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   Chapter 15 IN A CONNING-TOWER.

From Capetown to Ladysmith: An Unfinished Record of the South African War By G. W. Steevens Characters: 45470

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Ladysmith, Dec. 6.

"There goes that stinker on Gun Hill," said the captain. "No, don't get up; have some draught beer."

I did have some draught beer.

"Wait and see if he fires again. If he does we'll go up into the conning-tower, and have both guns in action toge-"

Boom! The captain picked up his stick.

"Come on," he said.

We got up out of the rocking-chairs, and went out past the swinging meat-safe, under the big canvas of the ward-room, with its table piled with stuff to read. Trust the sailor to make himself at home. As we passed through the camp the bluejackets rose to a man and lined up trimly on either side. Trust the sailor to keep his self-respect, even in five weeks' beleaguered Ladysmith.

Up a knee-loosening ladder of rock, and we came out on to the green hill-top, where they first had their camp. Among the orderly trenches, the sites of the deported tents, were rougher irregular blotches of hole-footprints of shell.

"That gunner," said the captain, waving his stick at Surprise Hill, "is a German. Nobody but a German atheist would have fired on us at breakfast, lunch, and dinner the same Sunday. It got too hot when he put one ten yards from the cook. Anybody else we could have spared; then we had to go."

We come to what looks like a sandbag redoubt, but in the eyes of heaven is a conning-tower. On either side, from behind a sandbag epaulement, a 12-pounder and a Maxim thrust forth vigilant eyes. The sandbag plating of the conning-tower was six feet thick and shoulder-high; the rivets were red earth, loose but binding; on the parapets sprouted tufts of grass, unabashed and rejoicing in the summer weather. Against the parapet leaned a couple of men with the clean-cut, clean-shaven jaw and chin of the naval officer, and half-a-dozen bearded bluejackets. They stared hard out of sun-puckered eyes over the billows of kopje and veldt.

Forward we looked down on the one 4·7; aft we looked up to the other. On bow and beam and quarter we looked out to the enemy's fleet. Deserted Pepworth's was on the port-bow, Gun Hill, under Lombard's Kop, on the starboard, Bulwan abeam, Middle Hill astern, Surprise Hill on the port-quarter.

Every outline was cut in adamant.

The Helpmakaar Ridge, with its little black ants a-crawl on their hill, was crushed flat beneath us.

A couple of vedettes racing over the pale green plain northward looked as if we could jump on to their heads. We could have tossed a biscuit over to Lombard's Kop. The great yellow emplacement of their fourth big piece on Gun Hill stood up like a Spit-head Fort. Through the big telescope that swings on its pivot in the centre of the tower you could see that the Boers were loafing round it dressed in dirty mustard-colour.

"Left-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," said a bluejacket, with his eyes glued to binoculars. "At the balloon"-and presently we heard the weary pinions of the shell, and saw the little puff of white below.

"Ring up Mr Halsey," said the captain.

Then I was aware of a sort of tarpaulin cupboard under the breastwork, of creeping trails of wire on the ground, and of a couple of sappers.

The corporal turned down his page of 'Harmsworth's Magazine,' laid it on the parapet, and dived under the tarpaulin.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling! buzzed the telephone bell.

The gaunt up-towering mountains, the long, smooth, deadly guns-and the telephone bell!

The mountains and the guns went out, and there floated in that roaring office of the 'Daily Mail' instead, and the warm, rustling vestibule of the playhouse on a December night. This is the way we make war now; only for the instant it was half joke and half home-sickness. Where were we? What were we doing?

"Right-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," came the even voice of the bluejacket. "At the balloon."

"Captain wants to speak to you, sir," came the voice of the sapper from under the tarpaulin.

Whistle and rattle and pop went the shell in the valley below.

"Give him a round both guns together," said the captain to the telephone.

"Left-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," said the bluejacket to the captain.

Nobody cared about left-hand Gun Hill; he was only a 47 howitzer; every glass was clamped on the big yellow emplacement.

"Right-hand Gun Hill is up, sir."

Bang coughs the forward gun below us; bang-g-g coughs the after-gun overhead. Every glass clamped on the emplacement.

"What a time they take!" sighs a lieutenant-then a leaping cloud a little in front and to the right.

"Damn!" sighs a peach-cheeked midshipman, who-

"Oh, good shot!" For the second has landed just over and behind the epaulement. "Has it hit the gun?"

"No such luck," says the captain: he was down again five seconds after we fired.

And the men had all gone to earth, of course.


