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Chapter 2


As we said above, it had been hoped by Sterling's friends, not very
confidently by himself, that in the gentler air of Clifton his health
might so far recover as to enable him to dispense with autumnal
voyages, and to spend the year all round in a house of his own. These
hopes, favorable while the warm season lasted, broke down when winter
came. In November of this same year, while his little Volume was
passing through the press, bad and worse symptoms, spitting of blood
to crown the sad list, reappeared; and Sterling had to equip himself
again, at this late season, for a new flight to Madeira; wherein the
good Calvert, himself suffering, and ready on all grounds for such an
adventure, offered to accompany him. Sterling went by land to
Falmouth, meaning there to wait for Calvert, who was to come by the
Madeira Packet, and there take him on board.

Calvert and the Packet did arrive, in stormy January weather; which
continued wildly blowing for weeks; forbidding all egress Westward,
especially for invalids. These elemental tumults, and blustering wars
of sea and sky, with nothing but the misty solitude of Madeira in the
distance, formed a very discouraging outlook. In the mean while
Falmouth itself had offered so many resources, and seemed so tolerable
in climate and otherwise, while this wintry ocean looked so
inhospitable for invalids, it was resolved our voyagers should stay
where they were till spring returned. Which accordingly was done;
with good effect for that season, and also with results for the coming
seasons. Here again, from Letters to Knightsbridge, are some glimpses
of his winter-life:--

"_Falmouth, February 5th_, 1840.--I have been to-day to see a new
tin-mine, two or three miles off, which is expected to turn into a
copper-mine by and by, so they will have the two constituents of
bronze close together. This, by the way, was the 'brass' of Homer and
the Ancients generally, who do not seem to have known our brass made
of copper and zinc. Achilles in his armor must have looked like a
bronze statue.--I took Sheridan's advice, and did not go down the

"_February 15th_.--To some iron-works the other day; where I saw half
the beam of a great steam-engine, a piece of iron forty feet long and
seven broad, cast in about five minutes. It was a very striking
spectacle. I hope to go to Penzance before I leave this country, and
will not fail to tell you about it." He did make trial of Penzance,
among other places, next year; but only of Falmouth this.

"_February 20th_.--I am going on _asy_ here, in spite of a great
change of weather. The East-winds are come at last, bringing with
them snow, which has been driving about for the last twenty-four
hours; not falling heavily, nor lying long when fallen. Neither is it
as yet very cold, but I suppose there will be some six weeks of
unpleasant temperature. The marine climate of this part of England
will, no doubt, modify and mollify the air into a happier sort of
substance than that you breathe in London.

"The large vessels that had been lying here for weeks, waiting for a
wind, have now sailed; two of them for the East Indies, and having
three hundred soldiers on board. It is a curious thing that the
long-continued westerly winds had so prevented the coasters arriving,
that the Town was almost on the point of a famine as to bread. The
change has brought in abundance of flour.--The people in general seem
extremely comfortable; their houses are excellent, almost all of
stone. Their habits are very little agricultural, but mining and
fishing seem to prosper with them. There are hardly any gentry here;
I have not seen more than two gentlemen's carriages in the Town;
indeed I think the nearest one comes from five miles off....

"I have been obliged to try to occupy myself with Natural Science, in
order to give some interest to my walks; and have begun to feel my way
in Geology. I have now learnt to recognize three or four of the
common kinds of stone about here, when I see them; but I find it
stupid work compared with Poetry and Philosophy. In the mornings,
however, for an hour or so before I get up, I generally light my
candle, and try to write some verses; and since I have been here, I
have put together short poems, almost enough for another small volume.
In the evenings I have gone on translating some of Goethe. But six or
seven hours spent on my legs, in the open air, do not leave my brain
much energy for thinking. Thus my life is a dull and unprofitable
one, but still better than it would have been in Madeira or on board
ship. I hear from Susan every day, and write to her by return of

At Falmouth Sterling had been warmly welcomed by the well-known Quaker
family of the Foxes, principal people in that place, persons of
cultivated opulent habits, and joining to the fine purities and
pieties of their sect a reverence for human intelligence in all kinds;
to whom such a visitor as Sterling was naturally a welcome windfall.
The family had grave elders, bright cheery younger branches, men and
women; truly amiable all, after their sort: they made a pleasant
image of home for Sterling in his winter exile. "Most worthy,
respectable and highly cultivated people, with a great deal of money
among them," writes Sterling in the end of February; "who make the
place pleasant to me. They are connected with all the large Quaker
circle, the Gurneys, Frys, &c., and also with Buxton the Abolitionist.
It is droll to hear them talking of all the common topics of science,
literature, and life, and in the midst of it: 'Does thou know
Wordsworth?' or, 'Did thou see the Coronation?' or 'Will thou take
some refreshment?' They are very kind and pleasant people to know."

