Gordon's final operations for the suppression of the slave trade in Darfour, carried on while Gessi was engaged in his last struggle with Suleiman, resulted in the release of several thousand slaves, and the dispersal and disarmament of nearly 500 slave-dealers. In one week he rescued as many as 500 slaves, and he began to feel, as he said, that he had at last reached the heart of the evil.
But while these final successes were being achieved, he was recalled by telegraph to Cairo, where events had reached a crisis, and the days of Ismail as Khedive were numbered. It may have been the instinct of despair that led that Prince to appeal again to Gordon, but the Darfour rebellion was too grave to allow of his departure before it had been suppressed; and on the 1st July he received a telegram from the Minister Cherif, calling on him to proclaim throughout the Soudan Tewfik Pasha as Khedive. The change did not affect him in the least, he wrote, for not merely had his personal feelings towards Ismail changed after he threw him over at Cairo, but he had found out the futility of writing to him on any subject connected with the Soudan, and with this knowledge had come a feeling of personal indifference.
On his return to Khartoum, he received tidings of the execution of Suleiman, and also of the death of the Darfourian Sultan, Haroun, so that he felt justified in assuming that complete tranquillity had settled down on the scene of war. The subsequent capture and execution of Abdulgassin proved this view to be well founded, for, with the exception of Rabi, who escaped to Borgu, he was the last of Zebehr's chief lieutenants. The shot that killed that brigand, the very man who shed the child's blood to consecrate the standard, was the last fired under Gordon's orders in the Soudan. If the slave trade was then not absolutely dead, it was doomed so long as the Egyptian authorities pursued an active repressive policy such as their great English representative had enforced. The military confederacy of Zebehr, which had at one time alarmed the Khedive in his palace at Cairo, had been broken up. The authority of the Khartoum Governor-General had been made supreme. As Gordon said, on travelling down from Khartoum in August 1879, "Not a man could lift his hand without my leave throughout the whole extent of the Soudan."
General Gordon reached Cairo on 23rd August, with the full intention of retiring from the Egyptian service; but before he could do so there remained the still unsolved Abyssinian difficulty, which had formed part of his original mission. He therefore yielded to the request of the Khedive to proceed on a special mission to the Court of King John, then ruling that inaccessible and mysterious kingdom, and one week after his arrival at Cairo he was steaming down the Red Sea to Massowah. His instructions were contained in a letter from Tewfik Pasha to himself. After proclaiming his pacific intentions, the Khedive exhorted him "to maintain the rights of Egypt, to preserve intact the frontiers of the State, without being compelled to make any restitution to Abyssinia, and to prevent henceforth every encroachment or other act of aggression in the interests of both countries."
In order to explain the exact position of affairs in Abyssinia at this period, a brief summary must be given of events between Gordon's first overtures to King John in March 1877, and his taking up the matter finally in August 1879. As explained at the beginning of this chapter, those overtures came to nothing, because King John was called away to engage in hostilities with Menelik, King of Shoa, and now himself Negus, or Emperor of Abyssinia. In the autumn of the earlier year King John wrote Gordon a very civil letter, calling him a Christian and a brother, but containing nothing definite, and ending with the assertion that "all the world knows the Abyssinian frontier." Soon after this Walad el Michael recommenced his raids on the border, and when he obtained some success, which he owed to the assistance of one of Gordon's own subordinates, given while Gordon was making himself responsible for his good conduct, he was congratulated by the Egyptian War Minister, and urged to prosecute the conquest of Abyssinia. Instead of attempting the impossible, he very wisely came to terms with King John, who, influenced perhaps by Gordon's advice, or more probably by his own necessities through the war with Menelik, accepted Michael's promises to respect the frontier. Michael went to the King's camp to make his submission in due form, and in the spring of 1879 it became known that he and the Abyssinian General (Ras Alula) were planning an invasion of Egyptian territory. Fortunately King John was more peacefully disposed, and still seemed anxious to come to an arrangement with General Gordon.
In January 1879 the King wrote Gordon a letter, saying that he hoped to see him soon, and he also sent an envoy to discuss matters. The Abyssinian stated very clearly that his master would not treat with the Khedive, on account of the way he had subjected his envoys at Cairo to insult and injury; but that he would negotiate with Gordon, whom he persisted in styling the "Sultan of the Soudan." King John wanted a port, the restoration of Bogos, and an Abouna or Coptic Archbishop from Alexandria, to crown him in full accordance with Abyssinian ritual. Gordon replied a port was impossible, but that he should have a Consul and facilities for traffic at Massowah; that the territory claimed was of no value, and that he certainly should have an Abouna. He also undertook to do his best to induce the British Government to restore to King John the crown of King Theodore, which had been carried off after the fall of Magdala. The envoy then returned to Abyssinia, and nothing further took place until Gordon's departure for Massowah in August, when the rumoured plans of Michael and Ras Alula were causing some alarm.
On reaching Massowah on 6th September, Gordon found that the Abyssinians were in virtual possession of Bogos, and that if the Egyptian claims were to be asserted, it would be necessary to retake it. The situation had, however, been slightly improved by the downfall of Michael, whose treachery and covert hostility towards General Gordon would probably have led to an act of violence. But he and Ras Alula had had some quarrel, and the Abyssinian General had seized the occasion to send Michael and his officers as prisoners to the camp of King John. The chief obstacle to a satisfactory arrangement being thus removed, General Gordon hastened to have an interview with Ras Alula, and with this intention crossed the Abyssinian frontier, and proceeded to his camp at Gura. After an interview and the presentation of the Khedive's letter and his credentials, Gordon found that he was practically a prisoner, and that nothing could be accomplished save by direct negotiation with King John. He therefore offered to go to his capital at Debra Tabor, near Gondar, if Ras Alula would promise to refrain from attacking Egypt during his absence. This promise was promptly given, and in a few days it was expanded into an armistice for four months.
After six weeks' journey accomplished on mules, and by the worst roads in the country, as Ras Alula had expressly ordered, so that the inaccessibility of the country might be made more evident, General Gordon reached Debra Tabor on 27th October. He was at once received by King John, but this first reception was of only a brief and formal character. Two days later the chief audience was given at daybreak, King John reciting his wrongs, and Gordon referring him to the Khedive's letters, which had not been read. After looking at them, the King burst out with a list of demands, culminating in the sum of L2,000,000 or the port of Massowah. When he had finished, Gordon asked him to put these demands on paper, to sign them with his seal, and to give the Khedive six months to consider them and make a reply. This King John promised to do on his return from some baths, whither he was proceeding for the sake of his health.
After a week's absence the King returned, and the negotiations were resumed. But the King would not draw up his demands, which he realised were excessive, and when he found that Gordon remained firm in his intention to uphold the rights of the Khedive, the Abyssinian became offended and rude, and told Gordon to go. Gordon did not require to be told this twice, and an hour afterwards had begun his march, intending to proceed by Galabat to Khartoum. A messenger was sent after him with a letter from the King to the Khedive, which on translating read as follows: "I have received the letters you sent me by that man (a term of contempt). I will not make a secret peace with you. If you want peace, ask the Sultans of Europe." With a potentate so vague and so exacting it was impossible to attain any satisfactory result, and therefore Gordon was not sorry to depart. After nearly a fortnight's travelling, he and his small party had reached the very borders of the Soudan, their Abyssinian escort having returned, when a band of Abyssinians, owning allegiance to Ras Arya, swooped down on them, and carried them off to the village of that chief, who was the King's uncle.
The motive of this step is not clear, for Ras Arya declared that he was at feud with the King, and that he would willingly help the Egyptians to conquer the country. He however went on to explain that the seizure of Gordon's party was due to the King's order that it should not be allowed to return to Egypt by any other route than that through Massowah.
Unfortunately, the step seemed so full of menace that as a precaution Gordon felt compelled to destroy the private journal he had kept during his visit, as well as some valuable maps and plans. After leaving the district of this prince, Gordon and his small party had to make their way as best they could to get out of the country, only making their way at all by a lavish payment of money—this journey alone costing L1400—and by submitting to be bullied and insulted by every one with the least shadow of authority. At last Massowah was reached in safety, and every one was glad, because reports had become rife as to King John's changed attitude towards Gordon, and the danger to which he was exposed. But the Khedive was too much occupied to attend to these matters, or to comply with Gordon's request to send a regiment and a man-of-war to Massowah, as soon as the Abyssinian despot made him to all intents and purposes a prisoner. The neglect to make that demonstration not only increased the very considerable personal danger in which Gordon was placed during the whole of his mission, but it also exposed Massowah to the risk of capture if the Abyssinians had resolved to attack it.