Down dives the sapper, and presently his face reappears, with "Headquarters to speak to you, sir." What the captain said to Headquarters is not to be repeated by the profane: the captain knows his mind, and speaks it. As soon as that was over, ting-a-ling again.

"Mr Halsey wants to know if he may fire again, sir."

"He may have one more"-for shell is still being saved for Christmas.

It was all quite unimportant and probably quite ineffective. At first it staggers you to think that mountain-shaking bang can have no result; but after a little experience and thought you see it would be a miracle if it had. The emplacement is a small mountain in itself; the men have run out into holes. Once in a thousand shots you might hit the actual gun and destroy it-but shell is being saved for Christmas.

If the natives and deserters are not lying, and the sailors really hit Pepworth's Long Tom, then that gunner may live on his exploit for the rest of his life.

"We trust we've killed a few men," says the captain cheerily; "but we can't hope for much more."

And yet, if they never hit a man, this handful of sailors have been the saving of Ladysmith. You don't know, till you have tried it, what a worm you feel when the enemy is plugging shell into you and you can't possibly plug back. Even though they spared their shell, it made all the world of difference to know that the sailors could reach the big guns if they ever became unbearable. It makes all the difference to the Boers, too, I suspect; for as sure as Lady Anne or Bloody Mary gets on to them they shut up in a round or two. To have the very men among you makes the difference between rain-water and brine.

The other day they sent a 12-pounder up to C?sar's Camp under a boy who, if he were not commanding big men round a big gun in a big war, might with luck be in the fifth form.

"There's a 94-pounder up there," said a high officer, who might just have been his grandfather.

"All right, sir," said the child serenely; "we'll knock him out."

He hasn't knocked him out yet, but he is going to next shot, which in a siege is the next best thing.

In the meantime he has had his gun's name, "Lady Ellen," neatly carved on a stone and put up on his emplacement. Another gun-pit bears the golden legend "Princess Victoria Battery," on a board elegant beyond the dreams of suburban preparatory schools. A regiment would have had no paint or gold-leaf; the sailors always have everything. They carry their home with them, self-subsisting, self-relying. Even as the constant bluejacket says, "Right Gun Hill up, sir," there floats from below ting-ting, ting-ting, ting.

Five bells!

The rock-rending double bang floats over you unheard; the hot iron hills swim away.

Five bells-and you are on deck, swishing through cool blue water among white-clad ladies in long chairs, going home.

O Lord, how long?

But the sailors have not seen home for two years, which is two less than their usual spell. This is their holiday.

"Of course, we enjoy it," they say, almost apologising for saving us; "we so seldom get a chance."

The Royal Navy is the salt of the sea and the salt of the earth also.

* * *




I will give no number to the last chapter of George Steevens's story of the war. There is no reckoning between the work from his and the work from this pen. It is the chapter which covers a grave; it does not make a completion. A while back, you have read that surrendering wail from the beleaguered city-a wail in what contrast to the humour, the vitality, the quickness, the impulse, the eagerness of expectation with which his toil in South Africa began!-wherein he wrote: "Beyond is the world-war and love. Clery marching on Colenso, and all that a man holds dear in a little island under the north star.... To your world and to yourself you are every bit as good as dead-except that dead men have no time to fill in." And now he is dead. And I have undertaken the most difficult task, at the command-for in such a case the timorous suggestion, hooped round by poignant apologies, is no less than a command-of that human creature whom, in the little island under the north star, he held most dear of all-his wife, to set a copingstone, a mere nothing in the air, upon the last work that came from his pen. I will prefer to begin with my own summary, my own intimate view of George Steevens, as he wandered in and out, visible and invisible, of the paths of my life.

"Weep for the dead, for his light hath failed; weep but a little for the dead, for he is at rest." Ecclesiasticus came to my mind when the news of his death came to my knowledge. Who would not weep over the extinction of a career set in a promise so golden, in an accomplishment so rare and splendid? Sad enough thought it is that he is at rest; still-he rests. "Under the wide and starry sky," words which, as I have heard him say, in his casual, unambitious manner of speech, he was wont to repeat to himself in the open deserts of the Soudan-"Under the wide and starry sky" the grave has been dug, and "let me lie."

"Glad did I live, and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will."

