The Life of John Sterling
Thomas Carlyle

Part 3 out of 5

seldom did and at length never, what a specimen we once had of bright
lamps, gilt prayer-books, baize-lined pews, Wren-built architecture;
and how, in almost all directions, you might have fired a musket
through the church, and hit no Christian life. A terrible outlook
indeed for the Apostolic laborer in the brick-and-mortar line!--

In the Autumn of this same 1835, he removed permanently to London,
whither all summer he had been evidently tending; took a house in
Bayswater, an airy suburb, half town, half country, near his Father's,
and within fair distance of his other friends and objects; and decided
to await there what the ultimate developments of his course might be.
His house was in Orme Square, close by the corner of that little place
(which has only _three_ sides of houses); its windows looking to the
east: the Number was, and I believe still is, No. 5. A sufficiently
commodious, by no means sumptuous, small mansion; where, with the
means sure to him, he could calculate on finding adequate shelter for
his family, his books and himself, and live in a decent manner, in no
terror of debt, for one thing. His income, I suppose, was not large;
but he lived generally a safe distance within it; and showed himself
always as a man bountiful in money matters, and taking no thought that

His study-room in this house was perhaps mainly the drawing-room;
looking out safe, over the little dingy grassplot in front, and the
quiet little row of houses opposite, with the huge dust-whirl of
Oxford Street and London far enough ahead of you as background,--as
back-curtain, blotting out only _half_ your blue hemisphere with dust
and smoke. On the right, you had the continuous growl of the Uxbridge
Road and its wheels, coming as lullaby not interruption. Leftward and
rearward, after some thin belt of houses, lay mere country; bright
sweeping green expanses, crowned by pleasant Hampstead, pleasant
Harrow, with their rustic steeples rising against the sky. Here on
winter evenings, the bustle of removal being all well ended, and
family and books got planted in their new places, friends could find
Sterling, as they often did, who was delighted to be found by them,
and would give and take, vividly as few others, an hour's good talk at
any time.

His outlooks, it must be admitted, were sufficiently vague and
overshadowed; neither the past nor the future of a too joyful kind.
Public life, in any professional form, is quite forbidden; to work
with his fellows anywhere appears to be forbidden: nor can the
humblest solitary endeavor to work worthily as yet find an arena. How
unfold one's little bit of talent; and live, and not lie sleeping,
while it is called To-day? As Radical, as Reforming Politician in any
public or private form,--not only has this, in Sterling's case,
received tragical sentence and execution; but the opposite extreme,
the Church whither he had fled, likewise proves abortive: the Church
also is not the haven for him at all. What is to be done? Something
must be done, and soon,--under penalties. Whoever has received, on
him there is an inexorable behest to give. "_Fais ton fait_, Do thy
little stroke of work:" this is Nature's voice, and the sum of all
the commandments, to each man!

A shepherd of the people, some small Agamemnon after his sort, doing
what little sovereignty and guidance he can in his day and generation:
such every gifted soul longs, and should long, to be. But how, in any
measure, is the small kingdom necessary for Sterling to be attained?
Not through newspapers and parliaments, not by rubrics and
reading-desks: none of the sceptres offered in the world's
market-place, nor none of the crosiers there, it seems, can be the
shepherd's-crook for this man. A most cheerful, hoping man; and full
of swift faculty, though much lamed,--considerably bewildered too; and
tending rather towards the wastes and solitary places for a home; the
paved world not being friendly to him hitherto! The paved world, in
fact, both on its practical and spiritual side, slams to its doors
against him; indicates that he cannot enter, and even must not,--that
it will prove a choke-vault, deadly to soul and to body, if he enter.
Sceptre, crosier, sheep-crook is none there for him.

There remains one other implement, the resource of all Adam's
posterity that are otherwise foiled,--the Pen. It was evident from
this point that Sterling, however otherwise beaten about, and set
fluctuating, would gravitate steadily with all his real weight towards
Literature. That he would gradually try with consciousness to get
into Literature; and, on the whole, never quit Literature, which was
now all the world for him. Such is accordingly the sum of his history
henceforth: such small sum, so terribly obstructed and diminished by
circumstances, is all we have realized from him.

Sterling had by no means as yet consciously quitted the clerical
profession, far less the Church as a creed. We have seen, he
occasionally officiated still in these months, when a friend requested
or an opportunity invited. Nay it turned out afterwards, he had,
unknown even to his own family, during a good many weeks in the
coldest period of next spring, when it was really dangerous for his
health and did prove hurtful to it,--been constantly performing the
morning service in some Chapel in Bayswater for a young clerical
neighbor, a slight acquaintance of his, who was sickly at the time.
So far as I know, this of the Bayswater Chapel in the spring of 1836,
a feat severely rebuked by his Doctor withal, was his last actual
service as a churchman. But the conscious life ecclesiastical still
hung visibly about his inner unconscious and real life, for years to
come; and not till by slow degrees he had unwinded from him the
wrappages of it, could he become clear about himself, and so much as
try heartily what his now sole course was. Alas, and he had to live
all the rest of his days, as in continual flight for his very
existence; "ducking under like a poor unfledged partridge-bird," as
one described it, "before the mower; darting continually from nook to
nook, and there crouching, to escape the scythe of Death." For
Literature Proper there was but little left in such a life. Only the
smallest broken fractions of his last and heaviest-laden years can
poor Sterling be said to have completely lived. His purpose had risen
before him slowly in noble clearness; clear at last,--and even then
the inevitable hour was at hand.

In those first London months, as always afterwards while it remained
physically possible, I saw much of him; loved him, as was natural,
more and more; found in him, many ways, a beautiful acquisition to my
existence here. He was full of bright speech and argument; radiant
with arrowy vitalities, vivacities and ingenuities. Less than any man
he gave you the idea of ill-health. Hopeful, sanguine; nay he did not
even seem to need definite hope, or much to form any; projecting
himself in aerial pulses like an aurora borealis, like a summer dawn,
and filling all the world with present brightness for himself and
others. Ill-health? Nay you found at last, it was the very excess of
_life_ in him that brought on disease. This restless play of being,
fit to conquer the world, could it have been held and guided, could
not be held. It had worn _holes_ in the outer case of it, and there
found vent for itself,--there, since not otherwise.

In our many promenades and colloquies, which were of the freest, most
copious and pleasant nature, religion often formed a topic, and
perhaps towards the beginning of our intercourse was the prevailing
topic. Sterling seemed much engrossed in matters theological, and led
the conversation towards such; talked often about Church, Christianity
Anglican and other, how essential the belief in it to man; then, on
the other side, about Pantheism and such like;--all in the Coleridge
dialect, and with eloquence and volubility to all lengths. I remember
his insisting often and with emphasis on what he called a "personal
God," and other high topics, of which it was not always pleasant to
give account in the argumentative form, in a loud hurried voice,
walking and arguing through the fields or streets. Though of warm
quick feelings, very positive in his opinions, and vehemently eager to
convince and conquer in such discussions, I seldom or never saw the
least anger in him against me or any friend. When the blows of
contradiction came too thick, he could with consummate dexterity whisk
aside out of their way; prick into his adversary on some new quarter;
or gracefully flourishing his weapon, end the duel in some handsome
manner. One angry glance I remember in him, and it was but a glance,
and gone in a moment. "Flat Pantheism!" urged he once (which he would
often enough do about this time), as if triumphantly, of something or
other, in the fire of a debate, in my hearing: "It is mere Pantheism,
that!"--"And suppose it were Pot-theism?" cried the other: "If the
thing is true!"--Sterling did look hurt at such flippant heterodoxy,
for a moment. The soul of his own creed, in those days, was far other
than this indifference to Pot or Pan in such departments of inquiry.

To me his sentiments for most part were lovable and admirable, though
in the logical outcome there was everywhere room for opposition. I
admired the temper, the longing towards antique heroism, in this young
man of the nineteenth century; but saw not how, except in some
German-English empire of the air, he was ever to realize it on those
terms. In fact, it became clear to me more and more that here was
nobleness of heart striving towards all nobleness; here was ardent
recognition of the worth of Christianity, for one thing; but no belief
in it at all, in my sense of the word belief,--no belief but one
definable as mere theoretic moonshine, which would never stand the
wind and weather of fact. Nay it struck me farther that Sterling's
was not intrinsically, nor had ever been in the highest or chief
degree, a devotional mind. Of course all excellence in man, and
worship as the supreme excellence, was part of the inheritance of this
gifted man: but if called to define him, I should say, Artist not
Saint was the real bent of his being. He had endless admiration, but
intrinsically rather a deficiency of reverence in comparison. Fear,
with its corollaries, on the religious side, he appeared to have none,
nor ever to have had any.

In short, it was a strange enough symptom to me of the bewildered
condition of the world, to behold a man of this temper, and of this
veracity and nobleness, self-consecrated here, by free volition and
deliberate selection, to be a Christian Priest; and zealously
struggling to fancy himself such in very truth. Undoubtedly a
singular present fact;--from which, as from their point of
intersection, great perplexities and aberrations in the past, and
considerable confusions in the future might be seen ominously
radiating. Happily our friend, as I said, needed little hope. To-day
with its activities was always bright and rich to him. His
unmanageable, dislocated, devastated world, spiritual or economical,
lay all illuminated in living sunshine, making it almost beautiful to
his eyes, and gave him no hypochondria. A richer soul, in the way of
natural outfit for felicity, for joyful activity in this world, so far
as his strength would go, was nowhere to be met with.

The Letters which Mr. Hare has printed, Letters addressed, I imagine,
mostly to himself, in this and the following year or two, give record
of abundant changeful plannings and laborings, on the part of
Sterling; still chiefly in the theological department. Translation
from Tholuck, from Schleiermacher; treatise on this thing, then on
that, are on the anvil: it is a life of abstruse vague speculations,
singularly cheerful and hopeful withal, about Will, Morals, Jonathan
Edwards, Jewhood, Manhood, and of Books to be written on these topics.
Part of which adventurous vague plans, as the Translation from
Tholuck, he actually performed; other greater part, merging always
into wider undertakings, remained plan merely. I remember he talked
often about Tholuck, Schleiermacher, and others of that stamp; and
looked disappointed, though full of good nature, at my obstinate
indifference to them and their affairs.

His knowledge of German Literature, very slight at this time, limited
itself altogether to writers on Church matters,--Evidences,
Counter-Evidences, Theologies and Rumors of Theologies; by the
Tholucks, Schleiermachers, Neanders, and I know not whom. Of the true
sovereign souls of that Literature, the Goethes, Richters, Schillers,
Lessings, he had as good as no knowledge; and of Goethe in particular
an obstinate misconception, with proper abhorrence appended,--which
did not abate for several years, nor quite abolish itself till a very
late period. Till, in a word, he got Goethe's works fairly read and
studied for himself! This was often enough the course with Sterling
in such cases. He had a most swift glance of recognition for the
worthy and for the unworthy; and was prone, in his ardent decisive
way, to put much faith in it. "Such a one is a worthless idol; not
excellent, only sham-excellent:" here, on this negative side
especially, you often had to admire how right he was;--often, but not
quite always. And he would maintain, with endless ingenuity,
confidence and persistence, his fallacious spectrum to be a real
image. However, it was sure to come all right in the end. Whatever
real excellence he might misknow, you had but to let it stand before
him, soliciting new examination from him: none surer than he to
recognize it at last, and to pay it all his dues, with the arrears and
interest on them. Goethe, who figures as some absurd high-stalking
hollow play-actor, or empty ornamental clock-case of an "Artist"
so-called, in the Tale of the _Onyx Ring_, was in the throne of
Sterling's intellectual world before all was done; and the theory of
"Goethe's want of feeling," want of &c. &c. appeared to him also
abundantly contemptible and forgettable.

Sterling's days, during this time as always, were full of occupation,
cheerfully interesting to himself and others; though, the wrecks of
theology so encumbering him, little fruit on the positive side could
come of these labors. On the negative side they were productive; and
there also, so much of encumbrance requiring removal, before fruit
could grow, there was plenty of labor needed. He looked happy as well
as busy; roamed extensively among his friends, and loved to have them
about him,--chiefly old Cambridge comrades now settling into
occupations in the world;--and was felt by all friends, by myself as
by few, to be a welcome illumination in the dim whirl of things. A
man of altogether social and human ways; his address everywhere
pleasant and enlivening. A certain smile of thin but genuine
laughter, we might say, hung gracefully over all he said and
did;--expressing gracefully, according to the model of this epoch, the
stoical pococurantism which is required of the cultivated Englishman.
Such laughter in him was not deep, but neither was it false (as
lamentably happens often); and the cheerfulness it went to symbolize
was hearty and beautiful,--visible in the silent unsymbolized state in
a still gracefuler fashion.

