The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon.
Like Napoleon, Scott, Buckle, Garfield, Gambetta, and most other great men, Gordon owed all to his mother. There was a large family. One of Gordon's elder brothers is still in the army. His devoted sister has become a public character.
In the Crimea, Gordon was distinguished, like Wolseley, for reckless bravery. Wolseley left an eye there, and is a one-eyed man, as Gambetta was. When Wolseley was laid out, covered with wounds, on a stretcher, the doctor said he would never fight again, but he muttered that he would. This reminds us of John Lawrence, who, when given over, as a young man in India, obstinately refused to die. Sir F. S. Roberts owns the Victoria Cross, for desperate personal gallantry, as a lieutenant, in the Indian Mutiny.
When Marshal Lannes was in Spain, operating against the English, he crouched along in the trenches, under heavy firing, and heard a sergeant remark on his timidity. Lannes, who had been a private soldier, was of unusual physical strength. He instantly dragged the sergeant out of the trench into the open, where the lead rained around. Asimilar instance occurred with Gordon. A sergeant was handing up gabion baskets out of the trench to a private on the mound, exposed to the Russian firing. The private complained. Gordon sent him below, and took the dangerous duty, together with the sergeant.page 16
Gordon's career in China was so clever as to be beyond the reach of words to do justice to it. The Rebellion had been chronic for several years. Two rival governments existed in China. Perhaps Gordon saved the present dynasty. What business he had there at all, however, might fairly be a matter of discussion. If he had flung in his fortunes with the rebels, no one could blame him, any more than for supporting the Imperialists. His comrade, Burgevine, did go over to the Rebels, but is only characterised as foolish.
Gordon, in short, at this period, was a holy swashbuckler hiring out his sword, though regarding glory more than coin. Had the Rebels overturned the dynasty, China might be opened to Western commerce by this time. Gordon's powerful help, of course, went to establish the government of Conservatism. The mere fact of Gordon being a pietist has led the religious world to glorify his every act, and he becomes a Cromwell.
The essence of his theology appears to us to be a mixture of Evangelicalism, Buddhism, and Mahometanism. His Christian feelings did not interfere with his thorough militarism, at all events, any more than in the case of Stonewall Jackson. He would blow up a thousand Arabs with his Khartoum mines, and forward them to Eternity without the slightest compunction. We don't know whether there was a special Enabling Act for their souls.
In the process of forming one of the British Cabinets, an influential squire said, "For heaven's sake, do not let us have any geniuses in it." Gordon was a genius, and was therefore distrusted by the powers that be in England. And that distrust was justifiable. The whole Khartoum business is a shocking fiasco. There is the apotheosis of Gordon, and placing his name almost in the plane with Napoleon, but his edifice crashed down in all the massacre which he had gone to prevent. The situation could not possibly have been anything like so bad if he had come away from Khartoum when Gladstone wanted him to do so, in safety.
Gordon, indeed, took upon himself the role of Dictator to England. He overrid the British Cabinet. This sort of thing is a prerogative of genius. "They have got to come," said Gordon, as he pegged down at Khartoum. Such conduct explains the policy of the Government in keeping down its generals. Mark how Roberts was sat upon, after his fine exploit of the "march in the air" from Cabul to Candahar. Wolseley is the safe man, but it has required all his prestige to combat the antagonistic influence of the Duke of Cambridge, who was annoyed to the quick on being compelled, by pressure, to advance Wolseley, before the campaign of Tel-el-Kebir, from the post of Quartermaster-General to that of Adjutant-General, at the Horse Guards.
Gordon's former government in the Soudan, following Sir S. page 17 W. Baker's, was a splendid failure. Practical failure might be predicated of anything undertaken by a man with the ideas of Gordon in his later years. Such enthusiasts cannot find the right focus of action. The time is out of joint to them.
But Gladstone's employment of Gordon was an immoral act. Any plunge would be undertaken to save a threatened Cabinet. The Ministry disliked Gordon, and held him in contempt, as a practical man. The Pall Mall Gazette, catching at any straw interviewed Gordon, and the result was an unexpected sensation. The great Baby Public of England, turning ever like a weathercock, cried out, "Gordon, Gordon!" Mr. Gladstone rubbed his hands. Here was a chance. Send the crazy man off to the Soudan. He would do nothing, only come back when the storm was over. Trust to luck. Mr. Micawber is the saint of Ministers, "Waiting for something to turn up." Gordon turns up, as the trump card, just for a nine days' wonder.
All honour, though, to the magnificent pluck of the hero. That lonely ride over the desert, to Khartoum, kept the public eye on him like the laying of birdlime. It even eclipsed the glorious circumstance of Lord Granville taking his railway ticket, the Duke of Cambridge opening the carriage door, and Lord Wolseley carrying his portmanteau. Childers, the Minister of War, would have been strong enough to carry little Gordon too.
The halo of piety which surrounds Gordon envelops a freedom of action, on his part, fully equal to Cromwell's. He had no scruple in war. He wanted to make Zebehr Governor of the Soudan, as a measure of safety. Why did Mr. Gladstone, and the whole Cabinet object? Because Zebehr is about the most anointed and polished ruffian living. He is the master slaver of Central Africa, but Gordon would have worked hand in hand with him—as a measure of safety.