W T Stead – the Loss of a True Friend
Bramwell Booth (War Cry, April 27, 1912)
The loss of the Titanic has involved The Army in the loss of a true friend, for there is, alas! only too much ground for believing that W. T. Stead is among the lost. He was a remarkable man. Born in 1849, the son of a Congregational minister living in a little village on the Tyne, he received, when quite a lad, a powerful spiritual awakening, the effect of which continued with him all his life.
At eighteen, while working as a clerk in Newcastle, he began writing to the newspapers, and at twenty-three was editor of The Northern Echo, a clever little daily published at Darlington. Ten, years later he came to London as sub-editor, and later editor of The Pall Mall Gazette. He threw up that position mainly to keep a good conscience, and shortly after became editor and proprietor of The Review of Reviews. He published many books and pamphlets, travelled a good deal about the world for the promotion of various good works, took a prominent part in furthering efforts for peace and the settlement of international disputes by arbitration, and was ever to be found on the side of the suffering and oppressed, especially when they were women and children.
Mr. Stead was somewhat intimately associated with various Salvation Army events. He first met our people in Darlington, and did what he could to champion an unpopular cause. I remember very well his first a letter to us. He complained that our Officers in the town were overworked and remarked that it was not good generalship to let them kill themselves. To which we made reply – and he often spoke of it in later years- that he would never make a general if he was afraid to sacrifice his men in order to win the battle!
At Darlington he met both The General and Mrs Booth, and from their first meeting he became a friend. When later he came to London he sought us out, and I have happy recollections of very intimate moments spent in earnest prayer with him even in his earliest days, and while he occupied a room at the Inns of Court Hotel, where I often met him.
Shortly afterwards he used his influence with John Morley – now Viscount Morley who was then editor, and together they lent the powerful influence of The Pall Mall to make known and put down the disgraceful violence which at that time assailed us in many parts of the country. They rendered invaluable service. Mr. Stead and a brilliant young journalist now also dead, F. E. Garrett, took some very serious personal risks, and received more than one nasty blow in obtaining information on our behalf.
In 1885 Mr. Stead joined hands with us in the effort we then made to alter the law for the protection of young girls from the designs of evil men. He had already become the friend of Mrs Josephine Butler, and had strong views about certain forms of vice. But it required the impetus of The Salvation Army and the splendid devotion of its Officers to inspire him with that desperate courage which helped him to arouse the whole country with his pen. He did it at no small cost of suffering and loss.
In the course of investigations into the abyss of cruelty and shame which he made in association with me and with one or two other souls as brave as he was, I have seen him crushed and prostrate alike in spirit and body. Those horrors which came upon him so suddenly almost drove him mad – and in truth almost drove us all mad. But he went through with what he felt to be his duty, and as a result the country was aroused, the Government of the day, which had refused to alter the law in the direction we desired – was compelled to bring in and pass a Bill which is still the law of the land and which greatly improved the status of young women and girls.
Among other things we secured for the first time in England the right of an accused person to give evidence at his own trial.
After the battle was won the enemy returned to the charge. Stead and one or two others, including myself, were prosecuted at the Old Bailey. He was Convicted and sent to prison – wrongly as was generally felt. I and another Salvation Army Officer were acquitted. Stead was allowed every privilege in prison, and edited his paper there. I met him on his release, and his first words to me were, ‘ I have had a great time. What the world wants is Christ.’
Four years later The General was engaged in preparing his book, In Darkest England, and the Way Out. Mrs Booth lay dying at Clacton-on-Sea amid circumstances of suffering difficult to describe. Stead had visited her bedside once or twice, and had heard of the development of our work for the poorest, which was then going on and which was furnishing facts and experience for a still larger departure. He and The General talked about it and he offered in his generous and overflowing fashion, to help in the preparation of the material, and in editing and recasting some of the manuscript which was already before him. The offer was accepted, and very valuable help was rendered to The General at a moment when immeasurable personal sorrow and trial were assailing him. In Darkest England was a great success. Mr Stead took a deep interest in all the wonderful network of agencies spread all over the world which came out of it – an interest which lasted to the end of his life
No one has deplored more than I have done some of Mr Stead’s views – especially in later years. He lacked in some things a good balance. His generosity and fine devotion to the weak and suffering of the world sometimes led him astray. His intense realization of the supreme importance of the world to come, sent him off in one direction which could only lead to disappointment and danger both for himself and others. But not withstanding all that I look upon him as a strong, sincere, and noble spirit. During my last conversation with him – not many weeks ago – our talk turned to some of the disappointments he had found, and the burden on heart and spirit which they involved, and I shall not easily forget the way in which he suddenly held up his finger, and exclaimed, with deep feeling: “Ah! it is in God I trust – only the living God can hold up a living soul.”
There I could always meet and admire him. He stood up for God. Surrounded by a society largely without any practical belief in a Divine Creator, he was always ready to show his own confidence and to declare on whose side he stood. This is one reason why it is the fashion in many quarters to belittle and forget him.
He stood for the soul of man as requiring something more to feed it than its own performances. He was great on better laws and generous government; he hated war, and struggled for the liberty of small peoples, but he knew that neither laws nor Governments nor liberty can support the human spirit – and he said so. “Only the living God can hold up a living soul”.
The little we know of the last scene pictures him just before the end on the deck of the sinking ship helping the women and children into the boats. We will leave him there – neither dead nor dying, but with the Living God.