Of wit, so far as rapid lively intellect produces wit, he had plenty,
and did not abuse his endowment that way, being always fundamentally
serious in the purport of his speech: of what we call humor, he had
some, though little; nay of real sense for the ludicrous, in any form,
he had not much for a man of his vivacity; and you remarked that his
laugh was limited in compass, and of a clear but not rich quality. To
the like effect shone something, a kind of childlike half-embarrassed
shimmer of expression, on his fine vivid countenance; curiously
mingling with its ardors and audacities. A beautiful childlike soul!
He was naturally a favorite in conversation, especially with all who
had any funds for conversing: frank and direct, yet polite and
delicate withal,--though at times too he could crackle with his
dexterous petulancies, making the air all like needles round you; and
there was no end to his logic when you excited it; no end, unless in
some form of silence on your part. Elderly men of reputation I have
sometimes known offended by him: for he took a frank way in the
matter of talk; spoke freely out of him, freely listening to what
others spoke, with a kind of "hail fellow well met" feeling; and
carelessly measured a men much less by his reputed account in the bank
of wit, or in any other bank, than by what the man had to show for
himself in the shape of real spiritual cash on the occasion. But
withal there was ever a fine element of natural courtesy in Sterling;
his deliberate demeanor to acknowledged superiors was fine and
graceful; his apologies and the like, when in a fit of repentance he
felt commanded to apologize, were full of naivete, and very pretty and

His circle of friends was wide enough; chiefly men of his own
standing, old College friends many of them; some of whom have now
become universally known. Among whom the most important to him was
Frederic Maurice, who had not long before removed to the Chaplaincy of
Guy's Hospital here, and was still, as he had long been, his intimate
and counsellor. Their views and articulate opinions, I suppose, were
now fast beginning to diverge; and these went on diverging far enough:
but in their kindly union, in their perfect trustful familiarity,
precious to both parties, there never was the least break, but a
steady, equable and duly increasing current to the end. One of
Sterling's commonest expeditions, in this time, was a sally to the
other side of London Bridge: "Going to Guy's to-day." Maurice, in a
year or two, became Sterling's brother-in-law; wedded Mrs. Sterling's
younger sister,--a gentle excellent female soul; by whom the relation
was, in many ways, strengthened and beautified for Sterling and all
friends of the parties. With the Literary notabilities I think he had
no acquaintance; his thoughts indeed still tended rather towards a
certain class of the Clerical; but neither had he much to do with
these; for he was at no time the least of a tuft-hunter, but rather
had a marked natural indifference to _tufts_.

The Rev. Mr. Dunn, a venerable and amiable Irish gentleman,
"distinguished," we were told, "by having refused a bishopric:" and
who was now living, in an opulent enough retirement, amid his books
and philosophies and friends, in London,--is memorable to me among
this clerical class: one of the mildest, beautifulest old men I have
ever seen,--"like Fenelon," Sterling said: his very face, with its
kind true smile, with its look of suffering cheerfulness and pious
wisdom, was a sort of benediction. It is of him that Sterling writes,
in the Extract which Mr. Hare, modestly reducing the name to an
initial "Mr. D.," has given us:[13] "Mr. Dunn, for instance; the
defect of whose Theology, compounded as it is of the doctrine of the
Greek Fathers, of the Mystics and of Ethical Philosophers,
consists,--if I may hint a fault in one whose holiness, meekness and
fervor would have made him the beloved disciple of him whom Jesus
loved,--in an insufficient apprehension of the reality and depth of
Sin." A characteristic "defect" of this fine gentle soul. On Mr.
Dunn's death, which occurred two or three years later, Stirling gave,
in some veiled yet transparent form, in _Blackwood's Magazine_, an
affectionate and eloquent notice of him; which, stript of the veil,
was excerpted into the Newspapers also.[14]

Of Coleridge there was little said. Coleridge was now dead, not long
since; nor was his name henceforth much heard in Sterling's circle;
though on occasion, for a year or two to come, he would still assert
his transcendent admiration, especially if Maurice were by to help.
But he was getting into German, into various inquiries and sources of
knowledge new to him, and his admirations and notions on many things
were silently and rapidly modifying themselves.

So, amid interesting human realities, and wide cloud-canopies of
uncertain speculation, which also had their interests and their
rainbow-colors to him, and could not fail in his life just now, did
Sterling pass his year and half at Bayswater. Such vaporous
speculations were inevitable for him at present; but it was to be
hoped they would subside by and by, and leave the sky clear. All this
was but the preliminary to whatever work might lie in him:--and, alas,
much other interruption lay between him and that.


Sterling's dubieties as to continuing at Bordeaux were quickly
decided. The cholera in France, the cholera in Nice, the-- In fact
his moorings were now loose; and having been fairly at sea, he never
could anchor himself here again. Very shortly after this Letter, he
left Belsito again (for good, as it proved); and returned to England
with his household, there to consider what should next be done.

On my return from Scotland, that year, perhaps late in September, I
remember finding him lodged straitly but cheerfully, and in happy
humor, in a little cottage on Blackheath; whither his Father one day
persuaded me to drive out with him for dinner. Our welcome, I can
still recollect, was conspicuously cordial; the place of dinner a kind
of upper room, half garret and full of books, which seemed to be
John's place of study. From a shelf, I remember also, the good soul
took down a book modestly enough bound in three volumes, lettered on
the back Carlyle's _French Revolution_, which had been published
lately; this he with friendly banter bade me look at as a first
symptom, small but significant, that the book was not to die all at
once. "One copy of it at least might hope to last the date of
sheep-leather," I admitted,--and in my then mood the little fact was
welcome. Our dinner, frank and happy on the part of Sterling, was
peppered with abundant jolly satire from his Father: before tea, I
took myself away; towards Woolwich, I remember, where probably there
was another call to make, and passage homeward by steamer: Sterling
strode along with me a good bit of road in the bright sunny evening,
full of lively friendly talk, and altogether kind and amiable; and
beautifully sympathetic with the loads he thought he saw on _me_,
forgetful of his own. We shook hands on the road near the foot of
Shooter's Hill:--at which point dim oblivious clouds rush down; and of
small or great I remember nothing more in my history or his for some

Besides running much about among friends, and holding counsels for the
management of the coming winter, Sterling was now considerably
occupied with Literature again; and indeed may be said to have already
definitely taken it up as the one practical pursuit left for him.
Some correspondence with _Blackwood's Magazine_ was opening itself,
under promising omens: now, and more and more henceforth, he began to
look on Literature as his real employment, after all; and was
prosecuting it with his accustomed loyalty and ardor. And he
continued ever afterwards, in spite of such fitful circumstances and
uncertain outward fluctuations as his were sure of being, to prosecute
it steadily with all the strength he had.

One evening about this time, he came down to us, to Chelsea, most
likely by appointment and with stipulation for privacy; and read, for
our opinion, his Poem of the _Sexton's Daughter_, which we now first
heard of. The judgment in this house was friendly, but not the most
encouraging. We found the piece monotonous, cast in the mould of
Wordsworth, deficient in real human fervor or depth of melody,
dallying on the borders of the infantile and "goody-good;"--in fact,
involved still in the shadows of the surplice, and inculcating (on
hearsay mainly) a weak morality, which he would one day find not to be
moral at all, but in good part maudlin-hypocritical and immoral. As
indeed was to be said still of most of his performances, especially
the poetical; a sickly _shadow_ of the parish-church still hanging
over them, which he could by no means recognize for sickly.
_Imprimatur_ nevertheless was the concluding word,--with these grave
abatements, and rhadamanthine admonitions. To all which Sterling
listened seriously and in the mildest humor. His reading, it might
have been added, had much hurt the effect of the piece: a dreary
pulpit or even conventicle manner; that flattest moaning hoo-hoo of
predetermined pathos, with a kind of rocking canter introduced by way
of intonation, each stanza the exact fellow Of the other, and the dull
swing of the rocking-horse duly in each;--no reading could be more
unfavorable to Sterling's poetry than his own. Such a mode of
reading, and indeed generally in a man of such vivacity the total
absence of all gifts for play-acting or artistic mimicry in any kind,
was a noticeable point.

After much consultation, it was settled at last that Sterling should
go to Madeira for the winter. One gray dull autumn afternoon, towards
the middle of October, I remember walking with him to the eastern Dock
region, to see his ship, and how the final preparations in his own
little cabin were proceeding there. A dingy little ship, the deck
crowded with packages, and bustling sailors within eight-and-forty
hours of lifting anchor; a dingy chill smoky day, as I have said
withal, and a chaotic element and outlook, enough to make a friend's
heart sad. I admired the cheerful careless humor and brisk activity
of Sterling, who took the matter all on the sunny side, as he was wont
in such cases. We came home together in manifold talk: he accepted
with the due smile my last contribution to his sea-equipment, a
sixpenny box of German lucifers purchased on the sudden in St. James's
Street, fit to be offered with laughter or with tears or with both; he
was to leave for Portsmouth almost immediately, and there go on board.
Our next news was of his safe arrival in the temperate Isle. Mrs.
Sterling and the children were left at Knightsbridge; to pass this
winter with his Father and Mother.

At Madeira Sterling did well: improved in health; was busy with much
Literature; and fell in with society which he could reckon pleasant.
He was much delighted with the scenery of the place; found the climate
wholesome to him in a marked degree; and, with good news from home,
and kindly interests here abroad, passed no disagreeable winter in
that exile. There was talking, there was writing, there was hope of
better health; he rode almost daily, in cheerful busy humor, along
those fringed shore-roads:--beautiful leafy roads and horse-paths;
with here and there a wild cataract and bridge to look at; and always
with the soft sky overhead, the dead volcanic mountain on one hand,
and broad illimitable sea spread out on the other. Here are two
Letters which give reasonably good account of him:--

"_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_.
"FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, 16th November, 1837.

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,--I have been writing a good many letters all in a
batch, to go by the same opportunity; and I am thoroughly weary of
writing the same things over and over again to different people. My
letter to you therefore, I fear, must have much of the character of
remainder-biscuit. But you will receive it as a proof that I do not
wish you to forget me, though it may be useless for any other purpose.

"I reached this on the 2d, after a tolerably prosperous voyage,
deformed by some days of sea-sickness, but otherwise not to be
complained of. I liked my twenty fellow-passengers far better than I
expected;--three or four of them I like much, and continue to see
frequently. The Island too is better than I expected: so that my
Barataria at least does not disappoint me. The bold rough mountains,
with mist about their summits, verdure below, and a bright sun over
all, please me much; and I ride daily on the steep and narrow paved
roads, which no wheels ever journeyed on. The Town is clean, and
there its merits end: but I am comfortably lodged; with a large and
pleasant sitting-room to myself. I have met with much kindness; and
see all the society I want,--though it is not quite equal to that of
London, even excluding Chelsea.

"I have got about me what Books I brought out; and have read a little,
and done some writing for _Blackwood_,--all, I have the pleasure to
inform you, prose, nay extremely prose. I shall now be more at
leisure; and hope to get more steadily to work; though I do not know
what I shall begin upon. As to reading, I have been looking at
_Goethe_, especially the _Life_,--much as a shying horse looks at a
post. In truth, I am afraid of him. I enjoy and admire him so much,
and feel I could so easily be tempted to go along with him. And yet I
have a deeply rooted and old persuasion that he was the most splendid
of anachronisms. A thoroughly, nay intensely Pagan Life, in an age
when it is men's duty to be Christian. I therefore never take him up
without a kind of inward check, as if I were trying some forbidden
spell; while, on the other hand, there is so infinitely much to be
learnt from him, and it is so needful to understand the world we live
in, and our own age, and especially its greatest minds, that I cannot
bring myself to burn my books as the converted Magicians did, or sink
them as did Prospero. There must, as I think, have been some
prodigious defect in his mind, to let him hold such views as his about
women and some other things; and in another respect, I find so much
coldness and hollowness as to the highest truths, and feel so strongly
that the Heaven he looks up to is but a vault of ice,--that these two
indications, leading to the same conclusion, go far to convince me he
was a profoundly immoral and irreligious spirit, with as rare
faculties of intelligence as ever belonged to any one. All this may
be mere _goody_ weakness and twaddle, on my part: but it is a
persuasion that I cannot escape from; though I should feel the doing
so to be a deliverance from a most painful load. If you could help
me, I heartily wish you would. I never take him up without high
admiration, or lay him down without real sorrow for what he chose to

"I have been reading nothing else that you would much care for.
Southey's _Amadis_ has amused me; and Lyell's _Geology_ interested me.
The latter gives one the same sort of bewildering view of the abysmal
extent of Time that Astronomy does of Space. I do not think I shall
take your advice as to learning Portuguese. It is said to be very ill
spoken here; and assuredly it is the most direful series of nasal
twangs I ever heard. One gets on quite well with English.

