My Early Life | Chapter 22 of 38

Author: Winston S. Churchill | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3321 Views | Add a Review

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THE defeat and destruction of the Dervish army was so complete that the frugal Kitchener was able to dispense immediately with the costly services of a British cavalry regiment. Three days after the battle the 21st Lancers started northwards on their march home. I was allowed to float down the Nile in the big sailing-boats which contained the Grenadier Guards. In Cairo I found Dick Molyneux, a subaltern in the Blues, who like myself had been attached to the 21st. He had been seriously wounded by a sword cut above his right wrist. This had severed all the muscles and forced him to drop his revolver. At the same time his horse had been shot at close quarters. Molyneux had been rescued from certain slaughter by the heroism of one of his troopers. He was now proceeding to England in charge of a hospital nurse. I decided to keep him company. While we were talking, the doctor came in to dress his wound. It was a horrible gash, and the doctor was anxious that it should be skinned over as soon as possible. He said something in a low tone to the nurse, who bared her arm. They retired into a corner, where he began to cut a piece of skin off her to transfer to Molyneux’s wound. The poor nurse blanched, and the doctor turned upon me. He was a great rawboned Irishman. ‘Oi’ll have to take it off you,’ he said. There was no escape, and as I rolled up my sleeve he added genially, ‘Ye’ve heeard of a man being flayed aloive? Well, this is what it feels loike.’ He then proceeded to cut a piece of skin and some flesh about the size of a shilling from the inside of my forearm. My sensations as he sawed the razor slowly to and fro fully justified his description of the ordeal. However, I managed to hold out until he had cut a beautiful piece of skin with a thin layer of flesh attached to it. This precious fragment was then grafted on to my friend’s wound. It remains there to this day and did him lasting good in many ways. I for my part keep the scar as a souvenir.

My father and mother had always been able to live near the centre and summit of the London world, and on a modest scale to have the best of everything. But they had never been at all rich, still less had they been able to save. On the contrary, debts and encumbrances had accumulated steadily during their intensively active public and private life. My father’s expedition to South Africa in 1891 had, however, enabled him to obtain a share in very valuable gold-mining properties. He had acquired among other holdings 5,000 Rand Mines shares at their original par value. During the last year of his life these shares rose almost daily in the market, and at his death they were nearly twenty times the price he had paid for them. Soon afterwards they rose to fifty or sixty times this price; and had he lived another year he would have been possessed of a substantial fortune. In those days, when there was no taxation worth mentioning, and when the purchasing power of money was at least half as great again as it is now, even a quarter of a million sterling was real wealth. However, he died at the moment when his new fortune almost exactly equalled his debts. The shares of course were sold, and when everything was settled satisfactorily my mother was left with only the entailed property secured by her marriage settlements. This, however, was quite enough for comfort, ease and pleasure.

I was most anxious not to be a burden upon her in any way; and amid the movements and excitements of the campaigns and polo tournaments I reflected seriously upon the financial aspects of my military life. My allowance of £500 a year was not sufficient to meet the expenses of polo and the Hussars. I watched the remorseless piling up year by year of deficits which, although not large – as deficits go– were deficits none the less. I now saw that the only profession I had been taught would never yield me even enough money to avoid getting into debt, let alone to dispense with my allowance and become completely independent as I desired. To have given the most valuable years of one’s education to reach a position of earning about 14s. a day out of which to keep up two horses and most costly uniforms seemed hardly in retrospect to have been a very judicious proceeding. To go on soldiering even for a few more years would plainly land me and all connected with me in increasing difficulties. On the other hand the two books I had already written and my war correspondence with the Daily Telegraph had already brought in about five times as much as the Queen had paid me for three years of assiduous and sometimes dangerous work. Her Majesty was so stinted by Parliament that she was not able to pay me even a living wage. I therefore resolved with many regrets to quit her service betimes. The series of letters I had written for the Morning Post about the battle of Omdurman, although unsigned, had produced above £300. Living at home with my mother my expenses would be small, and I hoped to make from my new book about the Soudan Campaign, which I had decided to call The River War, enough to keep me in pocket money for at least two years. Besides this I had in contemplation a contract with the Pioneer to write them weekly letters from London at a payment of £3 apiece. I have improved upon this figure in later life; but at this time I reflected that it nearly equalled the pay I was receiving as a subaltern officer.

