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Chapter 1


Matters once readjusted at Hastings, it was thought Sterling's health
had so improved, and his activities towards Literature so developed
themselves into congruity, that a permanent English place of abode
might now again be selected,--on the Southwest coast somewhere,--and
the family once more have the blessing of a home, and see its _lares_
and _penates_ and household furniture unlocked from the Pantechnicon
repositories, where they had so long been lying.

Clifton, by Bristol, with its soft Southern winds and high cheerful
situation, recommended too by the presence of one or more valuable
acquaintances there, was found to be the eligible place; and thither
in this summer of 1839, having found a tolerable lodging, with the
prospect by and by of an agreeable house, he and his removed. This
was the end of what I call his "third peregrinity;"--or reckoning the
West Indies one, his fourth. This also is, since Bayswater, the
fourth time his family has had to shift on his account. Bayswater;
then to Bordeaux, to Blackheath and Knightsbridge (during the Madeira
time), to Hastings (Roman time); and now to Clifton, not to stay there
either: a sadly nomadic life to be prescribed to a civilized man!

At Clifton his habitation was speedily enough set up; household
conveniences, methods of work, daily promenades on foot or horseback,
and before long even a circle of friends, or of kindly neighborhoods
ripening into intimacy, were established round him. In all this no
man could be more expert or expeditious, in such cases. It was with
singular facility, in a loving, hoping manner, that he threw himself
open to the new interests and capabilities of the new place; snatched
out of it whatsoever of human or material would suit him; and in
brief, in all senses had pitched his tent-habitation, and grew to look
on it as a house. It was beautiful too, as well as pathetic. This
man saw himself reduced to be a dweller in tents, his house is but a
stone tent; and he can so kindly accommodate himself to that
arrangement;--healthy faculty and diseased necessity, nature and
habit, and all manner of things primary and secondary, original and
incidental, conspiring now to make it easy for him. With the evils of
nomadism, he participated to the full in whatever benefits lie in it
for a man.

He had friends enough, old and new, at Clifton, whose intercourse made
the place human for him. Perhaps among the most valued of the former
sort may be mentioned Mrs. Edward Strachey, Widow of the late Indian
Judge, who now resided here; a cultivated, graceful, most devout and
high-minded lady; whom he had known in old years, first probably as
Charles Buller's Aunt, and whose esteem was constant for him, and
always precious to him. She was some ten or twelve years older than
he; she survived him some years, but is now also gone from us. Of new
friends acquired here, besides a skilful and ingenious Dr. Symonds,
physician as well as friend, the principal was Francis Newman, then
and still an ardently inquiring soul, of fine University and other
attainments, of sharp-cutting, restlessly advancing intellect, and the
mildest pious enthusiasm; whose worth, since better known to all the
world, Sterling highly estimated;--and indeed practically testified
the same; having by will appointed him, some years hence, guardian to
his eldest Son; which pious function Mr. Newman now successfully

Sterling was not long in certainty as to his abode at Clifton: alas,
where could he long be so? Hardly six months were gone when his old
enemy again overtook him; again admonished him how frail his hopes of
permanency were. Each winter, it turned out, he had to fly; and after
the second of these, he quitted the place altogether. Here,
meanwhile, in a Letter to myself, and in Excerpts from others, are
some glimpses of his advent and first summer there:--

_To his Mother_.

"_Clifton, June 11th_, 1839.--As yet I am personally very
uncomfortable from the general confusion of this house, which deprives
me of my room to sit and read and write in; all being more or less
lumbered by boxes, and invaded by servile domesticities aproned,
handled, bristled, and of nondescript varieties. We have very fine
warm weather, with occasional showers; and the verdure of the woods
and fields is very beautiful. Bristol seems as busy as need be; and
the shops and all kinds of practical conveniences are excellent; but
those of Clifton have the usual sentimental, not to say meretricious
fraudulence of commercial establishments in Watering-places.