"The people here are, I believe, in a very low condition; but they do
not appear miserable. I am told that the influence of the priests
makes the peasantry all Miguelites; but it is said that nobody wants
any more revolutions. There is no appearance of riot or crime; and
they are all extremely civil. I was much interested by learning that
Columbus once lived here, before he found America and fame. I have
been to see a deserted _quinta_ (country-house), where there is a
great deal of curious old sculpture, in relief, upon the masonry; many
of the figures, which are nearly as large as life, representing
soldiers clad and armed much as I should suppose those of Cortez were.
There are no buildings about the Town, of the smallest pretensions to
beauty or charm of any kind. On the whole, if Madeira were one's
world, life would certainly rather tend to stagnate; but as a
temporary refuge, a niche in an old ruin where one is sheltered from
the shower, it has great merit. I am more comfortable and contented
than I expected to be, so far from home and from everybody I am
closely connected with: but, of course, it is at best a tolerable

"Tell Mrs. Carlyle that I have written, since I have been here, and am
going to send to _Blackwood_, a humble imitation of her _Watch and
Canary-Bird_, entitled _The Suit of Armor and the Skeleton_.[15] I am
conscious that I am far from having reached the depth and fulness of
despair and mockery which distinguish the original! But in truth
there is a lightness of tone about her style, which I hold to be
invaluable: where she makes hairstrokes, I make blotches. I have a
vehement suspicion that my Dialogue is an entire failure; but I cannot
be plagued with it any longer. Tell her I will not send her messages,
but will write to her soon.--Meanwhile I am affectionately hers and


The next is to his Brother-in-law; and in a still hopefuler tone:--

"_To Charles Barton, Esq._[16]
FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, 3d March, 1838.

"MY DEAR CHARLES,--I have often been thinking of you and your
whereabouts in Germany, and wishing I knew more about you; and at last
it occurred to me that you might perhaps have the same wish about me,
and that therefore I should do well to write to you.

"I have been here exactly four months, having arrived on the 2d of
November,--my wedding-day; and though you perhaps may not think it a
compliment to Susan, I have seldom passed four months more cheerfully
and agreeably. I have of course felt my absence from my family, and
missed the society of my friends; for there is not a person here whom
I knew before I left England. But, on the whole, I have been in good
health, and actively employed. I have a good many agreeable and
valuable acquaintances, one or two of whom I hope I may hereafter
reckon as friends. The weather has generally been fine, and never
cold; and the scenery of the Island is of a beauty which you unhappy
Northern people can have little conception of.

"It consists of a great mass of volcanic mountains, covered in their
lower parts with cottages, vines and patches of vegetables. When you
pass through, or over the central ridge, and get towards the North,
there are woods of trees, of the laurel kind, covering the wild steep
slopes, and forming some of the strangest and most beautiful prospects
I have ever seen. Towards the interior, the forms of the hills become
more abrupt, and loftier; and give the notion of very recent volcanic
disturbances, though in fact there has been nothing of the kind since
the discovery of the Island by Europeans. Among these mountains, the
dark deep precipices, and narrow ravines with small streams at the
bottom; the basaltic knobs and ridges on the summits; and the
perpetual play of mist and cloud around them, under this bright sun
and clear sky,--form landscapes which you would thoroughly enjoy, and
which I much wish I could give you a notion of. The Town is on the
south, and of course the sheltered side of the Island; perfectly
protected from the North and East; although we have seen sometimes
patches of bright snow on the dark peaks in the distance. It is a
neat cheerful place; all built of gray stone, but having many of the
houses colored white or red. There is not a really handsome building
in it, but there is a general aspect of comfort and solidity. The
shops are very poor. The English do not mix at all with the
Portuguese. The Bay is a very bad anchorage; but is wide, bright and
cheerful; and there are some picturesque points--one a small black
island--scattered about it.

"I lived till a fortnight ago in lodgings, having two rooms, one a
very good one; and paying for everything fifty-six dollars a month,
the dollar being four shillings and twopence. This you will see is
dear; but I could make no better arrangement, for there is an unusual
affluence of strangers this year. I have now come to live with a
friend, a Dr. Calvert, in a small house of our own, where I am much
more comfortable, and live greatly cheaper. He is a friend of Mrs.
Percival's; about my age, an Oriel man, and a very superior person. I
think the chances are, we shall go home together.... I cannot tell
you of all the other people I have become familiar with; and shall
only mention in addition Bingham Baring, eldest son of Lord Ashburton,
who was here for some weeks on account of a dying brother, and whom I
saw a great deal of. He is a pleasant, very good-natured and rather
clever man; Conservative Member for North Staffordshire.

"During the first two months I was here, I rode a great deal about the
Island, having a horse regularly; and was much in agreeable company,
seeing a great deal of beautiful scenery. Since then, the weather has
been much more unsettled, though not cold; and I have gone about less,
as I cannot risk the being wet. But I have spent my time pleasantly,
reading and writing. I have written a good many things for
_Blackwood_; one of which, the _Armor and the Skeleton_, I see is
printed in the February Number. I have just sent them a long Tale,
called the _Onyx Ring_, which cost me a good deal of trouble; and the
extravagance of which, I think, would amuse you; but its length may
prevent its appearance in _Blackwood_. If so, I think I should make a
volume of it. I have also written some poems, and shall probably
publish the _Sexton's Daughter_ when I return.

"My health goes on most favorably. I have had no attack of the chest
this spring; which has not happened to me since the spring before we
went to Bonn; and I am told, if I take care, I may roll along for
years. But I have little hope of being allowed to spend the four
first months of any year in England; and the question will be, Whether
to go at once to Italy, by way of Germany and Switzerland, with my
family, or to settle with them in England, perhaps at Hastings, and go
abroad myself when it may be necessary. I cannot decide till I
return; but I think the latter the most probable.

"To my dear Charles I do not like to use the ordinary forms of ending
a letter, for they are very inadequate to express my sense of your
long and most unvarying kindness; but be assured no one living could
say with more sincerity that he is ever affectionately yours,


Other Letters give occasionally views of the shadier side of things:
dark broken weather, in the sky and in the mind; ugly clouds covering
one's poor fitful transitory prospect, for a time, as they might well
do in Sterling's case. Meanwhile we perceive his literary business is
fast developing itself; amid all his confusions, he is never idle
long. Some of his best Pieces--the Onyx _Ring_, for one, as we
perceive--were written here this winter. Out of the turbid whirlpool
of the days he strives assiduously to snatch what he can.

Sterling's communications with _Blackwood's Magazine_ had now issued
in some open sanction of him by Professor Wilson, the distinguished
presiding spirit of that Periodical; a fact naturally of high
importance to him under the literary point of view. For Wilson, with
his clear flashing eye and great genial heart, had at once recognized
Sterling; and lavished stormily, in his wild generous way, torrents of
praise on him in the editorial comments: which undoubtedly was one of
the gratefulest literary baptisms, by fire or by water, that could
befall a soul like Sterling's. He bore it very gently, being indeed
past the age to have his head turned by anybody's praises: nor do I
think the exaggeration that was in these eulogies did him any ill
whatever; while surely their generous encouragement did him much good,
in his solitary struggle towards new activity under such impediments
as his. _Laudari a laudato_; to be called noble by one whom you and
the world recognize as noble: this great satisfaction, never perhaps
in such a degree before or after had now been vouchsafed to Sterling;
and was, as I compute, an important fact for him. He proceeded on his
pilgrimage with new energy, and felt more and more as if authentically
consecrated to the same.

The _Onyx Ring_, a curious Tale, with wild improbable basis, but with
a noble glow of coloring and with other high merits in it, a Tale
still worth reading, in which, among the imaginary characters, various
friends of Sterling's are shadowed forth, not always in the truest
manner, came out in _Blackwood_ in the winter of this year. Surely a
very high talent for painting, both of scenery and persons, is visible
in this Fiction; the promise of a Novel such as we have few. But
there wants maturing, wants purifying of clear from unclear;--properly
there want patience and steady depth. The basis, as we said, is wild
and loose; and in the details, lucent often with fine color, and dipt
in beautiful sunshine, there are several things mis_seen_, untrue,
which is the worst species of mispainting. Witness, as Sterling
himself would have by and by admitted, the "empty clockcase" (so we
called it) which he has labelled Goethe,--which puts all other
untruths in the Piece to silence.

One of the great alleviations of his exile at Madeira he has already
celebrated to us: the pleasant circle of society he fell into there.
Great luck, thinks Sterling in this voyage; as indeed there was: but
he himself, moreover, was readier than most men to fall into pleasant
circles everywhere, being singularly prompt to make the most of any
circle. Some of his Madeira acquaintanceships were really good; and
one of them, if not more, ripened into comradeship and friendship for
him. He says, as we saw, "The chances are, Calvert and I will come
home together."

Among the English in pursuit of health, or in flight from fatal
disease, that winter, was this Dr. Calvert; an excellent ingenious
cheery Cumberland gentleman, about Sterling's age, and in a deeper
stage of ailment, this not being his first visit to Madeira: he,
warmly joining himself to Sterling, as we have seen, was warmly
received by him; so that there soon grew a close and free intimacy
between them; which for the next three years, till poor Calvert ended
his course, was a leading element in the history of both.
Companionship in incurable malady, a touching bond of union, was by no
means purely or chiefly a companionship in misery in their case. The
sunniest inextinguishable cheerfulness shone, through all manner of
clouds, in both. Calvert had been travelling physician in some family
of rank, who had rewarded him with a pension, shielding his own
ill-health from one sad evil. Being hopelessly gone in pulmonary
disorder, he now moved about among friendly climates and places,
seeking what alleviation there might be; often spending his summers in
the house of a sister in the environs of London; an insatiable rider
on his little brown pony; always, wherever you might meet him, one of
the cheeriest of men. He had plenty of speculation too, clear glances
of all kinds into religious, social, moral concerns; and pleasantly
incited Sterling's outpourings on such subjects. He could report of
fashionable persons and manners, in a fine human Cumberland manner;
loved art, a great collector of drawings; he had endless help and
ingenuity; and was in short every way a very human, lovable, good and
nimble man,--the laughing blue eyes of him, the clear cheery soul of
him, still redolent of the fresh Northern breezes and transparent
Mountain streams. With this Calvert, Sterling formed a natural
intimacy; and they were to each other a great possession, mutually
enlivening many a dark day during the next three years. They did come
home together this spring; and subsequently made several of these
health-journeys in partnership.


In spite of these wanderings, Sterling's course in life, so far as his
poor life could have any course or aim beyond that of screening itself
from swift death, was getting more and more clear to him; and he
pursued it diligently, in the only way permitted him, by hasty
snatches, in the intervals of continual fluctuation, change of place
and other interruption.

Such, once for all, were the conditions appointed him. And it must be
owned he had, with a most kindly temper, adjusted himself to these;
nay you would have said, he loved them; it was almost as if he would
have chosen them as the suitablest. Such an adaptation was there in
him of volition to necessity:--for indeed they both, if well seen
into, proceeded from one source. Sterling's bodily disease was the
expression, under physical conditions, of the too vehement life which,
under the moral, the intellectual and other aspects, incessantly
struggled within him. Too vehement;--which would have required a
frame of oak and iron to contain it: in a thin though most wiry body
of flesh and bone, it incessantly "wore holes," and so found outlet
for itself. He could take no rest, he had never learned that art; he
was, as we often reproached him, fatally incapable of sitting still.
Rapidity, as of pulsing auroras, as of dancing lightnings: rapidity
in all forms characterized him. This, which was his bane, in many
senses, being the real origin of his disorder, and of such continual
necessity to move and change,--was also his antidote, so far as
antidote there might be; enabling him to love change, and to snatch,
as few others could have done, from the waste chaotic years, all
tumbled into ruin by incessant change, what hours and minutes of
available turned up. He had an incredible facility of labor. He
flashed with most piercing glance into a subject; gathered it up into
organic utterability, with truly wonderful despatch, considering the
success and truth attained; and threw it on paper with a swift
felicity, ingenuity, brilliancy and general excellence, of which,
under such conditions of swiftness, I have never seen a parallel.
Essentially an _improviser_ genius; as his Father too was, and of
admirable completeness he too, though under a very different form.

