Read PART I - CHAPTER II.  BIRTH AND PARENTAGE. of The Life of John Sterling, free online book, by Thomas Carlyle, on

John Sterling was born at Kaimes Castle, a kind of dilapidated baronial residence to which a small farm was then attached, rented by his Father, in the Isle of Bute, ­on the 20th July, 1806.  Both his parents were Irish by birth, Scotch by extraction; and became, as he himself did, essentially English by long residence and habit.  Of John himself Scotland has little or nothing to claim except the birth and genealogy, for he left it almost before the years of memory; and in his mature days regarded it, if with a little more recognition and intelligence, yet without more participation in any of its accents outward or inward, than others natives of Middlesex or Surrey, where the scene of his chief education lay.

The climate of Bute is rainy, soft of temperature; with skies of unusual depth and brilliancy, while the weather is fair.  In that soft rainy climate, on that wild-wooded rocky coast, with its gnarled mountains and green silent valleys, with its seething rain-storms and many-sounding seas, was young Sterling ushered into his first schooling in this world.  I remember one little anecdote his Father told me of those first years:  One of the cows had calved; young John, still in petticoats, was permitted to go, holding by his father’s hand, and look at the newly arrived calf; a mystery which he surveyed with open intent eyes, and the silent exercise of all the scientific faculties he had; ­very strange mystery indeed, this new arrival, and fresh denizen of our Universe:  “Wull’t eat a-body?” said John in his first practical Scotch, inquiring into the tendencies this mystery might have to fall upon a little fellow and consume him as provision:  “Will it eat one, Father?” ­Poor little open-eyed John:  the family long bantered him with this anecdote; and we, in far other years, laughed heartily on hearing it. ­Simple peasant laborers, ploughers, house-servants, occasional fisher-people too; and the sight of ships, and crops, and Nature’s doings where Art has little meddled with her:  this was the kind of schooling our young friend had, first of all; on this bench of the grand world-school did he sit, for the first four years of his life.

Edward Sterling his Father, a man who subsequently came to considerable notice in the world, was originally of Waterford in Munster; son of the Episcopalian Clergyman there; and chief representative of a family of some standing in those parts.  Family founded, it appears, by a Colonel Robert Sterling, called also Sir Robert Sterling; a Scottish Gustavus-Adolphus soldier, whom the breaking out of the Civil War had recalled from his German campaignings, and had before long, though not till after some waverings on his part, attached firmly to the Duke of Ormond and to the King’s Party in that quarrel.  A little bit of genealogy, since it lies ready to my hand, gathered long ago out of wider studies, and pleasantly connects things individual and present with the dim universal crowd of things past, ­may as well be inserted here as thrown away.

This Colonel Robert designates himself Sterling “of Glorat;” I believe, a younger branch of the well-known Stirlings of Keir in Stirlingshire.  It appears he prospered in his soldiering and other business, in those bad Ormond times; being a man of energy, ardor and intelligence, ­probably prompt enough both with his word and with his stroke.  There survives yet, in the Commons Journals, dim notice of his controversies and adventures; especially of one controversy he had got into with certain victorious Parliamentary official parties, while his own party lay vanquished, during what was called the Ormond Cessation, or Temporary Peace made by Ormond with the Parliament in 1646: ­in which controversy Colonel Robert, after repeated applications, journeyings to London, attendances upon committees, and such like, finds himself worsted, declared to be in the wrong; and so vanishes from the Commons Journals.

What became of him when Cromwell got to Ireland, and to Munster, I have not heard:  his knighthood, dating from the very year of Cromwell’s Invasion (1649), indicates a man expected to do his best on the occasion: ­as in all probability he did; had not Tredah Storm proved ruinous, and the neck of this Irish War been broken at once.  Doubtless the Colonel Sir Robert followed or attended his Duke of Ormond into foreign parts, and gave up his management of Munster, while it was yet time:  for after the Restoration we find him again, safe, and as was natural, flourishing with new splendor; gifted, recompensed with lands; ­settled, in short, on fair revenues in those Munster regions.  He appears to have had no children; but to have left his property to William, a younger brother who had followed him into Ireland.  From this William descends the family which, in the years we treat of, had Edward Sterling, Father of our John, for its representative.  And now enough of genealogy.

Of Edward Sterling, Captain Edward Sterling as his title was, who in the latter period of his life became well known in London political society, whom indeed all England, with a curious mixture of mockery and respect and even fear, knew well as “the Thunderer of the Times Newspaper,” there were much to be said, did the present task and its limits permit.  As perhaps it might, on certain terms?  What is indispensable let us not omit to say.  The history of a man’s childhood is the description of his parents and environment:  this is his inarticulate but highly important history, in those first times, while of articulate he has yet none.

Edward Sterling had now just entered on his thirty-fourth year; and was already a man experienced in fortunes and changes.  A native of Waterford in Munster, as already mentioned; born in the “Deanery House of Waterford, 27th February, 1773,” say the registers.  For his Father, as we learn, resided in the Deanery House, though he was not himself Dean, but only “Curate of the Cathedral” (whatever that may mean); he was withal rector of two other livings, and the Dean’s friend, ­friend indeed of the Dean’s kinsmen the Beresfords generally; whose grand house of Curraghmore, near by Waterford, was a familiar haunt of his and his children’s.  This reverend gentleman, along with his three livings and high acquaintanceships, had inherited political connections; ­inherited especially a Government Pension, with survivorship for still one life beyond his own; his father having been Clerk of the Irish House of Commons at the time of the Union, of which office the lost salary was compensated in this way.  The Pension was of two hundred pounds; and only expired with the life of Edward, John’s Father, in 1847.  There were, and still are, daughters of the family; but Edward was the only son; ­descended, too, from the Scottish hero Wallace, as the old gentleman would sometimes admonish him; his own wife, Edward’s mother, being of that name, and boasting herself, as most Scotch Wallaces do, to have that blood in her veins.

