W.T. Stead by Harold Begbie

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W.T. Stead by Harold Begbie

Quoted in Harold Begbie, The Life of General William Booth (2 vols., New York, 1920)

Matthew Arnold wrote to John Morley in 1884, saying, “Under your friend Stead, the P.M.G., whatever may be its merits, is fast ceasing to be literature.” This was a just censure, but Mr. Stead would have read it unmoved. He was first and last a journalist, a man whose imagination never strayed from the columns of the passing hour to the bookshelves of posterity.

He had no literary ambitions for The Pall Mall Gazette; he sought rather to give it a spirit which would permeate the national conscience. He was a Puritan who loved his fellow-men.

In those days he was narrower than he came to be, and yet more sensible. He boasted that he had never entered a theatre, but he had not fallen a victim to the most absurd delusions of spiritualism. His manner was eager, pleasant, and not without a touch of worldly humour. He made friends with men who shared none of his ideals. He sought rather to encourage those whom he met to go a step farther on their own road than to cross over and march at his side. He was fanatical, I think, in the depths of his soul, but a diplomatist on the surface.

He believed passionately in conversion and prayer, but he kept this conviction for those who were already persuaded. He never intruded his religion, and he sometimes cloaked it. Perhaps it may be said, considering his work for the Royal Navy, that no journalist of his generation rendered greater services to the British Empire.

William Booth, in my opinion, was never greatly attracted by Mr. Stead. He was more or less suspicious about this thrusting, eager, and headlong journalist, who did much to help the Salvation Army and who was a brave champion from early days of its innovating General. William Booth used Mr. Stead, and was grateful for his assistance, but he never greatly warmed to him, never wholly trusted his judgement, and was sometimes disposed to regard him as one who shilly-shallied with the great decision of Christian life.

Mr. Stead was perhaps aware of this, for in “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” he speaks of the help he received from the Salvation Army – “from the Chief of the Staff” – that is, Bramwell Booth – “down to the humblest private.” There is no mention of the General.

On the other hand, Bramwell Booth – at that time young and ardent – not only admired Mr. Stead as a journalist, but felt for him a generous affection. He thought first of all of Mr. Stead when the idea of publicly exposing the traffic in women occurred to his mind, and he never once questioned the wisdom of this inspiration.