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Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey

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How soon might not the long-predestined hour strike, when the
twelfth Imam, the guide, the Mahdi, would reveal himself to the
world?' In that hour, the righteous 'Would triumph and the guilty

be laid low forever.' Such was the teaching of Mohammed Ahmed. A
band of enthusiastic disciples gathered round him, eagerly
waiting for the revelation which would crown their hopes. At
last, the moment came. One evening, at Abba Island, taking aside
the foremost of his followers, the Master whispered the
portentous news. He was the Mahdi.

The Egyptian Governor-General at Khartoum, hearing that a
religious movement was afoot, grew disquieted, and dispatched
an emissary to Abba Island to summon the impostor to his
presence. The emissary was courteously received. Mohammed Ahmed,
he said, must come at once to Khartoum. 'Must!' exclaimed the
Mahdi, starting to his feet, with a strange look in his eyes. The

look was so strange that the emissary thought it advisable to cut

short the interview and to return to Khartoum empty-handed.
Thereupon, the Governor-General sent 200 soldiers to seize the
audacious rebel by force. With his handful of friends, the Mahdi
fell upon the soldiers and cut them to pieces. The news spread
like wild-fire through the country: the Mahdi had arisen, the
Egyptians were destroyed. But it was clear to the little band of
enthusiasts at Abba Island that their position on the river was
no longer tenable. The Mahdi, deciding upon a second Hegira,
retreated south-westward, into the depths of Kordofan.

The retreat was a triumphal progress. The country, groaning under

alien misgovernment and vibrating with religious excitement,
suddenly found in this rebellious prophet a rallying-point, a
hero, a deliverer. And now another element was added to the
forces of insurrection. The Baggara tribes of Kordofan, cattle-
owners and slave-traders, the most warlike and vigorous of the
inhabitants of the Sudan, threw in their lot with the Mahdi.
Their powerful Emirs, still smarting from the blows of Gordon,
saw that the opportunity for revenge had come. A holy war was
proclaimed against the Egyptian misbelievers. The followers of
the Mahdi, dressed, in token of a new austerity of living, in the

'jibbeh', or white smock of coarse cloth, patched with variously
shaped and coloured patches, were rapidly organised into a
formidable army. Several attacks from Khartoum were repulsed; and

at last, the Mahdi felt strong enough to advance against the
enemy. While his lieutenants led detachments into the vast
provinces lying to the west and the south--Darfur and Bahr-el-
Ghazal--he himself marched upon El Obeid, the capital of
Kordofan. It was in vain that reinforcements were hurried from
Khartoum to the assistance of the garrison: there was some severe

fighting; the town was completely cut off; and, after a six
months' siege, it surrendered. A great quantity of guns and
ammunition and 100,000 in spices fell into the hands of the
Mahdi. He was master of Kordofan: he was at the head of a great
army; he was rich; he was worshipped. A dazzling future opened
before him. No possibility seemed too remote, no fortune too
magnificent. A vision of universal empire hovered before his
eyes. Allah, whose servant he was, who had led him thus far,
would lead him onward still, to the glorious end.

For some months he remained at El Obeid, consolidating his
dominion. In a series of circular letters, he described his
colloquies with the Almighty and laid down the rule of living
which his followers were to pursue. The faithful, under pain of
severe punishment, were to return to the ascetic simplicity of
ancient times. A criminal code was drawn up, meting out
executions, mutilations, and floggings with a barbaric zeal. The
blasphemer was to be instantly hanged, the adulterer was to be
scourged with whips of rhinoceros hide, the thief was to have his

right hand and his left foot hacked off in the marketplace.
No more were marriages to be celebrated with pomp and feasting,
more was the youthful warrior to swagger with flowing hair;
henceforth, the believer must banquet on dates and milk, and his
head must be kept shaved. Minor transgressions were punished by
confiscation of property or by imprisonment and chains. But the
rhinoceros whip was the favourite instrument of chastisement. Men

were flogged for drinking a glass of wine, they were flogged for
smoking; if they swore, they received eighty lashes for every
expletive; and after eighty lashes it was a common thing to die.
Before long, flogging grew to be so everyday an incident that the

young men made a game of it, as a test of their endurance of

With this Spartan ferocity there was mingled the glamour
and the mystery of the East. The Mahdi himself, his four
Khalifas, and the principal Emirs, masters of sudden riches,
surrounded themselves with slaves and women, with trains of
horses and asses, with body guards and glittering arms. There
were rumours of debaucheries in high places-- of the Mahdi,
forgetful of his own ordinances, revelling in the recesses of his

harem, and quaffing date syrup mixed with ginger out of the
silver cups looted from the church of the Christians. But that
imposing figure had only to show itself for the tongue of scandal

to be stilled. The tall, broad-shouldered, majestic man, with the

dark face and black beard and great eyes--who could doubt that he

was the embodiment of a superhuman power? Fascination dwelt in
every movement, every glance. The eyes, painted with antimony,
flashed extraordinary fires; the exquisite smile revealed,
beneath the vigorous lips, white upper teeth with a V-shaped
space between them-- the certain sign of fortune. His turban was
folded with faultless art, his jibbeh, speckless, was perfumed
with sandal-wood, musk, and attar of roses. He was at once all
courtesy and all command. Thousands followed him, thousands
prostrated themselves before him; thousands, when he lifted up
his voice in solemn worship, knew that the heavens were opened
and that they had come near to God. Then all at once the onbeia--

the elephant's-tusk trumpet--would give out its enormous sound.
The nahas--the brazen wardrums-- would summon, with their weird
rolling, the whole host to arms. The green flag and the red flag
and the black flag would rise over the multitude. The great army
would move forward, coloured, glistening, dark, violent, proud,
beautiful. The drunkenness, the madness of religion would blaze
on every face; and the Mahdi, immovable on his charger, would let

the scene grow under his eyes in silence.

El Obeid fell in January, 1883. Meanwhile, events of the deepest
importance had occurred in Egypt. The rise of Arabi had
synchronised with that of the Mahdi. Both movements were
nationalist; both were directed against alien rulers who had
shown themselves unfit to rule. While the Sudanese were shaking
off the yoke of Egypt, the Egyptians themselves grew impatient of

their own masters-- the Turkish and Circassian Pashas who filled
with their incompetence all the high offices of state. The army
led by Ahmed Arabi, a Colonel of fellah origin, mutinied, the
Khedive gave way, and it seemed as if a new order were about to
be established. A new order was indeed upon the point of
appearing: but it was of a kind undreamt of in Arabi's
philosophy. At the critical moment, the English Government
intervened. An English fleet bombarded Alexandria, an English
army landed under Lord Wolseley, and defeated Arabi and his
supporters at Tel-el-kebir. The rule of the Pashas was nominally
restored; but henceforth, in effect, the English were masters of

Nevertheless, the English themselves were slow to recognise this
fact: their Government had intervened unwillingly; the occupation

of the country was a merely temporary measure; their army was to
be withdrawn as soon as a tolerable administration had been set
up. But a tolerable administration, presided over by the Pashas,
seemed long in coming, and the English army remained. In the
meantime, the Mahdi had entered El Obeid, and his dominion was
rapidly spreading over the greater part of the Sudan.

Then a terrible catastrophe took place. The Pashas, happy once
more in Cairo, pulling the old strings and growing fat over the
old flesh-pots, decided to give the world an unmistakable proof
of their renewed vigour. They would tolerate the insurrection in
the Sudan no longer; they would destroy the Mahdi, reduce his
followers to submission, and re-establish their own beneficent
rule over the whole country. To this end they collected together
an army of 10,000 men, and placed it under the command of Colonel

Hicks, a retired English officer. He was ordered to advance and
suppress the rebellion. In these proceedings the English
Government refused to take any part. Unable, or unwilling, to
realise that, so long as there was an English army in Egypt they
could not avoid the responsibilities of supreme power, they
declared that the domestic policy of the Egyptian administration
was no concern of theirs. It was a fatal error--an error which
they themselves, before many weeks were over, were to be forced
by the hard logic of events to admit. The Pashas, left to their
own devices, mismanaged the Hicks expedition to their hearts'
content. The miserable troops, swept together from the relics of
Arabi's disbanded army, were dispatched to Khartoum in chains.

After a month's drilling, they were pronounced to be fit to
the fanatics of the Sudan. Colonel Hicks was a brave man; urged
on by the authorities in Cairo, he shut his eyes to the danger
ahead of him, and marched out from Khartoum in the direction of
El Obeid at the beginning of September, 1883. Abandoning his
communications, he was soon deep in the desolate wastes of
Kordofan. As he advanced, his difficulties increased; the guides
were treacherous, the troops grew exhausted, the supply of water
gave out. He pressed on, and at last, on November 5th, not far
from El Obeid, the harassed, fainting, almost desperate army
plunged into a vast forest of gumtrees and mimosa scrub. There
was a sudden, appalling yell; the Mahdi, with 40,000 of his
finest men, sprang from their ambush. The Egyptians were
surrounded, and immediately overpowered. It was not a defeat,
but an annihilation. Hicks and his European staff were
slaughtered; the whole army was slaughtered; 300 wounded wretches

crept away into the forest.

The consequences of this event were felt in every part of the
Sudan. To the westward, in Darfur, the Governor, Slatin Pasha,
after a prolonged and valiant resistance, was forced to
surrender, and the whole province fell into the hands of the
rebels. Southwards, in the Bahr-el-Ghazal, Lupton Bey was shut up

in a remote stronghold, while the country was overrun. The
Mahdi's triumphs were beginning to penetrate even into the
tropical regions of Equatoria; the tribes were rising, and Emir
Pasha was preparing to retreat towards the Great Lakes. On the
cast, Osman Digna pushed the insurrection right up to the shores
of the Red Sea and laid siege to Suakin. Before the year was
over, with the exception of a few isolated and surrounded
garrisons, the Mahdi was absolute lord of a territory equal to
the combined area of Spain, France, and Germany; and his
victorious armies were rapidly closing round Khartoum.

When the news of the Hicks disaster reached Cairo, the Pashas
calmly announced that they would collect another army of 10,000
men, and again attack the Mahdi; but the English Government
understood at last the gravity of the case. They saw that a
crisis was upon them, and that they could no longer escape the
implications of their position in Egypt. What were they to do?
Were they to allow the Egyptians to become more and more deeply
involved in a ruinous, perhaps ultimately a fatal, war with the
Mahdi? And, if not, what steps were they to take?

A small minority of the party then in power in England-- the
Party-- were anxious to withdraw from Egypt altogether and at
On the other hand, another and a more influential minority, with
representatives in the Cabinet, were in favour of a more active
intervention in Egyptian affairs-- of the deliberate use of the
power of England to give to Egypt internal stability and external

security; they were ready, if necessary, to take the field
against the Mahdi with English troops. But the great bulk of the
party, and the Cabinet, with Mr. Gladstone at their head,
preferred a middle course. Realising the impracticality of an
immediate withdrawal, they were nevertheless determined to remain

in Egypt not a moment longer than was necessary, and, in the
meantime, to interfere as little as possible in Egyptian affairs.