I therefore planned the sequence of the year 1899 as follows: To return to India and win the Polo Tournament: to send in my papers and leave the army: to relieve my mother from paying my allowance: to write my new book and the letters to the Pioneer: and to look out for a chance of entering Parliament. These plans as will be seen were in the main carried out. In fact from this year until the year 1919, when I inherited unexpectedly a valuable property under the will of my long dead great-grandmother Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry, I was entirely dependent upon my own exertions. During all these twenty years I maintained myself, and later on my family, without ever lacking anything necessary to health or enjoyment. I am proud of this, and I commend my example to my son, indeed to all my children.

I decided to return to India at the end of November in order to prepare for the Polo Tournament in February. In the interval I found myself extremely well treated at home. My letters to the Morning Post had been read with wide attention. Everyone wanted to hear about the campaign and Omdurman, and above all about the cavalry charge. I therefore often found myself at the dinner table, in the clubs or at Newmarket, which in those days I frequented, the centre of appreciative circles of listeners and enquirers much older than myself. There were also young ladies who took some interest in my prattle and affairs. The weeks therefore passed agreeably.

It was at this time that I met the group of new Conservative MPs with whom I was afterwards to be much associated. Mr Ian Malcolm invited me to a luncheon at which the other guests were Lord Hugh Cecil, Lord Percy (the elder brother of the late Duke of Northumberland) and Lord Balcarres (now Lord Crawford). These were the rising politicians of the Conservative Party; and many Parliaments have met without receiving such an accession to the strength and distinction of the assembly. They were all interested to see me, having heard of my activities, and also on account of my father’s posthumous prestige. Naturally I was on my mettle, and not without envy in the presence of these young men only two or three years older than myself, all born with silver spoons in their mouths, all highly distinguished at Oxford or Cambridge, and all ensconced in safe Tory constituencies. I felt indeed I was the earthen pot among the brass.

Lord Hugh Cecil’s intellectual gifts were never brighter than in the morning of life. Brought up for nearly twenty years in the house of a Prime Minister and Party Leader, he had heard from childhood the great questions of State discussed from the point of view of the responsible master of our affairs. The frankness and freedom with which the members of the Cecil family, male and female, talked and argued with each other were remarkable. Differences of opinion were encouraged; and repartee and rejoinder flashed to and fro between father and children, brother and sister, uncle and nephew, old and young, as if they were all on equal terms. Lord Hugh had already held the House of Commons riveted in pin-drop silence for more than an hour while he discoursed on the government of an established church and the differences between Erastians and High Churchmen. He was an adept in every form of rhetoric or dialectic; and so quick, witty and unexpected in conversation that it was a delight to hear him.

Lord Percy, a thoughtful and romantic youth, an Irvingite by religion, of great personal charm and the highest academic achievement, had gained two years before the Newdigate Prize at Oxford for the best poem of the year. He had travelled widely in the highlands of Asia Minor and the Caucasus, feasting with princely barbarians and fasting with priestly fanatics. Over him the East exercised the spell it cast over Disraeli. He might, indeed, have stepped out of the pages of Tancred or Coningsby.

