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Chapter 3


Sterling continued to reside at Herstmonceux through the spring and
summer; holding by the peaceable retired house he still had there,
till the vague future might more definitely shape itself, and better
point out what place of abode would suit him in his new circumstances.
He made frequent brief visits to London; in which I, among other
friends, frequently saw him, our acquaintance at each visit improving
in all ways. Like a swift dashing meteor he came into our circle;
coruscated among us, for a day or two, with sudden pleasant
illumination; then again suddenly withdrew,--we hoped, not for long.

I suppose, he was full of uncertainties; but undoubtedly was
gravitating towards London. Yet, on the whole, on the surface of him,
you saw no uncertainties; far from that: it seemed always rather with
peremptory resolutions, and swift express businesses, that he was
charged. Sickly in body, the testimony said: but here always was a
mind that gave you the impression of peremptory alertness, cheery
swift decision,--of a _health_ which you might have called exuberant.
I remember dialogues with him, of that year; one pleasant dialogue
under the trees of the Park (where now, in 1851, is the thing called
"Crystal Palace"), with the June sunset flinging long shadows for us;
the last of the Quality just vanishing for dinner, and the great night
beginning to prophesy of itself. Our talk (like that of the foregoing
Letter) was of the faults of my style, of my way of thinking, of my
&c. &c.; all which admonitions and remonstrances, so friendly and
innocent, from this young junior-senior, I was willing to listen to,
though unable, as usual, to get almost any practical hold of them. As
usual, the garments do not fit you, you are lost in the garments, or
you cannot get into them at all; this is not your suit of clothes, it
must be another's:--alas, these are not your dimensions, these are
only the optical angles you subtend; on the whole, you will never get
measured in that way!--

Another time, of date probably very contiguous, I remember hearing
Sterling preach. It was in some new college-chapel in Somerset-house
(I suppose, what is now called King's College); a very quiet small
place, the audience student-looking youths, with a few elder people,
perhaps mostly friends of the preacher's. The discourse, delivered
with a grave sonorous composure, and far surpassing in talent the
usual run of sermons, had withal an air of human veracity as I still
recollect, and bespoke dignity and piety of mind: but gave me the
impression rather of artistic excellence than of unction or
inspiration in that kind. Sterling returned with us to Chelsea that
day;--and in the afternoon we went on the Thames Putney-ward together,
we two with my Wife; under the sunny skies, on the quiet water, and
with copious cheery talk, the remembrance of which is still present
enough to me.

This was properly my only specimen of Sterling's preaching. Another
time, late in the same autumn, I did indeed attend him one evening to
some Church in the City,--a big Church behind Cheapside, "built by
Wren" as he carefully informed me;--but there, in my wearied mood, the
chief subject of reflection was the almost total vacancy of the place,
and how an eloquent soul was preaching to mere lamps and prayer-books;
and of the sermon I retain no image. It came up in the way of banter,
if he ever urged the duty of "Church extension," which already he very
seldom did and at length never, what a specimen we once had of bright
lamps, gilt prayer-books, baize-lined pews, Wren-built architecture;
and how, in almost all directions, you might have fired a musket
through the church, and hit no Christian life. A terrible outlook
indeed for the Apostolic laborer in the brick-and-mortar line!--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Carlyle

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