SIR HENRY GORDON ON HIS BROTHER.* TUE character of this
book makes us wish that Sir Henry Gordon could have retained in his hands all the materials for
• Events in the Life of Charles George Gordon, from its Beginning to its End. By Henry William Gordon. London: Began Paul, Trench, and C7. 1886.
the various biographies of his brother which have appeared since his death, and so have prevented a great memory and a great tragedy from being dragged into the service of a delirious partisanship. Sir Henry Gordon has undoubtedly his own opinions—and decided opinions—upon the manner in which
Charles was dealt with by the second Gladstone Administration, and by more than one of its officers in Egypt. We should say that he believes his brother not to have received very generous treatment at the hands—or, at least, at the pen—either of Mr. Egerton or of Sir Evelyn Baring ; and he quotes a letter from Lord Wolseley which proves absolutely that, had that old comrade of Charles Gordon had his will, the Khartoum Relief Expedition would have started at a much earlier period than it did. But he writes not only, as he says, as a soldier of a soldier, and as a brother of a brother, but as a Christian of a Christian,—in the spirit of modera- tion, and with the language of dignified self-restraint. Sir Henry Gordon does not seek to frame an indictment against the Government that sent his brother into the Soudan ; his desire has obviously been to dispose of the various charges that have been laid at his door,—of insubordination, obstinacy, eccentricity, even madness. This book is the case for Gordon,. not the case against Gladstone. Such a work Sir Henry Gordon was perfectly justified in undertaking, and he has achieved a moral success. We still believe that Charles Gordon made not a few mistakes in the course of his career. As against those who wish, for obvious reasons, to place him on a footing of equality. with Cromwell, and those others who, for equally obvious but different reasons, wish to place him on a footing of equality with Garibaldi, we hold that he had not the heavy, practical brain of the one, nor the rich humanity of the other. But none the less do we believe that England has not pro- duced in these later days a simpler or more heroic nature than Gordon, or, within his own province as a soldier, a more alert, vigilant, and swiftly efficient intelligence. The life and the death of Gordon have demonstrated, once for all, that it is not impossible for Christian civilisation, if it can secure the right instruments, to win over barbarism to its side, without either embarking on a career of conquest, or starting a formal religious or missionary crusade. If this is the case for Gordon, his brother has made it out ; thus, we have found no chapter in this book more interesting than that which tells of its hero's management of the Basntos, commonly regarded as the least memorable of all his achievements. There are now three- authoritative works on General Gordon,—the late Mr. Andrew Wilson's Erer-Victorious Army. Dr. Birkbeck Hill's Colonel Gordon in Central Africa, and Sir Henry Gordon's Events in the Life of Charles George Gordon. As for the rest of the great Gordon literature, we are inclined to hope Reguiescat in pace.
But what has Sir Henry Gordon to say of his brother that is at once new and worth telling? In a simple, straightforward‘ Introduction, he says :—" I have endeavoured to introduce entirely new matter, and to avoid repeating circumstances so far as is possible, that have already been fully before the public." But it was inevitable that Sir Henry Gordon should, in spite of this wish, go over a good deal of old ground. Thus, we should say that what he has to tell of his brother's first enterprise in China, and of his first, and even his last, undertaking in Egypt and the Soudan, while very interesting and in many ways fresh, is not novel. General Gordon visited Ireland at one time, and framed a Landlord Expropriation Scheme, which Sir Henry publishes ; but here, too, he has been forestalled. As already mentioned, the chapter relating to General Gordon's views on and work in Basutoland and the Transkeian Provinces of British South Africa, is a very valuable one. In view of the immediate- future not only of Kaffraria, but of the whole of Native South Africa that is under British, or, for that matter, European, control, Gordon's marvellously acute and even prophetic obser- vations are eminently worthy of study. As for the dispute at the Cape which led to Gordon's abandonment of his South African mission, there need to be no hesitation now in saying that he was in the right, as recent events, more especially in Basutoland, have demonstrated. This is, we fear, but another- way of saying that, as regards the management of barbarous or semi-barbarous races, Gordon was half a century before his time.