The conversation drifted to the issue of whether peoples have a right to self government or only to good government; what are the inherent rights of human beings and on what are they founded? From this we pushed on to Slavery as an institution. I was much surprised to find that my companions had not the slightest hesitation in championing the unpopular side on all these issues; but what surprised me still more, and even vexed me, was the difficulty I had in making plain my righteous and indeed obvious point of view against their fallacious but most ingenious arguments. They knew so much more about the controversy and its possibilities than I did, that my bold broad generalities about liberty, equality and fraternity got seriously knocked about. I entrenched myself around the slogan ‘No slavery under the Union Jack’. Slavery they suggested might be right or wrong: the Union Jack was no doubt a respectable piece of bunting: but what was the moral connection between the two? I had the same difficulty in discovering a foundation for the assertions I so confidently made, as I have found in arguing with the people who contend that the sun is only a figment of our imagination. Indeed although I seemed to start with all the advantages, I soon felt like going out into St James’s Street or Piccadilly and setting up without more ado a barricade and rousing a mob to defend freedom, justice and democracy. However, at the end Lord Hugh said to me that I must not take such discussions too seriously; that sentiments however worthy required to be probed, and that he and his friends were not really so much in favour of Slavery as an institution as I might have thought. So it seemed that after all they were only teasing me and making me gallop over ground which they knew well was full of traps and pitfalls.

After this encounter I had the idea that I must go to Oxford when I came back from India after the tournament. I was I expect at this time capable of deriving both profit and enjoyment from Oxford life and thought, and I began to make enquiries about how to get there. It seemed that there were, even for persons of riper years like myself, examinations, and that such formalities were indispensable. I could not see why I should not have gone and paid my fees and listened to the lectures and argued with the professors and read the books that they recommended. However, it appeared that this was impossible. I must pass examinations not only in Latin, but even in Greek. I could not contemplate toiling at Greek irregular verbs after having commanded British regular troops; so after much pondering I had to my keen regret to put the plan aside.

Early in November I paid a visit to the Central Offices of the Conservative Party at St Stephen’s Chambers, to enquire about finding a constituency. One of my more remote connections, Fitz Roy Stewart, had long worked there in an honorary capacity. He introduced me to the Party Manager, then Mr Middleton, ‘The Skipper’ as he was called. Mr Middleton was held in great repute because the Party had won the General Election of 1895. When parties lose elections through bad leadership or foolish policy or because of mere slackness and the swing of the pendulum, they always sack the party manager. So it is only fair that these functionaries should receive all the honours of success. ‘The Skipper’ was very cordial and complimentary. The Party would certainly find me a seat, and he hoped to see me in Parliament at an early date. He then touched delicately upon money matters. Could I pay my expenses, and how much a year could I afford to give to the constituency? I said I would gladly fight the battle, but I could not pay anything except my own personal expenses. He seemed rather damped by this, and observed that the best and safest constituencies always liked to have the largest contributions from their members. He instanced cases where as much as a thousand pounds a year or more was paid by the member in subscriptions and charities in return for the honour of holding the seat. Risky seats could not afford to be so particular, and ‘forlorn hopes’ were very cheap. However, he said he would do all he could, and that no doubt mine was an exceptional case on account of my father, and also he added on account of my experience at the wars, which would be popular with the Tory working-men.

On the way out I had another talk with Fitz Roy Stewart. My eye lighted upon a large book on his table on the cover of which was a label bearing the inscription ‘SPEAKERS WANTED’. I gazed upon this with wonder. Fancy that! Speakers were wanted and there was a bulky book of applications! Now I had always wanted to make a speech; but I had never on any occasion great or small been invited or indeed allowed to do so. There were no speeches in the 4th Hussars nor at Sandhurst either – if I might exclude one incident on which I was not concerned to dwell. So I said to Fitz Roy Stewart, ‘Tell me about this. Do you mean to say there are a lot of meetings which want speakers?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied; ‘the Skipper told me I was not to let you go without getting something out of you. Can’t I book you for one?’ I was deeply agitated. On the one hand I felt immense eagerness; on the other the keenest apprehension. However, in life’s steeplechase one must always jump the fences when they come. Regaining such composure as I could and assuming an indifference contrary to my feelings, I replied that perhaps if all the conditions were suitable and there was a real desire to hear me, I might be willing to accede to his request. He opened the book.

