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

Sterling continued to reside at Herstmonceux through the spring and summer; holding by the peaceable retired house he still had there, till the vague future might more definitely shape itself, and better point out what place of abode would suit him in his new circumstances.  He made frequent brief visits to London; in which I, among other friends, frequently saw him, our acquaintance at each visit improving in all ways.  Like a swift dashing meteor he came into our circle; coruscated among us, for a day or two, with sudden pleasant illumination; then again suddenly withdrew, ­we hoped, not for long.

I suppose, he was full of uncertainties; but undoubtedly was gravitating towards London.  Yet, on the whole, on the surface of him, you saw no uncertainties; far from that:  it seemed always rather with peremptory resolutions, and swift express businesses, that he was charged.  Sickly in body, the testimony said:  but here always was a mind that gave you the impression of peremptory alertness, cheery swift decision, ­of a health which you might have called exuberant.  I remember dialogues with him, of that year; one pleasant dialogue under the trees of the Park (where now, in 1851, is the thing called “Crystal Palace"), with the June sunset flinging long shadows for us; the last of the Quality just vanishing for dinner, and the great night beginning to prophesy of itself.  Our talk (like that of the foregoing Letter) was of the faults of my style, of my way of thinking, of my &c. &c.; all which admonitions and remonstrances, so friendly and innocent, from this young junior-senior, I was willing to listen to, though unable, as usual, to get almost any practical hold of them.  As usual, the garments do not fit you, you are lost in the garments, or you cannot get into them at all; this is not your suit of clothes, it must be another’s: ­alas, these are not your dimensions, these are only the optical angles you subtend; on the whole, you will never get measured in that way! ­

Another time, of date probably very contiguous, I remember hearing Sterling preach.  It was in some new college-chapel in Somerset-house (I suppose, what is now called King’s College); a very quiet small place, the audience student-looking youths, with a few elder people, perhaps mostly friends of the preacher’s.  The discourse, delivered with a grave sonorous composure, and far surpassing in talent the usual run of sermons, had withal an air of human veracity as I still recollect, and bespoke dignity and piety of mind:  but gave me the impression rather of artistic excellence than of unction or inspiration in that kind.  Sterling returned with us to Chelsea that day; ­and in the afternoon we went on the Thames Putney-ward together, we two with my Wife; under the sunny skies, on the quiet water, and with copious cheery talk, the remembrance of which is still present enough to me.

This was properly my only specimen of Sterling’s preaching.  Another time, late in the same autumn, I did indeed attend him one evening to some Church in the City, ­a big Church behind Cheapside, “built by Wren” as he carefully informed me; ­but there, in my wearied mood, the chief subject of reflection was the almost total vacancy of the place, and how an eloquent soul was preaching to mere lamps and prayer-books; and of the sermon I retain no image.  It came up in the way of banter, if he ever urged the duty of “Church extension,” which already he very seldom did and at length never, what a specimen we once had of bright lamps, gilt prayer-books, baize-lined pews, Wren-built architecture; and how, in almost all directions, you might have fired a musket through the church, and hit no Christian life.  A terrible outlook indeed for the Apostolic laborer in the brick-and-mortar line! ­

In the Autumn of this same 1835, he removed permanently to London, whither all summer he had been evidently tending; took a house in Bayswater, an airy suburb, half town, half country, near his Father’s, and within fair distance of his other friends and objects; and decided to await there what the ultimate developments of his course might be.  His house was in Orme Square, close by the corner of that little place (which has only three sides of houses); its windows looking to the east:  the Number was, and I believe still is, N.  A sufficiently commodious, by no means sumptuous, small mansion; where, with the means sure to him, he could calculate on finding adequate shelter for his family, his books and himself, and live in a decent manner, in no terror of debt, for one thing.  His income, I suppose, was not large; but he lived generally a safe distance within it; and showed himself always as a man bountiful in money matters, and taking no thought that way.

