expressions rather puzzle me. I suppose there may be, at the outside, a hundred persons in England whose opinions on such a matter are worth as much as mine. If by ‘the public’ you and my Mother mean the other ninety-nine, I submit. I have no doubt that, on any matter not relating peculiarly to myself, the judgment of the ninety-nine most philosophical heads in the country, if unanimous, would be right, and mine, if opposed to them, wrong. But then I am at a loss to make out, How the decision of the very few really competent persons has been ascertained to be thus in contradiction to me? And on the other hand, I conceive myself, from my opportunities, knowledge and attention to the subject, to be alone quite entitled to outvote tens of thousands of gentlemen, however much my superiors as men of business, men of the world, or men of merely dry or merely frivolous literature.
“I do not remember ever before to have heard the saying, whether of Talleyrand or of any one else, That _all_ the world is a wiser man than any man in the world. Had it been said even by the Devil, it would nevertheless be false. I have often indeed heard the saying, _On peut etre plus FIN qu’un autre, mais pas plus FIN que tous les autres_. But observe that ‘_fin_’ means _cunning_, not _wise_. The difference between this assertion and the one you refer to is curious and worth examining. It is quite certain, there is always some one man in the world wiser than all the rest; as Socrates was declared by the oracle to be; and as, I suppose, Bacon was in his day, and perhaps Burke in his. There is also some one, whose opinion would be probably true, if opposed to that of all around him; and it is always indubitable that the wise men are the scores, and the unwise the millions. The millions indeed come round, in the course of a generation or two, to the opinions of the wise; but by that time a new race of wise men have again shot ahead of their contemporaries: so it has always been, and so, in the nature of things, it always must be. But with cunning, the matter is quite different. Cunning is not _dishonest wisdom_, which would be a contradiction in terms; it is _dishonest prudence_, acuteness in practice, not in thought: and though there must always be some one the most cunning in the world, as well as some one the most wise, these two superlatives will fare very differently in the world. In the case of cunning, the shrewdness of a whole people, of a whole generation, may doubtless be combined against that of the one, and so triumph over it; which was pretty much the case with Napoleon. But although a man of the greatest cunning can hardly conceal his designs and true character from millions of unfriendly eyes, it is quite impossible thus to club the eyes of the mind, and to constitute by the union of ten thousand follies an equivalent for a single wisdom. A hundred school-boys can easily unite and thrash their one master; but a hundred thousand school-boys would not be nearer than a score to knowing as much Greek among them as Bentley or Scaliger. To all which, I believe, you will assent as readily as I;–and I have written it down only because I have nothing more important to say.”–
Besides his prose labors, Sterling had by this time written, publishing chiefly in _Blackwood_, a large assortment of verses, _Sexton’s Daughter_, _Hymns of a Hermit_, and I know not what other extensive stock of pieces; concerning which he was now somewhat at a loss as to his true course. He could write verses with astonishing facility, in any given form of metre; and to various readers they seemed excellent, and high judges had freely called them so, but he himself had grave misgivings on that latter essential point. In fact here once more was a parting of the ways, “Write in Poetry; write in Prose?” upon which, before all else, it much concerned him to come to a settlement.
My own advice was, as it had always been, steady against Poetry; and we had colloquies upon it, which must have tried his patience, for in him there was a strong leaning the other way. But, as I remarked and urged: Had he not already gained superior excellence in delivering, by way of _speech_ or prose, what thoughts were in him, which is the grand and only intrinsic function of a writing man, call him by what title you will? Cultivate that superior excellence till it become a perfect and superlative one. Why _sing_ your bits of thoughts, if you _can_ contrive to speak them? By your thought, not by your mode of delivering it, you must live or die.–Besides I had to observe there was in Sterling intrinsically no depth of _tune_; which surely is the real test of a Poet or Singer, as distinguished from a Speaker? In music proper he had not the slightest ear; all music was mere impertinent noise to him, nothing in it perceptible but the mere march or time. Nor in his way of conception and utterance, in the verses he wrote, was there any contradiction, but a constant confirmation to me, of that fatal prognostic;–as indeed the whole man, in ear and heart and tongue, is one; and he whose soul does not sing, need not try to do it with his throat. Sterling’s verses had a monotonous rub-a-dub, instead of tune; no trace of music deeper than that of a well-beaten drum; to which limited range of excellence the substance also corresponded; being intrinsically always a rhymed and slightly rhythmical _speech_, not a _song_.
In short, all seemed to me to say, in his case: “You can speak with supreme excellence; sing with considerable excellence you never can. And the Age itself, does it not, beyond most ages, demand and require clear speech; an Age incapable of being sung to, in any but a trivial manner, till these convulsive agonies and wild revolutionary overturnings readjust themselves? Intelligible word of command, not musical psalmody and fiddling, is possible in this fell storm of battle. Beyond all ages, our Age admonishes whatsoever thinking or writing man it has: Oh, speak to me some wise intelligible speech; your wise meaning in the shortest and clearest way; behold I am dying for want of wise meaning, and insight into the devouring fact: speak, if you have any wisdom! As to song so called, and your fiddling talent,–even if you have one, much more if you have none,–we will talk of that a couple of centuries hence, when things are calmer again. Homer shall be thrice welcome; but only when Troy is _taken_: alas, while the siege lasts, and battle’s fury rages everywhere, what can I do with the Homer? I want Achilleus and Odysseus, and am enraged to see them trying to be Homers!”–
Sterling, who respected my sincerity, and always was amenable enough to counsel, was doubtless much confused by such contradictory diagnosis of his case. The question, Poetry or Prose? became more and more pressing, more and more insoluble. He decided, at last, to appeal to the public upon it;–got ready, in the late autumn, a small select Volume of his verses; and was now busy pushing it through the press. Unfortunately, in the mean while, a grave illness, of the old pulmonary sort, overtook him, which at one time threatened to be dangerous. This is a glance again into his interior household in these circumstances:–
_To his Mother_.
“_December 21st_, 1839.–The Tin box came quite safe, with all its miscellaneous contents. I suppose we are to thank you for the _Comic Almanac_, which, as usual, is very amusing; and for the Book on _Watt_, which disappointed me. The scientific part is no doubt very good, and particularly clear and simple; but there is nothing remarkable in the account of Watt’s character; and it is an absurd piece of French impertinence in Arago to say, that England has not yet learnt to appreciate men like Watt, because he was not made a peer; which, were our peerage an institution like that of France, would have been very proper.
“I have now finished correcting the proofs of my little Volume of Poems. It has been a great plague to me, and one that I would not have incurred, had I expected to be laid up as I have been; but the matter was begun before I had any notion of being disabled by such an illness,–the severest I have suffered since I went to the West Indies. The Book will, after all, be a botched business in many respects; and I much doubt whether it will pay its expenses: but I try to consider it as out of my hands, and not to fret myself about it. I shall be very curious to see Carlyle’s Tractate on _Chartism_; which”–But we need not enter upon that.
Sterling’s little Book was printed at his own expense; published by Moxon in the very end of this year. It carries an appropriate and pretty Epigraph:–
“Feeling, Thought, and Fancy be
Gentle sister Graces three:
If these prove averse to me,
They will punish,–pardon Ye!”
He had dedicated the little Volume to Mr. Hare;–and he submitted very patiently to the discouraging neglect with which it was received by the world; for indeed the “Ye” said nothing audible, in the way of pardon or other doom; so that whether the “sister Graces” were averse or not, remained as doubtful as ever.
As we said above, it had been hoped by Sterling’s friends, not very confidently by himself, that in the gentler air of Clifton his health might so far recover as to enable him to dispense with autumnal voyages, and to spend the year all round in a house of his own. These hopes, favorable while the warm season lasted, broke down when winter came. In November of this same year, while his little Volume was passing through the press, bad and worse symptoms, spitting of blood to crown the sad list, reappeared; and Sterling had to equip himself again, at this late season, for a new flight to Madeira; wherein the good Calvert, himself suffering, and ready on all grounds for such an adventure, offered to accompany him. Sterling went by land to Falmouth, meaning there to wait for Calvert, who was to come by the Madeira Packet, and there take him on board.
Calvert and the Packet did arrive, in stormy January weather; which continued wildly blowing for weeks; forbidding all egress Westward, especially for invalids. These elemental tumults, and blustering wars of sea and sky, with nothing but the misty solitude of Madeira in the distance, formed a very discouraging outlook. In the mean while Falmouth itself had offered so many resources, and seemed so tolerable in climate and otherwise, while this wintry ocean looked so inhospitable for invalids, it was resolved our voyagers should stay where they were till spring returned. Which accordingly was done; with good effect for that season, and also with results for the coming seasons. Here again, from Letters to Knightsbridge, are some glimpses of his winter-life:–
“_Falmouth, February 5th_, 1840.–I have been to-day to see a new tin-mine, two or three miles off, which is expected to turn into a copper-mine by and by, so they will have the two constituents of bronze close together. This, by the way, was the ‘brass’ of Homer and the Ancients generally, who do not seem to have known our brass made of copper and zinc. Achilles in his armor must have looked like a bronze statue.–I took Sheridan’s advice, and did not go down the mine.”
“_February 15th_.–To some iron-works the other day; where I saw half the beam of a great steam-engine, a piece of iron forty feet long and seven broad, cast in about five minutes. It was a very striking spectacle. I hope to go to Penzance before I leave this country, and will not fail to tell you about it.” He did make trial of Penzance, among other places, next year; but only of Falmouth this.
“_February 20th_.–I am going on _asy_ here, in spite of a great change of weather. The East-winds are come at last, bringing with them snow, which has been driving about for the last twenty-four hours; not falling heavily, nor lying long when fallen. Neither is it as yet very cold, but I suppose there will be some six weeks of unpleasant temperature. The marine climate of this part of England will, no doubt, modify and mollify the air into a happier sort of substance than that you breathe in London.
“The large vessels that had been lying here for weeks, waiting for a wind, have now sailed; two of them for the East Indies, and having three hundred soldiers on board. It is a curious thing that the long-continued westerly winds had so prevented the coasters arriving, that the Town was almost on the point of a famine as to bread. The change has brought in abundance of flour.–The people in general seem extremely comfortable; their houses are excellent, almost all of stone. Their habits are very little agricultural, but mining and fishing seem to prosper with them. There are hardly any gentry here; I have not seen more than two gentlemen’s carriages in the Town; indeed I think the nearest one comes from five miles off….
“I have been obliged to try to occupy myself with Natural Science, in order to give some interest to my walks; and have begun to feel my way in Geology. I have now learnt to recognize three or four of the common kinds of stone about here, when I see them; but I find it stupid work compared with Poetry and Philosophy. In the mornings, however, for an hour or so before I get up, I generally light my candle, and try to write some verses; and since I have been here, I have put together short poems, almost enough for another small volume. In the evenings I have gone on translating some of Goethe. But six or seven hours spent on my legs, in the open air, do not leave my brain much energy for thinking. Thus my life is a dull and unprofitable one, but still better than it would have been in Madeira or on board ship. I hear from Susan every day, and write to her by return of post.”
At Falmouth Sterling had been warmly welcomed by the well-known Quaker family of the Foxes, principal people in that place, persons of cultivated opulent habits, and joining to the fine purities and pieties of their sect a reverence for human intelligence in all kinds; to whom such a visitor as Sterling was naturally a welcome windfall. The family had grave elders, bright cheery younger branches, men and women; truly amiable all, after their sort: they made a pleasant image of home for Sterling in his winter exile. “Most worthy, respectable and highly cultivated people, with a great deal of money among them,” writes Sterling in the end of February; “who make the place pleasant to me. They are connected with all the large Quaker circle, the Gurneys, Frys, &c., and also with Buxton the Abolitionist. It is droll to hear them talking of all the common topics of science, literature, and life, and in the midst of it: ‘Does thou know Wordsworth?’ or, ‘Did thou see the Coronation?’ or ‘Will thou take some refreshment?’ They are very kind and pleasant people to know.”