It appeared there were hundreds of indoor meetings and outdoor fêtes, of bazaars and rallies – all of which were clamant for speakers. I surveyed this prospect with the eye of an urchin looking through a pastry-cook’s window. Finally we selected Bath as the scene of my (official) maiden effort. It was settled that in ten days’ time I should address a gathering of the Primrose League in a park, the property of a Mr H. D. Skrine, situated on one of the hills overlooking that ancient city. I quitted the Central Office in suppressed excitement.

I was for some days in fear lest the plan should miscarry. Perhaps Mr Skrine or the other local magnates would not want to have me, or had already found someone they liked better. However, all went well. I duly received a formal invitation, and an announcement of the meeting appeared in the Morning Post. Oliver Borthwick now wrote that the Morning Post would send a special reporter to Bath to take down every word I said, and that the Morning Post would give it prominence. This heightened both my ardour and my nervousness. I spent many hours preparing my discourse and learning it so thoroughly by heart that I could almost have said it backwards in my sleep. I determined in defence of Her Majesty’s Government to adopt an aggressive and even a truculent mode. I was particularly pleased with one sentence which I coined, to the effect that ‘England would gain far more from the rising tide of Tory Democracy than from the dried-up drainpipe of Radicalism’. I licked my chops over this and a good many others like it. These happy ideas, once they had begun to flow, seemed to come quite naturally. Indeed I very soon had enough to make several speeches. However, I had asked how long I ought to speak, and being told that about a quarter of an hour would do, I confined myself rigorously to twenty-five minutes. I found by repeated experiments with a stopwatch that I could certainly canter over the course in twenty minutes. This would leave time for interruptions. Above all one must not be hurried or flurried. One must not yield too easily to the weakness of audiences. There they were; what could they do? They had asked for it, and they must have it.

The day arrived. I caught a train from Paddington. There was the reporter of the Morning Post, a companionable gentleman in a grey frock-coat. We travelled down together, and as we were alone in the carriage, I tried one or two titbits on him, as if they had risen casually in conversation. We drove in a fly up the hills above Bath together. Mr Skrine and his family received me hospitably. The fête was in progress throughout the grounds. There were coconut-shies and races and catchpenny shows of every kind. The weather was fine and everybody was enjoying themselves. Mindful of a former experience I enquired rather anxiously about the meeting. It was all right. At five o’clock they would ring a bell, and all these merrymakers would assemble at the mouth of a tent in which a platform had been erected. The Chairman of the Party in the district would introduce me. I was the only speaker apart from the votes of thanks.

Accordingly when the bell began to ring, we repaired to our tent and mounted the platform, which consisted of about four boards laid across some small barrels. There was neither table nor chair; but as soon as about a hundred persons had rather reluctantly, I thought, quitted their childish amusements in the park, the Chairman rose and in a brief speech introduced me to the audience. At Sandhurst and in the Army compliments are few and far between, and flattery of subalterns does not exist. If you won the Victoria Cross or the Grand National Steeplechase or the Army Heavyweight Boxing Championship, you would only expect to receive from your friends warnings against having your head turned by your good luck. In politics it was apparently quite different. Here the butter was laid on with a trowel. I heard my father, who had been treated so scurvily, referred to in glowing terms as one of the greatest leaders the Conservatives had ever had. As for my adventures in Cuba, on the Indian frontier and up the Nile, I could only pray the regiment would never hear of what the Chairman said. When he descanted upon my ‘bravery with the sword and brilliancy with the pen’, I feared that the audience would cry out ‘Oh, rats!’ or something similar. I was astonished and relieved to find that they lapped it all up as if it were gospel.

Then came my turn. Hardening my heart, summoning my resolution, I let off my speech. As I followed the well-worn grooves from stage to stage and point to point, I felt it was going quite well. The audience, which gradually increased in numbers, seemed delighted. They cheered a lot at all the right places when I paused on purpose to give them a chance, and even at others which I had not foreseen. At the end they clapped loudly and for quite a long time. So I could do it after all! It seemed quite easy, too. The reporter and I went home together. He had stood just in front of me writing it down verbatim. He was warm in his congratulations, and the next day the Morning Post printed a whole column, and even in addition, mark you, wrote an appreciative leaderette upon the arrival of a new figure upon the political scene. I began to be much pleased with myself and with the world: and in this mood I sailed for India.