If Sterling has done little in Literature, we may ask, What other man
than he, in such circumstances, could have done anything? In virtue
of these rapid faculties, which otherwise cost him so dear, he has
built together, out of those wavering boiling quicksands of his few
later years, a result which may justly surprise us. There is actually
some result in those poor Two Volumes gathered from him, such as they
are; he that reads there will not wholly lose his time, nor rise with
a malison instead of a blessing on the writer. Here actually is a
real seer-glance, of some compass, into the world of our day; blessed
glance, once more, of an eye that is human; truer than one of a
thousand, and beautifully capable of making others see with it. I
have known considerable temporary reputations gained, considerable
piles of temporary guineas, with loud reviewing and the like to match,
on a far less basis than lies in those two volumes. Those also, I
expect, will be held in memory by the world, one way or other, till
the world has extracted all its benefit from them. Graceful,
ingenious and illuminative reading, of their sort, for all manner of
inquiring souls. A little verdant flowery island of poetic intellect,
of melodious human verity; sunlit island founded on the rocks;--which
the enormous circumambient continents of mown reed-grass and floating
lumber, with _their_ mountain-ranges of ejected stable-litter however
alpine, cannot by any means or chance submerge: nay, I expect, they
will not even quite hide it, this modest little island, from the
well-discerning; but will float past it towards the place appointed
for them, and leave said island standing. _Allah kereem_, say the
Arabs! And of the English also some still know that there is a,
difference in the material of mountains!--

As it is this last little result, the amount of his poor and
ever-interrupted literary labor, that henceforth forms the essential
history of Sterling, we need not dwell at too much length on the
foreign journeys, disanchorings, and nomadic vicissitudes of
household, which occupy his few remaining years, and which are only
the disastrous and accidental arena of this. He had now, excluding
his early and more deliberate residence in the West Indies, made two
flights abroad, once with his family, once without, in search of
health. He had two more, in rapid succession, to make, and many more
to meditate; and in the whole from Bayswater to the end, his family
made no fewer than five complete changes of abode, for his sake. But
these cannot be accepted as in any sense epochs in his life: the one
last epoch of his life was that of his internal change towards
Literature as his work in the world; and we need not linger much on
these, which are the mere outer accidents of that, and had no
distinguished influence in modifying that.

Friends still hoped the unrest of that brilliant too rapid soul would
abate with years. Nay the doctors sometimes promised, on the physical
side, a like result; prophesying that, at forty-five or some mature
age, the stress of disease might quit the lungs, and direct itself to
other quarters of the system. But no such result was appointed for
us; neither forty-five itself, nor the ameliorations promised then,
were ever to be reached. Four voyages abroad, three of them without
his family, in flight from death; and at home, for a like reason, five
complete shiftings of abode: in such wandering manner, and not
otherwise, had Sterling to continue his pilgrimage till it ended.

Once more I must say, his cheerfulness throughout was wonderful. A
certain grimmer shade, coming gradually over him, might perhaps be
noticed in the concluding years; not impatience properly, yet the
consciousness how much he needed patience; something more caustic in
his tone of wit, more trenchant and indignant occasionally in his tone
of speech: but at no moment was his activity bewildered or abated,
nor did his composure ever give way. No; both his activity and his
composure he bore with him, through all weathers, to the final close;
and on the whole, right manfully he walked his wild stern way towards
the goal, and like a Roman wrapt his mantle round him when he
fell.--Let us glance, with brevity, at what he saw and suffered in his
remaining pilgrimings and chargings; and count up what fractions of
spiritual fruit he realized to us from them.

Calvert and he returned from Madeira in the spring of 1838. Mrs.
Sterling and the family had lived in Knightsbridge with his Father's
people through the winter: they now changed to Blackheath, or
ultimately Hastings, and he with them, coming up to London pretty
often; uncertain what was to be done for next winter. Literature went
on briskly here: _Blackwood_ had from him, besides the _Onyx Ring_
which soon came out with due honor, assiduous almost monthly
contributions in prose and verse. The series called _Hymns of a
Hermit_ was now going on; eloquent melodies, tainted to me with
something of the same disease as the _Sexton's Daughter_, though
perhaps in a less degree, considering that the strain was in a so much
higher pitch. Still better, in clear eloquent prose, the series of
detached thoughts, entitled _Crystals from a Cavern_; of which the set
of fragments, generally a little larger in compass, called _Thoughts
and Images_, and again those called _Sayings and Essayings_,[17] are
properly continuations. Add to which, his friend John Mill had now
charge of a Review, _The London and Westminster_ its name; wherein
Sterling's assistance, ardently desired, was freely afforded, with
satisfaction to both parties, in this and the following years. An
Essay on _Montaigne_, with the notes and reminiscences already spoken
of, was Sterling's first contribution here; then one on
_Simonides_:[18] both of the present season.

On these and other businesses, slight or important, he was often
running up to London; and gave us almost the feeling of his being
resident among us. In order to meet the most or a good many of his
friends at once on such occasions, he now furthermore contrived the
scheme of a little Club, where monthly over a frugal dinner some
reunion might take place; that is, where friends of his, and withal
such friends of theirs as suited,--and in fine, where a small select
company definable as persons to whom it was pleasant to talk
together,--might have a little opportunity of talking. The scheme was
approved by the persons concerned: I have a copy of the Original
Regulations, probably drawn up by Sterling, a very solid lucid piece
of economics; and the List of the proposed Members, signed "James
Spedding, Secretary," and dated "8th August, 1838."[19] The Club grew;
was at first called the _Anonymous Club_; then, after some months of
success, in compliment to the founder who had now left us again, the
_Sterling Club_;--under which latter name, it once lately, for a time,
owing to the Religious Newspapers, became rather famous in the world!
In which strange circumstances the name was again altered, to suit
weak brethren; and the Club still subsists, in a sufficiently
flourishing though happily once more a private condition. That is the
origin and genesis of poor Sterling's Club; which, having honestly
paid the shot for itself at Will's Coffee-house or elsewhere, rashly
fancied its bits of affairs were quite settled; and once little
thought of getting into Books of History with them!--

But now, Autumn approaching, Sterling had to quit Clubs, for matters
of sadder consideration. A new removal, what we call "his third
peregrinity," had to be decided on; and it was resolved that Rome
should be the goal of it, the journey to be done in company with
Calvert, whom also the Italian climate might be made to serve instead
of Madeira. One of the liveliest recollections I have, connected with
the _Anonymous Club_, is that of once escorting Sterling, after a
certain meeting there, which I had seen only towards the end, and now
remember nothing of,--except that, on breaking up, he proved to be
encumbered with a carpet-bag, and could not at once find a cab for
Knightsbridge. Some small bantering hereupon, during the instants of
embargo. But we carried his carpet-bag, slinging it on my stick, two
or three of us alternately, through dusty vacant streets, under the
gaslights and the stars, towards the surest cab-stand; still jesting,
or pretending to jest, he and we, not in the mirthfulest manner; and
had (I suppose) our own feelings about the poor Pilgrim, who was to go
on the morrow, and had hurried to meet us in this way, as the last
thing before leaving England.


The journey to Italy was undertaken by advice of Sir James Clark,
reckoned the chief authority in pulmonary therapeutics; who prophesied
important improvements from it, and perhaps even the possibility
henceforth of living all the year in some English home. Mrs. Sterling
and the children continued in a house avowedly temporary, a furnished
house at Hastings, through the winter. The two friends had set off
for Belgium, while the due warmth was still in the air. They
traversed Belgium, looking well at pictures and such objects; ascended
the Rhine; rapidly traversed Switzerland and the Alps; issuing upon
Italy and Milan, with immense appetite for pictures, and time still to
gratify themselves in that pursuit, and be deliberate in their
approach to Rome. We will take this free-flowing sketch of their
passage over the Alps; written amid "the rocks of Arona,"--Santo
Borromeo's country, and poor little Mignon's! The "elder Perdonnets"
are opulent Lausanne people, to whose late son Sterling had been very
kind in Madeira the year before:--

"_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_.
"ARONA on the LAGO MAGGIORE, 8th Oct., 1838.

"MY DEAR MOTHER,--I bring down the story of my proceedings to the
present time since the 29th of September. I think it must have been
after that day that I was at a great breakfast at the elder
Perdonnets', with whom I had declined to dine, not choosing to go out
at night.... I was taken by my hostess to see several pretty
pleasure-grounds and points of view in the neighborhood; and latterly
Calvert was better, and able to go with us. He was in force again,
and our passports were all settled so as to enable us to start on the
morning of the 2d, after taking leave of our kind entertainer with
thanks for her infinite kindness.

"We reached St. Maurice early that evening; having had the Dent du
Midi close to us for several hours; glittering like the top of a
silver teapot, far up in the sky. Our course lay along the Valley of
the Rhone; which is considered one of the least beautiful parts of
Switzerland, and perhaps for this reason pleased us, as we had not
been prepared to expect much. We saw, before reaching the foot of the
Alpine pass at Brieg, two rather celebrated Waterfalls; the one the
Pissevache, which has no more beauty than any waterfall one hundred or
two hundred feet high must necessarily have: the other, near
Tourtemagne, is much more pleasing, having foliage round it, and being
in a secluded dell. If you buy a Swiss Waterfall, choose this one.

"Our second day took us through Martigny to Sion, celebrated for its
picturesque towers upon detached hills, for its strong Romanism and
its population of _cretins_,--that is, maimed idiots having the
_goitre_. It looked to us a more thriving place than we expected.
They are building a great deal; among other things, a new Bishop's
Palace and a new Nunnery,--to inhabit either of which _ex officio_ I
feel myself very unsuitable. From Sion we came to Brieg; a little
village in a nook, close under an enormous mountain and glacier, where
it lies like a molehill, or something smaller, at the foot of a
haystack. Here also we slept; and the next day our voiturier, who had
brought us from Lausanne, started with us up the Simplon Pass; helped
on by two extra horses.

"The beginning of the road was rather cheerful; having a good deal of
green pasturage, and some mountain villages; but it soon becomes
dreary and savage in aspect, and but for our bright sky and warm air,
would have been truly dismal. However, we gained gradually a distinct
and near view of several large glaciers; and reached at last the high
and melancholy valleys of the Upper Alps; where even the pines become
scanty, and no sound is heard but the wheels of one's carriage, except
when there happens to be a storm or an avalanche, neither of which
entertained us. There is, here and there, a small stream of water
pouring from the snow; but this is rather a monotonous accompaniment
to the general desolation than an interruption of it. The road itself
is certainly very good, and impresses one with a strong notion of
human power. But the common descriptions are much exaggerated; and
many of what the Guide-Books call 'galleries' are merely parts of the
road supported by a wall built against the rock, and have nothing like
a roof above them. The 'stupendous bridges,' as they are called,
might be packed, a dozen together, into one arch of London Bridge; and
they are seldom even very striking from the depth below. The roadway
is excellent, and kept in the best order. On the whole, I am very
glad to have travelled the most famous road in Europe, and to have had
delightful weather for doing so, as indeed we have had ever since we
left Lausanne. The Italian descent is greatly more remarkable than
the other side.

