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   Chapter 2 TWO WINTERS.

Life of John Sterling By Thomas Carlyle Characters: 20953

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

As we said above, it had been hoped by Sterling's friends, not very confidently by himself, that in the gentler air of Clifton his health might so far recover as to enable him to dispense with autumnal voyages, and to spend the year all round in a house of his own. These hopes, favorable while the warm season lasted, broke down when winter came. In November of this same year, while his little Volume was passing through the press, bad and worse symptoms, spitting of blood to crown the sad list, reappeared; and Sterling had to equip himself again, at this late season, for a new flight to Madeira; wherein the good Calvert, himself suffering, and ready on all grounds for such an adventure, offered to accompany him. Sterling went by land to Falmouth, meaning there to wait for Calvert, who was to come by the Madeira Packet, and there take him on board.

Calvert and the Packet did arrive, in stormy January weather; which continued wildly blowing for weeks; forbidding all egress Westward, especially for invalids. These elemental tumults, and blustering wars of sea and sky, with nothing but the misty solitude of Madeira in the distance, formed a very discouraging outlook. In the mean while Falmouth itself had offered so many resources, and seemed so tolerable in climate and otherwise, while this wintry ocean looked so inhospitable for invalids, it was resolved our voyagers should stay where they were till spring returned. Which accordingly was done; with good effect for that season, and also with results for the coming seasons. Here again, from Letters to Knightsbridge, are some glimpses of his winter-life:-

"Falmouth, February 5th, 1840.-I have been to-day to see a new tin-mine, two or three miles off, which is expected to turn into a copper-mine by and by, so they will have the two constituents of bronze close together. This, by the way, was the 'brass' of Homer and the Ancients generally, who do not seem to have known our brass made of copper and zinc. Achilles in his armor must have looked like a bronze statue.-I took Sheridan's advice, and did not go down the mine."

"February 15th.-To some iron-works the other day; where I saw half the beam of a great steam-engine, a piece of iron forty feet long and seven broad, cast in about five minutes. It was a very striking spectacle. I hope to go to Penzance before I leave this country, and will not fail to tell you about it." He did make trial of Penzance, among other places, next year; but only of Falmouth this.

"February 20th.-I am going on asy here, in spite of a great change of weather. The East-winds are come at last, bringing with them snow, which has been driving about for the last twenty-four hours; not falling heavily, nor lying long when fallen. Neither is it as yet very cold, but I suppose there will be some six weeks of unpleasant temperature. The marine climate of this part of England will, no doubt, modify and mollify the air into a happier sort of substance than that you breathe in London.

"The large vessels that had been lying here for weeks, waiting for a wind, have now sailed; two of them for the East Indies, and having three hundred soldiers on board. It is a curious thing that the long-continued westerly winds had so prevented the coasters arriving, that the Town was almost on the point of a famine as to bread. The change has brought in abundance of flour.-The people in general seem extremely comfortable; their houses are excellent, almost all of stone. Their habits are very little agricultural, but mining and fishing seem to prosper with them. There are hardly any gentry here; I have not seen more than two gentlemen's carriages in the Town; indeed I think the nearest one comes from five miles off....

"I have been obliged to try to occupy myself with Natural Science, in order to give some interest to my walks; and have begun to feel my way in Geology. I have now learnt to recognize three or four of the common kinds of stone about here, when I see them; but I find it stupid work compared with Poetry and Philosophy. In the mornings, however, for an hour or so before I get up, I generally light my candle, and try to write some verses; and since I have been here, I have put together short poems, almost enough for another small volume. In the evenings I have gone on translating some of Goethe. But six or seven hours spent on my legs, in the open air, do not leave my brain much energy for thinking. Thus my life is a dull and unprofitable one, but still better than it would have been in Madeira or on board ship. I hear from Susan every day, and write to her by return of post."

At Falmouth Sterling had been warmly welcomed by the well-known Quaker family of the Foxes, principal people in that place, persons of cultivated opulent habits, and joining to the fine purities and pieties of their sect a reverence for human intelligence in all kinds; to whom such a visitor as Sterling was naturally a welcome windfall. The family had grave elders, bright cheery younger branches, men and women; truly amiable all, after their sort: they made a pleasant image of home for Sterling in his winter exile. "Most worthy, respectable and highly cultivated people, with a great deal of money among them," writes Sterling in the end of February; "who make the place pleasant to me. They are connected with all the large Quaker circle, the Gurneys, Frys, &c., and also with Buxton the Abolitionist. It is droll to hear them talking of all the common topics of science, literature, and life, and in the midst of it: 'Does thou know Wordsworth?' or, 'Did thou see the Coronation?' or 'Will thou take some refreshment?' They are very kind and pleasant people to know."