“Calvert,” continues our Diarist, “is better than he lately was, though he has not been at all laid up. He shoots little birds, and dissects and stuffs them; while I carry a hammer, and break flints and slates, to look for diamonds and rubies inside; and admire my success in the evening, when I empty my great-coat pocket of its specimens. On the whole, I doubt whether my physical proceedings will set the Thames on fire. Give my love to Anthony’s Charlotte; also remember me affectionately to the Carlyles.”–
At this time, too, John Mill, probably encouraged by Sterling, arrived in Falmouth, seeking refuge of climate for a sickly younger Brother, to whom also, while he continued there, and to his poor patient, the doors and hearts of this kind family were thrown wide open. Falmouth, during these winter weeks, especially while Mill continued, was an unexpectedly engaging place to Sterling; and he left it in spring, for Clifton, with a very kindly image of it in his thoughts. So ended, better than it might have done, his first year’s flight from the Clifton winter.
In April, 1840, he was at his own hearth again; cheerily pursuing his old labors,–struggling to redeem, as he did with a gallant constancy, the available months and days, out of the wreck of so many that were unavailable, for the business allotted him in this world. His swift, decisive energy of character; the valiant rally he made again and ever again, starting up fresh from amid the wounded, and cheerily storming in anew, was admirable, and showed a noble fund of natural health amid such an element of disease. Somehow one could never rightly fancy that he was diseased; that those fatal ever-recurring downbreaks were not almost rather the penalties paid for exuberance of health, and of faculty for living and working; criminal forfeitures, incurred by excess of self-exertion and such irrepressible over-rapidity of movement: and the vague hope was habitual with us, that increase of years, as it deadened this over-energy, would first make the man secure of life, and a sober prosperous worker among his fellows. It was always as if with a kind of blame that one heard of his being ill again! Poor Sterling;–no man knows another’s burden: these things were not, and were not to be, in the way we had fancied them!
Summer went along in its usual quiet tenor at Clifton; health good, as usual while the warm weather lasted, and activity abundant; the scene as still as the busiest could wish. “You metropolitan signors,” writes Sterling to his Father, “cannot conceive the dulness and scantiness of our provincial chronicle.” Here is a little excursion to the seaside; the lady of the family being again,–for good reasons,–in a weakly state:–
“_To Edward Sterling, Esq., Knightsbridge, London_. “PORTSHEAD, BRISTOL, 1st Sept., 1840.
“MY DEAR FATHER,–This place is a southern headland at the mouth of the Avon. Susan, and the Children too, were all suffering from languor; and as she is quite unfit to travel in a carriage, we were obliged to move, if at all, to some place accessible by water; and this is the nearest where we could get the fresher air of the Bristol Channel. We sent to take a house, for a week; and came down here in a steamer yesterday morning. It seems likely to do every one good. We have a comfortable house, with eight rather small bedrooms, for which we pay four guineas and a half for the week. We have brought three of our own maids, and leave one to take care of the house at Clifton.
“A week ago my horse fell with me, but did not hurt seriously either himself or me: it was, however, rather hard that, as there were six legs to be damaged, the one that did scratch itself should belong to the part of the machine possessing only two, instead of the quadrupedal portion. I grazed about the size of a halfpenny on my left knee; and for a couple of days walked about as if nothing had happened. I found, however, that the skin was not returning correctly; and so sent for a doctor: he treated the thing as quite insignificant, but said I must keep my leg quiet for a few days. It is still not quite healed; and I lie all day on a sofa, much to my discomposure; but the thing is now rapidly disappearing; and I hope, in a day or two more, I shall be free again. I find I can do no work, while thus crippled in my leg. The man in Horace who made verses _stans pede in uno_ had the advantage of me.
“The Great Western came in last night about eleven, and has just been making a flourish past our windows; looking very grand, with four streamers of bunting, and one of smoke. Of course I do not yet know whether I have Letters by her, as if so they will have gone to Clifton first. This place is quiet, green and pleasant; and will suit us very well, if we have good weather, of which there seems every appearance.
“Milnes spent last Sunday with me at Clifton; and was very amusing and cordial. It is impossible for those who know him well not to like him.–I send this to Knightsbridge, not knowing where else to hit you. Love to my Mother.
The expected “Letters by the Great Western” are from Anthony, now in Canada, doing military duties there. The “Milnes” is our excellent Richard, whom all men know, and truly whom none can know well without even doing as Sterling says.–In a week the family had returned to Clifton; and Sterling was at his poetizings and equitations again. His grand business was now Poetry; all effort, outlook and aim exclusively directed thither, this good while.
Of the published Volume Moxon gave the worst tidings; no man had hailed it with welcome; unsold it lay, under the leaden seal of general neglect; the public when asked what it thought, had answered hitherto by a lazy stare. It shall answer otherwise, thought Sterling; by no means taking that as the final response. It was in this same September that he announced to me and other friends, under seal of secrecy as usual, the completion, or complete first-draught, of “a new Poem reaching to two thousand verses.” By working “three hours every morning” he had brought it so far. This Piece, entitled _The Election_, of which in due time we obtained perusal, and had to give some judgment, proved to be in a new vein,–what might be called the mock-heroic, or sentimental Hudibrastic, reminding one a little, too, of Wieland’s _Oberon_;–it had touches of true drollery combined not ill with grave clear insight; showed spirit everywhere, and a plainly improved power of execution. Our stingy verdict was to the effect, “Better, but still not good enough:–why follow that sad ‘metrical’ course, climbing the loose sandhills, when you have a firm path along the plain?” To Sterling himself it remained dubious whether so slight a strain, new though it were, would suffice to awaken the sleeping public; and the Piece was thrown away and taken up again, at intervals; and the question, Publish or not publish? lay many months undecided.
Meanwhile his own feeling was now set more and more towards Poetry; and in spite of symptoms and dissuasions, and perverse prognostics of outward wind and weather, he was rallying all his force for a downright struggle with it; resolute to see which _was_ the stronger. It must be owned, he takes his failures in the kindliest manner; and goes along, bating no jot of heart or hope. Perhaps I should have more admired this than I did! My dissuasions, in that case, might have been fainter. But then my sincerity, which was all the use of my poor counsel in assent or dissent, would have been less. He was now furthermore busy with a _Tragedy of Strafford_, the theme of many failures in Tragedy; planning it industriously in his head; eagerly reading in _Whitlocke, Rushworth_ and the Puritan Books, to attain a vesture and local habitation for it. Faithful assiduous studies I do believe;–of which, knowing my stubborn realism, and savage humor towards singing by the Thespian or other methods, he told me little, during his visits that summer.
The advance of the dark weather sent him adrift again; to Torquay, for this winter: there, in his old Falmouth climate, he hoped to do well;–and did, so far as well-doing was readily possible, in that sad wandering way of life. However, be where he may, he tries to work “two or three hours in the morning,” were it even “with a lamp,” in bed, before the fires are lit; and so makes something of it. From abundant Letters of his now before me, I glean these two or three small glimpses; sufficient for our purpose at present. The general date is “Tor, near Torquay:”–
_To Mrs. Charles Fox, Falmouth_.
_Tor, November 30th_, 1840.–I reached this place on Thursday; having, after much hesitation, resolved to come here, at least for the next three weeks,–with some obscure purpose of embarking, at the New Year, from Falmouth for Malta, and so reaching Naples, which I have not seen. There was also a doubt whether I should not, after Christmas, bring my family here for the first four months of the year. All this, however, is still doubtful. But for certain inhabitants of Falmouth and its neighborhood, this place would be far more attractive than it. But I have here also friends, whose kindness, like much that I met with last winter, perpetually makes me wonder at the stock of benignity in human nature. A brother of my friend Julius Hare, Marcus by name, a Naval man, and though not a man of letters, full of sense and knowledge, lives here in a beautiful place, with a most agreeable and excellent wife, a daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderley. I had hardly seen them before; but they are fraternizing with me, in a much better than the Jacobin fashion; and one only feels ashamed at the enormity of some people’s good-nature. I am in a little rural sort of lodging; and as comfortable as a solitary oyster can expect to be.”–
_To C. Barton_.
“_December 5th_.–This place is extremely small, much more so than Falmouth even; but pretty, cheerful, and very mild in climate. There are a great many villas in and about the little Town, having three or four reception-rooms, eight or ten bedrooms; and costing about fifteen hundred or two thousand pounds each, and occupied by persons spending a thousand or more pounds a year. If the Country would acknowledge my merits by the gift of one of these, I could prevail on myself to come and live here; which would be the best move for my health I could make in England; but, in the absence of any such expression of public feeling, it would come rather dear.”–
_To Mrs. Fox again_.
“_December 22d_.–By the way, did you ever read a Novel? If you ever mean to do so hereafter, let it be Miss Martineau’s _Deerbrook_. It is really very striking; and parts of it are very true and very beautiful. It is not so true, or so thoroughly clear and harmonious, among delineations of English middle-class gentility, as Miss Austen’s books, especially as _Pride and Prejudice_, which I think exquisite; but it is worth reading. _The hour and the Man_ is eloquent, but an absurd exaggeration.–I hold out so valorously against this Scandinavian weather, that I deserve to be ranked with Odin and Thor; and fancy I may go to live at Clifton or Drontheim. Have you had the same icy desolation as prevails here?”
_To W. Coningham, Esq_.
“_December 28th_.–Looking back to him [a deceased Uncle, father of his correspondent], as I now very often do, I feel strongly, what the loss of other friends has also impressed on me, how much Death deepens our affection; and sharpens our regret for whatever has been even slightly amiss in our conduct towards those who are gone. What trifles then swell into painful importance; how we believe that, could the past be recalled, life would present no worthier, happier task, than that of so bearing ourselves towards those we love, that we might ever after find nothing but melodious tranquillity breathing about their graves! Yet, too often, I feel the difficulty of always practicing such mild wisdom towards those who are still left me.–You will wonder less at my rambling off in this way, when I tell you that my little lodging is close to a picturesque old Church and Churchyard, where, every day, I brush past a tombstone, recording that an Italian, of Manferrato, has buried there a girl of sixteen, his only daughter: _’L’ unica speranza di mia vita_.’–No doubt, as you say, our Mechanical Age is necessary as a passage to something better; but, at least, do not let us go back.”–
At the New-year time, feeling unusually well, he returns to Clifton. His plans, of course, were ever fluctuating; his movements were swift and uncertain. Alas, his whole life, especially his winter-life, had to be built as if on wavering drift-sand; nothing certain in it, except if possible the “two or three hours of work” snatched from the general whirlpool of the dubious four-and-twenty!
_To Dr. Carlyle_.
“_Clifton, January 10th_, 1841.–I stood the sharp frost at Torquay with such entire impunity, that at last I took courage, and resolved to return home. I have been here a week, in extreme cold; and have suffered not at all; so that I hope, with care I may prosper in spite of medical prognostics,–if you permit such profane language. I am even able to work a good deal; and write for some hours every morning, by dint of getting up early, which an Arnott stove in my study enables me to do.”–But at Clifton he cannot continue. Again, before long, the rude weather has driven him Southward; the spring finds him in his former haunts; doubtful as ever what to decide upon for the future; but tending evidently towards a new change of residence for household and self:–
_To W. Coningham, Esq_.
