In transcribing the following passage from I have followed the Hathi Trust Digital Library’s generally accurate online version, corrected errors in the OCR, and added links to material in the Victorian Web. — George P. Landow

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he second volume of Mr. Egmont Hake's Life of General Gordon, is devoted principally to a defence of his actions in the Soudan, and accusations against the present Government for not doing as he thought best. This defence is not always very intelligible. It may be true that the General's proclamation authorizing slavery in the Soudan was "a brilliant diplomatic conception," and no doubt it enabled Gordon to win Khartoum — that is, to win those men whose position was based upon the horrid traffic in "black ivory;" but then it did not require a man of Gordon's character and abilities to go to Khartoum and leave the country in as bad a state as he found it. As to his desire for the employment of Zebehr, it is probable that he knew better than any one in England how the country could best be governed. Mr. Hake says: "As the Master whom he served first struck down His enemy Saul and then converted him into His faithful servant Paul, so Gordon struck down his enemies and used them as allies after changing them into friends. He had destroyed Zebehr's power as a slavehunter, and the power of those who helped him; he now urged that the employment of such power as he still possessed should be directed into a new channel Zebehr would never make an honest Governor-General of the Soudan, in the Western acceptation of the term. He would never tell the truth, for the truth is not in him; and he would always take bribes and extort them if they were not offered. Lies and bribes are national attributes, and a native Governor-General who did without them would be regarded as a fool. But Zebehr, notwithstanding all this, might prove an abler and more useful ruler of the Soudan than, with one exception, the Soudan has yet known, for he knows the people whom he would be called upon to govern, and by them he is known and feared." This is a sample of Mr. Hake's cooler reasoning. In his less-restrained moods he compares Wolseley's expedition to Mark Twain's blue jay who dropped innumerable acorns through a knot-hole in the roof of a log-house, under the impression that he was making himself a hoard in a safe place of deposit; and talks of Mr. Gladstone, "who to many people was as plainly responsible for Gordon's death as Faragh himself," " playing with statesmanship, and paving with good intentions as much of hell as, after fifty years of active political life, he had still left unrepaired." These be brave words, but more facts about Gordon and less of Mr. Hake's opinions would have better suited most readers.

The religious side of Gordon's character is shown in a little book brought out by a clergyman whom he happened to meet at Lausanne, and with whom he became very intimate. His views of the intimacy of the relation which ought to exist between man and God were expressed in terms closely allied to the words of the mediaeval mystics: "As we have need of God, he would say, so God has need of us; and He created mankind in order that He might have a dwelling-place in the body — in the heart and conscience." How a man with such views could belong to a profession of which the object is the destruction of the "temples of the living God" is not explained, and perhaps cannot be; but then, if every one was consistent, the world would be very dull.

It was this religious fervour which caused Gordon to be considered by the Arabs as the incarnation of evil and error, as the Antichrist whom the Mahdi was fated to destroy ; though it is possible that if he had consented to become a convert to Islamism, as it is said the Mahdi proposed to him, he might have taken upon him the role of Jesus Christ himself, for, theoretically at least, there can be no Mahdi without a Jesus at his side. “No one,” says Prof. Darmesteter, “has hitherto been engaged for this part, but possibly the ambition of M. Olivier Pain may be tempted by it.” Mahdis (the word means, not a Leader, but One who is led — i.e., by God) are common to all Mohammedan nations. Mohammed the son of Ali is hidden in the Valley of Radwa, like Arthur in the Isle of Avalon. Some two centuries ago the son of a Kurdistan Sheikh, taking advantage of the appearance of a Jewish Messiah at Smyrna, which must, according to Mussulman ideas, precede the advent of the Mahdi, announced himself as the Mahdi; but, being captured by Turkish troops, renounced his pretensions, as did his rival. Sultan Mohammed IV had the singular honour of being served by Antichrist as porter and by the Mahdi as valet. Three years ago a Mahdi was expected at Mecca, but the vigilance of the Turkish police pre vented his appearance. Ahmed Mohammed, the present holder of the title, fulfils the necessary conditions more nearly than some others have done; for, though no Jewish Messiah has openly appeared, reports of his appearance have been rife in Arabia, and many Israelite families have journeyed to Jerusalem to find nothing but disappointment. As to the future, M. Darmesteter thinks that the fated seven years, of which half have already expired, may wear out the Mahdi, for only victories can support his pretensions. That European civilization should reach the Soudan through Egypt he considers now impossible. It must come from the West, from Abyssinia. “One day, if we wish, and will undertake the education of this infant people, the mountains of Abyssinia will be the stronghold whence European civilization shall dominate the Soudan. This is not an affair of conquest nor of annexation. It will not be necessary to lead an Abyssinian army to the conquest of Khartoum. It is a matter of slow and disinterested action, which cannot awaken jealousy, for all the nations of Europe can participate in it to the extent in which each inspires confidence.” [282-84]

Related material


Barnes, R. H. [Vicar of Heavitree], and Major C. E. Brown. Charles George Gordon: a Sketch. London: Macmillan & Co., 1885.

Darmesteter, Prof. The Mahdi, Past and Present. London: T. Fisher Unwin. 1885.

Hake, A. Egmont. The Story of Chinese Gordon. London: Remington & Co. 1885.

“History and Biography [Reviews of books about General Charles Gordon].” The Westminster Review. 68 n.s. (1885): 282-84. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 31 August 2020.

Last modified 31 August 2020