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Chapter 5

DISASTER ON DISASTER.

DURING all these years of struggle and wayfaring, his Father's
household at Knightsbridge had stood healthful, happy, increasing in
wealth, free diligence, solidity and honest prosperity: a fixed sunny
islet, towards which, in all his voyagings and overclouded roamings,
he could look with satisfaction, as to an ever-open port of refuge.

The elder Sterling, after many battles, had reached his field of
conquest in these years; and was to be regarded as a victorious man.
Wealth sufficient, increasing not diminishing, had rewarded his labors
in the _Times_, which were now in their full flower; he had influence
of a sort; went busily among busy public men; and enjoyed, in the
questionable form attached to journalism and anonymity, a social
consideration and position which were abundantly gratifying to him. A
singular figure of the epoch; and when you came to know him, which it
was easy to fail of doing if you had not eyes and candid insight, a
gallant, truly gifted, and manful figure, of his kind. We saw much of
him in this house; much of all his family; and had grown to love them
all right well,--him too, though that was the difficult part of the
feat. For in his Irish way he played the conjurer very much,--"three
hundred and sixty-five opinions in the year upon every subject," as a
wag once said. In fact his talk, ever ingenious, emphatic and
spirited in detail, was much defective in earnestness, at least in
clear earnestness, of purport and outcome; but went tumbling as if in
mere welters of explosive unreason; a volcano heaving under vague
deluges of scoriae, ashes and imponderous pumice-stones, you could not
say in what direction, nor well whether in any. Not till after good
study did you see the deep molten lava-flood, which simmered steadily
enough, and showed very well by and by whither it was bound. For I
must say of Edward Sterling, after all his daily explosive
sophistries, and fallacies of talk, he had a stubborn instinctive
sense of what was manful, strong and worthy; recognized, with quick
feeling, the charlatan under his solemnest wig; knew as clearly as any
man a pusillanimous tailor in buckram, an ass under the lion's skin,
and did with his whole heart despise the same.

The sudden changes of doctrine in the _Times_, which failed not to
excite loud censure and indignant amazement in those days, were first
intelligible to you when you came to interpret them as his changes.
These sudden whirls from east to west on his part, and total changes
of party and articulate opinion at a day's warning, lay in the nature
of the man, and could not be helped; products of his fiery impatience,
of the combined impetuosity and limitation of an intellect, which did
nevertheless continually gravitate towards what was loyal, true and
right on all manner of subjects. These, as I define them, were the
mere scoriae and pumice wreck of a steady central lava-flood, which
truly was volcanic and explosive to a strange degree, but did rest as
few others on the grand fire-depths of the world. Thus, if he stormed
along, ten thousand strong, in the time of the Reform Bill,
indignantly denouncing Toryism and its obsolete insane pretensions;
and then if, after some experience of Whig management, he discerned
that Wellington and Peel, by whatever name entitled, were the men to
be depended on by England,--there lay in all this, visible enough, a
deeper consistency far more important than the superficial one, so
much clamored after by the vulgar. Which is the lion's-skin; which is
the real lion? Let a man, if he is prudent, ascertain that before
speaking;--but above and beyond all things, _let_ him ascertain it,
and stand valiantly to it when ascertained! In the latter essential
part of the operation Edward Sterling was honorably successful to a
really marked degree; in the former, or prudential part, very much the
reverse, as his history in the Journalistic department at least, was
continually teaching him.

An amazingly impetuous, hasty, explosive man, this "Captain
Whirlwind," as I used to call him! Great sensibility lay in him, too;
a real sympathy, and affectionate pity and softness, which he had an
over-tendency to express even by tears,--a singular sight in so
leonine a man. Enemies called them maudlin and hypocritical, these
tears; but that was nowise the complete account of them. On the
whole, there did conspicuously lie a dash of ostentation, a
self-consciousness apt to become loud and braggart, over all he said
and did and felt: this was the alloy of the man, and you had to be
thankful for the abundant gold along with it.