This Edward had picked up, at Waterford, and among the young Beresfords of Curraghmore and elsewhere, a thoroughly Irish form of character:  fire and fervor, vitality of all kinds, in genial abundance; but in a much more loquacious, ostentatious, much louder style than is freely patronized on this side of the Channel.  Of Irish accent in speech he had entirely divested himself, so as not to be traced by any vestige in that respect; but his Irish accent of character, in all manner of other more important respects, was very recognizable.  An impetuous man, full of real energy, and immensely conscious of the same; who transacted everything not with the minimum of fuss and noise, but with the maximum:  a very Captain Whirlwind, as one was tempted to call him.

In youth, he had studied at Trinity College, Dublin; visited the Inns of Court here, and trained himself for the Irish Bar.  To the Bar he had been duly called, and was waiting for the results, ­when, in his twenty-fifth year, the Irish Rebellion broke out; whereupon the Irish Barristers decided to raise a corps of loyal Volunteers, and a complete change introduced itself into Edward Sterling’s way of life.  For, naturally, he had joined the array of Volunteers; ­fought, I have heard, “in three actions with the rebels” (Vinegar Hill, for one); and doubtless fought well:  but in the mess-rooms, among the young military and civil officials, with all of whom he was a favorite, he had acquired a taste for soldier life, and perhaps high hopes of succeeding in it:  at all events, having a commission in the Lancashire Militia offered him, he accepted that; altogether quitted the Bar, and became Captain Sterling thenceforth.  From the Militia, it appears, he had volunteered with his Company into the Line; and, under some disappointments, and official delays of expected promotion, was continuing to serve as Captain there, “Captain of the Eighth Battalion of Reserve,” say the Military Almanacs of 1803, ­in which year the quarters happened to be Derry, where new events awaited him.  At a ball in Derry he met with Miss Hester Coningham, the queen of the scene, and of the fair world in Derry at that time.  The acquaintance, in spite of some Opposition, grew with vigor, and rapidly ripened:  and “at Fehan Church, Diocese of Derry,” where the Bride’s father had a country-house, “on Thursday 5th April, 1804, Hester Coningham, only daughter of John Coningham, Esquire, Merchant in Derry, and of Elizabeth Campbell his wife,” was wedded to Captain Sterling; she happiest to him happiest, ­as by Nature’s kind law it is arranged.

Mrs. Sterling, even in her later days, had still traces of the old beauty:  then and always she was a woman of delicate, pious, affectionate character; exemplary as a wife, a mother and a friend.  A refined female nature; something tremulous in it, timid, and with a certain rural freshness still unweakened by long converse with the world.  The tall slim figure, always of a kind of quaker neatness; the innocent anxious face, anxious bright hazel eyes; the timid, yet gracefully cordial ways, the natural intelligence, instinctive sense and worth, were very characteristic.  Her voice too; with its something of soft querulousness, easily adapting itself to a light thin-flowing style of mirth on occasion, was characteristic:  she had retained her Ulster intonations, and was withal somewhat copious in speech.  A fine tremulously sensitive nature, strong chiefly on the side of the affections, and the graceful insights and activities that depend on these: ­truly a beautiful, much-suffering, much-loving house-mother.  From her chiefly, as one could discern, John Sterling had derived the delicate aroma of his nature, its piety, clearness, sincerity; as from his Father, the ready practical gifts, the impetuosities and the audacities, were also (though in strange new form) visibly inherited.  A man was lucky to have such a Mother; to have such Parents as both his were.

Meanwhile the new Wife appears to have had, for the present, no marriage-portion; neither was Edward Sterling rich, ­according to his own ideas and aims, far from it.  Of course he soon found that the fluctuating barrack-life, especially with no outlooks of speedy promotion, was little suited to his new circumstances:  but how change it?  His father was now dead; from whom he had inherited the Speaker Pension of two hundred pounds; but of available probably little or nothing more.  The rents of the small family estate, I suppose, and other property, had gone to portion sisters.  Two hundred pounds, and the pay of a marching captain:  within the limits of that revenue all plans of his had to restrict themselves at present.

He continued for some time longer in the Army; his wife undivided from him by the hardships, of that way of life.  Their first son Anthony (Captain Anthony Sterling, the only child who now survives) was born to them in this position, while lying at Dundalk, in January, 1805.  Two months later, some eleven months after their marriage, the regiment was broken; and Captain Sterling, declining to serve elsewhere on the terms offered, and willingly accepting such decision of his doubts, was reduced to half-pay.  This was the end of his soldiering:  some five or six years in all; from which he had derived for life, among other things, a decided military bearing, whereof he was rather proud; an incapacity for practicing law; ­and considerable uncertainty as to what his next course of life was now to be.

For the present, his views lay towards farming:  to establish himself, if not as country gentleman, which was an unattainable ambition, then at least as some kind of gentleman-farmer which had a flattering resemblance to that.  Kaimes Castle with a reasonable extent of land, which, in his inquiries after farms, had turned up, was his first place of settlement in this new capacity; and here, for some few months, he had established himself when John his second child was born.  This was Captain Sterling’s first attempt towards a fixed course of life; not a very wise one, I have understood: ­yet on the whole, who, then and there, could have pointed out to him a wiser?

A fixed course of life and activity he could never attain, or not till very late; and this doubtless was among the important points of his destiny, and acted both on his own character and that of those who had to attend him on his wayfarings.