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Eminent Victorians

by Lytton Strachey

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2661

Mohammed Ahmed 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 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 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 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 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...

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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 government refused to follow his advice, he would act according to what he decided the circumstances required. But the situation soon got out of control, and Gordon was killed by rebel forces after a long siege.

Dr. John Hall Dr. John Hall was the principal medical officer in the British army during the Crimean War. Nightingale was contemptuous of him, and when he was knighted, she referred to the initials K.C.B. (Knight Commander of the Bath) as ‘‘Knight of the Crimean Burial-grounds.’’ On two occasions when Sir John tried to undermine her authority, Nightingale outmaneuvered him.

Lord Hartington Lord Hartington was a member of the British Cabinet and the leader of the imperialist faction which did not support the official policy of withdrawal from the Sudan. Strachey suggests that they supported the appointment of Gordon because they thought this would lead to the conquest of Sudan by British forces and the continued occupation of Egypt. Lord Hartington, although he acted slowly, had a reputation for impartiality and common sense. When the cabinet refused to send a relief expedition to Khartoum, he threatened to resign, and this threat forced Gladstone to send the mission.

Benjamin Hawes Benjamin Hawes was the most senior civil servant in the War Office, and he made every effort he could to block Nightingale’s reforms.

Sidney Herbert Sidney Herbert was a close friend of Nightingale, and he is treated sympathetically by Strachey. He describes Herbert without irony as a perfect English gentleman, who was ‘‘so charming, so lively, so gentle a disposition that no one who had once come near him could ever be his enemy.’’ Herbert was religious, unselfish, and conscientious. He and Nightingale formed a close friendship as they worked together for the same cause. Nightingale dominated him. Herbert was chairman of the Royal Commission that reported on the health of the Army, and he later became Secretary of State for War. His period in office was marked by farreaching reforms. However, pushed on by Nightingale, Herbert worked too hard, his health suffered, and he died prematurely.

Mr. Jowett Mr. Jowett was the Master of Balliol College in Oxford. In Nightingale’s later years he became her spiritual adviser, discussing with her in long letters matters of religion and philosophy.

John Keble John Keble was one of the founders of the Oxford Movement. He went to Oxford at the age of fifteen and became a fellow of Oriel College. He was keenly aware of the defects in the Church of England, and how it had departed from its own roots and principles. When he met Hurrell Froude and later Newman, the Oxford Movement took shape. Keble also appears briefly in Strachey’s biography of Arnold, where he advises Arnold about his religious doubts.

The Mahdi See Mohammed Ahmed

Aunt Mai Aunt Mai was Nightingale’s father’s sister. She accompanied Nightingale to the Crimea and thereafter acted almost as a mother to her, watching carefully over her health. However, when she was old she left Nightingale’s service, feeling that she was more needed by her family. Nightingale could hardly bring herself to forgive her.

Cardinal Manning Cardinal Manning began his career in the Anglican Church but later converted to Roman Catholicism and became Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of Britain’s Catholic community. Although Strachey does not dispute Manning’s formidable energy and administrative skills, he presents him in a negative light. Manning was a man of extremely strong will, with a desire for power and position commensurate with his assessment of his own abilities. He was ruthless when he had to be, and skilled in the art of ecclesiastical intrigue. But he was also a conflicted man who all his life wrestled with contradictory inner impulses. On the one hand was his desire for power and the will to use it, but on the other hand was his desire simply to submit to the will of God and not seek worldly advancement. Strachey finds many of Manning’s psychological characteristics, including this inner conflict, in the stern face that stares out from the photographs of Manning in old age. The Archbishop’s austere appearance reminded Strachey more of a medieval man than a modern one: ‘‘The spare and stately form, the head, massive, emaciated, terrible, with the great nose, the glittering eyes, and the mouth drawn back and compressed into the grim rigidities of age, self-mortification and authority.’’

On a few occasions Strachey shows some respect for Manning, as when Manning makes a moving and eloquent speech to the dockworkers during their strike. Strachey points out that when Manning died, there was an outpouring of public grief. Strachey also had grudging admiration for the way in which, in old age, Manning fought against death with his ‘‘bold and tenacious spirit.’’

