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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

Decorated initial B

esides Lord Beaconsfield, the Ministry cast about for another scapegoat; and the chivalrous General Gordon was found to be willing to act in that capacity. The Ministry were all aground; in fact, one of their habitual supporters has confessed that they were lost but for General Gordon. What he was expected to do has never been fully told, but the Government, in employing him, seem to have acted under some such impulse as that which leads a savage tribe to call in the great medicine-man. The entire transaction lies out of the range of ordinary human affairs. There was something about General Gordon which puzzled and fascinated the perplexed Ministers; they did not know what it was; perhaps a sort of animal magnetism — at any rate, he was a man peculiarly fitted by nature to deal with a land of mystery. He might, perhaps, succeed in quelling the disturbances in Egypt; and if he did, the Government could claim the credit. If he failed, it was his own look-out. He needed no troops — no support of any kind; above all, there was to be 'no responsibility.'

General Gordon had an inexplicable influence over the natives, gained in a way that Ministers could not explain, though evidently they had their suspicions about its origin. They sent him out into the desert, like the forlorn creature represented in Mr. Holman Hunt's picture of the scapegoat; but, as Mr. Gladstone has since been very particular to explain, he 'is under no constraint, and under no orders, to remain in the Soudan.' If He can 'withdraw from the Soudan if he thinks proper' — another method of ' hedging 'against events; for now, if General Gordon’s killed, it can always be said that the Prime Minister gave him a broad hint to come home. Mr. Gladstone has never been troubled with Lord Palmerston's weakness for holding fast, through thick and thin, to everyone who was serving him. General Gordon began his mission, and it was soon found that he was obliged to resort to contrivances which savoured strongly of this world's commonplace. Slavery was not only not to be interfered with — it was established by decree. The Mahdi was to have everything he demanded, and General Gordon hastened to proclaim him Sultan of Kordofan. But the Mahdi, with a greater sense of humour than appears to be possessed by the English Ministry, sent by way of reply a dervish's robe to General Gordon, with a message calling upon him to become a Mussulman. Clearly the mesmeric power had not worked upon the Mahdi.

Upon seeing that, another total change of front was made. The very man whom General Gordon has always denounced— rightly or wrongly — as the king of the slave trade, and the scourge of Africa, he required to be placed in authority over the Soudan. 'I would hand over the troops,' General Gordon said in an interview with the 'Times' correspondent, 'to Zebehr Pasha, who would before the end of the year finish off the Mahdi.' Only a week or two before, the General had made the Mahdi Sultan of Kordofan; suddenly his one desire is to see him 'finished off.' Decidedly, General Gordon is a man who has a remarkable gift for adapting himself to circumstances. He caused Zebehr Pasha's son to be killed, and he held up Zebehr Pasha himself to the execration of mankind as an abominable trafficker in human flesh. Now, it appears, it was all a mistake. Slavery is to be officially recognized, and the chief slave-dealer— if it be so — was to be made ruler over the people. But the Ministry could not stand Zebehr, and he is at present waiting for the next change of wind. So much we have been able to see of General Gordon's movements; the rest is more or less obscure. We only know that he could not save the garrisons in the Soudan, that he was not able to prevent the slaughter of Tamasi, and that he has not put down the Mahdi, or caught Osman Digma, or restored 'harmony' anywhere. To ordinary eyes, he has completely broken down. We do not wish to underrate his services, past or present; we admire the promptitude, courage, and loyalty, with which he undertook an almost desperate enterprise; but will any one explain what is the wonderful work which he has done in the Soudan? What the Government has been the means of doing is very clear. Thousands of Arabs have perished in defence of a cause which they they believed to be just, and which we do not know to be unjust. On the principles laid down by Mr. Gladstone, we had no right whatever in their country. The disaffected of all classes in Egypt were encouraged — not to say invited — to rise up in revolt against their rulers by the avowal that non-intervention would be the future policy of England. After they had been thus lured on, we were obliged — or thought ourselves obliged — to destroy them. Once more Mr. Gladstone tried the policy which led to the Crimean war, and once more his own words rise up against him. What 'reparation' can he make 'to the memory of those heaps on heaps of dead; to the violated purity alike of matron, of maiden, and of child; to the civilization which has been affronted and shamed; to the laws of God, or if you like, of Allah; to the moral sense of mankind at large?' [556-57]


“Parliamentary Papers of Egyptian Affairs.” The Quarterly Review. 127 (1884): 550-80. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. Web. 31 August 2020.

Last Modified 31 August 2020