The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter XXV

Gordon and the Burtons

Oh! bring us back once more

The vanished days of yore,

When the world with faith was filled;

Bring back the fervid zeal,

The hearts of fire and steel,

The hands that believe and build.

The mention of Gordon’s death suggests that this would be the fittest place to bring to notice the relations which existed between him and the Burtons. Their acquaintance, which ripened into a strong liking and friendship, may be said to have existed over a period of ten years (from 1875 to 1885), from the time when Gordon wrote to ask Burton for information concerning Victoria Nyanza and the regions round about, to the day when he went to his death at Kartoum. Long before they met in the flesh, Gordon and Burton knew each other in the spirit, and Gordon thought he saw in Burton a man after his own heart. In many respects he was right. The two men were curiously alike in their independence of thought and action, in their chivalrous devotion to honour and duty, in their absolute contempt for the world's opinion, in their love of adventure, in their indifference to danger, in their curious mysticism and fatalism, and in the neglect which each suffered from the Government until it was too late. They were both born leaders of men, and for that reason indifferent followers, incapable of running quietly in the official harness. Least of all could they have worked together, for they were too like one another in some things, and too unlike in others. Burton saw this from the first, and later Gordon came to see that his view was the right one. But it never prevented either of them from appreciating the great qualities in the other.

The correspondence between Gordon and the Burtons was voluminous. Lady Burton kept all Gordon’s letters, intending to publish them some day. I am only carrying out her wishes in publishing them here. Both Gordon and Burton were in the habit of writing quite freely on men and things, and therefore it has been found necessary to suppress some of the letters; but those given will, I think, be found of general interest.

The first letter Gordon wrote to Burton was about fifteen months after he had taken up the Governorship of the Equatorial Provinces. It was as follows:

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“Though I have not had the honour of meeting you, I hope you will not object to give me certain information which I imagine you are most capable of doing. I will first relate to you my proposed movements. At this moment I am just starting from this station for the South. You are aware that hitherto the Nile from about eighteen miles south of Gondokoro to the junction of it with the Unyame Hor (Apuddo, Hiameye, Dufte, or Mahadé, as different people call it) has been considered impassable and a torrential stream. Being very much bothered with the difficulties of the land route for this distance, I thought I would establish ports along the river, hoping to find it in steps with portions which might be navigable, instead of what it was supposed to be — viz. a continuous rapid. Happily I came on the river at the commencement of its rise at end of March, and found it navigable as far as Kerri, which is forty-six miles south of Gondokoro, and about forty miles north of the point where the Nile is navigable to the lake. As far south as one can see from Kerri the river looks good, for the highlands do not approach one another. I have already a station at Mahadé, and one at Kerri, and there remains for me to make another midway between Kerri and Mahadé, to complete my communication with the lake. I go very slowly, and make my stations as I proceed. I cannot reconnoitre between Kerri and Mahadé, but am obliged, when once I move, to move for a permanent object. If I reconnoitred, it would cost me as much time as if I was going to establish myself permanently, and also would alarm the natives, who hitherto have been quiet enough. I do not think that there are any properly so-called cataracts between Kerri and the lake. There may be bad rapids; but as the bed of the river is so narrow there will be enough water for my boats, and if the banks are not precipices I count on being able to haul my boats through. We have hauled them through a gap sixty-five yards wide at Kerri, where the Nile has a tremendous current. Now Kerri is below the junction of the Nile and the Asua; while Mahadé, where all agree the other rapids are, is above the junction; so that I may hope at Mahadé to have a less violent current to contend with, and to have the Asua waters in some degree cushioning up that current. I have little doubt of being able to take my steamer (the one constructed by Baker’s 50 engineers at Gondokoro) up to Kerri, for I have already there boats of as great a draught of water. From Mahadé it is some one hundred and thirty miles to Magungo. About seventy miles south of Mahadé a split takes place in the river: one branch flows from east, another from west. I imagine that to north of the lake a large accumulation of aquatic vegetation has taken place, and eventually has formed this isle. Through this vegetation the Victoria Nile has cut a passage to the east, and the lake waters have done this to the west. Baker passed through a narrow passage from the lake to the Victoria Nile channel. From Magungo the Victoria Nile is said to be a torrent to within eighteen miles of Karuma Falls. Perhaps it is also in steps. Karuma Falls may be passable or not. And then we have Isamba and Ripon Falls. If they are downright cataracts, nothing remains but to make stations at them, and to have an upper and a lower flotilla. If they are rapids, there must be depth of water in such a river in the rainy season to allow of the passage of boats, if you have power to stem the current.

