Home  »  library  »  prose  »  Critical and Biographical Introduction by Sir Leslie Stephen (1832–1904)

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Sir Leslie Stephen (1832–1904)

By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)

THE HUNDREDTH anniversary of the birth of Thomas Carlyle—(December 4th, 1795)—was lately commemorated. The house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, which he had occupied from 1834 till his death (February 4th, 1881), was handed over to trustees to be preserved as a public memorial. No house in the British islands has more remarkable associations. Thither Carlyle had come in his thirty-eighth year, still hardly recognized by the general public, though already regarded by a small circle as a man of extraordinary powers. There he went through the concluding years of the long struggle which ended by a hard-won and scarcely enjoyed victory. There he had been visited by almost all the most conspicuous men of letters of his time: by Jeffrey, Southey, and J. S. Mill; by Tennyson and Browning, the greatest poets, and by Thackeray and Dickens, the greatest novelists of his generation; by the dearest friends of his youth, Irving and Emerson and John Sterling, and by his last followers, Froude and Ruskin. There too had lived until 1866 the woman who had shared his struggles, whom he loved and admired without stint, and whom he was yet destined to remember with many bitter pangs of remorse. Their story, laid bare with singular fullness, has invested the scene of their joys and sorrows, their alienation and reconciliations, with extraordinary interest. Every one who has read the “Reminiscences” and the later mass of biographical matter must be glad to see the “sound-proof” room, and the garden haunted by the “demon-fowls” and the other dumb witnesses of a long tragicomedy. No one was so keenly sensitive as Carlyle to the interest of the little gleams of light which reveal our ancestors not only stirred by the great passions, but absorbed like ourselves by the trivialities of the day. A similar interest will long attach to the scene of his own trials.

Carlyle’s life was a struggle and a warfare. Each of his books was wrenched from him, like the tale of the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ by a spiritual agony. The early books excited the wrath of his contemporaries, when they were not ridiculed as the grotesque outpourings of an eccentric humorist. His teaching was intended to oppose what most people take to be the general tendency of thought, and yet many who share that tendency gladly acknowledge that they owe to Carlyle a more powerful intellectual stimulus than they can attribute even to their accepted teachers. I shall try briefly to indicate the general nature of his message to mankind, without attempting to consider the soundness or otherwise of particular views.

Carlyle describes what kind of person people went to see in Cheyne Row. “The very sound of my voice,” he says, “has got something savage-prophetic: I am as a John the Baptist girt about with a leather girdle, whose food is locusts and wild honey.” Respectable literary society at “æsthetic tea-parties” regarded him as the Scribes and Pharisees regarded the Hebrew prophet. He came among them to tear the mask from their hypocritical cant. Carlyle was not externally a Diogenes. Though the son of peasants, he had the appearance and manner of a thorough gentleman in spite of all his irritable outbreaks. But he was not the less penetrated to the core with the idiosyncrasies of his class. The father, a Davie Deans of real life, had impressed the son profoundly. Carlyle had begun life on the same terms as innumerable young Scots. Strict frugality had enabled him to get a college training and reach the threshold of the ministry. His mother could look forward to the exquisite pleasure of seeing “her own bairn wag his head in a pulpit!” But at this point Carlyle’s individuality first asserted itself. He could not step into any of the ordinary grooves. His college teachers appeared to him to offer “sawdust” instead of manna from heaven. The sacred formulæ of their ancestral creed had lost their savor. Words once expressive of the strongest faith were either used to utter the bigotry of narrow pedants, or were adopted only to be explained away into insipid commonplace. Carlyle shared the intellectual movement of his time too much to profess any reverence for what he called the “Hebrew old-clothes.” Philosophers and critics had torn them to rags. His quarrel however was with the accidental embodiment, not with the spirit of the old creeds. The old morality was ingrained in his very nature; nor was he shocked, like some of his fellows, by the sternness of the Calvinistic views of the universe and life. The whole problem was with him precisely to save this living spirit. The skeptics, he thought, were, in the German phrase, “emptying out the baby with the bath.” They were at war with the spirit as well as with the letter; trying to construct a Godless universe; to substitute a dead mechanism for the living organism; and therefore to kill down at the root every noble aspiration which could stimulate the conscience, or strengthen a man to bear the spectacle of the wrongs and sufferings of mankind.