His study-room in this house was perhaps mainly the drawing-room; looking out safe, over the little dingy grassplot in front, and the quiet little row of houses opposite, with the huge dust-whirl of Oxford Street and London far enough ahead of you as background, ­as back-curtain, blotting out only half your blue hemisphere with dust and smoke.  On the right, you had the continuous growl of the Uxbridge Road and its wheels, coming as lullaby not interruption.  Leftward and rearward, after some thin belt of houses, lay mere country; bright sweeping green expanses, crowned by pleasant Hampstead, pleasant Harrow, with their rustic steeples rising against the sky.  Here on winter evenings, the bustle of removal being all well ended, and family and books got planted in their new places, friends could find Sterling, as they often did, who was delighted to be found by them, and would give and take, vividly as few others, an hour’s good talk at any time.

His outlooks, it must be admitted, were sufficiently vague and overshadowed; neither the past nor the future of a too joyful kind.  Public life, in any professional form, is quite forbidden; to work with his fellows anywhere appears to be forbidden:  nor can the humblest solitary endeavor to work worthily as yet find an arena.  How unfold one’s little bit of talent; and live, and not lie sleeping, while it is called To-day?  As Radical, as Reforming Politician in any public or private form, ­not only has this, in Sterling’s case, received tragical sentence and execution; but the opposite extreme, the Church whither he had fled, likewise proves abortive:  the Church also is not the haven for him at all.  What is to be done?  Something must be done, and soon, ­under penalties.  Whoever has received, on him there is an inexorable behest to give. “Fais ton fait, Do thy little stroke of work:”  this is Nature’s voice, and the sum of all the commandments, to each man!

A shepherd of the people, some small Agamemnon after his sort, doing what little sovereignty and guidance he can in his day and generation:  such every gifted soul longs, and should long, to be.  But how, in any measure, is the small kingdom necessary for Sterling to be attained?  Not through newspapers and parliaments, not by rubrics and reading-desks:  none of the sceptres offered in the world’s market-place, nor none of the crosiers there, it seems, can be the shepherd’s-crook for this man.  A most cheerful, hoping man; and full of swift faculty, though much lamed, ­considerably bewildered too; and tending rather towards the wastes and solitary places for a home; the paved world not being friendly to him hitherto!  The paved world, in fact, both on its practical and spiritual side, slams to its doors against him; indicates that he cannot enter, and even must not, ­that it will prove a choke-vault, deadly to soul and to body, if he enter.  Sceptre, crosier, sheep-crook is none there for him.

There remains one other implement, the resource of all Adam’s posterity that are otherwise foiled, ­the Pen.  It was evident from this point that Sterling, however otherwise beaten about, and set fluctuating, would gravitate steadily with all his real weight towards Literature.  That he would gradually try with consciousness to get into Literature; and, on the whole, never quit Literature, which was now all the world for him.  Such is accordingly the sum of his history henceforth:  such small sum, so terribly obstructed and diminished by circumstances, is all we have realized from him.

Sterling had by no means as yet consciously quitted the clerical profession, far less the Church as a creed.  We have seen, he occasionally officiated still in these months, when a friend requested or an opportunity invited.  Nay it turned out afterwards, he had, unknown even to his own family, during a good many weeks in the coldest period of next spring, when it was really dangerous for his health and did prove hurtful to it, ­been constantly performing the morning service in some Chapel in Bayswater for a young clerical neighbor, a slight acquaintance of his, who was sickly at the time.  So far as I know, this of the Bayswater Chapel in the spring of 1836, a feat severely rebuked by his Doctor withal, was his last actual service as a churchman.  But the conscious life ecclesiastical still hung visibly about his inner unconscious and real life, for years to come; and not till by slow degrees he had unwinded from him the wrappages of it, could he become clear about himself, and so much as try heartily what his now sole course was.  Alas, and he had to live all the rest of his days, as in continual flight for his very existence; “ducking under like a poor unfledged partridge-bird,” as one described it, “before the mower; darting continually from nook to nook, and there crouching, to escape the scythe of Death.”  For Literature Proper there was but little left in such a life.  Only the smallest broken fractions of his last and heaviest-laden years can poor Sterling be said to have completely lived.  His purpose had risen before him slowly in noble clearness; clear at last, ­and even then the inevitable hour was at hand.