“I now come to Victoria Nyanza; and about this I want to ask you some questions — viz. What is the north frontier of Zanzibar? And have we any British interests which would be interfered with by a debouch of the Egyptians on the sea? Another query is, If the coast north of the Equator does not belong to Zanzibar, in whose hands is it? Are the Arabs there refugees from the Wahhabees of Arabia? — for if so, they would be deadly hostile to Egypt. To what limit inland are the people acquainted with partial civilization, or in trade with the coast, and accordingly supplied with firearms? Could I count on virgin native tribes from Lake Baringo or Ngo to Mount Kenia — tribes not in close communication with the coast Arabs?

“My idea is, that till the core of Africa is pierced from the coast but little progress will take place among the hordes of natives in the interior. Personally I would wish a route to sea, for the present route is more or less hampered by other governors of Provinces. By the sea route I should be free. The idea is entirely my own; and I would ask you not to mention it, as (though you are a consul and I have also been one) you must know that nothing would delight the Zanzibar Consul better than to have the thwarting of such a scheme, inasmuch as it would bring him into notice and give him opportunity to write to F. O. I do not myself wish to go farther east than Lake Baringo or Ngo. But whether Egypt is allowed a port or not on the coast, at any rate I may be allowed to pass my caravans through to Zanzibar and to get supplies thence.

“When I contrast the comparative comfort of my work with the miseries you and other travellers have gone through, I have reason to be thankful. Dr. Kraft talks of the River Dana — debouching into sea under the name of river — as navigable from Mount Kenia. If so — and rivers are considered highways and free to all flags — I would far sooner have my frontier at Mount Kenia than descend to the lower lands.

“Believe me, with many excuses for troubling you,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Burton, who possessed a great and personal knowledge of the Nile Basin and the tribes inhabiting it, cordially answered Gordon’s letter, giving him full information and many valuable hints. Henceforward the two men frequently corresponded, and got to know one another very well on paper. The next letter of Gordon’s which I am permitted to give was written the following year:

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“Thank you for your letter July 13, which I received proceeding from the Lake Albert to this place. I came down from Magungo here in eight days, and could have done it in six days. This is a great comfort to me, and I am proud of my road and of the herds of cattle the natives pasture along either side of it without fear. I have been up the Victoria Nile from Mrooli to near Urmdogani, and seen Long’s lake — viz. Lake Mesanga. It is a vast lake, but of still shallow water. The river seems to lose itself entirely in it. A narrow passage, scarcely nine feet wide, joins the north end of the Victoria Nile near Mrooli; and judging from the Murchison Falls — which are rapids, not falls — I should say Victoria Lake and Victoria Nile contribute very little to the true Nile. The branch Piaggia saw is very doubtful. I could not find it, and the boatmen seem very hazy as to its existence. As for Gessi's51 branch north of Albert Lake, I could not find that either. And, entre nous, I believe in neither of the two branches. The R. G. S. will have my maps of the whole Nile from Berber to Urmdogani on a large scale, and they will show the nature of the river. I go home on leave (D.V.) in January for six months, and then come out again to finish off. You would learn my address from Cox & Co., Craig’s Court. I would be glad to meet you; for I believe you are not one of those men who bother people, and who pump you in order that they, by writing, might keep themselves before the world. If it was not such a deadly climate, you would find much to interest you in these parts; but it is very deadly. An Arab at Mtesa's52 knows you very well. He gave the Doctor a letter for you. His name is either Ahmed bin Hishim or Abdullah bin Habíb. I have had, entre nous, a deal of trouble, not yet over, with Mtesa, who, as they will find out, is a regular native. I cannot write this, but will tell you. Stanley knows it, I expect, by this time. The Mission will stay there (Mtesa’s) about three months: that will settle them, I think.

“Believe me, with kind regards

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Shortly after this, in December, Gordon determined to resign his official position and return to England, as he had great difficulty in adjusting matters, so far as finances were concerned, with the Governor-General at Kartoum. He went to Cairo, and announced his intention of going home to the Khedive (Ismail), who, however, induced him to promise that he would return to Egypt. Burton wrote to ask Gordon to come, on his journey back to England, round by way of Trieste, and talk over matters. Gordon replied as follows:

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“I received your kind note as I was leaving for Brindisi. I am sorry I cannot manage the Trieste route. I am not sure what will be my fate. Personally, the whole of the future exploration, or rather opening, of the Victoria Lake to Egypt has not a promising future to me, and I do not a bit like the idea of returning. I have been humbugged into saying I would do so, and I suppose must keep my word. I, however, have an instinctive feeling that something may turn up ere I go back, and so feel pretty comfortable about it. I gave Gessi a letter to you. He is a zealous and energetic, sharp fellow. I shall not, however, take him back with me, even if I go. I do not like having a man with a family hanging on one.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Burton then wrote to Gordon, urging him to write a book on his experiences in Equatorial Africa, and asking what his intentions were about returning. In his reply Gordon first broaches the idea which he afterwards returned to again and again — namely, that Burton should take up work in Egypt.