The personality of George Steevens was one which might have been complex and obscure to the ordinary acquaintance, were it not for one shining, one golden key which fitted every ward of his temperament, his conduct, his policy, his work. He was the soul of honour. I use the words in no vague sense, in no mere spirit of phrase-making. How could that be possible at this hour? They are words which explain him, which are the commentary of his life, which summarise and enlighten every act of every day, his momentary impulses and his acquired habits. "In Spain," a great and noble writer has said, "was the point put upon honour." The point of honour was with George Steevens his helmet, his shield, his armour, his flag. That it was which made his lightest word a law, his vaguest promise a necessity in act, his most facile acceptance an engagement as fixed as the laws of motion. In old, old days I well remember how it came to be a complacent certainty with everybody associated with Steevens that if he promised an article, an occasional note, a review-whatever it might be-at two, three, four, five in the morning, at that hour the work would be ready. He never flinched; he never made excuses, for the obvious reason that there was never any necessity for excuse. Truthful, clean-minded, nobly unselfish as he was, all these things played but the parts of planets revolving around the sun of his life-the sun of honour. To that point I always return: but a man can be conceived who shall be splendidly honourable, yet not lovable-a man who might repel friendship. Steevens was not of that race. Not a friend of his but loved him with a great and serious affection for those qualities which are too often separable from the austerity of a fine character, the honour of an upright man. His sweetness was exquisite, and this partly because it was so unexpected. A somewhat shy and quiet manner did not prepare men for the urbanity, the tolerance, the magnanimity that lay at the back of his heart. Generosity in thought-the rarest form of generosity that is reared among the flowers of this sorrowful earth-was with him habitual. He could, and did, resent at every point the qualities in men that ran counter to his principles of honour, and he did not spare his keen irony when such things crossed his path; but, on the other side, he loved his friends with a whole and simple heart. I think that very few men who came under his influence refused him their love, none their admiration.

Into all that he wrote-and I shall deal later with that point in detail-his true and candid spirit was infused. Just as in his life, in his daily actions, you were continually surprised by his tenderness turning round the corner of his austere reserve, so in his work his sentiment came with a curious appeal, with tender surprises, with an emotion that was all the keener on account of the contrast that it made with the courage, the hope, and the fine manliness of all his thought and all his word. Children, helplessness of all kinds, touched always that merciful heart. I can scarcely think of him as a man of the world, although he had had in his few and glorious days experience enough to harden the spirit of any man. He could never, as I think of him, have grown into your swaggering, money-making, bargaining man of Universal Trade. Keen and significant his policy, his ordering of his affairs must ever have been; but the keenness and significance were the outcome, not of any cool eye to the main chance, but of a gay sense of the pure need of logic, not only in letters but also in living.

There, again, I touch another characteristic-his feeling for logic, for dialectic, which made him one of the severest reasoners that it would be possible to meet in argument. He used, in his admirably assumed air of brag, an attitude which he could take with perfect humour and perfect dignity-to protest that he was one of two or three Englishmen who had ever mastered the philosophical systems of Germany, from Kant to Hegel, from Hegel to Schopenhauer. Though he said it with an airy sense of fun, and almost of disparagement, I am strongly inclined to believe that it was true. He was never satisfied with his knowledge: invariably curious, he was guided by his joy in pure reasoning to the philosophies of the world, and in his silent, quiet, unobtrusive way he became a master of many subjects which life was too brief in his case to permit him to show to his friends, much less to the world.

This, it will be readily understood, is, as I have said, the merest summary of a character, as one person has understood it. Others will reach him from other points of view. Meanwhile Ladysmith has him-what is that phrase of his?-"You squirm between iron fingers." Fortunate he, so far that he is at rest, squirming no longer; and with the wail on his lips, the catch in the throat, he went down in the embrace of a deadlier enemy than the Bulwan horror, to which he made reference in one of the last lines he was destined to write in this world. He fell ill in that pestilent town, as all the world knows. His constitution was strong enough; he had not lived a life of unpropitious preparation for a serious illness; but his heart was a danger. Typhoid is fatal to any heart-weakness, particularly in convalescence; and he was caught suddenly as he was growing towards perfect health.

I have been privileged to see certain letters written to his wife by the friend with whom he shared his Ladysmith house during the course of his illness. "How he contracted enteric fever," says Mr Maud, "I cannot tell. It is unfortunately very prevalent in the camp just now. He began to be ill on the 13th of December, but on that day the doctor was not quite sure about its being enteric, although he at once commenced with the treatment for that disease. The following day there was no doubt about it, and we moved him from our noisy and uncomfortable quarters in the Imperial Light Horse Camp to our present abode, which is quite the best house in Ladysmith. Major Henderson of the Intelligence Department very kindly offered his own room, a fine, airy, and well-furnished apartment, although he was barely recovered of his wound. At first I could only procure the services of a trained orderly of the 5th Dragoon Guards lent to us by the colonel, but a few days later we were lucky enough to find a lady nurse, who has turned out most excellently, and she takes charge at night.... I am happy to tell you that everything has gone on splendidly".... After describing how the fever gradually approached a crisis, Mr Maud continues: "When he was at his worst he was often delirious, but never violent; the only trouble was to prevent him getting out of bed. He was continually asking us to go and fetch you, and always thought he was journeying homewards. It never does to halloa before one gets out of the wood, but I do really think that he is well on the road to recovery." Alas!

