H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

The life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore online

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attained, at least in these parts of Persia ; and Mrs. Bruce says it
has been quite exceptionally a late hot season through continuance
of showers till about a fortnight ago. . . .'

^Kohrood, May 26. This march was accomplished by about
8 a.m., being nearly twenty-four miles. We threaded our way
through a strangely wild labyrinth of mountains almost the
whole march, snowdrifts here and there reminding us that we
were passing through highlands. We met several large kafilas,
or caravans, mostly of pilgrims to and fro from the sacred city of
Koom, at which we expect to halt one night next week. They
are drawn from all quarters by the saintly repute of a certain lady
named Fatima (not Mohammed's relative of that name, I believe),
whose ashes and tomb are supposed to possess a great merit and
healing power, and ability to grant all kind of boons to the gifts
and prayers of suppliants, as our lady of Lourdes and others. It is of
course famed for the intense bigotry and bitter zeal of the moollahs
who congregate there and live on the alms of the faithful.

* Kohrood is a striking place certainly, nestled in the heart of
the hills, and rough as the screes of Westmoreland. Looked at
from above it must appear like a picture of Paradise, set in
a framework of white, grey, and purple hills, to give it effect by
the contrast of utter barrenness with loveliest verdure, and of
dreary silence with the murmur of perennial cool, sweet rivulets.
The trees are spreading and shadowy like English forest trees,
and the whole scene seems to have affected Martyn as the likest
thing that he had seen to English landscape since he first quitted
Cornwall. The climate too is more English than [that] of any
hill-stations I have visited in India. . • . The valley, though not
very broad, is of considerable length. . . . Wheat crops of richest
green come close up to the enclosure of the caravanserai.

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' Strange to say this large village, whose houses rise tier above
tier along the lofty hillside, with little groups of trees inters
spersed, has no moollah, so the people seem drawn with much
simplicity towards receiving the Book of Life. I suggested to
them that they should make one of themselves mooUah, and get
him to read Psalms, Prophets, and Gospel. It seems a strangely
unlooked-for privilege to be allowed in these Persian villages, so
hopelessly out of my beat before, to be heard and understood even
by some of the poor, as well as by the educated. I think you
will feel rewarded ... for having spared me these two months
for such a work's sake. I have spent the whole evening in this
work, and seem to have banished a headache by this unusual
medicine \ . . .'

^Kashatij May 28. This is a very ancient city with wealthy
merchants, and moollahs, and fine buildings (coloured and domed
in some cases), and six or seven miles of garden, which one sees
some nine or ten miles before reaching it. I was sorely worn out
with the twenty-eight miles* ride this morning, about twelve of
which had to be walked over, as the road was strewn sometimes
with loose stones, and at others with round and pointed stones
lodged deep in clay soil, which are terrible for hoi-ses. The last
part of the road was terribly exposed to fiery sunshine. I was
thankful to get in without a sun-i^troke, but I had lumps of ice at
once applied to my head, which relieved it wonderfully. We
started at 3 a.m. and reached Kashan about 9.30. I rather dread
the next few days, but hope to avoid such perilous exposure.
I had no idea three farasangs had to be laboriously walked over,
two or two and a half miles an hour, else we should have started
earlier than 3. But even 3 a.m., day by day, is rather wearing.
The stay at Ispahan has made my journey over these hot plains
a little too late. ... I had the Holy Communion this evening
with some of the party. This is a gi*eat place for silk handker-
chiefs, gold and sUver inlaid in copper, glass, and most delicately
wrought laces.'

Koom (four marches south from Teheran), June i.
Mt dearest Basil,

. . . This city, with its beautiful domes and richly coloured
mosques, is one of the most corrupt cities in Persia. ... I am

* Yet by the poor the bishop was not alf4>ay8 understood. Dr. Bruce
relates how one day he heard him trying to explain to his gholam, or
servant, the Indian custom of taking on one of the horses in the
middle of the night to a stage halfway in advance upon the next day's
march. French addressed him in words which may be roughly para-
phrased as follows :— * Gholam ! conduct my steed into the way of truth

at at midnight, and 1 will make my exodus (departure out of life)

to-morrow morning.' The poor man gazed at him in blank amaze till
Dr. Bruce explained.

a 2

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told that 'as bad as a Koomi' is pi-overbial all the country
over\ There seems no hope of getting any entrance for the
Gospel ; every door is double-locked, and Satan holds his goods
in peace.

