Thu07Jul2016TORCH: The Oak And Acorns: Recovering The Hidden Carlyle
Presentation: 'Influence As Palimpsest: Carlyle, Mill, Sterling', Albert Pionke
Among the most fruitful nodal points in the intellectual network surrounding Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle is that occupied collectively by Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and John Sterling. Mill and Sterling first encountered one another in 1828 at the London Debating Society, where they represented competing schools of Radical thought, the former drawing inspiration from Bentham and latter from Coleridge. Mill’s subsequent publications in the Examiner, themselves subtly inflected by his exchanges with Sterling, caught the attention of Carlyle, and the two met in 1831 during Carlyle’s second visit to London. Mill introduced his two friends to one another in 1835 in his London office, and then, during his de facto editorship of the London and Westminster Review between 1836 and 1840, featured both of their essays alongside his own in the journal. This period of mutual intimacy and influence was cemented by exchanges of letters, manuscripts, and reviews, but it was not to last. Increasingly distant at the levels of style and principle, Carlyle and Mill saw less and less of each other, even as both maintained close ties with Sterling, with whom Mill visited at Falmouth in 1840 while nursing his dying brother, and for whom Carlyle interceded at the Foreign Quarterly Review in 1842 in an effort to ameliorate his friend’s recently diminished finances.
Sterling’s death in 1844 put an end to the friendship. However, the publication in 1848 of a two-volume edition of Sterling’s Essays and Tales, edited with a lengthy biographical preface by Julius Charles Hare, revived the three men’s earlier pattern of mutual influence, albeit indirectly. Carlyle recorded his private response to Sterling’s collected writings in the margins of his personal copy of Essays and Tales, currently held in Harvard’s Widener Library and the subject of a 1939 article by Anne Kimball Tuell in PMLA. Carlyle’s public response appeared in 1851 in Life of John Sterling, a copy of which he inscribed “To John S. Mill Esq. with many kind remembrances.” Mill produced no published review of either text, but the marks and annotations that appear in the copies of both works preserved in the John Stuart Mill Library at Oxford’s Somerville College suggest that he read them closely and that he reacted strongly to Carlyle’s (and Hare’s) efforts to influence his feelings about their deceased mutual friend.
The presentation offers the first scholarly look at Mill’s marginalia in Essays and Tales and Life of John Sterling. As I hope to show, the patterns of influence perceptible in these books is palimpsestic. Carlyle is present on multiple levels—as mentor to Sterling, as character in Sterling’s Onyx Ring, as Sterling’s revisionary biographer—and his influence over each text changes depending upon the spirit in which it is read by Mill, whose verbal and nonverbal commentary reveals him oscillating between protective steward of Sterling’s memory and critical reader of his friend’s sometimes too obviously Carlylean publications.