Sunday, February 9, 2014


George W. Joy, General Gordon’s Last Stand, 1893

"DURING the year 1883 a solitary English gentleman was to be seen, wandering, with a thick book under his arm, in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. His unassuming figure, short and slight, with its half-gliding, half-tripping motion, gave him a boyish aspect, which contrasted, oddly, but not unpleasantly, with the touch of grey on his hair and whiskers. There was the same contrast—enigmatic and attractive—between the sunburnt brick-red complexion—the hue of the seasoned traveller—and the large blue eyes, with their look of almost childish sincerity. To the friendly inquirer, he would explain, in a row, soft, and very distinct voice, that he was engaged in elucidating four questions—the site of the Crucifixion, the line of division between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, the identification of Gideon, and the position of the Garden of Eden. He was also, he would add, most anxious to discover the spot where the Ark first touched ground, after the subsidence of the Flood: he believed, indeed, that he had solved that problem, as a reference to some passages in the book which he was carrying would show.

This singular person was General Gordon, and his book was the Holy Bible.

From Punch: Cartoon of Gen. Charles Gordon greeting reinforcements at Khartoum in 1885.  Published before the news of General Gordon’s death was known.

In such complete retirement from the world and the ways of men, it might have seemed that a life of inordinate activity had found at last a longed-for, final peacefulness. For month after month, for an entire year, the General lingered by the banks of the Jordan. But then the enchantment was suddenly broken. Once more adventure claimed him; he plunged into the whirl of high affairs; his fate was mingled with the frenzies of Empire and the doom of peoples. And it was not in peace and rest, but in ruin and horror, that he reached his end."

Charles George Gordon as tidu (提督), i.e., Chief commander of Jiangsu province of the “Ever Victorious Army” in Jiansu province, China, wearing the imperial yellow jacket.

NOTE:  Lytton Strachey’s seductive introduction to The End Of  General Gordon from Eminent Victorians stirs up buried memories.  For obscure reasons, it reminds me of seeing John Milius’s romantic North African fantasyThe Wind And The Lion several times with Caroline in New York more than it recalls Basil Dearden’s earlier, drearier Khartoum, which actually tells the story of Gordon’s demise. It also summons “borrowed” memories gleaned from professors and former classmates -- their pre-Gulf War Iraq archeology accounts of spiritual questing for relics and signs, drinking and loathing arak, wanting more. 

This isn’t disciplined thinking or lucid dreaming. I’m not sure any of it is real, but it is fine, warming and revivifying to be stirred up like this for a change, not just angry.  I suppose it’s possible the power outage this week affected my mind.  I mean, how is it possible that Bob Costas still appears on television, unstoppably talking?  I must be mad.

No comments:

Post a Comment