The crisis of this struggle happened in 1821. After giving up the ministry, Carlyle had tried “schoolmastering” and found himself to be least fitted of mankind for a function which demands patience with stupidity. He had just glanced at the legal profession only to be disgusted with its chicaneries. Hack authorship was his only chance. The dyspeptic disorder which tormented him through life was tormenting him. “A rat was gnawing at the pit of his stomach.” Then he was embittered by the general distress of his own class. Men out of work were threatening riots and the yeomanry being called out to suppress them. Carlyle was asked by a friend why he too did not come out with a musket. “Hm! yes,” he replied, “but I haven’t quite settled on which side.” It was while thus distracted, that after three weeks of sleeplessness he experienced what he called his “conversion.” The universe had seemed to him “void of life, of purpose, of volition, even of hostility; it was one huge and immeasurable steam-engine, rolling on in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb. Oh, the vast, gloomy, solitary Golgotha and mill of death!” And then he suddenly resolved to resist. Why go on trembling like a coward?—“As I so thought, there rushed a stream of fire over my whole soul, and I shook base fear away from me for ever. I was strong, of unknown strength; a spirit; almost a god: ever from that time the temper of my misery was changed; not fear or whining sorrow was in it, but indignation and grim, fell-eyed defiance.” These are the phrases of his imaginary hero in ‘Sartor Resartus.’ In the ‘Reminiscences’ he repeats the statement in his own person. He had won “an immense victory”; he had escaped from the “foul mud gods” and soared into the “eternal blue of ether” where he had “for the spiritual part ever since lived.” He could look down upon his fellow creatures still “weltering in that fatal element,” “pitying the religious part of them and indignant against the frivolous”; enjoying an inward and supreme happiness which still remained to him, though often “eclipsed” in later years.

To understand this crisis is to understand his whole attitude. The change was not of the purely logical kind. Carlyle was not converted by any philosophical system. Coleridge, not long before, had found in Kant and Schelling an answer to similar perplexities. Carlyle, though he respected the German metaphysicians, could never find their dogmas satisfactory to his shrewd Scottish sense. His great helper, he tells us, in the strait, was not Kant but Goethe. The contrast between that serene prophet of culture and the rugged Scottish Puritan is so marked that one may be tempted to explain the influence partly by personal accident. Carlyle grew up at a time when the British public was just awaking to the existence of Germany; and not only promoted the awakening but was recognized by the great Goethe himself. He may well have been inclined in later years to exaggerate a debt due to so welcome a recognition. And yet it is intelligible that in Goethe, Carlyle saw what he most required. A man of the highest genius and a full representative of the most advanced thought could yet recognize what was elevating in the past as clearly as what was the true line of progress for us to pursue; and while casting aside the dead trappings as decidedly as Carlyle, could reach serene heights above the petty controversies where men wrangled over extinct issues. Goethe had solved the problem which vexed Carlyle’s soul, and set an inspiring example of the true spirit and its great reward.

Carlyle, however, was not qualified by temperament or mental characteristics to follow Goethe’s steps. If not primarily a reasoner, and too impatient perhaps for slow logical processes, he was also not a poet. Some of the greatest English teachers of his period embodied their conceptions of the world in poetry. Wordsworth and Shelley and Byron, in particular, were more effective representatives of the chief spiritual influences of the day than the few speculative writers. Carlyle thought for a time that he could utter himself in verse, or at least in prose fiction. He tried, only to feel his incompetence. As Froude observes, he had little ear for metrical composition. There were other and perhaps greater obstacles. A poet must be capable of detachment from the actual world in which he lives, however profound his interest in its great problems. He must be able to dwell with “seraph contemplation” and stand aside from the actual contest. To Carlyle such an attitude was partly impossible, partly contemptible. He had imbibed the Puritan aversion to æsthetic enjoyments. He had been brought up in circles where it was thought wrong for a child to read the ‘Arabian Nights,’ and where Milton could only obtain a doubtful admission as a versifier of the Scriptural narrative. Carlyle retained the prejudice. He always looked askance at poetry which had no immediate bearing upon conduct, and regarded “æsthetic” as equivalent to frivolous. “May the devil fly away with the fine arts” is a sentiment which he quotes with cordial sympathy. This view was congenial to his inborn characteristics.