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“Thank you for your kind note. Gessi wrote to me from Trieste, dating his letter only ‘Trieste,’ and I replied to that address, so I suppose the postoffice know him. Yes; I am back, but I have escaped persecution. Wilson53 I have heard nothing of. I have not the least intention of publishing anything.54 My life and work there was a very humdrum one; and, unlike you, I have no store of knowledge to draw on. (I may tell you your book was thought by us all out in Africa as by far the best ever written.) I am not going back to H.H. It is a great pang to me, I assure you; but it is hopeless, hopeless work. Why do not you take up the work? You may not be so sensitive as I am.

“Good-bye, and believe me,

“Yours very truly,
“C. G. Gordon.”

Gordon duly returned to Egypt, for the Khedive held him to his promised word. He was made Governor-General of the Soudan, Darfur, and the Equatorial Provinces, which were now reunited into one great whole. It was necessary for good administration that Gordon should have three governors under him, one for the Soudan proper, one for the Equatorial Provinces, and one for Darfur. As soon as Gordon had arranged matters with the Khedive and entered upon his Governor-Generalship he wrote to Burton, offering him the post of Governor-General of Darfur.

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“You now, I see, have £600 a year, a good climate, quiet life, good food, etc., and are engaged in literary inquiries, etc., etc. I have no doubt that you are very comfortable, but I cannot think entirely satisfied with your present small sphere. I have therefore written to the Khedive to ask him to give you Darfur as Governor-General, with £1,600 a year, and a couple of secretaries at £300 a year each. Darfur is l’enfer. The country is a vast sand plain, with but little water; the heat is very great; there is little shooting. The people consist of huge Bedawin tribes, and of a settled population in the larger villages. Their previous history under the Sultans would show them fanatical. I have not found them the least so; in fact I think them even less so than the Arabs of Cairo. If you got two years’ leave from H.M.‘s Government, you would lose nothing. You know the position of Darfur; its frontier through Wadi is only fifteen days from Lake Tchad. On the other side of Lake Tchad you come on another sultanate, that of Bowmon, and you then near the Gulf of Guinea. Darfur is healthy. You will (D.V.) soon have the telegraph to your capital, El Tascher. If the Khedive asks you, accept the post, and you will do a mint of good, and benefit these poor people. You will also see working out curious problems; you will see these huge tribes of Bedawins, to whom the Bedawin tribes of Arabia are as naught; you will trace their history, etc.; and you will open relations with Wadai, Baginni, etc. I know that you have much important work at the Consulate, with the ship captains, etc., and of course it would not be easy to replace you; but it is not every day you use your knowledge of Asiatics or of Arabia. Now is the time for you to make your indelible mark in the world and in these countries. You will be remembered in the literary world, but I would sooner be remembered in Egypt as having made Darfur. I hope, if his Highness writes to you, you will ask for two years’ leave and take the post as Governor-General. You are Commandant of Civil and Military and Finance, and have but very little to do with me beyond demanding what you may want.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Burton’s reply was very characteristic:

“My Dear Gordon,

“You and I are too much alike. I could not serve under you, nor you under me. I do not look upon the Soudan as a lasting thing. I have nothing to depend upon but my salary; and I have a wife, and you have not.”

Perhaps too Burton was a little annoyed at Gordon apparently taking it for granted that he would jump at Darfur. Much as he loathed Trieste and the life of forced inaction there, he felt this might be to exchange the frying-pan for the fire. Pending Burton’s answer, Gordon followed up his first letter by two more:

“My Dear Burton,

“Thanks for your letter May 9, received to-day. I have answered. . . . Would you be bothered with him? I feel certain you would not. What is the use of such men in these countries; they are, as Speke was to you, infinitely more bother than use. Then why do you put him on me? I have had enough trouble with them already.

“You will have my letter about Darfur. I must say your task will not be pleasant; but you talk Arabic, which I do not; and you will have much to interest you, for most of the old Darfur families are of Mohammed’s family.