"Calvert," continues our Diarist, "is better than he lately was, though he has not been at all laid up. He shoots little birds, and dissects and stuffs them; while I carry a hammer, and break flints and slates, to look for diamonds and rubies inside; and admire my success in the evening, when I empty my great-coat pocket of its specimens. On the whole, I doubt whether my physical proceedings will set the Thames on fire. Give my love to Anthony's Charlotte; also remember me affectionately to the Carlyles."-

At this time, too, John Mill, probably encouraged by Sterling, arrived in Falmouth, seeking refuge of climate for a sickly younger Brother, to whom also, while he continued there, and to his poor patient, the doors and hearts of this kind family were thrown wide open. Falmouth, during these winter weeks, especially while Mill continued, was an unexpectedly engaging place to Sterling; and he left it in spring, for Clifton, with a very kindly image of it in his thoughts. So ended, better than it might have done, his first year's flight from the Clifton winter.

In April, 1840, he was at his own hearth again; cheerily pursuing his old labors,-struggling to redeem, as he did with a gallant constancy, the available months and days, out of the wreck of so many that were unavailable, for the business allotted him in this world. His swift, decisive energy of character; the valiant rally he made again and ever again, starting up fresh from amid the wounded, and cheerily storming in anew, was admirable, and showed a noble fund of natural health amid such an element of disease. Somehow one could never rightly fancy that he was diseased; that those fatal ever-recurring downbreaks were not almost rather the penalties paid for exuberance of health, and of faculty for living and working; criminal forfeitures, incurred by excess of self-exertion and such irrepressible over-rapidity of movement: and the vague hope was habitual with us, that increase of years, as it deadened this over-energy, would first make the man secure of life, and a sober prosperous worker among his fellows. It was always as if with a kind of blame that one heard of his being ill again! Poor Sterling;-no man knows another's burden: these things were not, and were not to be, in the way we had fancied them!

Summer went along in its usual quiet tenor at Clifton; health good, as usual while the warm weather lasted, and activity abundant; the scene as still as the busiest could wish. "You metropolitan signors," writes Sterling to his Father, "cannot conceive the dulness and scantiness of our provincial chronicle." Here is a little excursion to the seaside; the lady of the family being again,-for good reasons,-in a weakly state:-

"To Edward Sterling, Esq., Knightsbridge, London.

"PORTSHEAD, BRISTOL, 1st Sept., 1840.

"MY DEAR FATHER,-This place is a southern headland at the mouth of the Avon. Susan, and the Children too, were all suffering from languor; and as she is quite unfit to travel in a carriage, we were obliged to move, if at all, to some place accessible by water; and this is the nearest where we could get the fresher air of the Bristol Channel. We sent to take a house, for a week; and came down here in a steamer yesterday morning. It seems likely to do every one good. We have a comfortable house, with eight rather small bedrooms, for which we pay four guineas and a half for the week. We have brought three of our own maids, and leave one to take care of the house at Clifton.

"A week ago my horse fell with me, but did not hurt seriously either himself or me: it was, however, rather hard that, as there were six legs to be damaged, the one that did scratch itself should belong to the part of the machine possessing only two, instead of the quadrupedal portion. I grazed about the size of a halfpenny on my left knee; and for a couple of days walked about as if nothing had happened. I found, however, that the skin was not returning correctly; and so sent for a doctor: he treated the thing as quite insignificant, but said I must keep my leg quiet for a few days. It is still not quite healed; and I lie all day on a sofa, much to my discomposure; but the thing is now rapidly disappearing; and I hope, in a day or two more, I shall be free again. I find I can do no work, while thus crippled in my leg. The man in Horace who made verses stans pede in uno had the advantage of me.

"The Great Western came in last night about eleven, and has just been making a flourish past our windows; looking very grand, with four streamers of bunting, and one of smoke. Of course I do not yet know whether I have Letters by her, as if so they will have gone to Clifton first. This place is quiet, green and pleasant; and will sui

t us very well, if we have good weather, of which there seems every appearance.