June 2. However, Yuhannes found out that the mujtahid
bought, and has in his possession, a New Testament, and a mool-
lah has for sale in Koom an Old and New Testament. One
always hopes thei*e are some better and brighter points about
popularly decried places. From the 27th to the 31st inclusive we
rode just a hundred miles by postal reckoning, and to-day (2nd)
we have added twenty-eight more miles ; but seventy-two still
remain to Teheran, which we hope to accomplish by the morning
of the 5th. Here for the first time the grand and glorious
Demavend range, with its broad dimensions and vast snow
glaciers, burst upon me. I imagine this to be quite one of the
finest snowy range prospects in the world. Clouds have hid it
for two days, since we left Kashan, from whence it is visible
often. One remembers how often one has puzzled poor boys in
their geography with this range, and now we are face to face with
it. I don't think, since we were at the top of Pilatus, I ever
have seen a sight equal to this. Yesterday we rested the whole
day (which was very refreshing) with a young, unsophisticated
Englishman, who is telegraph clerk at Koom. I had prayer and
Bible-reading twice with him, and he thanked me warmly for the
refreshment he had found from the visit. It is a privilege to
search out these desolate outcasts in their lonely posts. He
seemed to feel that for the next three months he should see
nobody, even in by-passing —be almost buried alive, in fact.
One would like to deal with crowds perhaps, but God sometimes
sends one to a poor solitary youth to tiy to help and comfort
him. Lacordaire, whose Lettres a des Jeuncs Gens, I have read
with much profit a second time this last month, speaks so
strikingly of ' Cette onction que Dieu donne ordinairement a ceux
qui le servent dans la simplicity et rhumilit^ sans regarder k la
petitesse ou k la grandeur des charges, grandeur qui n'est qu'il-
lusoire quand elle vient du monde et non pas du ciel.'

This book of Lacordaire's, with Henry Martyn's Life, have been
great helps to me ; yet what wonderful difference of character in
them, alike in this that they were deep, patient, loving, scriptural
students, and both had had a sight of God (after which, Lacor-
daire says, nothing in the world seems to have surpassing and
absorbing beauty), and an insight from early years into the power
and glory and beauty of the cross of Christ. A small edition of
Augustine's Confessions, and a delightful little book of Canon

* The exact proverb, as Mr. Curzon gives it, has something of double-
edged satire: 'A Eashan dog is better than a Koom noble, albeit a dog is
better than a man of Kashan.'

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Tristram on Tlie Holy Flaces, have also gone vfiih me and given
me very pleasant thoughts.

June 3 (Sunday). The heat of the sun almost knocked me
down yesterday, but a large potter's urn full of cold water thrown
over my head restored me, thank God. Such large white pottery
is made in Koom. For once in a way I was compelled to take
a small stage this morning, fifteen miles, but we got in about
sunrise, or soon after 5.30 a.m., starting about 3. We rode over
a great salt waste, with briny pools here and there, reminding me
forcibly of that passage, * He shall inhabit the parched places of
the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.' This resting-
place (called Houz-Sultan) is called the finest caravanserai in
Persia, but I don't think that is correct now, for it is crowded
with travellers and their beasts of all kinds ; nor has it any tanks
or fine buildings within, or apartments for the higher classes.
We take refuge in a quiet rest-house near at hand, where there is
no crowd, or hustle-bustle at least, and we can have our quiet
service. At Koom, on the tops of all the sacred domes, a* large
stork, called ^ haji IfigMg,' builds its round spacious nest of large
sticks every spring; on some of the domes in tiers one above
the other, like the houses in Yazdegast I described in one of my
letters. They are birds 'of presence,' and present quite a fine
figure stalking over the domes. 'LfiglSg' is the ordinary word for
stork, and 'haji' means pilgrim, to express the pious objects of
these birdis, apparently, in choosing the tops of holy tombs.
Mr. B., my host at Koom, has two of these birds with twojroung
on the top of a badgeer (wind-catcher) in his house. They come
annually to build and rear there, the same pair ; when the birds
are fledged, in June or July, they fly off to cooler and greener
parts of Persia, and are not seen again till the spring. He says
they seem quite company to him« They feed on snakes, mice,
frogs, &c, out of the gardens.

I think I advised you once before (as my own beloved father
did me) to study the great orators of our country : Pitt, Burke,
Wilberforce, &€. It is such a pity that so few of our clergy
devote time to this, as their pulpit ministry would often (under
God) be so much more effective and persuasive, and they would
be such a power for God often. On the platform too and in the
schoolroom their influence would be so much more felt

I am your very loving father,

Thos. V. Lahore.

