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  • 1851
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“understanding” will avail for that feat;–and it is terribly perilous to try it in these provinces!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yours affectionately,

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your grateful and affectionate “JOHN STERLING.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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