there was adventure enough of other kinds for it, and
running to and fro with all his speed on behalf of it, during these
months of his history! Money was subscribed, collected: the young
Cambridge democrats were all ablaze to assist Torrijos; nay certain of
them decided to go with him,--and went. Only, as yet, the funds were
rather incomplete. And here, as I learn from a good hand, is the
secret history of their becoming complete. Which, as we are upon the
subject, I had better give. But for the following circumstance, they
had perhaps never been completed; nor had the rash enterprise, or its
catastrophe, so influential on the rest of Sterling's life, taken
place at all.

A certain Lieutenant Robert Boyd, of the Indian Army, an Ulster
Irishman, a cousin of Sterling's, had received some affront, or
otherwise taken some disgust in that service; had thrown up his
commission in consequence; and returned home, about this time, with
intent to seek another course of life. Having only, for outfit, these
impatient ardors, some experience in Indian drill exercise, and five
thousand pounds of inheritance, he found the enterprise attended with
difficulties; and was somewhat at a loss how to dispose of himself.
Some young Ulster comrade, in a partly similar situation, had pointed
out to him that there lay in a certain neighboring creek of the Irish
coast, a worn-out royal gun-brig condemned to sale, to be had
dog-cheap: this he proposed that they two, or in fact Boyd with his
five thousand pounds, should buy; that they should refit and arm and
man it;--and sail a-privateering "to the Eastern Archipelago,"
Philippine Isles, or I know not where; and _so_ conquer the golden

Boyd naturally paused a little at this great proposal; did not quite
reject it; came across, with it and other fine projects and
impatiences fermenting in his head, to London, there to see and
consider. It was in the months when the Torrijos enterprise was in
the birth-throes; crying wildly for capital, of all things. Boyd
naturally spoke of his projects to Sterling,--of his gun-brig lying in
the Irish creek, among others. Sterling naturally said, "If you want
an adventure of the Sea-king sort, and propose to lay your money and
your life into such a game, here is Torrijos and Spain at his back;
here is a golden fleece to conquer, worth twenty Eastern
Archipelagoes."--Boyd and Torrijos quickly met; quickly bargained.
Boyd's money was to go in purchasing, and storing with a certain stock
of arms and etceteras, a small ship in the Thames, which should carry
Boyd with Torrijos and the adventurers to the south coast of Spain;
and there, the game once played and won, Boyd was to have promotion
enough,--"the colonelcy of a Spanish cavalry regiment," for one
express thing. What exact share Sterling had in this negotiation, or
whether he did not even take the prudent side and caution Boyd to be
wary I know not; but it was he that brought the parties together; and
all his friends knew, in silence, that to the end of his life he
painfully remembered that fact.

And so a ship was hired, or purchased, in the Thames; due furnishings
began to be executed in it; arms and stores were gradually got on
board; Torrijos with his Fifty picked Spaniards, in the mean while,
getting ready. This was in the spring of 1830. Boyd's 5000 pounds
was the grand nucleus of finance; but vigorous subscription was
carried on likewise in Sterling's young democratic circle, or wherever
a member of it could find access; not without considerable result, and
with a zeal that may be imagined. Nay, as above hinted, certain of
these young men decided, not to give their money only, but themselves
along with it, as democratic volunteers and soldiers of progress;
among whom, it need not be said, Sterling intended to be foremost.
Busy weeks with him, those spring ones of the year 1830! Through this
small Note, accidentally preserved to us, addressed to his friend
Barton, we obtain a curious glance into the subterranean workshop:--

"_To Charles Barton, Esq., Dorset Sq., Regent's Park_.
[No date; apparently March or February, 1830.]

"MY DEAR CHARLES,--I have wanted to see you to talk to you about my
Foreign affairs. If you are going to be in London for a few days, I
believe you can be very useful to me, at a considerable expense and
trouble to yourself, in the way of buying accoutrements; _inter alia_,
a sword and a saddle,--not, you will understand, for my own use.

"Things are going on very well, but are very, even frightfully near;
only be quiet! Pray would you, in case of necessity, take a free
passage to Holland, next week or the week after; stay two or three
days, and come back, all expenses paid? If you write to B---- at
Cambridge, tell him above all things to hold his tongue. If you are
near Palace Yard to-morrow before two, pray come to see me. Do not
come on purpose; especially as I may perhaps be away, and at all
events shall not be there until eleven, nor perhaps till rather later.

"I fear I shall have alarmed your Mother by my irruption. Forgive me
for that and all my exactions from you. If the next month were over,
I should not have to trouble any one.

"Yours affectionately,

Busy weeks indeed; and a glowing smithy-light coming through the
chinks!--The romance of _Arthur Coningsby_ lay written, or
half-written, in his desk; and here, in his heart and among his hands,
was an acted romance and unknown catastrophes keeping pace with that.

Doubts from the doctors, for his health was getting ominous, threw
some shade over the adventure. Reproachful reminiscences of Coleridge
and Theosophy were natural too; then fond regrets for Literature and
its glories: if you act your romance, how can you also write it?
Regrets, and reproachful reminiscences, from Art and Theosophy;
perhaps some tenderer regrets withal. A crisis in life had come;
when, of innumerable possibilities one possibility was to be elected
king, and to swallow all the rest, the rest of course made noise
enough, and swelled themselves to their biggest.

Meanwhile the ship was fast getting ready: on a certain day, it was
to drop quietly down the Thames; then touch at Deal, and take on board
Torrijos and his adventurers, who were to be in waiting and on the
outlook for them there. Let every man lay in his accoutrements, then;
let every man make his packages, his arrangements and farewells.
Sterling went to take leave of Miss Barton. "You are going, then; to
Spain? To rough it amid the storms of war and perilous insurrection;
and with that weak health of yours; and--we shall never see you more,
then!" Miss Barton, all her gayety gone, the dimpling softness become
liquid sorrow, and the musical ringing voice one wail of woe, "burst
into tears,"--so I have it on authority:--here was one possibility
about to be strangled that made unexpected noise! Sterling's
interview ended in the offer of his hand, and the acceptance of
it;--any sacrifice to get rid of this horrid Spanish business, and
save the health and life of a gifted young man so precious to the
world and to another!

"Ill-health," as often afterwards in Sterling's life, when the excuse
was real enough but not the chief excuse; "ill-health, and insuperable
obstacles and engagements," had to bear the chief brunt in
apologizing: and, as Sterling's actual presence, or that of any
Englishman except Boyd and his money, was not in the least vital to
the adventure, his excuse was at once accepted. The English
connections and subscriptions are a given fact, to be presided over by
what English volunteers there are: and as for Englishmen, the fewer
Englishmen that go, the larger will be the share of influence for
each. The other adventurers, Torrijos among them in due readiness,
moved silently one by one down to Deal; Sterling, superintending the
naval hands, on board their ship in the Thames, was to see the last
finish given to everything in that department; then, on the set
evening, to drop down quietly to Deal, and there say _Andad con Dios_,
and return.

Behold! Just before the set evening came, the Spanish Envoy at this
Court has got notice of what is going on; the Spanish Envoy, and of
course the British Foreign Secretary, and of course also the Thames
Police. Armed men spring suddenly on board, one day, while Sterling
is there; declare the ship seized and embargoed in the King's name;
nobody on board to stir till he has given some account of himself in
due time and place! Huge consternation, naturally, from stem to
stern. Sterling, whose presence of mind seldom forsook him, casts his
eye over the River and its craft; sees a wherry, privately signals it,
drops rapidly on board of it: "Stop!" fiercely interjects the marine
policeman from the ship's deck.--"Why stop? What use have you for me,
or I for you?" and the oars begin playing.--"Stop, or I'll shoot you!"
cries the marine policeman, drawing a pistol.--"No, you won't."--"I
will!"--"If you do you'll be hanged at the next Maidstone assizes,
then; that's all,"--and Sterling's wherry shot rapidly ashore; and out
of this perilous adventure.

That same night he posted down to Deal; disclosed to the Torrijos
party what catastrophe had come. No passage Spainward from the
Thames; well if arrestment do not suddenly come from the Thames! It
was on this occasion, I suppose, that the passage in the open boat to
St. Valery occurred;--speedy flight in what boat or boats, open or
shut, could be got at Deal on the sudden. Sterling himself, according
to Hare's authority, actually went with them so far. Enough, they got
shipping, as private passengers in one craft or the other; and, by
degrees or at once, arrived all at Gibraltar,--Boyd, one or two young
democrats of Regent Street, the fifty picked Spaniards, and
Torrijos,--safe, though without arms; still in the early part of the


Sterling's outlooks and occupations, now that his Spanish friends were
gone, must have been of a rather miscellaneous confused description.
He had the enterprise of a married life close before him; and as yet
no profession, no fixed pursuit whatever. His health was already very
threatening; often such as to disable him from present activity, and
occasion the gravest apprehensions; practically blocking up all
important courses whatsoever, and rendering the future, if even life
were lengthened and he had any future, an insolubility for him.
Parliament was shut, public life was shut: Literature,--if, alas, any
solid fruit could lie in literature!

Or perhaps one's health would mend, after all; and many things be
better than was hoped! Sterling was not of a despondent temper, or
given in any measure to lie down and indolently moan: I fancy he
walked briskly enough into this tempestuous-looking future; not
heeding too much its thunderous aspects; doing swiftly, for the day,
what his hand found to do. _Arthur Coningsby_, I suppose, lay on the
anvil at present; visits to Coleridge were now again more possible;
grand news from Torrijos might be looked for, though only small yet
came:--nay here, in the hot July, is France, at least, all thrown into
volcano again! Here are the miraculous Three Days; heralding, in
thunder, great things to Torrijos and others; filling with babblement
and vaticination the mouths and hearts of all democratic men.

So rolled along, in tumult of chaotic remembrance and uncertain hope,
in manifold emotion, and the confused struggle (for Sterling as for
the world) to extricate the New from the falling ruins of the Old, the
summer and autumn of 1830. From Gibraltar and Torrijos the tidings
were vague, unimportant and discouraging: attempt on Cadiz, attempt
on the lines of St. Roch, those attempts, or rather resolutions to
attempt, had died in the birth, or almost before it. Men blamed
Torrijos, little knowing his impediments. Boyd was still patient at
his post: others of the young English (on the strength of the
subscribed moneys) were said to be thinking of tours,--perhaps in the
Sierra Morena and neighboring Quixote regions. From that Torrijos
enterprise it did not seem that anything considerable would come.