P.S. — Perhaps your cousin Stewart might care to see this
roughly and badly written letter ; but one writes with so many
disadvantages — oppressive heat, and with no chair or table. . . .
A group in the caravanserai has been fairly well trying to take in
some of the ground truths of the Gospel. One lughly educated
man wishes to buy the whole Bible. May God bless it !

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Surely the men are not many who could have written
such a letter under such circumstances of fatigue and incon-
venience. A few days later, on June 7, he wrote to Mrs.
French from Teheran : —

'As the m\]ltitude of pilgrims and merchant-travellers was
very large in an adjoining caravanserai (at Houz Sultan), I got
some rather interesting preaching, and on the next day also at
a place called Kinareh Gird, both mentioned in Martyn, only the
former he calls Hour Sultania instead of Houz Sultan, the present
name at least. Mr. Sargent probably misread him ; not a single
place the whole route along but is mis-spelt. The ride on
Monday, for twenty-eight miles, was through the most dolefiil
and desolate region I ever beheld, I think, except it were a part
of the Bolan and its approaches. It seemed seamed or scarred
with the wrinkled letter-marks or death-marks of some ancient
curse 5 not a drop of water or blade of grass from end to end,
only scoriae, and rifts, and jagged weird rocks cropping up, with
dry water-courses looking deceitful as Job describes them. It is this
stage that is properly called the "Valley of the Angel of Death."
I missed some friends, who came to welcome me at the Teheran
gate, by getting in before I was expected, as I scarcely hoped to
reach before 8 ; but it was a full hour or so earlier, as I had
a capital horse for the first twenty miles. We were six miles
riding in and around Teheran before we got to the house.
Colonfl Smith and his brother-in-law, Dr. Baker, joined me
shortly afterwards, and Colonel S. took me on to his country
residence, six or seven miles off, right under the root of the
Elburz, streaked above with glaciers, which all melt, however, in
the very hottest weather. Kot so Demavend, some thirty or
forty nftles to the right, which is 7,000 or 8,000 feet higher, and
is one of the grandest steeps imaginable, a broadish cone rising
far above its compeers.'

Colonel Smith (now Sir R. Murdoch Smith) had been the
excavator of the Carian marbles at Halicamassus for the
British Museum, and at Gyrene on his own account. ' Better
than that,' said the bishop, ' he seems the centre of all good
here and in the neighbourhood.' The bishop had intended
to push on quickly, but a strain, or perhaps an attack of
lumbago, consequent on his sousings with cold water when
threatened with heat apoplexy, compelled him to linger for
about a week, and he was not sorry to have the opportunity
of ministering for one Sunday in the Persian capital There
was little else to detain him, as Europeans were not allowed

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the entrance to the mosques, and the only missionary work
was under the Americans. In a letter dated Agha Baba,
near Kasbin, June 15, after describing his work among
Europeans at Teheran, he said: —

' Tuesday morning I spent nearly two hours at the American
Presbyterian Mission. ... I went with the ladies into their
Armenian school, and said a few words to the children, and
prayed with them before leaving. They have a Jewish school
down in the city of nearly fifty boys, held in a synagogue
strange to say, with a Jewish convert for head-teacher. I wish
I could have seen this, but I was too lame to walk. Unhappily,
no Persians are allowed to come to their schools ; a few, very few,
inquirers come at great risk. They are building a fine large
chapel by 'their mission buildings. I felt refreshed by the visit
though there was not much to encourage, except iii the sale of
Holy Scripture. In the afternoon a German gentleman in the
Shah's employ took me down to inspect the Shah's college for
two hundred youths, mainly of good families, where European lan-
guages, literature, and science are taught, French being evidently
the favourite tongue. There was a musical performance for me and
some athletic sports, in all which the youth showed to great
advantage. In several of the class-i*ooms I was expected to say
a few encouraging words to them. The professors are mostly
foreigners, the Eussian classes being the least popular, the
French most so, the English fairly represented. M. Bichat, the
chief French professor, has been some thirty-five years in his
post, and ia one of the chief institutions in Teheran. He is
a fine specimen of the dignified and courteous veteran French-
man. The buildings have some splendour. The courts are
flower gardens instead of grass-plots as at Oxford and Cambridge.
Tea, cigarettes and sherbet were handed round. The brother of
one of the chief ministers of state took me round the buildings.
Mathematics are chiefly taught by miUtary professors and in their
bearings on war-like projectiles, &c. The painting and drawing
class seemed chiefly connected with portrait drawing. All por-
traits of promise are laid before the Shah.'