From a campaign in the Sudan conducted by an English army they
were altogether averse. If, therefore, the English army was not
to be used, and the Egyptian army was not fit to be used
against the Mahdi, it followed that any attempt to reconquer the
Sudan must be abandoned; the remaining Egyptian troops must be
withdrawn, and in future military operations must be limited to
those of a strictly defensive kind. Such was the decision of the
English Government. Their determination was strengthened by two
considerations: in the first place, they saw that the Mahdi's
rebellion was largely a nationalist movement, directed against an

alien power, and, in the second place, the policy of withdrawal
from the Sudan was the policy of their own representative in
Egypt, Sir Evelyn Baring, who had lately been appointed Consul-
General at Cairo. There was only one serious obstacle in the
the attitude of the Pashas at the head of the Egyptian
Government. The infatuated old men were convinced that they would

have better luck next time, that another army and another Hicks
would certainly destroy the Mahdi, and that, even if the Mahdi
were again victorious, yet another army and yet another Hicks
would no doubt be forthcoming, and that THEY would do the trick,
or, failing that ... but they refused to consider eventualities
any further. In the face of such opposition, the English
Government, unwilling as they were to interfere, saw that there
was no choice open to them but to exercise pressure. They
therefore instructed Sir Evelyn Baring, in the event of the
Egyptian Government refusing to withdraw from the Sudan, to
insist upon the Khedive's appointing other Ministers who would be

willing to do so.

Meanwhile, not only the Government, but the public in England
were beginning to realise the alarming nature of the Egyptian
situation. It was some time before the details of the Hicks
expedition were fully known, but when they were, andwhen the
character of the disaster was understood, a thrill of horror ran
the country. The newspapers became full of articles on the Sudan,
personal descriptions of the Mahdi, of agitated letters from
and clergymen demanding vengeance, and of serious discussions of
policy in Egypt. Then, at the beginning of the new year, alarming
began to arrive from Khartoum. Colonel Coetlogon, who was in
command of
the Egyptian troops, reported a menacing concentration of the
enemy. Day by day,
hour by hour, affairs grew worse. The Egyptians were obviously
they could not maintain themselves in the field; Khartoum was in
danger; at
any moment, its investment might be complete. And, with Khartoum
once cut off
from communication with Egypt, what might not happen?

Colonel Coetlogon began to calculate how long the city would hold

out. Perhaps it could not resist the Mahdi for a month, perhaps
for more than a month; but he began to talk of the necessity of a

speedy retreat. It was clear that a climax was approaching, and
that measures must be taken to forestall it at once. Accordingly,

Sir Evelyn Baring, on receipt of final orders from England,
presented an ultimatum to the Egyptian Government: the Ministry
must either sanction the evacuation of the Sudan, or it must
resign. The Ministry was obstinate, and, on January 7th, 1884,
it resigned, to be replaced by a more pliable body of Pashas. On
the same day, General Gordon arrived at Southampton. He was over
fifty, and he was still, by the world's measurements, an
unimportant man. In spite of his achievements, in spite of a
certain celebrity-- for 'Chinese Gordon' was still occasionally
spoken of-- he was unrecognised and almost unemployed.

He had spent a lifetime in the dubious services of foreign
punctuated by futile drudgeries at home; and now, after a long
he had been sent for--to do what?--to look after the Congo for
the King
of the Belgians. At his age, even if he survived the work and the
he could hardly look forward to any subsequent appointment; he
return from the Congo, old and worn out, to a red-brick villa and

extinction. Such were General Gordon's prospects on January 7th,
1884. By January 18th, his name was on every tongue, he was the
favourite of the nation, he had been declared to be the one
living man
capable of coping with the perils of the hour; he had been
chosen, with unanimous approval, to perform a great task; and he
had left England on a mission which was to bring him not only a
boundless popularity, but an immortal fame. The circumstances
which led to a change so sudden and so remarkable are less easily

explained than might have been wished. An ambiguity hangs over
them-- an ambiguity which the discretion of eminent persons has
certainly not diminished. But some of the facts are clear enough.

The decision to withdraw from the Sudan had no sooner been taken
than it had become evident that the operation would be a
difficult and hazardous one, and that it would be necessary to
send to Khartoum an emissary armed with special powers and
possessed of special ability, to carry it out. Towards the end of

November, somebody at the War Office--it is not clear who--had
suggested that this emissary should be General Gordon. Lord
Granville, the Foreign Secretary, had thereupon telegraphed to
Sir Evelyn Baring asking whether, in his opinion, the presence of

General Gordon would be useful in Egypt; Sir Evelyn Baring had
replied that the Egyptian Government was averse to this
proposal, and the matter had dropped.

There was no further reference to Gordon in the official
until after his return to England. Nor, before that date, was any

allusion made to him as a possible unraveller of the Sudan
in the Press. In all the discussions which followed the news of
Hicks disaster, his name is only to be found in occasional and
incidental references to his work "In the Sudan". The "Pall Mall
Gazette", which, more than any other newspaper, interested itself

in Egyptian affairs, alluded to Gordon once or twice as a
geographical expert; but, in an enumeration of the leading
authorities on the Sudan, left him out of account altogether. Yet

it was from the "Pall Mall Gazette" that the impulsion which
projected him into a blaze of publicity finally came. Mr. Stead,
its enterprising editor, went down to Southampton the day after
Gordon's arrival there, and obtained an interview. Now when he
was in the mood-- after a little b. and s., especially-- no one
more capable than Gordon, with his facile speech and his free-
and-easy manners, of furnishing good copy for a journalist; and
Mr. Stead made the most of his opportunity. The interview,
and pointed, was published next day in the most prominent part of

the paper, together with a leading article, demanding that the
General should be immediately dispatched to Khartoum with the
widest powers. The rest of the Press, both in London and in the
provinces, at once took up the cry: General Gordon was a capable
and energetic officer, he was a noble and God-fearing man, he was

a national asset, he was a statesman in the highest sense of the
word; the occasion was pressing and perilous; General Gordon had
been for years Governor-General of the Sudan; General Gordon
alone had the knowledge, the courage, the virtue, which would
save the situation; General Gordon must go to Khartoum. So, for a

week, the papers sang in chorus. But already those in high places

had taken a step. Mr. Stead's interview appeared on the afternoon

of January 9th, and on the morning of January 10th Lord Granville

telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring, proposing, for a second time,
that Gordon's services should be utilised in Egypt. But Sir
Evelyn Baring, for the second time, rejected the proposal.

While these messages were flashing to and fro, Gordon himself was

paying a visit to the Rev. Mr. Barnes at the Vicarage of
Heavitree, near Exeter. The conversation ran chiefly on Biblical
and spiritual matters-- on the light thrown by the Old Testament
upon the geography of Palestine, and on the relations between man

and his Maker; but, there were moments when topics of a more
worldly interest arose. It happened that Sir Samuel Baker,
Gordon's predecessor in Equatoria, lived in the neighbourhood. A
meeting was arranged, and the two ex-Governors, with Mr. Barnes
attendance, went for a drive together. In the carriage, Sir
Samuel Baker, taking up the tale of the "Pall Mall Gazette",
dilated upon the necessity of his friend's returning to the Sudan

as Governor-General. Gordon was silent; but Mr. Barnes noticed
that his blue eyes flashed, while an eager expression passed over

his face. Late that night, after the Vicar had retired to bed, he

was surprised by the door suddenly opening, and by the appearance

of his guest swiftly tripping into the room. 'You saw me today?'
the low voice abruptly questioned. 'You mean in the carriage?'
replied the startled Mr. Barnes. 'Yes,' came the reply; 'you saw
ME--that was MYSELF--the self I want to get rid of.' There was a
sliding movement, the door swung to, and the Vicar found himself
alone again.

It was clear that a disturbing influence had found its way into
Gordon's mind. His thoughts, wandering through Africa, flitted to

the Sudan; they did not linger at the Congo. During the same
visit, he took the opportunity of calling upon Dr. Temple, the
Bishop of Exeter, and asking him, merely as a hypothetical
question, whether, in his opinion, Sudanese converts to
Christianity might be permitted to keep three wives. His Lordship

answered that this would be uncanonical.

A few days later, it appeared that the conversation in the
carriage at Heavitree had borne fruit. Gordon wrote a letter to
Sir Samuel Baker, further elaborating the opinions on the Sudan
which he had already expressed in his interview with Mr. Stead;
the letter was clearly intended for publication, and published it

was in "The Times" of January 14th. On the same day, Gordon's
began once more to buzz along the wires in secret questions and
answers to and from the highest quarters.

'Might it not be advisable,' telegraphed Lord Granville to Mr.
Gladstone, to put a little pressure on Baring, to induce him to
accept the assistance of General Gordon?' Mr. Gladstone replied,
also by a telegram, in the affirmative; and on the 15th, Lord
Wolseley telegraphed to Gordon begging him to come to London
immediately. Lord Wolseley, who was one of Gordon's oldest
friends, was at that time Adjutant-General of the Forces; there
was a long interview; and, though the details of the conversation

have never transpired, it is known that, in the course of it,
Lord Wolseley asked Gordon if he would be willing to go to the
Sudan, to which Gordon replied that there was only one
his prior engagement to the King of the Belgians. Before
nightfall, Lord Granville, by private telegram, had 'put a little

pressure on Baring'. 'He had,' he said, 'heard indirectly that
Gordon was ready to go at once to the Sudan on the following
rather vague terms: His mission to be to report to Her Majesty's
Government on the military situation, and to return without any
further engagement. He would be under you for instructions and
will send letters through you under flying seal... He might be of
Lord Granville added, in informing you and us of the situation.
would be popular at home, but there may be countervailing
Tell me,' such was Lord Granville's concluding injunction, 'your
real opinion.'

It was the third time of asking, and Sir Evelyn Baring resisted
no longer.
'Gordon,' he telegraphed on the 16th, 'would be the best man if
he will
pledge himself to carry out the policy of withdrawing from the
Sudan as
quickly as is possible, consistently with saving life. He must
also understand that he must take his instructions from the
British representative in Egypt... I would rather have him than
anyone else,
provided there is a perfectly clear understanding with him as to
what his
position is to be and what line of policy he is to carry out.
not... Whoever goes should be distinctly warned that he will
undertake a
service of great difficulty and danger.'

In the meantime, Gordon, with the Sudan upon his lips, with the
Sudan in
his imagination, had hurried to Brussels, to obtain from the King
of the
Belgians a reluctant consent to the postponement of his Congo
mission. On
the 17th he was recalled to London by a telegram from Lord
Wolseley. On the
18th the final decision was made. 'At noon,' Gordon told the Rev.

Mr. Barnes, Wolseley came to me and took me to the Ministers. He
went in and talked to the Ministers, and came back and said: "Her

Majesty's Government wants you to undertake this. Government is
determined to evacuate the Sudan, for they will not guarantee
future government. Will you go and do it?" I said: "Yes." He
said: "Go in." I went in and saw them. They said: "Did Wolseley
tell you your orders?" I said: "Yes." I said: "You will not
guarantee future government of the Sudan, and you wish me to go
up and evacuate now." They said: "Yes", and it was over.'

Such was the sequence of events which ended in General Gordon's
last appointment. The precise motives of those responsible for
these transactions are less easy to discern. It is difficult to
understand what the reasons could have been which induced the
Government, not only to override the hesitations of Sir Evelyn
Baring, but to overlook the grave and obvious dangers involved in

sending such a man as Gordon to the Sudan. The whole history of
his life, the whole bent of his character, seemed to disqualify
him for the task for which he had been chosen. He was before all
things a fighter, an enthusiast, a bold adventurer; and he was
now to be entrusted with the conduct of an inglorious retreat. He

was alien to the subtleties of civilised statesmanship, he was
unamenable to official control, he was incapable of the skilful
management of delicate situations; and he was now to be placed in

a position of great complexity, requiring at once a cool
judgment, a clear perception of fact, and a fixed determination
to carry out a line of policy laid down from above. He had, it is

true, been Governor-General of the Sudan; but he was now to
return to the scene of his greatness as the emissary of a
defeated and humbled power; he was to be a fugitive where he had
once been a ruler; the very success of his mission was to consist

in establishing the triumph of those forces which he had spent
years in trampling underfoot. All this should have been clear to
those in authority, after a very little reflection. It was clear
enough to Sir Evelyn Baring, though, with characteristic
he had abstained from giving expression to his thoughts. But,
if a general acquaintance with Gordon's life and character were
sufficient to lead to these conclusions, he himself had taken
care to
put their validity beyond reasonable doubt.