“I dare say you wonder how I can get on without an interpreter and not knowing Arabic. I do not believe in man’s free-will, and therefore believe all things are from God and preordained. Such being the case, the judgments or decisions I give are fixed to be thus or thus, whether I have exactly hit off all the circumstances or not. This is my raft, and on it I manage to float along, thanks to God, more or less successfully. I do not pretend my belief could commend itself to any wisdom or science, or in fact anything; but as I have said elsewhere, a bag of rice jolting along these roads could, if it had the gift of speech, and if it were God’s well, do as well as I do. You may not agree with me. Keep your own belief. I get my elixir from mine — viz. that with these views I am comfortable, whether I am a failure or not, and can disregard the world’s summary of what I do, or of what I do not do.

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

“My Dear Burton,

“I have got round to Dara viâ Toashia, and hope in four or five days to get to Tascher. The soi-disant Sultan Haroun is said to have left Tamée. The people are very good. They have been driven into this revolt. Most of the tribes have given in their subscription. The Fors, or original natives of the land, are the only people partially in revolt. Dar For is the land of Fors, as Dar Fertit is the land of the Fertits. You would find much to interest you here, for the Ulemas are well-read people, and know the old history. I found a lot of chain armour here, just like the armour of Saladin’s people, time of the Crusades, with old helmets, some embossed with gold. They were taken from the Sultan Ibrahim’s bodyguard when he was killed. The sheep are wonderful; some with a regular mane. The people would delight in the interest you would take in them. When the Egyptians took the country here, they seized an ancient mosque for a mug. I have given it back and endowed it. There was a great ceremony, and the people are delighted. It is curious how these Arab tribes came up here. It appears those of Biernan and Bagerini came from Tripoli; the others came up the Nile. The Dar Fertit lies between these semi-Mussulman lands and the Negro lands proper. On the border are the Niam-Niam, who circumcise. I suppose they took it from these Arab tribes. I only hope you will come up. You will (D.V.) find no great trouble here by that time, and none of the misery I have had.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

A few weeks later Burton’s laconic refusal of Darfur reached Gordon. That Gordon was nettled a little is apparent from the opening paragraph of the following letter. But he was far too just not to understand; and so far from resenting Burton’s frankness, as a lesser man might have done, this incident only served to make him appreciate his rare qualities the more:

“My Dear Captain Burton,

“£1,600, or indeed £16,000, would never compensate a man for a year spent actively in Darfur. But I considered you, from your independence, one of Nature’s nobility, who did not serve for money. Excuse the mistake — if such it is.

“I am now going to Dongola and Assouan, and thence to Massowah to see Johannis,55 and then to Berberah vis-à-vis Aden, near your old friends the Somalis. (Now there is a government which might suit you, and which you might develop, paying off old scores by the way for having thwarted you; it is too far off for me to hope to do anything.) I then return to Kartoum, and then go to Darfur and return to Kartoum, and then go to the Lakes. Why do people die in these countries? Do not you, who are a philosopher, think it is due to moral prostration more than to the climate? I think so, and have done so for a long time. My assistant, Prout,56 has been lingering on the grave’s brink for a long time, and I doubt if he will go up again. I have no fear of dying in any climate. ‘Men now seek honours, not honour.’ You put that in one of your books. Do you remember it? How true it is! I have often pirated it, and not acknowledged the author, though I believe you stole it. I see Wilson is now Sir Andrew. Is it on account of his father’s decease? How is he? He wanted to come out, but he could not bear the fatigue. All these experiments of the King of the Belgians will come to grief, in spite of the money they have; the different nationalities doom them. Kaba Rega, 57 now that we have two steamers on Lake Albert (which, by the way, is, according to Mason, one hundred and twenty miles longer than Gessi made it), asks for peace, which I am delighted at; he never was to blame, and you will see that, if you read how Baker treated him and his ambassadors. Baker certainly gave me a nice job in raising him against the Government so unnecessarily, even on his own showing (vide his book Ismailia). Judge justly. Little by little we creep on to our goal — viz. the two lakes; and nothing can stop us, I think. Mtesa is very good friends, and agrees much more with us than with your missionaries. You know the hopelessness of such a task, till you find a St. Paul or St. John. Their representatives nowadays want so much a year and a contract. It is all nonsense; no one will stay four years out there. I would like to hear you hold forth on the idol ‘Livingstone,’ etc., and on the slave-trade. Setting aside the end to be gained, I think that Slave Convention is a very just one in many ways towards the people; but we are not an over-just nation towards the weak. I suppose you know that old creature Grant, who for seventeen or eighteen years has traded on his wonderful walk. I am grateful to say he does not trouble me now. I would also like to discuss with you the wonderful journey of Cameron, but we are too far apart; though when you are at Akata or For, I shall be at Berenice or Suakin. It was very kind of you offering me Faulkner. Do you remember his uncle in R. N.? Stanley will give them some bother; they cannot bear him, and in my belief rather wished he had not come through safe. He will give them a dose for their hard speeches. He is to blame for writing what he did (as Baker was). These things may be done, but not advertised. I shall now conclude with kind regards,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

