Eminent Victorians


'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 objection--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 use,'

Lord Granville added, in informing you and us of the situation.

It would be popular at home, but there may be countervailing objections.

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.

Otherwise, 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 reticence, he had abstained from giving expression to his thoughts. But, even if a general acquaintance with Gordon's life and character were not 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 situation.

The policy which he advocated, the state of feeling in which he showed 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.'