Both in his interview with Mr. Stead and in his letter to Sir
Samuel Baker,
he had indicated unmistakably his own attitude towards the Sudan
The policy which he advocated, the state of feeling in which he
himself to be, was diametrically opposed to the declared
intentions of the
Government. He was by no means in favour of withdrawing from the
Sudan; he was in favour, as might have been supposed, of vigorous

military action. It might be necessary to abandon, for the time
being, the more remote garrisons in Darfur and Equatoria; but
Khartoum must be held at all costs. To allow the Mahdi to enter
Khartoum would not merely mean the return of the whole of the
Sudan to barbarism; it would be a menace to the safety of Egypt
herself. To attempt to protect Egypt against the Mahdi by
fortifying her southern frontier was preposterous. 'You might as
well fortify against a fever.' Arabia, Syria, the whole
Mohammedan world, would be shaken by the Mahdi's advance. 'In
self-defence,' Gordon declared to Mr. Stead, the policy of
evacuation cannot possibly be justified.'

The true policy was obvious. A strong man--Sir Samuel Baker,
must be sent to Khartoum, with a large contingent of Indian and
troops and with two millions of money. He would very soon
overpower the
Mahdi, whose forces would 'fall to pieces of themselves'. For in
Gordon's opinion it was 'an entire mistake to regard the Mahdi as

in any sense a religious leader'; he would collapse as soon as he

was face to face with an English general. Then the distant
regions of Darfur and Equatoria could once more be occupied;
their original Sultans could be reinstated; the whole country
would be placed under civilised rule; and the slave-trade would
be finally abolished. These were the views which Gordon publicly
expressed on January 9th and on January 14th; and it certainly
seems strange that on January 10th and on January 14th, Lord
Granville should have proposed, without a word of consultation
with Gordon himself, to send him on a mission which involved, not

the reconquest, but the abandonment of the Sudan; Gordon, indeed,

when he was actually approached by Lord Wolseley, had apparently
agreed to become the agent of a policy which was exactly the
reverse of his own. No doubt, too, it is possible for a
subordinate to suppress his private convictions and to carry out
loyally, in spite of them, the orders of his superiors. But how
rare are the qualities of self-control and wisdom which such a
subordinate must possess! And how little reason there was to
think that General Gordon possessed them!

In fact, the conduct of the Government wears so singular an
appearance that it has seemed necessary to account for it by some

ulterior explanation. It has often been asserted that the true
cause of Gordon's appointment was the clamour in the Press. It is

said-- among others, by Sir Evelyn Baring himself, who has given
something like an official sanction to this view of the case--
the Government could not resist the pressure of the newspapers
and the feeling in the country which it indicated; that
Ministers, carried off their feet by a wave of 'Gordon cultus',
were obliged to give way to the inevitable. But this suggestion
is hardly supported by an examination of the facts. Already,
early in December, and many weeks before Gordon's name had begun
to figure in the newspapers, Lord Granville had made his first
effort to induce Sir Evelyn Baring to accept Gordon's services.
The first newspaper demand for a Gordon mission appeared in the
"Pall Mall Gazette" on the afternoon of January 9th; and the very

next morning, Lord Granville was making his second telegraphic
attack upon Sir Evelyn Baring. The feeling in the Press did not
become general until the 11th, and on the 14th Lord Granville, in

his telegram to Mr. Gladstone, for the third time proposed the
appointment of Gordon. Clearly, on the part of Lord Granville at
any rate, there was no extreme desire to resist the wishes of the

Press. Nor was the Government as a whole by any means incapable
of ignoring public opinion; a few months were to show that,
plainly enough. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if
Ministers had been opposed to the appointment of Gordon, he would

never have been appointed. As it was, the newspapers were in fact

forestalled, rather than followed, by the Government.

How, then, are we to explain the Government's action? Are we to
suppose that its members, like the members of the public at
large, were themselves carried away by a sudden enthusiasm, a
sudden conviction that they had found their saviour; that General

Gordon was the man--they did not quite know why, but that was of
no consequence--the one man to get them out of the whole Sudan
difficulty--they did not quite know how, but that was of no
consequence either if only he were sent to Khartoum? Doubtless
even Cabinet Ministers are liable to such impulses; doubtless it
is possible that the Cabinet of that day allowed itself to drift,

out of mere lack of consideration, and judgment, and foresight,
along the rapid stream of popular feeling towards the inevitable
cataract. That may be so; yet there are indications that a more
definite influence was at work. There was a section of the
Government which had never become quite reconciled to the policy
of withdrawing from the Sudan. To this section--we may call it
the imperialist section--which was led, inside the Cabinet, by
Lord Hartington, and outside by Lord Wolseley, the policy which
really commended itself was the very policy which had been
outlined by General Gordon in his interview with Mr. Stead and
letter to Sir Samuel Baker. They saw that it might be necessary
to abandon some of the outlying parts of the Sudan to the Mahdi;
but the prospect of leaving the whole province in his hands was
highly distasteful to them; above all, they dreaded the loss of
Khartoum. Now, supposing that General Gordon, in response to a
popular agitation in the Press, were sent to Khartoum, what would

follow? Was it not at least possible that, once there, with his
views and his character, he would, for some reason or other,
refrain from carrying out a policy of pacific retreat? Was it not

possible that in that case he might so involve the English
Government that it would find itself obliged, almost
imperceptibly perhaps, to substitute for its policy of withdrawal

a policy of advance? Was it not possible that General Gordon
might get into difficulties, that he might be surrounded and cut
off from Egypt'? If that were to happen, how could the English
Government avoid the necessity of sending an expedition to rescue

him? And, if an English expedition went to the Sudan, was it
conceivable that it would leave the Mahdi as it found him? In
short, would not the dispatch of General Gordon to Khartoum
involve, almost inevitably, the conquest of the Sudan by British
troops, followed by a British occupation? And, behind all these
questions, a still larger question loomed. The position of the
English in Egypt itself was still ambiguous; the future was
obscure; how long, in reality, would an English army remain in
Egypt? Was not one thing, at least, obvious-- that if the English

were to conquer and occupy the Sudan, their evacuation of Egypt
would become impossible?

With our present information, it would be rash to affirm that
all, or any, of these considerations were present to the minds of

the imperialist section of the Government. Yet it is difficult to

believe that a man such as Lord Wolseley, for instance, with his
knowledge of affairs and his knowledge of Gordon, could have
altogether overlooked them. Lord Hartington, indeed, may well
have failed to realise at once the implications of General
Gordon's appointment-- for it took Lord Hartington some time to
realise the implications of anything; but Lord Hartington was
very far from being a fool; and we may well suppose that he
instinctively, perhaps subconsciously, apprehended the elements
of a situation which he never formulated to himself. However that

may be, certain circumstances are significant. It is significant
that the go-between who acted as the Government's agent in its
negotiations with Gordon was an imperialist-- Lord Wolseley. It
is significant that the 'Ministers' whom Gordon finally
and who actually determined his appointment were by no means the
of the Cabinet, but a small section of it, presided over by Lord
It is significant, too, that Gordon's mission was represented
both to Sir
Evelyn Baring, who was opposed to his appointment, and to Mr.
Gladstone, who
was opposed to an active policy in the Sudan, as a mission merely
report'; while, no sooner was the mission actually decided upon,
than it began to assume a very different complexion. In his final

interview with the 'Ministers', Gordon we know (though he said
nothing about it to the Rev. Mr Barnes) threw out the suggestion
that it might be as well to make him the Governor-General of the
Sudan. The suggestion, for the moment, was not taken up; but it
is obvious that a man does not propose to become a Governor-
General in order to make a report.

We are in the region of speculations; one other presents itself.
Was the movement in the Press during that second week of January
a genuine movement, expressing a spontaneous wave of popular
feeling? Or was it a cause of that feeling, rather than an
effect? The engineering of a newspaper agitation may not have
been an impossibility-- even so long ago as 1884. One would like
to know more than one is ever likely to know of the relations of
the imperialist section of the Government with Mr. Stead.

But it is time to return to the solidity of fact. Within a few
hours of his interview with the Ministers, Gordon had left
England forever. At eight o'clock in the evening, there was a
little gathering of elderly gentlemen at Victoria Station.
Gordon, accompanied by Colonel Stewart, who was to act as his
second-in-command, tripped on to the platform. Lord Granville
bought the necessary tickets; the Duke of Cambridge opened the
railway-carriage door. The General jumped into the train; and
then Lord Wolseley appeared, carrying a leather bag, in which was

200 in gold, collected from friends at the last moment for the
contingencies of the journey. The bag was handed through the
window. The train started. As it did so, Gordon leaned out and
addressed a last whispered question to Lord Wolseley. Yes, it had

been done. Lord Wolseley had seen to it himself; next morning,
every member of the Cabinet would receive a copy of Dr. Samuel
Clarke's Scripture Promises. That was all. The train rolled out
of the station.

Before the travellers reached Cairo, steps had been taken which
finally put an end to the theory-- if it had ever been seriously
held-- that the purpose of the mission was simply the making of a

report. On the very day of Gordon's departure, Lord Granville
telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring as follows: 'Gordon suggests
that it may be announced in Egypt that he is on his way to
Khartoum to arrange for the future settlement of the Sudan for
the best advantage of the people.' Nothing was said of
reporting. A few days later, Gordon himself telegraphed to Lord
Granville suggesting that he should be made Governor-General of
the Sudan, in order to 'accomplish the evacuation', and to
'restore to the various Sultans of the Sudan their independence'.

Lord Granville at once authorised Sir Evelyn Baring to issue, if
he thought fit, a proclamation to this effect in the name of the
Khedive. Thus the mission 'to report' had already swollen into a
Governor-Generalship, with the object, not merely of effecting
the evacuation of the Sudan, but also of setting up 'various
Sultans' to take the place of the Egyptian Government.

In Cairo, in spite of the hostilities of the past, Gordon was
received with every politeness. He was at once proclaimed
Governor-General of the Sudan, with the widest powers. He was on
the point of starting off again on his journey southwards, when a

singular and important incident occurred. Zobeir, the rebel
chieftain of Darfur, against whose forces Gordon had struggled
for years, and whose son, Suleiman, had been captured and
executed by Gessi, Gordon's lieutenant, was still detained at
Cairo. It so fell out that he went to pay a visit to one of the
Ministers at the same time as the new Governor-General. The two
men met face to face, and, as he looked into the savage
countenance of his old enemy, an extraordinary shock of
inspiration ran through Gordon's brain. He was seized, as he
explained in a State paper, which he drew up immediately after
the meeting, with a 'mystic feeling' that he could trust Zobeir.
It was true that Zobeir was 'the greatest slave-hunter who ever
existed'; it was true that he had a personal hatred of Gordon,
owing to the execution of Suleiman--'and one cannot wonder at it,

if one is a father'; it was true that, only a few days
previously, on his way to Egypt, Gordon himself had been so
convinced of the dangerous character of Zobeir that he had
recommended by telegram his removal to Cyprus. But such
considerations were utterly obliterated by that one moment of
electric impact of personal vision; henceforward ,there was a
rooted conviction in Gordon's mind that Zobeir was to be trusted,

that Zobeir must join him at Khartoum, that Zobeir's presence
would paralyse the Mahdi, that Zobeir must succeed him in the
government of the country after the evacuation. Did not Sir
Evelyn Baring, too, have the mystic feeling? Sir Evelyn Baring
confessed that he had not. He distrusted mystic feelings. Zobeir,

no doubt, might possibly be useful; but, before deciding upon so
important a matter, it was necessary to reflect and to consult.

