Read PART I - CHAPTER XIV.  PAUSE. of The Life of John Sterling, free online book, by Thomas Carlyle, on

These thoughts dwelt long with Sterling; and for a good while, I fancy, kept possession of the proscenium of his mind; madly parading there, to the exclusion of all else, ­coloring all else with their own black hues.  He was young, rich in the power to be miserable or otherwise; and this was his first grand sorrow which had now fallen upon him.

An important spiritual crisis, coming at any rate in some form, had hereby suddenly in a very sad form come.  No doubt, as youth was passing into manhood in these Tropical seclusions, and higher wants were awakening in his mind, and years and reflection were adding new insight and admonition, much in his young way of thought and action lay already under ban with him, and repentances enough over many things were not wanting.  But here on a sudden had all repentances, as it were, dashed themselves together into one grand whirlwind of repentance; and his past life was fallen wholly as into a state of reprobation.  A great remorseful misery had come upon him.  Suddenly, as with a sudden lightning-stroke, it had kindled into conflagration all the ruined structure of his past life; such ruin had to blaze and flame round him, in the painfulest manner, till it went out in black ashes.  His democratic philosophies, and mutinous radicalisms, already falling doomed in his thoughts, had reached their consummation and final condemnation here.  It was all so rash, imprudent, arrogant, all that; false, or but half true; inapplicable wholly as a rule of noble conduct; ­and it has ended thus.  Woe on it!  Another guidance must be found in life, or life is impossible! ­

It is evident, Sterling’s thoughts had already, since the old days of the “black dragoon,” much modified themselves.  We perceive that, by mere increase of experience and length of time, the opposite and much deeper side of the question, which also has its adamantine basis of truth, was in turn coming into play; and in fine that a Philosophy of Denial, and world illuminated merely by the flames of Destruction, could never have permanently been the resting-place of such a man.  Those pilgrimings to Coleridge, years ago, indicate deeper wants beginning to be felt, and important ulterior resolutions becoming inevitable for him.  If in your own soul there is any tone of the “Eternal Melodies,” you cannot live forever in those poor outer, transitory grindings and discords; you will have to struggle inwards and upwards, in search of some diviner home for yourself! ­Coleridge’s prophetic moonshine, Torrijos’s sad tragedy:  those were important occurrences in Sterling’s life.  But, on the whole, there was a big Ocean for him, with impetuous Gulf-streams, and a doomed voyage in quest of the Atlantis, before either of those arose as lights on the horizon.  As important beacon-lights let us count them nevertheless; ­signal-dates they form to us, at lowest.  We may reckon this Torrijos tragedy the crisis of Sterling’s history; the turning-point, which modified, in the most important and by no means wholly in the most favorable manner, all the subsequent stages of it.

Old Radicalism and mutinous audacious Ethnicism having thus fallen to wreck, and a mere black world of misery and remorse now disclosing itself, whatsoever of natural piety to God and man, whatsoever of pity and reverence, of awe and devout hope was in Sterling’s heart now awoke into new activity; and strove for some due utterance and predominance.  His Letters, in these months, speak of earnest religious studies and efforts; ­of attempts by prayer and longing endeavor of all kinds, to struggle his way into the temple, if temple there were, and there find sanctuary. The realities were grown so haggard; life a field of black ashes, if there rose no temple anywhere on it!  Why, like a fated Orestes, is man so whipt by the Furies, and driven madly hither and thither, if it is not even that he may seek some shrine, and there make expiation and find deliverance?

In these circumstances, what a scope for Coleridge’s philosophy, above all!  “If the bottled moonshine be actually substance?  Ah, could one but believe in a Church while finding it incredible!  What is faith; what is conviction, credibility, insight?  Can a thing be at once known for true, and known for false?  ‘Reason,’ ‘Understanding:’  is there, then, such an internecine war between these two?  It was so Coleridge imagined it, the wisest of existing men!” ­No, it is not an easy matter (according to Sir Kenelm Digby), this of getting up your “astral spirit” of a thing, and setting it in action, when the thing itself is well burnt to ashes.  Poor Sterling; poor sons of Adam in general, in this sad age of cobwebs, worn-out symbolisms, reminiscences and simulacra!  Who can tell the struggles of poor Sterling, and his pathless wanderings through these things!  Long afterwards, in speech with his Brother, he compared his case in this time to that of “a young lady who has tragically lost her lover, and is willing to be half-hoodwinked into a convent, or in any noble or quasi-noble way to escape from a world which has become intolerable.”

During the summer of 1832, I find traces of attempts towards Anti-Slavery Philanthropy; shadows of extensive schemes in that direction.  Half-desperate outlooks, it is likely, towards the refuge of Philanthropism, as a new chivalry of life.  These took no serious hold of so clear an intellect; but they hovered now and afterwards as day-dreams, when life otherwise was shorn of aim; ­mirages in the desert, which are found not to be lakes when you put your bucket into them.  One thing was clear, the sojourn in St. Vincent was not to last much longer.

Perhaps one might get some scheme raised into life, in Downing Street, for universal Education to the Blacks, preparatory to emancipating them?  There were a noble work for a man!  Then again poor Mrs. Sterling’s health, contrary to his own, did not agree with warm moist climates.  And again, &c. &c.  These were the outer surfaces of the measure; the unconscious pretexts under which it showed itself to Sterling and was shown by him:  but the inner heart and determining cause of it (as frequently in Sterling’s life, and in all our lives) was not these.  In brief, he had had enough of St. Vincent.  The strangling oppressions of his soul were too heavy for him there.  Solution lay in Europe, or might lie; not in these remote solitudes of the sea, ­where no shrine or saint’s well is to be looked for, no communing of pious pilgrims journeying together towards a shrine.