Quizzing enough he got among us for all this, and for the singular
_chiaroscuro_ manner of procedure, like that of an Archimagus
Cagliostro, or Kaiser Joseph Incognito, which his anonymous
known-unknown thunderings in the _Times_ necessitated in him; and much
we laughed,--not without explosive counter-banterings on his
part;--but, in fine, one could not do without him; one knew him at
heart for a right brave man. "By Jove, sir!" thus he would swear to
you, with radiant face; sometimes, not often, by a deeper oath. With
persons of dignity, especially with women, to whom he was always very
gallant, he had courtly delicate manners, verging towards the
wire-drawn and elaborate; on common occasions, he bloomed out at once
into jolly familiarity of the gracefully boisterous kind, reminding
you of mess-rooms and old Dublin days. His off-hand mode of speech
was always precise, emphatic, ingenious: his laugh, which was
frequent rather than otherwise, had a sincerity of banter, but no real
depth of sense for the ludicrous; and soon ended, if it grew too loud,
in a mere dissonant scream. He was broad, well-built, stout of
stature; had a long lowish head, sharp gray eyes, with large strong
aquiline face to match; and walked, or sat, in an erect decisive
manner. A remarkable man; and playing, especially in those years
1830-40, a remarkable part in the world.

For it may be said, the emphatic, big-voiced, always influential and
often strongly unreasonable _Times_ Newspaper was the express emblem
of Edward Sterling; he, more than any other man or circumstance, _was_
the _Times_ Newspaper, and thundered through it to the shaking of the
spheres. And let us assert withal that his and its influence, in
those days, was not ill grounded but rather well; that the loud
manifold unreason, often enough vituperated and groaned over, was of
the surface mostly; that his conclusions, unreasonable, partial, hasty
as they might at first be, gravitated irresistibly towards the right:
in virtue of which grand quality indeed, the root of all good insight
in man, his _Times_ oratory found acceptance and influential audience,
amid the loud whirl of an England itself logically very stupid, and
wise chiefly by instinct.

England listened to this voice, as all might observe; and to one who
knew England and it, the result was not quite a strange one, and was
honorable rather than otherwise to both parties. A good judge of
men's talents has been heard to say of Edward Sterling: "There is not
a _faculty of improvising_ equal to this in all my circle. Sterling
rushes out into the clubs, into London society, rolls about all day,
copiously talking modish nonsense or sense, and listening to the like,
with the multifarious miscellany of men; comes home at night; redacts
it into a _Times_ Leader,--and is found to have hit the essential
purport of the world's immeasurable babblement that day, with an
accuracy beyond all other men. This is what the multifarious Babel
sound did mean to say in clear words; this, more nearly than anything
else. Let the most gifted intellect, capable of writing epics, try to
write such a Leader for the Morning Newspapers! No intellect but
Edward Sterling's can do it. An improvising faculty without parallel
in my experience."--In this "improvising faculty," much more nobly
developed, as well as in other faculties and qualities with
unexpectedly new and improved figure, John Sterling, to the accurate
observer, showed himself very much the son of Edward.

Connected with this matter, a remarkable Note has come into my hands;
honorable to the man I am writing of, and in some sort to another
higher man; which, as it may now (unhappily for us all) be published
without scruple, I will not withhold here. The support, by Edward
Sterling and the _Times_, of Sir Robert Peel's first Ministry, and
generally of Peel's statesmanship, was a conspicuous fact in its day;
but the return it met with from the person chiefly interested may be
considered well worth recording. The following Letter, after
meandering through I know not what intricate conduits, and
consultations of the Mysterious Entity whose address it bore, came to
Edward Sterling as the real flesh-and-blood proprietor, and has been
found among his papers. It is marked _Private_:--

"(Private) _To the Editor of the Times_.
"WHITEHALL, 18th April, 1835.

"SIR,--Having this day delivered into the hands of the King the Seals
of Office, I can, without any imputation of an interested motive, or
any impediment from scrupulous feelings of delicacy, express my deep
sense of the powerful support which that Government over which I had
the honor to preside received from the _Times_ Newspaper.

