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John Sterling

John Sterling (July 20, 1806 - September 18, 1844), British author, was born at Kames Castle in Bute.

He belonged to a family of Scottish origin which had settled in Ireland during the Cromwellian period. His father, Edward Sterling (1773-1847), had been called to the Irish bar, but, having fought as a militia captain at Vinegar Hill, afterwards volunteered with his company into the line. On the breaking up of his regiment he went to Scotland and took to farming at Kames Castle. In 1804 he married Hester Coningham. In 1810 the family removed to Lianbiethian, Glamorganshire, and during his residence there Edward Sterling, under the signature of "Vetus," contributed a number of letters to The Times, which were reprinted in 1812, and a second series in 1814. In the latter year he removed to Paris, but on the escape of Napoleon from Elba in 1815 took up his residence in London, obtaining a position on the staff of The Times newspaper; and during the late years of Thomas Barnes's administration he was practically editor. His fiery, emphatic and oracular mode of writing conferred those characteristics on The Times which were recognized in the sobriquet of the "Thunderer." John Sterling was his second son, the elder being Colonel Sir Anthony Coningham Sterling (1805-1871), who besides serving in the Crimea and as military secretary to Lord Clyde during the Indian Mutiny, was the author of The Highland Brigade in the Crimea and other books.

After studying for one year at the university of Glasgow, John Sterling in 1824 entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had for tutor Julius Charles Hare. At Cambridge he took a distinguished part in the debates of the union, and, became a member of the "Apostles'" Club, forming friendships with Frederick Denison Maurice and Richard Trench. He removed to Trinity Hall with the intention of graduating in law, but left the university without taking a degree. During the next four years he resided chiefly in London, employing himself actively in literature and making a number of literary friends. With Maurice he purchased the Athenaeum in 1828 from James Silk Buckingham, but the enterprise was not a pecuniary success. He also formed an intimacy with the Spanish revolutionist General Torrijos, in whose unfortunate expedition he took an active interest. But he did not accompany it, as he was kept in England by his marriage to Susannah, daughter of Lieut.-General Barton.

Shortly after his marriage in 1830 symptoms of pulmonary disease induced him to take up his residence in the island of St Vincent, where he had inherited some property, and he remained there fifteen months before returning to England. After spending some time on the Continent in June 1834 he was ordained and became curate at Hurstmonceaux, where his old tutor Julius Hare was vicar. Acting on the advice of his physician he resigned his clerical duties in the following February, but, according to Carlyle, the primary cause was a divergence from the opinions of the Church. There remained to him the "resource of the pen," but, having to "live all the rest of his days as in continual flight for his very existence," his literary achievements were necessarily fragmentary.

He published in 1833 Arthur Coningsby, a novel, which attracted little attention, and his Poems (1839), the Election, a Poem (1841), and Strafford, a tragedy (1843), were not more successful. He had, however, established a connexion in 1837 with Blackwood's Magazine, to which he contributed a variety of papers and several tales of extraordinary promise not fulfilled in his more considerable undertakings. Among these papers were "The Onyx Ring" and "The Palace of Morgana." He died at Ventnor on the 18th of September 1844, his wife having died in the preceding year.

His son, Major-General John B Sterling (b. 1840), after entering the navy, went into the army, and had a distinguished career (wounded at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882), both as a soldier and as a writer on military subjects.

John Sterling's papers were entrusted to the joint care of Thomas Carlyle and Archdeacon Hare. Essays and Tales, by John Sterling collected and edited, with a memoir of his life, by Julius Charles Hare, appeared in 1848 in two volumes. So dissatisfied was Carlyle with the memoir that he resolved to give his own testimony about his friend, and his vivid Life (1851) has perpetuated the memory of Sterling more than any of the latter's own writings.