We have now to turn to other and more serious affairs. All the officers of the regiment subscribed to send our polo team to the tournament at Meerut. Thirty ponies under the charge of a sergeant-major were embarked in a special train for the 1,400-mile journey. Besides their syces they were accompanied by a number of our most trustworthy non-commissioned officers including a farrier-sergeant, all under the charge of a sergeant-major. The train covered about 200 miles a day, and every evening the ponies were taken out, rested and exercised. Thus they arrived at their destination as fit as when they started. We travelled separately but arrived at the same time. We had arranged to play for a fortnight at Jodhpore before going to Meerut. Here we were the guests of the famous Sir Pertab Singh. Sir Pertab was the trusted regent of Jodhpore, as his nephew the Maharajah was still a minor. He entertained us royally in his large, cool, stone house. Every evening he and his young kinsmen, two of whom, Hurji and Dokul Singh, were as fine polo players as India has ever produced, with other Jodhpore nobles, played us in carefully conducted instruction games. Old Pertab, who loved polo next to war more than anything in the world, used to stop the game repeatedly and point out faults or possible improvements in our play and combination. ‘Faster, faster, same like fly,’ he would shout to increase the speed of the game. The Jodhpore polo ground rises in great clouds of red dust when a game is in progress. These clouds carried to leeward on the strong breeze introduced a disturbing and somewhat dangerous complication. Turbaned figures emerged at full gallop from the dust-cloud, or the ball whistled out of it unexpectedly. It was difficult to follow the whole game, and one often had to play to avoid the dust-cloud. The Rajputs were quite used to it, and gradually it ceased to worry their guests.

The night before we were to leave Jodhpore for Meerut a grievous misfortune overtook me. Coming down to dinner, I slipped on the stone stairs and out went my shoulder. I got it put in again fairly easily, but the whole of the muscles were strained. By the next morning I had practically lost the use of my right arm. I knew from bitter experience that it would take three weeks or even more before I could hit a polo ball hard again, and even then it would only be under the precaution of having my elbow strapped to within a few inches of my side. The tournament was to begin in four days. The reader may well imagine my disappointment. My arm had been getting steadily stronger, and I had been playing No. 1 to the satisfaction of our team. Now I was a cripple. We luckily had a fifth man with us, so I told my friends when they picked me up, that they must take me out of the team. They considered this very gravely all the next day, and then our captain informed me that they had decided to play me in spite of everything. Even if I could not hit the ball at all and could only hold a stick in my hand, they thought that with my knowledge of the game and of our team-play I should give the best chance of success. After making sure that this decision had not been taken out of compassion but solely on its merits, I consented to do my best. In those days the off-side rule existed, and the No. 1 was engaged in a ceaseless duel with the opposing back who, turning and twisting his pony, always endeavoured to put his opponent off-side. If the No. 1 was able to occupy the back, ride him out of the game and hamper him at every turn, then he could serve his side far better than by overmuch hitting of the ball. We knew that Captain Hargress Lloyd, afterwards an international player against the United States, was the back and most formidable member of the 4th Dragoon Guards, the strongest team we should have to meet.

Accordingly with my elbow strapped tight to my side, holding a stick with many an ache and twinge, I played in the first two matches of the tournament. We were successful in both, and although I could only make a restricted contribution my friends seemed content. Our No. 2, Albert Savory, was a hard, brilliant hitter. I cleared the way for him. Polo is the prince of games because it combines all the pleasure of hitting the ball, which is the foundation of so many amusements, with all the pleasures of riding and horsemanship, and to both of these there is added that intricate, loyal teamwork which is the essence of football or baseball, and which renders a true combination so vastly superior to the individuals of which it is composed.