"Milnes spent last Sunday with me at Clifton; and was very amusing and cordial. It is impossible for those who know him well not to like him.-I send this to Knightsbridge, not knowing where else to hit you. Love to my Mother.

"Your affectionate,


The expected "Letters by the Great Western" are from Anthony, now in Canada, doing military duties there. The "Milnes" is our excellent Richard, whom all men know, and truly whom none can know well without even doing as Sterling says.-In a week the family had returned to Clifton; and Sterling was at his poetizings and equitations again. His grand business was now Poetry; all effort, outlook and aim exclusively directed thither, this good while.

Of the published Volume Moxon gave the worst tidings; no man had hailed it with welcome; unsold it lay, under the leaden seal of general neglect; the public when asked what it thought, had answered hitherto by a lazy stare. It shall answer otherwise, thought Sterling; by no means taking that as the final response. It was in this same September that he announced to me and other friends, under seal of secrecy as usual, the completion, or complete first-draught, of "a new Poem reaching to two thousand verses." By working "three hours every morning" he had brought it so far. This Piece, entitled The Election, of which in due time we obtained perusal, and had to give some judgment, proved to be in a new vein,-what might be called the mock-heroic, or sentimental Hudibrastic, reminding one a little, too, of Wieland's Oberon;-it had touches of true drollery combined not ill with grave clear insight; showed spirit everywhere, and a plainly improved power of execution. Our stingy verdict was to the effect, "Better, but still not good enough:-why follow that sad 'metrical' course, climbing the loose sandhills, when you have a firm path along the plain?" To Sterling himself it remained dubious whether so slight a strain, new though it were, would suffice to awaken the sleeping public; and the Piece was thrown away and taken up again, at intervals; and the question, Publish or not publish? lay many months undecided.

Meanwhile his own feeling was now set more and more towards Poetry; and in spite of symptoms and dissuasions, and perverse prognostics of outward wind and weather, he was rallying all his force for a downright struggle with it; resolute to see which was the stronger. It must be owned, he takes his failures in the kindliest manner; and goes along, bating no jot of heart or hope. Perhaps I should have more admired this than I did! My dissuasions, in that case, might have been fainter. But then my sincerity, which was all the use of my poor counsel in assent or dissent, would have been less. He was now furthermore busy with a Tragedy of Strafford, the theme of many failures in Tragedy; planning it industriously in his head; eagerly reading in Whitlocke, Rushworth and the Puritan Books, to attain a vesture and local habitation for it. Faithful assiduous studies I do believe;-of which, knowing my stubborn realism, and savage humor towards singing by the Thespian or other methods, he told me little, during his visits that summer.

The advance of the dark weather sent him adrift again; to Torquay, for this winter: there, in his old Falmouth climate, he hoped to do well;-and did, so far as well-doing was readily possible, in that sad wandering way of life. However, be where he may, he tries to work "two or three hours in the morning," were it even "with a lamp," in bed, before the fires are lit; and so makes something of it. From abundant Letters of his now before me, I glean these two or three small glimpses; sufficient for our purpose at present. The general date is "Tor, near Torquay:"-

To Mrs. Charles Fox, Falmouth.

Tor, November 30th, 1840.-I reached this place on Thursday; having, after much hesitation, resolved to come here, at least for the next three weeks,-with some obscure purpose of embarking, at the New Year, from Falmouth for Malta, and so reaching Naples, which I have not seen. There was also a doubt whether I should not, after Christmas, bring my family here for the first four months of the year. All this, however, is still doubtful. But for certain inhabitants of Falmouth and its neighborhood, this place would be far more attractive than it. But I have here also friends, whose kindness, like much that I met with last winter, perpetually makes me wonder at the stock of benignity in human nature. A brother of my friend Julius Hare, Marcus by name, a Naval man, and though not a man of letters, full of sense and knowledge, lives here in a beautiful place, with a most agreeable and excellent wife, a daughter of Lord Stanley of Alderley. I had hardly seen them before; but they are fraternizing with me, in a much better than the Jacobin fashion; and one only feels ashamed at the enormity of some people's good-nature. I am in a little rural sort of lodging; and as comfortable as a solitary oyster can expect to be."-

To C. Barton.

