Steadism: a National Danger

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Steadism: a National Danger

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. V, June, 1892) p. 571

I do not know who Mr. Cyril Waters is, excepting that he is a bright writer with confused ideas, but his article on “Steadism in Politics: a National Danger,” in the Westminster Review for June will amuse, if it does not edify some of my readers. Here are some extracts, which I make with all humility:—

About fifteen or sixteen years ago a most remarkable and interesting figure bounded into the field of politics and journalism, a young, fresh, and ardent genius, who having made one reputation as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, has since achieved a still wider celebrity as editor of the Review of Reviews, that remarkable publication which, like the sun and the drum-tap of the British army, travels round the earth, and carries the name and fame of Stead into the remotest corners of the globe. By a personality so vigorous and aggressive many, quite naturally, have been attracted, and many, quite as naturally, repelled.

Mr. Stead’s enemies are given to speaking of him in very disrespectful terms… and some years ago, he made himself and his paper so notorious that a certain facetious individual issued proposals for the formation of a Limited Liability Company for the Suppression of Mr. Stead, a company with a chairman, vice-chairman, and auditors, with directors who would take their seats after allotment, and, in short, everything proper.

This promising scheme, although eagerly taken up at first, and for a time prosecuted with considerable vigour, did not, however, ultimately succeed. Somehow, there were difficulties. Mr. Stead, it was discovered, would not consent to be suppressed with the alacrity that might have been expected. On the contrary, he preferred, like the Gracewalking Brother in his celebrated encounter with Colonel Quagg (as related by that veracious historian, Mr. George Augustus Sala), to “take it fighting,” and those who had once made acquaintance with his “swashing blow” were somewhat shy of again encountering such a redoubtable antagonist. Mr. Stead, in short, was not to be “sat upon.”


After this throw off, Mr. Cyril Waters proceeds to reckon me up severely. He says that I am not a learned man, or a man of fine scholarship; I live not in the past, but in the present, and owing to the lack of exact historical training, I am apt to deduce wrong inferences from the facts and phenomena which I see, and theorise in rather a wild and reckless manner. There is a certain hardness in my style and a certain coarseness of tone, and with as much feeling for the becoming as Burke and Hare may be supposed to have had for the sublime.

My book on the “Passion Play” “combined in the drollest manner a really sincere and lively piety with a more than Yankee commercial shrewdness.” I grieve to learn that one unlovely trait in my character is a somewhat spiteful temper, which I display when my vanity is wounded, in proof of which he refers to my comments upon Lord Randolph Churchill and Mrs. Lynn Linton!


Some people, it seems, are unkind enough to say that my philanthropy is a sham, and my religion is a humbug, not so Mr. Cyril Waters:—

In his somewhat eccentric way, Mr. Stead is not only religious, but even fanatical in his religion. He has, indeed, all the pitiless cruelty of the bigot of virtue. “Two centuries ago,” said Matthew Arnold in a memorable passage, “the English spirit went into the prison-house of Puritanism, and it has had the key turned on it ever since;” and Mr. Stead, standing jailor at the door (with the Nonconformist conscience in his pocket), seems determined that, if he at least can prevent it, it shall never come out.

After this introduction, Mr. Waters sets forth how it is that this tendency of Mr. Stead and his party, this growing spirit of Puritan intolerance, constitutes a grave national danger. His view is that, in our own interests as nations and individuals, we must consent to overlook, in return for great public services, sins, weaknesses, and criminal follies, for which, in the case of less illustrious spirits, we should be justified in exacting the severest retribution; and in support of this thesis Mr. Waters runs through several notable characters who have played important parts in history, and asks how those heroes would have stood the new test? It is a motley group, including Nicias, Alcibiades, Julius Caesar, Mahomet, Mirabeau, Lord Nelson, Bolingbroke, Sheridan, Sir Robert Walpole and Fox. There is one delicious passage which I must quote:—

Mahomet, again—he would have had small chance of starting a new religion with Mr. Stead anywhere in the neighbourhood. What a battle-royal there would have been between those two!


All this is excellent fooling, no doubt, but it is only fooling. If Mr. Cyril Waters will but substitute murder for adultery, how will his argument look then? Even Mr. Waters would probably admit that the cold-blooded murders which have disgraced many of the great ones who have made history in the past, ought not to be forgiven, even to the most illustrious spirit in the present day. It reminds me of the fuss which was raised when Cromwell executed an ambassador’s brother for murdering an English subject in the streets of London. All the Cyril Waters of his day shrieked as he shrieks to-day. Diplomatists stood aghast. “What, execute the brother of the Portuguese envoy, merely because he slew a lowborn Englishman!” The idea was preposterous; but Cromwell stood no nonsense, and the man was beheaded. Since that time, murder has been regarded a disqualification even for diplomacy, and Mr. Waters himself would shrink from saying that if Mr. Gladstone or Lord Rosebery were to emulate the deeds of Deeming and Jack the Ripper, they should still be allowed to take their places as legislators for the British Empire.

The reverence which even Mr. Waters puts on human life we pay to the honour of women and the sanctity of the home. That is the only difference between us. Two hundred years hence, the hubbub that is raised by such people as Mr. Waters against the disqualification as legislators of men of flagrant immorality will seem as incredible as the protest that was made against the hanging of the Spanish Envoy by the Lord Protector.