On the edge of winter, here at home, Sterling was married: "at
Christchurch, Marylebone, 2d November, 1830," say the records. His
blooming, kindly and true-hearted Wife had not much money, nor had he
as yet any: but friends on both sides were bountiful and hopeful; had
made up, for the young couple, the foundations of a modestly effective
household; and in the future there lay more substantial prospects. On
the finance side Sterling never had anything to suffer. His Wife,
though somewhat languid, and of indolent humor, was a graceful,
pious-minded, honorable and affectionate woman; she could not much
support him in the ever-shifting struggles of his life, but she
faithfully attended him in them, and loyally marched by his side
through the changes and nomadic pilgrimings, of which many were
appointed him in his short course.

Unhappily a few weeks after his marriage, and before any household was
yet set up, he fell dangerously ill; worse in health than he had ever
yet been: so many agitations crowded into the last few months had
been too much for him. He fell into dangerous pulmonary illness, sank
ever deeper; lay for many weeks in his Father's house utterly
prostrate, his young Wife and his Mother watching over him; friends,
sparingly admitted, long despairing of his life. All prospects in
this world were now apparently shut upon him.

After a while, came hope again, and kindlier symptoms: but the
doctors intimated that there lay consumption in the question, and that
perfect recovery was not to be looked for. For weeks he had been
confined to bed; it was several months before he could leave his
sick-room, where the visits of a few friends had much cheered him.
And now when delivered, readmitted to the air of day again,--weak as
he was, and with such a liability still lurking in him,--what his
young partner and he were to do, or whitherward to turn for a good
course of life, was by no means too apparent.

One of his Mother Mrs. Edward Sterling's Uncles, a Coningham from
Derry, had, in the course of his industrious and adventurous life,
realized large property in the West Indies,--a valuable Sugar-estate,
with its equipments, in the Island of St. Vincent;--from which Mrs.
Sterling and her family were now, and had been for some years before
her Uncle's decease, deriving important benefits. I have heard, it
was then worth some ten thousand pounds a year to the parties
interested. Anthony Sterling, John, and another a cousin of theirs
were ultimately to be heirs, in equal proportions. The old gentleman,
always kind to his kindred, and a brave and solid man though somewhat
abrupt in his ways, had lately died; leaving a settlement to this
effect, not without some intricacies, and almost caprices, in the
conditions attached.

This property, which is still a valuable one, was Sterling's chief
pecuniary outlook for the distant future. Of course it well deserved
taking care of; and if the eye of the master were upon it, of course
too (according to the adage) the cattle would fatten better. As the
warm climate was favorable to pulmonary complaints, and Sterling's
occupations were so shattered to pieces and his outlooks here so waste
and vague, why should not he undertake this duty for himself and

It was fixed upon as the eligiblest course. A visit to St. Vincent,
perhaps a permanent residence there: he went into the project with
his customary impetuosity; his young Wife cheerfully consenting, and
all manner of new hopes clustering round it. There are the rich
tropical sceneries, the romance of the torrid zone with its new skies
and seas and lands; there are Blacks, and the Slavery question to be
investigated: there are the bronzed Whites and Yellows, and their
strange new way of life: by all means let us go and
try!--Arrangements being completed, so soon as his strength had
sufficiently recovered, and the harsh spring winds had sufficiently
abated, Sterling with his small household set sail for St. Vincent;
and arrived without accident. His first child, a son Edward, now
living and grown to manhood, was born there, "at Brighton in the
Island of St. Vincent," in the fall of that year 1831.


Sterling found a pleasant residence, with all its adjuncts, ready for
him, at Colonarie, in this "volcanic Isle" under the hot sun. An
interesting Isle: a place of rugged chasms, precipitous gnarled
heights, and the most fruitful hollows; shaggy everywhere with
luxuriant vegetation; set under magnificent skies, in the mirror of
the summer seas; offering everywhere the grandest sudden outlooks and
contrasts. His Letters represent a placidly cheerful riding life: a
pensive humor, but the thunder-clouds all sleeping in the distance.
Good relations with a few neighboring planters; indifference to the
noisy political and other agitations of the rest: friendly, by no
means romantic appreciation of the Blacks; quiet prosperity economic
and domestic: on the whole a healthy and recommendable way of life,
with Literature very much in abeyance in it.

He writes to Mr. Hare (date not given): "The landscapes around me
here are noble and lovely as any that can be conceived on Earth. How
indeed could it be otherwise, in a small Island of volcanic mountains,
far within the Tropics, and perpetually covered with the richest
vegetation?" The moral aspect of things is by no means so good; but
neither is that without its fair features. "So far as I see, the
Slaves here are cunning, deceitful and idle; without any great
aptitude for ferocious crimes, and with very little scruple at
committing others. But I have seen them much only in very favorable
circumstances. They are, as a body, decidedly unfit for freedom; and
if left, as at present, completely in the hands of their masters, will
never become so, unless through the agency of the Methodists."[9]

In the Autumn came an immense hurricane; with new and indeed quite
perilous experiences of West-Indian life. This hasty Letter,
addressed to his Mother, is not intrinsically his remarkablest from
St. Vincent: but the body of fact delineated in it being so much the
greatest, we will quote it in preference. A West-Indian tornado, as
John Sterling witnesses it, and with vivid authenticity describes it,
may be considered worth looking at.

"_To Mrs. Sterling, South Place, Knightsbridge, London_.
"BRIGHTON, ST. VINCENT, 28th August, 1831.

"MY DEAR MOTHER,--The packet came in yesterday; bringing me some
Newspapers, a Letter from my Father, and one from Anthony, with a few
lines from you. I wrote, some days ago, a hasty Note to my Father, on
the chance of its reaching you through Grenada sooner than any
communication by the packet; and in it I spoke of the great misfortune
which had befallen this Island and Barbadoes, but from which all those
you take an interest in have happily escaped unhurt.

"From the day of our arrival in the West Indies until Thursday the
11th instant, which will long be a memorable day with us, I had been
doing my best to get ourselves established comfortably; and I had at
last bought the materials for making some additions to the house. But
on the morning I have mentioned, all that I had exerted myself to do,
nearly all the property both of Susan and myself, and the very house
we lived in, were suddenly destroyed by a visitation of Providence far
more terrible than any I have ever witnessed.

"When Susan came from her room, to breakfast, at eight o'clock, I
pointed out to her the extraordinary height and violence of the surf,
and the singular appearance of the clouds of heavy rain sweeping down
the valleys before us. At this time I had so little apprehension of
what was coming, that I talked of riding down to the shore when the
storm should abate, as I had never seen so fierce a sea. In about a
quarter of an hour the House-Negroes came in, to close the outside
shutters of the windows. They knew that the plantain-trees about the
Negro houses had been blown down in the night; and had told the
maid-servant Tyrrell, but I had heard nothing of it. A very few
minutes after the closing of the windows, I found that the shutters of
Tyrrell's room, at the south and commonly the most sheltered end of
the House, were giving way. I tried to tie them; but the silk
handkerchief which I used soon gave way; and as I had neither hammer,
boards nor nails in the house, I could do nothing more to keep out the
tempest. I found, in pushing at the leaf of the shutter, that the wind
resisted, more as if it had been a stone wall or a mass of iron, than
a mere current of air. There were one or two people outside trying to
fasten the windows, and I went out to help; but we had no tools at
hand: one man was blown down the hill in front of the house, before
my face; and the other and myself had great difficulty in getting back
again inside the door. The rain on my face and hands felt like so
much small shot from a gun. There was great exertion necessary to
shut the door of the house.

"The windows at the end of the large room were now giving way; and I
suppose it was about nine o'clock, when the hurricane burst them in,
as if it had been a discharge from a battery of heavy cannon. The
shutters were first forced open, and the wind fastened them back to
the wall; and then the panes of glass were smashed by the mere force
of the gale, without anything having touched them. Even now I was not
at all sure the house would go. My books, I saw, were lost; for the
rain poured past the bookcases, as if it had been the Colonarie River.
But we carried a good deal of furniture into the passage at the
entrance; we set Susan there on a sofa, and the Black Housekeeper was
even attempting to get her some breakfast. The house, however, began
to shake so violently, and the rain was so searching, that she could
not stay there long. She went into her own room and I stayed to see
what could be done.

"Under the forepart of the house, there are cellars built of stone,
but not arched. To these, however, there was no access except on the
outside; and I knew from my own experience that Susan could not have
gone a step beyond the door, without being carried away by the storm,
and probably killed on the spot. The only chance seemed to be that of
breaking through the floor. But when the old Cook and myself resolved
on this, we found that we had no instrument with which it would be
possible to do it. It was now clear that we had only God to trust in.
The front windows were giving way with successive crashes, and the
floor shook as you may have seen a carpet on a gusty day in London. I
went into our bedroom; where I found Susan, Tyrrell, and a little
Colored girl of seven or eight years old; and told them that we should
probably not be alive in half an hour. I could have escaped, if I had
chosen to go alone, by crawling on the ground either into the kitchen,
a separate stone building at no great distance, or into the open
fields away from trees or houses; but Susan could not have gone a
yard. She became quite calm when she knew the worst; and she sat on
my knee in what seemed the safest corner of the room, while every
blast was bringing nearer and nearer the moment of our seemingly
certain destruction.--

"The house was under two parallel roofs; and the one next the sea,
which sheltered the other, and us who were under the other, went off,
I suppose about ten o'clock. After my old plan, I will give you a
sketch, from which you may perceive how we were situated:--

[In print, a figure representing a floor-plan appears here]

The _a_, _a_ are the windows that were first destroyed: _b_ went
next; my books were between the windows _b_, and on the wall opposite
to them. The lines _c_ and _d_ mark the directions of the two roofs;
_e_ is the room in which we were, and 2 is a plan of it on a larger
scale. Look now at 2: _a_ is the bed; _c_, _c_ the two wardrobes;
_b_ the corner in which we were. I was sitting in an arm-chair,
holding my Wife; and Tyrrell and the little Black child were close to
us. We had given up all notion of surviving; and only waited for the
fall of the roof to perish together.

"Before long the roof went. Most of the materials, however, were
carried clear away: one of the large couples was caught on the
bedpost marked _d_, and held fast by the iron spike; while the end of
it hung over our heads: had the beam fallen an inch on either side of
the bedpost, it must necessarily have crushed us. The walls did not
go with the roof; and we remained for half an hour, alternately
praying to God, and watching them as they bent, creaked, and shivered
before the storm.

