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been pleased with the Christian spirit that pervades alike the carefully written and excellent history of the civilian, and the spirited narrative of the gallant young officer. To all interested in the affairs of India, both works are most valuable; while to the general reader, they offer an amount of amusement, no less than information, for which they might search through many a
volume in vain.
ART. IX.-The Life of John Sterling. By THOMAS CARLYLE.
Chapman and Hall.
EVERY man's life is a tragedy-deep in interest, varied in struggle, solemn in conclusion. But in the history of the life of most men, no one knows aught of the tragedy save the principal actor. That which his fellows know, is no more the tragedy, than the calf-skin is the poem.
It is no uncommon fate for ordinary men to be sepultured in still more ordinary biographies. Naturalists tell of a sort of beetle, whose prime object in life appears to be to dig the graves of other nameless flics. He is thought to solace himself after his labours, by subsisting on the remains which he has entombed; and we believe it is pretty much the same with a certain class of biographers. But here and there, it happens that the biography is so much more remarkable than its subject, that it suggests the old comparison of flies in amber; and, without deeming it necessary to compare Mr. Sterling to the insect, or Messrs. Hare and Carlyle to the inflammable gum, we shall not be far wrong in asserting that two biographies so remarkable have rarely, if ever, been written of one man so little noteworthy.
And yet, let us not be accused of speaking lightly of the dead. The memory of John Sterling, to those who know him by hearsay or by reading, is like the memory, dim, yet pleasant, of a sweet strain of music. It conveys, not ideas, but emotions. It does not so much inform the understanding as impress the heart. There is something profoundly melancholy in the Mezentian union of lively soul and sickly body. There is something to make one tremble in the clearly developed influence which sickness and solitude exercised in confusing the judgment, by confounding external facts with internal impressions. The invalid has a gleam of health. He takes a curacy. He takes a curacy. He exerts himself in all manner of schemes for the good of the parish. His aim is to awaken the minds of the people, to arouse their conscience,
THE RIVAL BIOGRAPHERS.
to make them feel their own sinfulness, their need of redemption. But the clouds return after the rain. Disease resumes its power. He loses sight of the practical object of Christianity, and gropes in a darkness peopled by such ghastly phantasms as Strauss's 'Leben Jesu.'
Let it not be understood that we lean to the notions of those theorists who charge against the body the weakness or waywardness of the mind,-who identify sin with disease, or who ascribe peculiar forms of belief to peculiar physical organizations. But no one can have suffered under any nervous malady without knowing how every external fact and internal emotion is coloured by the disease; and it is surely no unlikely supposition that Sterling's constantly recurring illness affected, to a certain degree, a judgment which, not naturally strong, seems always to have been to a large extent under the control of his imagination.
But without theorizing further on the influence of bodily health on mental soundness, or discussing too closely poor Sterling's claim to two biographies, the fact remains that a man to whom attaches no public interest, a man with but slender claims to literary notice, has had his life made the subject of literary labour by two men, each very much his superiors in public notoriety.
There is something of the droll in the whole proceeding. We understand that on Sterling's death, he left, as literary executors, his two chief friends, Archdeacon Hare and Mr. Carlyle; and it is not too much to conclude that a certain jealousy pervaded the mind of each, as to the share the other was likely to take of this sacred trust. The Archdeacon was naturally anxious lest the known tendencies of the philosopher of Chelsea should tempt him to work up the materials left behind into a shape exceedingly distasteful to the orthodox feelings and Christian prepossessions of the public. He, no doubt, dreaded that if Carlyle were the sculptor, the statue of his deceased friend would come forth, clad, not, in his habit as he lived,' with something of the garb and appearance of a minister of the church of England, but girt with the dress, as it might happen, of a Parsee, or an Indian, or a Scandinavian hero,-worshipper of the Sun, of Vishnu, or of Thor, but with nothing of the semblance of Christianity about him.
Accordingly, Archdeacon Hare used every exertion to secure to himself the office of dealing as he might with these questionable materials, and he put forth two rather corpulent volumes, which we have noticed in a former number.* It was not within the sphere of our purpose to discuss the propriety or prudence * See British Quarterly Review, No. XV. Art. 8.
of Archdeacon Hare's conduct in printing, as he does, with very feeble comments, expressions of opinion on theological subjects, which are totally at variance from the doctrines and articles of that church of which he is a prominent officer; but there can be no doubt that his object was, not to put forth his friend's religious peculiarities in strong relief, but, as far as possible, to do the reverse; always bearing in mind, that love to his memory was not altogether to swamp the fact of his friend's theological history, and always having before him the dread of a rival Life, on Pantheistic principles, from the other executor.'
In this affectionate object Mr. Hare has utterly failed; and he has brought down upon the memory of John Sterling a storm of denunciation, which, while levelled particularly at him, has not spared his biographer, and has brought before the public eye, as accomplices in Sterling's theological criminality, persons who had scarcely even heard of the opinions which they were accused of abetting.
'Injustice of every kind is sure to defeat itself,' says the Archdeacon, in speaking of a very different subject, and we are not sure that a better illustration could be devised for the principle, than that which is presented by the history of this unfortunate biography. Injustice' is done to the notorious heterodoxies of Sterling, by the ill-judged affection of a friend who ought not to have been his biographer. The benevolent trick is detected; biographer and biographee are alike denounced, and the imp of neology-so carefully bottled by the one executorwhen the other executor draws the cork, expands into a gigantic demon of Pantheism.
