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sied it in the House of Commons, and was met by a burst of fury from the prime minister such as that assembly has seldom seen. He was told that Egypt was of much less importance than, I think, Sutherland or Caithness, that everything wrong was the result of deficits imputed to him in the finances of some ten years ago, and he was generally denounced because he interfered with the beneficent legislation on the subject of capable citizens, and so forth, by introducing the subject of Egypt as many as seventeen times. That did not prevent his prophecies being correct, and I ventured to repeat them in this House.
I do not like to quote my own words; it is egotistical; but as proof of what I call the accuracy of the scientific law, I should like to refer to what I said on the 4th of April, when we were discussing the prospect of the relief of General Gordon. The government were maintaining that he was perfectly safe, and that it was very unreasonable for us to raise the question in Parliament. What I said was this:
“ Are these circumstances encouraging to us, when we are asked to trust to the inspiration of the moment, that when the danger comes the government will find some means of relieving General Gordon? I feel that the history of the past will be again repeated, and just again when it is too late the critical resolution will be taken. The same news will come that the position of Gordon is forlorn and helpless, and then some desperate resolution of sending an expedition will be formed too late to achieve its object."
I quote these words to show that we had ascertained the orbits of those eccentric comets who sit on the Treasury Bench. Now, the terrible responsibility and blame which rests upon them does so because they were warned in March and April of the danger of General Gordon; they had received every intimation which men could reasonably look for that his
danger would be extreme, and delayed it from March and April right down to the 15th of August before they took a single measure.
What were they doing all that time? It is very difficult to conceive. Some people have said, but I think it is an unreasonable supposition, that the cause of the tardiness of her Majesty's government was the accession to the Cabinet of the noble earl the secretary for the colonies [Earl of Derby]. I have quoted, partly with the object of defending the noble lord from that charge, for I have quoted to show that the government were almost as bad before he joined them as they were after. What happened during these eventful months ?
suppose one day some memoirs will tell our grandchildren, but we shall never know. Some people think there were divisions in the Cabinet, and that, after division and division the decision was put off in order that the Cabinet should not be broken up. I am rather inclined to think that it was due to the peculiar position of the prime minister. He came in as the apostle of the Midlothian campaign, loaded with the doctrines and the follies of that pilgrimage. We have seen it on each occasion, after each one of these mishaps when the government has been forced by events and the common sense of the nation to take same more active steps. We have seen how his extreme supporters in that campaign have reproached him as he deserted their opinions and disappointed their ardent hopes. I think that he always felt the danger of that reproach, and the debt he had incurred to those supporters, and felt a dread lest they should break away and put off again and again till the last practical moment any action which might bring him into open conflict with the doctrines by, which his present eminence was gained.
At all events, this is clear, that throughout those six months the government knew perfectly well the danger in which General Gordon was placed. It has been said that General Gordon did not ask for troops. Well, I am surprised at that defence. One of the characteristics of General Gordon was the extreme abnegation of his nature. It was not to be expected that he should send home a telegram to say, “I am in great danger, therefore send me troops.” He would prob ably have cut off his right hand before he would have sent such a telegram. But he did send a telegram that the people of Khartoum were in danger, and that the Mahdi must win unless military succor was sent forward, and distinctly telling the government — and this is the main point -- that unless they would consent to his views the supremacy of the Mahdi was assured.
This is what he said not later than the 29th of February, almost as soon as he first saw the nature of the problem with which he had been sent to deal. It is impossible that General Gordon could have spoken more clearly than he did, but Mr. Power, who was one of the three Englishmen in Khartoum, and who was sent down with Stewart on that ill-fated journey, on the 23rd of March sent a telegram saying, “ We are daily expecting British troops; we cannot bring ourselves to believe that we are to be abandoned by the government. Our existence depends on England."
My lords, is it conceivable that after that — two months after that — in May, the prime minister should have said that the government were waiting to have reasonable proof that Gordon was in danger? By that time Khartoum was surrounded, and the governor of Berber had announced that his case was desperate, which was too surely proved by the massacre which took place in June.
And yet in May Mr. Gladstone was waiting for reasonable proof that they were in danger. Apparently he did not get that proof till August.
I may note in passing that I think the interpretation which the government have placed upon the language of their trusted officers has been exceedingly ungenerous. They told us that they did not think it necessary to send an expedition to relieve Sinkat and Tokar because they could quote some language of hope from the despatches of General Baker, and in the same way they could quote some language of hope from the despatches of General Gordon.
But a general sent forward on a dangerous expedition does not like to go whining for assistance, unless he is pressed by absolute peril. All those great qualities which go to make men heroes are such as are absolutely incompatible with such a course, and lead them to shrink as from a great disgrace from
any unnecessary appeal for exertion for their protection. It was the business of the government not to interpret General Gordon's telegrams as if they had been statutory declarations, but to judge for themselves of the circumstances of the case, and to see that those who were surrounded, who were the only three Englishmen amongst this vast body of Mohammedans, who were already cut off from all communication with the civilized world by the occupation of every important town upon the river, were in real danger.
I cannot understand what blindness fell over the eyes of some members of the government. Lord Hartington, on the 13th of May, gave utterance to this expression: “I say it would be an indelible disgrace if we should neglect any means at the disposal of this country for saving General Gordon.”
And after that announcement by the minister chiefly responsible, three months elapsed before any step was taken
for doing that which he admitted the government were bound to do under the penalty of indelible disgrace. It has been said that Gordon was destroyed by treachery, and that treachery would have happened at any time when the British army came near Khartoum. What does that extraordinary theory mean?
It means that the Mahdi had agreed with Farag Bey that it was much more comfortable to go on besieging, and that until Lord Wolseley made it dangerous they would go on besieging. I think those who started that unreasonable theory could hardly have been aware of the straits to which the Mahdi had been put. His army was suffering from fever, from cholera, from smallpox; there was great danger of dealing with his men, who were constantly threatening mutiny and desertion. Never was a force more hardly put to it to maintain its position than was this; and depend upon it, if he could have shortened that period of trial by an hour he would certainly have done so. But, supposing it was true that treachery was certain to do its work, what does that prove? Does it not show that sending Gordon to Khartoum was an act of extreme folly?
I do not know any other instance in which a man has been sent to maintain such a position without a certain number of British troops. If the British troops had been there treachery would have been impossible, but sending Gordon by himself to rely on the fidelity of Africans and Egyptians was an act of extreme rashness, and if the government succeed in proving, which I do not think they can, that treachery was inevitable, they only pile up an additional reason for their condemnation. I confess it is very difficult to separate this question from the personal matters involved. It is very difficult to argue it on purely abstract grounds without turn-,