One striking peculiarity was his extraordinary “receptivity” of all outward impressions. The strange irritability which he set down to the “hag Dyspepsia” made him resemble a patient in whom disease has produced a morbidly excessive sensibility. Little annoyances were magnified into tragic dimensions. The noises in a next-door house affected him as an earthquake might affect others. His memory was as retentive as his impressions were strong. Froude testifies that his account of a little trip to Paris, written forty years later without reference to memoranda, is verified down to the minutest details by contemporary letters. Scenes instantaneously photographed on his memory never faded. No one had a keener eye for country. When he visited Germany he brought back pictures of the scenes of Frederick’s battles, which enabled him to reproduce them with such startling veracity that after reading you seem to remember the reality, not the book. In history he seeks to place before us a series of visions as distinct as actual eyesight: to show us Cromwell watching the descent of the Scottish army at Dunbar, or the human whirlpool raging round the walls of the Bastille. We—the commonplace spectators—should not, it is true, even at present see what was visible to Carlyle, any more than we see a landscape as Turner saw it. We may wish that we could. At any rate, we have the conviction of absolute truthfulness to the impression made on a powerful idiosyncrasy. We perceive, as by the help of a Rembrandt, vast chaotic breadths of gloomy confusion, with central figures thrown out by a light of extraordinary brilliancy. Carlyle, indeed, always has it in mind that what we call reality is but a film on the surface of mysterious depths. We are such stuff, to repeat his favorite quotation, as dreams are made of. Past history is a series of dreams; the magic of memory may restore them for an instant to our present consciousness. But the most vivid picture of whatever is not irrecoverably lost always brings, too, the pathetic sense that we are after all but ephemeral appearances in the midst of the eternities and infinities. Overwhelmed by this sense of the unsubstantiality even of the most real objects, Carlyle clutches, as it were with the energy of despair, every fading image; and tries to invest it with something of its old brightness. Carlyle was so desirous to gain this distinctness of vision that he could not be happy in personal descriptions till, if possible, he had examined the portrait of his hero and satisfied himself that he could reproduce the actual bodily appearance. The face, he holds, shows the soul. And then his shrewd Scottish sagacity never deserts him. If the hero sometimes becomes, like most heroes, a little too free from human infirmities, the actors in his dramas never become mere walking gentlemen. In Dryasdust he gives us lay figures, bedizened at times with shallow paradoxes; but Carlyle always deals in genuine human nature. His judgment may not be impartial, but at least it is not nugatory. He sees the man from within and makes him a credible individual, not a mere bit of machinery worked by colorless formulæ. With this eye for character goes the keen sense of grim humor which keeps him in touch with reality. Little incidents bring out the absurd side of even the heroic. The most exciting scenes of his ‘French Revolution’ are heightened by the vision of the shivering usher who “accords the grand entries” when the ferocious mob is rushing into the palace—not “finding it convenient,” as Carlyle observes, “to refuse them”; and of the gentleman who continues for an hour to “demand the arrestment of knaves and dastards”—a most comprehensive of all known petitions. Carlyle’s “mannerism” is one result of this strain to be graphic. It has been attributed to readings of Jean Paul, and by Carlyle himself, partly to Irving and partly to the early talk in his father’s home. It appears at any rate as soon as Carlyle gets confidence enough in himself to trust to his own modes of impression; and if it may fairly be called a mannerism, was not an affectation. It was struck out in the attempt to give most effective utterance to his genuine thought, and may be compared, as Burke said of Johnson’s conversation, to the “contortions of the Sibyl.”