"We slept near the top, at the Village of Simplon, in a very fair and
well-warmed inn, close to a mountain stream, which is one of the great
ornaments of this side of the road. We have here passed into a region
of granite, from that of limestone, and what is called gneiss. The
valleys are sharper and closer,--like cracks in a hard and solid
mass;--and there is much more of the startling contrast of light and
shade, as well as more angular boldness of outline; to all which the
more abundant waters add a fresh and vivacious interest. Looking back
through one of these abysmal gorges, one sees two torrents dashing
together, the precipice and ridge on one side, pitch-black with shade;
and that on the other all flaming gold; while behind rises, in a huge
cone, one of the glacier summits of the chain. The stream at one's
feet rushes at a leap some two hundred feet down, and is bordered with
pines and beeches, struggling through a ruined world of clefts and
boulders. I never saw anything so much resembling some of the
_Circles_ described by Dante. From Simplon we made for Duomo
d'Ossola; having broken out, as through the mouth of a mine, into
green and fertile valleys full of vines and chestnuts, and white
villages,--in short, into sunshine and Italy.

"At this place we dismissed our Swiss voiturier, and took an Italian
one; who conveyed us to Omegna on the Lake of Orta; a place little
visited by English travellers, but which fully repaid us the trouble
of going there. We were lodged in a simple and even rude Italian inn;
where they cannot speak a word of French; where we occupied a
barn-like room, with a huge chimney fit to lodge a hundred ghosts,
whom we expelled by dint of a hot woodfire. There were two beds, and
as it happened good ones, in this strange old apartment; which was
adorned by pictures of Architecture, and by Heads of Saints, better
than many at the Royal Academy Exhibition, and which one paid nothing
for looking at. The thorough Italian character of the whole scene
amused us, much more than Meurice's at Paris would have done; for we
had voluble, commonplace good-humor, with the aspect and accessories
of a den of banditti.

"To-day we have seen the Lake of Orta, have walked for some miles
among its vineyards and chestnuts; and thence have come, by Baveno, to
this place;--having seen by the way, I believe, the most beautiful
part of the Lago Maggiore, and certainly the most cheerful, complete
and extended example of fine scenery I have ever fallen in with. Here
we are, much to my wonder,--for it seems too good to be true,--fairly
in Italy; and as yet my journey has been a pleasanter and more
instructive, and in point of health a more successful one, than I at
all imagined possible. Calvert and I go on as well as can be. I let
him have his way about natural science, and he only laughs benignly
when he thinks me absurd in my moral speculations. My only regrets
are caused by my separation from my family and friends, and by the
hurry I have been living in, which has prevented me doing any
work,--and compelled me to write to you at a good deal faster rate
than the _vapore_ moves on the Lago Maggiore. It will take me
to-morrow to Sesto Calende, whence we go to Varese. We shall not be
at Milan for some days. Write thither, if you are kind enough to
write at all, till I give you another address. Love to my Father.

"Your affectionate son,

Omitting Milan, Florence nearly all, and much about "Art," Michael
Angelo, and other aerial matters, here are some select terrestrial
glimpses, the fittest I can find, of his progress towards Rome:--

_To his Mother_.

"_Lucca, Nov. 27th_, 1838.--I had dreams, like other people, before I
came here, of what the Lombard Lakes must be; and the week I spent
among them has left me an image, not only more distinct, but far more
warm, shining and various, and more deeply attractive in innumerable
respects, than all I had before conceived of them. And so also it has
been with Florence; where I spent three weeks: enough for the first
hazy radiant dawn of sympathy to pass away; yet constantly adding an
increase of knowledge and of love, while I examined, and tried to
understand, the wonderful minds that have left behind them there such
abundant traces of their presence.... On Sunday, the day before I
left Florence, I went to the highest part of the Grand Duke's Garden
of Boboli, which commands a view of most of the City, and of the vale
of the Arno to the westward; where, as we had been visited by several
rainy days, and now at last had a very fine one, the whole prospect
was in its highest beauty. The mass of buildings, chiefly on the
other side of the River, is sufficient to fill the eye, without
perplexing the mind by vastness like that of London; and its name and
history, its outline and large and picturesque buildings, give it
grandeur of a higher order than that of mere multitudinous extent.
The Hills that border the Valley of the Arno are also very pleasing
and striking to look upon; and the view of the rich Plain, glimmering
away into blue distance, covered with an endless web of villages and
country-houses, is one of the most delightful images of human
well-being I have ever seen....

"Very shortly before leaving Florence, I went through the house of
Michael Angelo; which is still possessed by persons of the same
family, descendants, I believe, of his Nephew. There is in it his
'first work in marble,' as it is called; and a few drawings,--all with
the stamp of his enginery upon them, which was more powerful than all
the steam in London.... On the whole, though I have done no work in
Florence that can be of any use or pleasure to others, except my
Letters to my Wife,--I leave it with the certainty of much valuable
knowledge gained there, and with a most pleasant remembrance of the
busy and thoughtful days I owe to it.

"We left Florence before seven yesterday morning [26th November] for
this place; travelling on the northern side of the Arno, by Prato,
Pistoia, Pescia. We tried to see some old frescos in a Church at
Prato; but found the Priests all about, saying mass; and of course did
not venture to put our hands into a hive where the bees were buzzing
and on the wing. Pistoia we only coasted. A little on one side of
it, there is a Hill, the first on the road from Florence; which we
walked up, and had a very lively and brilliant prospect over the road
we had just travelled, and the town of Pistoia. Thence to this place
the whole land is beautiful, and in the highest degree prosperous,--in
short, to speak metaphorically, all dotted with Leghorn bonnets, and
streaming with olive-oil. The girls here are said to employ
themselves chiefly in platting straw, which is a profitable
employment; and the slightness and quiet of the work are said to be
much more favorable to beauty than the coarser kinds of labor
performed by the country-women elsewhere. Certain it is that I saw
more pretty women in Pescia, in the hour I spent there, than I ever
before met with among the same numbers of the 'phare sect.'
Wherefore, as a memorial of them, I bought there several Legends of
Female Saints and Martyrs, and of other Ladies quite the reverse, and
held up as warnings; all of which are written in _ottava rima_, and
sold for three halfpence apiece. But unhappily I have not yet had
time to read them. This Town has 30,000 inhabitants, and is
surrounded by Walls, laid out as walks, and evidently not at present
intended to be besieged,--for which reason, this morning, I merely
walked on them round the Town, and did not besiege them....

"The Cathedral [of Lucca] contains some Relics; which have undoubtedly
worked miracles on the imagination of the people hereabouts. The
Grandfather of all Relics (as the Arabs would say) in the place is the
_Volto Santo_, which is a Face of the Saviour appertaining to a wooden
Crucifix. Now you must know that, after the ascension of Christ,
Nicodemus was ordered by an Angel to carve an image of him; and went
accordingly with a hatchet, and cut down a cedar for that purpose. He
then proceeded to carve the figure; and being tired, fell asleep
before he had done the face; which however, on awaking, he found
completed by celestial aid. This image was brought to Lucca, from
Leghorn, I think, where it had arrived in a ship, 'more than a
thousand years ago,' and has ever since been kept, in purple and fine
linen and gold and diamonds, quietly working miracles. I saw the gilt
Shrine of it; and also a Hatchet which refused to cut off the head of
an innocent man, who had been condemned to death, and who prayed to
the _Volto Santo_. I suppose it is by way of economy (they being a
frugal people) that the Italians have their Book of Common Prayer and
their Arabian Nights' Entertainments condensed into one."

_To the Same_.

"_Pisa, December 2d_, 1838.--Pisa is very unfairly treated in all the
Books I have read. It seems to me a quiet, but very agreeable place;
with wide clean streets, and a look of stability and comfort; and I
admire the Cathedral and its appendages more, the more I see them.
The leaning of the Tower is to my eye decidedly unpleasant; but it is
a beautiful building nevertheless, and the view from the top is, under
a bright sky, remarkably lively and satisfactory. The Lucchese Hills
form a fine mass, and the sea must in clear weather be very distinct.
There was some haze over it when I was up, though the land was all
clear. I could just see the Leghorn Light-house. Leghorn itself I
shall not be able to visit....

"The quiet gracefulness of Italian life, and the mental maturity and
vigor of Germany, have a great charm when compared with the restless
whirl of England, and the chorus of mingled yells and groans sent up
by our parties and sects, and by the suffering and bewildered crowds
of the laboring people. Our politics make my heart ache, whenever I
think of them. The base selfish frenzies of factions seem to me, at
this distance, half diabolic; and I am out of the way of knowing
anything that may be quietly a-doing to elevate the standard of wise
and temperate manhood in the country, and to diffuse the means of
physical and moral well-being among all the people.... I will write
to my Father as soon as I can after reaching the capital of his friend
the Pope,--who, if he had happened to be born an English gentleman,
would no doubt by this time be a respectable old-gentlemanly gouty
member of the Carlton. I have often amused myself by thinking what a
mere accident it is that Phillpotts is not Archbishop of Tuam, and
M'Hale Bishop of Exeter; and how slight a change of dress, and of a
few catchwords, would even now enable them to fill those respective
posts with all the propriety and discretion they display in their
present positions."

At Rome he found the Crawfords, known to him long since; and at
different dates other English friends old and new; and was altogether
in the liveliest humor, no end to his activities and speculations. Of
all which, during the next four months, the Letters now before me give
abundant record,--far too abundant for our objects here. His grand
pursuit, as natural at Rome, was Art; into which metaphysical domain
we shall not follow him; preferring to pick out, here and there,
something of concrete and human. Of his interests, researches,
speculations and descriptions on this subject of Art, there is always
rather a superabundance, especially in the Italian Tour.
Unfortunately, in the hard weather, poor Calvert fell ill; and
Sterling, along with his Art-studies, distinguished himself as a
sick-nurse till his poor comrade got afoot again. His general
impressions of the scene and what it held for him may be read in the
following excerpts. The Letters are all dated _Rome_, and addressed
to his Father or Mother:--

"_December 21st_, 1838.--Of Rome itself, as a whole, there are
infinite things to be said, well worth saying; but I shall confine
myself to two remarks: first, that while the Monuments and works of
Art gain in wondrousness and significance by familiarity with them,
the actual life of Rome, the Papacy and its pride, lose; and though
one gets accustomed to Cardinals and Friars and Swiss Guards, and
ragged beggars and the finery of London and Paris, all rolling on
together, and sees how it is that they subsist in a sort of spurious
unity, one loses all tendency to idealize the Metropolis and System of
the Hierarchy into anything higher than a piece of showy
stage-declamation, at bottom, in our day, thoroughly mean and prosaic.
My other remark is, that Rome, seen from the tower of the Capitol,
from the Pincian or the Janiculum, is at this day one of the most
beautiful spectacles which eyes ever beheld. The company of great
domes rising from a mass of large and solid buildings, with a few
stone-pines and scattered edifices on the outskirts; the broken bare
Campagna all around; the Alban Hills not far, and the purple range of
Sabine Mountains in the distance with a cope of snow;--this seen in
the clear air, and the whole spiritualized by endless recollections,
and a sense of the grave and lofty reality of human existence which
has had this place for a main theatre, fills at once the eyes and
heart more forcibly, and to me delightfully, than I can find words to

"_January 22d_, 1839.--The Modern Rome, Pope and all inclusive, are a
shabby attempt at something adequate to fill the place of the old
Commonwealth. It is easy enough to live among them, and there is much
to amuse and even interest a spectator; but the native existence of
the place is now thin and hollow, and there is a stamp of littleness,
and childish poverty of taste, upon all the great Christian buildings
I have seen here,--not excepting St. Peter's; which is crammed with
bits of colored marble and gilding, and Gog-and-Magog colossal statues
of saints (looking prodigiously small), and mosaics from the worst
pictures in Rome; and has altogether, with most imposing size and
lavish splendor, a tang of Guildhall finery about it that contrasts
oddly with the melancholy vastness and simplicity of the Ancient
Monuments, though these have not the Athenian elegance. I recur
perpetually to the galleries of Sculpture in the Vatican, and to the
Frescos of Raffael and Michael Angelo, of inexhaustible beauty and
greatness, and to the general aspect of the City and the Country round
it, as the most impressive scene on earth. But the Modern City, with
its churches, palaces, priests and beggars, is far from sublime."

Of about the same date, here is another paragraph worth inserting:
"Gladstone has three little agate crosses which he will give you for
my little girls. Calvert bought them, as a present, for 'the bodies,'
at Martigny in Switzerland, and I have had no earlier opportunity of
sending them. Will you despatch them to Hastings when you have an
opportunity? I have not yet seen Gladstone's _Church and State_; but
as there is a copy in Rome, I hope soon to lay hands on it. I saw
yesterday in the _Times_ a furious, and I am sorry to say, most absurd
attack on him and it, and the new Oxonian school."

