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Chapter 1


CURATE.

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

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

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

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


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


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

Thomas Carlyle

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