In the meantime, failing Zobeir, something might perhaps be done
with the Emir Abdul Shakur, the heir of the Darfur Sultans. The
Emir, who had been living in domestic retirement in Cairo, was
with some difficulty discovered, given 2,000, an embroidered
uniform, together with the largest decoration that could be
found, and informed that he was to start at once with General
Gordon for the Sudan, where it would be his duty to occupy the
province of Darfur, after driving out the forces of the Mahdi.
The poor man begged for a little delay; but no delay could be
granted. He hurried to the railway station in his frockcoat and
fez, and rather the worse for liquor. Several extra carriages for

his twenty-three wives and a large quantity of luggage had then
to be hitched on to the Governor-General's train; and at the last

moment some commotion was caused by the unaccountable
of his embroidered uniform. It was found, but his troubles were
over. On the steamer, General Gordon was very rude to him, and he

drowned his chagrin in hot rum and water. At Assuan he
declaring that he would go no farther. Eventually, however, he
as far as Dongola, whence, after a stay of a few months, he
with his family to Cairo.

In spite of this little contretemps, Gordon was in the highest
spirits. At last his capacities had been recognised by his
countrymen; at last he had been entrusted with a task great
enough to satisfy even his desires. He was already famous; he
would soon be glorious. Looking out once more over the familiar
desert, he felt the searchings of his conscience stilled by the
manifest certainty that it was for this that Providence had been
reserving him through all these years of labour and of sorrow for
this! What was the Mahdi to stand up against him! A thousand
schemes, a thousand possibilities sprang to life in his
pullulating brain. A new intoxication carried him away. 'Il faut
etre toujours ivre. Tout est la: c'est l'unique question.' Little
though he knew it, Gordon was a disciple of Baudelaire. 'Pour ne
pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos epaules et
vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans treve.' Yes-
- but how feeble were those gross resources of the miserable
Abdul-Shakur! Rum? Brandy? Oh, he knew all about them; they were
nothing. He tossed off a glass. They were nothing at all. The
true drunkenness lay elsewhere. He seized a paper and pencil, and
dashed down a telegram to Sir Evelyn Baring. Another thought
struck him, and another telegram followed. And another, and yet
another. He had made up his mind; he would visit the Mahdi in
person, and alone. He might do that; or he might retire to the
Equator. He would decidedly retire to the Equator, and hand over
the Bahr-el-Ghazal province to the King of the Belgians. A whole
flock of telegrams flew to Cairo from every stopping-place. Sir
Evelyn Baring was patient and discrete; he could be trusted with
such confidences; but unfortunately Gordon's strange exhilaration
found other outlets. At Berber, in the course of a speech to the
assembled chiefs, he revealed the intention of the Egyptian
Government to withdraw from the Sudan. The news was everywhere in
a moment, and the results were disastrous. The tribesmen, whom
fear and interest had still kept loyal, perceived that they need
look no more for help or punishment from Egypt, and began to turn
their eyes towards the rising sun.

Nevertheless, for the moment, the prospect wore a favourable
appearance. The Governor-General was welcomed at every stage of
his journey, and on February 18th he made a triumphal entry into
Khartoum. The feeble garrison, the panic-stricken inhabitants,
hailed him as a deliverer. Surely they need fear no more, now
that the great English Pasha had come among them. His first acts
seemed to show that a new and happy era had begun. Taxes were
remitted, the bonds of the usurers were destroyed, the victims of
Egyptian injustice were set free from the prisons; the immemorial
instruments of torture the stocks and the whips and the branding-
irons were broken to pieces in the public square. A bolder
measure had been already taken. A proclamation had been issued
sanctioning slavery in the Sudan. Gordon, arguing that he was
powerless to do away with the odious institution, which, as soon
as the withdrawal was carried out, would inevitably become
universal, had decided to reap what benefit he could from the
public abandonment of an unpopular policy. At Khartoum the
announcement was received with enthusiasm, but it caused
considerable perturbation in England. The Christian hero, who had
spent so many years of his life in suppressing slavery, was now
suddenly found to be using his high powers to set it up again.
The Anti-Slavery Society made a menacing movement, but the
Government showed a bold front, and the popular belief in
Gordon's infallibility carried the day.

He himself was still radiant. Nor, amid the jubilation and the
devotion which surrounded him, did he forget higher things. In
all this turmoil, he told his sister, he was 'supported'. He gave
injunctions that his Egyptian troops should have regular morning
and evening prayers; 'they worship one God,' he said, 'Jehovah.'
And he ordered an Arabic text, 'God rules the hearts of all men',
to be put up over the chair of state in his audience chamber. As
the days went by, he began to feel at home again in the huge
palace which he knew so well. The glare and the heat of that
southern atmosphere, the movement of the crowded city, the dark-
faced populace, the soldiers and the suppliants, the reawakened
consciousness of power, the glamour and the mystery of the whole
strange scene--these things seized upon him, engulfed him, and
worked a new transformation on his intoxicated heart. England,
with its complications and its policies, became an empty vision
to him; Sir Evelyn Baring, with his cautions and sagacities,
hardly more than a tiresome name. He was Gordon Pasha, he was the
Governor-General, he was the ruler of the Sudan. He was among his
people--his own people, and it was to them only that he was
responsible--to them, and to God. Was he to let them fall without
a blow into the clutches of a sanguinary impostor? Never! He was
there to prevent that. The distant governments might mutter
something about 'evacuation'; his thoughts were elsewhere. He
poured them into his telegrams, and Sir Evelyn Baring sat aghast.
The man who had left London a month before, with instructions to
'report upon the best means of effecting the evacuation of the
Sudan', was now openly talking of 'smashing up the Mahdi' with
the aid of British and Indian troops. Sir Evelyn Baring counted
upon his fingers the various stages of this extraordinary
development in General Gordon's opinions. But he might have saved
himself the trouble, for, in fact, it was less a development than
a reversion. Under the stress of the excitements and the
realities of his situation at Khartoum, the policy which Gordon
was now proposing to carry out had come to tally, in every
particular, with the policy which he had originally advocated
with such vigorous conviction in the pages of the Pall Mall

Nor was the adoption of that policy by the English Government by
any means out of the question. For, in the meantime, events had
been taking place in the Eastern Sudan, in the neighbourhood of
the Red Sea port of Suakin, which were to have a decisive effect
upon the prospects of Khartoum. General Baker, the brother of Sir
Samuel Baker, attempting to relieve the beleaguered garrisons of
Sinkat and Tokar, had rashly attacked the forces of Osman Digna,
had been defeated, and obliged to retire. Sinkat and Tokar had
then fallen into the hands of the Mahdi's general. There was a
great outcry in England, and a wave of warlike feeling passed
over the country. Lord Wolseley at once drew up a memorandum
advocating the annexation of the Sudan. In the House of Commons
even Liberals began to demand vengeance and military action,
whereupon the Government dispatched Sir Gerald Graham with a
considerable British force to Suakin. Sir Gerald Graham advanced,
and in the battles of El Teb and Tamai inflicted two bloody
defeats upon the Mahdi's forces. It almost seemed as if the
Government was now committed to a policy of interference and
conquest; as if the imperialist section of the Cabinet were at
last to have their way. The dispatch of Sir Gerald Graham
coincided with Gordon's sudden demand for British and Indian
troops with which to 'smash up the Mahdi'. The business, he
assured Sir Evelyn Baring, in a stream of telegrams, could very
easily be done. It made him sick, he said, to see himself held in
check and the people of the Sudan tyrannised over by 'a feeble
lot of stinking Dervishes'. Let Zobeir at once be sent down to
him, and all would be well.

The original Sultans of the country had unfortunately proved
disap-pointing. Their place should be taken by Zobeir. After the
Mahdi had been smashed up, Zobeir should rule the Sudan as a
subsidised vassal of England, on a similar footing to that of the
Amir of Afghanistan. The plan was perhaps feasible; but it was
clearly incompatible with the policy of evacuation, as it had
been hitherto laid down by the English Government. Should they
reverse that policy? Should they appoint Zobeir, reinforce Sir
Gerald Graham, and smash up the Mahdi? They could not make up
their minds. So far as Zobeir was concerned, there were two
counterbalancing considerations; on the one hand, Evelyn Baring
now declared that he was in favour of the appointment; but, on
the other hand, would English public opinion consent to a man,
described by Gordon himself as 'the greatest slave-hunter who
ever existed', being given an English subsidy and the control of
the Sudan? While the Cabinet was wavering, Gordon took a fatal
step. The delay was intolerable, and one evening, in a rage, he
revealed his desire for Zobeir-- which had hitherto been kept a
profound official secret-- to Mr Power, the English Consul at
Khartoum, and the special correspondent of "The Times." Perhaps
he calculated that the public announcement of his wishes would
oblige the Government to yield to them; if so, he was completely
mistaken, for the result was the very reverse. The country,
already startled by the proclamation in favour of slavery, could
not swallow Zobeir. The Anti-Slavery Society set on foot a
violent agitation, opinion in the House of Commons suddenly
stiffened, and the Cabinet, by a substantial majority, decided
that Zobeir should remain in Cairo. The imperialist wave had
risen high, but it had not risen high enough; and now it was
rapidly subsiding. The Government's next action was decisive. Sir
Gerald Graham and his British Army were withdrawn from the Sudan.

The critical fortnight during which these events took place was
the first fortnight of March. By the close of it, Gordon's
position had undergone a rapid and terrible change. Not only did
he find himself deprived, by the decision of the Government, both
of the hope of Zobeir's assistance and of the prospect of
smashing up the Mahdi with the aid of British troops; the
military movements in the Eastern Sudan produced, at the very
same moment, a yet more fatal consequence. The adherents of the
Mahdi had been maddened, they had not been crushed, by Sir Gerald
Graham's victories. When, immediately afterwards, the English
withdrew to Suakin, from which they never again emerged, the
inference seemed obvious; they had been defeated, and their power
was at an end. The warlike tribes to the north and the northeast
of Khartoum had long been wavering. They now hesitated no longer,
and joined the Mahdi. From that moment-- it was less than a month
from Gordon's arrival at Khartoum-- the situation of the town was
desperate. The line of communications was cut. Though it still
might be possible for occasional native messengers, or for a few
individuals on an armed steamer, to win their way down the river
into Egypt, the removal of a large number of persons--the loyal
inhabitants or the Egyptian garrison-- was henceforward an
impossibility. The whole scheme of the Gordon mission had
irremediably collapsed; worse still, Gordon himself, so far from
having effected the evacuation of the Sudan, was surrounded by
the enemy. 'The question now is,' Sir Evelyn Baring told Lord
Granville, on March 24th, 'how to get General Gordon and Colonel
Stewart away from Khartoum.'