"_February 28th, 1839_.--There is among the people plenty of squalid
misery; though not nearly so much as, they say, exists in Ireland; and
here there is a certain freedom and freshness of manners, a dash of
Southern enjoyment in the condition of the meanest and most miserable.
There is, I suppose, as little as well can be of conscience or
artificial cultivation of any kind; but there is not the affectation
of a virtue which they do not possess, nor any feeling of being
despised for the want of it; and where life generally is so inert,
except as to its passions and material wants, there is not the bitter
consciousness of having been beaten by the more prosperous, in a race
which the greater number have never thought of running. Among the
laboring poor of Rome, a bribe will buy a crime; but if common work
procures enough for a day's food or idleness, ten times the sum will
not induce them to toil on, as an English workman would, for the sake
of rising in the world. Sixpence any day will put any of them at the
top of the only tree they care for,--that on which grows the fruit of
idleness. It is striking to see the way in which, in magnificent
churches, the most ragged beggars kneel on the pavement before some
favorite altar in the midst of well-dressed women and of gazing
foreigners. Or sometimes you will see one with a child come in from
the street where she has been begging, put herself in a corner, say a
prayer (probably for the success of her petitions), and then return to
beg again. There is wonderfully little of any moral strength
connected with this devotion; but still it is better than nothing, and
more than is often found among the men of the upper classes in Rome.
I believe the Clergy to be generally profligate, and the state of
domestic morals as bad as it has ever been represented."--

Or, in sudden contrast, take this other glance homeward; a Letter to
his eldest child; in which kind of Letters, more than in any other,
Sterling seems to me to excel. Readers recollect the hurricane in St.
Vincent; the hasty removal to a neighbor's house, and the birth of a
son there, soon after. The boy has grown to some articulation, during
these seven years; and his Father, from the new foreign scene of
Priests and Dilettanti, thus addresses him:--

"_To Master Edward C. Sterling, Hastings_.
"ROME, 21st January, 1839.

"MY DEAR EDWARD,--I was very glad to receive your Letter, which showed
me that you have learned something since I left home. If you knew how
much pleasure it gave me to see your handwriting, I am sure you would
take pains to be able to write well, that you might often send me
letters, and tell me a great many things which I should like to know
about Mamma and your Sisters as well as yourself.

"If I go to Vesuvius, I will try to carry away a bit of the lava,
which you wish for. There has lately been a great eruption, as it is
called, of that Mountain; which means a great breaking-out of hot
ashes and fire, and of melted stones which is called lava.

"Miss Clark is very kind to take so much pains with you; and I trust
you will show that you are obliged to her, by paying attention to all
she tells you. When you see how much more grown people know than you,
you ought to be anxious to learn all you can from those who teach you;
and as there are so many wise and good things written in Books, you
ought to try to read early and carefully; that you may learn something
of what God has made you able to know. There are Libraries containing
very many thousands of Volumes; and all that is written in these
is,--accounts of some part or other of the World which God has made,
or of the Thoughts which he has enabled men to have in their minds.
Some Books are descriptions of the earth itself, with its rocks and
ground and water, and of the air and clouds, and the stars and moon
and sun, which shine so beautifully in the sky. Some tell you about
the things that grow upon the ground; the many millions of plants,
from little mosses and threads of grass up to great trees and forests.
Some also contain accounts of living things: flies, worms, fishes,
birds and four-legged beasts. And some, which are the most, are about
men and their thoughts and doings. These are the most important of
all; for men are the best and most wonderful creatures of God in the
world; being the only ones able to know him and love him, and to try
of their own accord to do his will.

"These Books about men are also the most important to us, because we
ourselves are human beings, and may learn from such Books what we
ought to think and to do and to try to be. Some of them describe what
sort of people have lived in old times and in other countries. By
reading them, we know what is the difference between ourselves in
England now, and the famous nations which lived in former days. Such
were the Egyptians who built the Pyramids, which are the greatest
heaps of stone upon the face of the earth: and the Babylonians, who
had a city with huge walls, built of bricks, having writing on them
that no one in our time has been able to make out. There were also
the Jews, who were the only ancient people that knew how wonderful and
how good God is: and the Greeks, who were the wisest of all in
thinking about men's lives and hearts, and who knew best how to make
fine statues and buildings, and to write wise books. By Books also we
may learn what sort of people the old Romans were, whose chief city
was Rome, where I am now; and how brave and skilful they were in war;
and how well they could govern and teach many nations which they had
conquered. It is from Books, too, that you must learn what kind of
men were our Ancestors in the Northern part of Europe, who belonged to
the tribes that did the most towards pulling down the power of the
Romans: and you will see in the same way how Christianity was sent
among them by God, to make them wiser and more peaceful, and more
noble in their minds; and how all the nations that now are in Europe,
and especially the Italians and the Germans, and the French and the
English, came to be what they now are.--It is well worth knowing (and
it can be known only by reading) how the Germans found out the
Printing of Books, and what great changes this has made in the world.
And everybody in England ought to try to understand how the English
came to have their Parliaments and Laws; and to have fleets that sail
over all seas of the world.

"Besides learning all these things, and a great many more about
different times and countries, you may learn from Books, what is the
truth of God's will, and what are the best and wisest thoughts, and
the most beautiful words; and how men are able to lead very right
lives, and to do a great deal to better the world. I have spent a
great part of my life in reading; and I hope you will come to like it
as much as I do, and to learn in this way all that I know.

"But it is a still more serious matter that you should try to be
obedient and gentle; and to command your temper; and to think of other
people's pleasure rather than your own, and of what you _ought_ to do
rather than what you _like_. If you try to be better for all you
read, as well as wiser, you will find Books a great help towards
goodness as well as knowledge, and above all other Books, the Bible;
which tells us of the will of God, and of the love of Jesus Christ
towards God and men.

"I had a Letter from Mamma to-day, which left Hastings on the 10th of
this month. I was very glad to find in it that you were all well and
happy; but I know Mamma is not well, and is likely to be more
uncomfortable every day for some time. So I hope you will all take
care to give her as little trouble as possible. After sending you so
much advice, I shall write a little Story to divert you.--I am, my
dear Boy,

"Your affectionate Father,

The "Story" is lost, destroyed, as are many such which Sterling wrote,
with great felicity, I am told, and much to the satisfaction of the
young folk, when the humor took him.

Besides these plentiful communications still left, I remember long
Letters, not now extant, principally addressed to his Wife, of which
we and the circle at Knightsbridge had due perusal, treating with
animated copiousness about all manner of picture-galleries, pictures,
statues and objects of Art at Rome, and on the road to Rome and from
it, wheresoever his course led him into neighborhood of such objects.
That was Sterling's habit. It is expected in this Nineteenth Century
that a man of culture shall understand and worship Art: among the
windy gospels addressed to our poor Century there are few louder than
this of Art;--and if the Century expects that every man shall do his
duty, surely Sterling was not the man to balk it! Various extracts
from these picture-surveys are given in Hare; the others, I suppose,
Sterling himself subsequently destroyed, not valuing them much.

Certainly no stranger could address himself more eagerly to reap what
artistic harvest Rome offers, which is reckoned the peculiar produce
of Rome among cities under the sun; to all galleries, churches,
sistine chapels, ruins, coliseums, and artistic or dilettante shrines
he zealously pilgrimed; and had much to say then and afterwards, and
with real technical and historical knowledge I believe, about the
objects of devotion there. But it often struck me as a question,
Whether all this even to himself was not, more or less, a nebulous
kind of element; prescribed not by Nature and her verities, but by the
Century expecting every man to do his duty? Whether not perhaps, in
good part, temporary dilettante cloudland of our poor Century;--or can
it be the real diviner Pisgah height, and everlasting mount of vision,
for man's soul in any Century? And I think Sterling himself bent
towards a negative conclusion, in the course of years. Certainly, of
all subjects this was the one I cared least to hear even Sterling talk
of: indeed it is a subject on which earnest men, abhorrent of
hypocrisy and speech that has no meaning, are admonished to silence in
this sad time, and had better, in such a Babel as we have got into for
the present, "perambulate their picture-gallery with little or no

Here is another and to me much more earnest kind of "Art," which
renders Rome unique among the cities of the world; of this we will, in
preference; take a glance through Sterling's eyes:--

"January 22d, 1839.--On Friday last there was a great Festival at St.
Peter's; the only one I have seen. The Church was decorated with
crimson hangings, and the choir fitted up with seats and galleries,
and a throne for the Pope. There were perhaps a couple of hundred
guards of different kinds; and three or four hundred English ladies,
and not so many foreign male spectators; so that the place looked
empty. The Cardinals in scarlet, and Monsignori in purple, were
there; and a body of officiating Clergy. The Pope was carried in in
his chair on men's shoulders, wearing the Triple Crown; which I have
thus actually seen: it is something like a gigantic Egg, and of the
same color, with three little bands of gold,--very large Egg-shell
with three streaks of the yolk smeared round it. He was dressed in
white silk robes, with gold trimmings.

"It was a fine piece of state-show; though, as there are three or four
such Festivals yearly, of course there is none of the eager interest
which breaks out at coronations and similar rare events; no explosion
of unwonted velvets, jewels, carriages and footmen, such as London and
Milan have lately enjoyed. I guessed all the people in St. Peter's,
including performers and spectators, at 2,000; where 20,000 would
hardly have been a crushing crowd. Mass was performed, and a stupid
but short Latin sermon delivered by a lad, in honor of St. Peter, who
would have been much astonished if he could have heard it. The
genuflections, and train-bearings, and folding up the tails of silk
petticoats while the Pontiff knelt, and the train of Cardinals going
up to kiss his Ring, and so forth,--made on me the impression of
something immeasurably old and sepulchral, such as might suit the
Grand Lama's court, or the inside of an Egyptian Pyramid; or as if the
Hieroglyphics on one of the Obelisks here should begin to pace and
gesticulate, and nod their bestial heads upon the granite tablets.
The careless bystanders, the London ladies with their eye-glasses and
look of an Opera-box, the yawning young gentlemen of the _Guarda
Nobile_, and the laugh of one of the file of vermilion Priests round
the steps of the altar at the whispered good thing of his neighbor,
brought one back to nothing indeed of a very lofty kind, but still to
the Nineteenth Century."--

"At the great Benediction of the City and the World on Easter Sunday
by the Pope," he writes afterwards, "there was a large crowd both
native and foreign, hundreds of carriages, and thousands of the lower
orders of people from the country; but even of the poor hardly one in
twenty took off his hat, and a still smaller number knelt down. A few
years ago, not a head was covered, nor was there a knee which did not
bow."--A very decadent "Holiness of our Lord the Pope," it would

Sterling's view of the Pope, as seen in these his gala days, doing his
big play-actorism under God's earnest sky, was much more substantial
to me than his studies in the picture-galleries. To Mr. Hare also he
writes: "I have seen the Pope in all his pomp at St. Peter's; and he
looked to me a mere lie in livery. The Romish Controversy is
doubtless a much more difficult one than the managers of the
Religious-Tract Society fancy, because it is a theoretical dispute;
and in dealing with notions and authorities, I can quite understand
how a mere student in a library, with no eye for facts, should take
either one side or other. But how any man with clear head and honest
heart, and capable of seeing realities, and distinguishing them from
scenic falsehoods, should, after living in a Romanist country, and
especially at Rome, be inclined to side with Leo against Luther, I
cannot understand."[20]

It is fit surely to recognize with admiring joy any glimpse of the
Beautiful and the Eternal that is hung out for us, in color, in form
or tone, in canvas, stone, or atmospheric air, and made accessible by
any sense, in this world: but it is greatly fitter still (little as
we are used that way) to shudder in pity and abhorrence over the
scandalous tragedy, transcendent nadir of human ugliness and
contemptibility, which under the daring title of religious worship,
and practical recognition of the Highest God, daily and hourly
everywhere transacts itself there. And, alas, not there only, but
elsewhere, everywhere more or less; whereby our sense is so blunted to
it;--whence, in all provinces of human life, these tears!--

But let us take a glance at the Carnival, since we are here. The
Letters, as before, are addressed to Knightsbridge; the date _Rome_:--