At the same time, we do not altogether understand this proceeding on the part of Mr. Carlyle. In the second paragraph of his Life occurs the following passage:
After some consultation on it,' (Sterling's dying message,) and survey of the difficult and delicate considerations involved in it, Archdeacon Hare and I agreed, that the whole task of selecting what writings were to be reprinted, and drawing up a biography to introduce them, should be left to him alone; and done without interference of mine, as accordingly it was, in a manner surely far superior to the common, in every good quality of editing; and visibly everywhere bearing testimony to the friendliness, the piety, perspicacity, and other gifts and virtues of that eminent man.'
The italics in this quotation are ours, and we ask, how, in the name of common honesty, dares Mr. Carlyle to come forward with his biography, after thus pledging himself to leave the task to Archdeacon Hare? He finds no fault with the manner in which the task was performed; on the contrary, he gives it quite as
THE CARLYLE DODGE.
much praise as it deserves. He does not allege that any important facts were left out. In truth, the whole life is so barren of incidents that he is compelled to eke out a whole chapter with the details of a hurricane in the island of St. Vincent, and three whole chapters with the tale of Sterling's connexion with a madcap expedition of Spanish exiles, which ended in a fusillade by which a relation of his perished-a passage in his history, by the bye, which Sterling never could bear to hear talked of, and which the Archdeacon disposes of in a few lines. Well, then; why did Mr. Carlyle persist in writing this most unnecessary book? Simply because one of his correspondents,' who is evidently a person whom our author sees every morning when he shaves that cynic beard of his, has discovered that Hare's book has a sin which is ruinous to his task as biographer; and this sin is, that he takes up Sterling as a clergyman merely. Now this statement is simply untrue, as any one may see who chooses to wade through the grim dulness of the Archdeacon's pages. But what if true it were? It can never excuse the dishonesty of Mr. Carlyle in first pledging himself to leave the task of biographer and editor to his friend, and then, because Sterling was not made quite enough of a heathen to please him, writing another Life himself.
This correspondent' dodge is a very contemptible way of escaping the personal responsibility which must adhere to statements of opinion made in one's own name, and professedly from one's own pen. Surely a man like Mr. Carlyle, holding so high a place in English literature, and putting on the brave in appearance so often, might muster up courage to say the thing himself, or should leave it altogether unsaid. But our author would not seem to be capable of seeing the meanness and poltroonery of this trick. For he began with it in Sartor Resartus,' the first piece of goods exposed for sale by him on his own account; and here, in his last vendable commodity, it comes upon us as boldly as ever-worn indeed into a dinginess and threadbareness, that could hardly be matched by the oldest hackney-coach in London some thirty years ago, but as incapable as that four-wheeled concern of blushing for the service it has seen. Whenever a piece of anti-christianism or of anti-theism more spicy than usual comes across him, it is felt that it would not do for Thomas Carlyle to say that. The probable cost, in such case, would be sundry inconveniences in the way of the profitable and respectable, which our author is by no means eager to encounter. So, straightway, a speaker is invented, in the shape of an old manuscript, or of a person with some outlandish name; or else the stale newspaper fashion of our own correspondent' is resorted to. And thus what the philosopher would fain have said, but
dared not, is said in paragraphs marked by commas stretching conspicuously from top to bottom down the margin. The reader pauses as he reads, waxes warm, looks thunder at Mr. Carlyle, who, having forecast of the explosion, deems it enough to say, with a certain guileless and honourable ancient
'Thou canst not say I did it.'
The least endurable among shams is a sham bravery- when I will the hero of Chelsea have done with it?
In the case now before us, the words which our author puts into the mouth of his pseudo-correspondent have nothing of the heterodox in them; they are merely such as he might well be inclined to disown, as being so absurd and unintelligible; and secondly, because if susceptible of any meaning, the meaning is most graceless and unbecoming:- A pale, sickly shadow in torn surplice, 'is presented to us here, weltering bewildered amid heaps of what you call Hebrew old clothes;' wrestling with impotent 'impetuosity to free itself from the baleful imbroglio, as if that had been its one function in life.' Now what does the correspondent mean by this sentence? Evidently that the struggle of an earnest mind to reconcile faith and reason, the voice of Scripture and the echo of philosophy, is of so contemptible a character that it is to be spoken of in language which might describe a quarrel between two Jews in Rag-fair,-while the belief which in all ages and all conditions has smoothed the pillow of the dying, and caused many a timid woman to gaze on death-horrible death, with courage, nay, with exultation, is to be sneered at by a man who calls himself a philosopher-an acute, dispassionate, unprejudiced, earnest thinker-as à baleful imbroglio. Did we think Christianity a fiction, our impression is, that we should feel obliged to pity the man who could speak of it, or of the questions with which it concerns itself, in such drunken phrase as this.
Sterling's two biographers seem to have been his chief friends, at least towards the close of his life, and exercised upon his opinions a kind of antagonistic influence. But the Ahriman of Chelsea had clearly carried it hollow against the Ormuzd of Herstmonceux; and hence, for one reason among many, Mr. Carlyle could not be satisfied with the rival biography.
And yet, on his own principles, it is surely an ungracious task to attempt to prove that the friend with whom he had walked in near acquaintanceship for many years, and who is now gone from him for ever, felt when he left him that he was, to use his own melancholy words, treading the common road into the great darkness. If he had succeeded in persuading the ductile nature of his disciple that the world was filled with 'abysses of conflicting disbelief, and sham-belief, and Bedlam delusion,' (p. 9,)