"If I do not offer the expressions of personal gratitude, it is
because I feel that such expressions would do injustice to the
character of a support which was given exclusively on the highest and
most independent grounds of public principle. I can say this with
perfect truth, as I am addressing one whose person even is unknown to
me, and who during my tenure of power studiously avoided every species
of intercourse which could throw a suspicion upon the motives by which
he was actuated. I should, however, be doing injustice to my own
feelings, if I were to retire from Office without one word of
acknowledgment; without at least assuring you of the admiration with
which I witnessed, during the arduous contest in which I was engaged,
the daily exhibition of that extraordinary ability to which I was
indebted for a support, the more valuable because it was an impartial
and discriminating support.--I have the honor to be, Sir,

"Ever your most obedient and faithful servant,
"ROBERT PEEL."

To which, with due loftiness and diplomatic gravity and brevity, there
is Answer, Draught of Answer in Edward Sterling's hand, from the
Mysterious Entity so honored, in the following terms:--

"_To the Right Hon. Sir Robert Peel, Bart., &c. &c. &c_.

"SIR,--It gives me sincere satisfaction to learn from the Letter with
which you have honored me, bearing yesterday's date, that you estimate
so highly the efforts which have been made during the last five months
by the _Times_ Newspaper to support the cause of rational and
wholesome Government which his Majesty had intrusted to your guidance;
and that you appreciate fairly the disinterested motive, of regard to
the public welfare, and to that alone, through which this Journal has
been prompted to pursue a policy in accordance with that of your
Administration. It is, permit me to say, by such motives only, that
the _Times_, ever since I have known it, has been influenced, whether
in defence of the Government of the day, or in constitutional
resistance to it: and indeed there exist no other motives of action
for a Journalist, compatible either with the safety of the press, or
with the political morality of the great bulk of its readers.--With
much respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, &c. &c. &c.

"THE EDITOR OF THE 'TIMES.'"

Of this Note I do not think there was the least whisper during Edward
Sterling's lifetime; which fact also one likes to remember of him, so
ostentatious and little-reticent a man. For the rest, his loyal
admiration of Sir Robert Peel,--sanctioned, and as it were almost
consecrated to his mind, by the great example of the Duke of
Wellington, whom he reverenced always with true hero-worship,--was not
a journalistic one, but a most intimate authentic feeling,
sufficiently apparent in the very heart of his mind. Among the many
opinions "liable to three hundred and sixty-five changes in the course
of the year," this in reference to Peel and Wellington was one which
ever changed, but was the same all days and hours. To which, equally
genuine, and coming still oftener to light in those times, there might
one other be added, one and hardly more: fixed contempt, not
unmingled with detestation, for Daniel O'Connell. This latter
feeling, we used often laughingly to say, was his grand political
principle, the one firm centre where all else went revolving. But
internally the other also was deep and constant; and indeed these were
properly his _two_ centres,--poles of the same axis, negative and
positive, the one presupposing the other.

O'Connell he had known in young Dublin days;--and surely no man could
well venerate another less! It was his deliberate, unalterable
opinion of the then Great O, that good would never come of him; that
only mischief, and this in huge measure, would come. That however
showy, and adroit in rhetoric and management, he was a man of
incurably commonplace intellect, and of no character but a hollow,
blustery, pusillanimous and unsound one; great only in maudlin
patriotisms, in speciosities, astucities,--in the miserable gifts for
becoming Chief _Demagogos_, Leader of a deep-sunk Populace towards
_its_ Lands of Promise; which trade, in any age or country, and
especially in the Ireland of this age, our indignant friend regarded
(and with reason) as an extremely ugly one for a man. He had himself
zealously advocated Catholic Emancipation, and was not without his
Irish patriotism, very different from the Orange sort; but the
"Liberator" was not admirable to him, and grew daily less so to an
extreme degree. Truly, his scorn of the said Liberator, now riding in
supreme dominion on the wings of _blarney_, devil-ward of a surety,
with the Liberated all following and huzzaing; his fierce gusts of
wrath and abhorrence over him,--rose occasionally almost to the
sublime. We laughed often at these vehemences:--and they were not
wholly laughable; there was something very serious, and very true, in
them! This creed of Edward Sterling's would not now, in either pole
of its axis, look so strange as it then did in many quarters.