While Lady Burton was alone at Suez in the March of the following year (1878), waiting to meet her husband on his return from the expedition to Midian, Gordon arrived there. He of course hastened to make the acquaintance of Burton’s wife. He stayed a week at Suez, and during that time Isabel and he saw one another every day. She found him “very eccentric, but very charming. I say eccentric, until you got to know and understand him.” A warm friendship sprang up between the two, for they had much to talk about and much in common. They were both Christian mystics (I use the term in the highest sense); and though they differed on many points of faith (for Isabel held that Catholicism was the highest form of Christian mysticism, and in this Gordon did not agree with her), they were at one in regarding religion as a vital principle and a guiding rule of life and action. They were at one too in their love of probing

Things more true and deep

Than we mortals know.

With regard to more mundane matters, Gordon did not scruple to pour cold water on the Burtons’ golden dream of wealth from the Mines of Midian, and frankly told Isabel that the “Midian Myth” was worth very little, and that Burton would do much better to throw in his lot with him. Isabel, however, did not see things in the same light, and she was confident of the future of Midian, and had no desire to go to Darfur. When Burton returned from Midian in April, and he and his wife went to Cairo at the request of the Khedive, they saw a good deal of Gordon again. He and Burton discussed affairs thoroughly — especially Egyptian affairs — and Gordon again expressed his regret that Burton did not see his way to joining him. When Burton was in London later in the year, he received the following letter from Gordon, in which he renewed his offer, increasing the the salary from £1,600 to £5,000 a year.

image
Cairo.

“My Dear Burton,

“Please date, or rather put address on your letters. Thanks for yours of July 4, received to-day. I am very sorry Mrs. Burton is not well, but hope England has enabled her to regain her health. My arrangement is letter for letter. If you write, I will answer. I wish you could undertake the Government of Zeyla, Harar, and Berberah, and free me of the bother. Why cannot you get two years’ leave from F. O., then write (saying it is my suggestion) to H.H., and offer it? I could give, say, £5,000 a year from London to your Government. Do do something to help me, and do it without further reference to me; you would lift a burthen off my shoulders. I have now to stay at Kartoum for the finances. I am in a deplorable state. I have a nasty revolt of Slandralus at Bahr Gazelle, which will cost me some trouble; I mean not to fight them, but to blockade them into submission. I am now hard at work against the slave caravans; we have caught fifteen in two months, and I hope by a few judicious hangings to stop their work. I hanged a man the other day for making a eunuch without asking H.H.‘s leave. Emin Effendi, now Governor of Equator Province, is Dr. Sneitzer; but he is furious if you mention it, and denies that is his name to me; he declares he is a Turk. There is something queer about him which I do not understand; he is a queer fellow, very cringing in general, but sometimes bursts out into his natural form. He came up here in a friendless state. He is perhaps the only riddle I have met with in life. He is the man Amspldt spoke to you about. Amspldt was a useless fellow, and he has no reason to complain of Emin Effendi. I have sent Gessi up to see after the slave-dealers’ outbreak. He was humble enough. Good-bye! Kind regards to Mrs. Burton.

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Burton again refused, giving the same reasons as before, and reiterating his opinion that the existing state of affairs in the Soudan could not last. Gordon, seeing his decision was not to be shaken, acquiesced, and did not ask him again. Moreover he was losing faith in the Soudan himself. A few months later we have him writing as follows:

“My Dear Burton,

“Thanks for your letter of October 6, received to-day. I have not forgotten the manuscript from Harar, nor the coins.

“I wish much I could get a European to go to Berberah, Zeyla, and Harar, at £1,200, or £1,500, a really good man. They keep howling for troops, and give me a deal of trouble. Our finances take up all my time; I find it best to look after them myself, and so I am kept close at work. We owe £300,000 floating debt, but not to Europeans, and our present expenditure exceeds revenue by £97,000.

“Rossit, who took your place in Darfur, died the other day there, after three and a half months’ residence; he is a serious loss to me, for the son of Zebahr with his slave-dealers is still in revolt. Cairo and Nubia never take any notice of me, nor do they answer my questions.