“_Penzance, April 19th_, 1841.–My little Boy and I have been wandering about between Torquay and this place; and latterly have had my Father for a few days with us,–he left us yesterday. In all probability I shall endeavor to settle either at Torquay, at Falmouth, or here; as it is pretty clear that I cannot stand the sharp air of Clifton, and still less the London east-winds. Penzance is, on the whole, a pleasant-looking, cheerful place; with a delightful mildness of air, and a great appearance of comfort among the people: the view of Mount’s Bay is certainly a very noble one. Torquay would suit the health of my Wife and Children better; or else I should be glad to live here always, London and its neighborhood being impracticable.”–Such was his second wandering winter; enough to render the prospect of a third at Clifton very uninviting.
With the Falmouth friends, young and old, his intercourse had meanwhile continued cordial and frequent. The omens were pointing towards that region at his next place of abode. Accordingly, in few weeks hence, in the June of this Summer, 1841, his dubitations and inquirings are again ended for a time; he has fixed upon a house in Falmouth, and removed thither; bidding Clifton, and the regretful Clifton friends, a kind farewell. This was the _fifth_ change of place for his family since Bayswater; the fifth, and to one chief member of it the last. Mrs. Sterling had brought him a new child in October last; and went hopefully to Falmouth, dreading _other_ than what befell there.
At Falmouth, as usual, he was soon at home in his new environment; resumed his labors; had his new small circle of acquaintance, the ready and constant centre of which was the Fox family, with whom he lived on an altogether intimate, honored and beloved footing; realizing his best anticipations in that respect, which doubtless were among his first inducements to settle in this new place. Open cheery heights, rather bare of wood: fresh southwestern breezes; a brisk laughing sea, swept by industrious sails, and the nets of a most stalwart, wholesome, frank and interesting population: the clean little fishing, trading and packet Town; hanging on its slope towards the Eastern sun, close on the waters of its basin and intricate bay,–with the miniature Pendennis Castle seaward on the right, the miniature St. Mawes landward to left, and the mining world and the farming world open boundlessly to the rear:–all this made a pleasant outlook and environment. And in all this, as in the other new elements of his position, Sterling, open beyond most men to the worth of things about him, took his frank share. From the first, he had liked the general aspect of the population, and their healthy, lively ways; not to speak of the special friendships he had formed there, which shed a charm over them all. “Men of strong character, clear heads and genuine goodness,” writes he, “are by no means wanting.” And long after: “The common people here dress better than in most parts of England; and on Sundays, if the weather be at all fine, their appearance is very pleasant. One sees them all round the Town, especially towards Pendennis Castle, streaming in a succession of little groups, and seeming for the most part really and quietly happy.” On the whole he reckoned himself lucky; and, so far as locality went, found this a handsome shelter for the next two years of his life. Two years, and not without an interruption; that was all. Here we have no continuing city; he less than any of us! One other flight for shelter; and then it is ended, and he has found an inexpugnable refuge. Let us trace his remote footsteps, as we have opportunity:–
_To Dr. Symonds, Clifton_.
“_Falmouth, June 28th_, 1841.–Newman writes to me that he is gone to the Rhine. I wish I were! And yet the only ‘wish’ at the bottom of my heart, is to be able to work vigorously in my own way anywhere, were it in some Circle of Dante’s Inferno. This, however, is the secret of my soul, which I disclose only to a few.”
_To his Mother_.
“_Falmouth, July 6th_, 1841.–I have at last my own study made comfortable; the carpet being now laid down, and most of my appurtenances in tolerable order. By and by I shall, unless stopped by illness, get myself together, and begin living an orderly life and doing my daily task. I have swung a cot in my dressing-room; partly as a convenience for myself, partly as a sort of memorial of my poor Uncle, in whose cot in his dressing-room at Lisworney I remember to have slept when a child. I have put a good large bookcase in my drawing-room, and all the rest of my books fit very well into the study.”
_To Mr. Carlyle_.
“_July 6th_.–No books have come in my way but Emerson’s, which I value full as much as you, though as yet I have read only some corners of it. We have had an Election here, of the usual stamp; to me a droll ‘realized Ideal,’ after my late metrical adventures in that line. But the oddest sign of the Times I know, is a cheap Translation of Strauss’s _Leben Jesu_, now publishing in numbers, and said to be circulating far and wide. What does–or rather, what does not–this portend?”–
With the Poem called _The Election_, here alluded to, which had been more than once revised and reconsidered, he was still under some hesitations; but at last had well-nigh resolved, as from the first it was clear he would do, on publishing it. This occupied some occasional portion of his thoughts. But his grand private affair, I believe, was now _Strafford_; to which, or to its adjuncts, all working hours were devoted. Sterling’s notions of Tragedy are high enough. This is what he writes once, in reference to his own task in these weeks: “Few, I fancy, know how much harder it is to write a Tragedy than to realize or be one. Every man has in his heart and lot, if he pleases, and too many whether they please or no, all the woes of OEdipus and Antigone. But it takes the One, the Sophocles of a thousand years, to utter these in the full depth and harmony of creative song. Curious, by the way, how that Dramatic Form of the old Greek, with only some superficial changes, remains a law not only for the stage, but for the thoughts of all Poets; and what a charm it has even for the reader who never saw a theatre. The Greek Plays and Shakspeare have interested a hundred as books, for one who has seen their writings acted. How lightly does the mere clown, the idle school-girl, build a private theatre in the fancy, and laugh or weep with Falstaff and Macbeth: with how entire an oblivion of the artificial nature of the whole contrivance, which thus compels them to be their own architects, machinists, scene-painters, and actors! In fact, the artifice succeeds,–becomes grounded in the substance of the soul: and every one loves to feel how he is thus brought face to face with the brave, the fair, the woful and the great of all past ages; looks into their eyes, and feels the beatings of their hearts; and reads, over the shoulder, the secret written tablets of the busiest and the largest brains; while the Juggler, by whose cunning the whole strange beautiful absurdity is set in motion, keeps himself hidden; sings loud with a mouth unmoving as that of a statue, and makes the human race cheat itself unanimously and delightfully by the illusion that he preordains; while as an obscure Fate, he sits invisible, and hardly lets his being be divined by those who cannot flee him. The Lyric Art is childish, and the Epic barbarous, compared to this. But of the true and perfect Drama it may be said, as of even higher mysteries, Who is sufficient for these things?”–On this _Tragedy of Strafford_, writing it and again writing it, studying for it, and bending himself with his whole strength to do his best on it, he expended many strenuous months,–“above a year of his life,” he computes, in all.
For the rest, what Falmouth has to give him he is willing to take, and mingles freely in it. In Hare’s Collection there is given a _Lecture_ which he read in Autumn, 1841 (Mr. Hare says “1842,” by mistake), to a certain Public Institution in the place,–of which more anon;–a piece interesting in this, if not much in any other respect. Doubtless his friends the Foxes were at the heart of that lecturing enterprise, and had urged and solicited him. Something like proficiency in certain branches of science, as I have understood, characterized one or more of this estimable family; love of knowledge, taste for art, wish to consort with wisdom and wise men, were the tendencies of all; to opulent means superadd the Quaker beneficence, Quaker purity and reverence, there is a circle in which wise men also may love to be. Sterling made acquaintance here with whatever of notable in worthy persons or things might be afoot in those parts; and was led thereby, now and then, into pleasant reunions, in new circles of activity, which might otherwise have continued foreign to him. The good Calvert, too, was now here; and intended to remain;–which he mostly did henceforth, lodging in Sterling’s neighborhood, so long as lodging in this world was permitted him. Still good and clear and cheerful; still a lively comrade, within doors or without,–a diligent rider always,–though now wearing visibly weaker, and less able to exert himself.
Among those accidental Falmouth reunions, perhaps the notablest for Sterling occurred in this his first season. There is in Falmouth an Association called the _Cornwall Polytechnic Society_, established about twenty years ago, and supported by the wealthy people of the Town and neighborhood, for the encouragement of the arts in that region; it has its Library, its Museum, some kind of Annual Exhibition withal; gives prizes, publishes reports: the main patrons, I believe, are Sir Charles Lemon, a well-known country gentleman of those parts, and the Messrs. Fox. To this, so far as he liked to go in it, Sterling was sure to be introduced and solicited. The Polytechnic meeting of 1841 was unusually distinguished; and Sterling’s part in it formed one of the pleasant occurrences for him in Falmouth. It was here that, among other profitable as well as pleasant things, he made acquaintance with Professor Owen (an event of which I too had my benefit in due time, and still have): the bigger assemblage called _British Association_, which met at Plymouth this year, having now just finished its affairs there, Owen and other distinguished persons had taken Falmouth in their route from it. Sterling’s account of this Polytechnic gala still remains,–in three Letters to his Father, which, omitting the extraneous portions, I will give in one,–as a piece worth reading among those still-life pictures:–
“To Edward Sterling, Esq., Knightsbridge, London_. “FALMOUTH, 10th August, 1841.
“MY DEAR FATHER,–I was not well for a day or two after you went; and since, I have been busy about an annual show of the Polytechnic Society here, in which my friends take much interest, and for which I have been acting as one of the judges in the department of the Fine Arts, and have written a little Report for them. As I have not said that Falmouth is as eminent as Athens or Florence, perhaps the Committee will not adopt my statement. But if they do, it will be of some use; for I have hinted, as delicately as possible, that people should not paint historical pictures before they have the power of drawing a decent outline of a pig or a cabbage. I saw Sir Charles Lemon yesterday, who was kind as well as civil in his manner; and promises to be a pleasant neighbor. There are several of the British Association heroes here; but not Whewell, or any one whom I know.”
“_August 17th_.–At the Polytechnic Meeting here we had several very eminent men; among others, Professor Owen, said to be the first of comparative anatomists, and Conybeare the geologist. Both of these gave evening Lectures; and after Conybeare’s, at which I happened to be present, I said I would, if they chose, make some remarks on the Busts which happened to be standing there, intended for prizes in the department of the Fine Arts. They agreed gladly. The heads were Homer, Pericles, Augustus, Dante and Michael Angelo. I got into the box-like platform, with these on a shelf before me; and began a talk which must have lasted some three quarters of an hour; describing partly the characters and circumstances of the men, illustrated by anecdotes and compared with their physiognomies, and partly the several styles of sculpture exhibited in the Casts, referring these to what I considered the true principles of the Art. The subject was one that interests me, and I got on in famous style; and had both pit and galleries all applauding, in a way that had had no precedent during any other part of the meeting. Conybeare paid me high compliments; Owen looked much pleased,–an honor well purchased by a year’s hard work;–and everybody, in short, seemed delighted. Susan was not there, and I had nothing to make me nervous; so that I worked away freely, and got vigorously over the ground. After so many years’ disuse of rhetoric, it was a pleasant surprise to myself to find that I could still handle the old weapons without awkwardness. More by good luck than good guidance, it has done my health no harm. I have been at Sir Charles Lemon’s, though only to pay a morning visit, having declined to stay there or dine, the hours not suiting me. They were very civil. The person I saw most of was his sister, Lady Dunstanville; a pleasant, well-informed and well-bred woman. He seems a most amiable, kindly man, of fair good sense and cultivated tastes.–I had a letter to-day from my Mother [in Scotland]; who says she sent you one which you were to forward me; which I hope soon to have.”
“_August 29th_.–I returned yesterday from Carclew, Sir C. Lemon’s fine place about five miles off; where I had been staying a couple of days, with apparently the heartiest welcome. Susan was asked; but wanting a Governess, could not leave home.