"The bag which Hannah forgot reached us safely at Bath on Friday
morning; but I cannot quite unriddle the mystery of the change of
padlocks, for I left the right one in care of the Head Steam-engine at
Paddington, which seemed a very decent person with a good black coat
on, and a pen behind its ear. I have been meditating much on the
story of Palarea's 'box of papers;' which does not appear to be in my
possession, and I have a strong impression that I gave it to young
Florez Calderon. I will write to say so to Madam Torrijos speedily."
Palarea, Dr. Palarea, I understand, was "an old guerilla leader whom
they called _El Medico_." Of him and of the vanished shadows, now
gone to Paris, to Madrid, or out of the world, let us say nothing!

_To Mr. Carlyle_.

"_June 15th_, 1839.--We have a room now occupied by Robert Barton [a
brother-in-law]; to which Anthony may perhaps succeed; but which after
him, or in lieu of him, would expand itself to receive you. Is there
no hope of your coming? I would undertake to ride with you at all
possible paces, and in all existing directions.

"As yet my books are lying as ghost books, in a limbo on the banks of
a certain Bristolian Styx, humanly speaking, a _Canal_; but the other
apparatus of life is gathered about me, and performs its diurnal
functions. The place pleases me better than I expected: a far
lookout on all sides, over green country; a sufficient old City lying
in the hollow near; and civilization, in no tumultuous state, rather
indeed stagnant, visible in the Rows of Houses and Gardens which call
themselves Clifton. I hope soon to take a lease of a house, where I
may arrange myself more methodically; keep myself equably boiling in
my own kitchen; and spread myself over a series of book-shelves.... I
have just been interrupted by a visit from Mrs. Strachey; with whom I
dined yesterday. She seems a very good and thoroughly kind-hearted
woman; and it is pleasant to have her for a neighbor.... I have read
Emerson's Pamphlets. I should find it more difficult than ever to
write to him."

_To his Father_.

"_June 30th_, 1839.--Of Books I shall have no lack, though no
plethora; and the Reading-room supplies all one can want in the way of
Papers and Reviews. I go there three or four times a week, and
inquire how the human race goes on. I suppose this Turco-Egyptian War
will throw several diplomatists into a state of great excitement, and
massacre a good many thousands of Africans and Asiatics?--For the
present, it appears, the English Education Question is settled. I
wish the Government had said that, in their inspection and
superintendence, they would look only to secular matters, and leave
religious ones to the persons who set up the schools, whoever these
might be. It seems to me monstrous that the State should be prevented
taking any efficient measures for teaching Roman Catholic children to
read, write and cipher, merely because they believe in the Pope, and
the Pope is an impostor,--which I candidly confess he is! There is no
question which I can so ill endure to see made a party one as that of
Education."--The following is of the same day:--

"_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_.
"30th June, 1839.

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,--I have heard, this morning, from my Father, that
you are to set out on Tuesday for Scotland: so I have determined to
fillip away some spurt of ink in your direction, which may reach you
before you move towards Thule.

"Writing to you, in fact, is considerably easier than writing about
you; which has been my employment of late, at leisure moments,--that
is, moments of leisure from idleness, not work. As you partly
guessed, I took in hand a Review of _Teufelsdrockh_--for want of a
better Heuschrecke to do the work; and when I have been well enough,
and alert enough, during the last fortnight, have tried to set down
some notions about Tobacco, Radicalism, Christianity, Assafoetida and
so forth. But a few abortive pages are all the result as yet. If my
speculations should ever see daylight, they may chance to get you into
scrapes, but will certainly get me into worse.... But one must work;
_sic itur ad astra_,--and the _astra_ are always there to befriend
one, at least as asterisks, filling up the gaps which yawn in vain for

"Except my unsuccessful efforts to discuss you and your offences, I
have done nothing that leaves a trace behind;--unless the endeavor to
teach my little boy the Latin declensions shall be found, at some time
short of the Last Day, to have done so. I have--rather I think from
dyspepsia than dyspneumony--been often and for days disabled from
doing anything but read. In this way I have gone through a good deal
of Strauss's Book; which is exceedingly clever and clearheaded; with
more of insight, and less of destructive rage than I expected. It
will work deep and far, in such a time as ours. When so many minds
are distracted about the history, or rather genesis of the Gospel, it
is a great thing for partisans on the one side to have, what the other
never have wanted, a Book of which they can say, This is our Creed and
Code,--or rather Anti-creed and Anti-code. And Strauss seems
perfectly secure against the sort of answer to which Voltaire's
critical and historical shallowness perpetually exposed him. I mean
to read the Book through. It seems admitted that the orthodox
theologians have failed to give any sufficient answer.--I have also
looked through Michelet's _Luther_, with great delight; and have read
the fourth volume of Coleridge's _Literary Remains_, in which there
are things that would interest you. He has a great hankering after
Cromwell, and explicitly defends the execution of Charles.