During those ten years which might be defined as the culminating
period of Edward Sterling's life, his house at South Place, Knights
bridge, had worn a gay and solid aspect, as if built at last on the
high table-land of sunshine and success, the region of storms and dark
weather now all victoriously traversed and lying safe below. Health,
work, wages, whatever is needful to a man, he had, in rich measure;
and a frank stout heart to guide the same: he lived in such style as
pleased him; drove his own chariot up and down (himself often acting
as Jehu, and reminding you a little of _Times_ thunder even in
driving); consorted, after a fashion, with the powerful of the world;
saw in due vicissitude a miscellany of social faces round
him,--pleasant parties, which he liked well enough to garnish by a
lord; "Irish lord, if no better might be," as the banter went. For
the rest, he loved men of worth and intellect, and recognized them
well, whatever their title: this was his own patent of worth which
Nature had given him; a central light in the man, which illuminated
into a kind of beauty, serious or humorous, all the artificialities he
had accumulated on the surface of him. So rolled his days, not
quietly, yet prosperously, in manifold commerce with men. At one in
the morning, when all had vanished into sleep, his lamp was kindled in
his library; and there, twice or thrice a week, for a three-hours'
space, he launched his bolts, which next morning were to shake the
high places of the world.

John's relation to his Father, when one saw John here, was altogether
frank, joyful and amiable: he ignored the _Times_ thunder for most
part, coldly taking the Anonymous for non-extant; spoke of it
floutingly, if he spoke at all: indeed a pleasant half-bantering
dialect was the common one between Father and Son; and they,
especially with the gentle, simple-hearted, just-minded Mother for
treble-voice between them, made a very pretty glee-harmony together.

So had it lasted, ever since poor John's voyagings began; his Father's
house standing always as a fixed sunny islet with safe harbor for him.
So it could not always last. This sunny islet was now also to break
and go down: so many firm islets, fixed pillars in his fluctuating
world, pillar after pillar, were to break and go down; till swiftly
all, so to speak, were sunk in the dark waters, and he with them! Our
little History is now hastening to a close.


In the beginning of 1843 news reached us that Sterling had, in his too
reckless way, encountered a dangerous accident: maids, in the room
where he was, were lifting a heavy table; he, seeing them in
difficulty, had snatched at the burden; heaved it away,--but had
broken a blood-vessel by the business; and was now, after extensive
hemorrhage, lying dangerously ill. The doctors hoped the worst was
over; but the case was evidently serious. In the same days, too, his
Mother had been seized here by some painful disease, which from its
continuance grew alarming. Sad omens for Edward Sterling, who by this
time had as good as ceased writing or working in the _Times_, having
comfortably winded up his affairs there; and was looking forward to a
freer idle life befitting his advanced years henceforth. Fatal
eclipse had fallen over that household of his; never to be lifted off
again till all darkened into night.

By dint of watchful nursing, John Sterling got on foot once more: but
his Mother did not recover, quite the contrary. Her case too grew
very questionable. Disease of the heart, said the medical men at
last; not immediately, not perhaps for a length of years, dangerous to
life, said they; but without hope of cure. The poor lady suffered
much; and, though affecting hope always, grew weaker and weaker. John
ran up to Town in March; I saw him, on the morrow or next day after,
in his own room at Knightsbridge: he had caught fresh cold overnight,
the servant having left his window up, but I was charged to say
nothing of it, not to flutter the already troubled house: he was
going home again that very day, and nothing ill would come of it. We
understood the family at Falmouth, his Wife being now near her
confinement again, could at any rate comport with no long absence. He
was cheerful, even rudely merry; himself pale and ill, his poor
Mother's cough audible occasionally through the wall. Very kind, too,
and gracefully affectionate; but I observed a certain grimness in his
mood of mind, and under his light laughter lay something unusual,
something stern, as if already dimmed in the coming shadows of Fate.
"Yes, yes, you are a good man: but I understand they mean to appoint
you to Rhadamanthus's post, which has been vacant for some time; and
you will see how you like that!" This was one of the things he said;
a strange effulgence of wild drollery flashing through the ice of
earnest pain and sorrow. He looked paler than usual: almost for the
first time, I had myself a twinge of misgiving as to his own health;
for hitherto I had been used to blame as much as pity his fits of
dangerous illness, and would often angrily remonstrate with him that
he might have excellent health, would he but take reasonable care of
himself, and learn the art of sitting still. Alas, as if he _could_
learn it; as if Nature had not laid her ban on him even there, and
said in smiles and frowns manifoldly, "No, that thou shalt not learn!"