The impressions General Gordon formed of the country were extremely unfavourable. The King was cruel and avaricious beyond all belief, and in his opinion fast going mad. The country was far less advanced than he had thought. The people were greedy, unattractive, and quarrelsome. But he detected their military qualities, and some of the merits of their organisation. "They are," he wrote, "a race of warriors, hardy, and, though utterly undisciplined, religious fanatics. I have seen many peoples, but I never met with a more fierce, savage set than these. The King said he could beat united Europe, except Russia."
The closing incidents of Gordon's tenure of the post of Governor-General of the Soudan have now to be given, and they were not characterised by that spirit of justice, to say nothing of generosity, which his splendid services and complete loyalty to the Khedive's Government demanded. During his mission into Abyssinia his natural demands for support were completely ignored, and he was left to whatever fate might befall him. When he succeeded in extricating himself from that perilous position, he found that the Khedive was so annoyed at his inability to exact from his truculent neighbour a treaty without any accompanying concessions, that he paid no attention to him, and seized the opportunity to hasten the close of his appointment by wilfully perverting the sense of several confidential suggestions made to his Government. The plain explanation of these miserable intrigues was that the official class at Cairo, seeing that Gordon had alienated the sympathy and support of the British Foreign Office and its representatives by his staunch and outspoken defence of Ismail in 1878, realised that the moment had come to terminate his, to them, always hateful Dictatorship in the Soudan. While the Cairo papers were allowed to couple the term "mad" with his name, the Ministers went so far as to denounce his propositions as inconsistent. One of these Ministers had been Gordon's enemy for years; another had been banished by him from Khartoum for cruelty; they were one and all sympathetic to the very order of things which Gordon had destroyed, and which, as long as he retained power, would never be revived. What wonder that they should snatch the favourable opportunity of precipitating the downfall of the man they had so long feared! But it was neither creditable nor politic for the representatives of England to stand by while these schemes were executed to the detraction of the man who had then given six years' disinterested and laborious effort to the regeneration of the Soudan and the suppression of the slave trade.
When Gordon discovered that his secret representations, sent in cipher for the information of the Government, were given to the Press with a perverted meaning and hostile criticism, he hastened to Cairo. He requested an immediate interview with Tewfik, who excused himself for what had been done by his Ministers on the ground of his youth; but General Gordon read the whole situation at a glance, and at once sent in his resignation, which was accepted. It is not probable that, under any circumstances, he would have been induced to return to the Soudan, where his work seemed done, but he certainly was willing to make another attempt to settle the Abyssinian difficulty. Without the Khedive's support, and looked at askance by his own countrymen in the Delta, called mad on this side and denounced as inconsistent on the other, no good result could have ensued, and therefore he turned his back on the scene of his long labours without a sigh, and this time even without regret.
The state of his health was such that rest, change of scene, and the discontinuance of all mental effort were imperatively necessary, in the opinion of his doctor, if a complete collapse of mental and physical power was to be avoided. He was quite a wreck, and was showing all the effects of protracted labour, the climate, and improper food. Humanly speaking, his departure from Egypt was only made in time to save his life, and therefore there was some compensation in the fact that it was hastened by official jealousy and animosity.
But it seems very extraordinary that, considering the magnitude of the task he had performed single-handed in the Soudan, and the way he had done it with a complete disregard of all selfish interest, he should have been allowed to lay down his appointment without any manifestation of honour or respect from those he had served so long and so well. Nor was this indifference confined to Egyptians. It was reflected among the English and other European officials, who pronounced Gordon unpractical and peculiar, while in their hearts they only feared his candour and bluntness. But even public opinion at home, as reflected in the Press, seemed singularly blind to the fresh claim he had established on the admiration of the world. His China campaigns had earned him ungrudging praise, and a fame which, but for his own diffidence, would have carried him to the highest positions in the British army. But his achievements in the Soudan, not less remarkable in themselves, and obtained with far less help from others than his triumph over the Taepings, roused no enthusiasm, and received but scanty notice. The explanation of this difference is not far to seek, and reveals the baser side of human nature. In Egypt he had hurt many susceptibilities, and criticised the existing order of things. His propositions were drastic, and based on the exclusion of a costly European regime and the substitution of a native administration. Even his mode of suppressing the slave trade had been as original as it was fearless. Exeter Hall could not resound with cheers for a man who declared that he had bought slaves himself, and recognised the rights of others in what are called human chattels, even although that man had done more than any individual or any government to kill the slave trade at its root. It was not until his remarkable mission to Khartoum, only four years after he left Egypt, that public opinion woke up to a sense of all he had done before, and realised, in its full extent, the magnitude and the splendour of his work as Governor-General of the Soudan.
MINOR MISSIONS—INDIA AND CHINA.
General Gordon arrived in London at the end of January 1880—having lingered on his home journey in order to visit Rome—resolved as far as he possibly could to take that period of rest which he had thoroughly earned, and which he so much needed. But during these last few years of his life he was to discover that the world would not leave him undisturbed in the tranquillity he desired and sought. Everyone wished to see him usefully and prominently employed for his country's good, and offers, suitable and not suitable to his character and genius, were either made to him direct, or put forward in the public Press as suggestions for the utilization of his experience and energy in the treatment of various burning questions. His numerous friends also wished to do him honour, and he found himself threatened with being drawn into the vortex of London Society, for which he had little inclination, and, at that time, not even the strength and health.
After this incident he left London on 29th February for Switzerland, where he took up his residence at Lausanne, visiting en route at Brussels, Mr, afterwards Lord, Vivian, then Minister at the Belgian Court, who had been Consul-General in Egypt during the financial crisis episode. It is pleasant to find that that passage had, in this case, left no ill-feeling behind it on either side, and that Gordon promised to think over the advice Mrs Vivian gave him to get married while he was staying at the Legation. His reply must not be taken as of any serious import, and was meant to turn the subject. About the same time he wrote in a private letter, "Wives! wives! what a trial you are to your husbands! From my experience married men have more or less a cowed look."
It was on this occasion that Gordon was first brought into contact with the King of the Belgians, and had his attention drawn to the prospect of suppressing the slave trade from the side of the Congo, somewhat analogous to his own project of crushing it from Zanzibar. The following unpublished letter gives an amusing account of the circumstances under which he first met King Leopold:—
"HOTEL DE BELLE-VUE, BRUXELLES, "Tuesday, 2nd March 1880.
"I arrived here yesterday at 6 P.M., and found my baggage had not come on when I got to the hotel (having given orders about my boxes which were to arrive to-day at 9 A.M.). I found I was detected, and a huge card of His Majesty awaited me, inviting to dinner at 6.30 P.M. It was then 6.20 P.M. I wrote my excuses, telling the truth. Then I waited. It is now 9.30 A.M., and no baggage. King has just sent to say he will receive me at 11 A.M. I am obliged to say I cannot come if my baggage does not arrive.
"I picked up a small book here, the 'Souvenirs of Congress of Vienna,' in 1814 and 1815. It is a sad account of the festivities of that time. It shows how great people fought for invitations to the various parties, and how like a bomb fell the news of Napoleon's descent from Elba, and relates the end of some of the great men. The English great man, Castlereagh, cut his throat near Chislehurst; Alexander died mad, etc., etc. They are all in their 6 feet by 2 feet 6 inches.... Horrors, it is now 10.20 A.M., and no baggage! King sent to say he will see me at 11 A.M.; remember, too, I have to dress, shave, etc., etc. 10.30 A.M.—No baggage!!! It is getting painful. His Majesty will be furious. 10.48 A.M.—No baggage! Indirectly Mackinnon (late Sir William) is the sinner, for he evidently told the King I was coming. Napoleon said, 'The smallest trifles produce the greatest results.' 12.30 P.M.—Got enclosed note from palace, and went to see the King—a very tall man with black beard. He was very civil, and I stayed with him for one and a half hours. He is quite at sea with his expedition (Congo), and I have to try and get him out of it. I have to go there to-morrow at 11.30 A.M. My baggage has come."
During his stay at Lausanne his health improved, and he lost the numbed feeling in his arms which had strengthened the impression that he suffered from angina pectoris. This apprehension, although retained until a very short period before his final departure from England in 1884, was ultimately discovered to be baseless. With restored health returned the old feeling of restlessness. After five weeks he found it impossible to remain any longer in Lausanne. Again he exclaims in his letters: "Inaction is terrible to me!" and on 9th April he left that place for London.