"Of Mrs. Strachey we have seen a great deal; and might have seen more,
had I had time and spirits for it. She is a warm-hearted,
enthusiastic creature, whom one cannot but like. She seems always
excited by the wish for more excitement than her life affords. And
such a person is always in danger of doing something less wise than
his best knowledge and aspirations; because he must do something, and
circumstances do not allow him to do what he desires. Thence, after
the first glow of novelty, endless self-tormenting comes from the
contrast between aims and acts. She sets out, with her daughter and
two boys, for a Tour in Wales to-morrow morning. Her talk of you is
always most affectionate; and few, I guess, will read _Sartor_ with
more interest than she.

"I am still in a very extempore condition as to house, books, &c. One
which I have hired for three years will be given up to me in the
middle of August; and then I may hope to have something like a
house,--so far as that is possible for any one to whom Time itself is
often but a worse or a better kind of cave in the desert. We have had
rainy and cheerless weather almost since the day of our arrival. But
the sun now shines more lovingly, and the skies seem less disdainful
of man and his perplexities. The earth is green, abundant and
beautiful. But human life, so far as I can learn, is mean and meagre
enough in its purposes, however striking to the speculative or
sentimental bystander. Pray be assured that whatever you may say of
the 'landlord at Clifton,'[21] the more I know of him, the less I shall
like him. Well with me if I can put up with him for the present, and
make use of him, till at last I can joyfully turn him off forever!

"Love to you Wife and self. My little Charlotte desires me to tell
you that she has new shoes for her Doll, which she will show you when
you come.


The visit to Clifton never took effect; nor to any of Sterling's
subsequent homes; which now is matter of regret to me. Concerning the
"Review of _Teufelsdrockh_" there will be more to say anon. As to
"little Charlotte and her Doll," I remember well enough and was more
than once reminded, this bright little creature, on one of my first
visits to Bayswater, had earnestly applied to me to put her Doll's
shoes on for her; which feat was performed.--The next fragment
indicates a household settled, fallen into wholesome routine again;
and may close the series here:--

_To his Mother_.

"_July 22d_, 1839.--A few evenings ago we went to Mr. Griffin's, and
met there Dr. Prichard, the author of a well-known Book on the _Races
of Mankind_, to which it stands in the same relation among English
books as the Racing Calendar does to those of Horsekind. He is a very
intelligent, accomplished person. We had also there the Dean; a
certain Dr. ---- of Corpus College, Cambridge (a booby); and a clever
fellow, a Mr. Fisher, one of the Tutors of Trinity in my days. We had
a very pleasant evening."--

At London we were in the habit of expecting Sterling pretty often; his
presence, in this house as in others, was looked for, once in the
month or two, and came always as sunshine in the gray weather to me
and mine. My daily walks with him had long since been cut short
without renewal; that walk to Eltham and Edgeworth's perhaps the last
of the kind he and I had: but our intimacy, deepening and widening
year after year, knew no interruption or abatement of increase; an
honest, frank and truly human mutual relation, valuable or even
invaluable to both parties, and a lasting loss, hardly to be replaced
in this world, to the survivor of the two.

His visits, which were usually of two or three days, were always full
of business, rapid in movement as all his life was. To me, if
possible, he would come in the evening; a whole cornucopia of talk and
speculation was to be discharged. If the evening would not do, and my
affairs otherwise permitted, I had to mount into cabs with him; fly
far and wide, shuttling athwart the big Babel, wherever his calls and
pauses had to be. This was his way to husband time! Our talk, in
such straitened circumstances, was loud or low as the circumambient
groaning rage of wheels and sound prescribed,--very loud it had to be
in such thoroughfares as London Bridge and Cheapside; but except while
he was absent, off for minutes into some banker's office, lawyer's,
stationer's, haberdasher's or what office there might be, it never
paused. In this way extensive strange dialogues were carried on: to
me also very strange,--private friendly colloquies, on all manner of
rich subjects, held thus amid the chaotic roar of things. Sterling
was full of speculations, observations and bright sallies; vividly
awake to what was passing in the world; glanced pertinently with
victorious clearness, without spleen, though often enough with a dash
of mockery, into its Puseyisms, Liberalisms, literary Lionisms, or
what else the mad hour might be producing,--always prompt to recognize
what grain of sanity might be in the same. He was opulent in talk,
and the rapid movement and vicissitude on such occasions seemed to
give him new excitement.

