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

By Mr. Hare’s account, no priest of any Church could more fervently address himself to his functions than Sterling now did.  He went about among the poor, the ignorant, and those that had need of help; zealously forwarded schools and beneficences; strove, with his whole might, to instruct and aid whosoever suffered consciously in body, or still worse unconsciously in mind.  He had charged himself to make the Apostle Paul his model; the perils and voyagings and ultimate martyrdom of Christian Paul, in those old ages, on the great scale, were to be translated into detail, and become the practical emblem of Christian Sterling on the coast of Sussex in this new age.  “It would be no longer from Jerusalem to Damascus,” writes Sterling, “to Arabia, to Derbe, Lystra, Ephesus, that he would travel:  but each house of his appointed Parish would be to him what each of those great cities was, ­a place where he would bend his whole being, and spend his heart for the conversion, purification, elevation of those under his influence.  The whole man would be forever at work for this purpose; head, heart, knowledge, time, body, possessions, all would be directed to this end.”  A high enough model set before one: ­how to be realized! ­Sterling hoped to realize it, to struggle towards realizing it, in some small degree.  This is Mr. Hare’s report of him: ­

“He was continually devising some fresh scheme for improving the condition of the Parish.  His aim was to awaken the minds of the people, to arouse their conscience, to call forth their sense of moral responsibility, to make them feel their own sinfulness, their need of redemption, and thus lead them to a recognition of the Divine Love by which that redemption is offered to us.  In visiting them he was diligent in all weathers, to the risk of his own health, which was greatly impaired thereby; and his gentleness and considerate care for the sick won their affection; so that, though his stay was very short, his name is still, after a dozen years, cherished by many.”

How beautiful would Sterling be in all this; rushing forward like a host towards victory; playing and pulsing like sunshine or soft lightning; busy at all hours to perform his part in abundant and superabundant measure!  “Of that which it was to me personally,” continues Mr. Hare, “to have such a fellow-laborer, to live constantly in the freest communion with such a friend, I cannot speak.  He came to me at a time of heavy affliction, just after I had heard that the Brother, who had been the sharer of all my thoughts and feelings from childhood, had bid farewell to his earthly life at Rome; and thus he seemed given to me to make up in some sort for him whom I had lost.  Almost daily did I look out for his usual hour of coming to me, and watch his tall slender form walking rapidly across the hill in front of my window; with the assurance that he was coming to cheer and brighten, to rouse and stir me, to call me up to some height of feeling, or down to some depth of thought.  His lively spirit, responding instantaneously to every impulse of Nature and Art; his generous ardor in behalf of whatever is noble and true; his scorn of all meanness, of all false pretences and conventional beliefs, softened as it was by compassion for the victims of those besetting sins of a cultivated age; his never-flagging impetuosity in pushing onward to some unattained point of duty or of knowledge:  all this, along with his gentle, almost reverential affectionateness towards his former tutor, rendered my intercourse with him an unspeakable blessing; and time after time has it seemed to me that his visit had been like a shower of rain, bringing down freshness and brightness on a dusty roadside hedge.  By him too the recollection of these our daily meetings was cherished till the last.”

There are many poor people still at Herstmonceux who affectionately remember him:  Mr. Hare especially makes mention of one good man there, in his young days “a poor cobbler,” and now advanced to a much better position, who gratefully ascribes this outward and the other improvements in his life to Sterling’s generous encouragement and charitable care for him.  Such was the curate life at Herstmonceux.  So, in those actual leafy lanes, on the edge of Pevensey Level, in this new age, did our poor New Paul (on hest of certain oracles) diligently study to comport himself, ­and struggle with all his might not to be a moonshine shadow of the First Paul.

It was in this summer of 1834, ­month of May, shortly after arriving in London, ­that I first saw Sterling’s Father.  A stout broad gentleman of sixty, perpendicular in attitude, rather showily dressed, and of gracious, ingenious and slightly elaborate manners.  It was at Mrs. Austin’s in Bayswater; he was just taking leave as I entered, so our interview lasted only a moment:  but the figure of the man, as Sterling’s father, had already an interest for me, and I remember the time well.  Captain Edward Sterling, as we formerly called him, had now quite dropt the military title, nobody even of his friends now remembering it; and was known, according to his wish, in political and other circles, as Mr. Sterling, a private gentleman of some figure.  Over whom hung, moreover, a kind of mysterious nimbus as the principal or one of the principal writers in the Times, which gave an interesting chiaroscuro to his character in society.  A potent, profitable, but somewhat questionable position; of which, though he affected, and sometimes with anger, altogether to disown it, and rigorously insisted on the rights of anonymity, he was not unwilling to take the honors too:  the private pecuniary advantages were very undeniable; and his reception in the Clubs, and occasionally in higher quarters, was a good deal modelled on the universal belief in it.

John Sterling at Herstmonceux that afternoon, and his Father here in London, would have offered strange contrasts to an eye that had seen them both.  Contrasts, and yet concordances.  They were two very different-looking men, and were following two very different modes of activity that afternoon.  And yet with a strange family likeness, too, both in the men and their activities; the central impulse in each, the faculties applied to fulfil said impulse, not at all dissimilar, ­as grew visible to me on farther knowledge.