Yet, notwithstanding his desire to return to work, or rather his feeling that he could not live in a state of inactivity, he refused the first definite suggestion that was made to him of employment. While he was still at Lausanne, the Governor of Cape Colony sent the following telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:—"My Ministers wish that the post of Commandant of the Colonial Forces should be offered to Chinese Gordon." The reply to this telegram read as follows:—"The command of the Colonial Forces would probably be accepted by Chinese Gordon in the event of your Ministers desiring that the offer of it should be made to him." The Cape authorities requested that this offer might be made, and the War Office accordingly telegraphed to him as follows: "Cape Government offer command of Colonial Forces; supposed salary, L1500; your services required early." Everyone seems to have taken it as a matter of course that he would accept; but Gordon's reply was in the negative: "Thanks for telegram just received; I do not feel inclined to accept an appointment." His reasons for not accepting what seemed a desirable post are not known. They were probably due to considerations of health, although the doubt may have presented itself to his mind whether he was qualified by character to work in harmony with the Governor and Cabinet of any colony. He knew very well that all his good work had been done in an independent and unfettered capacity, and at the Cape he must have felt that, as nominal head of the forces, he would have been fettered by red tape and local jealousies, and rendered incapable of doing any good in an anomalous position. But after events make it desirable to state and recollect the precise circumstances of this first offer to him from the Cape Government.
While at Lausanne, General Gordon's attention was much given to the study of the Eastern Question, and I am not at all sure that the real reason of his declining the Cape offer was not the hope and expectation that he might be employed in connection with a subject which he thoroughly understood and had very much at heart. He drew up a memorandum on the Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin, which, for clearness of statement, perfect grasp of a vital international question, and prophetic vision, has never been surpassed among State papers. Although written in March 1880, and in my possession a very short time afterwards, I was not permitted to publish it until September 1885, when it appeared in the Times of the 24th of that month. Its remarkable character was at once appreciated by public men, and Sir William Harcourt, speaking in the House four days later, testified to the extraordinary foresight with which "poor Gordon" diagnosed the case of Europe's sick man. I quote here this memorandum in its integrity:—
"The Powers of Europe assembled at Constantinople, and recommended certain reforms to Turkey. Turkey refused to accede to these terms, the Powers withdrew, and deliberated. Not being able to come to a decision, Russia undertook, on her own responsibility, to enforce them. England acquiesced, provided that her own interests were not interfered with. The Russo-Turkish War occurred, during which time England, in various ways, gave the Turks reason to believe that she would eventually come to their assistance. This may be disputed, but I refer to the authorities in Constantinople whether the Turks were not under the impression during the war that England would help them, and also save them, from any serious loss eventually. England, therefore, provided this is true, did encourage Turkey in her resistance.
"Then came the Treaty of San Stephano. It was drawn up with the intention of finishing off the rule of Turkey in Europe—there was no disguise about it; but I think that, looking at that treaty from a Russian point of view, it was a very bad one for Russia. Russia, by her own act, had trapped herself.
"By it (the Treaty of San Stephano) Russia had created a huge kingdom, or State, south of the Danube, with a port. This new Bulgarian State, being fully satisfied, would have nothing more to desire from Russia, but would have sought, by alliance with other Powers, to keep what she (Bulgaria) possessed, and would have feared Russia more than any other Power. Having a seaport, she would have leant on England and France. Being independent of Turkey, she would wish to be on good terms with her.
"Therefore I maintain, that once the Russo-Turkish War had been permitted, no greater obstacle could have been presented to Russia than the maintenance of this united Bulgarian State, and I believe that the Russians felt this as well.
"I do not go into the question of the Asia Minor acquisitions by Russia, for, to all intents and purposes, the two treaties are alike. By both treaties Russia possesses the strategical points of the country, and though by the Berlin Treaty Russia gave up the strip south of Ararat, and thus does not hold the road to Persia, yet she stretches along this strip, and is only distant two days' march from the road, the value of which is merely commercial.
"By both treaties Russia obtained Batoum and the war-like tribes around it. Though the only port on the Black Sea between Kertch and Sinope, a distance of 1000 miles, its acquisition by Russia was never contested. It was said to be a worthless possession—'grapes were sour.'
"I now come to the changes made in the San Stephano Treaty (which was undoubtedly, and was intended to be, the coup de grace to Turkish rule in Europe) by the Treaty of Berlin.
"By the division of the two Bulgarias we prolonged, without alleviating, the agony of Turkey in Europe; we repaired the great mistake of Russia, from a Russian point of view, in making one great State of Bulgaria. We stipulated that Turkish troops, with a hostile Bulgaria to the north, and a hostile Roumelia to the south, should occupy the Balkans. I leave military men, or any men of sense, to consider this step. We restored Russia to her place, as the protector of these lands, which she had by the Treaty of San Stephano given up. We have left the wishes of Bulgarians unsatisfied, and the countries unquiet. We have forced them to look to Russia more than to us and France, and we have lost their sympathies. And for what? It is not doubted that ere long the two States will be united. If Moldavia and Wallachia laughed at the Congress of Paris, and united while it (the Congress) was in session at Paris, is it likely Bulgaria will wait long, or hesitate to unite with Roumelia, because Europe does not wish it?
"Therefore the union of the two States is certain, only it is to be regretted that this union will give just the chance Russia wants to interfere again; and though, when the union takes place, I believe Russia will repent it, still it will always be to Russia that they will look till the union is accomplished.
"I suppose the Turks are capable of appreciating what they gained by the Treaty of Berlin. They were fully aware that the Treaty of San Stephano was their coup de grace. But the Treaty of Berlin was supposed to be beneficial to them. Why? By it Turkey lost not only Bulgaria and Roumelia (for she has virtually lost it), but Bosnia and Herzegovina, while she gained the utterly impossible advantage of occupying the Balkans, with a hostile nation to north and south.
"I therefore maintain that the Treaty of Berlin did no good to Turkey, but infinite harm to Europe.
"I will now go on to the Cyprus convention, and say a few words on the bag-and-baggage policy. Turkey and Egypt are governed by a ring of Pashas, most of them Circassians, and who are perfect foreigners in Turkey. They are, for the greater part, men who, when boys, have been bought at prices varying from L50 to L70, and who, brought up in the harems, have been pushed on by their purchasers from one grade to another. Some have been dancing boys and drummers, like Riaz and Ismail Eyoub of Egypt. I understand by bag-and-baggage policy the getting rid of, say, two hundred Pashas of this sort in Turkey, and sixty Pashas in Egypt. These men have not the least interest in the welfare of the countries; they are aliens and adventurers, they are hated by the respectable inhabitants of Turkey and Egypt, and they must be got rid of.
"Armenia is lost; it is no use thinking of reforms in it. The Russians virtually possess it; the sooner we recognise this fact the better. Why undertake the impossible?
"What should be done? Study existing facts, and decide on a definite line of policy, and follow it through. Russia, having a definite line of policy, is strong; we have not one, and are weak and vacillating. 'A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.'
"Supposing such a line of policy as follows was decided upon and followed up, it would be better than the worries of the last four years:—
"1. The complete purchase of Cyprus.
"2. The abandonment of the Asia Minor reforms.
"3. The union of Bulgaria and Roumelia, with a port.
"4. The increase of Greece.
"5. Constantinople, a State, under European guarantees.
"6. Increase of Montenegro, and Italy, on that coast.
"7. Annexation of Egypt by England, either directly or by having paramount and entire authority.
"8. Annexation of Syria by France—ditto—ditto—ditto. (By this means France would be as interested in stopping Russian progress as England is.)
"9. Italy to be allowed to extend towards Abyssinia.
"10. Re-establishment of the Turkish Constitution, and the establishment of a similar one in Egypt (these Constitutions, if not interfered with, would soon rid Turkey and Egypt of their parasite Pashas).
"I daresay this programme could be improved, but it has the advantage of being definite, and a definite policy, however imperfect, is better than an unstable or hand-to-mouth policy.
"I would not press these points at once; I would keep them in view, and let events work themselves out.
"I believe, in time, this programme could be worked out without a shot being fired.
"I believe it would be quite possible to come to terms with Russia on these questions; I do not think she has sailed under false colours when her acts and words are generally considered. She is the avowed enemy of Turkey, she has not disguised it. Have we been the friend of Turkey? How many years have elapsed between the Crimean war and the Russo-Turkish war? What did we do to press Turkey to carry out reforms (as promised by the Treaty of 1856) in those years? Absolutely nothing.