"December 5th.-This place is extremely small, much more so than Falmouth even; but pretty, cheerful, and very mild in climate. There are a great many villas in and about the little Town, having three or four reception-rooms, eight or ten bedrooms; and costing about fifteen hundred or two thousand pounds each, and occupied by persons spending a thousand or more pounds a year. If the Country would acknowledge my merits by the gift of one of these, I could prevail on myself to come and live here; which would be the best move for my health I could make in England; but, in the absence of any such expression of public feeling, it would come rather dear."-

To Mrs. Fox again.

"December 22d.-By the way, did you ever read a Novel? If you ever mean to do so hereafter, let it be Miss Martineau's Deerbrook. It is really very striking; and parts of it are very true and very beautiful. It is not so true, or so thoroughly clear and harmonious, among delineations of English middle-class gentility, as Miss Austen's books, especially as Pride and Prejudice, which I think exquisite; but it is worth reading. The hour and the Man is eloquent, but an absurd exaggeration.-I hold out so valorously against this Scandinavian weather, that I deserve to be ranked with Odin and Thor; and fancy I may go to live at Clifton or Drontheim. Have you had the same icy desolation as prevails here?"

To W. Coningham, Esq.

"December 28th.-Looking back to him [a deceased Uncle, father of his correspondent], as I now very often do, I feel strongly, what the loss of other friends has also impressed on me, how much Death deepens our affection; and sharpens our regret for whatever has been even slightly amiss in our conduct towards those who are gone. What trifles then swell into painful importance; how we believe that, could the past be recalled, life would present no worthier, happier task, than that of so bearing ourselves towards those we love, that we might ever after find nothing but melodious tranquillity breathing about their graves! Yet, too often, I feel the difficulty of always practicing such mild wisdom towards those who are still left me.-You will wonder less at my rambling off in this way, when I tell you that my little lodging is close to a picturesque old Church and Churchyard, where, every day, I brush past a tombstone, recording that an Italian, of Manferrato, has buried there a girl of sixteen, his only daughter: 'L' unica speranza di mia vita.'-No doubt, as you say, our Mechanical Age is necessary as a passage to something better; but, at least, do not let us go back."-

At the New-year time, feeling unusually well, he returns to Clifton. His plans, of course, were ever fluctuating; his movements were swift and uncertain. Alas, his whole life, especially his winter-life, had to be built as if on wavering drift-sand; nothing certain in it, except if possible the "two or three hours of work" snatched from the general whirlpool of the dubious four-and-twenty!

To Dr. Carlyle.

"Clifton, January 10th, 1841.-I stood the sharp frost at Torquay with such entire impunity, that at last I took courage, and resolved to return home. I have been here a week, in extreme cold; and have suffered not at all; so that I hope, with care I may prosper in spite of medical prognostics,-if you permit such profane language. I am even able to work a good deal; and write for some hours every morning, by dint of getting up early, which an Arnott stove in my study enables me to do."-But at Clifton he cannot continue. Again, before long, the rude weather has driven him Southward; the spring finds him in his former haunts; doubtful as ever what to decide upon for the future; but tending evidently towards a new change of residence for household and self:-

To W. Coningham, Esq.

"Penzance, April 19th, 1841.-My little Boy and I have been wandering about between Torquay and this place; and latterly have had my Father for a few days with us,-he left us yesterday. In all probability I shall endeavor to settle either at Torquay, at Falmouth, or here; as it is pretty clear that I cannot stand the sharp air of Clifton, and still less the London east-winds. Penzance is, on the whole, a pleasant-looking, cheerful place; with a delightful mildness of air, and a great appearance of comfort among the people: the view of Mount's Bay is certainly a very noble one. Torquay would suit the health of my Wife and Children better; or else I should be glad to live here always, London and its neighborhood being impracticable."-Such was his second wandering winter; enough to render the prospect of a third at Clifton very uninviting.

With the Falmouth friends, young and old, his intercourse had meanwhile continued cordial and frequent. The omens were pointing towards that region at his next place of abode. Accordingly, in few weeks hence, in the June of this Summer, 1841, his dubitations and inquirings are again ended for a time; he has fixed upon a house in Falmouth, and removed thither; bidding Clifton, and the regretful Clifton friends, a kind farewell. This was the fifth change of place for his family since Bayswater; the fifth, and to one chief member of it the last. Mrs. Sterling had brought him a new child in October last; and went hopefully to Falmouth, dreading other than what befell there.

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