“Sir Charles is a widower (his Wife was sister to Lord Ilchester) without children; but had a niece staying with him, and his sister Lady Dunstanville, a pleasant and very civil woman. There were also Mr. Bunbury, eldest son of Sir Henry Bunbury, a man of much cultivation and strong talents; Mr. Fox Talbot, son, I think, of another Ilchester lady, and brother of _the_ Talbot of Wales, but himself a man of large fortune, and known for photogenic and other scientific plans of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. He also is a man of known ability, but chiefly employed in that peculiar department. _Item_ Professors Lloyd and Owen: the former, of Dublin, son of the late Provost, I had seen before and knew; a great mathematician and optician, and a discoverer in those matters; with a clever little Wife, who has a great deal of knowledge, quite free from pretension. Owen is a first-rate comparative anatomist, they say the greatest since Cuvier; lives in London, and lectures there. On the whole, he interested me more than any of them,–by an apparent force and downrightness of mind, combined with much simplicity and frankness.
“Nothing could be pleasanter and easier than the habits of life, with what to me was a very unusual degree of luxury, though probably nothing but what is common among people of large fortune. The library and pictures are nothing extraordinary. The general tone of good nature, good sense and quiet freedom, was what struck me most; and I think besides this there was a disposition to be cordially courteous towards me….
“I took Edward a ride of two hours yesterday on Calvert’s pony, and he is improving fast in horsemanship. The school appears to answer very well. We shall have the Governess in a day or two, which will be a great satisfaction. Will you send my Mother this scribble with my love; and believe me,
“Your affectionate son,
One other little event dwells with me, out of those Falmouth times, exact date now forgotten; a pleasant little matter, in which Sterling, and principally the Misses Fox, bright cheery young creatures, were concerned; which, for the sake of its human interest, is worth mention. In a certain Cornish mine, said the Newspapers duly specifying it, two miners deep down in the shaft were engaged putting in a shot for blasting: they had completed their affair, and were about to give the signal for being hoisted up,–one at a time was all their coadjutor at the top could manage, and the second was to kindle the match, and then mount with all speed. Now it chanced while they were both still below, one of them thought the match too long; tried to break it shorter, took a couple of stones, a flat and a sharp, to cut it shorter; did cut it of the due length, but, horrible to relate, kindled it at the same time, and both were still below! Both shouted vehemently to the coadjutor at the windlass, both sprang at the basket; the windlass man could not move it with them both. Here was a moment for poor miner Jack and miner Will! Instant horrible death hangs over both,–when Will generously resigns himself: “Go aloft, Jack,” and sits down; “away; in one minute I shall be in Heaven!” Jack bounds aloft, the explosion instantly follows, bruises his face as he looks over; he is safe above ground: and poor Will? Descending eagerly they find Will too, as if by miracle, buried under rocks which had arched themselves over him, and little injured: he too is brought up safe, and all ends joyfully, say the Newspapers.
Such a piece of manful promptitude, and salutary human heroism, was worth investigating. It was investigated; found to be accurate to the letter,–with this addition and explanation, that Will, an honest, ignorant good man, entirely given up to Methodism, had been perfect in the “faith of assurance,” certain that _he_ should get to Heaven if he died, certain that Jack would not, which had been the ground of his decision in that great moment;–for the rest, that he much wished to learn reading and writing, and find some way of life above ground instead of below. By aid of the Misses Fox and the rest of that family, a subscription (modest _Anti_-Hudson testimonial) was raised to this Methodist hero: he emerged into daylight with fifty pounds in his pocket; did strenuously try, for certain months, to learn reading and writing; found he could not learn those arts or either of them; took his money and bought cows with it, wedding at the same time some religious likely milkmaid; and is, last time I heard of him, a prosperous modest dairyman, thankful for the upper light and safety from the wrath to come. Sterling had some hand in this affair: but, as I said, it was the two young ladies of the family that mainly did it.
In the end of 1841, after many hesitations and revisals, _The Election_ came out; a tiny Duodecimo without name attached; again inquiring of the public what its suffrage was; again to little purpose. My vote had never been loud for this step, but neither was it quite adverse; and now, in reading the poor little Poem over again, after ten years’ space, I find it, with a touching mixture of pleasure and repentance, considerably better than it then seemed to me. My encouragement, if not to print this poem, yet to proceed with Poetry, since there was such a resolution for it, might have been a little more decided!
This is a small Piece, but aims at containing great things; a _multum in parvo_ after its sort; and is executed here and there with undeniable success. The style is free and flowing, the rhyme dances along with a certain joyful triumph; everything of due brevity withal. That mixture of mockery on the surface, which finely relieves the real earnestness within, and flavors even what is not very earnest and might even be insipid otherwise, is not ill managed: an amalgam difficult to effect well in writing; nay, impossible in writing,–unless it stand already done and effected, as a general fact, in the writer’s mind and character; which will betoken a certain ripeness there.
As I said, great things are intended in this little Piece; the motto itself foreshadowing them:–
“_Fluellen_. Ancient Pistol, I do partly understand your meaning.
_Pistol_. Why, then, rejoice therefor.”
A stupid commonplace English Borough has lost its Member suddenly, by apoplexy or otherwise; resolves, in the usual explosive temper of mind, to replace him by one of two others; whereupon strange stirring-up of rival-attorney and other human interests and catastrophes. “Frank Vane” (Sterling himself), and “Peter Mogg,” the pattern English blockhead of elections: these are the candidates. There are, of course, fierce rival attorneys; electors of all creeds and complexions to be canvassed: a poor stupid Borough thrown all into red or white heat; into blazing paroxysms of activity and enthusiasm, which render the inner life of it (and of England and the world through it) luminously transparent, so to speak;–of which opportunity our friend and his “Muse” take dexterous advantage, to delineate the same. His pictures are uncommonly good; brief, joyous, sometimes conclusively true: in rigorously compressed shape; all is merry freshness and exuberance: we have leafy summer embowering red bricks and small human interests, presented as in glowing miniature; a mock-heroic action fitly interwoven;–and many a clear glance is carelessly given into the deepest things by the way. Very happy also is the little love-episode; and the absorption of all the interest into that, on the part of Frank Vane and of us, when once this gallant Frank,–having fairly from his barrel-head stated his own (and John Sterling’s) views on the aspects of the world, and of course having quite broken down with his attorney and his public,–handsomely, by stratagem, gallops off with the fair Anne; and leaves free field to Mogg, free field to the Hippopotamus if it like. This portrait of Mogg may be considered to have merit:–
“Though short of days, how large the mind of man; A godlike force enclosed within a span! To climb the skies we spurn our nature’s clog, And toil as Titans to elect a Mogg.
“And who was Mogg? O Muse! the man declare, How excellent his worth, his parts how rare. A younger son, he learnt in Oxford’s halls The spheral harmonies of billiard-balls, Drank, hunted, drove, and hid from Virtue’s frown His venial follies in Decorum’s gown. Too wise to doubt on insufficient cause, He signed old Cranmer’s lore without a pause; And knew that logic’s cunning rules are taught To guard our creed, and not invigorate thought,– As those bronze steeds at Venice, kept for pride, Adorn a Town where not one man can ride.
“From Isis sent with all her loud acclaims, The Laws he studied on the banks of Thames. Park, race and play, in his capacious plan, Combined with Coke to form the finished man, Until the wig’s ambrosial influence shed Its last full glories on the lawyer’s head.
“But vain are mortal schemes. The eldest son At Harrier Hall had scarce his stud begun, When Death’s pale courser took the Squire away To lands where never dawns a hunting day: And so, while Thomas vanished ‘mid the fog, Bright rose the morning-star of Peter Mogg.”
And this little picture, in a quite opposite way:–
“Now, in her chamber all alone, the maid Her polished limbs and shoulders disarrayed; One little taper gave the only light, One little mirror caught so dear a sight; ‘Mid hangings dusk and shadows wide she stood, Like some pale Nymph in dark-leafed solitude Of rocks and gloomy waters all alone, Where sunshine scarcely breaks on stump or stone To scare the dreamy vision. Thus did she, A star in deepest night, intent but free, Gleam through the eyeless darkness, heeding not Her beauty’s praise, but musing o’er her lot.
“Her garments one by one she laid aside, And then her knotted hair’s long locks untied With careless hand, and down her cheeks they fell, And o’er her maiden bosom’s blue-veined swell. The right-hand fingers played amidst her hair, And with her reverie wandered here and there: The other hand sustained the only dress That now but half concealed her loveliness; And pausing, aimlessly she stood and thought, In virgin beauty by no fear distraught.”
Manifold, and beautiful of their sort, are Anne’s musings, in this interesting attitude, in the summer midnight, in the crisis of her destiny now near;–at last:–
“But Anne, at last her mute devotions o’er, Perceived the feet she had forgot before Of her too shocking nudity; and shame Flushed from her heart o’er all the snowy frame: And, struck from top to toe with burning dread, She blew the light out, and escaped to bed.”
–which also is a very pretty movement.
It must be owned withal, the Piece is crude in parts, and far enough from perfect. Our good painter has yet several things to learn, and to unlearn. His brush is not always of the finest; and dashes about, sometimes, in a recognizably sprawling way: but it hits many a feature with decisive accuracy and felicity; and on the palette, as usual, lie the richest colors. A grand merit, too, is the brevity of everything; by no means a spontaneous, or quite common merit with Sterling.
This new poetic Duodecimo, as the last had done and as the next also did, met with little or no recognition from the world: which was not very inexcusable on the world’s part; though many a poem with far less proof of merit than this offers, has run, when the accidents favored it, through its tens of editions, and raised the writer to the demigods for a year or two, if not longer. Such as it is, we may take it as marking, in its small way, in a noticed or unnoticed manner, a new height arrived at by Sterling in his Poetic course; and almost as vindicating the determination he had formed to keep climbing by that method. Poor Poem, or rather Promise of a Poem! In Sterling’s brave struggle, this little _Election_ is the highest point he fairly lived to see attained, and openly demonstrated in print. His next public adventure in this kind was of inferior worth; and a third, which had perhaps intrinsically gone much higher than any of its antecessors, was cut off as a fragment, and has not hitherto been published. Steady courage is needed on the Poetic course, as on all courses!–
Shortly after this Publication, in the beginning of 1842, poor Calvert, long a hopeless sufferer, was delivered by death: Sterling’s faithful fellow-pilgrim could no more attend him in his wayfarings through this world. The weary and heavy-laden man had borne his burden well. Sterling says of him to Hare: “Since I wrote last, I have lost Calvert; the man with whom, of all others, I have been during late years the most intimate. Simplicity, benevolence, practical good sense and moral earnestness were his great unfailing characteristics; and no man, I believe, ever possessed them more entirely. His illness had latterly so prostrated him, both in mind and body, that those who most loved him were most anxious for his departure.” There was something touching in this exit; in the quenching of so kind and bright a little life under the dark billows of death. To me he left a curious old Print of James Nayler the Quaker, which I still affectionately preserve.
Sterling, from this greater distance, came perhaps rather seldomer to London; but we saw him still at moderate intervals; and, through his family here and other direct and indirect channels, were kept in lively communication with him. Literature was still his constant pursuit; and, with encouragement or without, Poetic composition his chosen department therein. On the ill success of _The Election_, or any ill success with the world, nobody ever heard him utter the least murmur; condolence upon that or any such subject might have been a questionable operation, by no means called for! Nay, my own approval, higher than this of the world, had been languid, by no means enthusiastic. But our valiant friend took all quietly; and was not to be repulsed from his Poetics either by the world’s coldness or by mine; he labored at his _Strafford_;–determined to labor, in all ways, till he felt the end of his tether in this direction.
