Mohammed Ahmed was a preacher and warrior from the Sudan. His mission was to lead the Islamic faithful back to the true ways of the Prophet. He declared himself to be the long-awaited Mahdi, a kind of savior, the last in the succession of twelve holy Imams. He declared a holy war and had military success against the ruling Egyptians. The Mahdi and his forces laid siege to Khartoum, eventually taking the city and killing General Gordon.
Thomas Arnold was educated at Winchester School and Oxford University, where he gained a reputation for being industrious and pious. He married young and for ten years was a private tutor to boys about to enter the University. At the age of thirty-three, he became headmaster of Rugby School. England’s public schools were badly in need of reform, being riddled with what Strachey calls anarchy tempered by despotism. Arnold agreed with the need for reform but he emphasized education in Christian morals rather than the cultivation of intellectual excellence.
Strachey presents Arnold as a pompous prig with a limited intellect. No aspect of Arnold’s life and activities escapes Strachey’s censure. Arnold called himself a liberal, but according to Strachey, he was in fact closer to being a conservative since he supported liberal causes only within very strict limits. Arnold also had a patronizing attitude to the poor, and the wealth of religious learning and belief that he brought to bear on society’s problems had no effect whatsoever on those problems. Arnold’s love of nature, his lack of an ear for music, his sense of moral evil, his disparaging remarks about the French on his European travels, all come in for Strachey’s relentless satire. For Strachey, Arnold was an ‘‘earnest enthusiast,’’ and little else.
Sir Evelyn Baring
Sir Evelyn Baring was the British representative in Egypt in the 1880s, at the time of Gordon’s second expedition to Khartoum. He and Gordon disliked each other, and they were opposite in character. Baring was cautious, diplomatic, unromantic, and patient. At first, he resisted the suggestions of the British government that Gordon should be sent to Khartoum. He finally agreed on the understanding that Gordon would take instructions from him and supervise a withdrawal from the Sudan, even though he suspected Gordon was not the right man for the job. Baring became exasperated with Gordon’s adventurous actions but tried to mediate between Gordon and the British government.
Li Hung Chang
Li Hung Chang was the Chinese governor of Shanghai when Gordon was given command of the army based in Shanghai. At first Li Hung Chang admired Gordon but the two men later quarreled.
Arthur Clough was a poet who lost his religious faith at the time of the Oxford Movement. He became a civil servant in London and one of Nightingale’s helpers. He was given only modest tasks, and Strachey treats him satirically, picturing him wrapping up parcels in brown paper and carrying them to the post office.
Dr. Errington was the influential leader of the Old Catholics in England, families who had remained Catholic since the times of Elizabeth I. Errington was appointed Archbishop of Trebizond by Cardinal Wiseman. Errington became involved in a dispute with Manning over who should control St. Edmund’s College. The dispute went to the pope. As a result of Manning’s scheming, Errington was defeated and was removed from his position as archbishop.
Hurrell Froude was a pupil of Keble and was a young man of great religious zeal. He was influenced by Keble, and the two men became friends. Froude then came into contact with Newman and played a part in the beginning of the Oxford Movement.
James Anthony Froude
James Anthony Froude was the younger brother of Hurrell Froude and a disciple of Newman. He later lost his religious faith.
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone was one of England’s most distinguished prime ministers of the nineteenth century. He and Manning became friends when they were both students at Oxford. But Gladstone was devastated by Manning’s conversion to Catholicism, and after his conversion, the two men did not meet for twelve years. They later met occasionally and renewed their correspondence but clashed again over a pamphlet Gladstone wrote warning that if the dogma of Papal Infallibility were declared, the civil allegiance of England’s Catholics could no longer be guaranteed. Gladstone also played a role in Gordon’s story. As prime minister, he at first opposed sending Gordon to Khartoum, and then long delayed sending an expeditionary force to relieve him.
General Charles George Gordon
General Charles George Gordon was destined for a military career from childhood. His father, an army officer, sent him to Woolwich Academy, after which he was expected to join the Royal Artillery. His commission was delayed, however, after his high-spirited temperament twice got him into trouble. He eventually joined the Royal Engineers instead, and behaved with great gallantry at the battle of Balaclava, during the Crimean War. After this he spent two years on the Russian-Turkish border, helping to ensure that the terms of the treaty of Paris were upheld. Gordon then made a name for himself in China, where the British were in occupation.
Gordon was placed in control of an army that won back large amounts of land that had been captured by rebels. After this, Gordon spent some years in obscurity, before taking on another overseas mission, this time in the Sudan, where he worked for six years trying to bring order to a vast and uncharted territory. His final mission was again in Sudan, where he was sent officially to supervise a withdrawal from Khartoum, but Strachey makes it clear that Gordon was not suited to the role the British government expected him to fulfill. He was a bold adventurer who chafed at bureaucratic or political restrictions, and he was not skilled in the kind of complex situation in which he was placed, which called for cool judgment and an ability to clearly assess the facts of a situation.
In Strachey’s view, Gordon was an impulsive, eccentric romantic, with a bent for mysticism and a fervent belief that he should always follow the will of God. When he was at Khartoum, he decided that since the British...
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