Classic History Books

Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

The English Government hoped to withdraw the garrisons in safety, without force of arms. They had
been for some time urging on the Khedive that the marvellous influence which Gordon was known to

have acquired in his old province should now be utilised, and that to him should be entrusted the

herculean task of tranquillising the Soudan, by reinstating its ancient dynasties of tribal chiefs and

withdrawing all Egyptian and European troops and officials. Their plan was at last accepted; then

Gordon, hitherto unacquainted, like the public at large, with the Government designs, was informed of

them and invited to carry them out. He consented; and, with the chivalric promptitude which essentially

belonged to his character, he departed the same night on his perilous errand. Passing through Cairo, he

received plenary powers from the Khedive, and went on almost alone to Khartoum, where he was

received with an overflowing enthusiasm. But, with all his eager haste, he was too late to bring about the

desired results by peaceful means. "He should have come a year ago," muttered his native well-wishers.

Week after week and month after month, his position in Khartoum became more perilous; the Mahdi's

power waxed greater, and his hordes drew round the city, which long defied them, while garrison after

garrison fell into their hands elsewhere. It was in vain that General Gordon urged the despatch of British

troops, a few hundred of whom would at one time have sufficed to turn the tide, and insure success in his

enterprise. They were still withheld; and he would not secure his own safety by deserting the people

whom his presence had induced to stand out against the impostor and his hosts. The city endured a long,

cruel siege, and fell at last, reduced by hunger and treachery, just as a tardily despatched British force

was making its way to relieve it - a force commanded by Lord Wolseley, who half a year before had been

protesting against the "indelible disgrace" of leaving Gordon to his fate. He was not able even to bury his

friend and comrade, slain by the fanatic enemy when they broke into the city in the early morning of

January 26th, 1885.

"I have done my best for the honour of our country," were the parting words of the dead hero. His
country felt itself profoundly dishonoured by the manner in which it had lost this its famous son - a man

distinguished at once by commanding ability, unsullied honour, heroic valour; a man full of tenderest

beneficence towards his fellows, and of utter devotion to his God; "the grandest figure," said an

American admirer, "that has crossed the disc of this planet for centuries." Him England had fatally

delayed to help, withheld by the dread of costly and cruel warfare; and then just failed to save him by a

war enormously costly and cruelly fatal indeed. A general lamentation, blent with cries of anger, rose up

from the land. Her Majesty shared the common sorrow, as her messages of sympathy to the surviving

relations of Gordon testified. Various charitable institutions, modelled on the lines which he had

followed in his work among the poor, rose to keep his memory green; and thus the objects of his

Christlike care during his life are now profiting by the world-famous manner of his death. But there is

still a deep feeling that even time itself can hardly efface the stain that has been left on our national fame.

An English expedition, well commanded, full of ardour and daring, sent to accomplish a specific object,

and failing in that object; its commander, entirely guiltless of blame, having to abandon the scene of his

triumphs to a savage, fanatic foe as was now the case - this was evil enough; but that our beloved

countryman, a true knight without fear and without reproach, should have been betrayed to desertion and

death through his own magnanimity and our sluggishness, added a rankling, poisonous sense of shame to

our humiliation. That the same year saw further electoral privileges extended to the humble classes in

England, beyond what even the last Reform Bill had conferred, which might prove of advantage

afterwards, but was an imperfect consolation at the time. Another grief fell upon the Queen in this year in

the early death of Leopold, Duke of Albany, a Prince whose intellectual gifts were nearly allied to those

of his father, but on whom lifelong delicacy of health had enforced a life of comparative quietude. His

widowed bride and infant children have ever since been cared for tenderly by his royal mother.


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