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Chapter 10

TORRIJOS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yours affectionately,
"J. STERLING."

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thomas Carlyle

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