"_February 5th_, 1839.--The Carnival began yesterday. It is a curious
example of the trifling things which will heartily amuse tens of
thousands of grown people, precisely because they are trifling, and
therefore a relief from serious business, cares and labors. The Corso
is a street about a mile long, and about as broad as Jermyn Street;
but bordered by much loftier houses, with many palaces and churches,
and has two or three small squares opening into it. Carriages, mostly
open, drove up and down it for two or three hours; and the contents
were shot at with handfuls of comfits from the windows,--in the hope
of making them as non-content as possible,--while they returned the
fire to the best of their inferior ability. The populace, among whom
was I, walked about; perhaps one in fifty were masked in character;
but there was little in the masquerade either of splendor of costume
or liveliness of mimicry. However, the whole scene was very gay;
there were a good many troops about, and some of them heavy dragoons,
who flourished their swords with the magnanimity of our Life-Guards,
to repel the encroachments of too ambitious little boys. Most of the
windows and balconies were hung with colored drapery; and there were
flags, trumpets, nosegays and flirtations of all shapes and sizes.
The best of all was, that there was laughter enough to have frightened
Cassius out of his thin carcass, could the lean old homicide have been
present, otherwise than as a fleshless ghost;--in which capacity I
thought I had a glimpse of him looking over the shoulder of a
particolored clown, in a carriage full of London Cockneys driving
towards the Capitol. This good-humored foolery will go on for several
days to come, ending always with the celebrated Horse-race, of horses
without riders. The long street is cleared in the centre by troops,
and half a dozen quadrupeds, ornamented like Grimaldi in a London
pantomime, scamper away, with the mob closing and roaring at their

"_February_ 9th, 1839.--The usual state of Rome is quiet and sober.
One could almost fancy the actual generation held their breath, and
stole by on tiptoe, in presence of so memorable a past. But during
the Carnival all mankind, womankind and childkind think it unbecoming
not to play the fool. The modern donkey pokes its head out of the
lion's skin of old Rome, and brays out the absurdest of asinine
roundelays. Conceive twenty thousand grown people in a long street,
at the windows, on the footways, and in carriages, amused day after
day for several hours in pelting and being pelted with handfuls of
mock or real sugar-plums; and this no name or presence, but real
downright showers of plaster comfits, from which people guard their
eyes with meshes of wire. As sure as a carriage passes under a window
or balcony where are acquaintances of theirs, down comes a shower of
hail, ineffectually returned from below. The parties in two crossing
carriages similarly assault each other; and there are long balconies
hung the whole way with a deep canvas pocket full of this mortal shot.
One Russian Grand Duke goes with a troop of youngsters in a wagon, all
dressed in brown linen frocks and masked, and pelts among the most
furious, also being pelted. The children are of course preeminently
vigorous, and there is a considerable circulation of real sugar-plums,
which supply consolation for all disappointments."

The whole to conclude, as is proper, with a display, with two
displays, of fireworks; in which art, as in some others, Rome is

"_February 9th_, 1839.--It seems to be the ambition of all the lower
classes to wear a mask and showy grotesque disguise of some kind; and
I believe many of the upper ranks do the same. They even put St.
Peter's into masquerade; and make it a Cathedral of Lamplight instead
of a stone one. Two evenings ago this feat was performed; and I was
able to see it from the rooms of a friend near this, which command an
excellent view of it. I never saw so beautiful an effect of
artificial light. The evening was perfectly serene and clear; the
principal lines of the building, the columns, architrave and pediment
of the front, the two inferior cupolas, the curves of the dome from
which the dome rises, the ribs of the dome itself, the small oriel
windows between them, and the lantern and ball and cross,--all were
delineated in the clear vault of air by lines of pale yellow fire.
The dome of another great Church, much nearer to the eye, stood up as
a great black mass,--a funereal contrast to the luminous tabernacle.

"While I was looking at this latter, a red blaze burst from the
summit, and at the same moment seemed to flash over the whole
building, filling up the pale outline with a simultaneous burst of
fire. This is a celebrated display; and is done, I believe, by the
employment of a very great number of men to light, at the same
instant, the torches which are fixed for the purpose all over the
building. After the first glare of fire, I did not think the second
aspect of the building so beautiful as the first; it wanted both
softness and distinctness. The two most animated days of the Carnival
are still to come."

"_April 4th_, 1839.--We have just come to the termination of all the
Easter spectacles here. On Sunday evening St. Peter's was a second
time illuminated; I was in the Piazza, and admired the sight from a
nearer point than when I had seen it before at the time of the

"On Monday evening the celebrated fire-works were let off from the
Castle of St. Angelo; they were said to be, in some respects more
brilliant than usual. I certainly never saw any fireworks comparable
to them for beauty. The Girandola is a discharge of many thousands of
rockets at once, which of course fall back, like the leaves of a lily,
and form for a minute a very beautiful picture. There was also in
silvery light a very long Facade of a Palace, which looked a residence
for Oberon and Titania, and beat Aladdin's into darkness. Afterwards
a series of cascades of red fire poured down the faces of the Castle
and of the scaffoldings round it, and seemed a burning Niagara. Of
course there were abundance of serpents, wheels and cannon-shot; there
was also a display of dazzling white light, which made a strange
appearance on the houses, the river, the bridge, and the faces of the
multitude. The whole ended with a second and a more splendid

Take finally, to people the scene a little for us, if our imagination
be at all lively, these three small entries, of different dates, and
so wind up:--

"_December 30th_, 1838.--I received on Christmas-day a packet from Dr.
Carlyle, containing Letters from the Maurices; which were a very
pleasant arrival. The Dr. wrote a few lines with them, mentioning
that he was only at Civita Vecchia while the steamer baited on its way
to Naples. I have written to thank him for his despatches."

"_March 16th_, 1839.--I have seen a good deal of John Mill, whose
society I like much. He enters heartily into the interest of the
things which I most care for here, and I have seldom had more pleasure
than in taking him to see Raffael's Loggie, where are the Frescos
called his Bible, and to the Sixtine Chapel, which I admire and love
more and more. He is in very weak health, but as fresh and clear in
mind as possible.... English politics seem in a queer state, the
Conservatives creeping on, the Whigs losing ground; like combatants on
the top of a breach, while there is a social mine below which will
probably blow both parties into the air."

"_April 4th_, 1839.--I walked out on Tuesday on the Ancona Road, and
about noon met a travelling carriage, which from a distance looked
very suspicious, and on nearer approach was found really to contain
Captain Sterling and an Albanian manservant on the front, and behind
under the hood Mrs. A. Sterling and the she portion of the tail. They
seemed very well; and, having turned the Albanian back to the rear of
the whole machine, I sat by Anthony, and entered Rome in
triumph."--Here is indeed a conquest! Captain A. Sterling, now on his
return from service in Corfu, meets his Brother in this manner; and
the remaining Roman days are of a brighter complexion. As these
suddenly ended, I believe he turned southward, and found at Naples the
Dr. Carlyle above mentioned (an extremely intimate acquaintance of
mine), who was still there. For we are a most travelling people, we
of this Island in this time; and, as the Prophet threatened, see
ourselves, in so many senses, made "like unto a wheel!"--

Sterling returned from Italy filled with much cheerful imagery and
reminiscence, and great store of artistic, serious, dilettante and
other speculation for the time; improved in health, too; but probably
little enriched in real culture or spiritual strength; and indeed not
permanently altered by his tour in any respect to a sensible extent,
that one could notice. He returned rather in haste, and before the
expected time; summoned, about the middle of April, by his Wife's
domestic situation at Hastings; who, poor lady, had been brought to
bed before her calculation, and had in few days lost her infant; and
now saw a household round her much needing the master's presence. He
hurried off to Malta, dreading the Alps at that season; and came home,
by steamer, with all speed, early in May, 1839.



Matters once readjusted at Hastings, it was thought Sterling's health
had so improved, and his activities towards Literature so developed
themselves into congruity, that a permanent English place of abode
might now again be selected,--on the Southwest coast somewhere,--and
the family once more have the blessing of a home, and see its _lares_
and _penates_ and household furniture unlocked from the Pantechnicon
repositories, where they had so long been lying.

Clifton, by Bristol, with its soft Southern winds and high cheerful
situation, recommended too by the presence of one or more valuable
acquaintances there, was found to be the eligible place; and thither
in this summer of 1839, having found a tolerable lodging, with the
prospect by and by of an agreeable house, he and his removed. This
was the end of what I call his "third peregrinity;"--or reckoning the
West Indies one, his fourth. This also is, since Bayswater, the
fourth time his family has had to shift on his account. Bayswater;
then to Bordeaux, to Blackheath and Knightsbridge (during the Madeira
time), to Hastings (Roman time); and now to Clifton, not to stay there
either: a sadly nomadic life to be prescribed to a civilized man!

At Clifton his habitation was speedily enough set up; household
conveniences, methods of work, daily promenades on foot or horseback,
and before long even a circle of friends, or of kindly neighborhoods
ripening into intimacy, were established round him. In all this no
man could be more expert or expeditious, in such cases. It was with
singular facility, in a loving, hoping manner, that he threw himself
open to the new interests and capabilities of the new place; snatched
out of it whatsoever of human or material would suit him; and in
brief, in all senses had pitched his tent-habitation, and grew to look
on it as a house. It was beautiful too, as well as pathetic. This
man saw himself reduced to be a dweller in tents, his house is but a
stone tent; and he can so kindly accommodate himself to that
arrangement;--healthy faculty and diseased necessity, nature and
habit, and all manner of things primary and secondary, original and
incidental, conspiring now to make it easy for him. With the evils of
nomadism, he participated to the full in whatever benefits lie in it
for a man.

He had friends enough, old and new, at Clifton, whose intercourse made
the place human for him. Perhaps among the most valued of the former
sort may be mentioned Mrs. Edward Strachey, Widow of the late Indian
Judge, who now resided here; a cultivated, graceful, most devout and
high-minded lady; whom he had known in old years, first probably as
Charles Buller's Aunt, and whose esteem was constant for him, and
always precious to him. She was some ten or twelve years older than
he; she survived him some years, but is now also gone from us. Of new
friends acquired here, besides a skilful and ingenious Dr. Symonds,
physician as well as friend, the principal was Francis Newman, then
and still an ardently inquiring soul, of fine University and other
attainments, of sharp-cutting, restlessly advancing intellect, and the
mildest pious enthusiasm; whose worth, since better known to all the
world, Sterling highly estimated;--and indeed practically testified
the same; having by will appointed him, some years hence, guardian to
his eldest Son; which pious function Mr. Newman now successfully

Sterling was not long in certainty as to his abode at Clifton: alas,
where could he long be so? Hardly six months were gone when his old
enemy again overtook him; again admonished him how frail his hopes of
permanency were. Each winter, it turned out, he had to fly; and after
the second of these, he quitted the place altogether. Here,
meanwhile, in a Letter to myself, and in Excerpts from others, are
some glimpses of his advent and first summer there:--

_To his Mother_.

"_Clifton, June 11th_, 1839.--As yet I am personally very
uncomfortable from the general confusion of this house, which deprives
me of my room to sit and read and write in; all being more or less
lumbered by boxes, and invaded by servile domesticities aproned,
handled, bristled, and of nondescript varieties. We have very fine
warm weather, with occasional showers; and the verdure of the woods
and fields is very beautiful. Bristol seems as busy as need be; and
the shops and all kinds of practical conveniences are excellent; but
those of Clifton have the usual sentimental, not to say meretricious
fraudulence of commercial establishments in Watering-places.

"The bag which Hannah forgot reached us safely at Bath on Friday
morning; but I cannot quite unriddle the mystery of the change of
padlocks, for I left the right one in care of the Head Steam-engine at
Paddington, which seemed a very decent person with a good black coat
on, and a pen behind its ear. I have been meditating much on the
story of Palarea's 'box of papers;' which does not appear to be in my
possession, and I have a strong impression that I gave it to young
Florez Calderon. I will write to say so to Madam Torrijos speedily."
Palarea, Dr. Palarea, I understand, was "an old guerilla leader whom
they called _El Medico_." Of him and of the vanished shadows, now
gone to Paris, to Madrid, or out of the world, let us say nothing!

_To Mr. Carlyle_.

"_June 15th_, 1839.--We have a room now occupied by Robert Barton [a
brother-in-law]; to which Anthony may perhaps succeed; but which after
him, or in lieu of him, would expand itself to receive you. Is there
no hope of your coming? I would undertake to ride with you at all
possible paces, and in all existing directions.