He sometimes spoke, with a certain zeal, of my starting a Periodical: Why not lift up some kind of war-flag against the obese platitudes, and sickly superstitious aperies and impostures of the time? But I had to answer, “Who will join it, my friend?” He seemed to say, “I, for one;” and there was occasionally a transient temptation in the thought, but transient only. No fighting regiment, with the smallest attempt towards drill, co-operation, commissariat, or the like unspeakable advantages, could be raised in Sterling’s time or mine; which truly, to honest fighters, is a rather grievous want. A grievous, but not quite a fatal one. For, failing this, failing all things and all men, there remains the solitary battle (and were it by the poorest weapon, the tongue only, or were it even by wise abstinence and silence and without any weapon), such as each man for himself can wage while he has life: an indubitable and infinitely comfortable fact for every man! Said battle shaped itself for Sterling, as we have long since seen, chiefly in the poetic form, in the singing or hymning rather than the speaking form; and in that he was cheerfully assiduous according to his light. The unfortunate _Strafford_ is far on towards completion; a _Coeur-de-Lion_, of which we shall hear farther, “_Coeur-de-Lion_, greatly the best of all his Poems,” unluckily not completed, and still unpublished, already hangs in the wind.
His Letters to friends continue copious; and he has, as always, a loyally interested eye on whatsoever of notable is passing in the world. Especially on whatsoever indicates to him the spiritual condition of the world. Of “Strauss,” in English or in German, we now hear nothing more; of Church matters, and that only to special correspondents, less and less. Strauss, whom he used to mention, had interested him only as a sign of the times; in which sense alone do we find, for a year or two back, any notice of the Church, or its affairs by Sterling; and at last even this as good as ceases: “Adieu, O Church; thy road is that way, mine is this: in God’s name, adieu!” “What we are going _to_,” says he once, “is abundantly obscure; but what all men are going _from_, is very plain.”–Sifted out of many pages, not of sufficient interest, here are one or two miscellaneous sentences, about the date we are now arrived at:–
_To Dr. Symonds_.
“_Falmouth, 3d November_, 1841.–Yesterday was my Wedding-day: eleven years of marriage; and on the whole my verdict is clear for matrimony. I solemnized the day by reading _John Gilpin_ to the children, who with their Mother are all pretty well…. There is a trick of sham Elizabethan writing now prevalent, that looks plausible, but in most cases means nothing at all. Darley has real (lyrical) genius; Taylor, wonderful sense, clearness and weight of purpose; Tennyson, a rich and exquisite fancy. All the other men of our tiny generation that I know of are, in Poetry, either feeble or fraudulent. I know nothing of the Reviewer you ask about.”
_To his Mother_
“_December 11th_.–I have seen no new books; but am reading your last. I got hold of the two first Numbers of the _Hoggarty Diamond_; and read them with extreme delight. What is there better in Fielding or Goldsmith? The man is a true genius; and, with quiet and comfort, might produce masterpieces that would last as long as any we have, and delight millions of unborn readers. There is more truth and nature in one of these papers than in all —-‘s Novels together.”–Thackeray, always a close friend of the Sterling house, will observe that this is dated 1841, not 1851, and have his own reflections on the matter!
_To the Same_.
“_December 17th_.–I am not much surprised at Lady —-‘s views of Coleridge’s little Book on _Inspiration_.–Great part of the obscurity of the Letters arises from his anxiety to avoid the difficulties and absurdities of the common views, and his panic terror of saying anything that bishops and good people would disapprove. He paid a heavy price, viz. all his own candor and simplicity, in hope of gaining the favor of persons like Lady —-; and you see what his reward is! A good lesson for us all.”
_To the Same_.
“_February 1st_, 1842.–English Toryism has, even in my eyes, about as much to say for itself as any other form of doctrine; but Irish Toryism is the downright proclamation of brutal injustice, and all in the name of God and the Bible! It is almost enough to make one turn Mahometan, but for the fear of the four wives.”
_To his Father_.
“_March 12th_, 1842.–… Important to me as these matters are, it almost seems as if there were something unfeeling in writing of them, under the pressure of such news as ours from India. If the Cabool Troops have perished, England has not received such a blow from an enemy, nor anything approaching it, since Buckingham’s Expedition to the Isle of Rhe. Walcheren destroyed us by climate; and Corunna, with all its losses, had much of glory. But here we are dismally injured by mere Barbarians, in a War on our part shamefully unjust as well as foolish: a combination of disgrace and calamity that would have shocked Augustus even more than the defeat of Varus. One of the four officers with Macnaghten was George Lawrence, a brother-in-law of Nat Barton; a distinguished man, and the father of five totally unprovided children. He is a prisoner, if not since murdered. Macnaghten I do not pity; he was the prime author of the whole mad War. But Burnes; and the women; and our regiments! India, however, I feel sure, is safe.”
So roll the months at Falmouth; such is the ticking of the great World-Horologe as heard there by a good ear. “I willingly add,” so ends he, once, “that I lately found somewhere this fragment of an Arab’s love-song: ‘O Ghalia! If my father were a jackass, I would sell him to purchase Ghalia!’ A beautiful parallel to the French _’Avec cette sauce on mangerait son pere_.'”
In the bleak weather of this spring, 1842, he was again abroad for a little while; partly from necessity, or at least utility; and partly, as I guess, because these circumstances favored, and he could with a good countenance indulge a little wish he had long had. In the Italian Tour, which ended suddenly by Mrs. Sterling’s illness recalling him, he had missed Naples; a loss which he always thought to be considerable; and which, from time to time, he had formed little projects, failures hitherto, for supplying. The rigors of spring were always dangerous to him in England, and it was always of advantage to get out of them: and then the sight of Naples, too; this, always a thing to be done some day, was now possible. Enough, with the real or imaginary hope of bettering himself in health, and the certain one of seeing Naples, and catching a glance of Italy again, he now made a run thither. It was not long after Calvert’s death. The Tragedy of _Strafford_ lay finished in his desk. Several things, sad and bright, were finished. A little intermezzo of ramble was not unadvisable.
His tour by water and by land was brief and rapid enough; hardly above two months in all. Of which the following Letters will, with some abridgment, give us what details are needful:–
“_To Charles Barton, Esq., Leamington_. “FALMOUTH, 25th March, 1842.
“MY DEAR CHARLES,–My attempts to shoot you flying with my paper pellets turned out very ill. I hope young ladies succeed better when they happen to make appointments with you. Even now, I hardly know whether you have received a Letter I wrote on Sunday last, and addressed to The Cavendish. I sent it thither by Susan’s advice.
“In this missive,–happily for us both, it did not contain a hundred-pound note or any trifle of that kind,–I informed you that I was compelled to plan an expedition towards the South Pole; stopping, however, in the Mediterranean; and that I designed leaving this on Monday next for Cadiz or Gibraltar, and then going on to Malta, whence Italy and Sicily would be accessible. Of course your company would be a great pleasure, if it were possible for you to join me. The delay in hearing from you, through no fault of yours, has naturally put me out a little; but, on the whole, my plan still holds, and I shall leave this on Monday for Gibraltar, where the _Great Liverpool_ will catch me, and carry me to Malta. The _Great Liverpool_ leaves Southampton on the 1st of April, and Falmouth on the 2d; and will reach Gibraltar in from four to five days.
“Now, if you _should_ be able and disposed to join me, you have only to embark in that sumptuous tea-kettle, and pick me up under the guns of the Rock. We could then cruise on to Malta, Sicily, Naples, Rome, &c., _a discretion_. It is just _possible_, though extremely improbable, that my steamer of Monday (most likely the _Montrose_) may not reach Gibraltar so soon as the _Liverpool_. If so, and if you should actually be on board, you must stop at Gibraltar. But there are ninety-nine chances to one against this. Write at all events to Susan, to let her know what you propose.
“I do not wait till the _Great Liverpool_ goes, because the object for me is to get into a warm climate as soon as possible. I am decidedly better.
“Your affectionate Brother, “JOHN STERLING.”
Barton did not go with him, none went; but he arrives safe, and not _hurt_ in health, which is something.
“_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_. “MALTA, 14th April, 1842.
“DEAREST MOTHER,–I am writing to Susan through France, by to-morrow’s mail; and will also send you a line, instead of waiting for the longer English conveyance.
“We reached this the day before yesterday, in the evening; having had a strong breeze against us for a day or two before; which made me extremely uncomfortable,–and indeed my headache is hardly gone yet. From about the 4th to the 9th of the month, we had beautiful weather, and I was happy enough. You will see by the map that the straightest line from Gibraltar to this place goes close along the African coast; which accordingly we saw with the utmost clearness; and found it generally a line of mountains, the higher peaks and ridges covered with snow. We went close in to Algiers; which looks strong, but entirely from art. The town lies on the slope of a straight coast; and is not at all embayed, though there is some little shelter for shipping within the mole. It is a square patch of white buildings huddled together; fringed with batteries; and commanded by large forts on the ridge above: a most uncomfortable-looking place; though, no doubt, there are _cafes_ and billiard-rooms and a theatre within,–for the French like to have their Houris, &c., on _this_ side of Paradise, if possible.
“Our party of fifty people (we had taken some on board at Gibraltar) broke up, on reaching this; never, of course, to meet again. The greater part do not proceed to Alexandria. Considering that there was a bundle of midshipmen, ensigns, &c., we had as much reason among us as could perhaps be looked for; and from several I gained bits of information and traits of character, though nothing very remarkable….
“I have established myself in an inn, rather than go to Lady Louis’s; I not feeling quite equal to company, except in moderate doses. I have, however, seen her a good deal; and dine there to-day, very privately, for Sir John is not quite well, and they will have no guests. The place, however, is full of official banqueting, for various unimportant reasons. When here before, I was in much distress and anxiety, on my way from Rome; and I suppose this it was that prevented its making the same impression on me as now, when it seems really the stateliest town I have ever seen. The architecture is generally of a corrupt Roman kind; with something of the varied and picturesque look, though much more massive, of our Elizabethan buildings. We have the finest English summer and a pellucid sky…. Your affectionate
At Naples next, for three weeks, was due admiration of the sceneries and antiquities, Bay and Mountain, by no means forgetting Art and the Museum: “to Pozzuoli, to Baiae, round the Promontory of Sorrento;”–above all, “twice to Pompeii,” where the elegance and classic simplicity of Ancient Housekeeping strikes us much; and again to Paestum, where “the Temple of Neptune is far the noblest building I have ever seen; and makes both Greek and Revived Roman seem quite barbaric…. Lord Ponsonby lodges in the same house with me;–but, of course, I do not countenance an adherent of a beaten Party!”–Or let us take this more compendious account, which has much more of human in it, from an onward stage, ten days later:–
“_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_. “ROME, 13th May, 1842,
“MY DEAR CARLYLE,–I hope I wrote to you before leaving England, to tell you of the necessity for my doing so. Though coming to Italy, there was little comfort in the prospect of being divided from my family, and pursuits which grew on me every day. However, I tried to make the best of it, and have gained both health and pleasure.
“In spite of scanty communications from England (owing to the uncertainty of my position), a word or two concerning you and your dear Wife have reached me. Lately it has often occurred to me, that the sight of the Bay of Naples, of the beautiful coast from that to this place, and of Rome itself, all bathed in summer sunshine, and green with spring foliage, would be some consolation to her. Pray give her my love.