The actual condition of the town, however, was not, from a
military point of view, so serious as Colonel Coetlogon, in the
first moments of panic after the Hicks disaster, had supposed.
Gordon was of opinion that it was capable of sustaining a siege
of many months. With his usual vigour, he had already begun to
prepare an elaborate system of earthworks, mines, and wire
entanglements. There was a five or six months' supply of food,
there was a great quantity of ammunition, the garrison numbered
about 8,000 men. There were, besides, nine small paddle-wheel
steamers, hitherto used for purposes of communication along the
Nile, which, fitted with guns and protected by metal plates, were
of considerable military value. 'We are all right,' Gordon told
his sister on March 15th. 'We shall, D. V., go on for months.' So
far, at any rate, there was no cause for despair. But the
effervescent happiness of three weeks since had vanished. Gloom,
doubt, disillusionment, self-questioning, had swooped down again
upon their victim. 'Either I must believe He does all things in
mercy and love, or else I disbelieve His existence; there is no
half way in the matter. What holes do I not put myself into! And
for what? So mixed are my ideas. I believe ambition put me here
in this ruin.' Was not that the explanation of it all? 'Our
Lord's promise is not for the fulfilment of earthly wishes;
therefore, if things come to ruin here He is still faithful, and
is carrying out His great work of divine wisdom.' How could he
have forgotten that? But he would not transgress again. 'I owe
all to God, and nothing to myself, for, humanly speaking, I have
done very foolish things. However, if I am humbled, the better
for me.'

News of the changed circumstances at Khartoum was not slow in
reaching England, and a feeling of anxiety began to spread. Among
the first to realise the gravity of the situation was Queen
Victoria. 'It is alarming,' she telegraphed to Lord Hartington on
March 25th. 'General Gordon is in danger; you are bound to try to
save him... You have incurred a fearful responsibility.' With an
unerring instinct, Her Majesty forestalled and expressed the
popular sentiment. During April, when it had become clear that
the wire between Khartoum and Cairo had been severed; when, as
time passed, no word came northward, save vague rumours of
disaster; when at last a curtain of impenetrable mystery closed
over Khartoum, the growing uneasiness manifested itself in
letters to the newspapers, in leading articles, and in a flood of
subscriptions towards a relief fund. At the beginning of May, the
public alarm reached a climax. It now appeared to be certain, not
only that General Gordon was in imminent danger, but that no
steps had yet been taken by the Government to save him.

On the 5th, there was a meeting of protest and indignation at St.
James's Hall; on the 9th there was a mass meeting in Hyde Park;
on the 11th there was a meeting at Manchester. The Baroness
Burdett-Coutts wrote an agitated letter to "The Times" begging
for further subscriptions. Somebody else proposed that a special
fund should be started with which 'to bribe the tribes to secure
the General's personal safety'. A country vicar made another
suggestion. Why should not public prayers be offered up for
General Gordon in every church in the kingdom? He himself had
adopted that course last Sunday. 'Is not this,' he concluded,
'what the godly man, the true hero, himself would wish to be
done?' It was all of no avail. General Gordon remained in peril;
the Government remained inactive. Finally, a vote of censure was
moved in the House of Commons; but that too proved useless. It
was strange; the same executive which, two months before, had
trimmed its sails so eagerly to the shifting gusts of popular
opinion, now, in spite of a rising hurricane, held on its course.
A new spirit, it was clear-- a determined, an intractable spirit-
- had taken control of the Sudan situation. What was it? The
explanation was simple, and it was ominous. Mr. Gladstone had

The old statesman was now entering upon the penultimate period of
his enormous career. He who had once been the rising hope of the
stern and unbending Tories, had at length emerged, after a
lifetime of transmutations, as the champion of militant
democracy. He was at the apex of his power. His great rival was
dead; he stood pre-eminent in the eye of the nation; he enjoyed
the applause, the confidence, the admiration, the adoration,
even, of multitudes. Yet-- such was the peculiar character of the
man, and such was the intensity of the feelings which he called
forth-- at this very moment, at the height of his popularity, he
was distrusted and loathed; already an unparalleled animosity was
gathering its forces against him. For, indeed, there was
something in his nature which invited --which demanded-- the
clashing reactions of passionate extremes. It was easy to worship
Mr. Gladstone; to see in him the perfect model of the upright
man--the man of virtue and of religion-- the man whose whole life
had been devoted to the application of high principles to affairs
of State; the man, too, whose sense of right and justice was
invigorated and ennobled by an enthusiastic heart. It was also
easy to detest him as a hypocrite, to despise him as a demagogue,
and to dread him as a crafty manipulator of men and things for
the purposes of his own ambition.

It might have been supposed that one or other of these
conflicting judgments must have been palpably absurd, that
nothing short of gross prejudice or wilful blindness, on one side
or the other, could reconcile such contradictory conceptions of a
single human being. But it was not so; 'the elements' were 'so
mixed' in Mr. Gladstone that his bitterest enemies (and his
enemies were never mild) and his warmest friends (and his friends
were never tepid) could justify, with equal plausibility, their
denunciations or their praises. What, then, was the truth? In the
physical universe there are no chimeras. But man is more various
than nature; was Mr. Gladstone, perhaps, a chimera of the spirit?
Did his very essence lie in the confusion of incompatibles? His
very essence? It eludes the hand that seems to grasp it. One is
baffled, as his political opponents were baffled fifty years ago.
The soft serpent coils harden into quick strength that has
vanished, leaving only emptiness and perplexity behind. Speech
was the fibre of his being; and, when he spoke, the ambiguity of
ambiguity was revealed. The long, winding, intricate sentences,
with their vast burden of subtle and complicated qualifications,
befogged the mind like clouds, and like clouds, too, dropped
thunder bolts. Could it not then at least be said of him with
certainty that his was a complex character? But here also there
was a contradiction.

In spite of the involutions of his intellect and the contortions
of his spirit, it is impossible not to perceive a strain of
naivete in Mr. Gladstone. He adhered to some of his principles
that of the value of representative institutions, for instance
with a faith which was singularly literal; his views upon
religion were uncritical to crudeness; he had no sense of humour.
Compared with Disraeli's, his attitude towards life strikes one
as that of an ingenuous child. His very egoism was simple-minded;
through all the labyrinth of his passions there ran a single
thread. But the centre of the labyrinth? Ah! the thread might
lead there, through those wandering mazes, at last. Only, with
the last corner turned, the last step taken, the explorer might
find that he was looking down into the gulf of a crater. The
flame shot out on every side, scorching and brilliant; but in the
midst, there was a darkness.

That Mr. Gladstone's motives and ambitions were not merely those
of a hunter after popularity was never shown more clearly than in
that part of his career which, more than any other, has been
emphasised by his enemies--his conduct towards General Gordon. He
had been originally opposed to Gordon's appointment, but he had
consented to it partly, perhaps, owing to the persuasion that its
purpose did not extend beyond the making of a 'report'. Gordon
once gone, events had taken their own course; the policy of the
Government began to slide, automatically, down a slope at the
bottom of which lay the conquest of the Sudan and the annexation
of Egypt. Sir Gerald Graham's bloody victories awoke Mr.
Gladstone to the true condition of affairs; he recognised the
road he was on and its destination; but there was still time to
turn back.

It was he who had insisted upon the withdrawal of the English
army from the Eastern Sudan. The imperialists were sadly
disappointed. They had supposed that the old lion had gone to
sleep, and suddenly he had come out of his lair, and was roaring.
All their hopes now centred upon Khartoum. General Gordon was cut
off; he was surrounded, he was in danger; he must be relieved. A
British force must be sent to save him. But Mr. Gladstone was not
to be caught napping a second time. When the agitation rose, when
popular sentiment was deeply stirred, when the country, the
Press, the Sovereign herself, declared that the national honour
was involved with the fate of General Gordon, Mr. Gladstone
remained immovable. Others might picture the triumphant rescue of
a Christian hero from the clutches of heathen savages; before HIS
eyes was the vision of battle, murder, and sudden death, the
horrors of defeat and victory, the slaughter and the anguish of
thousands, the violence of military domination, the enslavement
of a people.

The invasion of the Sudan, he had flashed out in the House of
Commons, would be a war of conquest against a people struggling
to be free. 'Yes, those people are struggling to be free, and
they are rightly struggling to be free.' Mr. Gladstone--it was
one of his old-fashioned simplicities--believed in liberty. If,
indeed, it should turn out to be the fact that General Gordon was
in serious danger, then, no doubt, it would be necessary to send
a relief expedition to Khartoum. But, he could see no sufficient
reason to believe that it was the fact. Communications, it was
true, had been interrupted between Khartoum and Cairo, but no
news was not necessarily bad news, and the little information
that had come through from General Gordon seemed to indicate that
he could hold out for months. So his agile mind worked, spinning
its familiar web of possibilities and contingencies and fine
distinctions. General Gordon, he was convinced, might be hemmed
in, but he was not surrounded. Surely, it was the duty of the
Government to take no rash step, but to consider and to inquire,
and, when it acted, to act upon reasonable conviction. And then,
there was another question. If it was true--and he believed it
was true--that General Gordon's line of retreat was open, why did
not General Gordon use it?

Perhaps he might be unable to withdraw the Egyptian garrison, but
it was not for the sake of the Egyptian garrison that the relief
expedition was proposed; it was simply and solely to secure the
personal safety of General Gordon. And General Gordon had it in
his power to secure his personal safety himself; and he refused
to do so; he lingered on in Khartoum, deliberately, wilfully, in
defiance of the obvious wishes of his superiors. Oh! it was
perfectly clear what General Gordon was doing: he was trying to
force the hand of the English Government. He was hoping that if
he only remained long enough at Khartoum, he would oblige the
English Government to send an army into the Sudan which should
smash up the Mahdi. That, then, was General Gordon's calculation!
Well, General Gordon would learn that he had made a mistake. Who
was he that he should dare to imagine that he could impose his
will upon Mr. Gladstone? The old man's eyes glared. If it came to
a struggle between them--well, they should see! As the weeks
passed, the strange situation grew tenser. It was like some
silent deadly game of bluff. And who knows what was passing in
the obscure depths of that terrifying spirit? What mysterious
mixture of remorse, rage, and jealousy? Who was it that was
ultimately responsible for sending General Gordon to Khartoum?
But then, what did that matter? Why did not the man come back? He
was a Christian hero, wasn't he? Were there no other Christian
heroes in the world? A Christian hero! Let him wait until the
Mahdi's ring was really round him, until the Mahdi's spear was
really about to fall! That would be the test of heroism! If he
slipped back then, with his tail between his legs--! The world
would judge.

One of the last telegrams sent by Gordon before the wire was cut
seemed to support exactly Mr. Gladstone's diagnosis of the case.
He told Sir Evelyn Baring that, since the Government refused to
send either an expedition or Zobeir, he would 'consider himself
free to act according to circumstances.' 'Eventually,' he said,
'you will be forced to smash up the Mahdi', and he declared that
if the Government persisted in its present line of conduct, it
would be branded with an 'indelible disgrace'. The message was
made public, and it happened that Mr. Gladstone saw it for the
first time in a newspaper, during a country visit. Another of the
guests, who was in the room at the moment, thus describes the
scene: 'He took up the paper, his eye instantly fell on the
telegram, and he read it through. As he read, his face hardened
and whitened, the eyes burned as I have seen them once or twice
in the House of Commons when he was angered-- burned with a deep
fire, as if they would have consumed the sheet on which Gordon's
message was printed, or as if Gordon's words had burned into his
soul, which was looking out in wrath and flame. He said not a
word. For perhaps two or three minutes he sat still, his face all
the while like the face you may read of in Milton--like none
other I ever saw. Then he rose, still without a word, and was
seen no more that morning.'

