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Chapter 7


REGENT STREET.

0n the commercial side the _Athenaeum_ still lacked success; nor was
like to find it under the highly uncommercial management it had now
got into. This, by and by, began to be a serious consideration. For
money is the sinews of Periodical Literature almost as much as of war
itself; without money, and under a constant drain of loss, Periodical
Literature is one of the things that cannot be carried on. In no long
time Sterling began to be practically sensible of this truth, and that
an unpleasant resolution in accordance with it would be necessary. By
him also, after a while, the _Athenaeum_ was transferred to other
hands, better fitted in that respect; and under these it did take
vigorous root, and still bears fruit according to its kind.

For the present, it brought him into the thick of London Literature,
especially of young London Literature and speculation; in which turbid
exciting element he swam and revelled, nothing loath, for certain
months longer,--a period short of two years in all. He had lodgings
in Regent Street: his Father's house, now a flourishing and stirring
establishment, in South Place, Knightsbridge, where, under the warmth
of increasing revenue and success, miscellaneous cheerful socialities
and abundant speculations, chiefly political (and not John's kind, but
that of the _Times_ Newspaper and the Clubs), were rife, he could
visit daily, and yet be master of his own studies and pursuits.
Maurice, Trench, John Mill, Charles Buller: these, and some few
others, among a wide circle of a transitory phantasmal character, whom
he speedily forgot and cared not to remember, were much about him;
with these he in all ways employed and disported himself: a first
favorite with them all.

No pleasanter companion, I suppose, had any of them. So frank, open,
guileless, fearless, a brother to all worthy souls whatsoever. Come
when you might, here is he open-hearted, rich in cheerful fancies, in
grave logic, in all kinds of bright activity. If perceptibly or
imperceptibly there is a touch of ostentation in him, blame it not; it
is so innocent, so good and childlike. He is still fonder of jingling
publicly, and spreading on the table, your big purse of opulences than
his own. Abrupt too he is, cares little for big-wigs and garnitures;
perhaps laughs more than the real fun he has would order; but of
arrogance there is no vestige, of insincerity or of ill-nature none.
These must have been pleasant evenings in Regent Street, when the
circle chanced to be well adjusted there. At other times, Philistines
would enter, what we call bores, dullards, Children of Darkness; and
then,--except in a hunt of dullards, and a _bore-baiting_, which might
be permissible,--the evening was dark. Sterling, of course, had
innumerable cares withal; and was toiling like a slave; his very
recreations almost a kind of work. An enormous activity was in the
man;--sufficient, in a body that could have held it without breaking,
to have gone far, even under the unstable guidance it was like to
have!

Thus, too, an extensive, very variegated circle of connections was
forming round him. Besides his _Athenaeum_ work, and evenings in
Regent Street and elsewhere, he makes visits to country-houses, the
Bullers' and others; converses with established gentlemen, with
honorable women not a few; is gay and welcome with the young of his
own age; knows also religious, witty, and other distinguished ladies,
and is admiringly known by them. On the whole, he is already
locomotive; visits hither and thither in a very rapid flying manner.
Thus I find he had made one flying visit to the Cumberland Lake-region
in 1828, and got sight of Wordsworth; and in the same year another
flying one to Paris, and seen with no undue enthusiasm the
Saint-Simonian Portent just beginning to preach for itself, and France
in general simmering under a scum of impieties, levities,
Saint-Simonisms, and frothy fantasticalities of all kinds, towards the
boiling-over which soon made the Three Days of July famous. But by
far the most important foreign home he visited was that of Coleridge
on the Hill of Highgate,--if it were not rather a foreign shrine and
Dodona-Oracle, as he then reckoned,--to which (onwards from 1828, as
would appear) he was already an assiduous pilgrim. Concerning whom,
and Sterling's all-important connection with him, there will be much
to say anon.

Here, from this period, is a Letter of Sterling's, which the glimpses
it affords of bright scenes and figures now sunk, so many of them,
sorrowfully to the realm of shadows, will render interesting to some
of my readers. To me on the mere Letter, not on its contents alone,
there is accidentally a kind of fateful stamp. A few months after
Charles Buller's death, while his loss was mourned by many hearts, and
to his poor Mother all light except what hung upon his memory had gone
out in the world, a certain delicate and friendly hand, hoping to give
the poor bereaved lady a good moment, sought out this Letter of
Sterling's, one morning, and called, with intent to read it to
her:--alas, the poor lady had herself fallen suddenly into the
languors of death, help of another grander sort now close at hand; and
to her this Letter was never read!

