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Chapter 9


This magical ingredient thrown into the wild caldron of such a mind,
which we have seen occupied hitherto with mere Ethnicism, Radicalism
and revolutionary tumult, but hungering all along for something higher
and better, was sure to be eagerly welcomed and imbibed, and could not
fail to produce important fermentations there. Fermentations;
important new directions, and withal important new perversions, in the
spiritual life of this man, as it has since done in the lives of so
many. Here then is the new celestial manna we were all in quest of?
This thrice-refined pabulum of transcendental moonshine? Whoso eateth
thereof,--yes, what, on the whole, will _he_ probably grow to?

Sterling never spoke much to me of his intercourse with Coleridge; and
when we did compare notes about him, it was usually rather in the way
of controversial discussion than of narrative. So that, from my own
resources, I can give no details of the business, nor specify anything
in it, except the general fact of an ardent attendance at Highgate
continued for many months, which was impressively known to all
Sterling's friends; and am unable to assign even the limitary dates,
Sterling's own papers on the subject having all been destroyed by him.
Inferences point to the end of 1828 as the beginning of this
intercourse; perhaps in 1829 it was at the highest point; and already
in 1830, when the intercourse itself was about to terminate, we have
proof of the influences it was producing,--in the Novel of _Arthur
Coningsby_, then on hand, the first and only Book that Sterling ever
wrote. His writings hitherto had been sketches, criticisms, brief
essays; he was now trying it on a wider scale; but not yet with
satisfactory results, and it proved to be his only trial in that form.

He had already, as was intimated, given up his brief proprietorship of
the _Athenaeum_; the commercial indications, and state of sales and of
costs, peremptorily ordering him to do so; the copyright went by sale
or gift, I know not at what precise date, into other fitter hands; and
with the copyright all connection on the part of Sterling. To
_Athenaeum_ Sketches had now (in 1829-30) succeeded _Arthur
Coningsby_, a Novel in three volumes; indicating (when it came to
light, a year or two afterwards) equally hasty and much more ambitious
aims in Literature;--giving strong evidence, too, of internal
spiritual revulsions going painfully forward, and in particular of the
impression Coleridge was producing on him. Without and within, it was
a wild tide of things this ardent light young soul was afloat upon, at
present; and his outlooks into the future, whether for his spiritual
or economic fortunes, were confused enough.

Among his familiars in this period, I might have mentioned one Charles
Barton, formerly his fellow-student at Cambridge, now an amiable,
cheerful, rather idle young fellow about Town; who led the way into
certain new experiences, and lighter fields, for Sterling. His
Father, Lieutenant-General Barton of the Life-guards, an Irish
landlord, I think in Fermanagh County, and a man of connections about
Court, lived in a certain figure here in Town; had a wife of
fashionable habits, with other sons, and also daughters, bred in this
sphere. These, all of them, were amiable, elegant and pleasant
people;--such was especially an eldest daughter, Susannah Barton, a
stately blooming black-eyed young woman, attractive enough in form and
character; full of gay softness, of indolent sense and enthusiasm;
about Sterling's own age, if not a little older. In this house, which
opened to him, more decisively than his Father's, a new stratum of
society, and where his reception for Charles's sake and his own was of
the kindest, he liked very well to be; and spent, I suppose, many of
his vacant half-hours, lightly chatting with the elders or the
youngsters,--doubtless with the young lady too, though as yet without
particular intentions on either side.

Nor, with all the Coleridge fermentation, was democratic Radicalism by
any means given up;--though how it was to live if the Coleridgean
moonshine took effect, might have been an abtruse question. Hitherto,
while said moonshine was but taking effect, and coloring the outer
surface of things without quite penetrating into the heart, democratic
Liberalism, revolt against superstition and oppression, and help to
whosoever would revolt, was still the grand element in Sterling's
creed; and practically he stood, not ready only, but full of alacrity
to fulfil all its behests. We heard long since of the "black
dragoons,"--whom doubtless the new moonshine had considerably
silvered-over into new hues, by this time;--but here now, while
Radicalism is tottering for him and threatening to crumble, comes
suddenly the grand consummation and explosion of Radicalism in his
life; whereby, all at once, Radicalism exhausted and ended itself, and
appeared no more there.

In those years a visible section of the London population, and
conspicuous out of all proportion to its size or value, was a small
knot of Spaniards, who had sought shelter here as Political Refugees.
"Political Refugees:" a tragic succession of that class is one of the
possessions of England in our time. Six-and-twenty years ago, when I
first saw London, I remember those unfortunate Spaniards among the new
phenomena. Daily in the cold spring air, under skies so unlike their
own, you could see a group of fifty or a hundred stately tragic
figures, in proud threadbare cloaks; perambulating, mostly with closed
lips, the broad pavements of Euston Square and the regions about St.
Pancras new Church. Their lodging was chiefly in Somers Town, as I
understood: and those open pavements about St. Pancras Church were
the general place of rendezvous. They spoke little or no English;
knew nobody, could employ themselves on nothing, in this new scene.
Old steel-gray heads, many of them; the shaggy, thick, blue-black hair
of others struck you; their brown complexion, dusky look of suppressed
fire, in general their tragic condition as of caged Numidian lions.

That particular Flight of Unfortunates has long since fled again, and
vanished; and new have come and fled. In this convulsed revolutionary
epoch, which already lasts above sixty years, what tragic flights of
such have we not seen arrive on the one safe coast which is open to
them, as they get successively vanquished, and chased into exile to
avoid worse! Swarm after swarm, of ever-new complexion, from Spain as
from other countries, is thrown off, in those ever-recurring
paroxysms; and will continue to be thrown off. As there could be
(suggests Linnaeus) a "flower-clock," measuring the hours of the day,
and the months of the year, by the kinds of flowers that go to sleep
and awaken, that blow into beauty and fade into dust: so in the great
Revolutionary Horologe, one might mark the years and epochs by the
successive kinds of exiles that walk London streets, and, in grim
silent manner, demand pity from us and reflections from us.--This then
extant group of Spanish Exiles was the Trocadero swarm, thrown off in
1823, in the Riego and Quirogas quarrel. These were they whom Charles
Tenth had, by sheer force, driven from their constitutionalisms and
their Trocadero fortresses,--Charles Tenth, who himself was soon
driven out, manifoldly by sheer force; and had to head his own swarm
of fugitives; and has now himself quite vanished, and given place to
others. For there is no end of them; propelling and propelled!--

Of these poor Spanish Exiles, now vegetating about Somers Town, and
painfully beating the pavement in Euston Square, the acknowledged
chief was General Torrijos, a man of high qualities and fortunes,
still in the vigor of his years, and in these desperate circumstances
refusing to despair; with whom Sterling had, at this time, become

Thomas Carlyle

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