Not so much as a continued record of Steevens's illness, as in the nature of a pathetic side-issue to the tragedy of his death, I subjoin one or two passages from a letter sent subsequently from Ladysmith by the same faithful friend before the end: "He has withstood the storm wonderfully well, and he is not very much pulled down. The doctor thinks that he should be about again in a fortnight"-the letter was written on the 4th of January-"by which time I trust General Buller will have arrived and reopened the railway. Directly it is possible to move, I shall take him down to Nottingham Road.... There has been little or nothing to do for the last month beyond listening to the bursting of the Long Tom shells." That touch about General Buller's arrival is surely one of the most strangely appealing incidents in the recent history of human confidence and human expectation! Another friend, Mr George Lynch, whose name occurred in one of his letters in a passage curiously characteristic of Steevens's drily incisive humour, writes about the days that must immediately have preceded his illness: "He was as fit and well as possible when I left Ladysmith last month." (The letter is dated from Durban, January 11.) "We were drawing rations like the soldiers, but had some '74 port and a plum-pudding which we were keeping for Christmas Day.... Shells fell in our vicinity more or less like angels' visits, and I had a bet with him of a dinner. I backed our house to be hit against another which he selected; and he won. I am to pay the dinner at the Savoy when we return."

There is little more to record of the actual facts at this moment. The following cable, which has till now remained unpublished, tells its own tale too sadly:-

"Steevens, a few days before death, had recovered so far as to be able to attend to some of his journalistic duties, though still confined to bed. Relapse followed; he died at five in the afternoon. Funeral same night, leaving Carter's house (where Steevens was lying during illness) at 11.30. Interred in Ladysmith Cemetery at midnight. Night dismal, rain falling, while the moon attempted to pierce the black clouds. Boer searchlight from Umbala flashed over the funeral party, showing the way in the darkness. Large attendance of mourners, several officers, garrison, most correspondents. Chaplain M'Varish officiated."

When I read that short and simple cablegram, the thought came to my mind that if only the greater number of modern rioters in language were compelled to hoard their words out of sheer necessity for the cable, we should have better results from the attempts at word-painting that now cumber the ground. And this brings me directly to a consideration of Steevens's work. In many respects, of course, it was never, even in separate papers, completed. Journalist and scholar he was, both. But the world was allowed to see too much of the journalist, too little of the scholar, in what he accomplished. 'The Monologues of the Dead' was a brilliant beginning. It proved the splendid work of the past, it presaged more splendid work for the future. And then, if you please, he became a man of action; and a man of action, if he is to write, must perforce be a journalist. The preparations had made it impossible that he should ever be anything else but an extraordinary journalist; and accordingly it fell out that the combination of a wonderful equipment of scholarship with a vigorous sense of vitality brought about a unique thing in modern journalism. Unique, I say: the thing may be done again, it is true; but he was the pioneer, he was the inventor, of the particular method which he practised.

I began this discussion with a reference to the spare, austere, but quite lucid message of the cablegram announcing the death of Steevens; and I was carried on at once to a deliberate consideration of his literary work, because that work had, despite its vigour, its vividness, its brilliance, just the outline, the spareness, the slimness, the austerity which are so painfully inconspicuous in the customary painter of word-pictures. Some have said that Steevens was destined to be the Kinglake of the Transvaal. That is patently indemonstrable. His war correspondence was not the work of a stately historian. He could, out of sheer imaginativeness, create for himself the style of the stately historian. His "New Gibbon"-a paper which appeared in 'Blackwood's Magazine'-is there to prove so much; but that was not the manner in which he usually wrote about war. He was essentially a man who had visions of things. Without the time to separate his visions into the language of pure classicism-a feat which Tennyson superlatively contrived to accomplish-he yet took out the right details, and by skilful combination built you, in the briefest possible space, a strongly vivid picture. If you look straight out at any scene, you will see what all men see when they look straight out; but when you inquire curiously into all the quarters of the compass, you will see what no man ever saw when he simply looked out of his two eyes without regarding the here, there, and everywhere. When Tennyson wrote of

"flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh

Half-buried in the Eagle's down,

Sole as a flying star shot thro' the sky

Above the pillar'd town"-

you felt the wonder of the picture. Applied in a vastly different way, put to vastly different uses, the visual gift of Steevens belonged to the same order of things. Consider this passage from his Soudan book:-

"Black spindle-legs curled up to meet red-

gimleted black faces, donkeys headless and legless, or sieves of shrapnel; camels with necks writhed back on to their humps, rotting already in pools of blood and bile-yellow water, heads without faces, and faces without anything below, cobwebbed arms and legs, and black skins grilled to crackling on smouldering palm-leaf-don't look at it."