"Tyrrell and the child, when the roof was off, made their way through
the remains of the partition, to the outer door; and with the help of
the people who were looking for us, got into the kitchen. A good
while after they were gone, and before we knew anything of their fate,
a Negro suddenly came upon us; and the sight of him gave us a hope of
safety. When the people learned that we were in danger, and while
their own huts were flying about their ears, they crowded to help us;
and the old Cook urged them on to our rescue. He made five attempts,
after saving Tyrrell, to get to us; and four times he was blown down.
The fifth time he, and the Negro we first saw, reached the house. The
space they had to traverse was not above twenty yards of level ground,
if so much. In another minute or two, the Overseers and a crowd of
Negroes, most of whom had come on their hands and knees, were
surrounding us; and with their help Susan was carried round to the end
of the house; where they broke open the cellar window, and placed her
in comparative safety. The force of the hurricane was, by this time,
a good deal diminished, or it would have been impossible to stand
before it.

"But the wind was still terrific; and the rain poured into the cellars
through the floor above. Susan, Tyrrell, and a crowd of Negroes
remained under it, for more than two hours: and I was long afraid
that the wet and cold would kill her, if she did not perish more
violently. Happily we had wine and spirits at hand, and she was much
nerved by a tumbler of claret. As soon as I saw her in comparative
security, I went off with one of the Overseers down to the Works,
where the greater number of the Negroes were collected, that we might
see what could be done for them. They were wretched enough, but no
one was hurt; and I ordered them a dram apiece, which seemed to give
them a good deal of consolation.

"Before I could make my way back, the hurricane became as bad as at
first; and I was obliged to take shelter for half an hour in a ruined
Negro house. This, however, was the last of its extreme violence. By
one o'clock, even the rain had in a great degree ceased; and as only
one room of the house, the one marked _f_; was standing, and that
rickety,--I had Susan carried in a chair down the hill, to the
Hospital; where, in a small paved unlighted room, she spent the next
twenty-four hours. She was far less injured than might have been
expected from such a catastrophe.

"Next day, I had the passage at the entrance of the house repaired and
roofed; and we returned to the ruins of our habitation, still
encumbered as they were with the wreck of almost all we were possessed
of. The walls of the part of the house next the sea were carried
away, in less I think than half an hour after we reached the cellar:
when I had leisure to examine the remains of the house, I found the
floor strewn with fragments of the building, and with broken
furniture; and our books all soaked as completely as if they had been
for several hours in the sea.

"In the course of a few days I had the other room, _g_, which is under
the same roof as the one saved, rebuilt; and Susan stayed in this
temporary abode for a week,--when we left Colonarie, and came to
Brighton. Mr. Munro's kindness exceeds all precedent. We shall
certainly remain here till my Wife is recovered from her confinement.
In the mean while we shall have a new house built, in which we hope to
be well settled before Christmas.

"The roof was half blown off the kitchen, but I have had it mended
already; the other offices were all swept away. The gig is much
injured; and my horse received a wound in the fall of the stable, from
which he will not be recovered for some weeks: in the mean time I
have no choice but to buy another, as I must go at least once or twice
a week to Colonarie, besides business in Town. As to our own
comforts, we can scarcely expect ever to recover from the blow that
has now stricken us. No money would repay me for the loss of my
books, of which a large proportion had been in my hands for so many
years that they were like old and faithful friends, and of which many
had been given me at different times by the persons in the world whom
I most value.

"But against all this I have to set the preservation of our lives, in
a way the most awfully providential; and the safety of every one on
the Estate. And I have also the great satisfaction of reflecting that
all the Negroes from whom any assistance could reasonably be expected,
behaved like so many Heroes of Antiquity; risking their lives and
limbs for us and our property, while their own poor houses were flying
like chaff before the hurricane. There are few White people here who
can say as much for their Black dependents; and the force and value of
the relation between Master and Slave has been tried by the late
calamity on a large scale.

"Great part of both sides of this Island has been laid completely
waste. The beautiful wide and fertile Plain called the Charib
Country, extending for many miles to the north of Colonarie, and
formerly containing the finest sets of works and best dwelling-houses
in the Island, is, I am told, completely desolate: on several estates
not a roof even of a Negro hut standing. In the embarrassed
circumstances of many of the proprietors, the ruin is, I fear,
irreparable.--At Colonarie the damage is serious, but by no means
desperate. The crop is perhaps injured ten or fifteen per cent. The
roofs of several large buildings are destroyed, but these we are
already supplying; and the injuries done to the cottages of the
Negroes are, by this time, nearly if not quite remedied.

"Indeed, all that has been suffered in St. Vincent appears nothing
when compared with the appalling loss of property and of human lives
at Barbadoes. There the Town is little but a heap of ruins, and the
corpses are reckoned by thousands; while throughout the Island there
are not, I believe, ten estates on which the buildings are standing.
The Elliotts, from whom we have heard, are living with all their
family in a tent; and may think themselves wonderfully saved, when
whole families round them were crushed at once beneath their houses.
Hugh Barton, the only officer of the Garrison hurt, has broken his
arm, and we know nothing of his prospects of recovery. The more
horrible misfortune of Barbadoes is partly to be accounted for by the
fact of the hurricane having begun there during the night. The
flatness of the surface in that Island presented no obstacle to the
wind, which must, however, I think have been in itself more furious
than with us. No other island has suffered considerably.

"I have told both my Uncle and Anthony that I have given you the
details of our recent history;--which are not so pleasant that I
should wish to write them again. Perhaps you will be good enough to
let them see this, as soon as you and my Father can spare it.... I am
ever, dearest Mother,

"Your grateful and affectionate

This Letter, I observe, is dated 28th August, 1831; which is otherwise
a day of mark to the world and me,--the Poet Goethe's last birthday.
While Sterling sat in the Tropical solitudes, penning this history,
little European Weimar had its carriages and state-carriages busy on
the streets, and was astir with compliments and visiting-cards, doing
its best, as heretofore, on behalf of a remarkable day; and was not,
for centuries or tens of centuries, to see the like of it again!--

At Brighton, the hospitable home of those Munros, our friends
continued for above two months. Their first child, Edward, as above
noticed, was born here, "14th October, 1831;"--and now the poor lady,
safe from all her various perils, could return to Colonarie under good

It was in this year that I first heard definitely of Sterling as a
contemporary existence; and laid up some note and outline of him in my
memory, as of one whom I might yet hope to know. John Mill, Mrs.
Austin and perhaps other friends, spoke of him with great affection
and much pitying admiration; and hoped to see him home again, under
better omens, from over the seas. As a gifted amiable being, of a
certain radiant tenuity and velocity, too thin and rapid and
diffusive, in danger of dissipating himself into the vague, or alas
into death itself: it was so that, like a spot of bright colors,
rather than a portrait with features, he hung occasionally visible in
my imagination.


The ruin of his house had hardly been repaired, when there arrived out
of Europe tidings which smote as with a still more fatal hurricane on
the four corners of his inner world, and awoke all the old thunders
that lay asleep on his horizon there. Tidings, at last of a decisive
nature, from Gibraltar and the Spanish democrat adventure. This is
what the Newspapers had to report--the catastrophe at once, the
details by degrees--from Spain concerning that affair, in the
beginning of the new year 1832.

Torrijos, as we have seen, had hitherto accomplished as good as
nothing, except disappointment to his impatient followers, and sorrow
and regret to himself. Poor Torrijos, on arriving at Gibraltar with
his wild band, and coming into contact with the rough fact, had found
painfully how much his imagination had deceived him. The fact lay
round him haggard and iron-bound; flatly refusing to be handled
according to his scheme of it. No Spanish soldiery nor citizenry
showed the least disposition to join him; on the contrary the official
Spaniards of that coast seemed to have the watchfulest eye on all his
movements, nay it was conjectured they had spies in Gibraltar who
gathered his very intentions and betrayed them. This small project of
attack, and then that other, proved futile, or was abandoned before
the attempt. Torrijos had to lie painfully within the lines of
Gibraltar,--his poor followers reduced to extremity of impatience and
distress; the British Governor too, though not unfriendly to him,
obliged to frown. As for the young Cantabs, they, as was said, had
wandered a little over the South border of romantic Spain; had perhaps
seen Seville, Cadiz, with picturesque views, since not with
belligerent ones; and their money being done, had now returned home.
So had it lasted for eighteen months.

The French Three Days breaking out had armed the Guerrillero Mina,
armed all manner of democratic guerrieros and guerrilleros; and
considerable clouds of Invasion, from Spanish exiles, hung minatory
over the North and North-East of Spain, supported by the new-born
French Democracy, so far as privately possible. These Torrijos had to
look upon with inexpressible feelings, and take no hand in supporting
from the South; these also he had to see brushed away, successively
abolished by official generalship; and to sit within his lines, in the
painfulest manner, unable to do anything. The fated, gallant-minded,
but too headlong man. At length the British Governor himself was
obliged, in official decency and as is thought on repeated
remonstrance from his Spanish official neighbors, to signify how
indecorous, improper and impossible it was to harbor within one's
lines such explosive preparations, once they were discovered, against
allies in full peace with us,--the necessity, in fact, there was for
the matter ending. It is said, he offered Torrijos and his people
passports, and British protection, to any country of the world except
Spain: Torrijos did not accept the passports; spoke of going
peaceably to this place or to that; promised at least, what he saw and
felt to be clearly necessary, that he would soon leave Gibraltar. And
he did soon leave it; he and his, Boyd alone of the Englishmen being
now with him.

It was on the last night of November, 1831, that they all set forth;
Torrijos with Fifty-five companions; and in two small vessels
committed themselves to their nigh-desperate fortune. No sentry or
official person had noticed them; it was from the Spanish Consul, next
morning, that the British Governor first heard they were gone. The
British Governor knew nothing of them; but apparently the Spanish
officials were much better informed. Spanish guardships, instantly
awake, gave chase to the two small vessels, which were making all sail
towards Malaga; and, on shore, all manner of troops and detached
parties were in motion, to render a retreat to Gibraltar by land

Crowd all sail for Malaga, then; there perhaps a regiment will join
us; there,--or if not, we are but lost! Fancy need not paint a more
tragic situation than that of Torrijos, the unfortunate gallant man,
in the gray of this morning, first of December, 1831,--his last free
morning. Noble game is afoot, afoot at last; and all the hunters have
him in their toils.--The guardships gain upon Torrijos; he cannot even
reach Malaga; has to run ashore at a place called Fuengirola, not far
from that city;--the guardships seizing his vessels, so soon as he is
disembarked. The country is all up; troops scouring the coast
everywhere: no possibility of getting into Malaga with a party of
Fifty-five. He takes possession of a farmstead (Ingles, the place is
called); barricades himself there, but is speedily beleaguered with
forces hopelessly superior. He demands to treat; is refused all
treaty; is granted six hours to consider, shall then either surrender
at discretion, or be forced to do it. Of course he _does_ it, having
no alternative; and enters Malaga a prisoner, all his followers
prisoners. Here had the Torrijos Enterprise, and all that was
embarked upon it, finally arrived.