On "Fanny Kemble," it appears, there is an Essay by Sterling in the
_Athenaeum_ of this year: "16th December, 1829." Very laudatory, I
conclude. He much admired her genius, nay was thought at one time to
be vaguely on the edge of still more chivalrous feelings. As the
Letter itself may perhaps indicate.

"_To Anthony Sterling, Esq., 24th Regiment, Dublin_.
"KNIGHTSBRIDGE, 10th Nov., 1829.

"MY DEAR ANTHONY,--Here in the Capital of England and of Europe, there
is less, so far as I hear, of movement and variety than in your
provincial Dublin, or among the Wicklow Mountains. We have the old
prospect of bricks and smoke, the old crowd of busy stupid faces, the
old occupations, the old sleepy amusements; and the latest news that
reaches us daily has an air of tiresome, doting antiquity. The world
has nothing for it but to exclaim with Faust, "Give me my youth
again." And as for me, my month of Cornish amusement is over; and I
must tie myself to my old employments. I have not much to tell you
about these; but perhaps you may like to hear of my expedition to the
West.

"I wrote to Polvellan (Mr. Buller's) to announce the day on which I
intended to be there, so shortly before setting out, that there was no
time to receive an answer; and when I reached Devonport, which is
fifteen or sixteen miles from my place of destination, I found a
letter from Mrs. Buller, saying that she was coming in two days to a
Ball at Plymouth, and if I chose to stay in the mean while and look
about me, she would take me back with her. She added an introduction
to a relation of her husband's, a certain Captain Buller of the
Rifles, who was with the Depot there,--a pleasant person, who I
believe had been acquainted with Charlotte,[7] or at least had seen
her. Under his superintendence--...

"On leaving Devonport with Mrs. Buller, I went some of the way by
water, up the harbor and river; and the prospects are certainly very
beautiful; to say nothing of the large ships, which I admire almost as
much as you, though without knowing so much about them. There is a
great deal of fine scenery all along the road to Looe; and the House
itself, a very unpretending Gothic cottage, stands beautifully among
trees, hills and water, with the sea at the distance of a quarter of a
mile.

"And here, among pleasant, good-natured, well-informed and clever
people, I spent an idle month. I dined at one or two Corporation
dinners; spent a few days at the old Mansion of Mr. Buller of Morval,
the patron of West Looe; and during the rest of the time, read, wrote,
played chess, lounged, and ate red mullet (he who has not done this
has not begun to live); talked of cookery to the philosophers, and of
metaphysics to Mrs. Buller; and altogether cultivated indolence, and
developed the faculty of nonsense with considerable pleasure and
unexampled success. Charles Buller you know: he has just come to
town, but I have not yet seen him. Arthur, his younger brother, I
take to be one of the handsomest men in England; and he too has
considerable talent. Mr. Buller the father is rather a clever man of
sense, and particularly good-natured and gentlemanly; and his wife,
who was a renowned beauty and queen of Calcutta, has still many
striking and delicate traces of what she was. Her conversation is
more brilliant and pleasant than that of any one I know; and, at all
events, I am bound to admire her for the kindness with which she
patronizes me. I hope that, some day or other, you may be acquainted
with her.