The writer, swinging on at the obvious pace with which this writing swings, of course has no chance to make as flawless a picture as the great man of leisure; but the pictorial quality of each is precisely the same. Both understood the fine art of selection.

I have sometimes wondered if I grudged to journalism what Steevens stole from letters. I have not yet quite come to a decision; for, had he never left the groves of the academic for the crowded career of the man of the world, we should never have known his amazing versatility, or even a fraction of his noble character as it was published to the world. Certainly the book to which this chapter forms a mere pendant must, in parts, stand as a new revelation no less of the nobility of that character than of his extraordinary foresight, his wonderful instinct for the objectiveness of life. I believe that in his earliest childhood his feeling for the prose of geography was like Wordsworth's cataract-it "haunted him like a passion." And all the while the subjective side of life called for the intrusion of his prying eyes. So that you may say it was more or less pure chance that led him to give what has proved to be the bulk of his active years to the objective side of things, the purely actual. Take, in this very book, that which amounts practically to a prophecy of the difficulty of capturing a point like Spion Kop, in the passage where he describes how impossible it is to judge of the value of a hill-top until you get there. (Pope, by the way-and I state the point not from any desire to be pedantic, but because Steevens had a classical way with him which would out, disguise it how he might-Pope, I say, in his "Essay on Criticism," had before made the same remark.) Then again you have in his chapter on Aliwal the curiously intimate sketch of the Boer character-"A people hard to arouse, but, you would say, very hard to subdue." Well, it is by the objective side of life that we have to judge him. The futility of death makes that an absolute necessity; but I like to think of a possible George Steevens who, when the dust and sand of campaigns and daily journalism had been wiped away from his shoon, would have combined in a great and single-hearted career all the various powers of his fine mind.

His death, as none needs to be told, came as a great shock and with almost staggering surprise to the world; and it is for his memory's sake that I put on record a few of the words that were written of him by responsible people. An Oxford contemporary has written of him:-

"I first met him at a meeting of the Russell Club at Oxford. He was a great light there, being hon. sec. It was in 1890, and Steevens had been head-boy of the City of London School, and then Senior Scholar at Balliol. Even at the Russell Club, then, he was regarded as a great man. The membership was, I think, limited to twenty-all Radical stalwarts. I well remember his witty comments on a paper advocating Women's Rights. He was at his best when opening the debate after some such paper. Little did that band of ardent souls imagine their leader would, in a few short years, be winning fame for a Tory halfpenny paper.

"He sat next me at dinner, just before he graduated, and he was in one of those pensive moods which sometimes came over him. I believe he hardly spoke. In '92 he entered himself as a candidate for a Fellowship at Pembroke. I recollect his dropping into the examination-room half an hour late, while all the rest had been eagerly waiting outside the doors to start their papers at once. But what odds? He was miles ahead of them all-an easy first. It was rumoured in Pembroke that the new Fellow had been seen smoking (a pipe, too) in the quad-that the Dean had said it was really shocking, such a bad example to the undergraduates, and against all college rules. How could we expect undergraduates to be moral if Mr Steevens did such things? How, indeed? Then came Mr Oscar Browning from Cambridge, and carried off Steevens to the 'second university in the kingdom,' so that we saw but little of him. Some worshipped, others denounced him. The Cambridge papers took sides. One spoke of 'The Shadow' or 'The Fetish,' au contraire: another would praise the great Oxford genius. Whereas at Balliol Steevens was boldly criticised, at Cambridge he was hated or adored.

"A few initiated friends knew that Steevens was writing for the 'Pall Mall' and the 'Cambridge Observer,' and it soon became evident that journalism was to be his life-work. Last February I met him in the Strand, and he was much changed: no more crush hat, and long hair, and Bohemian manners. He was back from the East, and a great man now-married and settled as well-very spruce, and inclined to be enthusiastic about the Empire. But still I remarked his old indifference to criticism. Success had improved him in every way: this seems a common thing with Britishers. In September last I knocked up against him at Rennes during the Dreyfus trial. As I expected, Steevens kept cool: he could always see the other side of a question. We discussed the impending war, and he was eagerly looking forward to going with the troops. I dare not tell his views on the political question of the war. They would surprise most of his friends and admirers. On taking leave I bade him be sure to take care of himself. He said he would."