"As yet my books are lying as ghost books, in a limbo on the banks of
a certain Bristolian Styx, humanly speaking, a _Canal_; but the other
apparatus of life is gathered about me, and performs its diurnal
functions. The place pleases me better than I expected: a far
lookout on all sides, over green country; a sufficient old City lying
in the hollow near; and civilization, in no tumultuous state, rather
indeed stagnant, visible in the Rows of Houses and Gardens which call
themselves Clifton. I hope soon to take a lease of a house, where I
may arrange myself more methodically; keep myself equably boiling in
my own kitchen; and spread myself over a series of book-shelves.... I
have just been interrupted by a visit from Mrs. Strachey; with whom I
dined yesterday. She seems a very good and thoroughly kind-hearted
woman; and it is pleasant to have her for a neighbor.... I have read
Emerson's Pamphlets. I should find it more difficult than ever to
write to him."

_To his Father_.

"_June 30th_, 1839.--Of Books I shall have no lack, though no
plethora; and the Reading-room supplies all one can want in the way of
Papers and Reviews. I go there three or four times a week, and
inquire how the human race goes on. I suppose this Turco-Egyptian War
will throw several diplomatists into a state of great excitement, and
massacre a good many thousands of Africans and Asiatics?--For the
present, it appears, the English Education Question is settled. I
wish the Government had said that, in their inspection and
superintendence, they would look only to secular matters, and leave
religious ones to the persons who set up the schools, whoever these
might be. It seems to me monstrous that the State should be prevented
taking any efficient measures for teaching Roman Catholic children to
read, write and cipher, merely because they believe in the Pope, and
the Pope is an impostor,--which I candidly confess he is! There is no
question which I can so ill endure to see made a party one as that of
Education."--The following is of the same day:--

"_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_.
"30th June, 1839.

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,--I have heard, this morning, from my Father, that
you are to set out on Tuesday for Scotland: so I have determined to
fillip away some spurt of ink in your direction, which may reach you
before you move towards Thule.

"Writing to you, in fact, is considerably easier than writing about
you; which has been my employment of late, at leisure moments,--that
is, moments of leisure from idleness, not work. As you partly
guessed, I took in hand a Review of _Teufelsdrockh_--for want of a
better Heuschrecke to do the work; and when I have been well enough,
and alert enough, during the last fortnight, have tried to set down
some notions about Tobacco, Radicalism, Christianity, Assafoetida and
so forth. But a few abortive pages are all the result as yet. If my
speculations should ever see daylight, they may chance to get you into
scrapes, but will certainly get me into worse.... But one must work;
_sic itur ad astra_,--and the _astra_ are always there to befriend
one, at least as asterisks, filling up the gaps which yawn in vain for

"Except my unsuccessful efforts to discuss you and your offences, I
have done nothing that leaves a trace behind;--unless the endeavor to
teach my little boy the Latin declensions shall be found, at some time
short of the Last Day, to have done so. I have--rather I think from
dyspepsia than dyspneumony--been often and for days disabled from
doing anything but read. In this way I have gone through a good deal
of Strauss's Book; which is exceedingly clever and clearheaded; with
more of insight, and less of destructive rage than I expected. It
will work deep and far, in such a time as ours. When so many minds
are distracted about the history, or rather genesis of the Gospel, it
is a great thing for partisans on the one side to have, what the other
never have wanted, a Book of which they can say, This is our Creed and
Code,--or rather Anti-creed and Anti-code. And Strauss seems
perfectly secure against the sort of answer to which Voltaire's
critical and historical shallowness perpetually exposed him. I mean
to read the Book through. It seems admitted that the orthodox
theologians have failed to give any sufficient answer.--I have also
looked through Michelet's _Luther_, with great delight; and have read
the fourth volume of Coleridge's _Literary Remains_, in which there
are things that would interest you. He has a great hankering after
Cromwell, and explicitly defends the execution of Charles.

"Of Mrs. Strachey we have seen a great deal; and might have seen more,
had I had time and spirits for it. She is a warm-hearted,
enthusiastic creature, whom one cannot but like. She seems always
excited by the wish for more excitement than her life affords. And
such a person is always in danger of doing something less wise than
his best knowledge and aspirations; because he must do something, and
circumstances do not allow him to do what he desires. Thence, after
the first glow of novelty, endless self-tormenting comes from the
contrast between aims and acts. She sets out, with her daughter and
two boys, for a Tour in Wales to-morrow morning. Her talk of you is
always most affectionate; and few, I guess, will read _Sartor_ with
more interest than she.

"I am still in a very extempore condition as to house, books, &c. One
which I have hired for three years will be given up to me in the
middle of August; and then I may hope to have something like a
house,--so far as that is possible for any one to whom Time itself is
often but a worse or a better kind of cave in the desert. We have had
rainy and cheerless weather almost since the day of our arrival. But
the sun now shines more lovingly, and the skies seem less disdainful
of man and his perplexities. The earth is green, abundant and
beautiful. But human life, so far as I can learn, is mean and meagre
enough in its purposes, however striking to the speculative or
sentimental bystander. Pray be assured that whatever you may say of
the 'landlord at Clifton,'[21] the more I know of him, the less I shall
like him. Well with me if I can put up with him for the present, and
make use of him, till at last I can joyfully turn him off forever!

"Love to you Wife and self. My little Charlotte desires me to tell
you that she has new shoes for her Doll, which she will show you when
you come.


The visit to Clifton never took effect; nor to any of Sterling's
subsequent homes; which now is matter of regret to me. Concerning the
"Review of _Teufelsdrockh_" there will be more to say anon. As to
"little Charlotte and her Doll," I remember well enough and was more
than once reminded, this bright little creature, on one of my first
visits to Bayswater, had earnestly applied to me to put her Doll's
shoes on for her; which feat was performed.--The next fragment
indicates a household settled, fallen into wholesome routine again;
and may close the series here:--

_To his Mother_.

"_July 22d_, 1839.--A few evenings ago we went to Mr. Griffin's, and
met there Dr. Prichard, the author of a well-known Book on the _Races
of Mankind_, to which it stands in the same relation among English
books as the Racing Calendar does to those of Horsekind. He is a very
intelligent, accomplished person. We had also there the Dean; a
certain Dr. ---- of Corpus College, Cambridge (a booby); and a clever
fellow, a Mr. Fisher, one of the Tutors of Trinity in my days. We had
a very pleasant evening."--

At London we were in the habit of expecting Sterling pretty often; his
presence, in this house as in others, was looked for, once in the
month or two, and came always as sunshine in the gray weather to me
and mine. My daily walks with him had long since been cut short
without renewal; that walk to Eltham and Edgeworth's perhaps the last
of the kind he and I had: but our intimacy, deepening and widening
year after year, knew no interruption or abatement of increase; an
honest, frank and truly human mutual relation, valuable or even
invaluable to both parties, and a lasting loss, hardly to be replaced
in this world, to the survivor of the two.

His visits, which were usually of two or three days, were always full
of business, rapid in movement as all his life was. To me, if
possible, he would come in the evening; a whole cornucopia of talk and
speculation was to be discharged. If the evening would not do, and my
affairs otherwise permitted, I had to mount into cabs with him; fly
far and wide, shuttling athwart the big Babel, wherever his calls and
pauses had to be. This was his way to husband time! Our talk, in
such straitened circumstances, was loud or low as the circumambient
groaning rage of wheels and sound prescribed,--very loud it had to be
in such thoroughfares as London Bridge and Cheapside; but except while
he was absent, off for minutes into some banker's office, lawyer's,
stationer's, haberdasher's or what office there might be, it never
paused. In this way extensive strange dialogues were carried on: to
me also very strange,--private friendly colloquies, on all manner of
rich subjects, held thus amid the chaotic roar of things. Sterling
was full of speculations, observations and bright sallies; vividly
awake to what was passing in the world; glanced pertinently with
victorious clearness, without spleen, though often enough with a dash
of mockery, into its Puseyisms, Liberalisms, literary Lionisms, or
what else the mad hour might be producing,--always prompt to recognize
what grain of sanity might be in the same. He was opulent in talk,
and the rapid movement and vicissitude on such occasions seemed to
give him new excitement.

Once, I still remember,--it was some years before, probably in May, on
his return from Madeira,--he undertook a day's riding with me; once
and never again. We coursed extensively, over the Hampstead and
Highgate regions, and the country beyond, sauntering or galloping
through many leafy lanes and pleasant places, in ever-flowing,
ever-changing talk; and returned down Regent Street at nightfall: one
of the cheerfulest days I ever had;--not to be repeated, said the
Fates. Sterling was charming on such occasions: at once a child and
a gifted man. A serious fund of thought he always had, a serious
drift you never missed in him: nor indeed had he much depth of real
laughter or sense of the ludicrous, as I have elsewhere said; but what
he had was genuine, free and continual: his sparkling sallies bubbled
up as from aerated natural fountains; a mild dash of gayety was native
to the man, and had moulded his physiognomy in a very graceful way.
We got once into a cab, about Charing Cross; I know not now whence or
well whitherward, nor that our haste was at all special; however, the
cabman, sensible that his pace was slowish, took to whipping, with a
steady, passionless, businesslike assiduity which, though the horse
seemed lazy rather than weak, became afflictive; and I urged
remonstrance with the savage fellow: "Let him alone," answered
Sterling; "he is kindling the enthusiasm of his horse, you perceive;
that is the first thing, then we shall do very well!"--as accordingly
we did.

At Clifton, though his thoughts began to turn more on poetic forms of
composition, he was diligent in prose elaborations too,--doing
Criticism, for one thing, as we incidentally observed. He wrote
there, and sent forth in this autumn of 1839, his most important
contribution to John Mill's Review, the article on _Carlyle_, which
stands also in Mr. Hare's collection.[22] What its effect on the
public was I knew not, and know not; but remember well, and may here
be permitted to acknowledge, the deep silent joy, not of a weak or
ignoble nature, which it gave to myself in my then mood and situation;
as it well might. The first generous human recognition, expressed
with heroic emphasis, and clear conviction visible amid its fiery
exaggeration, that one's poor battle in this world is not quite a mad
and futile, that it is perhaps a worthy and manful one, which will
come to something yet: this fact is a memorable one in every history;
and for me Sterling, often enough the stiff gainsayer in our private
communings, was the doer of this. The thought burnt in me like a
lamp, for several days; lighting up into a kind of heroic splendor the
sad volcanic wrecks, abysses, and convulsions of said poor battle, and
secretly I was very grateful to my daring friend, and am still, and
ought to be. What the public might be thinking about him and his
audacities, and me in consequence, or whether it thought at all, I
never learned, or much heeded to learn.

Sterling's gainsaying had given way on many points; but on others it
continued stiff as ever, as may be seen in that article; indeed he
fought Parthian-like in such cases, holding out his last position as
doggedly as the first: and to some of my notions he seemed to grow in
stubbornness of opposition, with the growing inevitability, and never
would surrender. Especially that doctrine of the "greatness and
fruitfulness of Silence," remained afflictive and incomprehensible:
"Silence?" he would say: "Yes, truly; if they give you leave to
proclaim silence by cannon-salvos! My Harpocrates-Stentor!" In like
manner, "Intellect and Virtue," how they are proportional, or are
indeed one gift in us, the same great summary of gifts; and again,
"Might and Right," the identity of these two, if a man will understand
this God's-Universe, and that only he who conforms to the law of it
can in the long-run have any "might:" all this, at the first blush,
often awakened Sterling's musketry upon me, and many volleys I have
had to stand,--the thing not being decidable by that kind of weapon or

In such cases your one method was to leave our friend in peace. By
small-arms practice no mortal could dislodge him: but if you were in
the right, the silent hours would work continually for you; and
Sterling, more certainly than any man, would and must at length swear
fealty to the right, and passionately adopt it, burying all
hostilities under foot. A more candid soul, once let the stormful
velocities of it expend themselves, was nowhere to be met with. A son
of light, if I have ever seen one; recognizing the truth, if truth
there were; hurling overboard his vanities, petulances, big and small
interests, in ready loyalty to truth: very beautiful; at once a loyal
child, as I said, and a gifted man!--Here is a very pertinent passage
from one of his Letters, which, though the name continues blank, I
will insert:--

_To his Father_.

"_October 15th_, 1839.--As to my 'over-estimate of ----,' your


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