"What has to be done to prevent the inevitable crash of the Turkish Empire which is impending, imperilling the peace of the world, is the re-establishment of the Constitution of Midhat, and its maintenance, in spite of the Sultan. By this means, when the Sultan and the ring of Pashas fall, there would still exist the chambers of representatives of the provinces, who would carry on the Government for a time, and at any rate prevent the foreign occupation of Constantinople, or any disorders there, incident on the exit of the Sultan and his Pashas."
Having partially explained how General Gordon declined one post for which he appeared to be well suited, I have to describe how it was that he accepted another for which neither by training nor by character was he in the least degree fitted. The exact train of trifling circumstances that led up to the proposal that Gordon should accompany the newly-appointed Viceroy, the Marquis of Ripon, to India cannot be traced, because it is impossible to assign to each its correct importance. But it may be said generally, that the prevalent idea was that Lord Ripon was going out to the East on a great mission of reform, and some one suggested that the character of that mission would be raised in the eyes of the public if so well known a philanthropist as Gordon, whose views on all subjects were free from official bias, could be associated with it. I do not know whether the idea originated with Sir Bruce Seton, Lord Ripon's secretary, while at the War Office, but in any case that gentleman first broached the proposition to Sir Henry Gordon, the eldest brother of General Gordon. Sir Henry not merely did not repel the suggestion, but he consented to put it before his brother and to support it. For his responsibility in this affair Sir Henry afterwards took the fullest and frankest blame on himself for his "bad advice." When the matter was put before General Gordon he did not reject it, as might have been expected, but whether from his desire to return to active employment, or biassed by his brother's views in favour of the project, or merely from coming to a decision without reflection, he made up his mind at once to accept the offer, and the official announcement of the appointment was made on 1st May, with the additional statement that his departure would take place without delay, as he was to sail with Lord Ripon on the 14th of that month.
It was after his acceptance of this post, and not some months before, as has been erroneously stated, that General Gordon had an interview with the Prince of Wales under circumstances that may be described. The Prince gave a large dinner-party to Lord Ripon before his departure for India, and Gordon was invited. He declined the invitation, and also declined to give any reason for doing so. The Prince of Wales, with his unfailing tact and the genuine kindness with which he always makes allowance for such little breaches of what ought to be done, at least in the cases of exceptional persons like Gordon, sent him a message: "If you won't dine with me, will you come and see me next Sunday afternoon?" Gordon went, and had a very interesting conversation with the Prince, and in the middle of it the Princess came into the room, and then the Princesses, her daughters, who said they would "like to shake hands with Colonel Gordon."
Before even the departure Gordon realised he had made a mistake, and if there had been any way out of the dilemma he would not have been slow to take it. As there was not, he fell back on the hope that he might be able to discharge his uncongenial duties for a brief period, and then seek some convenient opportunity of retiring. But as to his own real views of his mistake, and of his unfitness for the post, there never was any doubt, and they found expression when, in the midst of a family gathering, he exclaimed: "Up to this I have been an independent comet, now I shall be a chained satellite."
The same opinion found expression in a letter he wrote to Sir Halliday Macartney an hour before he went to Charing Cross:—
"MY DEAR MACARTNEY,—You will be surprised to hear that I have accepted the Private Secretaryship to Lord Ripon, and that I am just off to Charing Cross. I am afraid that I have decided in haste, to repent at leisure. Good-bye.—Yours,
C. G. GORDON."
His own views on this affair were set forth in the following words:—
"Men at times, owing to the mysteries of Providence, form judgments which they afterwards repent of. This is my case. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness and consideration with which Lord Ripon has treated me. I have never met anyone with whom I could have felt greater sympathy in the arduous task he has undertaken."
And again, writing at greater length to his brother, he explains what took place in the following letter:—
"In a moment of weakness I took the appointment of Private Secretary to Lord Ripon, the new Governor-General of India. No sooner had I landed at Bombay than I saw that in my irresponsible position I could not hope to do anything really to the purpose in the face of the vested interests out there. Seeing this, and seeing, moreover, that my views were so diametrically opposed to those of the official classes, I resigned. Lord Ripon's position was certainly a great consideration with me. It was assumed by some that my views of the state of affairs were the Viceroy's, and thus I felt that I should do him harm by staying with him. We parted perfect friends. The brusqueness of my leaving was unavoidable, inasmuch as my stay would have put me into the possession of secrets of State that—considering my decision eventually to leave—I ought not to know. Certainly I might have stayed a month or two, had a pain in the hand, and gone quietly; but the whole duties were so distasteful that I felt, being pretty callous as to what the world says, that it was better to go at once."
If a full explanation is sought of the reasons why Gordon repented of his decision, and determined to leave an uncongenial position without delay, it may be found in a consideration of the two following circumstances. His views as to what he held to be the excessive payment of English and other European servants in Asiatic countries were not new, and had been often expressed. They were crystallised in the phrase, "Why pay a man more at Simla than at Hongkong?" and had formed the basis of his projected financial reform in Egypt in 1878, and they often found expression in his correspondence. For instance, in a letter to the present writer, he proposed that the loss accruing from the abolition of the opium trade might be made good by reducing officers' pay from Indian to Colonial allowances. With Gordon's contempt for money, and the special circumstances that led to his not wanting any considerable sum for his own moderate requirements and few responsibilities, it is not surprising that he held these views; but no practical statesman could have attempted to carry them out. During the voyage to India the perception that it would be impossible for Lord Ripon to institute any special reorganisation on these lines led him to decide that it would be best to give up a post he did not like, and he wrote to his sister to this effect while at sea, with the statement that it was arranged that he should leave in the following September or October.
He reached Bombay on the 28th of May, and his resignation was received and accepted on the night of the 2nd June. What had happened in that brief interval of a few days to make him precipitate matters? There is absolutely no doubt, quite apart from the personal explanation given by General Gordon, both verbally and in writing, to myself, that the determining cause was the incident relating to Yakoob Khan.
That Afghan chief had been proclaimed and accepted as Ameer after the death of his father, the Ameer Shere Ali. In that capacity he had signed the Treaty of Gandamak, and received Sir Louis Cavagnari as British agent at his capital. When the outbreak occurred at Cabul, on 1st September, and Cavagnari and the whole of the mission were murdered, it was generally believed that the most guilty person was Yakoob Khan. On the advance of General Roberts, Yakoob Khan took the first opportunity of making his escape from his compatriots and joining the English camp. This voluntary act seemed to justify a doubt as to his guilt, but a Court of Inquiry was appointed to ascertain the facts. The bias of the leading members of that Court was unquestionably hostile to Yakoob, or rather it would be more accurate to say that they were bent on finding the highest possible personage guilty. They were appointed to inquire, not to sentence. Yet they found Yakoob guilty, and they sent a vast mass of evidence to the Foreign Department then at Calcutta. The experts of the Foreign Department examined that evidence. They pronounced it "rubbish," and Lord Lytton was obliged to send Mr (afterwards Sir) Lepel Griffin, an able member of the Indian Civil Service, specially versed in frontier politics, to act as Political Officer with the force in Afghanistan, so that no blunders of this kind might be re-enacted.
But nothing was done either to rehabilitate Yakoob's character or to negotiate with him for the restoration of a central authority in Afghanistan. Any other suitable candidate for the Ameership failing to present himself, the present ruler, Abdurrahman, being then, and indeed until the eve of the catastrophe at Maiwand, on 27th July 1880, an adventurous pretender without any strong following, Lord Lytton had been negotiating on the lines of a division of Afghanistan into three or more provinces. That policy, of which the inner history has still to be written, had a great deal more to be said in its favour than would now be admitted, and only the unexpected genius and success of Abdurrahman has made the contrary policy that was pursued appear the acme of sound sense and high statesmanship. When Lord Ripon reached Bombay at the end of May, the fate of Afghanistan was still in the crucible. Even Abdurrahman, who had received kind treatment in the persons of his imprisoned family at Candahar from the English, was not regarded as a factor of any great importance; while Ayoob, the least known of all the chiefs, was deemed harmless only a few weeks before he crossed the Helmund and defeated our troops in the only battle lost during the war. But if none of the candidates inspired our authorities with any confidence, they were resolute in excluding Yakoob Khan. Having been relieved from the heavier charge of murdering Cavagnari, he was silently cast on the not less fatal one of being a madman.