What strikes me as being peculiarly significant of a certain aspect of his character appeared in 'The Nursing and Hospital World.' It ran in this wise-I give merely an extract:-

"Although George Steevens never used his imperial pen for personal purposes, yet it seems almost as if it were a premonition of death by enteric fever which aroused his intense sympathy for our brave soldiers who died like flies in the Soudan from this terrible scourge, owing to lack of trained nursing skill, during the late war. This sympathy he expressed to those in power, and we believe that it was owing to his representations that one of the most splendid offers of help for our soldiers ever suggested was made by his chief, the editor of the 'Daily Mail,' when he proposed to equip, regardless of expense, an ambulance to the Soudan, organised on lines which would secure, for our sick and wounded, skilled nursing on modern lines, such nursing as the system in vogue at the War Office denies to them.

"The fact that the War Office refused this enlightened and generous offer, and that dozens of valuable lives were sacrificed in consequence, is only part of the monstrous incompetence of its management. Who can tell! If Mr Alfred Harmsworth's offer had been accepted in the last war, might not army nursing reform have, to a certain extent, been effected ere we came to blows with the Transvaal, and many of the brave men who have died for us long lingering deaths from enteric and dysentery have been spared to those of whom they are beloved?"

Another writer in the 'Outlook':-

"As we turn over the astonishing record of George Warrington Steevens's thirty years, we are divided between the balance of loss and gain. The loss to his own intimates must be intolerable. From that, indeed, we somewhat hastily avert our eyes. Remains the loss to the great reading public, which we believe that Steevens must have done a vast deal to educate, not to literature so much as to a pride in our country's imperial destiny. Where the elect chiefly admired a scarcely exampled grasp and power of literary impressionism, the man in the street was learning the scope and aspect of his and our imperial heritage, and gaining a new view of his duties as a British citizen.

"A potent influence is thus withdrawn. The pen that had taught us to see and comprehend India and Egypt and the reconquest of the Soudan would have burned in on the most heedless the line which duty marks out for us in South Africa. Men who know South Africa are pretty well united. Now Steevens would have taken all England to South Africa. Nay, more, we are no longer able to blink the truth that all is not for the best in the best of all possible armies, and the one satisfaction in our reverses is that, when the war is over, no Government will dare to resist a vigorous programme of reform. Steevens would not have been too technical for his readers; he would have given his huge public just as many prominent facts and headings as had been good for them, and his return from South Africa with the materials of a book must have strengthened the hands of the intelligent reformer. That journalism which, in a word, really is a living influence in the State is infinitely the poorer. And so we believe is literature. There is much literature in his journalism, but it is in his 'Monologues of the Dead' that you get the rare achievement and rarer promise which made one positive that, his wanderings once over, he would settle down to write something of great and permanent value. Only one impediment could we have foreseen to such a consummation: he might have been drawn into public life. For he spoke far better than the majority of even distinguished contemporary politicians, and to a man of his knowledge of affairs, influence over others, and clearness of conviction, anything might have been open.

"Well! he is dead at Ladysmith of enteric fever. Turning over the pages of his famous war-book we find it written of the Soudan: 'Of the men who escaped with their lives, hundreds more will bear the mark of its fangs till they die; hardly one of them but will die the sooner for the Soudan.' And so he is dead 'the sooner for the Soudan.' It seems bitter, unjust, a quite superfluous dispensation; and then one's eye falls on the next sentence-'What have we to show in return?' In the answer is set forth the balance of gain, for we love 'to show in return' a wellnigh ideal career. Fame, happiness, friendship, and that which transcends friendship, all came to George Steevens before he was thirty. He did everything, and everything well. He bridged a gulf which was deemed impassable, for from being a head-boy at school and the youngest Balliol scholar and a Fellow of his College and the very type of rising pedagogue, with a career secure to him in these dusty meadows, he chose to step forth into a world where these things were accounted lightly, to glorify the hitherto contemned office of the reporter. Thus within a few years he hurried through America, bringing back, the greatest of living American journalists tells us, the best and most accurate of all pictures of America. Thus he saw the face of war with the conquering Turk in Thessaly, and showed us modern Germany and Egypt and British India, and in two Soudanese campaigns rode for days in the saddle in 'that God-accursed wilderness,' as though his training had been in a stable, not in the quad of Balliol. These thirty years were packed with the happiness and success which Matthew Arnold desired for them that must die young. He not only succeeded, but he took success modestly, and leaves a name for unselfishness and unbumptiousness. Also he 'did the State some service.'