Express is sent to Madrid; express instantly returns; "Military
execution on the instant; give them shriving if they want it; that
done, fusillade them all." So poor Torrijos and his followers, the
whole Fifty-six of them, Robert Boyd included, meet swift death in
Malaga. In such manner rushes down the curtain on them and their
affair; they vanish thus on a sudden; rapt away as in black clouds of
fate. Poor Boyd, Sterling's cousin, pleaded his British citizenship;
to no purpose: it availed only to his dead body, this was delivered
to the British Consul for interment, and only this. Poor Madam
Torrijos, hearing, at Paris where she now was, of her husband's
capture, hurries towards Madrid to solicit mercy; whither also
messengers from Lafayette and the French Government were hurrying, on
the like errand: at Bayonne, news met the poor lady that it was
already all over, that she was now a widow, and her husband hidden
from her forever.--Such was the handsel of the new year 1832 for
Sterling in his West-Indian solitudes.

Sterling's friends never heard of these affairs; indeed we were all
secretly warned not to mention the name of Torrijos in his hearing,
which accordingly remained strictly a forbidden subject. His misery
over this catastrophe was known, in his own family, to have been
immense. He wrote to his Brother Anthony: "I hear the sound of that
musketry; it is as if the bullets were tearing my own brain." To
figure in one's sick and excited imagination such a scene of fatal
man-hunting, lost valor hopelessly captured and massacred; and to add
to it, that the victims are not men merely, that they are noble and
dear forms known lately as individual friends: what a Dance of the
Furies and wild-pealing Dead-march is this, for the mind of a loving,
generous and vivid man! Torrijos getting ashore at Fuengirola; Robert
Boyd and others ranked to die on the esplanade at Malaga--Nay had not
Sterling, too, been the innocent yet heedless means of Boyd's
embarking in this enterprise? By his own kinsman poor Boyd had been
witlessly guided into the pitfalls. "I hear the sound of that
musketry; it is as if the bullets were tearing my own brain!"


These thoughts dwelt long with Sterling; and for a good while, I
fancy, kept possession of the proscenium of his mind; madly parading
there, to the exclusion of all else,--coloring all else with their own
black hues. He was young, rich in the power to be miserable or
otherwise; and this was his first grand sorrow which had now fallen
upon him.

An important spiritual crisis, coming at any rate in some form, had
hereby suddenly in a very sad form come. No doubt, as youth was
passing into manhood in these Tropical seclusions, and higher wants
were awakening in his mind, and years and reflection were adding new
insight and admonition, much in his young way of thought and action
lay already under ban with him, and repentances enough over many
things were not wanting. But here on a sudden had all repentances, as
it were, dashed themselves together into one grand whirlwind of
repentance; and his past life was fallen wholly as into a state of
reprobation. A great remorseful misery had come upon him. Suddenly,
as with a sudden lightning-stroke, it had kindled into conflagration
all the ruined structure of his past life; such ruin had to blaze and
flame round him, in the painfulest manner, till it went out in black
ashes. His democratic philosophies, and mutinous radicalisms, already
falling doomed in his thoughts, had reached their consummation and
final condemnation here. It was all so rash, imprudent, arrogant, all
that; false, or but half true; inapplicable wholly as a rule of noble
conduct;--and it has ended _thus_. Woe on it! Another guidance must
be found in life, or life is impossible!--

It is evident, Sterling's thoughts had already, since the old days of
the "black dragoon," much modified themselves. We perceive that, by
mere increase of experience and length of time, the opposite and much
deeper side of the question, which also has its adamantine basis of
truth, was in turn coming into play; and in fine that a Philosophy of
Denial, and world illuminated merely by the flames of Destruction,
could never have permanently been the resting-place of such a man.
Those pilgrimings to Coleridge, years ago, indicate deeper wants
beginning to be felt, and important ulterior resolutions becoming
inevitable for him. If in your own soul there is any tone of the
"Eternal Melodies," you cannot live forever in those poor outer,
transitory grindings and discords; you will have to struggle inwards
and upwards, in search of some diviner home for yourself!--Coleridge's
prophetic moonshine, Torrijos's sad tragedy: those were important
occurrences in Sterling's life. But, on the whole, there was a big
Ocean for him, with impetuous Gulf-streams, and a doomed voyage in
quest of the Atlantis, _before_ either of those arose as lights on the
horizon. As important beacon-lights let us count them
nevertheless;--signal-dates they form to us, at lowest. We may reckon
this Torrijos tragedy the crisis of Sterling's history; the
turning-point, which modified, in the most important and by no means
wholly in the most favorable manner, all the subsequent stages of it.

Old Radicalism and mutinous audacious Ethnicism having thus fallen to
wreck, and a mere black world of misery and remorse now disclosing
itself, whatsoever of natural piety to God and man, whatsoever of pity
and reverence, of awe and devout hope was in Sterling's heart now
awoke into new activity; and strove for some due utterance and
predominance. His Letters, in these months, speak of earnest religious
studies and efforts;--of attempts by prayer and longing endeavor of
all kinds, to struggle his way into the temple, if temple there were,
and there find sanctuary.[10] The realities were grown so haggard;
life a field of black ashes, if there rose no temple anywhere on it!
Why, like a fated Orestes, is man so whipt by the Furies, and driven
madly hither and thither, if it is not even that he may seek some
shrine, and there make expiation and find deliverance?

In these circumstances, what a scope for Coleridge's philosophy, above
all! "If the bottled moonshine _be_ actually substance? Ah, could
one but believe in a Church while finding it incredible! What is
faith; what is conviction, credibility, insight? Can a thing be at
once known for true, and known for false? 'Reason,' 'Understanding:'
is there, then, such an internecine war between these two? It was so
Coleridge imagined it, the wisest of existing men!"--No, it is not an
easy matter (according to Sir Kenelm Digby), this of getting up your
"astral spirit" of a thing, and setting it in action, when the thing
itself is well burnt to ashes. Poor Sterling; poor sons of Adam in
general, in this sad age of cobwebs, worn-out symbolisms,
reminiscences and simulacra! Who can tell the struggles of poor
Sterling, and his pathless wanderings through these things! Long
afterwards, in speech with his Brother, he compared his case in this
time to that of "a young lady who has tragically lost her lover, and
is willing to be half-hoodwinked into a convent, or in any noble or
quasi-noble way to escape from a world which has become intolerable."

During the summer of 1832, I find traces of attempts towards
Anti-Slavery Philanthropy; shadows of extensive schemes in that
direction. Half-desperate outlooks, it is likely, towards the refuge
of Philanthropism, as a new chivalry of life. These took no serious
hold of so clear an intellect; but they hovered now and afterwards as
day-dreams, when life otherwise was shorn of aim;--mirages in the
desert, which are found not to be lakes when you put your bucket into
them. One thing was clear, the sojourn in St. Vincent was not to last
much longer.

Perhaps one might get some scheme raised into life, in Downing Street,
for universal Education to the Blacks, preparatory to emancipating
them? There were a noble work for a man! Then again poor Mrs.
Sterling's health, contrary to his own, did not agree with warm moist
climates. And again, &c. &c. These were the outer surfaces of the
measure; the unconscious pretexts under which it showed itself to
Sterling and was shown by him: but the inner heart and determining
cause of it (as frequently in Sterling's life, and in all our lives)
was not these. In brief, he had had enough of St. Vincent. The
strangling oppressions of his soul were too heavy for him there.
Solution lay in Europe, or might lie; not in these remote solitudes of
the sea,--where no shrine or saint's well is to be looked for, no
communing of pious pilgrims journeying together towards a shrine.


After a residence of perhaps fifteen months Sterling quitted St.
Vincent, and never returned. He reappeared at his Father's house, to
the joy of English friends, in August, 1832; well improved in health,
and eager for English news; but, beyond vague schemes and
possibilities, considerably uncertain what was next to be done.

After no long stay in this scene,--finding Downing Street dead as
stone to the Slave-Education and to all other schemes,--he went
across, with his wife and child, to Germany; purposing to make not so
much a tour as some loose ramble, or desultory residence in that
country, in the Rhineland first of all. Here was to be hoped the
picturesque in scenery, which he much affected; here the new and true
in speculation, which he inwardly longed for and wanted greatly more;
at all events, here as readily as elsewhere might a temporary
household be struck up, under interesting circumstances.--I conclude
he went across in the Spring of 1833; perhaps directly after _Arthur
Coningsby_ had got through the press. This Novel, which, as we have
said, was begun two or three years ago, probably on his cessation from
the _Athenaeum_, and was mainly finished, I think, before the removal
to St. Vincent, had by this time fallen as good as obsolete to his own
mind; and its destination now, whether to the press or to the fire,
was in some sort a matter at once of difficulty and of insignificance
to him. At length deciding for the milder alternative, he had thrown
in some completing touches here and there,--especially, as I
conjecture, a proportion of Coleridgean moonshine at the end; and so
sent it forth.

It was in the sunny days, perhaps in May or June of this year, that
_Arthur Coningsby_ reached my own hand, far off amid the heathy
wildernesses; sent by John Mill: and I can still recollect the
pleasant little episode it made in my solitude there. The general
impression it left on me, which has never since been renewed by a
second reading in whole or in part, was the certain prefigurement to
myself, more or less distinct, of an opulent, genial and sunny mind,
but misdirected, disappointed, experienced in misery;--nay crude and
hasty; mistaking for a solid outcome from its woes what was only to me
a gilded vacuity. The hero an ardent youth, representing Sterling
himself, plunges into life such as we now have it in these anarchic
times, with the radical, utilitarian, or mutinous heathen theory,
which is the readiest for inquiring souls; finds, by various courses
of adventure, utter shipwreck in this; lies broken, very wretched:
that is the tragic nodus, or apogee of his life-course. In this mood
of mind, he clutches desperately towards some new method (recognizable
as Coleridge's) of laying hand again on the old Church, which has
hitherto been extraneous and as if non-extant to his way of thought;
makes out, by some Coleridgean legedermain, that there actually is
still a Church for him; that this extant Church, which he long took
for an extinct shadow, is not such, but a substance; upon which he can
anchor himself amid the storms of fate;--and he does so, even taking
orders in it, I think. Such could by no means seem to me the true or
tenable solution. Here clearly, struggling amid the tumults, was a
lovable young fellow-soul; who had by no means yet got to land; but of
whom much might be hoped, if he ever did. Some of the delineations
are highly pictorial, flooded with a deep ruddy effulgence; betokening
much wealth, in the crude or the ripe state. The hope of perhaps, one
day, knowing Sterling, was welcome and interesting to me. _Arthur
Coningsby_, struggling imperfectly in a sphere high above
circulating-library novels, gained no notice whatever in that quarter;
gained, I suppose in a few scattered heads, some such recognition as
the above; and there rested. Sterling never mentioned the name of it
in my hearing, or would hear it mentioned.

