19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 16 (2013)

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W. T. Stead and the Eastern Question (1875-1911); or, How to Rouse England and Why?

Stéphanie Prévost


W. T. Stead, who had viewed his appointment as editor of the new Darlington daily, the Northern Echo, in 1871 as ‘a glorious opportunity of attacking the devil’, took up many crusades beyond that of the ‘Maiden Tribute’. Among the career-long causes that allowed him to ‘attack the devil’, one holds a special place: the suffering of Ottoman Christians, in particular Balkan Slavs and Armenians, at the hands of their tutelary authority, the Sultan, whom Stead did not recoil from calling ‘the Eastern ogre’ at the time of two episodes of atrocities, first against Bulgarians in 1876, and then against Armenians twenty years later. Indeed, on Stead’s own avowal, the Bulgarian agitation ‘made [him]’. Undeniably, the denunciation of this episode of ‘atrocities’ put him on the journalistic map, eventually winning him the esteem of leading Liberal statesmen and the position of assistant editor at the Pall Mall Gazette in 1880. Although Stead’s early interest in the Ottoman Empire has received some attention, his career-long commitment to the Eastern Question (1875–1911) remains understudied, including the fact that, in 1911, he was cordially entertained by the successor of Sultan Abdul Hamid, whom he had assimilated to the ‘Eastern ogre’ only a few years earlier. Assuming that Stead’s early coverage of the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ in 1876 proved a defining moment for him, this article contends that his understanding of the Eastern Question was largely dictated by those writings that proved of utmost help ‘in some of the critical moments of his life’, namely, the Bible, Thomas Carlyle’s Cromwell, and the work of the American poet and ambassador, James Russell Lowell. Delving into Stead’s mind, to paraphrase the title of David Bebbington’s 2004 study on Gladstone (The Mind of Gladstone: Religion, Homer and Politics), will enable us to shed light on the reasons why the Eastern Question appealed to Stead as a fervent Puritan, as a freedom-loving Radical journalist who sought to rouse his country in the vein of his future allegedly justifiable sensationalist ‘government by journalism’, and as a self-styled diplomat who wanted to make up for the failures of the European Concert.

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