"Calvert," continues our Diarist, "is better than he lately was,
though he has not been at all laid up. He shoots little birds, and
dissects and stuffs them; while I carry a hammer, and break flints and
slates, to look for diamonds and rubies inside; and admire my success
in the evening, when I empty my great-coat pocket of its specimens.
On the whole, I doubt whether my physical proceedings will set the
Thames on fire. Give my love to Anthony's Charlotte; also remember me
affectionately to the Carlyles."--

At this time, too, John Mill, probably encouraged by Sterling, arrived
in Falmouth, seeking refuge of climate for a sickly younger Brother,
to whom also, while he continued there, and to his poor patient, the
doors and hearts of this kind family were thrown wide open. Falmouth,
during these winter weeks, especially while Mill continued, was an
unexpectedly engaging place to Sterling; and he left it in spring, for
Clifton, with a very kindly image of it in his thoughts. So ended,
better than it might have done, his first year's flight from the
Clifton winter.

In April, 1840, he was at his own hearth again; cheerily pursuing his
old labors,--struggling to redeem, as he did with a gallant constancy,
the available months and days, out of the wreck of so many that were
unavailable, for the business allotted him in this world. His swift,
decisive energy of character; the valiant rally he made again and ever
again, starting up fresh from amid the wounded, and cheerily storming
in anew, was admirable, and showed a noble fund of natural health amid
such an element of disease. Somehow one could never rightly fancy
that he was diseased; that those fatal ever-recurring downbreaks were
not almost rather the penalties paid for exuberance of health, and of
faculty for living and working; criminal forfeitures, incurred by
excess of self-exertion and such irrepressible over-rapidity of
movement: and the vague hope was habitual with us, that increase of
years, as it deadened this over-energy, would first make the man
secure of life, and a sober prosperous worker among his fellows. It
was always as if with a kind of blame that one heard of his being ill
again! Poor Sterling;--no man knows another's burden: these things
were not, and were not to be, in the way we had fancied them!

Summer went along in its usual quiet tenor at Clifton; health good, as
usual while the warm weather lasted, and activity abundant; the scene
as still as the busiest could wish. "You metropolitan signors,"
writes Sterling to his Father, "cannot conceive the dulness and
scantiness of our provincial chronicle." Here is a little excursion
to the seaside; the lady of the family being again,--for good
reasons,--in a weakly state:--

"_To Edward Sterling, Esq., Knightsbridge, London_.
"PORTSHEAD, BRISTOL, 1st Sept., 1840.

"MY DEAR FATHER,--This place is a southern headland at the mouth of
the Avon. Susan, and the Children too, were all suffering from
languor; and as she is quite unfit to travel in a carriage, we were
obliged to move, if at all, to some place accessible by water; and
this is the nearest where we could get the fresher air of the Bristol
Channel. We sent to take a house, for a week; and came down here in a
steamer yesterday morning. It seems likely to do every one good. We
have a comfortable house, with eight rather small bedrooms, for which
we pay four guineas and a half for the week. We have brought three of
our own maids, and leave one to take care of the house at Clifton.

"A week ago my horse fell with me, but did not hurt seriously either
himself or me: it was, however, rather hard that, as there were six
legs to be damaged, the one that did scratch itself should belong to
the part of the machine possessing only two, instead of the
quadrupedal portion. I grazed about the size of a halfpenny on my
left knee; and for a couple of days walked about as if nothing had
happened. I found, however, that the skin was not returning
correctly; and so sent for a doctor: he treated the thing as quite
insignificant, but said I must keep my leg quiet for a few days. It
is still not quite healed; and I lie all day on a sofa, much to my
discomposure; but the thing is now rapidly disappearing; and I hope,
in a day or two more, I shall be free again. I find I can do no work,
while thus crippled in my leg. The man in Horace who made verses
_stans pede in uno_ had the advantage of me.

"The Great Western came in last night about eleven, and has just been
making a flourish past our windows; looking very grand, with four
streamers of bunting, and one of smoke. Of course I do not yet know
whether I have Letters by her, as if so they will have gone to Clifton
first. This place is quiet, green and pleasant; and will suit us very
well, if we have good weather, of which there seems every appearance.