Once, I still remember,--it was some years before, probably in May, on
his return from Madeira,--he undertook a day's riding with me; once
and never again. We coursed extensively, over the Hampstead and
Highgate regions, and the country beyond, sauntering or galloping
through many leafy lanes and pleasant places, in ever-flowing,
ever-changing talk; and returned down Regent Street at nightfall: one
of the cheerfulest days I ever had;--not to be repeated, said the
Fates. Sterling was charming on such occasions: at once a child and
a gifted man. A serious fund of thought he always had, a serious
drift you never missed in him: nor indeed had he much depth of real
laughter or sense of the ludicrous, as I have elsewhere said; but what
he had was genuine, free and continual: his sparkling sallies bubbled
up as from aerated natural fountains; a mild dash of gayety was native
to the man, and had moulded his physiognomy in a very graceful way.
We got once into a cab, about Charing Cross; I know not now whence or
well whitherward, nor that our haste was at all special; however, the
cabman, sensible that his pace was slowish, took to whipping, with a
steady, passionless, businesslike assiduity which, though the horse
seemed lazy rather than weak, became afflictive; and I urged
remonstrance with the savage fellow: "Let him alone," answered
Sterling; "he is kindling the enthusiasm of his horse, you perceive;
that is the first thing, then we shall do very well!"--as accordingly
we did.

At Clifton, though his thoughts began to turn more on poetic forms of
composition, he was diligent in prose elaborations too,--doing
Criticism, for one thing, as we incidentally observed. He wrote
there, and sent forth in this autumn of 1839, his most important
contribution to John Mill's Review, the article on _Carlyle_, which
stands also in Mr. Hare's collection.[22] What its effect on the
public was I knew not, and know not; but remember well, and may here
be permitted to acknowledge, the deep silent joy, not of a weak or
ignoble nature, which it gave to myself in my then mood and situation;
as it well might. The first generous human recognition, expressed
with heroic emphasis, and clear conviction visible amid its fiery
exaggeration, that one's poor battle in this world is not quite a mad
and futile, that it is perhaps a worthy and manful one, which will
come to something yet: this fact is a memorable one in every history;
and for me Sterling, often enough the stiff gainsayer in our private
communings, was the doer of this. The thought burnt in me like a
lamp, for several days; lighting up into a kind of heroic splendor the
sad volcanic wrecks, abysses, and convulsions of said poor battle, and
secretly I was very grateful to my daring friend, and am still, and
ought to be. What the public might be thinking about him and his
audacities, and me in consequence, or whether it thought at all, I
never learned, or much heeded to learn.

Sterling's gainsaying had given way on many points; but on others it
continued stiff as ever, as may be seen in that article; indeed he
fought Parthian-like in such cases, holding out his last position as
doggedly as the first: and to some of my notions he seemed to grow in
stubbornness of opposition, with the growing inevitability, and never
would surrender. Especially that doctrine of the "greatness and
fruitfulness of Silence," remained afflictive and incomprehensible:
"Silence?" he would say: "Yes, truly; if they give you leave to
proclaim silence by cannon-salvos! My Harpocrates-Stentor!" In like
manner, "Intellect and Virtue," how they are proportional, or are
indeed one gift in us, the same great summary of gifts; and again,
"Might and Right," the identity of these two, if a man will understand
this God's-Universe, and that only he who conforms to the law of it
can in the long-run have any "might:" all this, at the first blush,
often awakened Sterling's musketry upon me, and many volleys I have
had to stand,--the thing not being decidable by that kind of weapon or

In such cases your one method was to leave our friend in peace. By
small-arms practice no mortal could dislodge him: but if you were in
the right, the silent hours would work continually for you; and
Sterling, more certainly than any man, would and must at length swear
fealty to the right, and passionately adopt it, burying all
hostilities under foot. A more candid soul, once let the stormful
velocities of it expend themselves, was nowhere to be met with. A son
of light, if I have ever seen one; recognizing the truth, if truth
there were; hurling overboard his vanities, petulances, big and small
interests, in ready loyalty to truth: very beautiful; at once a loyal
child, as I said, and a gifted man!--Here is a very pertinent passage
from one of his Letters, which, though the name continues blank, I
will insert:--

_To his Father_.