“I have scotched the slave-trade, and Wyld of Jeddah says that scarcely any slaves pass over, and that the people of Jeddah are disgusted. It is, however, only scotched. I am blockading all roads to the slave districts, and I expect to make the slave-dealers now in revolt give in, for they must be nearly out of stores. I have indeed a very heavy task, for I have to do everything myself. Kind regards to Mrs. Burton and yourself.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

P.S. — Personally I am very weary and tired of the inaction at Kartoum, with its semi-state, a thing which bores me greatly.”

The following year Burton’s prescience proved true. The Soudan was “not a lasting thing,” so far as Gordon was concerned. Ismail Khedive had abdicated, and Tewfik his son ruled in his stead; and Gordon, dissatisfied with many things, finally threw up his post on account of the Slave Convention. Though he placed his resignation in the Khedive’s hands, Tewfik begged him to undertake a mission to Abyssinia. While he was on the journey he wrote the following to Burton:

“My Dear Burton,

“Thanks for several little notes from you, and one from Mrs. Burton, and also for the papers you sent me. I have been on my travels, and had not time to write. An Italian has egged on Johannis to be hostile, and so I have to go to Massowah to settle the affair if I can. I then hope to go home for good, for the slave-hunters (thanks to Gessi) have collapsed, and it will take a long time to rebuild again, even if fostered by my successor. I like the new Khedive immensely; but I warn you that all Midian guiles will be wasted on him, and Mrs. Burton ought to have taken the £3,000 I offered her at Suez, and which she scoffed at, saying, ‘You would want that for gloves.’ Do you wear those skin coverings to your paws? I do not! No, the days of Arabian Nights are over, and stern economy now rules. Tewfik seeks ‘honour, not honours.’ I do not know what he will do with the Soudan; he is glad, I think (indeed feel sure), I am going. I was becoming a too powerful Satrap. The general report at Cairo was that I meditated rebellion even under Ismail the 'incurable,' and now they connot imagine why I am so well received by the new Khedive.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

Gordon was not the only one who suffered by the change of Khedive. Burton, as Gordon had foretold, came to grief over the Mines of Midian, for Tewfik declined to be bound by any promise of his father; and though Burton went to Egypt to interview the Khedive, to see if he could do anything, his efforts were of no avail. Meanwhile Isabel, who had come to London mainly for medical treatment, was moving heaven and earth to see if she could induce the English Government to stir in the matter; but they naturally declined. Isabel wrote to Gordon, who had now come home from Egypt, on this and other matters. She received from him the following letters in answer to her request and inquiries concerning the state of affairs in Egypt:

“My Dear Mrs. Burton,

“You write to an orb which is setting, or rather is set. I have no power to aid your husband in any way. I went to F. O. to-day, and, as you know, Lord — is very ill. Well! the people there were afraid of me, for I have written hard things to them; and though they knew all, they would say naught. I said, ‘Who is the personification of Foreign Office?’ They said, ‘X is.’ I saw ‘X’; but he tried to evade my question — i.e. Would F. O. do anything to prevent the Soudan falling into chaos? It was no use. I cornered him, and he then said, ’I am merely a clerk to register letters coming in and going out.’ So then I gave it up, and marvelled. I must say I was surprised to see such a thing; a great Government like ours governed by men who dare not call their souls their own. Lord — rules them with a rod of iron. If your husband would understand that F. O. at present is Lord — (and he is ill), he would see that I can do nothing. I have written letters to F. O. that would raise a corpse; it is no good. I have threatened to go to the French Government about the Soudan; it is no good. In fact, my dear Mrs. Burton, I have done for myself with this Government, and you may count me a feather, for I am worth no more. Will you send this on to your husband? He is a first-rate fellow, and I wish I had seen him long ago (scratch this out, for he will fear I am going to borrow money); and believe me, my dear Mrs. Burton (pardon me about Suez),

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

“My Dear Mrs. Burton,

“Excuse my not answering your kind note of 5.3.80 before; but to be quiet I have come abroad, and did not have a decided address, so I only got your letter to-day. I will come and see you when I (D.V.) come home; but that is undecided. Of course your husband failed with Tewfik. I scent carrion a long way off, and felt that the hour of my departure from Egypt had come, so I left quietly. Instead of A (Ismail), who was a good man, you have B (Tewfik), who may be good or bad, as events will allow him. B is the true son of A; but has the inexperience of youth, and may be smarter. The problem working out in the small brains of Tewfik is this: ‘My father lost his throne because he scented the creditors. The Government only cared for the creditors; they did not care for good government. So if I look after the creditors, I may govern the country as I like.’ No doubt Tewfik is mistaken; but these are his views, backed up by a ring of pashas. Now look at his Ministry. Are they not aliens to Egypt? They are all slaves or of low origin. Put their price down:

Riaz Pasha, a dancing-boy of Abbas Pasha, value 350
A slave, Osman, Minister of War, turned out by me 350
Etc., etc., etc.,each — five 350=1,750
2,450

So that the value of the Ministry (which we think an enlightened one) is £490. What do they care for the country? Not a jot. We ought to sweep all this lot out, and the corresponding lot at Stamboul. It is hopeless and madness to think that with such material you can do anything. Good-bye. Kind regards to your husband.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

“My Dear Mrs. Burton,

“Thanks for your telegram and your letter. Excuse half-sheet (economy). No, I will not write to Cairo, and your letters are all torn up. I am going to Brussels in a few days, and after a stay there I come over to England. I do not like or believe in Nubar. He is my horror; for he led the old ex-Khedive to his fall, though Nubar owed him everything. When Ismail became Khedive, Nubar had £3 a month; he now owns £1,000,000. Things will not and cannot go straight in Egypt, and I would say, ‘Let them glide.’ Before long time elapses things will come to a crisis. The best way is to let all minor affairs rest, and to consider quietly how the ruin is to fall. It must fall ere long. United Bulgaria, Syria France, and Egypt England. France would then have as much interest in repelling Russia as we have. Supposing you got out Riaz, why, you would have Riaz’s brother; and if you got rid of the latter, you would have Riaz’s nephew. Le plus on change, le plus c’est la même chose. We may, by stimulants, keep the life in them; but as long as the body of the people are unaffected, so long will it be corruption in high places, varying in form, not in matter. Egypt is usurped by the family of the Sandjeh of Salonique, and (by our folly) we have added a ring of Circassian pashas. The whole lot should go; they are as much strangers as we would be. Before we began muddling we had only to deal with the Salonique family; now we have added the ring, who say, ’We are Egypt.’ We have made Cairo a second Stamboul. So much the better. Let these locusts fall together. As well expect any reform, any good sentiment, from these people as water from a stone; the extract you wish to get does not and cannot exist in them. Remember I do not say this of the Turkish peasantry or of the Egyptian-born poor families. It is written, Egypt shall be the prey of nations, and so she has been; she is the servant; in fact Egypt does not really exist. It is a nest of usurpers.

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

A day or two after the date of this last letter Gordon returned to London, and went several times to see Isabel, who was ill in lodgings in Upper Montagu Street, and very anxious about her husband and the Midian Mines. Gordon’s prospects too were far from rosy at this time, so that they were companions in misfortune. They discussed Egypt and many things. Isabel writes: “I remember on April 15, 1880, he asked me if I knew the origin of the Union Jack, and he sat down on my hearth-rug before the fire, cross-legged, with a bit of paper and a pair of scissors, and he made me three or four Union Jacks, of which I pasted one in my journal of that day; and I never saw him again.”58 She also writes elsewhere; “I shall never forget how kind and sympathetic he was; but he always said, ‘As God has willed it, so will it be.’ That was the burden of his talk: ‘As God has willed it, so will it be.’”

In May Burton wrote to Lord Granville, pointing out that Riaz Pasha was undoing all Gordon’s anti-slavery work, and asking for a temporary appointment as Slave Commissioner in the Soudan and Red Sea, to follow up the policy of anti-slavery which Gordon had begun. This Lord Granville refused.

Gordon went to many places — India, China, the Cape — and played many parts during the next three years; but he still continued to correspond with Isabel and her husband at intervals, though his correspondence referred mainly to private matters, and was of no public interest. In 1883 he wrote the following to Burton from Jerusalem, anent certain inquiries in which he was much interested:

image
Autograph Letter of General Gordon.

“My Dear Burton,

“I have a favour to ask, which I will begin with, and then go on to other subjects. In 1878 (I think) I sent you a manuscript in Arabic, copy of the manuscript you discovered in Harar. I want you to lend it to me for a month or so, and will ask you in sending it to register it. This is the favour I want from you. I have time and means to get it fairly translated, and I will do this for you. I will send you the translation and the original back; and if it is worth it, you will publish it. I hope you and Mrs. Burton are well. Sorry that £ s. d. keep you from the East, for there is much to interest here in every way, and you would be useful to me as an encyclopædia of oriental lore; as it is, Greek is looked on by me as hieroglyphics.

