Friday, January 26, 2018

General Charles George Gordon and Gerontius

General Charles George Gordon died at the siege of Khartoum on January 26, 1885.

Before his death, he had given a copy of Newman's Dream of Gerontius to a newspaper correspondent who brought it back to England. Newman, who had been following the news reports of the efforts of reach Khartoum, was impressed when he learned of Gordon's appreciation of his poem and saw his copy of it:

The Cardinal, in his reply, wrote: "Your letter and its contents took away my breath. I was deeply moved to find that a book of mine had been in General Gordon's hands, and that the description of a soul preparing for death." 

According to this edition of the Dream of Gerontius:

The story of General Charles George Gordon,"Chinese Gordon," one of the heroes of the nineteenth century, has passed into history, and every enthusiastic boy or girl ought to know it by heart. Gordon was the type of the valiant soldier who carried the love and fear of God everywhere. He, besieged by pagan hordes, died, in 1884, the death of a martyr to duty. This man was only one of those who found consolation in "The Dream of Gerontius" at the very hour of death. General Gordon's copy of the poem—a small duodecimo—was presented to the late Mr. Frank Power, correspondent of the London Times. The latter sent it home to his sister in Dublin. Deep pencil-marks had been drawn under lines all bearing on death and prayer. For instance: "Pray for me, O my friends"; "'Tis death, O loving friends, your prayers,—'tis he"; "So pray for me, my friends, who have not strength to pray"; "Use well the interval"; "Prepare to meet thy God"; "Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled." Later Power met the fate of a hero. The last words that Gordon underlined before he gave him the book were:

"Farewell, but not forever, brother dear;
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow."

I wonder how General Gordon would have reacted to hearing Dame Janet Baker singing that farewell to the Soul of Gerontius in Elgar's oratorio!

It's fascinating how many people in his own time appreciated this poem--including Gladstone, who was blamed by both Queen Victoria and many in England for not sending reinforcements to Gordon earlier--even though their Protestant/Anglican doctrines rejected the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and prayer for the dead!

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