The great day arrived. As we had foreseen we met the 4th Dragoon Guards in the Final. The match from the very first moment was severe and even. Up and down the hard, smooth Indian polo ground where the ball was very rarely missed and everyone knew where it should be hit to, we raced and tore. Quite soon we had scored one goal and our opponents two, and there the struggle hung in equipoise for some time. I never left the back, and being excellently mounted, kept him very busy. Suddenly in the midst of a confused scrimmage close by the enemy goal, I saw the ball spin towards me. It was on my near side. I was able to lift the stick over and bending forward gave it a feeble forward tap. Through the goalposts it rolled. Two all! Apart from the crippled No. 1, we really had a very good team. Our captain, Reginald Hoare, who played No. 3, was not easily to be surpassed in India. Our back, Barnes, my companion in Cuba, was a rock, and almost unfailingly sent his strong backhanders to exactly the place where Savory was waiting for them with me to clear the way. For three years this contest had been the main preoccupation of our lives, and we had concentrated upon it every resource we possessed. Presently I had another chance. Again the ball came to me close to the hostile goal. This time it was travelling fast, and I had no more to do in one fleeting second than to stretch out my stick and send it rolling between the posts. Three to two! Then our opponents exerting themselves swept us down the ground and scored again. Three all!

I must explain that in Indian polo in those days, in order to avoid drawn matches, subsidiary goals could be scored. Half the width of the goalposts was laid off on either side by two small flags, and even if the goal were missed, a ball within these flags counted as a subsidiary. No number of subsidiaries equalled one goal, but when goals were equal, subsidiaries decided. Unfortunately our opponents had the best of us in subsidiaries. Unless we could score again we should lose. Once again fortune came to me, and I gave a little feeble hit at the ball among the ponies’ hoofs, and for the third time saw it pass through the goal. This brought the 7th chukka to an end.

We lined up for the last period with 4 goals and 3 subsidiaries to our credit, our opponents having 3 goals and 4 subsidiaries. Thus if they got one more goal they would not merely tie, but win the match outright. Rarely have I seen such strained faces on both sides. You would not have thought it was a game at all, but a matter of life and death. Far graver crises cause less keen emotion. I do not remember anything of the last chukka except that as we galloped up and down the ground in desperate attack and counter-attack, I kept on thinking, ‘Would God that night or Blücher would come.’They came in one of the most welcome sounds I have ever heard: the bell which ended the match, and enabled us to say as we sat streaming and exhausted on our ponies, ‘We have won the Inter-Regimental Tournament of 1899.’ Prolonged rejoicings, intense inward satisfaction, and nocturnal festivities from which the use of wine was not excluded, celebrated the victory. Do not grudge these young soldiers gathered from so many regiments their joy and sport. Few of that merry throng were destined to see old age. Our own team was never to play again. A year later Albert Savory was killed in the Transvaal, Barnes was grievously wounded in Natal, and I became a sedentary politician increasingly crippled by my wretched shoulder. It was then or never for us; and never since has a cavalry regiment from Southern India gained the prize.

The regiment were very nice to me when eventually I departed for home, and paid me the rare compliment of drinking my health the last time I dined with them. What happy years I had had with them and what staunch friends one made! It was a grand school for anyone. Discipline and comradeship were the lessons it taught; and perhaps after all these are just as valuable as the lore of the Universities. Still one would like to have both.