In those very days while _Arthur Coningsby_ was getting read amid the
Scottish moors, "in June, 1833," Sterling, at Bonn in the
Rhine-country, fell in with his old tutor and friend, the Reverend
Julius Hare; one with whom he always delighted to communicate,
especially on such topics as then altogether occupied him. A man of
cheerful serious character, of much approved accomplishment, of
perfect courtesy; surely of much piety, in all senses of that word.
Mr. Hare had quitted his scholastic labors and distinctions, some time
ago; the call or opportunity for taking orders having come; and as
Rector of Herstmonceux in Sussex, a place patrimonially and otherwise
endeared to him, was about entering, under the best omens, on a new
course of life. He was now on his return from Rome, and a visit of
some length to Italy. Such a meeting could not but be welcome and
important to Sterling in such a mood. They had much earnest
conversation, freely communing on the highest matters; especially of
Sterling's purpose to undertake the clerical profession, in which
course his reverend friend could not but bid him good speed.

It appears, Sterling already intimated his intention to become a
clergyman: He would study theology, biblicalities, perfect himself in
the knowledge seemly or essential for his new course;--read diligently
"for a year or two in some good German University," then seek to
obtain orders: that was his plan. To which Mr. Hare gave his hearty
_Euge_; adding that if his own curacy happened then to be vacant, he
should be well pleased to have Sterling in that office. So they

"A year or two" of serious reflection "in some good German
University," or anywhere in the world, might have thrown much
elucidation upon these confused strugglings and purposings of
Sterling's, and probably have spared him some confusion in his
subsequent life. But the talent of waiting was, of all others, the
one he wanted most. Impetuous velocity, all-hoping headlong alacrity,
what we must call rashness and impatience, characterized him in most
of his important and unimportant procedures; from the purpose to the
execution there was usually but one big leap with him. A few months
after Mr. Hare was gone, Sterling wrote that his purposes were a
little changed by the late meeting at Bonn; that he now longed to
enter the Church straightway: that if the Herstmonceux Curacy was
still vacant, and the Rector's kind thought towards him still held, he
would instantly endeavor to qualify himself for that office.

Answer being in the affirmative on both heads, Sterling returned to
England; took orders,--"ordained deacon at Chichester on Trinity
Sunday in 1834" (he never became technically priest):--and so, having
fitted himself and family with a reasonable house, in one of those
leafy lanes in quiet Herstmonceux, on the edge of Pevensey Level, he
commenced the duties of his Curacy.

The bereaved young lady has _taken_ the veil, then! Even so. "Life
is growing all so dark and brutal; must be redeemed into human, if it
will continue life. Some pious heroism, to give a human color to life
again, on any terms,"--even on impossible ones!

To such length can transcendental moonshine, cast by some morbidly
radiating Coleridge into the chaos of a fermenting life, act magically
there, and produce divulsions and convulsions and diseased
developments. So dark and abstruse, without lamp or authentic
finger-post, is the course of pious genius towards the Eternal
Kingdoms grown. No fixed highway more; the old spiritual highways and
recognized paths to the Eternal, now all torn up and flung in heaps,
submerged in unutterable boiling mud-oceans of Hypocrisy and
Unbelievability, of brutal living Atheism and damnable dead putrescent
Cant: surely a tragic pilgrimage for all mortals; Darkness, and the
mere shadow of Death, enveloping all things from pole to pole; and in
the raging gulf-currents, offering us will-o'-wisps for
loadstars,--intimating that there are no stars, nor ever were, except
certain Old-Jew ones which have now gone out. Once more, a tragic
pilgrimage for all mortals; and for the young pious soul, winged with
genius, and passionately seeking land, and passionately abhorrent of
floating carrion withal, more tragical than for any!--A pilgrimage we
must all undertake nevertheless, and make the best of with our
respective means. Some arrive; a glorious few: many must be
lost,--go down upon the floating wreck which they took for land. Nay,
courage! These also, so far as there was any heroism in them, have
bequeathed their life as a contribution to us, have valiantly laid
their bodies in the chasm for us: of these also there is no ray of
heroism _lost_,--and, on the whole, what else of them could or should
be "saved" at any time? Courage, and ever Forward!

Concerning this attempt of Sterling's to find sanctuary in the old
Church, and desperately grasp the hem of her garment in such manner,
there will at present be many opinions: and mine must be recorded
here in flat reproval of it, in mere pitying condemnation of it, as a
rash, false, unwise and unpermitted step. Nay, among the evil lessons
of his Time to poor Sterling, I cannot but account this the worst;
properly indeed, as we may say, the apotheosis, the solemn apology and
consecration, of all the evil lessons that were in it to him. Alas,
if we did remember the divine and awful nature of God's Truth, and had
not so forgotten it as poor doomed creatures never did before,--should
we, durst we in our most audacious moments, think of wedding _it_ to
the World's Untruth, which is also, like all untruths, the Devil's?
Only in the world's last lethargy can such things be done, and
accounted safe and pious! Fools! "Do you think the Living God is a
buzzard idol," sternly asks Milton, that you dare address Him in this
manner?--Such darkness, thick sluggish clouds of cowardice and
oblivious baseness, have accumulated on us: thickening as if towards
the eternal sleep! It is not now known, what never needed proof or
statement before, that Religion is not a doubt; that it is a
certainty,--or else a mockery and horror. That none or all of the
many things we are in doubt about, and need to have demonstrated and
rendered probable, can by any alchemy be made a "Religion" for us; but
are and must continue a baleful, quiet or unquiet, Hypocrisy for us;
and bring--_salvation_, do we fancy? I think, it is another thing
they will bring, and are, on all hands, visibly bringing this good

The time, then, with its deliriums, has done its worst for poor
Sterling. Into deeper aberration it cannot lead him; this is the
crowning error. Happily, as beseems the superlative of errors, it was
a very brief, almost a momentary one. In June, 1834, Sterling dates
as installed at Herstmonceux; and is flinging, as usual, his whole
soul into the business; successfully so far as outward results could
show: but already in September, he begins to have misgivings; and in
February following, quits it altogether,--the rest of his life being,
in great part, a laborious effort of detail to pick the fragments of
it off him, and be free of it in soul as well as in title.

At this the extreme point of spiritual deflexion and depression, when
the world's madness, unusually impressive on such a man, has done its
very worst with him, and in all future errors whatsoever he will be a
little less mistaken, we may close the First Part of Sterling's Life.



By Mr. Hare's account, no priest of any Church could more fervently
address himself to his functions than Sterling now did. He went about
among the poor, the ignorant, and those that had need of help;
zealously forwarded schools and beneficences; strove, with his whole
might, to instruct and aid whosoever suffered consciously in body, or
still worse unconsciously in mind. He had charged himself to make the
Apostle Paul his model; the perils and voyagings and ultimate
martyrdom of Christian Paul, in those old ages, on the great scale,
were to be translated into detail, and become the practical emblem of
Christian Sterling on the coast of Sussex in this new age. "It would
be no longer from Jerusalem to Damascus," writes Sterling, "to Arabia,
to Derbe, Lystra, Ephesus, that he would travel: but each house of
his appointed Parish would be to him what each of those great cities
was,--a place where he would bend his whole being, and spend his heart
for the conversion, purification, elevation of those under his
influence. The whole man would be forever at work for this purpose;
head, heart, knowledge, time, body, possessions, all would be directed
to this end." A high enough model set before one:--how to be
realized!--Sterling hoped to realize it, to struggle towards realizing
it, in some small degree. This is Mr. Hare's report of him:--

"He was continually devising some fresh scheme for improving the
condition of the Parish. His aim was to awaken the minds of the
people, to arouse their conscience, to call forth their sense of moral
responsibility, to make them feel their own sinfulness, their need of
redemption, and thus lead them to a recognition of the Divine Love by
which that redemption is offered to us. In visiting them he was
diligent in all weathers, to the risk of his own health, which was
greatly impaired thereby; and his gentleness and considerate care for
the sick won their affection; so that, though his stay was very short,
his name is still, after a dozen years, cherished by many."

How beautiful would Sterling be in all this; rushing forward like a
host towards victory; playing and pulsing like sunshine or soft
lightning; busy at all hours to perform his part in abundant and
superabundant measure! "Of that which it was to me personally,"
continues Mr. Hare, "to have such a fellow-laborer, to live constantly
in the freest communion with such a friend, I cannot speak. He came
to me at a time of heavy affliction, just after I had heard that the
Brother, who had been the sharer of all my thoughts and feelings from
childhood, had bid farewell to his earthly life at Rome; and thus he
seemed given to me to make up in some sort for him whom I had lost.
Almost daily did I look out for his usual hour of coming to me, and
watch his tall slender form walking rapidly across the hill in front
of my window; with the assurance that he was coming to cheer and
brighten, to rouse and stir me, to call me up to some height of
feeling, or down to some depth of thought. His lively spirit,
responding instantaneously to every impulse of Nature and Art; his
generous ardor in behalf of whatever is noble and true; his scorn of
all meanness, of all false pretences and conventional beliefs,
softened as it was by compassion for the victims of those besetting
sins of a cultivated age; his never-flagging impetuosity in pushing
onward to some unattained point of duty or of knowledge: all this,
along with his gentle, almost reverential affectionateness towards his
former tutor, rendered my intercourse with him an unspeakable
blessing; and time after time has it seemed to me that his visit had
been like a shower of rain, bringing down freshness and brightness on
a dusty roadside hedge. By him too the recollection of these our
daily meetings was cherished till the last."[11]

There are many poor people still at Herstmonceux who affectionately
remember him: Mr. Hare especially makes mention of one good man
there, in his young days "a poor cobbler," and now advanced to a much
better position, who gratefully ascribes this outward and the other
improvements in his life to Sterling's generous encouragement and
charitable care for him. Such was the curate life at Herstmonceux.
So, in those actual leafy lanes, on the edge of Pevensey Level, in
this new age, did our poor New Paul (on hest of certain oracles)
diligently study to comport himself,--and struggle with all his might
_not_ to be a moonshine shadow of the First Paul.