"I believe I have seen no one in London about whom you would care to
hear,--unless the fame of Fanny Kemble has passed the Channel, and
astonished the Irish Barbarians in the midst of their bloody-minded
politics. Young Kemble, whom you have seen, is in Germany: but I
have the happiness of being also acquainted with his sister, the
divine Fanny; and I have seen her twice on the stage, and three or
four times in private, since my return from Cornwall. I had seen some
beautiful verses of hers, long before she was an actress; and her
conversation is full of spirit and talent. She never was taught to
act at all; and though there are many faults in her performance of
Juliet, there is more power than in any female playing I ever saw,
except Pasta's Medea. She is not handsome, rather short, and by no
means delicately formed; but her face is marked, and the eyes are
brilliant, dark, and full of character. She has far more ability than
she ever can display on the stage; but I have no doubt that, by
practice and self-culture, she will be a far finer actress at least
than any one since Mrs. Siddons. I was at Charles Kemble's a few
evenings ago, when a drawing of Miss Kemble, by Sir Thomas Lawrence,
was brought in; and I have no doubt that you will shortly see, even in
Dublin, an engraving of her from it, very unlike the caricatures that
have hitherto appeared. I hate the stage; and but for her, should very
likely never have gone to a theatre again. Even as it is, the
annoyance is much more than the pleasure; but I suppose I must go to
see her in every character in which she acts. If Charlotte cares for
plays, let me know, and I will write in more detail about this new
Melpomene. I fear there are very few subjects on which I can say
anything that will in the least interest her.

"Ever affectionately yours,
"J. STERLING."

Sterling and his circle, as their ardent speculation and activity
fermented along, were in all things clear for progress, liberalism;
their politics, and view of the Universe, decisively of the Radical
sort. As indeed that of England then was, more than ever; the crust
of old hide-bound Toryism being now openly cracking towards some
incurable disruption, which accordingly ensued as the Reform Bill
before long. The Reform Bill already hung in the wind. Old
hide-bound Toryism, long recognized by all the world, and now at last
obliged to recognize its very self, for an overgrown Imposture,
supporting itself not by human reason, but by flunky blustering and
brazen lying, superadded to mere brute force, could be no creed for
young Sterling and his friends. In all things he and they were
liberals, and, as was natural at this stage, democrats; contemplating
root-and-branch innovation by aid of the hustings and ballot-box.
Hustings and ballot-box had speedily to vanish out of Sterling's
thoughts: but the character of root-and-branch innovator, essentially
of "Radical Reformer," was indelible with him, and under all forms
could be traced as his character through life.

For the present, his and those young people's aim was: By democracy,
or what means there are, be all impostures put down. Speedy end to
Superstition,--a gentle one if you can contrive it, but an end. What
can it profit any mortal to adopt locutions and imaginations which do
not correspond to fact; which no sane mortal can deliberately adopt in
his soul as true; which the most orthodox of mortals can only, and
this after infinite essentially _impious_ effort to put out the eyes
of his mind, persuade himself to "believe that he believes"? Away
with it; in the name of God, come out of it, all true men!

Piety of heart, a certain reality of religious faith, was always
Sterling's, the gift of nature to him which he would not and could not
throw away; but I find at this time his religion is as good as
altogether Ethnic, Greekish, what Goethe calls the Heathen form of
religion. The Church, with her articles, is without relation to him.
And along with obsolete spiritualisms, he sees all manner of obsolete
thrones and big-wigged temporalities; and for them also can prophesy,
and wish, only a speedy doom. Doom inevitable, registered in Heaven's
Chancery from the beginning of days, doom unalterable as the pillars
of the world; the gods are angry, and all nature groans, till this
doom of eternal justice be fulfilled.

With gay audacity, with enthusiasm tempered by mockery, as is the
manner of young gifted men, this faith, grounded for the present on
democracy and hustings operations, and giving to all life the aspect
of a chivalrous battle-field, or almost of a gay though perilous
tournament, and bout of "A hundred knights against all comers,"--was
maintained by Sterling and his friends. And in fine, after whatever
loud remonstrances, and solemn considerations, and such shaking of our
wigs as is undoubtedly natural in the case, let us be just to it and
him. We shall have to admit, nay it will behoove us to see and
practically know, for ourselves and him and others, that the essence
of this creed, in times like ours, was right and not wrong. That,
however the ground and form of it might change, essentially it was the
monition of his natal genius to this as it is to every brave man; the
behest of all his clear insight into this Universe, the message of
Heaven through him, which he could not suppress, but was inspired and
compelled to utter in this world by such methods as he had. There for
him lay the first commandment; _this_ is what it would have been the
unforgivable sin to swerve from and desert: the treason of treasons
for him, it were there; compared with which all other sins are venial!

The message did not cease at all, as we shall see; the message was
ardently, if fitfully, continued to the end: but the methods, the
tone and dialect and all outer conditions of uttering it, underwent
most important modifications!

Thomas Carlyle

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