"'One paces up and down the shore yet awhile,' says Thackeray, 'and looks towards the unknown ocean and thinks of the traveller whose boat sailed yesterday.' And so, thinking of Steevens, we must not altogether repine when, 'trailing clouds of glory,' an 'ample, full-blooded spirit shoots into the night.'"

I take this passage from 'Literature,' in connection with Steevens, on account of the grave moral which it draws from his life-work:-

"His career was an object-lesson in the usefulness of those educational endowments which link the humblest with the highest seats of learning in the country. If he had not been able to win scholarships he would have had to begin life as a clerk in a bank or a house of business. But he won them, and a good education with them, wherever they were to be won-at the City of London School, and at Balliol College, Oxford. He was a first-class man (both in 'Mods' and 'Greats'), proxime accessit for the Hertford, and a Fellow of Pembroke. He learnt German, and specialised in metaphysics. A review which he wrote of Mr Balfour's 'Foundations of Religious Belief' showed how much more deeply than the average journalist he had studied the subjects about which philosophers doubt; and his first book-'Monologues of the Dead'-established his claim to scholarship. Some critics called them vulgar, and they certainly were frivolous. But they proved two things-that Mr Steevens had a lively sense of humour, and that he had read the classics to some purpose. The monologue of Xanthippe-in which she gave her candid opinion of Socrates-was, in its way, and within its limits, a masterpiece.

"But it was not by this sort of work that Mr Steevens was to win his wide popularity. Few writers, when one comes to think of it, do win wide popularity by means of classical jeux d'esprit. At the time when he was throwing them off, he was also throwing off 'Occ. Notes' for the 'Pall Mall Gazette.' He was reckoned the humorist par excellence of that journal in the years when, under the editorship of Mr Cust, it was almost entirely written by humorists. He was one of the seceders on the occasion of Mr Cust's retirement, and occupied the leisure that then presented itself in writing his book on 'Naval Policy.' His real chance in life came when he was sent to America for the 'Daily Mail.' It was a better chance than it might have been, because that newspaper did not publish his letters at irregular intervals, as usually happens, but in an unbroken daily sequence. Other excursions followed-to Egypt, to India, to Turkey, to Germany, to Rennes, to the Soudan-and the letters, in almost every case, quickly reappeared as a book.

"A rare combination of gifts contributed to Mr Steevens's success. To begin with, he had a wonderful power of finding his way quickly through a tangle of complicated detail: this he owed, no doubt, in large measure to his Oxford training. He also was one of the few writers who have brought to journalism the talents, and sympathies, and touch hitherto regarded as belonging more properly to the writer of fiction. It was the dream of Mr T.P. O'Connor, when he started the 'Sun,' to have the happenings of the passing day described in the style of the short-story writer. The experiment failed, because it was tried on an evening paper with printers clamouring for copy, and the beginning of the story generally had to be written before the end of the story was in sight or the place of the incidents could be determined. Mr Steevens tried the same experiment under more favourable conditions, and succeeded. There never were newspaper articles that read more like short stories than his, and at the same time there never were newspaper articles that gave a more convincing impression that the thing happened as the writer described it."

A more personal note was struck perhaps by a writer in the 'Morning Post':-

"Few of the reading public can fail to be acquainted with the merits of his purely journalistic work. He had carefully developed a great natural gift of observation until it seemed wellnigh an impossibility that he should miss any important detail, however small, in a scene which he was watching. Moreover, he had a marvellous power of vivid expression, and used it with such a skill that even the dullest of readers could hardly fail to see what he wished them to see. It is given to some journalists to wield great influence, and few have done more to spread the imperial idea than has been done by Mr Steevens during the last four or five years of his brief life. Still it must be remembered that, in order to follow journalism successfully, he had to make sacrifices which he undoubtedly felt to be heavy. His little book, 'Monologues of the Dead,' can never become popular, since it needs for its appreciation an amount of scholarship which comparatively few possess. Yet it proves none the less conclusively that, had he lived and had leisure, he would have accomplished great things in literature. Those who had the privilege of knowing him, however, and above all those who at one period or another in his career worked side by side with him, will think but little now of his success as journalist and author. The people who may have tried, as they read his almost aggressively brilliant articles, to divine something of the personality behind them, can scarcely have contrived to picture him accurately. They will not imagine the silent, undemonstrative person, invariably kind and ready unasked to do a colleague's work in addition to his own, who dwells in the memory of the friends of Mr Steevens. They will not understand how entirely natural it seemed to these friends that when the long day's work was ended in Ladysmith he should have gone habitually, until this illness struck him down, to labour among the sick and wounded for their amusement, and in order to give them the courage which is as necessary to the soldier facing disease as it is to his colleague who has to storm a difficult position. Those who loved him will presently find some consolation in considering the greatness of his achievement, but nothing that can now be said will mitigate their grief at his untimely loss."