“I have been two days here; and almost the first thing I did was to visit the Protestant burial-ground, and the graves of those I knew when here before. But much as being now alone here, I feel the difference, there is no scene where Death seems so little dreadful and miserable as in the lonelier neighborhoods of this old place. All one’s impressions, however, as to that and everything else, appear to me, on reflection, more affected than I had for a long time any notion of, by one’s own isolation. All the feelings and activities which family, friends and occupation commonly engage, are turned, here in one’s solitude, with strange force into the channels of mere observation and contemplation; and the objects one is conversant with seem to gain a tenfold significance from the abundance of spare interest one now has to bestow on them. This explains to me a good deal of the peculiar effect that Italy has always had on me: and something of that artistic enthusiasm which I remember you used to think so singular in Goethe’s _Travels_. Darley, who is as much a brooding hermit in England as here, felt nothing but disappointment from a country which fills me with childish wonder and delight.
“Of you I have received some slight notice from Mrs. Strachey; who is on her way hither; and will (she writes) be at Florence on the 15th, and here before the end of the month. She notices having received a Letter of yours which had pleased her much. She now proposes spending the summer at Sorrento, or thereabouts; and if mere delight of landscape and climate were enough, Adam and Eve, had their courier taken them to that region, might have done well enough without Paradise,–and not been tempted, either, by any Tree of Knowledge; a kind that does not flourish in the Two Sicilies.
“The ignorance of the Neapolitans, from the highest to the lowest, is very eminent; and excites the admiration of all the rest of Italy. In the great building containing all the Works of Art, and a Library of 150,000 volumes, I asked for the best existing Book (a German one published ten years ago) on the Statues in that very Collection; and, after a rabble of clerks and custodes, got up to a dirty priest, who bowing to the ground regretted ‘they did not possess it,’ but at last remembered that ‘they _had_ entered into negotiations on the subject, which as yet had been unsuccessful.’–The favorite device on the walls at Naples is a vermilion Picture of a Male and Female Soul respectively up to the waist (the waist of a _soul_) in fire, and an Angel above each, watering the sufferers from a watering-pot. This is intended to gain alms for Masses. The same populace sit for hours on the Mole, listening to rhapsodists who recite Ariosto. I have seen I think five of them all within a hundred yards of each other, and some sets of fiddlers to boot. Yet there are few parts of the world where I have seen less laughter than there. The Miracle of Januarius’s Blood is, on the whole, my most curious experience. The furious entreaties, shrieks and sobs, of a set of old women, yelling till the Miracle was successfully performed, are things never to be forgotten.
“I spent three weeks in this most glittering of countries, and saw most of the usual wonders,–the Paestan Temples being to me much the most valuable. But Pompeii and all that it has yielded, especially the Fresco Paintings, have also an infinite interest. When one considers that this prodigious series of beautiful designs supplied the place of our common room-papers,–the wealth of poetic imagery among the Ancients, and the corresponding traditional variety and elegance of pictorial treatment, seem equally remarkable. The Greek and Latin Books do not give one quite so fully this sort of impression; because they afford no direct measure of the extent of their own diffusion. But these are ornaments from the smaller class of decent houses in a little Country Town; and the greater number of them, by the slightness of the execution, show very clearly that they were adapted to ordinary taste, and done by mere artisans. In general clearness, symmetry and simplicity of feeling, I cannot say that, on the whole, the works of Raffaelle equal them; though of course he has endless beauties such as we could not find unless in the great original works from which these sketches at Pompeii were taken. Yet with all my much increased reverence for the Greeks, it seems more plain than ever that they had hardly anything of the peculiar devotional feeling of Christianity.
“Rome, which I loved before above all the earth, now delights me more than ever;–though at this moment there is rain falling that would not discredit Oxford Street. The depth, sincerity and splendor that there once was in the semi-paganism of the old Catholics comes out in St. Peter’s and its dependencies, almost as grandly as does Greek and Roman Art in the Forum and the Vatican Galleries. I wish you were here: but, at all events, hope to see you and your Wife once more during this summer.
At Paris, where he stopped a day and night, and generally through his whole journey from Marseilles to Havre, one thing attended him: the prevailing epidemic of the place and year; now gone, and nigh forgotten, as other influenzas are. He writes to his Father: “I have not yet met a single Frenchman, who could give me any rational explanation _why_ they were all in such a confounded rage against us. Definite causes of quarrel a statesman may know how to deal with, inasmuch as the removal of them may help to settle the dispute. But it must be a puzzling task to negotiate about instincts; to which class, as it seems to me, we must have recourse for an understanding of the present abhorrence which everybody on the other side of the Channel not only feels, but makes a point to boast of, against the name of Britain. France is slowly arming, especially with Steam, _en attendant_ a more than possible contest, in which they reckon confidently on the eager co-operation of the Yankees; as, _vice versa_, an American told me that his countrymen do on that of France. One person at Paris (M. —- whom you know) provoked me to tell him that ‘England did not want another battle of Trafalgar; but if France did, she might compel England to gratify her.'”–After a couple of pleasant and profitable months, he was safe home again in the first days of June; and saw Falmouth not under gray iron skies, and whirls of March dust, but bright with summer opulence and the roses coming out.
It was what I call his “_fifth_ peregrinity;” his fifth and last. He soon afterwards came up to London; spent a couple of weeks, with all his old vivacity, among us here. The AEsculapian oracles, it would appear, gave altogether cheerful prophecy; the highest medical authority “expresses the most decided opinion that I have gradually mended for some years; and in truth I have not, for six or seven, been so free from serious symptoms of illness as at present.” So uncertain are all oracles, AEsculapian and other!
During this visit, he made one new acquaintance which he much valued; drawn thither, as I guess, by the wish to take counsel about _Strafford_. He writes to his Clifton friend, under date, 1st July 1842: “Lockhart, of the _Quarterly Review_, I made my first oral acquaintance with; and found him as neat, clear and cutting a brain as you would expect; but with an amount of knowledge, good nature and liberal anti-bigotry, that would much surprise many. The tone of his children towards him seemed to me decisive of his real kindness. He quite agreed with me as to the threatening seriousness of our present social perplexities, and the necessity and difficulty of doing something effectual for so satisfying the manual multitude as not to overthrow all legal security….
“Of other persons whom I saw in London,” continues he, “there are several that would much interest you,–though I missed Tennyson, by a mere chance…. John Mill has completely finished, and sent to the bookseller, his great work on Logic; the labor of many years of a singularly subtle, patient and comprehensive mind. It will be our chief speculative monument of this age. Mill and I could not meet above two or three times; but it was with the openness and freshness of school-boy friends, though our friendship only dates from the manhood of both.”
He himself was busier than ever; occupied continually with all manner of Poetic interests. _Coeur-de-Lion_, a new and more elaborate attempt in the mock-heroic or comico-didactic vein, had been on hand for some time, the scope of it greatly deepening and expanding itself since it first took hold of him; and now, soon after the Naples journey, it rose into shape on the wider plan; shaken up probably by this new excitement, and indebted to Calabria, Palermo and the Mediterranean scenes for much of the vesture it had. With this, which opened higher hopes for him than any of his previous efforts, he was now employing all his time and strength;–and continued to do so, this being the last effort granted him among us.
Already, for some months, _Strafford_ lay complete: but how to get it from the stocks; in what method to launch it? The step was questionable. Before going to Italy he had sent me the Manuscript; still loyal and friendly; and willing to hear the worst that could be said of his poetic enterprise. I had to afflict him again, the good brave soul, with the deliberate report that I could _not_ accept this Drama as his Picture of the Life of Strafford, or as any _Picture_ of that strange Fact. To which he answered, with an honest manfulness, in a tone which is now pathetic enough to me, that he was much grieved yet much obliged, and uncertain how to decide. On the other hand, Mr. Hare wrote, warmly eulogizing. Lockhart too spoke kindly, though taking some exceptions. It was a questionable case. On the whole, _Strafford_ remained, for the present, unlaunched; and _Coeur de-Lion_ was getting its first timbers diligently laid down. So passed, in peaceable seclusion, in wholesome employment and endeavor, the autumn and winter of 1842-43. On Christmas-day, he reports to his Mother:–
“I wished to write to you yesterday; but was prevented by the important business of preparing a Tree, in the German fashion, for the children. This project answered perfectly, as it did last year; and gave them the greatest pleasure. I wish you and my Father could have been here to see their merry faces. Johnny was in the thick of the fun, and much happier than Lord Anson on capturing the galleon. We are all going on well and quietly, but with nothing very new among us…. The last book I have lighted on is Moffat’s _Missionary Labors in South Africa_; which is worth reading. There is the best collection of lion stories in it that I have ever seen. But the man is, also, really a very good fellow; and fit for something much better than most lions are. He is very ignorant, and mistaken in some things; but has strong sense and heart; and his Narrative adds another to the many proofs of the enormous power of Christianity on rude minds. Nothing can be more chaotic, that is human at all, than the notions of these poor Blacks, even after what is called their conversion; but the effect is produced. They do adopt pantaloons, and abandon polygamy; and I suppose will soon have newspapers and literary soirees.”
DISASTER ON DISASTER.
DURING all these years of struggle and wayfaring, his Father’s household at Knightsbridge had stood healthful, happy, increasing in wealth, free diligence, solidity and honest prosperity: a fixed sunny islet, towards which, in all his voyagings and overclouded roamings, he could look with satisfaction, as to an ever-open port of refuge.
The elder Sterling, after many battles, had reached his field of conquest in these years; and was to be regarded as a victorious man. Wealth sufficient, increasing not diminishing, had rewarded his labors in the _Times_, which were now in their full flower; he had influence of a sort; went busily among busy public men; and enjoyed, in the questionable form attached to journalism and anonymity, a social consideration and position which were abundantly gratifying to him. A singular figure of the epoch; and when you came to know him, which it was easy to fail of doing if you had not eyes and candid insight, a gallant, truly gifted, and manful figure, of his kind. We saw much of him in this house; much of all his family; and had grown to love them all right well,–him too, though that was the difficult part of the feat. For in his Irish way he played the conjurer very much,–“three hundred and sixty-five opinions in the year upon every subject,” as a wag once said. In fact his talk, ever ingenious, emphatic and spirited in detail, was much defective in earnestness, at least in clear earnestness, of purport and outcome; but went tumbling as if in mere welters of explosive unreason; a volcano heaving under vague deluges of scoriae, ashes and imponderous pumice-stones, you could not say in what direction, nor well whether in any. Not till after good study did you see the deep molten lava-flood, which simmered steadily enough, and showed very well by and by whither it was bound. For I must say of Edward Sterling, after all his daily explosive sophistries, and fallacies of talk, he had a stubborn instinctive sense of what was manful, strong and worthy; recognized, with quick feeling, the charlatan under his solemnest wig; knew as clearly as any man a pusillanimous tailor in buckram, an ass under the lion’s skin, and did with his whole heart despise the same.
The sudden changes of doctrine in the _Times_, which failed not to excite loud censure and indignant amazement in those days, were first intelligible to you when you came to interpret them as his changes. These sudden whirls from east to west on his part, and total changes of party and articulate opinion at a day’s warning, lay in the nature of the man, and could not be helped; products of his fiery impatience, of the combined impetuosity and limitation of an intellect, which did nevertheless continually gravitate towards what was loyal, true and right on all manner of subjects. These, as I define them, were the mere scoriae and pumice wreck of a steady central lava-flood, which truly was volcanic and explosive to a strange degree, but did rest as few others on the grand fire-depths of the world. Thus, if he stormed along, ten thousand strong, in the time of the Reform Bill, indignantly denouncing Toryism and its obsolete insane pretensions; and then if, after some experience of Whig management, he discerned that Wellington and Peel, by whatever name entitled, were the men to be depended on by England,–there lay in all this, visible enough, a deeper consistency far more important than the superficial one, so much clamored after by the vulgar. Which is the lion’s-skin; which is the real lion? Let a man, if he is prudent, ascertain that before speaking;–but above and beyond all things, _let_ him ascertain it, and stand valiantly to it when ascertained! In the latter essential part of the operation Edward Sterling was honorably successful to a really marked degree; in the former, or prudential part, very much the reverse, as his history in the Journalistic department at least, was continually teaching him.