It is time, however, to try to say what was the prophetic message thus delivered. Carlyle, I have said, had no logical system of philosophy, and was too much of a “realist” (in one sense) to find poetry congenial. He has to preach by pictures of the past; by giving us history, though history transfused with poetry; an account of the external fact which shall reveal the real animating principle, quietly omitted by statisticians and constitutional historians. The doctrine so delivered appears to be vague. What, the ordinary believer may ask, would be left of a religion if its historical statements should turn out to be mere figments and its framework of dogmas to be nonsense? He would naturally reply, Nothing. Carlyle replies, Everything. The spirit may survive, though its whole visible embodiment should be dissolved into fiction and fallacy. But to define this spirit is obviously impossible. It represents a tone of thought, a mode of contemplating life and the world, not any distinct set of definite propositions. Carlyle was called a “mystic,” and even, as he says, was made into a “mystic school.” We may accept the phrase, so far as mysticism means the substitution of a “logic of the heart” for a “logic of the head”—an appeal to sentiment rather than to any definite reasoning process. The “mystic” naturally recognizes the inner light as shining through many different and even apparently contradictory forms. But most mystics retain, in a new sense perhaps, the ancient formulæ. Carlyle rejected them so markedly that he shocked many believers, otherwise sympathetic. His early friend Irving, who tried to restore life to the old forms, and many who accepted Coleridge as their spiritual guide, were scandalized by his utterances. He thought, conversely, that they were still masquerading in “Hebrew old-clothes,” or were even like the apes who went on chattering by the banks of the Dead Sea, till they ceased to be human. He regards the “Oxford movement” with simple contempt. His dictum that Newman had “no more brain than a moderate-sized rabbit” must have been followed, as no one will doubt who heard him talk, by one of those gigantic explosions of laughter which were signals of humorous exaggeration. But it meant in all seriousness that he held Newman to be reviving superstitions unworthy of the smallest allowance of brain.

Yet Carlyle’s untiring denunciation of “shams” and “unrealities” of this, as of other varieties, does not mean unqualified antipathy. He feels that the attempt to link the living spirit to the dead externals is a fatal enterprise. That may be now a stifling incumbrance, which was once the only possible symbol of a living belief. Accordingly, though Carlyle’s insistence upon the value of absolute intellectual truthfulness is directed against this mode of thought, his attack upon the opposite error is more passionate and characteristic. The ‘Sartor Resartus,’ his first complete book (1833–4), announced and tried to explain his “conversion.” To many readers it still seems his best work, as it certainly contains some of his noblest passages. It was unpopular in England, and (an Englishman must say it with regret) seems to have been first appreciated in America. It gave indeed many sharp blows at English society: it expresses his contempt for the upper literary strata, who like Jeffrey complained of him for being so “desperately in earnest”; and for the authors, who were not “prophets,” but mere caterers to ephemeral amusement. But the satire, I cannot but think, is not quite happy. The humor of the “Clothes Philosophy” is a little strained; to me, I confess, rather tiresome: and the impressive passages just those where he forgets it.

His real power became obvious beyond all cavil on the publication of the ‘French Revolution’ (1837). Not for a hundred years, he declared, had the public received any book that “came more direct and flamingly from the heart of a living man.” That expresses, as I think, the truth. The book is not to be “read for information.” The facts would now require much restatement; and moreover, the narrative is too apt to overleap prosaic but necessary facts in order to fasten upon the picturesque passages. But considered as what it is, a “prose epic,” a moving panorama, drawn with astonishing force and perception of the tremendous tragicomedy involved, it is unequaled in English literature. The doctrine inculcated is significant. Carlyle’s sympathies were in one sense with the Revolution. He felt, he says, that the Radicals were “guild-brothers,” while the Whigs were mere “amateurs.” He was even more thoroughly convinced than the Radicals that a thoroughgoing demolition of the old order was essential. The Revolution was but the first volcanic outburst of the great forces still active below the surface. Europe, he says (‘Chartism’), lay “hag-ridden” and “quack-ridden.” The quack is the most hideous of hags; he is a “falsehood incarnate.” To blow him and his to the four winds was the first necessity. The French Revolution was “the inevitable stern end of much: the fearful but also wonderful, indispensable, and sternly beneficent beginning of much.” So far, Carlyle was far more in agreement with Paine than with Burke. But what was to follow when the ground was cleared? When you have cut off your king’s head and confiscated the estates of the nobility and the church, you have only begun. A new period is to be born with death-throes and birth-throes, and there are, he guesses (‘French Revolution,’ Book iv., chapter 4), some two centuries of fighting before “Democracy go through its dire, most baleful stage of ‘Quackocracy.’” The radicals represent this coming “Quackocracy.” What was their root error? Briefly (I try to expound, not to enlarge), that they were materialists. Their aim was low. They desired simply a multiplication of physical comforts, or as he puts it, a boundless supply of “pigs-wash.” Their means too were futile. Society, on their showing, was a selfish herd hungering for an equal distribution of pigs-wash. They put unlimited faith in the mere mechanism of constitution-mongering; in ballot-boxes and manipulation of votes and contrivances by which a number of mean and selfish passions might be somehow so directed as to balance each other. It is not by any such devices that society can really be regenerated. You must raise men’s souls, not alter their conventions. They must not simply abolish kings, but learn to recognize the true king, the man who has the really divine right of superior strength and wisdom, not the sham divine right of obsolete tradition. You require not paper rules, but a new spirit which spontaneously recognizes the voice of God. The true secret of life must be to him, as to every “mystic,” that we should follow the dictates of the inner light which speaks in different dialects to all of us.

