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Chapter 2

BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.

John Sterling was born at Kaimes Castle, a kind of dilapidated
baronial residence to which a small farm was then attached, rented by
his Father, in the Isle of Bute,--on the 20th July, 1806. Both his
parents were Irish by birth, Scotch by extraction; and became, as he
himself did, essentially English by long residence and habit. Of John
himself Scotland has little or nothing to claim except the birth and
genealogy, for he left it almost before the years of memory; and in
his mature days regarded it, if with a little more recognition and
intelligence, yet without more participation in any of its accents
outward or inward, than others natives of Middlesex or Surrey, where
the scene of his chief education lay.

The climate of Bute is rainy, soft of temperature; with skies of
unusual depth and brilliancy, while the weather is fair. In that soft
rainy climate, on that wild-wooded rocky coast, with its gnarled
mountains and green silent valleys, with its seething rain-storms and
many-sounding seas, was young Sterling ushered into his first
schooling in this world. I remember one little anecdote his Father
told me of those first years: One of the cows had calved; young John,
still in petticoats, was permitted to go, holding by his father's
hand, and look at the newly arrived calf; a mystery which he surveyed
with open intent eyes, and the silent exercise of all the scientific
faculties he had;--very strange mystery indeed, this new arrival, and
fresh denizen of our Universe: "Wull't eat a-body?" said John in his
first practical Scotch, inquiring into the tendencies this mystery
might have to fall upon a little fellow and consume him as provision:
"Will it eat one, Father?"--Poor little open-eyed John: the family
long bantered him with this anecdote; and we, in far other years,
laughed heartily on hearing it.--Simple peasant laborers, ploughers,
house-servants, occasional fisher-people too; and the sight of ships,
and crops, and Nature's doings where Art has little meddled with her:
this was the kind of schooling our young friend had, first of all; on
this bench of the grand world-school did he sit, for the first four
years of his life.

Edward Sterling his Father, a man who subsequently came to
considerable notice in the world, was originally of Waterford in
Munster; son of the Episcopalian Clergyman there; and chief
representative of a family of some standing in those parts. Family
founded, it appears, by a Colonel Robert Sterling, called also Sir
Robert Sterling; a Scottish Gustavus-Adolphus soldier, whom the
breaking out of the Civil War had recalled from his German
campaignings, and had before long, though not till after some
waverings on his part, attached firmly to the Duke of Ormond and to
the King's Party in that quarrel. A little bit of genealogy, since it
lies ready to my hand, gathered long ago out of wider studies, and
pleasantly connects things individual and present with the dim
universal crowd of things past,--may as well be inserted here as
thrown away.

This Colonel Robert designates himself Sterling "of Glorat;" I
believe, a younger branch of the well-known Stirlings of Keir in
Stirlingshire. It appears he prospered in his soldiering and other
business, in those bad Ormond times; being a man of energy, ardor and
intelligence,--probably prompt enough both with his word and with his
stroke. There survives yet, in the Commons Journals,[2] dim notice of
his controversies and adventures; especially of one controversy he had
got into with certain victorious Parliamentary official parties, while
his own party lay vanquished, during what was called the Ormond
Cessation, or Temporary Peace made by Ormond with the Parliament in
1646:--in which controversy Colonel Robert, after repeated
applications, journeyings to London, attendances upon committees, and
such like, finds himself worsted, declared to be in the wrong; and so
vanishes from the Commons Journals.

What became of him when Cromwell got to Ireland, and to Munster, I
have not heard: his knighthood, dating from the very year of
Cromwell's Invasion (1649), indicates a man expected to do his best on
the occasion:--as in all probability he did; had not Tredah Storm
proved ruinous, and the neck of this Irish War been broken at once.
Doubtless the Colonel Sir Robert followed or attended his Duke of
Ormond into foreign parts, and gave up his management of Munster,
while it was yet time: for after the Restoration we find him again,
safe, and as was natural, flourishing with new splendor; gifted,
recompensed with lands;--settled, in short, on fair revenues in those
Munster regions. He appears to have had no children; but to have left
his property to William, a younger brother who had followed him into
Ireland. From this William descends the family which, in the years we
treat of, had Edward Sterling, Father of our John, for its
representative. And now enough of genealogy.


Of Edward Sterling, Captain Edward Sterling as his title was, who in
the latter period of his life became well known in London political
society, whom indeed all England, with a curious mixture of mockery
and respect and even fear, knew well as "the Thunderer of the Times
Newspaper," there were much to be said, did the present task and its
limits permit. As perhaps it might, on certain terms? What is
indispensable let us not omit to say. The history of a man's
childhood is the description of his parents and environment: this is
his inarticulate but highly important history, in those first times,
while of articulate he has yet none.

Edward Sterling had now just entered on his thirty-fourth year; and
was already a man experienced in fortunes and changes. A native of
Waterford in Munster, as already mentioned; born in the "Deanery House
of Waterford, 27th February, 1773," say the registers. For his
Father, as we learn, resided in the Deanery House, though he was not
himself Dean, but only "Curate of the Cathedral" (whatever that may
mean); he was withal rector of two other livings, and the Dean's
friend,--friend indeed of the Dean's kinsmen the Beresfords generally;
whose grand house of Curraghmore, near by Waterford, was a familiar
haunt of his and his children's. This reverend gentleman, along with
his three livings and high acquaintanceships, had inherited political
connections;--inherited especially a Government Pension, with
survivorship for still one life beyond his own; his father having been
Clerk of the Irish House of Commons at the time of the Union, of which
office the lost salary was compensated in this way. The Pension was
of two hundred pounds; and only expired with the life of Edward,
John's Father, in 1847. There were, and still are, daughters of the
family; but Edward was the only son;--descended, too, from the
Scottish hero Wallace, as the old gentleman would sometimes admonish
him; his own wife, Edward's mother, being of that name, and boasting
herself, as most Scotch Wallaces do, to have that blood in her veins.