An amazingly impetuous, hasty, explosive man, this “Captain Whirlwind,” as I used to call him! Great sensibility lay in him, too; a real sympathy, and affectionate pity and softness, which he had an over-tendency to express even by tears,–a singular sight in so leonine a man. Enemies called them maudlin and hypocritical, these tears; but that was nowise the complete account of them. On the whole, there did conspicuously lie a dash of ostentation, a self-consciousness apt to become loud and braggart, over all he said and did and felt: this was the alloy of the man, and you had to be thankful for the abundant gold along with it.
Quizzing enough he got among us for all this, and for the singular _chiaroscuro_ manner of procedure, like that of an Archimagus Cagliostro, or Kaiser Joseph Incognito, which his anonymous known-unknown thunderings in the _Times_ necessitated in him; and much we laughed,–not without explosive counter-banterings on his part;–but, in fine, one could not do without him; one knew him at heart for a right brave man. “By Jove, sir!” thus he would swear to you, with radiant face; sometimes, not often, by a deeper oath. With persons of dignity, especially with women, to whom he was always very gallant, he had courtly delicate manners, verging towards the wire-drawn and elaborate; on common occasions, he bloomed out at once into jolly familiarity of the gracefully boisterous kind, reminding you of mess-rooms and old Dublin days. His off-hand mode of speech was always precise, emphatic, ingenious: his laugh, which was frequent rather than otherwise, had a sincerity of banter, but no real depth of sense for the ludicrous; and soon ended, if it grew too loud, in a mere dissonant scream. He was broad, well-built, stout of stature; had a long lowish head, sharp gray eyes, with large strong aquiline face to match; and walked, or sat, in an erect decisive manner. A remarkable man; and playing, especially in those years 1830-40, a remarkable part in the world.
For it may be said, the emphatic, big-voiced, always influential and often strongly unreasonable _Times_ Newspaper was the express emblem of Edward Sterling; he, more than any other man or circumstance, _was_ the _Times_ Newspaper, and thundered through it to the shaking of the spheres. And let us assert withal that his and its influence, in those days, was not ill grounded but rather well; that the loud manifold unreason, often enough vituperated and groaned over, was of the surface mostly; that his conclusions, unreasonable, partial, hasty as they might at first be, gravitated irresistibly towards the right: in virtue of which grand quality indeed, the root of all good insight in man, his _Times_ oratory found acceptance and influential audience, amid the loud whirl of an England itself logically very stupid, and wise chiefly by instinct.
England listened to this voice, as all might observe; and to one who knew England and it, the result was not quite a strange one, and was honorable rather than otherwise to both parties. A good judge of men’s talents has been heard to say of Edward Sterling: “There is not a _faculty of improvising_ equal to this in all my circle. Sterling rushes out into the clubs, into London society, rolls about all day, copiously talking modish nonsense or sense, and listening to the like, with the multifarious miscellany of men; comes home at night; redacts it into a _Times_ Leader,–and is found to have hit the essential purport of the world’s immeasurable babblement that day, with an accuracy beyond all other men. This is what the multifarious Babel sound did mean to say in clear words; this, more nearly than anything else. Let the most gifted intellect, capable of writing epics, try to write such a Leader for the Morning Newspapers! No intellect but Edward Sterling’s can do it. An improvising faculty without parallel in my experience.”–In this “improvising faculty,” much more nobly developed, as well as in other faculties and qualities with unexpectedly new and improved figure, John Sterling, to the accurate observer, showed himself very much the son of Edward.
Connected with this matter, a remarkable Note has come into my hands; honorable to the man I am writing of, and in some sort to another higher man; which, as it may now (unhappily for us all) be published without scruple, I will not withhold here. The support, by Edward Sterling and the _Times_, of Sir Robert Peel’s first Ministry, and generally of Peel’s statesmanship, was a conspicuous fact in its day; but the return it met with from the person chiefly interested may be considered well worth recording. The following Letter, after meandering through I know not what intricate conduits, and consultations of the Mysterious Entity whose address it bore, came to Edward Sterling as the real flesh-and-blood proprietor, and has been found among his papers. It is marked _Private_:–
“(Private) _To the Editor of the Times_. “WHITEHALL, 18th April, 1835.
“SIR,–Having this day delivered into the hands of the King the Seals of Office, I can, without any imputation of an interested motive, or any impediment from scrupulous feelings of delicacy, express my deep sense of the powerful support which that Government over which I had the honor to preside received from the _Times_ Newspaper.
“If I do not offer the expressions of personal gratitude, it is because I feel that such expressions would do injustice to the character of a support which was given exclusively on the highest and most independent grounds of public principle. I can say this with perfect truth, as I am addressing one whose person even is unknown to me, and who during my tenure of power studiously avoided every species of intercourse which could throw a suspicion upon the motives by which he was actuated. I should, however, be doing injustice to my own feelings, if I were to retire from Office without one word of acknowledgment; without at least assuring you of the admiration with which I witnessed, during the arduous contest in which I was engaged, the daily exhibition of that extraordinary ability to which I was indebted for a support, the more valuable because it was an impartial and discriminating support.–I have the honor to be, Sir,
“Ever your most obedient and faithful servant, “ROBERT PEEL.”
To which, with due loftiness and diplomatic gravity and brevity, there is Answer, Draught of Answer in Edward Sterling’s hand, from the Mysterious Entity so honored, in the following terms:–
“_To the Right Hon. Sir Robert Peel, Bart., &c. &c. &c_.
“SIR,–It gives me sincere satisfaction to learn from the Letter with which you have honored me, bearing yesterday’s date, that you estimate so highly the efforts which have been made during the last five months by the _Times_ Newspaper to support the cause of rational and wholesome Government which his Majesty had intrusted to your guidance; and that you appreciate fairly the disinterested motive, of regard to the public welfare, and to that alone, through which this Journal has been prompted to pursue a policy in accordance with that of your Administration. It is, permit me to say, by such motives only, that the _Times_, ever since I have known it, has been influenced, whether in defence of the Government of the day, or in constitutional resistance to it: and indeed there exist no other motives of action for a Journalist, compatible either with the safety of the press, or with the political morality of the great bulk of its readers.–With much respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, &c. &c. &c.
“THE EDITOR OF THE ‘TIMES.'”
Of this Note I do not think there was the least whisper during Edward Sterling’s lifetime; which fact also one likes to remember of him, so ostentatious and little-reticent a man. For the rest, his loyal admiration of Sir Robert Peel,–sanctioned, and as it were almost consecrated to his mind, by the great example of the Duke of Wellington, whom he reverenced always with true hero-worship,–was not a journalistic one, but a most intimate authentic feeling, sufficiently apparent in the very heart of his mind. Among the many opinions “liable to three hundred and sixty-five changes in the course of the year,” this in reference to Peel and Wellington was one which ever changed, but was the same all days and hours. To which, equally genuine, and coming still oftener to light in those times, there might one other be added, one and hardly more: fixed contempt, not unmingled with detestation, for Daniel O’Connell. This latter feeling, we used often laughingly to say, was his grand political principle, the one firm centre where all else went revolving. But internally the other also was deep and constant; and indeed these were properly his _two_ centres,–poles of the same axis, negative and positive, the one presupposing the other.
O’Connell he had known in young Dublin days;–and surely no man could well venerate another less! It was his deliberate, unalterable opinion of the then Great O, that good would never come of him; that only mischief, and this in huge measure, would come. That however showy, and adroit in rhetoric and management, he was a man of incurably commonplace intellect, and of no character but a hollow, blustery, pusillanimous and unsound one; great only in maudlin patriotisms, in speciosities, astucities,–in the miserable gifts for becoming Chief _Demagogos_, Leader of a deep-sunk Populace towards _its_ Lands of Promise; which trade, in any age or country, and especially in the Ireland of this age, our indignant friend regarded (and with reason) as an extremely ugly one for a man. He had himself zealously advocated Catholic Emancipation, and was not without his Irish patriotism, very different from the Orange sort; but the “Liberator” was not admirable to him, and grew daily less so to an extreme degree. Truly, his scorn of the said Liberator, now riding in supreme dominion on the wings of _blarney_, devil-ward of a surety, with the Liberated all following and huzzaing; his fierce gusts of wrath and abhorrence over him,–rose occasionally almost to the sublime. We laughed often at these vehemences:–and they were not wholly laughable; there was something very serious, and very true, in them! This creed of Edward Sterling’s would not now, in either pole of its axis, look so strange as it then did in many quarters.
During those ten years which might be defined as the culminating period of Edward Sterling’s life, his house at South Place, Knights bridge, had worn a gay and solid aspect, as if built at last on the high table-land of sunshine and success, the region of storms and dark weather now all victoriously traversed and lying safe below. Health, work, wages, whatever is needful to a man, he had, in rich measure; and a frank stout heart to guide the same: he lived in such style as pleased him; drove his own chariot up and down (himself often acting as Jehu, and reminding you a little of _Times_ thunder even in driving); consorted, after a fashion, with the powerful of the world; saw in due vicissitude a miscellany of social faces round him,–pleasant parties, which he liked well enough to garnish by a lord; “Irish lord, if no better might be,” as the banter went. For the rest, he loved men of worth and intellect, and recognized them well, whatever their title: this was his own patent of worth which Nature had given him; a central light in the man, which illuminated into a kind of beauty, serious or humorous, all the artificialities he had accumulated on the surface of him. So rolled his days, not quietly, yet prosperously, in manifold commerce with men. At one in the morning, when all had vanished into sleep, his lamp was kindled in his library; and there, twice or thrice a week, for a three-hours’ space, he launched his bolts, which next morning were to shake the high places of the world.
John’s relation to his Father, when one saw John here, was altogether frank, joyful and amiable: he ignored the _Times_ thunder for most part, coldly taking the Anonymous for non-extant; spoke of it floutingly, if he spoke at all: indeed a pleasant half-bantering dialect was the common one between Father and Son; and they, especially with the gentle, simple-hearted, just-minded Mother for treble-voice between them, made a very pretty glee-harmony together.
So had it lasted, ever since poor John’s voyagings began; his Father’s house standing always as a fixed sunny islet with safe harbor for him. So it could not always last. This sunny islet was now also to break and go down: so many firm islets, fixed pillars in his fluctuating world, pillar after pillar, were to break and go down; till swiftly all, so to speak, were sunk in the dark waters, and he with them! Our little History is now hastening to a close.
In the beginning of 1843 news reached us that Sterling had, in his too reckless way, encountered a dangerous accident: maids, in the room where he was, were lifting a heavy table; he, seeing them in difficulty, had snatched at the burden; heaved it away,–but had broken a blood-vessel by the business; and was now, after extensive hemorrhage, lying dangerously ill. The doctors hoped the worst was over; but the case was evidently serious. In the same days, too, his Mother had been seized here by some painful disease, which from its continuance grew alarming. Sad omens for Edward Sterling, who by this time had as good as ceased writing or working in the _Times_, having comfortably winded up his affairs there; and was looking forward to a freer idle life befitting his advanced years henceforth. Fatal eclipse had fallen over that household of his; never to be lifted off again till all darkened into night.
