22/08/2012 by noonobservation
This week I have been reading this 1890 biography of General Gordon (I have the 8th ed, published 1901) and listening to the audiobook of Game of Thrones.
Just for kicks, I will attempt to describe Gordon in the style of George R R Martin:
“Gordon was a pious man who never thought about his cock except when he was pissing. He had the kind of harsh blue eyes that suggested he might have you shot in the head at the first sign of human weakness. Though fierce in battle, he had a sentimental heart and loved none so well as he loved his sister.”
I think George R R Martin is a pervert. I am not yet sure about Gordon.
For those who know nothing of General Gordon (I am told such people exist), he was a Victorian soldier, Empire Builder and Christian Hero who was employed mainly in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion in China and cutting up troublesome Fuzzy-Wuzzies in the Sudan. He memorably lost his head at Khartoum, the Mahdist fanatics having taken a shine to it.
This book is one of those infuriating Victorian biographies that waste loads of space explaining that they have left the interesting parts of the story out due to lack of space. I am only on page 70, but surprisingly this is about a 1/3rd of the way through the book due to it having been printed on the thickest paper known to man.
The author, Lieut-Col Seton Churchill, is at great pains to justify Gordon’s actions. This is necessary, as Gordon is, as is well known, a True Christian Hero.
During his time as commander of the Ever-Victorious Army in China, Gordon attempted to find out who had written a mutinous note by threatening to shoot one in five of his officers, and to prove he wasn’t bluffing, actually had one of them shot. Churchill justifies this on three grounds: 1) Gordon by sheer luck chose the man who had actually written the note; 2) If the army had mutinied, they would doubtless have “engaged in the wildest excesses”; 3) Only squeamish people think shooting Chinese officers is wrong.
I shall reserve judgement as to Gordon’s full character until I’ve finished the book – I’m confident in the true and unbiased portrait it provides. As the author explains, “…it must be remembered that it is only the good that we are to follow, and therefore it is useless to direct attention to a man’s failings.”
I would recommend this biography whole-heartedly to any young man contemplating a career in the Victorian military. I myself may go on to look up some of the authors other works. “Forbidden Fruit for Young Men”, sounds like an enlightening read.
As an interesting foot note, while trying to find this pretty picture of Gordon, I stumbled onto a blog about “scientific methods” of tracing people’s past lives. The contributors were debating whether Gordon is an earlier version of Paul Newman or Osama Bin Laden.
They were also debating whether J K Rowling is a reincarnation of C S Lewis or Augusta Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein.