This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1851
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your affectionate son,

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

_To his Mother_.

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

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

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

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

_To the Same_.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your affectionate Father, “JOHN STERLING.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

_To his Mother_.

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

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

_To Mr. Carlyle_.

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

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

_To his Father_.

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

“_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_. “MANOR HOUSE, CLIFTON PLACE, CLIFTON, “30th June, 1839.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

_To his Mother_.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_To his Father_.

“_October 15th_, 1839.–As to my ‘over-estimate of —-,’ your