But this implies a difficulty. Carlyle, spite of his emergence into “blue ether,” was constitutionally gloomy. He was more alive than any man since Swift to the dark side of human nature. The dullness of mankind weighed upon him like a nightmare. “Mostly fools” is his pithy verdict upon the race at large. Nothing then could be more idle than the dream of the revolutionists that the voice of the people could be itself the voice of God. From millions of fools you can by no constitutional machinery extract anything but folly. Where then is the escape? The millions, he says (essay on Johnson), “roll hither and thither, whithersoever they are led”; they seem “all sightless and slavish,” with little but “animal instincts.” The hope is that, here and there, are scattered the men of power and of insight, the heaven-sent leaders; and it is upon loyalty to them and capacity for recognizing and obeying them that the future of the race really depends. This was the moral of the lectures on ‘Hero-Worship’ (1840). Odin, Mahomet, Dante, Shakespeare, Luther, Cromwell, and Napoleon, are types of the great men who now and then visit the earth as prophets or rulers. They are the brilliant centers of light in the midst of the surrounding darkness; and in loyal recognition of their claims lies our security for all external progress. By what signs, do you ask, can they be recognized? There can be no sign. You can see the light if you have eyes; but no other faculty can supply the want of eyesight. And hence arise some remarkable points both of difference from and coincidence with popular beliefs.

In the ‘Chartism,’ ‘Past and Present,’ and ‘Latter-Day Pamphlets’ (1839, 1843, and 1850), Carlyle applied his theories to the problems of the day. They had the disadvantage which generally attaches to the writings of an outsider in politics. They were, said the average reader, “unpractical.” Carlyle could not recommend any definite measures; an objection easy to bring against a man who urges rather a change of spirit than of particular measures. Yet it is noticeable that he recommends much that has since become popular. Much of his language might be used by modern Socialists. In ‘Past and Present,’ for example (Book iii., Chapter 8), he gives the principle of “land nationalization.” The great capitalist is to be turned into a “captain of industry,” and government is to undertake to organize labor, to protect health, and to enforce education. Carlyle so far sympathizes with the Socialist, not only as agreeing that the great end of government is the raising of the poor, but as denouncing the laissez-faire doctrine. The old-fashioned English Radical had regarded all government as a necessary evil, to be minimized as much as possible. When it had armed the policemen, it had fulfilled its whole duty. But this, according to Carlyle, was to leave the “dull multitude” to drift into chaos. Government should rest upon the loyalty of the lower to the higher. Order is essential; and good order means the spontaneous obedience to the heaven-sent hero. He, when found, must supply the guiding and stimulating force. The Socialist, like Carlyle, desires a strong government, but not the government of the “hero.” Government of which the moving force comes from above instead of below will be, he thinks, a government of mere force. And here occurs the awkward problem to which Carlyle is constantly referring. He was generally accused of identifying “right” with “might.” Against this interpretation he always protested. Right and Might, he says often, are in the long run identical. That which is right and that alone is ultimately lasting. Your rights are the expression of the divine will; and for that reason, whatever endures must be right. Work lasts so far as it is based upon eternal foundations. The might, therefore, is in the long run the expression of the right. The Napoleonic empire, according to a favorite illustration, could not last because it was founded upon injustice. The two tests then must coincide: what is good proves itself by lasting, and what lasts, lasts because good; but the test of endurance cannot, it is clear, be applied when it is wanted. Hence arises an ambiguity which often gives to Carlyle the air of a man worshiping mere success; when, if we take his own interpretation, he takes the success to be the consequence, not the cause, of the rightness. The hero is the man who sees the fact and disregards the conventional fiction; but for the moment he looks very like the man who disregards principles and attends to his own interest.