In those first London months, as always afterwards while it remained physically possible, I saw much of him; loved him, as was natural, more and more; found in him, many ways, a beautiful acquisition to my existence here.  He was full of bright speech and argument; radiant with arrowy vitalities, vivacities and ingenuities.  Less than any man he gave you the idea of ill-health.  Hopeful, sanguine; nay he did not even seem to need definite hope, or much to form any; projecting himself in aerial pulses like an aurora borealis, like a summer dawn, and filling all the world with present brightness for himself and others.  Ill-health?  Nay you found at last, it was the very excess of life in him that brought on disease.  This restless play of being, fit to conquer the world, could it have been held and guided, could not be held.  It had worn holes in the outer case of it, and there found vent for itself, ­there, since not otherwise.

In our many promenades and colloquies, which were of the freest, most copious and pleasant nature, religion often formed a topic, and perhaps towards the beginning of our intercourse was the prevailing topic.  Sterling seemed much engrossed in matters theological, and led the conversation towards such; talked often about Church, Christianity Anglican and other, how essential the belief in it to man; then, on the other side, about Pantheism and such like; ­all in the Coleridge dialect, and with eloquence and volubility to all lengths.  I remember his insisting often and with emphasis on what he called a “personal God,” and other high topics, of which it was not always pleasant to give account in the argumentative form, in a loud hurried voice, walking and arguing through the fields or streets.  Though of warm quick feelings, very positive in his opinions, and vehemently eager to convince and conquer in such discussions, I seldom or never saw the least anger in him against me or any friend.  When the blows of contradiction came too thick, he could with consummate dexterity whisk aside out of their way; prick into his adversary on some new quarter; or gracefully flourishing his weapon, end the duel in some handsome manner.  One angry glance I remember in him, and it was but a glance, and gone in a moment.  “Flat Pantheism!” urged he once (which he would often enough do about this time), as if triumphantly, of something or other, in the fire of a debate, in my hearing:  “It is mere Pantheism, that!” ­“And suppose it were Pot-theism?” cried the other:  “If the thing is true!” ­Sterling did look hurt at such flippant heterodoxy, for a moment.  The soul of his own creed, in those days, was far other than this indifference to Pot or Pan in such departments of inquiry.

To me his sentiments for most part were lovable and admirable, though in the logical outcome there was everywhere room for opposition.  I admired the temper, the longing towards antique heroism, in this young man of the nineteenth century; but saw not how, except in some German-English empire of the air, he was ever to realize it on those terms.  In fact, it became clear to me more and more that here was nobleness of heart striving towards all nobleness; here was ardent recognition of the worth of Christianity, for one thing; but no belief in it at all, in my sense of the word belief, ­no belief but one definable as mere theoretic moonshine, which would never stand the wind and weather of fact.  Nay it struck me farther that Sterling’s was not intrinsically, nor had ever been in the highest or chief degree, a devotional mind.  Of course all excellence in man, and worship as the supreme excellence, was part of the inheritance of this gifted man:  but if called to define him, I should say, Artist not Saint was the real bent of his being.  He had endless admiration, but intrinsically rather a deficiency of reverence in comparison.  Fear, with its corollaries, on the religious side, he appeared to have none, nor ever to have had any.

In short, it was a strange enough symptom to me of the bewildered condition of the world, to behold a man of this temper, and of this veracity and nobleness, self-consecrated here, by free volition and deliberate selection, to be a Christian Priest; and zealously struggling to fancy himself such in very truth.  Undoubtedly a singular present fact; ­from which, as from their point of intersection, great perplexities and aberrations in the past, and considerable confusions in the future might be seen ominously radiating.  Happily our friend, as I said, needed little hope.  To-day with its activities was always bright and rich to him.  His unmanageable, dislocated, devastated world, spiritual or economical, lay all illuminated in living sunshine, making it almost beautiful to his eyes, and gave him no hypochondria.  A richer soul, in the way of natural outfit for felicity, for joyful activity in this world, so far as his strength would go, was nowhere to be met with.

