Lord Esher on W. T. Stead
Quoted in The American Review of Reviews, (June, 1912), pp. 696-697
His influence upon public affairs was not spasmodic. It never relaxed. Although he ran up many blind alleys, he wonderfully sustained through life his onward march. It is a curious and humiliating reflection that such a man, so disinterested and so patriotic, could for forty years ardently promote everything that is noblest and best in the life of his country without receiving any public mark or recognition of his national and imperial work. He died poor and unrewarded. Yet he was rich in the esteem of many noble minds, and honored by the confidence of the greatest among his contemporaries. I once said to General Gordon, “You appear to me always walking with God.” He replied, “Some of us do. Look at Stead.”
Captain Fisher of the Excellent thirty years ago called him the missionary, fearless even when alone, believing in his God—the God of Truth—a man of big heart and great emotions; an exploder of “gas-bags,” and the terror of liars.
Lord Fisher, since his death, has written of him, “Old Stead only feared God. He feared no one else. He told me, when I was at the Admiralty, to remember Nebuchadnezzar, but he never needed to be told. He was humble-minded from his mother’s womb.”
In the early days of their friendship Rhodes said to me, speaking of Stead, “He is the greatest patriot I know; England is his home and every foot of ground over which the British flag flies is his native land.”
No man in our time had talked with so many people, from the highest to the lowest. No man was ever more trusted by those with whom he talked, and no man was more deserving of confidence. He was highly tested, when his profession is considered, and his intimate knowledge of secret things is appreciated. The test never failed. For some reason difficult to explain men and women spoke to him with unusual freedom and reserve. Yet even the secrets of his enemies were safe.