He went that day; he never saw his good true Mother more. Very
shortly afterwards, in spite of doctors' prophecies, and affectionate
illusions, she grew alarmingly and soon hopelessly worse. Here are
his last two Letters to her:--

"_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_.
"FALMOUTH 8th April, 1843.

"DEAREST MOTHER,--I could do you no good, but it would be the greatest
comfort to me if I could be near you. Nothing would detain me but
Susan's condition. I feel that until her confinement is over, I ought
to remain here,--unless you wished me to go to you; in which case she
would be the first to send me off. Happily she is doing as well as
possible, and seems even to gain strength every day. She sends her
love to you.

"The children are all doing well. I rode with Edward to-day through
some of the pleasant lanes in the neighborhood; and was delighted, as
I have often been at the same season, to see the primroses under every
hedge. It is pleasant to think that the Maker of them can make other
flowers for the gardens of his other mansions. We have here a
softness in the air, a smoothness of the clouds, and a mild sunshine,
that combine in lovely peace with the first green of spring and the
mellow whiteness of the sails upon the quiet sea. The whole aspect of
the world is full of a quiet harmony, that influences even one's
bodily frame, and seems to make one's very limbs aware of something
living, good and immortal in all around us. Knowing how you suffer,
and how weak you are, anything is a blessing to me that helps me to
rise out of confusion and grief into the sense of God and joy. I
could not indeed but feel how much happier I should have been, this
morning, had you been with me, and delighting as you would have done
in all the little as well as the large beauty of the world. But it
was still a satisfaction to feel how much I owe to you of the power of
perceiving meaning, reality and sweetness in all healthful life. And
thus I could fancy that you were still near me; and that I could see
you, as I have so often seen you, looking with earnest eyes at wayside
flowers.

"I would rather not have written what must recall your thoughts to
your present sufferings: but, dear Mother, I wrote only what I felt;
and perhaps you would rather have it so, than that I should try to
find other topics. I still hope to be with you before long.
Meanwhile and always, God bless you, is the prayer of

"Your affectionate son,
"JOHN STERLING."

_To the same_.
"FALMOUTH, 12th April, 1843.

"DEAREST MOTHER,--I have just received my Father's Letter; which gives
me at least the comfort of believing that you do not suffer very much
pain. That your mind has remained so clear and strong, is an infinite
blessing.

"I do not know anything in the world that would make up to me at all
for wanting the recollection of the days I spent with you lately, when
I was amazed at the freshness and life of all your thoughts. It
brought back far-distant years, in the strangest, most peaceful way.
I felt myself walking with you in Greenwich Park, and on the seashore
at Sandgate; almost even I seemed a baby, with you bending over me.
Dear Mother, there is surely something uniting us that cannot perish.
I seem so sure of a love which shall last and reunite us, that even
the remembrance, painful as that is, of all my own follies and ill
tempers, cannot shake this faith. When I think of you, and know how
you feel towards me, and have felt for every moment of almost forty
years, it would be too dark to believe that we shall never meet again.
It was from you that I first learnt to think, to feel, to imagine, to
believe; and these powers, which cannot be extinguished, will one day
enter anew into communion with you. I have bought it very dear by the
prospect of losing you in this world,--but since you have been so ill,
everything has seemed to me holier, loftier and more lasting, more
full of hope and final joy.