The Letters which Mr. Hare has printed, Letters addressed, I imagine, mostly to himself, in this and the following year or two, give record of abundant changeful plannings and laborings, on the part of Sterling; still chiefly in the theological department.  Translation from Tholuck, from Schleiermacher; treatise on this thing, then on that, are on the anvil:  it is a life of abstruse vague speculations, singularly cheerful and hopeful withal, about Will, Morals, Jonathan Edwards, Jewhood, Manhood, and of Books to be written on these topics.  Part of which adventurous vague plans, as the Translation from Tholuck, he actually performed; other greater part, merging always into wider undertakings, remained plan merely.  I remember he talked often about Tholuck, Schleiermacher, and others of that stamp; and looked disappointed, though full of good nature, at my obstinate indifference to them and their affairs.

His knowledge of German Literature, very slight at this time, limited itself altogether to writers on Church matters, ­Evidences, Counter-Evidences, Theologies and Rumors of Theologies; by the Tholucks, Schleiermachers, Neanders, and I know not whom.  Of the true sovereign souls of that Literature, the Goethes, Richters, Schillers, Lessings, he had as good as no knowledge; and of Goethe in particular an obstinate misconception, with proper abhorrence appended, ­which did not abate for several years, nor quite abolish itself till a very late period.  Till, in a word, he got Goethe’s works fairly read and studied for himself!  This was often enough the course with Sterling in such cases.  He had a most swift glance of recognition for the worthy and for the unworthy; and was prone, in his ardent decisive way, to put much faith in it.  “Such a one is a worthless idol; not excellent, only sham-excellent:”  here, on this negative side especially, you often had to admire how right he was; ­often, but not quite always.  And he would maintain, with endless ingenuity, confidence and persistence, his fallacious spectrum to be a real image.  However, it was sure to come all right in the end.  Whatever real excellence he might misknow, you had but to let it stand before him, soliciting new examination from him:  none surer than he to recognize it at last, and to pay it all his dues, with the arrears and interest on them.  Goethe, who figures as some absurd high-stalking hollow play-actor, or empty ornamental clock-case of an “Artist” so-called, in the Tale of the Onyx Ring, was in the throne of Sterling’s intellectual world before all was done; and the theory of “Goethe’s want of feeling,” want of &c. &c. appeared to him also abundantly contemptible and forgettable.

Sterling’s days, during this time as always, were full of occupation, cheerfully interesting to himself and others; though, the wrecks of theology so encumbering him, little fruit on the positive side could come of these labors.  On the negative side they were productive; and there also, so much of encumbrance requiring removal, before fruit could grow, there was plenty of labor needed.  He looked happy as well as busy; roamed extensively among his friends, and loved to have them about him, ­chiefly old Cambridge comrades now settling into occupations in the world; ­and was felt by all friends, by myself as by few, to be a welcome illumination in the dim whirl of things.  A man of altogether social and human ways; his address everywhere pleasant and enlivening.  A certain smile of thin but genuine laughter, we might say, hung gracefully over all he said and did; ­expressing gracefully, according to the model of this epoch, the stoical pococurantism which is required of the cultivated Englishman.  Such laughter in him was not deep, but neither was it false (as lamentably happens often); and the cheerfulness it went to symbolize was hearty and beautiful, ­visible in the silent unsymbolized state in a still gracefuler fashion.