It is curious that Gordon himself never understood the part that
Mr. Gladstone was playing in his destiny. His Khartoum journals
put this beyond a doubt. Except for one or two slight and jocular
references to Mr. Gladstone's minor idiosyncrasies--the shape of
his collars, and his passion for felling trees, Gordon leaves him
unnoticed while he lavishes his sardonic humour upon Lord
Granville. But in truth Lord Granville was a nonentity. The error
shows how dim the realities of England had grown to the watcher
in Khartoum. When he looked towards home, the figure that loomed
largest upon his vision was-- it was only natural that it should
have been so the nearest-- it was upon Sir Evelyn Baring that he
fixed his gaze. For him, Sir Evelyn Baring was the embodiment of
England-- or rather the embodiment of the English official
classes, of English diplomacy, of the English Government with its
hesitations, its insincerities, its double-faced schemes. Sir
Evelyn Baring, he almost came to think at moments, was the prime
mover, the sole contriver, of the whole Sudan imbroglio.

In this he was wrong; for Sir Evelyn Baring, of course, was an
intermediary, without final responsibility or final power; but
Gordon's profound antipathy, his instinctive distrust, were not
without their justification. He could never forget that first
meeting in Cairo, six years earlier, when the fundamental
hostility between the two men had leapt to the surface. 'When oil
mixes with water,' he said, 'we will mix together.' Sir Evelyn
Baring thought so too; but he did not say so; it was not his way.
When he spoke, he felt no temptation to express everything that
was in his mind. In all he did, he was cautious, measured,
unimpeachably correct. It would be difficult to think of a man
more completely the antithesis of Gordon. His temperament, all in
monochrome, touched in with cold blues and indecisive greys, was
eminently unromantic. He had a steely colourlessness, and a
steely pliability, and a steely strength. Endowed beyond most men
with the capacity of foresight, he was endowed as very few men
have ever been with that staying-power which makes the fruit of
foresight attainable. His views were long, and his patience was
even longer. He progressed imperceptibly; he constantly withdrew;
the art of giving way he practised with the refinement of a
virtuoso. But, though the steel recoiled and recoiled, in the end
it would spring forward. His life's work had in it an element of
paradox. It was passed entirely in the East; and the East meant
very little to him; he took no interest in it. It was something
to be looked after. It was also a convenient field for the
talents of Sir Evelyn Baring. Yet it must not be supposed that he
was cynical; perhaps he was not quite great enough for that. He
looked forward to a pleasant retirement--a country place-- some
literary recreations. He had been careful to keep up his
classics. His ambition can be stated in a single phrase-- it was
to become an institution; and he achieved it. No doubt, too, he
deserved it. The greatest of poets, in a bitter mood, has
described the characteristics of a certain class of persons, whom
he did not like. 'They,' he says,

'that have power to hurt and will do none, That do not do the
things they most do show, Who, moving others, are themselves as
stone, Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow, They rightly do
inherit heaven's graces, And husband nature's riches from
expense; They are the lords and owners of their faces...'

The words might have been written for Sir Evelyn Baring.

Though, as a rule, he found it easy to despise those with whom he
came into contact, he could not altogether despise General
Gordon. If he could have, he would have disliked him less. He had
gone as far as his caution had allowed him in trying to prevent
the fatal appointment; and then, when it had become clear that
the Government was insistent, he had yielded with a good grace.
For a moment, he had imagined that all might yet be well; that he
could impose himself, by the weight of his position and the force
of his sagacity, upon his self-willed subordinate; that he could
hold him in a leash at the end of the telegraph wire to Khartoum.
Very soon he perceived that this was a miscalculation. To his
disgust, he found that the telegraph wire, far from being an
instrument of official discipline, had been converted by the
agile strategist at the other end of it into a means of extending
his own personality into the deliberations at Cairo. Every
morning Sir Evelyn Baring would find upon his table a great pile
of telegrams from Khartoum--twenty or thirty at least; and as the
day went on, the pile would grow. When a sufficient number had
accumulated he would read them all through, with the greatest
care. There upon the table, the whole soul of Gordon lay before
him--in its incoherence, its eccentricity, its impulsiveness, its
romance; the jokes, the slang, the appeals to the prophet Isaiah,
the whirl of contradictory policies--Sir Evelyn Baring did not
know which exasperated him most. He would not consider whether,
or to what degree, the man was a maniac; no, he would not. A
subacid smile was the only comment he allowed himself. His
position, indeed, was an extremely difficult one, and all his
dexterity would be needed if he was to emerge from it with

On one side of him was a veering and vacillating Government; on
the other, a frenzied enthusiast. It was his business to
interpret to the first the wishes, or rather the inspirations, of
the second, and to convey to the second the decisions, or rather
the indecisions, of the first. A weaker man would have floated
helplessly on the ebb and flow of the Cabinet's wavering
policies; a rasher man would have plunged headlong into Gordon's
schemes. He did neither; with a singular courage and a singular
caution he progressed along a razor-edge. He devoted all his
energies to the double task of evolving a reasonable policy out
of Gordon's intoxicated telegrams, and of inducing the divided
Ministers at home to give their sanction to what he had evolved.
He might have succeeded, if he had not had to reckon with yet
another irreconcilable; Time was a vital element in the
situation, and Time was against him. When the tribes round
Khartoum rose, the last hope of a satisfactory solution vanished.
He was the first to perceive the altered condition of affairs;
long before the Government, long before Gordon himself, he
understood that the only remaining question was that of the
extrication of the Englishmen from Khartoum. He proposed that a
small force should be dispatched at once across the desert from
Suakin to Barber, the point on the Nile nearest to the Red Sea,
and thence up the river to Gordon; but, after considerable
hesitation, the military authorities decided that this was riot a
practicable plan. Upon that, he foresaw, with perfect lucidity,
the inevitable development of events. Sooner or later, it would
be absolutely necessary to send a relief expedition to Khartoum;
and, from that premise, it followed, without a possibility of
doubt, that it was the duty of the Government to do so at once.
This he saw quite clearly; but he also saw that the position in
the Cabinet had now altered, that Mr. Gladstone had taken the
reins into his own hands. And Mr. Gladstone did not wish to send
a relief expedition. What was Sir Evelyn Baring to do? Was he to
pit his strength against Mr. Gladstone's? To threaten
resignation? To stake his whole future upon General Gordon's
fate? For a moment he wavered; he seemed to hint that unless the
Government sent a message to Khartoum promising a relief
expedition before the end of the year, he would be unable to be a
party to their acts. The Government refused to send any such
message; and he perceived, as he tells us, that 'it was evidently
useless to continue the correspondence any further'. After all,
what could he do? He was still only a secondary figure; his
resignation would be accepted; he would be given a colonial
governorship and Gordon would be no nearer safety. But then,
could he sit by and witness a horrible catastrophe, without
lifting a hand? Of all the odious dilemmas which that man had put
him into this, he reflected, was the most odious. He slightly
shrugged his shoulders. No; he might have 'power to hurt', but he
would 'do none'. He wrote a dispatch--a long, balanced, guarded,
grey dispatch, informing the Government that he 'ventured to
think' that it was 'a question worthy of consideration whether
the naval and military authorities should not take some
preliminary steps in the way of preparing boats, etc., so as to
be able to move, should the necessity arise'. Then, within a
week, before the receipt of the Government's answer, he left
Egypt. From the end of April until the beginning of September--
during the most momentous period of the whole crisis, he was
engaged in London upon a financial conference, while his place
was taken in Cairo by a substitute. With a characteristically
convenient unobtrusiveness, Sir Evelyn Baring had vanished from
the scene.

Meanwhile, far to the southward, over the wide-spreading lands
watered by the Upper Nile and its tributaries, the power and the
glory of him who had once been Mohammed Ahmed were growing still.
In the Bahr-el-Ghazal, the last embers of resistance were stamped
out with the capture of Lupton Bey, and through the whole of that
vast province three times the size of England--every trace of the
Egyptian Government was obliterated. Still farther south the same
fate was rapidly overtaking Equatoria, where Emir Pasha,
withdrawing into the unexplored depths of Central Africa, carried
with him the last vestiges of the old order. The Mahdi himself
still lingered in his headquarters at El Obeid; but, on the
rising of the tribes round Khartoum, he had decided that the time
for an offensive movement had come, and had dispatched an arm of
30,000 men to lay siege to the city. At the same time, in a long
and elaborate proclamation, in which he asserted, with all the
elegance of oriental rhetoric, both the sanctity of his mission
and the invincibility of his troops, he called upon the
inhabitants to surrender. Gordon read aloud the summons to the
assembled townspeople; with one voice they declared that they
were ready to resist. This was a false Mahdi, they said; God
would defend the right; they put their trust in the Governor-
General. The most learned Sheikh in the town drew up a
theological reply, pointing out that the Mahdi did not fulfil the
requirements of the ancient prophets. At his appearance, had the
Euphrates dried up and revealed a hill of gold? Had contradiction
and difference ceased upon the earth? And, moreover, did not the
faithful know that the true Mahdi was born in the year of the
Prophet 255, from which it surely followed that he must be now
1,046 years old? And was it not clear to all men that this
pretender was not a tenth of that age?

These arguments were certainly forcible; but the Mahdi's army was
more forcible still. The besieged sallied out to the attack; they
were defeated; and the rout that followed was so disgraceful that
two of the commanding officers were, by Gordon's orders, executed
as traitors. From that moment the regular investment of Khartoum
began. The Arab generals decided to starve the town into
submission. When, after a few weeks of doubt, it became certain
that no British force was on its way from Suakin to smash up the
Mahdi, and when, at the end of May, Berber, the last connecting
link between Khartoum and the outside world, fell into the hands
of the enemy, Gordon set his teeth, and sat down to wait and to
hope, as best he might. With unceasing energy he devoted himself
to the strengthening of his defences and the organisation of his
resources--to the digging of earthworks, the manufacture of
ammunition, the collection and the distribution of food. Every
day there were sallies and skirmishes; every day his little
armoured steamboats paddled up and down the river, scattering
death and terror as they went. Whatever the emergency, he was
ready with devices and expedients. When the earthworks were still
uncompleted he procured hundreds of yards of cotton, which he
dyed the colour of earth, and spread out in long, sloping lines,
so as to deceive the Arabs, while the real works were being
prepared farther back. When a lack of money began to make itself
felt, he printed and circulated a paper coinage of his own. To
combat the growing discontent and disaffection of the
townspeople, he instituted a system of orders and medals; the
women were not forgotten; and his popularity redoubled. There was
terror in the thought that harm might come to the Governor-
General. Awe and reverence followed him; wherever he went he was
surrounded by a vigilant and jealous guard, like some precious
idol, some mascot of victory. How could he go away? How could he
desert his people? It was impossible. It would be, as he himself
exclaimed in one of his latest telegrams to Sir Evelyn Baring,
'the climax of meanness', even to contemplate such an act. Sir
Evelyn Baring thought differently. In his opinion it was General
Gordon's plain duty to have come away from Khartoum. To stay
involved inevitably a relief expedition--a great expense of
treasure and the loss of valuable lives; to come away would
merely mean that the inhabitants of Khartoum would be 'taken
prisoner by the Mahdi'. So Sir Evelyn Baring put it; but the case
was not quite so simple as that. When Berber fell, there had been
a massacre lasting for days-- an appalling orgy of loot and lust
and slaughter; when Khartoum itself was captured, what followed
was still more terrible. Decidedly, it was no child's play to be
'taken prisoner by the Mahdi'. And Gordon was actually there,
among those people, in closest intercourse with them,
responsible, beloved. Yes; no doubt. But was that in truth, his
only motive? Did he not wish in reality, by lingering in
Khartoum, to force the hand of the Government? To oblige them,
whether they would or no, to send an army to smash up the Mahdi?
And was that fair? Was THAT his duty? He might protest, with his
last breath, that he had 'tried to do his duty'; Sir Evelyn
Baring, at any rate, would not agree.

