George Sterling’s Bohemian Creed

By Gobind Behari Lal

"Pard like spirit, beautiful and swift: Love in desolation masked." Shelley spoke thus of himself, and every word is true of Sterling, too. In the mazes of Main Street, Sterling walked either too swiftly, or shyly lagged behind, but seldom kept pace with the smug and corpulent materialists. His aerial nature incited him to consider himself a Bohemian. But his Bohemian creed had a "pard-like spirit beautiful and swift," and sparkled with superb overtones of love.

"Any good 'mixer' of convivial habit considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian," George Sterling once said to me. "But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to bohemianism. The first is a devotion (or addiction) to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life, as unconventional, and (though this is debatable) as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities."

Embracing poverty as a point of chivalry—thus bowing in companionship with those who travel light and unaccompanied, bent on some redeeming crusade—devoted to art, and pulsating with rational intellectualism and revolutionary emotion, this arch and anarch artist, George Sterling, followed a bohemian life of epic proportions.

No less than the epic of the Renaissance was his historical background. It was as if a Dante were born in the fifteenth century Italy or Elizabethan England, and in early manhood came over to the twentieth century San Francisco. Too much a wrench in the unity of history? Not if one understood San Francisco—this Sterling's "pays ami," his "Cool grey city of love"—a city in which has been distilled the essence of the fifteenth century Renaissance of the Italian shores. Not a city born of that puritanic, bleak Reformation that snuffed out beauty from the new spirit of the Renaissance. Sterling was a Renaissance figure in art and humanism; and he was in utter harmony in a city that still proves that America is a daughter of the Renaissance, a city that holds perhaps the promise of a twentieth century Renaissance.

Sterling was the prophet of such a promise, for while he summed up a great classic tradition, he also leaned forward upon the horizon of tomorrow; such was his bohemianism!

Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (1868-1935); Dec 1927; Vol LXXXV, Number 12, Pg 369.