Such was the position of the question when Lord Ripon and his secretary landed at Bombay. It was known that they would alter the Afghan policy of the Conservative Government, and that, as far as possible, they would revert to the Lawrentian policy of ignoring the region beyond the passes. But it was not known that they had any designs about Yakoob Khan, and this was the bomb they fired on arrival into the camp of Indian officialdom.
The first despatch written by the new secretary was to the Foreign Department, to the effect that Lord Ripon intended to commence negotiations with the captive Yakoob, and Mr (now Sir) Mortimer Durand, then assistant secretary in that branch of the service, was at once sent from Simla to remonstrate against a proceeding which "would stagger every one in India." Lord Ripon was influenced by these representations, and agreed to at least suspend his overtures to Yakoob Khan, but his secretary was not convinced by either the arguments or the facts of the Indian Foreign Department. He still considered that Afghan prince the victim of political injustice, and also that he was the best candidate for the throne of Cabul. But he also saw very clearly from this passage of arms with the official classes that he would never be able to work in harmony with men who were above and before all bureaucrats, and with commendable promptness he seized the opportunity to resign a post which he thoroughly detested. What he thought on the subject of Yakoob Khan is fully set forth in the following memorandum drawn up as a note to my biography of that interesting and ill-starred prince in "Central Asian Portraits." Whether Gordon was right or wrong in his views about Yakoob Khan is a matter of no very great importance. The incident is only noteworthy as marking the conclusion of his brief secretarial experience, and as showing the hopefulness of a man who thought that he could make the all-powerful administrative system of India decide a political question on principles of abstract justice. The practical comment on such sanguine theories was furnished by Mr Durand being appointed acting private secretary on Gordon's resignation.
General Gordon's memorandum read as follows:—
"Yacoob was accused of concealing letters from the Russian Government, and of entering into an alliance with the Rajah of Cashmere to form a Triple Alliance. Where are these letters or proof of this intention? They do not exist.
"Yacoob came out to Roberts of his own free will. He was imprisoned. It was nothing remarkable that he was visited by an Afghan leader, although it was deemed evidence of a treacherous intention. Roberts and Cavagnari made the Treaty of Gandamak. It is absurd to say Yacoob wanted an European Resident. It is against all reason to say he did. He was coerced into taking one. He was imprisoned, and a Court of Enquiry was held on him, composed of the President Macgregor, who was chief of the staff to the man who made the Treaty, by which Cavagnari went to Cabul, and who had imprisoned Yacoob. This Court of Enquiry asked for evidence concerning a man in prison, which is in eyes of Asiatics equivalent to being already condemned. This Court accumulated evidence, utterly worthless in any court of justice, as will be seen if ever published. This Court of Enquiry found him guilty and sentenced him to exile. Was that their function? If the secret papers are published, it would be seen that the despatches from the Cabulese chiefs were couched in fair terms. They did not want to fight the English. They wanted their Ameer. Yacoob's defence is splendid. He says in it: 'If I had been guilty, would I not have escaped to Herat, whereas I put myself in your hands?' The following questions arise from this Court of Enquiry. Who fired first shot from the Residency? Was the conduct of Cavagnari and his people discreet in a fanatical city? Were not those who forced Cavagnari on Yacoob against his protest equally responsible with him? Yacoob was weak and timid in a critical moment, and he failed, but he did not incite this revolt. It was altogether against his interests to do so. What was the consequence of his unjust exile? Why, all the trouble which happened since that date. Afghanistan was quiet till we took her ruler away. It was an united Afghanistan. This mistake has cost L10,000,000, all from efforts to go on with an injustice. The Romans before their wars invoked all misery on themselves before the Goddess Nemesis if their war was unjust. We did not invoke her, but she followed us. Between the time that the Tory Government went out, and the new Viceroy Ripon had landed at Bombay, Lytton forced the hand of the Liberal Government by entering into negotiations with Abdurrahman, and appointing the Vali at Candahar, so endeavouring to prevent justice to Yacoob. Stokes, Arbuthnot, and another member of Supreme Council all protested against the deposition of Yacoob, also Sir Neville Chamberlaine."
Lest it should be thought that Gordon was alone in these opinions, I append this statement, drawn up at the time by Sir Neville Chamberlaine:—
"An unprejudiced review of the circumstances surrounding the emeute of September 1879 clearly indicates that the spontaneous and unpremeditated action of a discontented, undisciplined, and unpaid soldiery had not been planned, directed, or countenanced by the Ameer, his ministers, or his advisers. There is no evidence to prove or even to suspect that the mutiny of his soldiers was in any way not deplored by the Ameer, but was regarded by him with regret, dismay, and even terror. Fully conscious of the very grave misapprehensions and possible accusation of timidity and weakness on our part, I entertain, myself, very strong convictions that we should have first permitted and encouraged the Ameer to punish the mutinous soldiers and rioters implicated in the outrage before we ourselves interfered. The omission to adopt this course inevitably led to the action forced on the Ameer, which culminated in the forced resignation of his power and the total annihilation of the national government. The Ameer in thus resigning reserved to himself the right of seeking, when occasion offered, restoration to his heritage and its reversion to his heir. Nothing has occurred to justify the ignoring of these undeniable rights."
Gordon's resignation was handed in to Lord Ripon on the night of the 2nd of June, the news appeared in the London papers of the 4th, and it had one immediate consequence which no one could have foreseen. But before referring to that matter I must make clear the heavy pecuniary sacrifice his resignation of this post entailed upon Gordon. He repaid every farthing of his expenses as to passage money, etc., to Lord Ripon, which left him very much out of pocket. He wrote himself on the subject: "All this Private Secretaryship and its consequent expenses are all due to my not acting on my own instinct. However, for the future I will be wiser.... It was a living crucifixion.... I nearly burst with the trammels.... A L100,000 a year would not have kept me there. I resigned on 2 June, and never unpacked my official dress."
The immediate consequence referred to was as follows: In the drawer of Mr J. D. Campbell, at the office at Storey's Gate of the Chinese Imperial Customs, had been lying for some little time the following telegram for Colonel Gordon from Sir Robert Hart, the Inspector-General of the Department in China:—
"I am directed to invite you here (Peking). Please come and see for yourself. The opportunity of doing really useful work on a large scale ought not to be lost. Work, position, conditions, can all be arranged with yourself here to your satisfaction. Do take six months' leave and come."
As Mr Campbell was aware of Gordon's absence in India, he had thought it useless to forward the message, and it was not until the resignation was announced that he did so. In dealing with this intricate matter, which was complicated by extraneous considerations, it is necessary to clear up point by point. When Gordon received the message he at once concluded that the invitation came from his old colleague Li Hung Chang, and accepted it on that assumption, which in the end proved erroneous. It is desirable to state that since Gordon's departure from China in 1865 at least one communication had passed between these former associates in a great enterprise. The following characteristic letter, dated Tientsin, 22nd March 1879, reached Gordon while he was at Khartoum:—
"DEAR SIR,—I am instructed by His Excellency the Grand Secretary, Li, to answer your esteemed favour, dated the 27th October 1878, from Khartoum, which was duly received. I am right glad to hear from you. It is now over fourteen years since we parted from each other. Although I have not written to you, but I often speak of you, and remember you with very great interest. The benefit you have conferred on China does not disappear with your person, but is felt throughout the regions in which you played so important and active a part. All those people bless you for the blessings of peace and prosperity which they now enjoy.
"Your achievements in Egypt are well known throughout the civilized world. I see often in the papers of your noble works on the Upper Nile. You are a man of ample resources, with which you suit yourself to any kind of emergency. My hope is that you may long be spared to improve the conditions of the people amongst whom your lot is cast. I am striving hard to advance my people to a higher state of development, and to unite both this and all other nations within the 'Four Seas' under one common brotherhood. To the several questions put in your note the following are the answers:—Kwoh Sung-Ling has retired from official life, and is now living at home. Yang Ta Jen died a great many years ago. Na Wang's adopted son is doing well, and is the colonel of a regiment, with 500 men under him. The Pa to' Chiaow Bridge, which you destroyed, was rebuilt very soon after you left China, and it is now in very good condition.
"Kwoh Ta jen, the Chinese Minister, wrote to me that he had the pleasure of seeing you in London. I wished I had been there also to see you; but the responsibilities of life are so distributed to different individuals in different parts of the world, that it is a wise economy of Providence that we are not all in the same spot.