In respect of two events in his brother's career which have been hitherto enveloped in mystery—his resignation of the- private secretaryship to Lord Ripon, and his second mission to China—Sir Henry Gordon does undoubtedly supply us with
fresh and valuable information. General Gordon parted from Lord Ripon on perfectly friendly terms, but he "considered that Yakoob Khan bad not been proved guilty of Cavagnari's murder, and that he ought not to have been deposed without such proof ; he added that some consideration ought to have been shown to the voice of the people who were in favour of Yakoob, or, in his absence, of his son. He could not let his presence with Lord Ripon appear to sanction this injustice."
As for his brother's visit to China at the time that war between that country and Russia appeared imminent—an event which has led to a rather lively newspaper controversy, in which Sir Thomas Wade and others have taken part—Sir Henry Gordon says in the briefer of his two accounts of it :— " Whether the visit (which was made at the request of Sir Robert Hart) helped to avert the impending war with Russia, is an open question." One thing is quite certain, and that is, that he found the peace party had only two supporters, Prince Kong, and his old comrade, Li Hung Chang. He joined Li, and interviewed the Ministry at Pekin ; and at one time it was a question whether, in order to avoid the horrors of war, he ought to have associated himself with his old comrade, and have moved upon Pekin and secured his object by the deposition of the war party. The German Minister accredited to Pekin hinted at this course. In reply, Gordon said :—" I am equal to a good deal of filibustering, but this is beyond me ; I do not think there is the slightest chance of such a project succeeding, since Li has not a sufficient following. I expressed my surprise that such advice should be offered, which I was strongly pressed to follow." Reference has already been made to a letter written by Lord Wolseley in the summer of 1884 on the subject of the Khartoum Relief Expedition. "I think," this letter states, "that no time should be lost in pushing up a small brigade of between three and four thousand British soldiers to Dongola. I believe that such a force would most probably settle the whole business, but you should remember that time presses. I believe that such a force could be sent from England and reach Dongola about October 15th, if the Government be in earnest and act at once." It is well known that General Gordon considered the Suez Canal an element of danger to the Empire, and believed that our true line of communication with India for military purposes was by way of the Cape. In a letter written to Mr. Lawrence Oliphant on September 20th, 1883, he says :—" If her Majesty's Government will not act firmly and strongly, and take the country (which, if I were they, I would not), let them attempt to get the Palestine Canal made, and quit Egypt to work out its own salvation." He calculated then that the Palestine Canal would cost 211,500,000 to construct. Among the arguments he adduces in its favour are these :—
" We gain access by shipping to within 50 miles of Damascus.
Haifa is 800 miles from Salonica, and 150 from Cyprus Such a canal would close all attacks from Russia upon Palestine, except upon the line between Haifa and Zerin, and, strangely enough, would force her to attack on Megiddo (Armageddon) Such a canal would prepare the way for united Europe to put this thus isolated Palestine under a common ruler, and would bring about the true prophecy of the Scriptures : all nations would come here and colonise."
Sir Henry Gordon throws a good deal of fresh light on the visit his brother paid in 1878 to Ismail Pasha, who wished to make him president of an inquiry upon the finances of Egypt :— "Gordon was for paying off the arrears due to the army and employes, who were reduced to the direst necessity, and the floating debt. He proposed to do this by temporarily withholding the pay- ment of the approaching coupon, by reducing the interest from 7 to 4 per cent., and by suspending the sinking fund. The bond- holders were, however, too strong."
Gordon's own account of this adventure is full of humour and "instantaneous photography" in words. In the midst of dis- appointment and exasperation, he cannot help noticing that one man he meets has his hair parted in the middle, that another is "a bald-headed ' coot,' " and that "old Lesseps," whom be accuses of "ratting," "looks at his pretty young wife of twenty- two."