I had meanwhile been working continuously upon The River War. This work was extending in scope. From being a mere chronicle of the Omdurman campaign, it grew backwards into what was almost a history of the ruin and rescue of the Soudan. I read scores of books, indeed everything that had been published upon the subject; and I now planned a couple of fat volumes. I affected a combination of the styles of Macaulay and Gibbon, the staccato antitheses of the former and the rolling sentences and genitival endings of the latter; and I stuck in a bit of my own from time to time. I began to see that writing, especially narrative, was not only an affair of sentences, but of paragraphs. Indeed I thought the paragraph no less important than the sentence. Macaulay is a master of paragraphing. Just as the sentence contains one idea in all its fullness, so the paragraph should embrace a distinct episode; and as sentences should follow one another in harmonious sequence, so the paragraphs must fit on to one another like the automatic couplings of railway carriages. Chapterisation also began to dawn upon me. Each chapter must be self-contained. All the chapters should be of equal value and more or less of equal length. Some chapters define themselves naturally and obviously; but much more difficulty arises when a number of heterogeneous incidents none of which can be omitted have to be woven together into what looks like an integral theme. Finally the work must be surveyed as a whole and due proportion and strict order established from beginning to end. I already knew that chronology is the key to easy narrative. I already realised that ‘good sense is the foundation of good writing’. I warned myself against the fault of beginning my story as some poor people do ‘Four thousand years before the Deluge’, and I repeated earnestly one of my best French quotations, ‘L’art d’être ennuyeux c’est de tout dire.’ I think I will repeat it again now.

It was great fun writing a book. One lived with it. It became a companion. It built an impalpable crystal sphere around one of interests and ideas. In a sense one felt like a goldfish in a bowl; but in this case the goldfish made his own bowl. This came along everywhere with me. It never got knocked about in travelling, and there was never a moment when agreeable occupation was lacking. Either the glass had to be polished, or the structure extended or contracted, or the walls required strengthening. I have noticed in my life deep resemblances between many different kinds of things. Writing a book is not unlike building a house or planning a battle or painting a picture. The technique is different, the materials are different, but the principle is the same. The foundations have to be laid, the data assembled, and the premises must bear the weight of their conclusions. Ornaments or refinements may then be added. The whole when finished is only the successful presentation of a theme. In battles, however, the other fellow interferes all the time and keeps upsetting things, and the best generals are those who arrive at the results of planning without being tied to plans.

On my homeward steamer I made friends with the most brilliant man in journalism I have ever met. Mr G. W. Steevens was the ‘star’ writer of a certain Mr Harmsworth’s new paper called the Daily Mail which had just broken upon the world, and had forced the Daily Telegraph to move one step nearer Victorian respectability. Harmsworth relied enormously upon Steevens in these early critical days, and being well disposed to me, told him later on to write me up, which he did in his glowing fashion. ‘Boom the Boomsters’ was in those days the motto of the infant Harmsworth Press, and on these grounds I was selected for their favours. But I anticipate.

I was working in the saloon of the Indiaman, and had reached an exciting point in my story. The Nile column had just by a forced night march reached Abu Hamed and was about to storm it. I was setting the scene in my most ceremonious style. ‘The dawn was breaking and the mists, rising from the river and dispersing with the coming of the sun, revealed the outlines of the Dervish town and the half circle of rocky hills behind it. Within this stern amphitheatre one of the minor dramas of war was now to be enacted.’ ‘Ha! ha!’ said Steevens, suddenly peering over my shoulder. ‘Finish it yourself then,’ I said, getting up; and I went on deck. I was curious to see how he would do it, and indeed I hoped for a valuable contribution. But when I came down again I found that all he had written on my nice sheet of paper was ‘Pop-pop! pop-pop! Pop! Pop!’ in his tiny handwriting, and then at the bottom of the page printed in big letters ‘BANG!!!’ I was disgusted at this levity. But Steevens had many other styles besides that of the jaunty, breezy, slapdash productions which he wrote for the Daily Mail. About this time there had appeared an anonymous article upon the future of the British Empire called ‘The New Gibbon’. One would have thought it had been lifted bodily from the pages of the Roman historian. I was astounded when Steevens confessed himself the author.