“Here is result of my studies: The whole of the writers on Jerusalem, with few exceptions, fight for Zion on the Western Hill, and put the whole Jerusalem in tribe Benjamin! I have worked this out, and to me it is thus: The whole question turns on the position of En-shemesh, which is generally placed, for no reason I know of, at Ain Hand. I find Kubbat el Sama, which corresponds to Bæthsamys of the Septuagint, at the north of Jerusalem, and I split Jerusalem by the Tyropœan Valley (alias the Gibeon of Eden, of which more another time).

“Anyway one can scarcely cut Judah out of Jerusalem altogether; yet that is always done, except by a few. If the juncture is as I have drawn it, it brings Gibeon, Nob, and Mizpah all down too close to Jerusalem on the Western Hills. This is part of my studies. Here is the Skull Hill north of the City (traced from map, ordnance of 1864), which I think is the Golgotha; for the victims were to be slain on north of altar, not west, as the Latin Holy Sepulchre. This hill is close to the old church of St. Stephen, and I believe that eventually near here will be found the Constantine churches.

“I have been, and still am, much interested in these parts, and as it is cheap I shall stop here. I live at Ain Karim, five miles from Jerusalem. There are few there who care about antiquities. Schink, an old German, is the only one who is not a bigot. Have you ever written on Palestine? I wondered you never followed up your visit to Harar; that is a place of great interest. My idea is that the Pison is the Blue Nile, and that the sons of Joktan were at Harar, Abyssinia, Godjam; but it is not well supported.

“The Rock of Harar was the platform Adam was moulded on out of clay from the Potter’s Field. He was then put in Seychelles (Eden), and after Fall brought back to Mount Moriah to till the ground in the place he was taken from. Noah built the Ark twelve miles from Jaffa, at Ain Judeh; the Flood began; the Ark floated up and rested on Mount Baris, afterwards Antonia; he sacrificed on the Rock (Adam was buried on the Skull Hill, hence the skull under the cross). It was only 776 A.D. that Mount Ararat of Armenia became the site of the Ark’s descent. Korán says Al Judi (Ararat) is holy land. After Flood the remnants went east to Plain of Shimar. Had they gone east from the Al Judi, near Mosul, or from Armenian Ararat, they could never have reached Shimar. Shem was Melchizedek, etc., etc.

“With kind regards to Mrs. Burton and you, and the hope you will send me the manuscript,

“Believe me,

“Yours sincerely,

“C. G. Gordon.”

“P.S. — Did you ever get the £1,000 I offered you on part of ex-Khedive for the Mines of Midian?”

Some six months after the date of this letter Gordon left England for the Soudan, and later went to Kartoum, with what result all the world knows. Burton said, when the Government sent Gordon to Kartoum, they failed because they sent him alone. Had they sent him with five hundred soldiers there would have been no war. It was just possible at the time that Burton might have been sent instead of Gordon; and Isabel, dreading this, wrote privately to the Foreign Office, unknown to her husband, to let them know how ill he then was.

The Burtons were profoundly moved at the death of Gordon; they both felt it with a keen sense of personal loss. Isabel relates that in one of the illustrated papers there was a picture of Gordon lying in the desert, his Bible in one hand, his revolver in the other, and the vultures hovering around. Burton said, “Take it away! I can’t bear to look at it. I have had to feel that myself; I know what it is.” But upon reflection Burton grew to disbelieve in Gordon’s death, and he died believing that he had escaped into the desert, but disgusted at his betrayal and abandonment he would never let himself be discovered or show himself in England again. In this conviction Burton was of course mistaken; but he had formed it on his knowledge of Gordon’s character.

I am aware that this chapter dealing with Gordon and his letters is something of an interpolation, and has little to do with the main thread of the story; but Lady Burton wished it to be so, and its irrelevance may be pardoned for the sake of the light it throws upon the friendship which existed between three very remarkable personages, each curiously alike in some respects, and in others widely dissimilar.

49 Gondokoro was the seat of Government of the Province of the Equator.

50 Sir Samuel Baker, whom Gordon succeeded as Governor of the tribes which inhabit the Nile Basin in 1874.

51 Romalus Gessi (Gessi Pasha), a member of Gordon’s staff.

52 Mtesa, King of Uganda.

53 Mr. Rivers Wilson.

54 Nevertheless he permitted Dr. Birkbeck Hill to edit and publish his letters in 1881, which give a good account of his work in Central Africa.

55 Johannis, King of Abyssinia.

56 Colonel Prout, of the American army, for some time in command of the Equatorial Provinces.

57 King of Unyoro, a powerful and treacherous savage. Sir Samuel Baker attempted to depose him, but Kaha Rega maintained his power.

58 Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Isabel his wife, col. ii., p. 177.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:33