"I wish you all manner of happiness and prosperity. With my highest regards,—I remain, yours very truly
"(For LI HUNG CHANG), TSENG LAISUN."
Under the belief that Hart's telegram emanated from Li Hung Chang, and inspired by loyalty to a friend in a difficulty, as well as by affection for the Chinese people, whom in his own words he "liked best next after his own," Gordon replied to this telegram in the following message: "Inform Hart Gordon will leave for Shanghai first opportunity. As for conditions, Gordon indifferent."
At that moment China seemed on the verge of war with Russia, in consequence of the disinclination of the latter power to restore the province of Kuldja, which she had occupied at the time of the Mahommedan uprising in Central Asia. The Chinese official, Chung How, who had signed an unpopular treaty at Livadia, had been sentenced to death—the treaty itself had been repudiated—and hostilities were even said to have commenced. The announcement that the Chinese Government had invited Gordon to Peking, and that he had promptly replied that he would come, was also interpreted as signifying the resolve to carry matters with a high hand, and to show the world that China was determined to obtain what she was entitled to. Those persons who have a contemptuous disregard for dates went so far even as to assert that Gordon had resigned because of the Chinese invitation. Never was there a clearer case of post hoc, propter hoc; but even the officials at the War Office were suspicious in the matter, and their attitude towards Gordon went near to precipitate the very catastrophe they wanted to avoid.
On the same day (8th June) as he telegraphed his reply to the Chinese invitation, he telegraphed to Colonel Grant, Deputy Adjutant-General for the Royal Engineers at the Horse Guards: "Obtain me leave until end of the year; am invited to China; will not involve Government." Considering the position between China and Russia, and the concern of the Russian press and Government at the report about Gordon, it is not surprising that this request was not granted a ready approval. The official reply came back: "Must state more specifically purpose and position for and in which you go to China." To this Gordon sent the following characteristic answer: "Am ignorant; will write from China before the expiration of my leave." An answer like this savoured of insubordination, and shows how deeply Gordon was hurt by the want of confidence reposed in him. In saying this I disclaim all intention of criticising the authorities, for whose view there was some reasonable justification; but the line they took, while right enough for an ordinary Colonel of Engineers, was not quite a considerate one in the case of an officer of such an exceptional position and well-known idiosyncrasies as "Chinese" Gordon. On that ground alone may it be suggested that the blunt decision thus given in the final official telegram—"Reasons insufficient; your going to China is not approved," was somewhat harsh.
It was also impotent, for it rather made Gordon persist in carrying out his resolve than deterred him from doing so. His reply was thus worded: "Arrange retirement, commutation, or resignation of service; ask Campbell reasons. My counsel, if asked, would be for peace, not war. I return by America." Gordon's mind was fully made up to go, even if he had to sacrifice his commission. Without waiting for any further communication he left Bombay. As he had insisted on repaying Lord Ripon his passage-money from England to India which, owing to his resignation, the Viceroy would otherwise have had to pay out of his own pocket, Gordon was quite without funds, and he had to borrow the sum required to defray his passage to China. But having made up his mind, such trifling difficulties were not likely to deter him. He sailed from Bombay, not merely under the displeasure of his superiors and uncertain as to his own status, but also in that penniless condition, which was not wholly out of place in his character of knight-errant. But with that solid good sense, which so often retrieved his reputation in the eyes of the world, he left behind him the following public proclamation as to his mission and intentions. It was at once a public explanation of his proceedings, and a declaration of a pacific policy calculated to appease both official and Russian irritation:
"My fixed desire is to persuade the Chinese not to go to war with Russia, both in their own interests and for the sake of those of the world, especially those of England. In the event of war breaking out I cannot answer how I should act for the present, but I should ardently desire a speedy peace. It is my fixed desire, as I have said, to persuade the Chinese not to go to war with Russia. To me it appears that the question in dispute cannot be of such vital importance that an arrangement could not be come to by concessions upon both sides. Whether I succeed in being heard or not is not in my hands. I protest, however, at being regarded as one who wishes for war in any country, still less in China. Inclined as I am, with only a small degree of admiration for military exploits, I esteem it a far greater honour to promote peace than to gain any paltry honours in a wretched war."
With that message to his official superiors, as well as to the world, Gordon left Bombay on 13th June. His message of the day before saying, "Consult Campbell," had induced the authorities at the Horse Guards to make inquiries of that gentleman, who had no difficulty in satisfying them that the course of events was exactly as has here been set forth, and coupling that with Gordon's own declaration that he was for peace not war, permission was granted to Gordon to do that which at all cost he had determined to do. When he reached Ceylon he found this telegram: "Leave granted on your engaging to take no military service in China," and he somewhat too comprehensively, and it may even be feared rashly if events had turned out otherwise, replied: "I will take no military service in China: I would never embarrass the British Government."
Having thus got clear of the difficulties which beset him on the threshold of his mission, Gordon had to prepare himself for those that were inherent to the task he had taken up. He knew of old how averse the Chinese are to take advice from any one, how they waste time in fathoming motives, and how when they say a thing shall be done it is never performed. Yet the memory of his former disinterested and splendid service afforded a guarantee that if they would take advice and listen to unflattering criticism from any one, that man was Gordon. Still, from the most favourable point of view, the mission was fraught with difficulty, and circumstances over which he had no control, and of which he was even ignorant, added immensely to it. There is no doubt that Peking was at that moment the centre of intrigues, not only between the different Chinese leaders, but also among the representatives of the Foreign Powers. The secret history of these transactions has still to be revealed, and as our Foreign Office never gives up the private instructions it transmits to its representatives, the full truth may never be recorded. But so far as the British Government was concerned, its action was limited to giving the Minister, Sir Thomas Wade, instructions to muzzle Gordon and prevent his doing anything that wasn't strictly in accordance with official etiquette and quite safe, or, in a word, to make him do nothing. The late Sir Thomas Wade was a most excellent Chinese scholar and estimable person in every way, but when he tried to do what the British Government and the whole arrayed body of the Horse Guards, from the Commander-in-Chief down to the Deputy-Adjutant General, had failed to do, viz. to keep Gordon in leading strings, he egregiously failed. Sir Thomas Wade went so far as to order Gordon to stay in the British Legation, and to visit no one without his express permission. Gordon's reply was to ignore the British Legation and to never enter its portals during the whole of his stay in China.
That was one difficulty in the situation apart from the Russian question, but it was not the greatest, and as it was the first occasion on which European politics re-acted in a marked way on the situation in China, such details as are ascertainable are well worth recording at some length.
There is no doubt that the Russian Government was very much disturbed at what seemed an inevitable hostile collision with China. The uncertain result of such a contest along an enormous land-frontier, with which, at that time, Russia had very imperfect means of communication, was the least cause of its disquietude. A war with China signified to Russia something much more serious than this, viz., a breach of the policy of friendship to its vast neighbour, which it had consistently pursued for two centuries, and which it will pursue until it is ready to absorb, and then in the same friendly guise, its share of China. Under these circumstances the Russian Government looked round for every means of averting the catastrophe. It is necessary to guard oneself from seeming to imply that Russia was in any sense afraid, or doubtful as to the result of a war with China; her sole motives were those of astute and far-seeing policy. Whether the Russian Ambassador at Berlin mooted the matter to Prince Bismarck, or whether that statesman, without inspiration, saw his chance of doing Russia a good turn at no cost to himself is not certain, but instructions were sent to Herr von Brandt, the German Minister at Peking, a man of great energy, and in favour of bold measures, to support the Peace Party in every way. He was exactly a man after Prince Bismarck's own heart, prepared to go to any lengths to attain his object, and fully persuaded that the end justifies the means. His plan was startlingly simple and bold. Li Hung Chang, the only prominent advocate of peace, was to rebel, march on Peking with his Black Flag army, and establish a Government of his own. There is no doubt whatever that this scheme was formed and impressed on Li Hung Chang as the acme of wisdom. More than that, it was supported by two other Foreign Ministers at Peking, with greater or less warmth, and one of them was Sir Thomas Wade. These plots were dispelled by the sound sense and candid but firm representations of Gordon. But for him, as will be seen, there would have been a rebellion in the country, and Li Hung Chang would now be either Emperor of China or a mere instance of a subject who had lost his head in trying to be supreme.