Of wit, so far as rapid lively intellect produces wit, he had plenty, and did not abuse his endowment that way, being always fundamentally serious in the purport of his speech:  of what we call humor, he had some, though little; nay of real sense for the ludicrous, in any form, he had not much for a man of his vivacity; and you remarked that his laugh was limited in compass, and of a clear but not rich quality.  To the like effect shone something, a kind of childlike half-embarrassed shimmer of expression, on his fine vivid countenance; curiously mingling with its ardors and audacities.  A beautiful childlike soul!  He was naturally a favorite in conversation, especially with all who had any funds for conversing:  frank and direct, yet polite and delicate withal, ­though at times too he could crackle with his dexterous petulancies, making the air all like needles round you; and there was no end to his logic when you excited it; no end, unless in some form of silence on your part.  Elderly men of reputation I have sometimes known offended by him:  for he took a frank way in the matter of talk; spoke freely out of him, freely listening to what others spoke, with a kind of “hail fellow well met” feeling; and carelessly measured a men much less by his reputed account in the bank of wit, or in any other bank, than by what the man had to show for himself in the shape of real spiritual cash on the occasion.  But withal there was ever a fine element of natural courtesy in Sterling; his deliberate demeanor to acknowledged superiors was fine and graceful; his apologies and the like, when in a fit of repentance he felt commanded to apologize, were full of naïveté, and very pretty and ingenuous.

His circle of friends was wide enough; chiefly men of his own standing, old College friends many of them; some of whom have now become universally known.  Among whom the most important to him was Frederic Maurice, who had not long before removed to the Chaplaincy of Guy’s Hospital here, and was still, as he had long been, his intimate and counsellor.  Their views and articulate opinions, I suppose, were now fast beginning to diverge; and these went on diverging far enough:  but in their kindly union, in their perfect trustful familiarity, precious to both parties, there never was the least break, but a steady, equable and duly increasing current to the end.  One of Sterling’s commonest expeditions, in this time, was a sally to the other side of London Bridge:  “Going to Guy’s to-day.”  Maurice, in a year or two, became Sterling’s brother-in-law; wedded Mrs. Sterling’s younger sister, ­a gentle excellent female soul; by whom the relation was, in many ways, strengthened and beautified for Sterling and all friends of the parties.  With the Literary notabilities I think he had no acquaintance; his thoughts indeed still tended rather towards a certain class of the Clerical; but neither had he much to do with these; for he was at no time the least of a tuft-hunter, but rather had a marked natural indifference to tufts.

The Rev. Mr. Dunn, a venerable and amiable Irish gentleman, “distinguished,” we were told, “by having refused a bishopric:”  and who was now living, in an opulent enough retirement, amid his books and philosophies and friends, in London, ­is memorable to me among this clerical class:  one of the mildest, beautifulest old men I have ever seen, ­“like Fenelon,” Sterling said:  his very face, with its kind true smile, with its look of suffering cheerfulness and pious wisdom, was a sort of benediction.  It is of him that Sterling writes, in the Extract which Mr. Hare, modestly reducing the name to an initial “Mr. D.,” has given us:  “Mr. Dunn, for instance; the defect of whose Theology, compounded as it is of the doctrine of the Greek Fathers, of the Mystics and of Ethical Philosophers, consists, ­if I may hint a fault in one whose holiness, meekness and fervor would have made him the beloved disciple of him whom Jesus loved, ­in an insufficient apprehension of the reality and depth of Sin.”  A characteristic “defect” of this fine gentle soul.  On Mr. Dunn’s death, which occurred two or three years later, Stirling gave, in some veiled yet transparent form, in Blackwood’s Magazine, an affectionate and eloquent notice of him; which, stript of the veil, was excerpted into the Newspapers also.

Of Coleridge there was little said.  Coleridge was now dead, not long since; nor was his name henceforth much heard in Sterling’s circle; though on occasion, for a year or two to come, he would still assert his transcendent admiration, especially if Maurice were by to help.  But he was getting into German, into various inquiries and sources of knowledge new to him, and his admirations and notions on many things were silently and rapidly modifying themselves.

So, amid interesting human realities, and wide cloud-canopies of uncertain speculation, which also had their interests and their rainbow-colors to him, and could not fail in his life just now, did Sterling pass his year and half at Bayswater.  Such vaporous speculations were inevitable for him at present; but it was to be hoped they would subside by and by, and leave the sky clear.  All this was but the preliminary to whatever work might lie in him: ­and, alas, much other interruption lay between him and that.