January: Maiden Tribute, A Life of W. T. Stead
Maiden Tribute, A Life of W. T. Stead
By Grace Eckley
Paperback: 468 pages
Maiden Tribute, A Life of W. T. Stead is published in the USA by Xlibris and is available online from Xlibris.com for $21.14. It is also available from Amazon.co.uk for £14.00 (second-hand copies from £9.60).
FOR Salvationists, the leading Victorian journalist W. T. Stead is best known for his part in the ‘Maiden Tribute’ campaign which saw The Salvation Army’s then Chief of the Staff (later General) Bramwell Booth in the dock at London’s Old Bailey criminal court and ended with the raising of the age of consent in the United Kingdom to the present age of 16.
Salvationists who have taken a closer than average interest in the early history of the Army know also that Stead was instrumental in the publication of a number of writings by the Founder, William Booth – including his masterpiece In Darkest England and the Way Out. Stead certainly edited the manuscript, and perhaps wrote much of it. He is therefore a seminal figure in the Army’s early years – much more so than Army historians have recorded.
Stead was also an immensely influential figure in British political life. An American historian has said that Stead, as a campaigning journalist, ‘came closer to governing Great Britain in the years 1884 through 1888 than any other one man in the kingdom’.
Someone who has no doubts about Stead’s importance and greatness is former American professor Dr Grace Eckley, who spent 12 years editing a twice-yearly journal devoted to writings by and about him, and has also written three previous books on his literary achievements. Grace began researching Stead because she found him to be a dominant influence on the Irish writer James Joyce. This book is the culmination of her 24 years of research and focuses on his social and political foresight and considerable contributions to humanity, especially his efforts after 1888 to promote world peace and the science of thought.
Born in 1849, W. T. Stead died in 1912 as a passenger on the ill-fated SS Titanic, which sank after colliding with an iceberg.
Grace Eckley says of Stead: ‘In him was seen the Protestant reformation in its Puritan-Cromwellian foundations, the thrust of the New Democracy generated by the dynamo of the New Journalism, the rise of the “new Catholicism” as he absorbed alternative faiths, the Bible’s “higher criticism” , the impact of Darwinism, which in 1881 gave him a “sense of the immanence of God”, and the first international peace conference.’
Stead, she says, conceived of a United States of Europe and in 1903 was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace.
‘Living his motto “Everything wrong in the world is a divine call to use your life in righting it”, he rejoiced in having made himself a martyr for the cause of women and children. The inculpatory/exculpatory dual nature of his reputation, founded by The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, haunted him all his life. Today, it seems, the public is aware only of the inculpatory side.’ Eckley’s latest book exposes the exculpatory side.
Stead’s skills as a newspaper editor, combined with his moralistic purpose, attracted the description of ‘government by journalism’ and made him the foremost journalist of his day. Ever scrutinising his beloved profession, he held his colleagues to rigorous standards and scolded them for reckless imprudence. Eckley describes him as a ‘word sculptor’ who created new words as necessary, some of which have passed into common usage, such as ‘psychopath’. He is quoted in 28,000 books.
Eckley’s Maiden Tribute, A Life of W. T. Stead will repay reading by today’s Salvationists – and not just the 18 pages on which The Salvation Army is mentioned. Those references, however, are particularly interesting to those who have only ever thought of Stead as a helpful but secondary ally to their hero William Booth. One also reveals the influence of the Army on Stead: ‘Stead had seen miracles wrought by The Salvation Army and would trust his own soul with Bramwell Booth.’
The first reference to the Army is revealing. Stead learned that in Darlington two delicate Salvation Army lasses converted so many drunks that police cells were suddenly uncharacteristically empty on Saturday nights. Eckley describes the young women officers as ‘building up a congregation out of the human refuse that other churches despaired’.
Says Eckley: ‘He [Stead] remonstrated with General William Booth; if the lasses broke down Booth should be charged with manslaughter. Beginning an enduring friendship, the General replied: “You would never do for a General … [who] must not be afraid to spend his soldiers in order to carry positions.”’
In 1918 one of Stead’s former assistants, Edith Harper, declared that if all those who shared Stead’s aspirations would record their memories of him, ‘then some day, perchance, some masterhand may fitly weave together the different threads, so that the beautiful pattern of his life shall stand out, bright and fair, for future eyes’. In her book, Grace Eckley makes a fine beginning to this task.
Review by Major Charles King
Editor-in-Chief and Literary Secretary