This Edward had picked up, at Waterford, and among the young
Beresfords of Curraghmore and elsewhere, a thoroughly Irish form of
character: fire and fervor, vitality of all kinds, in genial
abundance; but in a much more loquacious, ostentatious, much _louder_
style than is freely patronized on this side of the Channel. Of Irish
accent in speech he had entirely divested himself, so as not to be
traced by any vestige in that respect; but his Irish accent of
character, in all manner of other more important respects, was very
recognizable. An impetuous man, full of real energy, and immensely
conscious of the same; who transacted everything not with the minimum
of fuss and noise, but with the maximum: a very Captain Whirlwind, as
one was tempted to call him.

In youth, he had studied at Trinity College, Dublin; visited the Inns
of Court here, and trained himself for the Irish Bar. To the Bar he
had been duly called, and was waiting for the results,--when, in his
twenty-fifth year, the Irish Rebellion broke out; whereupon the Irish
Barristers decided to raise a corps of loyal Volunteers, and a
complete change introduced itself into Edward Sterling's way of life.
For, naturally, he had joined the array of Volunteers;--fought, I have
heard, "in three actions with the rebels" (Vinegar Hill, for one); and
doubtless fought well: but in the mess-rooms, among the young
military and civil officials, with all of whom he was a favorite, he
had acquired a taste for soldier life, and perhaps high hopes of
succeeding in it: at all events, having a commission in the
Lancashire Militia offered him, he accepted that; altogether quitted
the Bar, and became Captain Sterling thenceforth. From the Militia,
it appears, he had volunteered with his Company into the Line; and,
under some disappointments, and official delays of expected promotion,
was continuing to serve as Captain there, "Captain of the Eighth
Battalion of Reserve," say the Military Almanacs of 1803,--in which
year the quarters happened to be Derry, where new events awaited him.
At a ball in Derry he met with Miss Hester Coningham, the queen of the
scene, and of the fair world in Derry at that time. The acquaintance,
in spite of some Opposition, grew with vigor, and rapidly ripened:
and "at Fehan Church, Diocese of Derry," where the Bride's father had
a country-house, "on Thursday 5th April, 1804, Hester Coningham, only
daughter of John Coningham, Esquire, Merchant in Derry, and of
Elizabeth Campbell his wife," was wedded to Captain Sterling; she
happiest to him happiest,--as by Nature's kind law it is arranged.

Mrs. Sterling, even in her later days, had still traces of the old
beauty: then and always she was a woman of delicate, pious,
affectionate character; exemplary as a wife, a mother and a friend. A
refined female nature; something tremulous in it, timid, and with a
certain rural freshness still unweakened by long converse with the
world. The tall slim figure, always of a kind of quaker neatness; the
innocent anxious face, anxious bright hazel eyes; the timid, yet
gracefully cordial ways, the natural intelligence, instinctive sense
and worth, were very characteristic. Her voice too; with its
something of soft querulousness, easily adapting itself to a light
thin-flowing style of mirth on occasion, was characteristic: she had
retained her Ulster intonations, and was withal somewhat copious in
speech. A fine tremulously sensitive nature, strong chiefly on the
side of the affections, and the graceful insights and activities that
depend on these:--truly a beautiful, much-suffering, much-loving
house-mother. From her chiefly, as one could discern, John Sterling
had derived the delicate _aroma_ of his nature, its piety, clearness,
sincerity; as from his Father, the ready practical gifts, the
impetuosities and the audacities, were also (though in strange new
form) visibly inherited. A man was lucky to have such a Mother; to
have such Parents as both his were.

Meanwhile the new Wife appears to have had, for the present, no
marriage-portion; neither was Edward Sterling rich,--according to his
own ideas and aims, far from it. Of course he soon found that the
fluctuating barrack-life, especially with no outlooks of speedy
promotion, was little suited to his new circumstances: but how change
it? His father was now dead; from whom he had inherited the Speaker
Pension of two hundred pounds; but of available probably little or
nothing more. The rents of the small family estate, I suppose, and
other property, had gone to portion sisters. Two hundred pounds, and
the pay of a marching captain: within the limits of that revenue all
plans of his had to restrict themselves at present.

He continued for some time longer in the Army; his wife undivided from
him by the hardships, of that way of life. Their first son Anthony
(Captain Anthony Sterling, the only child who now survives) was born
to them in this position, while lying at Dundalk, in January, 1805.
Two months later, some eleven months after their marriage, the
regiment was broken; and Captain Sterling, declining to serve
elsewhere on the terms offered, and willingly accepting such decision
of his doubts, was reduced to half-pay. This was the end of his
soldiering: some five or six years in all; from which he had derived
for life, among other things, a decided military bearing, whereof he
was rather proud; an incapacity for practicing law;--and considerable
uncertainty as to what his next course of life was now to be.

For the present, his views lay towards farming: to establish himself,
if not as country gentleman, which was an unattainable ambition, then
at least as some kind of gentleman-farmer which had a flattering
resemblance to that. Kaimes Castle with a reasonable extent of land,
which, in his inquiries after farms, had turned up, was his first
place of settlement in this new capacity; and here, for some few
months, he had established himself when John his second child was
born. This was Captain Sterling's first attempt towards a fixed
course of life; not a very wise one, I have understood:--yet on the
whole, who, then and there, could have pointed out to him a wiser?

A fixed course of life and activity he could never attain, or not till
very late; and this doubtless was among the important points of his
destiny, and acted both on his own character and that of those who had
to attend him on his wayfarings.

Thomas Carlyle

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