It was in this summer of 1834,--month of May, shortly after arriving
in London,--that I first saw Sterling's Father. A stout broad
gentleman of sixty, perpendicular in attitude, rather showily dressed,
and of gracious, ingenious and slightly elaborate manners. It was at
Mrs. Austin's in Bayswater; he was just taking leave as I entered, so
our interview lasted only a moment: but the figure of the man, as
Sterling's father, had already an interest for me, and I remember the
time well. Captain Edward Sterling, as we formerly called him, had
now quite dropt the military title, nobody even of his friends now
remembering it; and was known, according to his wish, in political and
other circles, as Mr. Sterling, a private gentleman of some figure.
Over whom hung, moreover, a kind of mysterious nimbus as the principal
or one of the principal writers in the _Times_, which gave an
interesting chiaroscuro to his character in society. A potent,
profitable, but somewhat questionable position; of which, though he
affected, and sometimes with anger, altogether to disown it, and
rigorously insisted on the rights of anonymity, he was not unwilling
to take the honors too: the private pecuniary advantages were very
undeniable; and his reception in the Clubs, and occasionally in higher
quarters, was a good deal modelled on the universal belief in it.

John Sterling at Herstmonceux that afternoon, and his Father here in
London, would have offered strange contrasts to an eye that had seen
them both. Contrasts, and yet concordances. They were two very
different-looking men, and were following two very different modes of
activity that afternoon. And yet with a strange family likeness, too,
both in the men and their activities; the central impulse in each, the
faculties applied to fulfil said impulse, not at all dissimilar,--as
grew visible to me on farther knowledge.


Thus it went on for some months at Herstmonceux; but thus it could not
last. We said there were already misgivings as to health, &c. in
September:[12] that was but the fourth month, for it had begun only in
June. The like clouds of misgiving, flights of dark vapor, chequering
more and more the bright sky of this promised land, rose heavier and
rifer month after month; till in February following, that is in the
eighth month from starting, the sky had grown quite overshaded; and
poor Sterling had to think practically of departure from his promised
land again, finding that the goal of his pilgrimage was _not_ there.
Not there, wherever it may be! March again, therefore; the abiding
city, and post at which we can live and die, is still ahead of us, it
would appear!

"Ill-health" was the external cause; and, to all parties concerned, to
Sterling himself I have no doubt as completely as to any, the one
determining cause. Nor was the ill-health wanting; it was there in
too sad reality. And yet properly it was not there as the burden; it
was there as the last ounce which broke the camel's back. I take it,
in this as in other cases known to me, ill-health was not the primary
cause but rather the ultimate one, the summing-up of innumerable far
deeper conscious and unconscious causes,--the cause which could boldly
show itself on the surface, and give the casting vote. Such was often
Sterling's way, as one could observe in such cases: though the most
guileless, undeceptive and transparent of men, he had a noticeable,
almost childlike faculty of self-deception, and usually substituted
for the primary determining motive and set of motives, some ultimate
ostensible one, and gave that out to himself and others as the ruling
impulse for important changes in life. As is the way with much more
ponderous and deliberate men;--as is the way, in a degree, with all

Enough, in February, 1835, Sterling came up to London, to consult with
his physicians,--and in fact in all ways to consider with himself and
friends,--what was to be done in regard to this Herstmonceux business.
The oracle of the physicians, like that of Delphi, was not exceedingly
determinate: but it did bear, what was a sufficiently undeniable
fact, that Sterling's constitution, with a tendency to pulmonary
ailments, was ill-suited for the office of a preacher; that total
abstinence from preaching for a year or two would clearly be the safer
course. To which effect he writes to Mr. Hare with a tone of
sorrowful agitation; gives up his clerical duties at
Herstmonceux;--and never resumed them there or elsewhere. He had been
in the Church eight months in all: a brief section of his life, but
an important one, which colored several of his subsequent years, and
now strangely colors all his years in the memory of some.

This we may account the second grand crisis of his History.
Radicalism, not long since, had come to its consummation, and vanished
from him in a tragic manner. "Not by Radicalism is the path to Human
Nobleness for me!" And here now had English Priesthood risen like a
sun, over the waste ruins and extinct volcanoes of his dead Radical
world, with promise of new blessedness and healing under its Wings;
and this too has soon found itself an illusion: "Not by Priesthood
either lies the way, then. Once more, where does the way lie!"--To
follow illusions till they burst and vanish is the lot of all new
souls who, luckily or lucklessly, are left to their own choice in
starting on this Earth. The roads are many; the authentic
finger-posts are few,--never fewer than in this era, when in so many
senses the waters are out. Sterling of all men had the quickest sense
for nobleness, heroism and the human _summum bonum_; the liveliest
headlong spirit of adventure and audacity; few gifted living men less
stubbornness of perseverance. Illusions, in his chase of the _summum
bonum_, were not likely to be wanting; aberrations, and wasteful
changes of course, were likely to be many! It is in the history of
such vehement, trenchant, far-shining and yet intrinsically light and
volatile souls, missioned into this epoch to seek their way there,
that we best see what a confused epoch it is.

This clerical aberration,--for such it undoubtedly was in
Sterling,--we have ascribed to Coleridge; and do clearly think that
had there been no Coleridge, neither had this been,--nor had English
Puseyism or some other strange enough universal portents been.
Nevertheless, let us say farther that it lay partly in the general
bearing of the world for such a man. This battle, universal in our
sad epoch of "all old things passing away" against "all things
becoming new," has its summary and animating heart in that of
Radicalism against Church; there, as in its flaming core, and point of
focal splendor, does the heroic worth that lies in each side of the
quarrel most clearly disclose itself; and Sterling was the man, above
many, to recognize such worth on both sides. Natural enough, in such
a one, that the light of Radicalism having gone out in darkness for
him, the opposite splendor should next rise as the chief, and invite
his loyalty till it also failed. In one form or the other, such an
aberration was not unlikely for him. But an aberration, especially in
this form, we may certainly call it. No man of Sterling's veracity,
had he clearly consulted his own heart, or had his own heart been
capable of clearly responding, and not been dazzled and bewildered by
transient fantasies and theosophic moonshine, could have undertaken
this function. His heart would have answered: "No, thou canst not.
What is incredible to thee, thou shalt not, at thy soul's peril,
attempt to believe!--Elsewhither for a refuge, or die here. Go to
Perdition if thou must,--but not with a lie in thy mouth; by the
Eternal Maker, no!"

Alas, once more! How are poor mortals whirled hither and thither in
the tumultuous chaos of our era; and, under the thick smoke-canopy
which has eclipsed all stars, how do they fly now after this poor
meteor, now after that!--Sterling abandoned his clerical office in
February, 1835; having held it, and ardently followed it, so long as
we say,--eight calendar months in all.

It was on this his February expedition to London that I first saw
Sterling,--at the India House incidentally, one afternoon, where I
found him in company with John Mill, whom I happened like himself to
be visiting for a few minutes. The sight of one whose fine qualities
I had often heard of lately, was interesting enough; and, on the
whole, proved not disappointing, though it was the translation of
dream into fact, that is of poetry into prose, and showed its unrhymed
side withal. A loose, careless-looking, thin figure, in careless dim
costume, sat, in a lounging posture, carelessly and copiously talking.
I was struck with the kindly but restless swift-glancing eyes, which
looked as if the spirits were all out coursing like a pack of merry
eager beagles, beating every bush. The brow, rather sloping in form,
was not of imposing character, though again the head was longish,
which is always the best sign of intellect; the physiognomy in general
indicated animation rather than strength.

We talked rapidly of various unmemorable things: I remember coming on
the Negroes, and noticing that Sterling's notion on the Slavery
Question had not advanced into the stage of mine. In reference to the
question whether an "engagement for life," on just terms, between
parties who are fixed in the character of master and servant, as the
Whites and the Negroes are, is not really better than one from day to
day,--he said with a kindly jeer, "I would have the Negroes themselves
consulted as to that!"--and would not in the least believe that the
Negroes were by no means final or perfect judges of it.--His address,
I perceived, was abrupt, unceremonious; probably not at all
disinclined to logic, and capable of dashing in upon you like a charge
of Cossacks, on occasion: but it was also eminently ingenious,
social, guileless. We did all very well together: and Sterling and I
walked westward in company, choosing whatever lanes or quietest
streets there were, as far as Knightsbridge where our roads parted;
talking on moralities, theological philosophies; arguing copiously,
but _except_ in opinion not disagreeing

In his notions on such subjects, the expected Coleridge cast of
thought was very visible; and he seemed to express it even with
exaggeration, and in a fearless dogmatic manner. Identity of
sentiment, difference of opinion: these are the known elements of a
pleasant dialogue. We parted with the mutual wish to meet
again;--which accordingly, at his Father's house and at mine, we soon
repeatedly did; and already, in the few days before his return to
Herstmonceux, had laid the foundations of a frank intercourse,
pointing towards pleasant intimacies both with himself and with his
circle, which in the future were abundantly fulfilled. His Mother,
essentially and even professedly "Scotch," took to my Wife gradually
with a most kind maternal relation; his Father, a gallant showy
stirring gentleman, the Magus of the _Times_, had talk and argument
ever ready, was an interesting figure, and more and more took interest
in us. We had unconsciously made an acquisition, which grew richer
and wholesomer with every new year; and ranks now, seen in the pale
moonlight of memory, and must ever rank, among the precious
possessions of life.