Here again Carlyle approximates to a doctrine to which he was most averse, the theory of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. The Darwinian answers in this way Carlyle’s problem, how it is to come to pass that the stupidity of the masses comes to blunder into a better order? Here and there, as in his accounts of the way in which the intensely stupid British public managed to blunder into the establishment of a great empire, Carlyle seems to fall in with the Darwinian view. That view shocked him because he thought it mechanical. To him the essence of history was to be found not in the blind striving of the dull, but in the lives of great men. They represent the incarnate wisdom which must guide all wholesome aspiration. History is really the biography of the heroes. All so-called philosophies of history, attempts to discover general laws and to dispense with the agency of great men, are tainted with materialism. They would substitute “blind laws” for the living spirit which really guides the development of the race. But if you ask how your hero is to be known, the only answer can be, Know him at your peril.

Carlyle’s most elaborate books, the ‘Cromwell’ and the ‘Frederick,’ are designed to give an explicit answer to the “right” and “might” problem. Carlyle in both cases seems to be toiling amidst the dust-heaps of some ancient ruin, painfully disinterring the shattered and defaced fragments of a noble statue and reconstructing it to be hereafter placed in a worthy Valhalla. Cromwell, according to the vulgar legend, was a mere hypocrite, and Frederick a mere cynical conqueror. The success of both—that is his intended moral—was in proportion to the clearness with which they recognized the eternal laws of the universe. Cromwell probably is the more satisfactory hero, as more really sympathetic to his admirer. But each requires an interpreter. Cromwell’s gifts did not lie in the direction of lucid utterance; and Frederick, if he could have read, would certainly have scorned, the doctrine of his eulogist. Carlyle, that is, has to dig out in the actions of great men a true significance, certainly not obvious to the actors themselves. Their recognition of the eternal laws was in one case embodied in obsolete formulæ, and in the other, it might seem, altogether unconscious. The hero’s recognition of divine purposes does not imply then that his own vision is purged from error, or that his aim is distinctly realized. He may, like Mahomet or the Abbot Sampson, be full of superstition. His “veracity” does not mean that his beliefs are true; only that they are sincere and such a version of the truth as is possible in his dialect. This is connected with Carlyle’s constant insistence upon the superiority of silence to speech. The divine light shines through many distracting media; it enlightens many who do not consciously perceive it. It may be recognized because it gives life; because the work to which it prompts is lasting. But even the hero who tries to utter himself is sure to interpolate much that is ephemeral, confused, and imperfect; and speech in general represents the mere perplexed gabble of men who take words for thought, and raise a hopeless clamor which drowns the still small voice of true inspiration. If men are mostly fools, their talk is mostly folly; forming a wild incoherent Babel in which it is hard to pick out the few scattered words of real meaning. Carlyle has been ridiculed for preaching silence in so many words; but then Carlyle was speaking the truth, and of that, he fully admits, we can never have too much. The hero may be a prophet, or a man of letters. He is bound to speak seriously, though not to be literally silent; and his words must be judged not by the momentary pleasure, but by their ultimate influence on life.

Carlyle’s message to his fellows, which I have tried imperfectly to summarize, may be condemned on grounds of taste and of morality. Translated into logical formulæ it becomes inconsistent, and it embodies some narrow prejudices in exaggerated terms. Yet I think that it has been useful even by the shock it has given to commonplace optimism. It has been far more useful because in his own dialect, Carlyle—as I think—expresses some vital truths with surpassing force. Whatever our creeds, religious or political, he may stimulate our respect for veracity, in the form of respect for honest work or contempt for hypocritical conventions; our loyalty to all great leaders, in the worlds both of thought and action; and our belief that to achieve any real progress, something is required infinitely deeper than any mere change in the superficial arrangements of society. These lessons are expressed, too, as the merely literary critic must admit, by a series of historical pictures, so vivid and so unique in character that for many readers they are in the full sense fascinating. They are revelations of new aspects of the world, never, when once observed, to be forgotten. And finally, I may add that Carlyle’s autobiographical writings—in which we must include the delightful ‘Life of Sterling’—show the same qualities in a shape which, if sometimes saddening, is profoundly interesting. No man was more reticent in his life, though he has been made to deliver a posthumous confession of extraordinary fullness. We hear all the groans once kept within the walls of Cheyne Row. After making all allowance for the fits of temper, the harshness of judgment, and the willful exaggeration, we see at last a man who under extraordinary difficulties was unflinchingly faithful to what he took to be his vocation, and struggled through a long life, full of anxieties and vexations, to turn his genius to the best account.