Having thus explained the situation that awaited Gordon, it is necessary to briefly trace his movements after leaving Ceylon. He reached Hongkong on 2nd July, and not only stayed there for a day or two as the guest of the Governor, Sir T. Pope Hennessey, but found sufficient time to pay a flying visit to the Chinese city of Canton. Thence he proceeded to Shanghai and Chefoo. At the latter place he found news, which opened his eyes to part of the situation, in a letter from Sir Robert Hart, begging him to come direct to him at Peking, and not to stop en route to visit Li Hung Chang at Tientsin. As has been explained, Gordon went to China in the full belief that, whatever names were used, it was his old colleague Li Hung Chang who sent for him, and the very first definite information he received on approaching the Chinese capital was that not Li, but persons whom by inference were inimical to Li, had sent for him. The first question that arises then was who was the real author of the invitation to Gordon that bore the name of Hart. It cannot be answered, for Gordon assured me that he himself did not know; but there is no doubt that it formed part of the plot and counter-plot originated by the German Minister, and responded to by those who were resolved, in the event of Li's rebellion, to uphold the Dragon Throne. Sir Robert Hart is a man of long-proved ability and address, who has rendered the Chinese almost as signal service as did Gordon himself, and on this occasion he was actuated by the highest possible motives, but it must be recorded that his letter led to a temporary estrangement between himself and Gordon, who I am happy to be able to state positively did realise long afterwards that he and Hart were fighting in the same camp, and had the same objects in view—only this was not apparent at the time. Gordon went to China only because he thought Li Hung Chang sent for him, but when he found that powerful persons were inciting him to revolt, he became the first and most strenuous in his advice against so imprudent and unpatriotic a measure. Sir Robert Hart knew exactly what was being done by the German Minister. He wished to save Gordon from being drawn into a dangerous and discreditable plot, and also in the extreme eventuality to deprive any rebellion of the support of Gordon's military genius.
But without this perfect information, and for the best, as in the end it proved, Gordon, hot with disappointment that the original summons was not from Li Hung Chang, went straight to that statesman's yamen at Tientsin, ignored Hart, and proclaimed that he had come as the friend of the only man who had given any sign of an inclination to regenerate China. He resided as long as he was in Northern China with Li Hung Chang, whom he found being goaded towards high treason by persons who had no regard for China's interests, and who thought only of the attainment of their own selfish designs. The German Minister, thinking that he had obtained an ally who would render the success of his own plan certain, proposed that Gordon should put himself at the head of Li's army, march on Peking, and depose the Emperor. Gordon's droll comment on this is: "I told him I was equal to a good deal of filibustering, but that this was beyond me, and that I did not think there was the slightest chance of such a project succeeding, as Li had not a sufficient following to give it any chance of success." He recorded his views of the situation in the following note: "The only thing that keeps me in China is Li Hung Chang's safety—if he were safe I would not care—but some people are egging him on to rebel, some to this, and some to that, and all appears in a helpless drift. There are parties at Peking who would drive the Chinese into war for their own ends." Having measured the position and found it bristling with unexpected difficulties and dangers, Gordon at once regretted the promise he had given his own Government in the message from Ceylon. He thought it was above all things necessary for him to have a free hand, and he consequently sent the following telegram to the Horse Guards: "I have seen Li Hung Chang, and he wishes me to stay with him. I cannot desert China in her present crisis, and would be free to act as I think fit. I therefore beg to resign my commission in Her Majesty's Service." Having thus relieved, as he thought, his Government of all responsibility for his acts—although they responded to this message by accusing him of insubordination, and by instructing Sir Thomas Wade to place him under moral arrest—Gordon threw himself into the China difficulty with his usual ardour. Nothing more remained to be done at Tientsin, where he had effectually checked the pernicious counsel pressed on Li Hung Chang most strongly by the German Minister, and in a minor degree by the representatives of France and England. In order to influence the Central Government it was necessary for him to proceed to Peking, and the following unpublished letter graphically describes his views at the particular moment:—
"I am on my way to Peking. There are three parties—Li Hung Chang (1), the Court (2), the Literary Class (3). The two first are for peace, but dare not say it for fear of the third party. I have told Li that he, in alliance with the Court, must coerce the third party, and have written this to Li and to the Court Party. By so doing I put my head in jeopardy in going to Peking. I do not wish Li to act alone. It is not good he should do anything except support the Court Party morally. God will overrule for the best. If neither the Court Party nor Li can act, if these two remain and let things drift, then there will be a disastrous war, of which I shall not see the end. You know I do not mourn this. Having given up my commission, I have nothing to look for, and indeed I long for the quiet of the future.... If the third party hear of my recommendation before the Court Party acts, then I may be doomed to a quick exit at Peking. Li Hung Chang is a noble fellow, and worth giving one's life for; but he must not rebel and lose his good name. It is a sort of general election which is going on, but where heads are in gage."
Writing to me some months later, General Gordon entered into various matters relating to this period, and as the letter indirectly throws light on what may be called the Li Hung Chang episode, I quote it here, although somewhat out of its proper place:—
"Thanks for your kind note. I send you the two papers which were made public in China, and through the Shen-pao some of it was sent over. Another paper of fifty-two articles I gave Li Hung Chang, but I purposely kept no copy of it, for it went into—
"1. The contraband of salt and opium at Hongkong.
"2. The advantages of telegraphs and canals, not railways, which have ruined Egypt and Turkey by adding to the financial difficulties.
"3. The effeteness of the Chinese representatives abroad, etc., etc., etc.
"I wrote as a Chinaman for the Chinese. I recommended Chinese merchants to do away with middle-men, and to have Government aid and encouragement to create houses or firms in London, etc.; to make their own cotton goods, etc. In fact, I wrote as a Chinaman. I see now and then symptoms that they are awake to the situation, for my object has been always to put myself into the skin of those I may be with, and I like these people as much—well, say nearly as much—as I like my countrymen.
"There are a lot of people in China who would egg on revolts of A and B. All this is wrong. China must fara da se. I painted this picture to the Chinese of 1900: 'Who are those people hanging about with jinrickshas?' 'The sons of the European merchants.' 'What are those ruins?' 'The Hongs of the European merchants,' etc., etc.
"People have asked me what I thought of the advance of China during the sixteen years I was absent. They looked superficially at the power military of China. I said they are unchanged. You come, I must go; but I go on to say that the stride China has made in commerce is immense, and commerce and wealth are the power of nations, not the troops. Like the Chinese, I have a great contempt for military prowess. It is ephemeral. I admire administrators, not generals. A military Red-Button mandarin has to bow low to a Blue-Button civil mandarin, and rightly so to my mind.
"I wrote the other day to Li Hung Chang to protest against the railway from Ichang to Peking along the Grand Canal. In making it they would enter into no end of expenses, the coin would leave the country and they would not understand it, and would be fleeced by the financial cormorants of Great Britain. They can understand canals. Let them repair the Grand Canal."
Having arrived at Peking, Gordon was received in several councils by Prince Chun, the father of the young Emperor and the recognised leader of the War Party. The leading members of the Grand Council were also present, and Gordon explained his views to them at length. In the first place, he said, if there were war he would only stay to help them on condition that they destroyed the suburbs of Peking, allowed him to place the city in a proper state of defence, and removed the Emperor and Court to a place of safety. When they expressed their opinion that the Taku forts were impregnable, Gordon laughed, and said they could be taken from the rear. The whole gist of his remarks was that "they could not go to war," and when they still argued in the opposite sense, and the interpreter refused to translate the harsh epithets he applied to such august personages, he took the dictionary, looked out the Chinese equivalent for "idiocy," and with his finger on the word, placed it under the eyes of each member of the Council. The end of this scene may be described in Gordon's own words: "I said make peace, and wrote out the terms. They were, in all, five articles; the only one they boggled at was the fifth, about the indemnity. They said this was too hard and unjust. I said that might be, but what was the use of talking about it? If a man demanded your money or your life, you have only three courses open. You must either fight, call for help, or give up your money. Now, as you cannot fight, it is useless to call for help, since neither England nor France would stir a finger to assist you. I believe these are the articles now under discussion at St Petersburg, and the only one on which there is any question is the fifth." This latter statement I may add, without going into the question of the Marquis Tseng's negotiations in the Russian capital, was perfectly correct.