"Milnes spent last Sunday with me at Clifton; and was very amusing and
cordial. It is impossible for those who know him well not to like
him.--I send this to Knightsbridge, not knowing where else to hit you.
Love to my Mother.

"Your affectionate,

The expected "Letters by the Great Western" are from Anthony, now in
Canada, doing military duties there. The "Milnes" is our excellent
Richard, whom all men know, and truly whom none can know well without
even doing as Sterling says.--In a week the family had returned to
Clifton; and Sterling was at his poetizings and equitations again.
His grand business was now Poetry; all effort, outlook and aim
exclusively directed thither, this good while.

Of the published Volume Moxon gave the worst tidings; no man had
hailed it with welcome; unsold it lay, under the leaden seal of
general neglect; the public when asked what it thought, had answered
hitherto by a lazy stare. It shall answer otherwise, thought
Sterling; by no means taking that as the final response. It was in
this same September that he announced to me and other friends, under
seal of secrecy as usual, the completion, or complete first-draught,
of "a new Poem reaching to two thousand verses." By working "three
hours every morning" he had brought it so far. This Piece, entitled
_The Election_, of which in due time we obtained perusal, and had to
give some judgment, proved to be in a new vein,--what might be called
the mock-heroic, or sentimental Hudibrastic, reminding one a little,
too, of Wieland's _Oberon_;--it had touches of true drollery combined
not ill with grave clear insight; showed spirit everywhere, and a
plainly improved power of execution. Our stingy verdict was to the
effect, "Better, but still not good enough:--why follow that sad
'metrical' course, climbing the loose sandhills, when you have a firm
path along the plain?" To Sterling himself it remained dubious
whether so slight a strain, new though it were, would suffice to
awaken the sleeping public; and the Piece was thrown away and taken up
again, at intervals; and the question, Publish or not publish? lay
many months undecided.

Meanwhile his own feeling was now set more and more towards Poetry;
and in spite of symptoms and dissuasions, and perverse prognostics of
outward wind and weather, he was rallying all his force for a
downright struggle with it; resolute to see which _was_ the stronger.
It must be owned, he takes his failures in the kindliest manner; and
goes along, bating no jot of heart or hope. Perhaps I should have
more admired this than I did! My dissuasions, in that case, might
have been fainter. But then my sincerity, which was all the use of my
poor counsel in assent or dissent, would have been less. He was now
furthermore busy with a _Tragedy of Strafford_, the theme of many
failures in Tragedy; planning it industriously in his head; eagerly
reading in _Whitlocke, Rushworth_ and the Puritan Books, to attain a
vesture and local habitation for it. Faithful assiduous studies I do
believe;--of which, knowing my stubborn realism, and savage humor
towards singing by the Thespian or other methods, he told me little,
during his visits that summer.

The advance of the dark weather sent him adrift again; to Torquay, for
this winter: there, in his old Falmouth climate, he hoped to do
well;--and did, so far as well-doing was readily possible, in that sad
wandering way of life. However, be where he may, he tries to work
"two or three hours in the morning," were it even "with a lamp," in
bed, before the fires are lit; and so makes something of it. From
abundant Letters of his now before me, I glean these two or three
small glimpses; sufficient for our purpose at present. The general
date is "Tor, near Torquay:"--

_To Mrs. Charles Fox, Falmouth_.

_Tor, November 30th_, 1840.--I reached this place on Thursday; having,
after much hesitation, resolved to come here, at least for the next
three weeks,--with some obscure purpose of embarking, at the New Year,
from Falmouth for Malta, and so reaching Naples, which I have not
seen. There was also a doubt whether I should not, after Christmas,
bring my family here for the first four months of the year. All this,
however, is still doubtful. But for certain inhabitants of Falmouth
and its neighborhood, this place would be far more attractive than it.
But I have here also friends, whose kindness, like much that I met
with last winter, perpetually makes me wonder at the stock of
benignity in human nature. A brother of my friend Julius Hare, Marcus
by name, a Naval man, and though not a man of letters, full of sense
and knowledge, lives here in a beautiful place, with a most agreeable
and excellent wife, a daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderley. I had
hardly seen them before; but they are fraternizing with me, in a much
better than the Jacobin fashion; and one only feels ashamed at the
enormity of some people's good-nature. I am in a little rural sort of
lodging; and as comfortable as a solitary oyster can expect to be."--

_To C. Barton_.

