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Chapter 14


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Carlyle

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