"It would be a very great happiness to see you once more even here;
but I do not know if that will be granted to me. But for Susan's
state, I should not hesitate an instant; as it is, my duty seems to be
to remain, and I have no right to repine. There is no sacrifice that
she would not make for me, and it would be too cruel to endanger her
by mere anxiety on my account. Nothing can exceed her sympathy with
my sorrow. But she cannot know, no one can, the recollections of all
you have been and done for me; which now are the most sacred and
deepest, as well as most beautiful, thoughts that abide with me. May
God bless you, dearest Mother. It is much to believe that He feels
for you all that you have ever felt for your children.

"JOHN STERLING."

A day or two after this, "on Good Friday, 1843," his Wife got happily
through her confinement, bringing him, he writes, "a stout little
girl, who and the Mother are doing as well as possible." The little
girl still lives and does well; but for the Mother there was another
lot. Till the Monday following she too did altogether well, he
affectionately watching her; but in the course of that day, some
change for the worse was noticed, though nothing to alarm either the
doctors or him; he watched by her bedside all night, still without
alarm; but sent again in the morning, Tuesday morning, for the
doctors,--Who did not seem able to make much of the symptoms. She
appeared weak and low, but made no particular complaint. The London
post meanwhile was announced; Sterling went into another room to learn
what tidings of his Mother it brought him. Returning speedily with a
face which in vain strove to be calm, his Wife asked, How at
Knightsbridge? "My Mother is dead," answered Sterling; "died on
Sunday: She is gone." "Poor old man! " murmured the other, thinking
of old Edward Sterling now left alone in the world; and these were her
own last words: in two hours more she too was dead. In two hours
Mother and Wife were suddenly both snatched away from him.

"It came with awful suddenness! " writes he to his Clifton friend.
"Still for a short time I had my Susan: but I soon saw that the
medical men were in terror; and almost within half an hour of that
fatal Knightsbridge news, I began to suspect our own pressing danger.
I received her last breath upon my lips. Her mind was much sunk, and
her perceptions slow; but a few minutes before the last, she must have
caught the idea of dissolution; and signed that I should kiss her.
She faltered painfully, 'Yes! yes!'--returned with fervency the
pressure of my lips; and in a few moments her eyes began to fix, her
pulse to cease. She too is gone from me!" It was Tuesday morning,
April 18th, 1843. His Mother had died on the Sunday before.


He had loved his excellent kind Mother, as he ought and well might:
in that good heart, in all the wanderings of his own, there had ever
been a shrine of warm pity, of mother's love and blessed soft
affections for him; and now it was closed in the Eternities
forevermore. His poor Life-partner too, his other self, who had
faithfully attended him so long in all his pilgrimings, cheerily
footing the heavy tortuous ways along with him, can follow him no
farther; sinks now at his side: "The rest of your pilgrimings alone,
O Friend,--adieu, adieu!" She too is forever hidden from his eyes;
and he stands, on the sudden, very solitary amid the tumult of fallen
and falling things. "My little baby girl is doing well; poor little
wreck cast upon the sea-beach of life. My children require me tenfold
now. What I shall do, is all confusion and darkness."

The younger Mrs. Sterling was a true good woman; loyal-hearted,
willing to do well, and struggling wonderfully to do it amid her
languors and infirmities; rescuing, in many ways, with beautiful
female heroism and adroitness, what of fertility their uncertain,
wandering, unfertile way of life still left possible, and cheerily
making the most of it. A genial, pious and harmonious fund of
character was in her; and withal an indolent, half-unconscious force
of intellect, and justness and delicacy of perception, which the
casual acquaintance scarcely gave her credit for. Sterling much
respected her decision in matters literary; often altering and
modifying where her feeling clearly went against him; and in verses
especially trusting to her ear, which was excellent, while he knew his
own to be worth little. I remember her melodious rich plaintive tone
of voice; and an exceedingly bright smile which she sometimes had,
effulgent with sunny gayety and true humor, among other fine
qualities.

Sterling has lost much in these two hours; how much that has long been
can never again be for him! Twice in one morning, so to speak, has a
mighty wind smitten the corners of his house; and much lies in dismal
ruins round him.

Thomas Carlyle

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