"_December 5th_.--This place is extremely small, much more so than
Falmouth even; but pretty, cheerful, and very mild in climate. There
are a great many villas in and about the little Town, having three or
four reception-rooms, eight or ten bedrooms; and costing about fifteen
hundred or two thousand pounds each, and occupied by persons spending
a thousand or more pounds a year. If the Country would acknowledge my
merits by the gift of one of these, I could prevail on myself to come
and live here; which would be the best move for my health I could make
in England; but, in the absence of any such expression of public
feeling, it would come rather dear."--

_To Mrs. Fox again_.

"_December 22d_.--By the way, did you ever read a Novel? If you ever
mean to do so hereafter, let it be Miss Martineau's _Deerbrook_. It
is really very striking; and parts of it are very true and very
beautiful. It is not so true, or so thoroughly clear and harmonious,
among delineations of English middle-class gentility, as Miss Austen's
books, especially as _Pride and Prejudice_, which I think exquisite;
but it is worth reading. _The hour and the Man_ is eloquent, but an
absurd exaggeration.--I hold out so valorously against this
Scandinavian weather, that I deserve to be ranked with Odin and Thor;
and fancy I may go to live at Clifton or Drontheim. Have you had the
same icy desolation as prevails here?"

_To W. Coningham, Esq_.

"_December 28th_.--Looking back to him [a deceased Uncle, father of
his correspondent], as I now very often do, I feel strongly, what the
loss of other friends has also impressed on me, how much Death deepens
our affection; and sharpens our regret for whatever has been even
slightly amiss in our conduct towards those who are gone. What
trifles then swell into painful importance; how we believe that, could
the past be recalled, life would present no worthier, happier task,
than that of so bearing ourselves towards those we love, that we might
ever after find nothing but melodious tranquillity breathing about
their graves! Yet, too often, I feel the difficulty of always
practicing such mild wisdom towards those who are still left me.--You
will wonder less at my rambling off in this way, when I tell you that
my little lodging is close to a picturesque old Church and Churchyard,
where, every day, I brush past a tombstone, recording that an Italian,
of Manferrato, has buried there a girl of sixteen, his only daughter:
_'L' unica speranza di mia vita_.'--No doubt, as you say, our
Mechanical Age is necessary as a passage to something better; but, at
least, do not let us go back."--

At the New-year time, feeling unusually well, he returns to Clifton.
His plans, of course, were ever fluctuating; his movements were swift
and uncertain. Alas, his whole life, especially his winter-life, had
to be built as if on wavering drift-sand; nothing certain in it,
except if possible the "two or three hours of work" snatched from the
general whirlpool of the dubious four-and-twenty!

_To Dr. Carlyle_.

"_Clifton, January 10th_, 1841.--I stood the sharp frost at Torquay
with such entire impunity, that at last I took courage, and resolved
to return home. I have been here a week, in extreme cold; and have
suffered not at all; so that I hope, with care I may prosper in spite
of medical prognostics,--if you permit such profane language. I am
even able to work a good deal; and write for some hours every morning,
by dint of getting up early, which an Arnott stove in my study enables
me to do."--But at Clifton he cannot continue. Again, before long,
the rude weather has driven him Southward; the spring finds him in his
former haunts; doubtful as ever what to decide upon for the future;
but tending evidently towards a new change of residence for household
and self:--

_To W. Coningham, Esq_.

"_Penzance, April 19th_, 1841.--My little Boy and I have been
wandering about between Torquay and this place; and latterly have had
my Father for a few days with us,--he left us yesterday. In all
probability I shall endeavor to settle either at Torquay, at Falmouth,
or here; as it is pretty clear that I cannot stand the sharp air of
Clifton, and still less the London east-winds. Penzance is, on the
whole, a pleasant-looking, cheerful place; with a delightful mildness
of air, and a great appearance of comfort among the people: the view
of Mount's Bay is certainly a very noble one. Torquay would suit the
health of my Wife and Children better; or else I should be glad to
live here always, London and its neighborhood being
impracticable."--Such was his second wandering winter; enough to
render the prospect of a third at Clifton very uninviting.

With the Falmouth friends, young and old, his intercourse had
meanwhile continued cordial and frequent. The omens were pointing
towards that region at his next place of abode. Accordingly, in few
weeks hence, in the June of this Summer, 1841, his dubitations and
inquirings are again ended for a time; he has fixed upon a house in
Falmouth, and removed thither; bidding Clifton, and the regretful
Clifton friends, a kind farewell. This was the _fifth_ change of
place for his family since Bayswater; the fifth, and to one chief
member of it the last. Mrs. Sterling had brought him a new child in
October last; and went hopefully to Falmouth, dreading _other_ than
what befell there.

Thomas Carlyle

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