But Sir Evelyn Baring was inaudible, and Gordon now cared very
little for his opinions. Is it possible that, if only for a
moment, in his extraordinary predicament, he may have listened to
another and a very different voice--a voice of singular quality,
a voice which--for so one would fain imagine--may well have
wakened some familiar echoes in his heart? One day, he received a
private letter from the Mahdi. The letter was accompanied by a
small bundle of clothes. 'In the name of God!' wrote the Mahdi,
'herewith a suit of clothes, consisting of a coat (jibbeh), an
overcoat, a turban, a cap, a girdle, and beads. This is the
clothing of those who have given up this world and its vanities,
and who look for the world to come, for everlasting happiness in
Paradise. If you truly desire to come to God and seek to live a
godly life, you must at once wear this suit, and come out to
accept your everlasting good fortune.' Did the words bear no
meaning to the mystic of Gravesend? But he was an English
gentleman, an English officer. He flung the clothes to the
ground, and trampled on them in the sight of all. Then, alone, he
went up to the roof of his high palace, and turned the telescope
once more, almost mechanically, towards the north.

But nothing broke the immovability of that hard horizon; and,
indeed, how was it possible that help should come to him now? He
seemed to be utterly abandoned. Sir Evelyn Baring had disappeared
into his financial conference. In England, Mr. Gladstone had held
firm, had outfaced the House of Commons, had ignored the Press.
He appeared to have triumphed. Though it was clear that no
preparations of any kind were being made for the relief of
Gordon, the anxiety and agitation of the public, which had risen
so suddenly to such a height of vehemence, had died down. The
dangerous beast had been quelled by the stern eye of its master.
Other questions became more interesting--the Reform Bill, the
Russians, the House of Lords. Gordon, silent in Khartoum, had
almost dropped out of remembrance. And yet, help did come after
all. And it came from an unexpected quarter. Lord Hartington had
been for some time convinced that he was responsible for Gordon's
appointment; and his conscience was beginning to grow

Lord Hartington's conscience was of a piece with the rest of him.
It was not, like Mr. Gladstone's, a salamander-conscience--an
intangible, dangerous creature, that loved to live in the fire;
nor was it, like Gordon's, a restless conscience; nor, like Sir
Evelyn Baring's, a diplomatic conscience; it was a commonplace
affair. Lord Hartington himself would have been disgusted by any
mention of it. If he had been obliged, he would have alluded to
it distantly; he would have muttered that it was a bore not to do
the proper thing. He was usually bored--for one reason or
another; but this particular form of boredom he found more
intense than all the rest. He would take endless pains to avoid
it. Of course, the whole thing was a nuisance--an obvious
nuisance; and everyone else must feel just as he did about it.
And yet people seemed to have got it into their heads that he had
some kind of special faculty in such matters--that there was some
peculiar value in his judgment on a question of right and wrong.
He could not understand why it was; but whenever there was a
dispute about cards in a club, it was brought to him to settle.
It was most odd. But it was trite. In public affairs, no less
than in private, Lord Hartington's decisions carried an
extraordinary weight. The feeling of his idle friends in high
society was shared by the great mass of the English people; here
was a man they could trust. For indeed he was built upon a
pattern which was very dear to his countrymen. It was not simply
that he was honest: it was that his honesty was an English
honesty--an honest which naturally belonged to one who, so it
seemed to them, was the living image of what an Englishman should

In Lord Hartington they saw, embodied and glorified, the very
qualities which were nearest to their hearts--impartiality,
solidity, common sense--the qualities by which they themselves
longed to be distinguished, and by which, in their happier
moments, they believed they were. If ever they began to have
misgivings, there, at any rate, was the example of Lord
Hartington to encourage them and guide them--Lord Hartington who
was never self-seeking, who was never excited, and who had no
imagination at all. Everything they knew about him fitted into
the picture, adding to their admiration and respect. His fondness
for field sports gave them a feeling of security; and certainly
there could be no nonsense about a man who confessed to two
ambitions--to become Prime Minister and to win the Derby--and who
put the second above the first. They loved him for his
casualness--for his inexactness--for refusing to make life a cut-
and-dried business--for ramming an official dispatch of high
importance into his coat-pocket, and finding it there, still
unopened, at Newmarket, several days later. They loved him for
his hatred of fine sentiments; they were delighted when they
heard that at some function, on a florid speaker's avowing that
'this was the proudest moment of his life', Lord Hartington had
growled in an undertone 'the proudest moment of my life was when
MY pig won the prize at Skipton Fair'. Above all, they loved him
for being dull. It was the greatest comfort--with Lord Hartington
they could always be absolutely certain that he would never, in
any circumstances, be either brilliant, or subtle, or surprising,
or impassioned, or profound. As they sat, listening to his
speeches, in which considerations of stolid plainness succeeded
one another with complete flatness, they felt, involved and
supported by the colossal tedium, that their confidence was
finally assured. They looked up, and took their fill of the
sturdy, obvious presence. The inheritor of a splendid dukedom
might almost have passed for a farm hand. Almost, but not quite.
For an air that was difficult to explain, of preponderating
authority, lurked in the solid figure; and the lordly breeding of
the House of Cavendish was visible in the large, long, bearded,
unimpressionable face.

One other characteristic--the necessary consequence, or, indeed,
it might almost be said, the essential expression, of all the
rest-- completes the portrait: Lord Hartington was slow. He was
slow in movement, slow in apprehension, slow in thought and the
communication of thought, slow to decide, and slow to act. More
than once this disposition exercised a profound effect upon his
career. A private individual may, perhaps, be slow with impunity;
but a statesman who is slow--whatever the force of his character
and the strength of his judgment--can hardly escape unhurt from
the hurrying of Time's winged chariot, can hardly hope to avoid
some grave disaster or some irretrievable mistake. The fate of
General Gordon, so intricately interwoven with such a mass of
complicated circumstance with the policies of England and of
Egypt, with the fanaticism of the Mahdi, with the
irreproachability of Sir Evelyn Baring, with Mr. Gladstone's
mysterious passions-- was finally determined by the fact that
Lord Hartington was slow. If he had been even a very little
quicker--if he had been quicker by two days... but it could not
be. The ponderous machinery took so long to set itself in motion;
the great wheels and levers, once started, revolved with such a
laborious, such a painful deliberation, that at last their work
was accomplished--surely, firmly, completely, in the best English
manner, and too late.

Seven stages may be discerned in the history of Lord Hartington's
influence upon the fate of General Gordon. At the end of the
first stage, he had become convinced that he was responsible for
Gordon's appointment to Khartoum. At the end of the second, he
had perceived that his conscience would not allow him to remain
inactive in the face of Gordon's danger. At the end of the third,
he had made an attempt to induce the Cabinet to send an
expedition to Gordon's relief. At the end of the fourth, he had
realised that the Cabinet had decided to postpone the relief of
Gordon indefinitely. At the end of the fifth, he had come to the
conclusion that he must put pressure upon Mr. Gladstone. At the
end of the sixth, he had attempted to put pressure upon Mr.
Gladstone, and had not succeeded. At the end of the seventh, he
had succeeded in putting pressure upon Mr. Gladstone; the relief
expedition had been ordered; he could do no more.

The turning-point in this long and extraordinary process occurred
towards the end of April, when the Cabinet, after the receipt of
Sir Evelyn Baring's final dispatch, decided to take no immediate
measures for Gordon's relief. From that moment it was clear that
there was only one course open to Lord Hartington-- to tell Mr.
Gladstone that he would resign unless a relief expedition was
sent. But it took him more than three months to come to this
conclusion. He always found the proceedings at Cabinet meetings
particularly hard to follow. The interchange of question and
answer, of proposal and counterproposal, the crowded counsellors,
Mr. Gladstone's subtleties, the abrupt and complicated
resolutions--these things invariably left him confused and
perplexed. After the crucial Cabinet at the end of April, he came
away in a state of uncertainty as to what had occurred; he had to
write to Lord Granville to find out; and by that time, of course,
the Government's decision had been telegraphed to Egypt. Three
weeks later, in the middle of May, he had grown so uneasy that he
felt himself obliged to address a circular letter to the Cabinet
proposing that preparations for a relief expedition should be set

on foot at once. And then he began to understand that nothing
would ever be done until Mr. Gladstone, by some means or other,
had been forced to give his consent. A singular combat followed.
The slippery old man perpetually eluded the cumbrous grasp of his
antagonist. He delayed, he postponed, he raised interminable
difficulties, he prevaricated, he was silent, he disappeared.
Lord Hartington was dauntless. Gradually, inch by inch, he drove
the Prime Minister into a corner. But in the meantime many weeks
had passed. On July 1st, Lord Hartington was still remarking that
he 'really did not feel that he knew the mind or intention of the
Government in respect of the relief of General Gordon'. The month
was spent in a succession of stubborn efforts to wring from Mr.
Gladstone some definite statement upon the question. It was
useless. On July 31st, Lord Hartington did the deed. He stated
that, unless an expedition was sent, he would resign. It was, he
said, 'a question of personal honour and good faith, and I don't
see how I can yield upon it'. His conscience had worked itself to
rest at last.

When Mr. Gladstone read the words, he realised that the game was
over. Lord Hartington's position in the Liberal Party was second
only to his own; he was the leader of the rich and powerful Whig
aristocracy; his influence with the country was immense. Nor was
he the man to make idle threats of resignation; he had said he
would resign, and resign he would: the collapse of the Government
would be the inevitable result. On August 5th, therefore,
Parliament was asked to make a grant of 300,000, in order 'to
enable Her Majesty's Government to undertake operations for the
relief of General Gordon, should they become necessary'. The
money was voted; and even then, at that last hour, Mr. Gladstone
made another, final, desperate twist. Trying to save himself by
the proviso which he had inserted into the resolution, he
declared that he was still unconvinced of the necessity of any
operations at all. 'I nearly,' he wrote to Lord Hartington, 'but
not quite, adopt words received today from Granville. "It is
clear, I think, that Gordon has our messages, and does not choose
to answer them."' Nearly, but not quite! The qualification was
masterly; but it was of no avail. This time, the sinuous creature
was held by too firm a grasp. On August 26th, Lord Wolseley was
appointed to command the relief expedition; and on September 9th,
he arrived in Egypt.

The relief expedition had begun, and at the same moment a new
phase opened at Khartoum. The annual rising of the Nile was now
sufficiently advanced to enable one of Gordon's small steamers to
pass over the cataracts down to Egypt in safety. He determined to
seize the opportunity of laying before the authorities in Cairo
and London, and the English public at large, an exact account of
his position. A cargo of documents, including Colonel Stewart's
Diary of the siege and a personal appeal for assistance addressed
by Gordon to all the European powers, was placed on board the
Abbas; four other steamers were to accompany her until she was
out of danger from attacks by the Mahdi's troops; after which,
she was to proceed alone into Egypt. On the evening of September
9th, just as she was about to start, the English and French
Consuls asked for permission to go with her--a permission which
Gordon, who had long been anxious to provide for their safety,
readily granted. Then Colonel Stewart made the same request; and
Gordon consented with the same alacrity.

