There seems no more room for hope that the greatest Englishman on board the Titanic has survived the catastrophe. Death's cold, ironic hand fell upon William Thomas Stead, one of the grandest journalists of his time and prevented him from recounting the awful catastrophe that any journalist has ever witnessed.
His son in Johannesburg, while hoping against hope, is confident that his father would have been among the last to leave the ship.
If he be indeed among the dead, not England alone, but the world, will mourn the loss of one of its great men. For Mr, Stead was at world-politician, a friend of freedom, an enemy of oppression in any form throughout the globe.
The greatest tragedy of Mr. W. T. Stead's life was that, being present at the most disastrous shipwreck in the world's history, he was unable to send off a full and vivid description of what really happened.
He had more than an eloquent pen, he had the seeing eye—a rarer gift. He was the greatest truth-seer and the greatest and most fearless truth-speaker. Nothing would have been kept back of the last terrible hours of the Titanic. We should have had the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. His story would have covered everything that there was to be seen.
We should have had a story, every detail of which could be relied upon. His sense of what was news and his method of getting at the facts were remarkable.
DON QUIXOTE OF JOURNALISM.
It was fitting that Mr. Stead should be present at the greatest shipping disaster of all time. For everything that he had done had been on the grand scale. He had interviewed Tsars and Kaisers, Kings and Cardinals, and had accomplished more newspaper "scoops" than any other living journalist.
He was on intimate terms with such giants as Mr. Gladstone, Cecil Rhodes, Cardinal Manning, Count Tolstoy, Canon Liddon, and a host of other celebrities. And he made use of every one of them for his own particular end in noble disregard of consequences or conventions.
Mr. Stead was the Don Quixote of journalism. He was as strenuous as Roosevelt and as inspired as General Booth, while his personality sometimes dominated one like Gladstone's did. While eternally waging war, he was one of the greatest workers for peace who ever lived.
The principal forces by which he made his way through life were an unhesitating belief in his own powers, and in the justice of any case he might espouse; and an innate, unshrinking fearlessness.
It was all one to him whether, as he sometimes did, he felt the strength of public opinion at his back, or whether, as also happened, his views were anathema to the great public.
ROUSED MANY ANTAGONISTS.
It was his fate to be denounced more often and more loudly as a "lunatic" and a "crank" than any of his contemporaries. He was a furiously outspoken pro-Boer at a time when the expression of such opinions was fraught with real personal danger. But he never considered this.
When he addressed the Zemstvo delegates at Moscow he set the entire meeting against him by his eulogistic references to General Trepoff, the Dictator of St. Petersberg, a red-hot reactionary, who had just attained notoriety by running a disobedient orderly through the body with his sword, and also by shooting five men in a street riot, as an example to his troops.
From the first he had the knack of attracting public attention. While still comparatively a youthful man and editor of the Northern Echo, his articles on the Bulgarian atrocities attracted the attention of Gladstone, Thomas Carlyle and John Morley. It was the last-named who gave Stead his chance in London by offering him the assistant editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette, in the year 1880.
When a little later Morley went to Parliament, Stead succeeded to the complete control of the paper.
How the Pall Mall Gazette flourished under his editorship, and how he shocked London by the series of articles under the title of "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," are matters of history. So are his trial and imprisonment.
With unabated courage he continued to edit the paper from his cell in Clerkenwell. Once a year up to the end he always put on prison clothes on the anniversary of his wedding.
He next venture was the starting of the "Review of Reviews," in collaboration with Sir George Newnes, subsequently buying him out and running it single-handed.
The antagonism he occasionally excited in some minds may be gauged by the following extract from an "Open Letter" addressed to him through the columns of a London journal:—
Like your father, the Devil, you sow tares broadcast while good men sleep; and many of them falling into the propitious soil of youth and innocence, are bound to spring up and multiply. If Socrates was put away as a corrupter of youth, how much more do you deserve to be bowstrung, oh, you pernicious scribe, Pharisee, Hypocrite!!!
Later in life, he started a campaign against theatres. His criticism after seeing his first West End music-hall was: "If I had to sum up the whole programme, I should say, 'Drivel from the dregs.'"
Alter seeing a performance in a well-known musical comedy theatre, it was: "A pestilent and pestiferous farrago of filth." But he applauded the performance of "La Milo."
A couple of years ago he again startled people with "Julia's Bureau," which was a "tentative effort to build a bridge across the grave by which it is possible to communicate with those who have passed over to the other side after the change which is called death." A "conversation" with Mr. Gladstone was one of the results.
A project which he conceived too hastily was his great idea of the Daily Paper, which was to bind it's readers together as they had never been linked together before on a paper. It was not thought out with sufficient care, and collapsed ingloriously after a week or two, and Mr. Stead lost a large sum of money.
His strenuous methods and his earnestness of purpose may best be summed up in the late King Leopold or Belgium's words after Stead had interviewed him about General Gordon, who was then shut up in Khartum. "Stead!" exclaimed Leopold to someone who asked what he thought of him and the interview. "It was terrible; how that man made me sweat."
One of the very last letters he wrote was to The Daily Mirror just before he sailed, and was concerned with his daughter's career as an actress.
Born sixty-three years ago, he was the son of the Rev. W. Stead, a Congregational minister at Embleton in the north, and in after life showed traces of the education which moulded his life. For he was sometimes bigoted and intolerant— but never, by any chance, dull.
It was stated at the Congregational conference at Blyth yesterday that Mr. W. T. Stead's sister had just undergone a serious operation in a Newcastle hospital.
MR. STEAD'S LAST HOPE.
Mr. Stead had set out for America with the intention of speaking in New York in connection with the "Men and Religion Forward Movement." In the light of present events, his last words in the current number of the "Review of Reviews" make singularly pathetic reading.
"For some time past," writes Mr. Stead, "it has been noted in the United States that the Churches are falling more and more into the hands of women.
"...To arrest this tendency and to restore the requisite masculine element to popular religion in the States a syndicate was formed for the purpose of uniting Evangelical Churches in America, and of combining effort to bring men and boys into the Church."
"The committee has been kind enough to ask me to address a meeting, held under their auspices, on the 'World's Peace' in Carnegie Hall, New York, on April 21, at which President Taft and others will be among the speakers.
"I expect to leave by the Titanic on April 10, and hope I shall be back in London in May."
On that day, too, April 10, he wrote the letter to The Daily Mirror, which showed that his daughter's interests were the last thing he thought about before sailing.