Sterling's bright ingenuity, and also his audacity, velocity and
alacrity, struck me more and more. It was, I think, on the occasion
of a party given one of these evenings at his Father's, where I
remember John Mill, John Crawford, Mrs. Crawford, and a number of
young and elderly figures of distinction,--that a group having formed
on the younger side of the room, and transcendentalisms and theologies
forming the topic, a number of deep things were said in abrupt
conversational style, Sterling in the thick of it. For example, one
sceptical figure praised the Church of England, in Hume's phrase, "as
a Church tending to keep down fanaticism," and recommendable for its
very indifferency; whereupon a transcendental figure urges him: "You
are afraid of the horse's kicking: but will you sacrifice all
qualities to being safe from that? Then get a dead horse. None
comparable to that for not kicking in your stable!" Upon which, a
laugh; with new laughs on other the like occasions;--and at last, in
the fire of some discussion, Sterling, who was unusually eloquent and
animated, broke out with this wild phrase, "I could plunge into the
bottom of Hell, if I were sure of finding the Devil there and getting
him strangled!" Which produced the loudest laugh of all; and had to
be repeated, on Mrs. Crawford's inquiry, to the house at large; and,
creating among the elders a kind of silent shudder,--though we urged
that the feat would really be a good investment of human
industry,--checked or stopt these theologic thunders for the evening.
I still remember Sterling as in one of his most animated moods that
evening. He probably returned to Herstmonceux next day, where he
proposed yet to reside for some indefinite time.

Arrived at Herstmonceux, he had not forgotten us. One of his Letters
written there soon after was the following, which much entertained me,
in various ways. It turns on a poor Book of mine, called _Sartor
Resartus_; which was not then even a Book, but was still hanging
desolately under bibliopolic difficulties, now in its fourth or fifth
year, on the wrong side of the river, as a mere aggregate of Magazine
Articles; having at last been slit into that form, and lately
completed _so_, and put together into legibility. I suppose Sterling
had borrowed it of me. The adventurous hunter spirit which had
started such a bemired _Auerochs_, or Urus of the German woods, and
decided on chasing that as game, struck me not a little;--and the poor
Wood-Ox, so bemired in the forests, took it as a compliment rather:--

"_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_.
"HERSTMONCEUX near BATTLE, 29th May, 1835.

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,--I have now read twice, with care, the wondrous
account of Teufelsdrockh and his Opinions; and I need not say that it
has given me much to think of. It falls in with the feelings and
tastes which were, for years, the ruling ones of my life; but which
you will not be angry with me when I say that I am infinitely and
hourly thankful for having escaped from. Not that I think of this
state of mind as one with which I have no longer any concern. The
sense of a oneness of life and power in all existence; and of a
boundless exuberance of beauty around us, to which most men are
well-nigh dead, is a possession which no one that has ever enjoyed it
would wish to lose. When to this we add the deep feeling of the
difference between the actual and the ideal in Nature, and still more
in Man; and bring in, to explain this, the principle of duty, as that
which connects us with a possible Higher State, and sets us in
progress towards it,--we have a cycle of thoughts which was the whole
spiritual empire of the wisest Pagans, and which might well supply
food for the wide speculations and richly creative fancy of
Teufelsdrockh, or his prototype Jean Paul.

"How then comes it, we cannot but ask, that these ideas, displayed
assuredly with no want of eloquence, vivacity or earnestness, have
found, unless I am much mistaken, so little acceptance among the best
and most energetic minds in this country? In a country where millions
read the Bible, and thousands Shakspeare; where Wordsworth circulates
through book-clubs and drawing-rooms; where there are innumerable
admirers of your favorite Burns; and where Coleridge, by sending from
his solitude the voice of earnest spiritual instruction, came to be
beloved, studied and mourned for, by no small or careless school of
disciples?--To answer this question would, of course, require more
thought and knowledge than I can pretend to bring to it. But there
are some points on which I will venture to say a few words.

"In the first place, as to the form of composition,--which may be
called, I think, the Rhapsodico-Reflective. In this the _Sartor
Resartus_ resembles some of the master-works of human invention, which
have been acknowledged as such by many generations; and especially the
works of Rabelais, Montaigne, Sterne and Swift. There is nothing I
know of in Antiquity like it. That which comes nearest is perhaps the
Platonic Dialogue. But of this, although there is something of the
playful and fanciful on the surface, there is in reality neither in
the language (which is austerely determined to its end), nor in the
method and progression of the work, any of that headlong
self-asserting capriciousness, which, if not discernible in the plan
of Teufelsdrockh's Memoirs, is yet plainly to be seen in the structure
of the sentences, the lawless oddity, and strange heterogeneous
combination and allusion. The principle of this difference,
observable often elsewhere in modern literature (for the same thing is
to be found, more or less, in many of our most genial works of
imagination,--_Don Quixote_, for instance, and the writings of Jeremy
Taylor), seems to be that well-known one of the predominant
objectivity of the Pagan mind; while among us the subjective has risen
into superiority, and brought with it in each individual a multitude
of peculiar associations and relations. These, as not explicable from
any one _external_ principle assumed as a premise by the ancient
philosopher, were rejected from the sphere of his aesthetic creation:
but to us they all have a value and meaning; being connected by the
bond of our own personality and all alike existing in that infinity
which is its arena.

"But however this may be, and comparing the Teufelsdrockhean Epopee
only with those other modern works,--it is noticeable that Rabelais,
Montaigne and Sterne have trusted for the currency of their writings,
in a great degree, to the use of obscene and sensual stimulants.
Rabelais, besides, was full of contemporary and personal satire; and
seems to have been a champion in the great cause of his time,--as was
Montaigne also,--that of the right of thought in all competent minds,
unrestrained by any outward authority. Montaigne, moreover, contains
more pleasant and lively gossip, and more distinct good-humored
painting of his own character and daily habits, than any other writer
I know. Sterne is never obscure, and never moral; and the costume of
his subjects is drawn from the familiar experience of his own time and
country: and Swift, again, has the same merit of the clearest
perspicuity, joined to that of the most homely, unaffected, forcible
English. These points of difference seem to me the chief ones which
bear against the success of the _Sartor_. On the other hand, there is
in Teufelsdrockh a depth and fervor of feeling, and a power of serious
eloquence, far beyond that of any of these four writers; and to which
indeed there is nothing at all comparable in any of them, except
perhaps now and then, and very imperfectly, in Montaigne.

"Of the other points of comparison there are two which I would chiefly
dwell on: and first as to the language. A good deal of this is
positively barbarous. 'Environment,' ' vestural,' 'stertorous,'
'visualized,' 'complected,' and others to be found I think in the
first twenty pages,--are words, so far as I know, without any
authority; some of them contrary to analogy: and none repaying by
their value the disadvantage of novelty. To these must be added new
and erroneous locutions; 'whole other tissues' for _all the other_,
and similar uses of the word _whole_; 'orients' for _pearls_; 'lucid'
and 'lucent' employed as if they were different in meaning; 'hulls'
perpetually for _coverings_, it being a word hardly used, and then
only for the husk of a nut; 'to insure a man of misapprehension;'
'talented,' a mere newspaper and hustings word, invented, I believe,
by O'Connell.

"I must also mention the constant recurrence of some words in a quaint
and queer connection, which gives a grotesque and somewhat repulsive
mannerism to many sentences. Of these the commonest offender is
'quite;' which appears in almost every page, and gives at first a
droll kind of emphasis; but soon becomes wearisome. 'Nay,'
'manifold,' 'cunning enough significance,' 'faculty' (meaning a man's
rational or moral _power_), 'special,' 'not without,' haunt the reader
as if in some uneasy dream which does not rise to the dignity of
nightmare. Some of these strange mannerisms fall under the general
head of a singularity peculiar, so far as I know, to Teufelsdrockh.
For instance, that of the incessant use of a sort of odd superfluous
qualification of his assertions; which seems to give the character of
deliberateness and caution to the style, but in time sounds like mere
trick or involuntary habit. 'Almost' does more than yeoman's,
_almost_ slave's service in this way. Something similar may be
remarked of the use of the double negative by way of affirmation.

"Under this head, of language, may be mentioned, though not with
strict grammatical accuracy, two standing characteristics of the
Professor's style,--at least as rendered into English: _First_, the
composition of words, such as 'snow-and-rosebloom maiden:' an
attractive damsel doubtless in Germany, but, with all her charms,
somewhat uncouth here. 'Life-vision' is another example; and many
more might be found. To say nothing of the innumerable cases in which
the words are only intelligible as a compound term, though not
distinguished by hyphens. Of course the composition of words is
sometimes allowable even in English: but the habit of dealing with
German seems to have produced, in the pages before us, a prodigious
superabundance of this form of expression; which gives harshness and
strangeness, where the matter would at all events have been surprising
enough. _Secondly_, I object, with the same qualification, to the
frequent use of _inversion_; which generally appears as a
transposition of the two members of a clause, in a way which would not
have been practiced in conversation. It certainly gives emphasis and
force, and often serves to point the meaning. But a style may be
fatiguing and faulty precisely by being too emphatic, forcible and
pointed; and so straining the attention to find its meaning, or the
admiration to appreciate its beauty.

"Another class of considerations connects itself with the heightened
and plethoric fulness of the style: its accumulation and contrast of
imagery; its occasional jerking and almost spasmodic violence;--and
above all, the painful subjective excitement, which seems the element
and groundwork even of every description of Nature; often taking the
shape of sarcasm or broad jest, but never subsiding into calm. There
is also a point which I should think worth attending to, were I
planning any similar book: I mean the importance, in a work of
imagination, of not too much disturbing in the reader's mind the
balance of the New and Old. The former addresses itself to his
active, the latter to his passive faculty; and these are mutually
dependent, and must coexist in certain proportion, if you wish to
combine his sympathy and progressive exertion with willingness and
ease of attention. This should be taken into account in forming a
style; for of course it cannot be consciously thought of in composing
each sentence.

"But chiefly it seems important in determining the plan of a work. If
the tone of feeling, the line of speculation are out of the common
way, and sure to present some difficulty to the average reader, then
it would probably be desirable to select, for the circumstances,
drapery and accessories of all kinds, those most familiar, or at least
most attractive. A fable of the homeliest purport, and commonest
every-day application, derives an interest and charm from its turning
on the characters and acts of gods and genii, lions and foxes, Arabs
and Affghauns. On the contrary, for philosophic inquiry and truths of
awful preciousness, I would select as my personages and interlocutors
beings with whose language and 'whereabouts' my readers would be
familiar. Thus did Plato in his Dialogues, Christ in his Parables.
Therefore it seems doubtful whether it was judicious to make a German
Professor the hero of _Sartor_. Berkeley began his _Siris_ with
tar-water; but what can English readers be expected to make of
_Gukguk_ by way of prelibation to your nectar and tokay? The
circumstances and details do not flash with living reality on the
minds of your readers, but, on the contrary, themselves require some
of that attention and minute speculation, the whole original stock of
which, in the minds of most of them, would not be too much to enable
them to follow your views of Man and Nature. In short, there is not a
sufficient basis of the common to justify the amount of peculiarity in
the work. In a book of science, these considerations would of course
be inapplicable; but then the whole shape and coloring of the book
must be altered to make it such; and a man who wishes merely to get at
the philosophical result, or summary of the whole, will regard the
details and illustrations as so much unprofitable surplusage.