Colonel Stewart was the second-in-command at Khartoum; and it
seems strange that he should have made a proposal which would
leave Gordon in a position of the gravest anxiety without a
single European subordinate. But his motives were to be veiled
forever in a tragic obscurity. The Abbas and her convoy set out.
Henceforward the Governor-General was alone. He had now,
definitely and finally, made his decision. Colonel Stewart and
his companions had gone, with every prospect of returning
unharmed to civilisation. Mr. Gladstone's belief was justified;
so far as Gordon's personal safety was concerned, he might still,
at this late hour, have secured it. But he had chosen-- he stayed
at Khartoum.

No sooner were the steamers out of sight than he sat down at his
writing-table and began that daily record of his circumstances,
his reflections, and his feelings, which reveals to us, with such
an authentic exactitude, the final period of his extraordinary
destiny. His Journals, sent down the river in batches to await
the coming of the relief expedition, and addressed, first to
Colonel Stewart, and later to the 'Chief of Staff, Sudan
Expeditionary Force', were official documents, intended for
publication, though, as Gordon himself was careful to note on the
outer covers, they would 'want pruning out' before they were
printed. He also wrote, on the envelope of the first section, 'No
secrets as far as I am concerned'. A more singular set of state
papers was never compiled. Sitting there, in the solitude of his
palace, with ruin closing round him, with anxieties on every
hand, with doom hanging above his head, he let his pen rush on
for hour after hour in an ecstasy of communication, a tireless
unburdening of the spirit, where the most trivial incidents of
the passing day were mingled pell-mell with philosophical
disquisitions; where jests and anger, hopes and terrors,
elaborate justifications and cynical confessions, jostled one
another in reckless confusion. The impulsive, demonstrative man
had nobody to talk to any more, and so he talked instead to the
pile of telegraph forms, which, useless now for perplexing Sir
Evelyn Baring, served very well--for they were large and blank--
as the repositories of his conversation. His tone was not the
intimate and religious tone which he would have used with the
Rev. Mr. Barnes or his sister Augusta; it was such as must have
been habitual with him in his intercourse with old friends or
fellow-officers, whose religious views were of a more ordinary
caste than his own, but with whom he was on confidential terms.
He was anxious to put his case to a select and sympathetic
audience--to convince such a man as Lord Wolseley that he was
justified in what he had done; and he was sparing in his
allusions to the hand of Providence, while those mysterious
doubts and piercing introspections, which must have filled him,
he almost entirely concealed. He expressed himself, of course,
with eccentric ABANDON--it would have been impossible for him to
do otherwise; but he was content to indicate his deepest feelings
with a fleer. Yet sometimes--as one can imagine happening with
him in actual conversation--his utterance took the form of a
half-soliloquy, a copious outpouring addressed to himself more
than to anyone else, for his own satisfaction. There are passages
in the Khartoum Journals which call up in a flash the light,
gliding figure, and the blue eyes with the candour of childhood
still shining in them; one can almost hear the low voice, the
singularly distinct articulation, the persuasive--the self-
persuasive--sentences, following each other so unassumingly
between the puffs of a cigarette.As he wrote, two preoccupations
principally filled his mind. His reflections revolved around the
immediate past and the impending future. With an unerring
persistency he examined, he excused, he explained, his share in
the complicated events which had led to his present situation. He
rebutted the charges of imaginary enemies; he laid bare the
ineptitude and the faithlessness of the English Government. He
poured out his satire upon officials and diplomatists. He drew
caricatures, in the margin, of Sir Evelyn Baring, with sentences
of shocked pomposity coming out of his mouth. In some passages,
which the editor of the Journals preferred to suppress, he
covered Lord Granville with his raillery, picturing the Foreign
Secretary, lounging away his morning at Walmer Castle, opening
The Times and suddenly discovering, to his horror, that Khartoum
was still holding out. 'Why, HE SAID DISTINCTLY he could ONLY
hold out SIX MONTHS, and that was in March (counts the months).
August! why, he ought to have given in! What is to be done?
They'll be howling for an expedition. ... It is no laughing
matter; THAT ABOMINABLE MAHDI! Why on earth does he not guard his
roads better? WHAT IS to be done?' Several times in his
bitterness he repeats the suggestion that the authorities at home
were secretly hoping that the fall of Khartoum would relieve them
of their difficulties. 'What that Mahdi is about, Lord Granville
is made to exclaim in another deleted paragraph, 'I cannot make
out. Why does he not put all his guns on the river and stop the
route? Eh what? "We will have to go to Khartoum!" Why, it will
cost millions, what a wretched business! What! Send Zobeir? Our
conscience recoils from THAT; it is elastic, but not equal to
that; it is a pact with the Devil. ... Do you not think there is
any way of getting hold of H I M, in a quiet way?' If a boy at
Eton or Harrow, he declared, had acted as the Government had
acted, 'I THINK he would be kicked, and I AM SURE he would
deserve it'. He was the victim of hypocrites and humbugs. There
was 'no sort of parallel to all this in history-- except David
with Uriah the Hittite'; but then 'there was an Eve in the case',
and he was not aware that the Government had even that excuse.

From the past, he turned to the future, and surveyed, with a
disturbed and piercing vision, the possibilities before him.
Supposing that the relief expedition arrived, what would be his
position? Upon one thing he was determined: whatever happened, he
would not play the part of 'the rescued lamb'. He vehemently
asserted that the purpose of the expedition could only be the
relief of the Sudan garrisons; it was monstrous to imagine that
it had been undertaken merely to ensure his personal safety. He
refused to believe it. In any case, 'I declare POSITIVELY,' he
wrote, with passionate underlinings. 'AND ONCE FOR ALL, THAT I
GIVEN THE CHANCE TO DO SO, UNLESS a government is established
which relieves me of the charge; therefore, if any emissary or
letter comes up here ordering me to comedown, I WILL NOT OBEY IT,

This was sheer insubordination, no doubt; but he could not help
that; it was not in his nature to be obedient. 'I know if I was
chief, I would never employ myself, for I am incorrigible.'
Decidedly, he was not afraid to be 'what club men call
insubordinate, though, of all insubordinates, the club men are
the worst'.

As for the government which was to replace him, there were
several alternatives: an Egyptian Pasha might succeed him as
Governor-General, or Zobeir might be appointed after all, or the
whole country might be handed over to the Sultan. His fertile
imagination evolved scheme after scheme; and his visions of his
own future were equally various. He would withdraw to the
Equator; he would be delighted to spend Christmas in Brussels; he
would ... at any rate he would never go back to England. That was
certain. 'I dwell on the joy of never seeing Great Britain again,
with its horrid, wearisome dinner-parties and miseries. How we
can put up with those things, passes my imagination! It is a
perfect bondage... I would sooner live 'like a Dervish with the
Mahdi, than go out to dinner every night in London. I hope, if
any English general comes to Khartoum, he will not ask me to
dinner. Why men cannot be friends without bringing the wretched
stomachs in, is astounding.'

But would an English general ever have the opportunity of asking
him to dinner in Khartoum? There were moments when terrible
misgivings assailed him. He pieced together his scraps of
intelligence with feverish exactitude; he calculated times,
distances, marches. 'If,' he wrote on October 24th, they do not
come before 30th November, the game is up, and Rule Britannia.'
Curious premonitions came into his mind. When he heard that the
Mahdi was approaching in person, it seemed to be the fulfilment
of a destiny, for he had 'always felt we were doomed to come face
to face'. What would be the end of it all? 'It is, of course, on
the cards,' he noted, 'that Khartoum is taken under the nose of
the Expeditionary Force, which will be JUST TOO LATE.' The
splendid hawks that swooped about the palace reminded him of a
text in the Bible: 'The eye that mocketh at his father and
despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick
it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.' 'I often wonder,' he
wrote, 'whether they are destined to pick my eyes, for I fear I
was not the best of sons.'

So, sitting late into the night, he filled the empty telegraph
forms with the agitations of his spirit, overflowing ever more
hurriedly, more furiously, with lines of emphasis, and capitals,
and exclamation-marks more and more thickly interspersed, so that
the signs of his living passion are still visible to the inquirer
of today on those thin sheets of mediocre paper and in the
torrent of the ink. But he was a man of elastic temperament; he
could not remain forever upon the stretch; he sought, and he
found, relaxation in extraneous matters--in metaphysical
digressions, or in satirical outbursts, or in the small details
of his daily life. It amused him to have the Sudanese soldiers
brought in and shown their 'black pug faces' in the palace
looking-glasses. He watched with a cynical sympathy the
impertinence of a turkey-cock that walked in his courtyard. He
made friends with a mouse who, 'judging from her swelled-out
appearance', was a lady, and came and ate out of his plate. The
cranes that flew over Khartoum in their thousands, and with their
curious cry, put him in mind of the poems of Schiller, which few
ever read, but which he admired highly, though he only knew them
in Bulwer's translation. He wrote little disquisitions on
Plutarch and purgatory, on the fear of death and on the sixteenth
chapter of the Koran. Then the turkey-cock, strutting with 'every
feather on end, and all the colours of the rainbow on his neck',
attracted him once more, and he filled several pages with his
opinions upon the immortality of animals, drifting on to a
discussion of man's position in the universe, and the infinite
knowledge of God. It was all clear to him. And yet--'what a
contradiction, is life! I hate Her Majesty's Government for their
leaving the Sudan after having caused all its troubles, yet I
believe our Lord rules heaven and earth, so I ought to hate Him,
which I (sincerely) do not.'

One painful thought obsessed him. He believed that the two
Egyptian officers, who had been put to death after the defeat in
March, had been unjustly executed. He had given way to 'outside
influences'; the two Pashas had been 'judicially murdered'. Again
and again he referred to the incident with a haunting remorse.
"The Times", perhaps, would consider that he had been justified;
but what did that matter? 'If The Times saw this in print, it
would say, "Why, then, did you act as you did?" to which I fear I
have no answer.' He determined to make what reparation he could,
and to send the families of the unfortunate Pashas 1,000 each.

On a similar, but a less serious, occasion, he put the same
principle into action. He boxed the ears of a careless telegraph
clerk--'and then, as my conscience pricked me, I gave him $5. He
said he did not mind if I killed him-- I was his father (a
chocolate-coloured youth of twenty).' His temper, indeed, was
growing more and more uncertain, as he himself was well aware. He
observed with horror that men trembled when they came into his
presence--that their hands shook so that they could not hold a
match to a cigarette.

He trusted no one. Looking into the faces of those who surrounded
him, he saw only the ill-dissimulated signs of treachery and
dislike. Of the 40,000 inhabitants of Khartoum he calculated that
two-thirds were willing--were perhaps anxious--to become the
subjects of the Mahdi. 'These people are not worth any great
sacrifice,' he bitterly observed. The Egyptian officials were
utterly incompetent; the soldiers were cowards. All his
admiration was reserved for his enemies. The meanest of the
Mahdi's followers was, he realised, 'a determined warrior, who
could undergo thirst and privation, who no more cared for pain or
death than if he were stone'. Those were the men whom, if the
choice had lain with him, he would have wished to command. And
yet, strangely enough, he persistently underrated the strength of
the forces against him. A handful of Englishmen-- a handful of
Turks would, he believed, be enough to defeat the Mahdi's hosts
and destroy his dominion. He knew very little Arabic, and he
depended for his information upon a few ignorant English-speaking
subordinates. The Mahdi himself he viewed with ambiguous
feelings. He jibed at him as a vulgar impostor; but it is easy to
perceive, under his scornful jocularities, the traces of an

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