"_October 15th_, 1839.--As to my 'over-estimate of ----,' your
expressions rather puzzle me. I suppose there may be, at the outside,
a hundred persons in England whose opinions on such a matter are worth
as much as mine. If by 'the public' you and my Mother mean the other
ninety-nine, I submit. I have no doubt that, on any matter not
relating peculiarly to myself, the judgment of the ninety-nine most
philosophical heads in the country, if unanimous, would be right, and
mine, if opposed to them, wrong. But then I am at a loss to make out,
How the decision of the very few really competent persons has been
ascertained to be thus in contradiction to me? And on the other hand,
I conceive myself, from my opportunities, knowledge and attention to
the subject, to be alone quite entitled to outvote tens of thousands
of gentlemen, however much my superiors as men of business, men of the
world, or men of merely dry or merely frivolous literature.

"I do not remember ever before to have heard the saying, whether of
Talleyrand or of any one else, That _all_ the world is a wiser man
than any man in the world. Had it been said even by the Devil, it
would nevertheless be false. I have often indeed heard the saying,
_On peut etre plus FIN qu'un autre, mais pas plus FIN que tous les
autres_. But observe that '_fin_' means _cunning_, not _wise_. The
difference between this assertion and the one you refer to is curious
and worth examining. It is quite certain, there is always some one
man in the world wiser than all the rest; as Socrates was declared by
the oracle to be; and as, I suppose, Bacon was in his day, and perhaps
Burke in his. There is also some one, whose opinion would be probably
true, if opposed to that of all around him; and it is always
indubitable that the wise men are the scores, and the unwise the
millions. The millions indeed come round, in the course of a
generation or two, to the opinions of the wise; but by that time a new
race of wise men have again shot ahead of their contemporaries: so it
has always been, and so, in the nature of things, it always must be.
But with cunning, the matter is quite different. Cunning is not
_dishonest wisdom_, which would be a contradiction in terms; it is
_dishonest prudence_, acuteness in practice, not in thought: and
though there must always be some one the most cunning in the world, as
well as some one the most wise, these two superlatives will fare very
differently in the world. In the case of cunning, the shrewdness of a
whole people, of a whole generation, may doubtless be combined against
that of the one, and so triumph over it; which was pretty much the
case with Napoleon. But although a man of the greatest cunning can
hardly conceal his designs and true character from millions of
unfriendly eyes, it is quite impossible thus to club the eyes of the
mind, and to constitute by the union of ten thousand follies an
equivalent for a single wisdom. A hundred school-boys can easily
unite and thrash their one master; but a hundred thousand school-boys
would not be nearer than a score to knowing as much Greek among them
as Bentley or Scaliger. To all which, I believe, you will assent as
readily as I;--and I have written it down only because I have nothing
more important to say."--

Besides his prose labors, Sterling had by this time written,
publishing chiefly in _Blackwood_, a large assortment of verses,
_Sexton's Daughter_, _Hymns of a Hermit_, and I know not what other
extensive stock of pieces; concerning which he was now somewhat at a
loss as to his true course. He could write verses with astonishing
facility, in any given form of metre; and to various readers they
seemed excellent, and high judges had freely called them so, but he
himself had grave misgivings on that latter essential point. In fact
here once more was a parting of the ways, "Write in Poetry; write in
Prose?" upon which, before all else, it much concerned him to come to
a settlement.