"The sense of strangeness is also awakened by the marvellous
combinations, in which the work abounds to a degree that the common
reader must find perfectly bewildering. This can hardly, however, be
treated as a consequence of the _style_; for the style in this respect
coheres with, and springs from, the whole turn and tendency of
thought. The noblest images are objects of a humorous smile, in a
mind which sees itself above all Nature and throned in the arms of an
Almighty Necessity; while the meanest have a dignity, inasmuch as they
are trivial symbols of the same one life to which the great whole
belongs. And hence, as I divine, the startling whirl of incongruous
juxtaposition, which of a truth must to many readers seem as amazing
as if the Pythia on the tripod should have struck up a drinking-song,
or Thersites had caught the prophetic strain of Cassandra.

"All this, of course, appears to me true and relevant; but I cannot
help feeling that it is, after all, but a poor piece of quackery to
comment on a multitude of phenomena without adverting to the principle
which lies at the root, and gives the true meaning to them all. Now
this principle I seem to myself to find in the state of mind which is
attributed to Teufelsdrockh; in his state of mind, I say, not in his
opinions, though these are, in him as in all men, most
important,--being one of the best indices to his state of mind. Now
what distinguishes him, not merely from the greatest and best men who
have been on earth for eighteen hundred years, but from the whole body
of those who have been working forwards towards the good, and have
been the salt and light of the world, is this: That he does not
believe in a God. Do not be indignant, I am blaming no one;--but if I
write my thoughts, I must write them honestly.

"Teufelsdrockh does not belong to the herd of sensual and thoughtless
men; because he does perceive in all Existence a unity of power;
because he does believe that this is a real power external to him and
dominant to a certain extent over him, and does not think that he is
himself a shadow in a world of shadows. He had a deep feeling of the
beautiful, the good and the true; and a faith in their final victory.

"At the same time, how evident is the strong inward unrest, the
Titanic heaving of mountain on mountain; the storm-like rushing over
land and sea in search of peace. He writhes and roars under his
consciousness of the difference in himself between the possible and
the actual, the hoped-for and the existent. He feels that duty is the
highest law of his own being; and knowing how it bids the waves be
stilled into an icy fixedness and grandeur, he trusts (but with a
boundless inward misgiving) that there is a principle of order which
will reduce all confusion to shape and clearness. But wanting peace
himself, his fierce dissatisfaction fixes on all that is weak, corrupt
and imperfect around him; and instead of a calm and steady
co-operation with all those who are endeavoring to apply the highest
ideas as remedies for the worst evils, he holds himself aloof in
savage isolation; and cherishes (though he dare not own) a stern joy
at the prospect of that Catastrophe which is to turn loose again the
elements of man's social life, and give for a time the victory to
evil;--in hopes that each new convulsion of the world must bring us
nearer to the ultimate restoration of all things; fancying that each
may be the last. Wanting the calm and cheerful reliance, which would
be the spring of active exertion, he flatters his own distemper by
persuading himself that his own age and generation are peculiarly
feeble and decayed; and would even perhaps be willing to exchange the
restless immaturity of our self-consciousness, and the promise of its
long throe-pangs, for the unawakened undoubting simplicity of the
world's childhood; of the times in which there was all the evil and
horror of our day, only with the difference that conscience had not
arisen to try and condemn it. In these longings, if they are
Teufelsdrockh's, he seems to forget that, could we go back five
thousand years, we should only have the prospect of travelling them
again, and arriving at last at the same point at which we stand now.

"Something of this state of mind I may say that I understand; for I
have myself experienced it. And the root of the matter appears to me:
A want of sympathy with the great body of those who are now
endeavoring to guide and help onward their fellow-men. And in what is
this alienation grounded? It is, as I believe, simply in the
difference on that point: viz. the clear, deep, habitual recognition
of a one Living _Personal_ God, essentially good, wise, true and holy,
the Author of all that exists; and a reunion with whom is the only end
of all rational beings. This belief... [_There follow now several
pages on "Personal God," and other abstruse or indeed properly
unspeakable matters; these, and a general Postscript of qualifying
purport, I will suppress; extracting only the following fractions, as
luminous or slightly significant to us:_]

"Now see the difference of Teufelsdrockh's feelings. At the end of
book iii. chap. 8, I find these words: 'But whence? O Heaven,
whither? Sense knows not; Faith knows not; only that it is through
mystery to mystery, from God to God.

'We _are such stuff_
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.'

And this tallies with the whole strain of his character. What we find
everywhere, with an abundant use of the name of God, is the conception
of a formless Infinite whether in time or space; of a high inscrutable
Necessity, which it is the chief wisdom and virtue to submit to, which
is the mysterious impersonal base of all Existence,--shows itself in
the laws of every separate being's nature; and for man in the shape of
duty. On the other hand, I affirm, we do know whence we come and
whither we go!--

... "And in this state of mind, as there is no true sympathy with
others, just as little is there any true peace for ourselves. There
is indeed possible the unsympathizing factitious calm of Art, which we
find in Goethe. But at what expense is it bought? Simply, by
abandoning altogether the idea of duty, which is the great witness of
our personality. And he attains his inhuman ghastly calmness by
reducing the Universe to a heap of material for the idea of beauty to
work on!--

... "The sum of all I have been writing as to the connection of our
faith in God with our feeling towards men and our mode of action, may
of course be quite erroneous: but granting its truth, it would supply
the one principle which I have been seeking for, in order to explain
the peculiarities of style in your account of Teufelsdrockh and his
writings.... The life and works of Luther are the best comment I know
of on this doctrine of mine.

"Reading over what I have written, I find I have not nearly done
justice to my own sense of the genius and moral energy of the book;
but this is what you will best excuse.--Believe me most sincerely and
faithfully yours,


Here are sufficient points of "discrepancy with agreement," here is
material for talk and argument enough; and an expanse of free
discussion open, which requires rather to be speedily restricted for
convenience' sake, than allowed to widen itself into the boundless, as
it tends to do!--

In all Sterling's Letters to myself and others, a large collection of
which now lies before me, duly copied and indexed, there is, to one
that knew his speech as well, a perhaps unusual likeness between the
speech and the Letters; and yet, for most part, with a great
inferiority on the part of these. These, thrown off, one and all of
them, without premeditation, and with most rapid-flowing pen, are
naturally as like his speech as writing can well be; this is their
grand merit to us: but on the other hand, the want of the living
tones, swift looks and motions, and manifold dramatic accompaniments,
tells heavily, more heavily than common. What can be done with
champagne itself, much more with soda-water, when the gaseous spirit
is fled! The reader, in any specimens he may see, must bear this in

Meanwhile these Letters do excel in honesty, in candor and
transparency; their very carelessness secures their excellence in this
respect. And in another much deeper and more essential respect I must
likewise call them excellent,--in their childlike goodness, in the
purity of heart, the noble affection and fidelity they everywhere
manifest in the writer. This often touchingly strikes a familiar
friend in reading them; and will awaken reminiscences (when you have
the commentary in your own memory) which are sad and beautiful, and
not without reproach to you on occasion. To all friends, and all good
causes, this man is true; behind their back as before their face, the
same man!--Such traits of the autobiographic sort, from these Letters,
as can serve to paint him or his life, and promise not to weary the
reader, I must endeavor to select, in the sequel.


Sterling continued to reside at Herstmonceux through the spring and
summer; holding by the peaceable retired house he still had there,
till the vague future might more definitely shape itself, and better
point out what place of abode would suit him in his new circumstances.
He made frequent brief visits to London; in which I, among other
friends, frequently saw him, our acquaintance at each visit improving
in all ways. Like a swift dashing meteor he came into our circle;
coruscated among us, for a day or two, with sudden pleasant
illumination; then again suddenly withdrew,--we hoped, not for long.

I suppose, he was full of uncertainties; but undoubtedly was
gravitating towards London. Yet, on the whole, on the surface of him,
you saw no uncertainties; far from that: it seemed always rather with
peremptory resolutions, and swift express businesses, that he was
charged. Sickly in body, the testimony said: but here always was a
mind that gave you the impression of peremptory alertness, cheery
swift decision,--of a _health_ which you might have called exuberant.
I remember dialogues with him, of that year; one pleasant dialogue
under the trees of the Park (where now, in 1851, is the thing called
"Crystal Palace"), with the June sunset flinging long shadows for us;
the last of the Quality just vanishing for dinner, and the great night
beginning to prophesy of itself. Our talk (like that of the foregoing
Letter) was of the faults of my style, of my way of thinking, of my
&c. &c.; all which admonitions and remonstrances, so friendly and
innocent, from this young junior-senior, I was willing to listen to,
though unable, as usual, to get almost any practical hold of them. As
usual, the garments do not fit you, you are lost in the garments, or
you cannot get into them at all; this is not your suit of clothes, it
must be another's:--alas, these are not your dimensions, these are
only the optical angles you subtend; on the whole, you will never get
measured in that way!--

Another time, of date probably very contiguous, I remember hearing
Sterling preach. It was in some new college-chapel in Somerset-house
(I suppose, what is now called King's College); a very quiet small
place, the audience student-looking youths, with a few elder people,
perhaps mostly friends of the preacher's. The discourse, delivered
with a grave sonorous composure, and far surpassing in talent the
usual run of sermons, had withal an air of human veracity as I still
recollect, and bespoke dignity and piety of mind: but gave me the
impression rather of artistic excellence than of unction or
inspiration in that kind. Sterling returned with us to Chelsea that
day;--and in the afternoon we went on the Thames Putney-ward together,
we two with my Wife; under the sunny skies, on the quiet water, and
with copious cheery talk, the remembrance of which is still present
enough to me.

This was properly my only specimen of Sterling's preaching. Another
time, late in the same autumn, I did indeed attend him one evening to
some Church in the City,--a big Church behind Cheapside, "built by
Wren" as he carefully informed me;--but there, in my wearied mood, the
chief subject of reflection was the almost total vacancy of the place,
and how an eloquent soul was preaching to mere lamps and prayer-books;
and of the sermon I retain no image. It came up in the way of banter,
if he ever urged the duty of "Church extension," which already he very


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