Later on Steevens was kind enough to read my proofs and offer valuable advice which I transcribe. ‘The parts of the book I have read,’ he wrote, ‘appear to me to be a valuable supplement to the works of G. W. Steevens, indeed a valuable work altogether. I think it first rate, sound, well got up and put together, and full of most illuminating and descriptive pages. The only criticism I should make is that your philosophic reflections, while generally well expressed, often acute and sometimes true, are too devilish frequent. If I were you I should cut out the philosopher about January 1898, giving him perhaps a short innings at the very end. He will only bore people. Those who want such reflections can often supply them without assistance.’ His gay, mocking spirit and rippling wit made him a delightful companion, and our acquaintance ripened into friendship during the summer months of 1899. This was the last summer he was to see. He died of typhoid fever in Ladysmith in the following February.

I paused in Cairo for a fortnight to collect materials for my book and enlist the co-operation of several important actors in the Soudan drama. In this way I met Girouard, the young Canadian Royal Engineer who had built the desert railway; Slatin Pasha, the little Austrian officer who had been ten years the Khalifa’s prisoner and whose book Fire and Sword in the Soudan is a classic in its sphere; Sir Reginald Wingate, head of the Intelligence, to whom I was already indebted for an important meal; Garstin, head of the Egyptian Irrigation Service; together with a number of the leading Egyptian statesmen and personalities. All these able men had played their part in the measures of war and administration which in less than twenty years had raised Egypt from anarchy, bankruptcy and defeat to triumphant prosperity. I already knew their Chief, Lord Cromer. He invited me to visit him at the British Agency, and readily undertook to read my chapters on the liberation of the Soudan and Gordon’s death, which I had already completed. Accordingly I sent him a bulky bundle of typescript, and was delighted and also startled to receive it back a few days later slashed about with blue pencil with a vigour which recalled the treatment my Latin exercises used to meet with at Harrow. I saw that Lord Cromer had taken an immense amount of trouble over my screed, and I therefore submitted dutifully to his comments and criticisms, which were often full and sometimes scathing. For instance I had written about General Gordon becoming private secretary to Lord Ripon at one period in his career ‘the brilliant sun had become the satellite of a farthing dip’. On this Lord Cromer’s comment was ‘“brilliant sun” appears to be extravagant eulogy and “farthing dip” does less than justice to Lord Ripon’s position as Viceroy. Lord Ripon would not mind, but his friends might be angry and most people would simply laugh at you.’ I wrote back to say I was sacrificing this gem of which till then I had thought so highly, and I also accepted a great many other strictures in a spirit of becoming meekness. This disarmed and placated Lord Cromer, who continued to take a friendly interest in my work. He wrote: ‘My remarks were, I know, severe, and it is very sensible of you to take them in the spirit in which they were intended – which was distinctly friendly. I did for you what I have over and over again asked others to do for myself. I always invite criticism from friends before I write or do anything important. It is very much better to have one’s weak points indicated by friendly critics before one acts, rather than by hostile critics when it is too late to alter. I hope your book will be a success and I think it will. One of the very few things which still interest me in life is to see young men get on.’

I saw Lord Cromer repeatedly during this fortnight and profited to the full by his knowledge and wisdom. He represented in an intense degree that phlegm and composure which used to be associated with high British administrators in the East. I was reminded of one of my best French quotations ‘On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme’. He was never in a hurry, never anxious to make an effect or sensation. He sat still and men came to him. He watched events until their combination enabled him to intervene smoothly and decisively. He could wait a year as easily as a week, and he had often waited four or five years before getting his way. He had now reigned in Egypt for nearly sixteen years. He rejected all high-sounding titles; he remained simply the British Agent. His status was indefinite; he might be nothing; he was in fact everything. His word was law. Working through a handful of brilliant lieutenants, who were mostly young and who, like their Chief, had trained themselves to keep in the background, Cromer controlled with minute and patient care every department of the Egyptian administration and every aspect of its policy. British and Egyptian Governments had come and gone; he had seen the Soudan lost and reconquered He had maintained a tight hold upon the purse-strings and a deft control of the whole movement of Egyptian politics. It was very pleasant to see him thus with his life’s work shining around him, the embodiment of supreme power without pomp or apparent effort. I felt honoured by the consideration with which he treated me. We do not see his like nowadays, though our need is grave.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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