John Henry Newman John Henry Newman (known mainly now as John Henry Cardinal Newman) was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. According to Strachey he was an emotional man, a dreamer, and an artist, who also possessed great intellectual abilities. When Newman met Hurrell Froude, Froude interested him in the ideas of Keble, and the Oxford Movement was born. Newman began publishing the influential Tracts for the Times, to which Keble and others contributed. Newman eventually became a convert to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in the end of the Oxford Movement. After his conversion, Newman’s life, according to Strachey, was a long series of disappointments. His talents were not valued by the ecclesiastical authorities in Rome, and he settled down in Birmingham. Many of his planned activities did not come to fruition, such as becoming rector of the newly formed Catholic University in Ireland, and his brief tenure as editor of a Catholic periodical was not successful. But then Newman wrote his masterpiece, the Apologia pro Vita Sua, which became a classic of the Englishspeaking world. His fortunes reviving, Newman made plans to move to Oxford and build an Oratory, but his plans were blocked by Manning. Newman was eventually made a cardinal by the pope.

Florence Nightingale Florence Nightingale was the famous humanitarian who became known as the ‘‘Lady with the Lamp’’ for her work in caring for British soldiers at Scutari, a military hospital in Constantinople during the Crimean War. Unlike his attitude to other biographical subjects, Strachey does not diminish Nightingale’s achievements. He admires the resolute way she challenged the sluggish, reactionary bureaucracy of the British War Office and forced through revolutionary changes. She was disciplined and tenacious, with a clear idea of what she wanted to accomplish, and the strength of will to achieve it.

Strachey also emphasizes, however, the darker side of Nightingale’s personality. Despite ill-health, she was driven on by an almost maniacal frenzy for work, and insisted on driving others to their limits and beyond (in the case of Sidney Herbert). She had a sardonic sense of humor, and Strachey sees the less attractive side of her personality in photographs of her: ‘‘[T]he serenity of high deliberation in the scope of the capacious brow, the sign of power in the dominating curve of the thin nose, and the traces of a harsh and dangerous temper—something peevish, something mocking, and yet something precise—in the small and delicate mouth.’’ Strachey also seems to take pleasure in the fact that in old age, which Nightingale spent largely in seclusion, she lost her acerbic, sarcastic personality, and became fat and gentle.

Lord Panmure Lord Panmure, nicknamed ‘‘The Bison’’ by his friends, was the Secretary of State for War during the Crimean War. After the war, he tried to block the reforms that Nightingale advocated. He resigned after the fall of the government.

Pope Pius, IX Pope Pius IX received Manning when Manning was still a Church of England clergyman. After Manning’s conversion, Pius IX gave him an immediate appointment, and later appointed him Archbishop of Westminster. It was in the reign of Pius IX that the dogma of Papal Infallibility was announced.

Dr. Sutherland Dr. Sutherland was a sanitary expert who for over thirty years was Nightingale’s confidential private secretary.

Monsignor Talbot Monsignor Talbot was the private secretary of the pope and a master of the politics of the Vatican. Manning befriended Talbot, using him to gain access to the pope. Talbot ended his days in a lunatic asylum.

W. G. Ward W. G. Ward was a young follower of Newman. He published a book in which he argued that the Church of England’s separation from Rome was to be deplored. He was deprived of his degree by Oxford University and a few weeks later became a Roman Catholic.

Cardinal Wiseman Cardinal Wiseman was the head of the English Catholic community who in 1850 became Archbishop of Westminster. Strachey refers to him satirically as a ‘‘comfortable, easy-going, innocent old man’’ who was unfortunate enough to get caught in the middle of a struggle for power between Errington and Manning. As a result, Wiseman lost the friendship of Errington, whom he had known all his life, and also his peace of mind. Wiseman eventually petitioned the pope for the removal of Errington from his position as archbishop. When Wiseman died, Manning succeeded him.

Lord Wolseley Lord Wolseley was the Adjutant General of the Forces, and an old friend of Gordon. He was a member of the imperialist wing of the British government who acted as a go-between in the government’s negotiations with Gordon prior to Gordon’s being sent to Khartoum. Wolseley was the commander of the expeditionary force sent to relieve Gordon, which arrived two days late.




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