My own advice was, as it had always been, steady against Poetry; and
we had colloquies upon it, which must have tried his patience, for in
him there was a strong leaning the other way. But, as I remarked and
urged: Had he not already gained superior excellence in delivering,
by way of _speech_ or prose, what thoughts were in him, which is the
grand and only intrinsic function of a writing man, call him by what
title you will? Cultivate that superior excellence till it become a
perfect and superlative one. Why _sing_ your bits of thoughts, if you
_can_ contrive to speak them? By your thought, not by your mode of
delivering it, you must live or die.--Besides I had to observe there
was in Sterling intrinsically no depth of _tune_; which surely is the
real test of a Poet or Singer, as distinguished from a Speaker? In
music proper he had not the slightest ear; all music was mere
impertinent noise to him, nothing in it perceptible but the mere march
or time. Nor in his way of conception and utterance, in the verses he
wrote, was there any contradiction, but a constant confirmation to me,
of that fatal prognostic;--as indeed the whole man, in ear and heart
and tongue, is one; and he whose soul does not sing, need not try to
do it with his throat. Sterling's verses had a monotonous rub-a-dub,
instead of tune; no trace of music deeper than that of a well-beaten
drum; to which limited range of excellence the substance also
corresponded; being intrinsically always a rhymed and slightly
rhythmical _speech_, not a _song_.

In short, all seemed to me to say, in his case: "You can speak with
supreme excellence; sing with considerable excellence you never can.
And the Age itself, does it not, beyond most ages, demand and require
clear speech; an Age incapable of being sung to, in any but a trivial
manner, till these convulsive agonies and wild revolutionary
overturnings readjust themselves? Intelligible word of command, not
musical psalmody and fiddling, is possible in this fell storm of
battle. Beyond all ages, our Age admonishes whatsoever thinking or
writing man it has: Oh, speak to me some wise intelligible speech;
your wise meaning in the shortest and clearest way; behold I am dying
for want of wise meaning, and insight into the devouring fact: speak,
if you have any wisdom! As to song so called, and your fiddling
talent,--even if you have one, much more if you have none,--we will
talk of that a couple of centuries hence, when things are calmer
again. Homer shall be thrice welcome; but only when Troy is _taken_:
alas, while the siege lasts, and battle's fury rages everywhere, what
can I do with the Homer? I want Achilleus and Odysseus, and am
enraged to see them trying to be Homers!"--

Sterling, who respected my sincerity, and always was amenable enough
to counsel, was doubtless much confused by such contradictory
diagnosis of his case. The question, Poetry or Prose? became more
and more pressing, more and more insoluble. He decided, at last, to
appeal to the public upon it;--got ready, in the late autumn, a small
select Volume of his verses; and was now busy pushing it through the
press. Unfortunately, in the mean while, a grave illness, of the old
pulmonary sort, overtook him, which at one time threatened to be
dangerous. This is a glance again into his interior household in
these circumstances:--

_To his Mother_.

"_December 21st_, 1839.--The Tin box came quite safe, with all its
miscellaneous contents. I suppose we are to thank you for the _Comic
Almanac_, which, as usual, is very amusing; and for the Book on
_Watt_, which disappointed me. The scientific part is no doubt very
good, and particularly clear and simple; but there is nothing
remarkable in the account of Watt's character; and it is an absurd
piece of French impertinence in Arago to say, that England has not yet
learnt to appreciate men like Watt, because he was not made a peer;
which, were our peerage an institution like that of France, would have
been very proper.

"I have now finished correcting the proofs of my little Volume of
Poems. It has been a great plague to me, and one that I would not
have incurred, had I expected to be laid up as I have been; but the
matter was begun before I had any notion of being disabled by such an
illness,--the severest I have suffered since I went to the West
Indies. The Book will, after all, be a botched business in many
respects; and I much doubt whether it will pay its expenses: but I
try to consider it as out of my hands, and not to fret myself about
it. I shall be very curious to see Carlyle's Tractate on _Chartism_;
which"--But we need not enter upon that.

Sterling's little Book was printed at his own expense;[23] published by
Moxon in the very end of this year. It carries an appropriate and
pretty Epigraph:--

"Feeling, Thought, and Fancy be
Gentle sister Graces three:
If these prove averse to me,
They will punish,--pardon Ye!"

He had dedicated the little Volume to Mr. Hare;--and he submitted very
patiently to the discouraging neglect with which it was received by
the world; for indeed the "Ye" said nothing audible, in the way of
pardon or other doom; so that whether the "sister Graces" were averse
or not, remained as doubtful as ever.

Thomas Carlyle

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