Bat the most interesting portions of this book are those in which light is thrown upon Gordon's personal character. Here is, in a condensed form, the whole story of his boyish insubordination and fondness for fun :—
"In after-life (that is, in 1879, when in the Soudan) Charles Gordon writes to one of his nieces, who was born and lived twenty years in the Royal Arsenal :—' I am glad to hear the r Ice of true Gardens is not extinct. Do you not regret the arsenal and its de- lights ? You never, any of Too, made a proper use of the Arsenal workmen as we did. They used to neglect their work for our orders,. and turned out some splendid squirts—articles that would wet you through in a moment. As for the crossbows we had made, they were grand with screws. One Sunday afternoon twenty-seven panes of glass were broken in the large storehouses. They were found to have been perforated with a small hole (ventilation), and Captain Soady nearly escaped a premature death ; a screw passed his head, and was as if it had been screwed into the wall which it had entered. Servants were kept at the door with continual bell-ringings. Your uncle Freddy (a younger brother) was pushed into houses, the bell rang,. and the door held to prevent escape. Those were the days of the Arsenal.' But what Charles Gordon considered as his greatest achievement was one that he in after-years often alluded to. At this time (1848) the senior class of Cadets, then called the Practical Class, were located in the Royal Arsenal, and in front of their halls of study there were earthworks, upon which they were practised from time to time in profiling and in other matters. The
ins and outs' of these works were thoroughly well known to Charles Gordon and his brother, who stole out of night—but we will leave
him to tell his own story. He says I forgot to tell (his niece before alluded to) of bow, when Colonel John Travers, of the Hill folk (he lived on Shooter's Hill), was lecturing to the Arsenal cadets in the evening, a crash was beard, and every one thought every pane of glass was broken ; small shot had been thrown. However, it is a very serious affair, for, like the upsetting of a hive, the Cadets came out, and only darkness, speed, and knowledge of the fieldworks thrown up near the lecture-room enabled us to escape. The culprits were known afterwards, and for some time avoided the vicinity of the Cadets. That was before I entered the curriculum. I remember it with horror to this day (1879), for no mercy would have been shown by the pussies, as the Cadets were called.' Charles Gordon now entered the Royal Military Academy, and he remained there until June 23rd, 1852. Although painstaking and a first rate surveyor and proficient in fortification, yet he was not at that time much of a mathematician, which delayed his progress. After he had been some time at the Academy, and was covered with good.conduct badges, an occasion arose when it became necessary to restrain the Cadets when leaving the dining-hall, the approach to which was by a narrow staircase. At the top of this staircase stood the senior cor- poral, with outstretched arms, facing the body of Cadets. This was too much for Charlie Gordon (as he was always called by his numerous friends), who, putting his head down, butted with it., and catching the officer in the pit of his stomach, not only sent him down the stairs, but through the glass door beyond. TI30 officer jumped up unhurt, and Charlie Gordon was placed in confinement and nearly dismissed. He was, however, allowed to remain, though deprived of all his honoure, and the captain of the cadet company (Eardley Wilmot) predicted that be would never make an officer. Upon another occasion, when he was near his commission, a great deal of bullying was going on, and in order to repress it a number of the last comers were questioned, when one of them said that Charlie Gordon had on one occasion hit him over the head with a clothes- brash. The lad admitted it was not a severe blow ; nevertbelese, rlharlie Gordon was for this slight offence put back six months for his commission, which turned out well in the end, since it secured for him a second lieutenancy in the Royal Engiuetra, in place of the Roy al Artillery."
Sir Henry Gordon confirms the popular belief as to his brother's contempt for money :—
" Utter strangers would be helped, and that, when his means per- mitted, without stint. He would give £200 or £300 to a person who, he imagined, required it, and was naturally much imposed upon. It constantly happened be was much in waist of money, and had to borrow. On a recent occasion, when he was in embarrassed circum- stances, he had borrowed a small sum of money, and within an hour had relieved a friend of his whom he had casually met. On being remonstrated with, he answered, '1 could not help it. You do not. know what a good man he is.'',
We shall close this notice with two of Sir Henry Gordon's well-weighed observations on his brother's religious views :—
"General Gordon's religions views were no doubt peculiar, but this peculiarity chiefly arises from the fact that they were the result of deep and solitary study of the Word of God for many of the
best years of his life He was tolerant to a degree, and admired the apparently consistent religious life of the followers of Mehemet, while he reckoned many Roman Catholics among his friends. General Gordon never introduced religious subjects in the course of conversation, except with the most intimate of his acquaint- ances, and he would not discuss them with persons whom, to use his own words, 'he was not sure of.'"