Another writer says:-

"What Mr Kipling has done for fiction Mr Steevens did for fact. He was a priest of the Imperialist idea, and the glory of the Empire was ever uppermost in his writings. That alone would not have brought him the position he held, for it was part of the age he lived in. But he was endowed with a curious faculty, an extraordinary gift for recording his impressions. In a scientific age his style may be described as cinematographic. He was able to put vividly before his readers, in a series of smooth-running little pictures, events exactly as he saw them with his own intense eyes. It has been said that on occasion his work contained passages a purist would not have passed. But Mr Steevens wrote for the people, and he knew it. Deliberately and by consummate skill he wrote in the words of his average reader; and had he desired to offer his work for the consideration of a more select class, there is little doubt that he would have displayed the same felicity. His mission was not of that order. He set himself the more difficult task of entertaining the many; and the same thoroughness which made him captain of the school, Balliol scholar, and the best note-writer on the 'Pall Mall Gazette' in its brightest days, taught him, aided by natural gifts, to write 'With Kitchener to Khartum' and his marvellous impressions of travel."

* * *

This record must close. Innumerable have been the tributes to this brave youth's power for capturing the human heart and the human mind. The statesman and the working man-one of these has written very curtly and simply, "He served us best of all"-each has felt something of the intimate spirit of his work.

Lord Roberts cabled from Capetown in the following words:-

"Deeply regret death of your talented correspondent, Steevens. Roberts."

And a correspondent writes:-

"To-day I called on Lord Kitchener, in compliance with his request, having yesterday received through his aide-de-camp, Major Watson, the following letter:-

"'I am anxious to have an opportunity of expressing to you personally my great regret at the loss we have all sustained in the death of Mr Steevens.'

"Lord Kitchener said to me:-

"'I was anxious to tell you how very sorry I was to hear of the death of Mr Steevens. He was with me in the Sudan, and, of course, I saw a great deal of him and knew him well. He was such a clever and able man. He did his work as correspondent so brilliantly, and he never gave the slightest trouble-I wish all correspondents were like him. I suppose they will try to follow in his footsteps. I am sure I hope they will.

"'He was a model correspondent, the best I have ever known, and I should like you to say how greatly grieved I am at his death.'"

Some "In Memoriam" verses, very beautifully written, for the 'Morning Post,' may however claim a passing attention:-

"The pages of the Book quickly he turned.

He saw the languid Isis in a dream

Flow through the flowery meadows, where the ghosts

Of them whose glorious names are Greece and Rome

Walked with him. Then the dream must have an end,

For London called, and he must go to her,

To learn her secrets-why men love her so,

Loathing her also. Yet again he learned

How God, who cursed us with the need of toil,

Relenting, made the very curse a boon.

There came a call to wander through the world

And watch the ways of men. He saw them die

In fiercest fight, the thought of victory

Making them drunk like wine; he saw them die

Wounded and sick, and struggling still to live,

To fight again for England, and again

Greet those who loved them. Well indeed he knew

How good it is to live, how good to love,

How good to watch the wondrous ways of men-

How good to die, if ever there be need.

And everywhere our England in his sight

Poured out her blood and gold, to share with all

Her heritage of freedom won of old.

Thus quickly did he turn the pages o'er,

And learn the goodness of the gift of life;

And when the Book was ended, glad at heart-

The lesson learned, and every labour done-

Find at the end life's ultimate gift of rest."

There I leave him. Great-hearted, strong-souled, brave without a hesitation, tender as a child, intolerant of wrong because he was incapable of it, tolerant of every human weakness, slashing controversialist in speech, statesman-like in foresight, finely versed in the wisdom of many literatures, a man of genius scarce aware of his innumerable gifts, but playing them all with splendid skill, with full enjoyment of the crowded hours of life,-here was George Steevens. In the face of what might have been-think of it-a boy scarce thirty! And yet he did much, if his days were so few. "Being made perfect in a little while, he fulfilled long years."



[1] This chapter has been deliberately included in this volume notwithstanding its obviously fragmentary nature. The swift picture which it gives of flying events is the excuse for this decision.

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