By dint of watchful nursing, John Sterling got on foot once more: but his Mother did not recover, quite the contrary. Her case too grew very questionable. Disease of the heart, said the medical men at last; not immediately, not perhaps for a length of years, dangerous to life, said they; but without hope of cure. The poor lady suffered much; and, though affecting hope always, grew weaker and weaker. John ran up to Town in March; I saw him, on the morrow or next day after, in his own room at Knightsbridge: he had caught fresh cold overnight, the servant having left his window up, but I was charged to say nothing of it, not to flutter the already troubled house: he was going home again that very day, and nothing ill would come of it. We understood the family at Falmouth, his Wife being now near her confinement again, could at any rate comport with no long absence. He was cheerful, even rudely merry; himself pale and ill, his poor Mother’s cough audible occasionally through the wall. Very kind, too, and gracefully affectionate; but I observed a certain grimness in his mood of mind, and under his light laughter lay something unusual, something stern, as if already dimmed in the coming shadows of Fate. “Yes, yes, you are a good man: but I understand they mean to appoint you to Rhadamanthus’s post, which has been vacant for some time; and you will see how you like that!” This was one of the things he said; a strange effulgence of wild drollery flashing through the ice of earnest pain and sorrow. He looked paler than usual: almost for the first time, I had myself a twinge of misgiving as to his own health; for hitherto I had been used to blame as much as pity his fits of dangerous illness, and would often angrily remonstrate with him that he might have excellent health, would he but take reasonable care of himself, and learn the art of sitting still. Alas, as if he _could_ learn it; as if Nature had not laid her ban on him even there, and said in smiles and frowns manifoldly, “No, that thou shalt not learn!”
He went that day; he never saw his good true Mother more. Very shortly afterwards, in spite of doctors’ prophecies, and affectionate illusions, she grew alarmingly and soon hopelessly worse. Here are his last two Letters to her:–
“_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_. “FALMOUTH 8th April, 1843.
“DEAREST MOTHER,–I could do you no good, but it would be the greatest comfort to me if I could be near you. Nothing would detain me but Susan’s condition. I feel that until her confinement is over, I ought to remain here,–unless you wished me to go to you; in which case she would be the first to send me off. Happily she is doing as well as possible, and seems even to gain strength every day. She sends her love to you.
“The children are all doing well. I rode with Edward to-day through some of the pleasant lanes in the neighborhood; and was delighted, as I have often been at the same season, to see the primroses under every hedge. It is pleasant to think that the Maker of them can make other flowers for the gardens of his other mansions. We have here a softness in the air, a smoothness of the clouds, and a mild sunshine, that combine in lovely peace with the first green of spring and the mellow whiteness of the sails upon the quiet sea. The whole aspect of the world is full of a quiet harmony, that influences even one’s bodily frame, and seems to make one’s very limbs aware of something living, good and immortal in all around us. Knowing how you suffer, and how weak you are, anything is a blessing to me that helps me to rise out of confusion and grief into the sense of God and joy. I could not indeed but feel how much happier I should have been, this morning, had you been with me, and delighting as you would have done in all the little as well as the large beauty of the world. But it was still a satisfaction to feel how much I owe to you of the power of perceiving meaning, reality and sweetness in all healthful life. And thus I could fancy that you were still near me; and that I could see you, as I have so often seen you, looking with earnest eyes at wayside flowers.
“I would rather not have written what must recall your thoughts to your present sufferings: but, dear Mother, I wrote only what I felt; and perhaps you would rather have it so, than that I should try to find other topics. I still hope to be with you before long. Meanwhile and always, God bless you, is the prayer of
“Your affectionate son,
_To the same_.
“FALMOUTH, 12th April, 1843.
“DEAREST MOTHER,–I have just received my Father’s Letter; which gives me at least the comfort of believing that you do not suffer very much pain. That your mind has remained so clear and strong, is an infinite blessing.
“I do not know anything in the world that would make up to me at all for wanting the recollection of the days I spent with you lately, when I was amazed at the freshness and life of all your thoughts. It brought back far-distant years, in the strangest, most peaceful way. I felt myself walking with you in Greenwich Park, and on the seashore at Sandgate; almost even I seemed a baby, with you bending over me. Dear Mother, there is surely something uniting us that cannot perish. I seem so sure of a love which shall last and reunite us, that even the remembrance, painful as that is, of all my own follies and ill tempers, cannot shake this faith. When I think of you, and know how you feel towards me, and have felt for every moment of almost forty years, it would be too dark to believe that we shall never meet again. It was from you that I first learnt to think, to feel, to imagine, to believe; and these powers, which cannot be extinguished, will one day enter anew into communion with you. I have bought it very dear by the prospect of losing you in this world,–but since you have been so ill, everything has seemed to me holier, loftier and more lasting, more full of hope and final joy.
“It would be a very great happiness to see you once more even here; but I do not know if that will be granted to me. But for Susan’s state, I should not hesitate an instant; as it is, my duty seems to be to remain, and I have no right to repine. There is no sacrifice that she would not make for me, and it would be too cruel to endanger her by mere anxiety on my account. Nothing can exceed her sympathy with my sorrow. But she cannot know, no one can, the recollections of all you have been and done for me; which now are the most sacred and deepest, as well as most beautiful, thoughts that abide with me. May God bless you, dearest Mother. It is much to believe that He feels for you all that you have ever felt for your children.
A day or two after this, “on Good Friday, 1843,” his Wife got happily through her confinement, bringing him, he writes, “a stout little girl, who and the Mother are doing as well as possible.” The little girl still lives and does well; but for the Mother there was another lot. Till the Monday following she too did altogether well, he affectionately watching her; but in the course of that day, some change for the worse was noticed, though nothing to alarm either the doctors or him; he watched by her bedside all night, still without alarm; but sent again in the morning, Tuesday morning, for the doctors,–Who did not seem able to make much of the symptoms. She appeared weak and low, but made no particular complaint. The London post meanwhile was announced; Sterling went into another room to learn what tidings of his Mother it brought him. Returning speedily with a face which in vain strove to be calm, his Wife asked, How at Knightsbridge? “My Mother is dead,” answered Sterling; “died on Sunday: She is gone.” “Poor old man! ” murmured the other, thinking of old Edward Sterling now left alone in the world; and these were her own last words: in two hours more she too was dead. In two hours Mother and Wife were suddenly both snatched away from him.
“It came with awful suddenness! ” writes he to his Clifton friend. “Still for a short time I had my Susan: but I soon saw that the medical men were in terror; and almost within half an hour of that fatal Knightsbridge news, I began to suspect our own pressing danger. I received her last breath upon my lips. Her mind was much sunk, and her perceptions slow; but a few minutes before the last, she must have caught the idea of dissolution; and signed that I should kiss her. She faltered painfully, ‘Yes! yes!’–returned with fervency the pressure of my lips; and in a few moments her eyes began to fix, her pulse to cease. She too is gone from me!” It was Tuesday morning, April 18th, 1843. His Mother had died on the Sunday before.
He had loved his excellent kind Mother, as he ought and well might: in that good heart, in all the wanderings of his own, there had ever been a shrine of warm pity, of mother’s love and blessed soft affections for him; and now it was closed in the Eternities forevermore. His poor Life-partner too, his other self, who had faithfully attended him so long in all his pilgrimings, cheerily footing the heavy tortuous ways along with him, can follow him no farther; sinks now at his side: “The rest of your pilgrimings alone, O Friend,–adieu, adieu!” She too is forever hidden from his eyes; and he stands, on the sudden, very solitary amid the tumult of fallen and falling things. “My little baby girl is doing well; poor little wreck cast upon the sea-beach of life. My children require me tenfold now. What I shall do, is all confusion and darkness.”
The younger Mrs. Sterling was a true good woman; loyal-hearted, willing to do well, and struggling wonderfully to do it amid her languors and infirmities; rescuing, in many ways, with beautiful female heroism and adroitness, what of fertility their uncertain, wandering, unfertile way of life still left possible, and cheerily making the most of it. A genial, pious and harmonious fund of character was in her; and withal an indolent, half-unconscious force of intellect, and justness and delicacy of perception, which the casual acquaintance scarcely gave her credit for. Sterling much respected her decision in matters literary; often altering and modifying where her feeling clearly went against him; and in verses especially trusting to her ear, which was excellent, while he knew his own to be worth little. I remember her melodious rich plaintive tone of voice; and an exceedingly bright smile which she sometimes had, effulgent with sunny gayety and true humor, among other fine qualities.
Sterling has lost much in these two hours; how much that has long been can never again be for him! Twice in one morning, so to speak, has a mighty wind smitten the corners of his house; and much lies in dismal ruins round him.
In this sudden avalanche of sorrows Sterling, weak and worn as we have seen, bore up manfully, and with pious valor fronted what had come upon him. He was not a man to yield to vain wailings, or make repinings at the unalterable: here was enough to be long mourned over; but here, for the moment, was very much imperatively requiring to be done. That evening, he called his children round him; spoke words of religious admonition and affection to them; said, “He must now be a Mother as well as Father to them.” On the evening of the funeral, writes Mr. Hare, he bade them good-night, adding these words, “If I am taken from you, God will take care of you.” He had six children left to his charge, two of them infants; and a dark outlook ahead of them and him. The good Mrs. Maurice, the children’s young Aunt, present at this time and often afterwards till all ended, was a great consolation.
Falmouth, it may be supposed, had grown a sorrowful place to him, peopled with haggard memories in his weak state; and now again, as had been usual with him, change of place suggested itself as a desirable alleviation;–and indeed, in some sort, as a necessity. He has “friends here,” he admits to himself, “whose kindness is beyond all price, all description;” but his little children, if anything befell him, have no relative within two hundred miles. He is now sole watcher over them; and his very life is so precarious; nay, at any rate, it would appear, he has to leave Falmouth every spring, or run the hazard of worse. Once more, what is to be done? Once more,–and now, as it turned out, for the last time.
A still gentler climate, greater proximity to London, where his Brother Anthony now was and most of his friends and interests were: these considerations recommended Ventnor, in the beautiful Southeastern corner of the Isle of Wight; where on inquiry an eligible house was found for sale. The house and its surrounding piece of ground, improvable both, were purchased; he removed thither in June of this year 1843; and set about improvements and adjustments on a frank scale. By the decease of his Mother, he had become rich in money; his share of the West-India properties having now fallen to him, which, added to his former incomings, made a revenue he could consider ample and abundant. Falmouth friends looked lovingly towards him, promising occasional visits; old Herstmonceux, which he often spoke of revisiting but never did, was not far off; and London, with all its resources and remembrances, was now again accessible. He resumed his work; and had hopes of again achieving something.
The Poem of _Coeur-de-Lion_ has been already mentioned, and the wider form and aim it had got since he first took it in hand. It was above a year before the date of these tragedies and changes, that he had sent me a Canto, or couple of Cantos, of _Coeur-de-Lion_; loyally again demanding my opinion, harsh as it had often been on that side. This time I felt right glad to answer in another tone: “That here was real felicity and ingenuity, on the prescribed conditions; a decisively rhythmic quality in this composition; thought and phraseology actually _dancing_, after a sort. What the plan and scope of the Work might be, he had not said, and I could not judge; but here was a light opulence of airy fancy, picturesque conception, vigorous delineation, all marching on as with cheerful drum and fife, if without more rich and complicated forms of melody: if a man _would_ write in metre, this sure enough was the way to try doing it.” For such encouragement from that stinted quarter, Sterling, I doubt not, was very thankful; and of course it might co-operate with the inspirations from his Naples Tour to further him a little in this his