Gordon drew up several notes or memorandums for the information of the Chinese Government. The first of these was mainly military, and the following extracts will suffice:—
"China's power lies in her numbers, in the quick moving of her troops, in the little baggage they require, and in their few wants. It is known that men armed with sword and spear can overcome the best regular troops equipped with breech-loading rifles, if the country is at all difficult and if the men with spears and swords outnumber their foe ten to one. If this is the case where men are armed with spears and swords, it will be much truer when those men are themselves armed with breech loaders. China should never engage in pitched battles. Her strength is in quiet movements, in cutting off trains of baggage, and in night attacks not pushed home—in a continuous worrying of her enemies. Rockets should be used instead of cannon. No artillery should be moved with the troops; it delays and impedes them. Infantry fire is the most fatal fire; guns make a noise far out of proportion to their value in war. If guns are taken into the field, troops cannot march faster than these guns. The degree of speed at which the guns can be carried dictates the speed at which the troops can march. As long as Peking is the centre of the Government of China, China can never go to war with any first-class power; it is too near the sea."
The second memorandum was of greater importance and more general application. In it he compressed the main heads of his advice into the smallest possible space, and so far as it was at all feasible to treat a vast and complicated subject within the limits of a simple and practical scheme, he therein shows with the greatest clearness how the regeneration of China might be brought about.
"In spite of the opinion of some foreigners, it will be generally acknowledged that the Chinese are contented and happy, that the country is rich and prosperous, and that the people are au fond united in their sentiments, and ardently desire to remain a nation. At constant intervals, however, the whole of this human hive is stirred by some dispute between the Pekin Government and some foreign Power; the Chinese people, proud of their ancient prestige, applaud the high tone taken up by the Pekin Government, crediting the Government with the power to support their strong words. This goes on for a time, when the Government gives in, and corresponding vexation is felt by the people. The recurrence of these disputes, the inevitable surrender ultimately of the Pekin Government, has the tendency of shaking the Chinese people's confidence in the Central Government. The Central Government appreciates the fact that, little by little, this prestige is being destroyed by their own actions among the Chinese people, each crisis then becomes more accentuated or difficult to surmount, as the Central Government know each concession is another nail in their coffin. The Central Government fear that the taking up of a spirited position by any pre-eminent Chinese would carry the Chinese people with him, and therefore the Central Government endeavour to keep up appearances, and to skirt the precipice of war as near as they possibly can, while never intending to enter into war.
"The Central Government residing in the extremity of the Middle Kingdom, away from the great influences which are now working in China, can never alter one iota from what they were years ago: they are being steadily left behind by the people they govern. They know this, and endeavour to stem these influences in all ways in their power, hoping to keep the people backward and in ignorance, and to retard their progress to the same pace they themselves go, if it can be called a pace at all.
"It is therefore a maxim that 'no progress can be made by the Pekin Government.' To them any progress, whether slow or quick, is synonymous to slow or quick extinction, for they will never move.
"The term 'Pekin Government' is used advisedly, for if the Central Government were moved from Pekin into some province where the pulsations and aspirations of the Chinese people could have their legitimate effect, then the Central Government and the Chinese people, having a unison of thought, would work together.
"From what has been said above, it is maintained that, so long as the Central Government of China isolates itself from the Chinese people by residing aloof at Pekin, so long will the Chinese people have to remain passive under the humiliations which come upon them through the non-progressive and destructive disposition of their Government. These humiliations will be the chronic state of the Chinese people until the Central Government moves from Pekin and reunites itself to its subjects. No army, no purchases of ironclad vessels will enable China to withstand a first-class Power so long as China keeps her queen bee at the entrance of her hive. There is, however, the probability that a proud people like the Chinese may sicken at this continual eating of humble pie, that the Pekin Government at some time, by skirting too closely the precipice of war may fall into it, and then that sequence may be anarchy and rebellion throughout the Middle Kingdom which may last for years and cause endless misery.
"It may be asked—How can the present state of things be altered? How can China maintain the high position that the wealth, industry, and innate goodness of the Chinese people entitle her to have among the nations of the world? Some may say by the revolt of this Chinaman or of that Chinaman. To me this seems most undesirable, for, in the first place, such action would not have the blessing of God, and, in the second, it would result in the country being plunged into civil war. The fair, upright, and open course for the Chinese people to take is to work, through the Press and by petitions, on the Central Government, and to request them to move from Pekin, and bring themselves thus more into unison with the Chinese people, and thus save that people the constant humiliations they have to put up with, owing to the seat of the Central Government being at Pekin. This recommendation would need no secret societies, no rebellion, no treason; if taken up and persevered in it must succeed, and not one life need be lost.
"The Central Government at Pekin could not answer the Chinese people except in the affirmative when the Chinese people say to the Central Government—'By your residing aloof from us in Pekin, where you are exposed to danger, you separate our interests from yours, and you bring on us humiliation, which we would never have to bear if you resided in the interior. Take our application into consideration, and grant our wishes.'
"I have been kindly treated by the Central Pekin Government and by the Chinese people; it is for the welfare of both parties that I have written and signed this paper. I may have expressed myself too strongly with respect to the non-progressive nature of the Pekin Government, who may desire the welfare of the Middle Kingdom as ardently as any other Chinese, but as long as the Pekin Government allow themselves to be led and directed by those drones of the hive, the Censors, so long must the Pekin Government bear the blame earned by those drones in plunging China into difficulties. In the insect world the bees get rid of the drones in winter."
There was yet a third memorandum of a confidential nature written to Li Hung Chang himself, of which Gordon did not keep a copy, but he referred to it in the letter written to myself which I have already quoted.
Having thus accomplished his double task, viz.: the prevention of war between Russia and China, and of a rebellion on the part of Li Hung Chang under European advice and encouragement, Gordon left China without any delay. When he reached Shanghai on 16th August he found another official telegram awaiting him: "Leave cancelled, resignation not accepted." As he had already taken his passage home he did not reply, but when he reached Aden he telegraphed as follows: "You might have trusted me. My passage from China was taken days before the arrival of your telegram which states 'leave cancelled.' Do you insist on rescinding the same?" The next day he received a reply granting him nearly six months' leave, and with that message the question of his alleged insubordination may be treated as finally settled. There can be no doubt that among his many remarkable achievements not the least creditable was this mission to China, when by downright candour, and unswerving resolution in doing the right thing, he not merely preserved peace, but baffled the intrigues of unscrupulous diplomatists and selfish governments.
With that incident closed Gordon's connection with China, the country associated with his most brilliant feats of arms, but in concluding this chapter it seems to me that I should do well to record some later expressions of opinion on that subject. The following interesting letter, written on the eve of the war between France and China in 1882, was published by the New York Herald:—
"The Chinese in their affairs with foreign nations are fully aware of their peculiar position, and count with reason that a war with either France or another Power will bring them perforce allies outside of England. The only Power that could go to war with them with impunity is Russia, who can attack them by land. I used the following argument to them when I was there:—The present dynasty of China is a usurping one—the Mantchou. We may say that it exists by sufferance at Pekin, and nowhere else in the Empire. If you look at the map of China Pekin is at the extremity of the Empire and not a week's marching from the Russian frontier. A war with Russia would imply the capture of Pekin and the fall of the Mantchou dynasty, which would never dare to leave it, for if they did the Chinamen in the south would smite them. I said, 'If you go to war then move the Queen Bee—i.e. the Emperor—into the centre of China and then fight; if not, you must make peace.' The two Powers who can coerce China are Russia and England. Russia could march without much difficulty on Pekin. This much would not hurt trade, so England would not interfere. England could march to Taku and Pekin and no one would object, for she would occupy the Treaty Ports. But if France tried to do so England would object. Thus it is that China will only listen to Russia and England, and eventually she must fear Russia the most of all Powers, for she can never get over the danger of the land journey, but she might, by a great increase of her fleet, get over the fear of England. I say China, but I mean the Mantchou dynasty, for the Mantchous are despised by the Chinese. Any war with China would be for France expensive and dangerous, not from the Chinese forces, which would be soon mastered, but from the certainty of complications with England. As for the European population in China, write them down as identical with those in Egypt in all affairs. Their sole idea is, without any distinction of nationality, an increased power over China for their own trade and for opening up the country as they call it, and any war would be popular with them; so they will egg on any Power to make it. My idea is that no colonial or foreign community in a foreign land can properly, and for the general benefit of the world, consider the questions of that foreign State. The leading idea is how they will benefit themselves. The Isle of Bourbon or Reunion is the cause of the Madagascar war. It is egged on by the planters there, and to my idea they (the planters) want slaves for Madagascar. I have a very mean opinion of the views of any colonial or foreign community: though I own that they are powerful for evil. Who would dare to oppose the European colony in Egypt or China, and remain in those countries?"