From Teheran the first part of the journey was made in
a tarantas or drosky, a sort of brougham, provided by the
kindness of Mr. Thomson, the English minister at Teheran.
After that he rode but in shorter stages than before.

* I am taking,' said the bishop, ^ smaller marches this time, not
above sixteen or twenty miles a day, lest the sprain should give
me trouble. The first I accomplished easily to-day. The carriage
ride yesterday was through a country green and well-watered

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almost everjrwhere, with large tracts of cultivation surrounding
the villages. . . . Such beauty and variety of wild flowers I scarcely
remember to have seen in all my travels. The road lay under
endless ranges of hills, near on the right hand, breaks in which
here and there disclosed fine snowy peaks^ from which flow down
the rivulets which turn this waste into a garden almost the whole
distance. Towards Kasbin the fields are exchanged for vineyards.
One begins to be reminded that we are drawing near to Europe
and its scenery. Kasbin is rather a flourishing town, with finely
embellished gates and substantial walls, though not very imposing.
I had a return of fever, and was too prostrate to venture out.
One little glass of the wine of Kasbin set me up wonderfully.
It is like foreign wine, and very slightly fermented. I felt I must
have something to revive me, I was so low.'

This letter was finished at Kadoom, only one stage from
Eeshd, where he embarked upon the Caspian. He was
much tried with fever during the last days, and nearly
thrown from his horse. 'I have been singing,* he said,
* a Te Deum of praise.*

* June 28. Volga Steamer. The weather was very rough much
of the time on the Caspian, and the Kussian officers talk so loud
that it was quite bewildering and distressing to the head. Last
evening we reached Astrakhan up a long estuary, some thirty or
forty miles long, with reedy, sedgy banks, and marshes beyond or
willow plantations, most uninteresting, but of course perfectly
calm. . . . Astrakhanhasaboui5o,oooinhabitants, and was an old
Tartar capital of Kalmucks from the fourteenth century. There
is really nothing to see on the banks but occasional villages with
green-tiled roofs of churches, and an endless series of windmills
wherever the ground rises above the general flat level. Fishing
and trading boats ply their poor craft, but poverty seems the
sad rule. This morning before daybreak a poor young woman
flung herself into the Volga off our steamer and drowned herselt
They stopped for two hours and searched about, but to no purpose
of course in such a stream. The private stoiy of her sorrow is
known to herself and God. She was twenty years of age, and has
parents and sisters on board (second-class passengers). I expect
to land at Tsaritsin early to-morrow, and go by rail to Moscow
(D.V.). All I can do is to reach it by daybreak on Sunday, and
attend the services, which I expect to find refreshing. The city
will have quieted down, I suppose, from its grand spectacle and
ceremony (the coronation of the Czar). I think I feel the better
for the sea-air and the solid joints of meat on board the steamers.
Along the Caspian shores cherries were brought on board, but
poor as compared with English ones.'

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*MoscotVy Sunday, July i. One does seem to breathe again
somehow at finding oneself again in a European town, however
quaint and strange it be, and with many oriental forms of archi-
tecture. Think of over three hundred churches for about half
a million of people ! The first part of the journey by train was
very agreeable, as we had plenty of room to sleep, much as in
Indian travel, or even better ; but the latter was less so, as we were
extremely crowded. Still the Eussians are fairly polite and
courteous, and I met with two or three who spoke English.
With one or two others I was able to muster German enough to
get on decently, though in broken sentences. We had about
forty hours of rail, and got in at 10 this morning. ... I was sad
at passing through the villages with bells ringing for church.
After getting a little breakfast at this quiet and most respectable
hotel (Hotel Billault), I set out in search of the English service,
and after long inquiry found it had been closed from last Sunday
till August 8, as the English residents are mostly out in the
country this month. ... I met two people looking out for a ser-
vice — one a young converted Jewess from Mildmay, and now
a governess here, a simple, quiet girl. I got her to take me to the
chaplain, as he lived a mile off or so, to inquire, and she seemed
so disappointed at no service that I told her that if she could find
four or five and bring them to the hotel this evening I would give
them a quiet service.'

* Moscow, July 2. I leave to-morrow evening for St. Petersburg,
finding that is really the directest route homewards, and I can get
part of two days there, as at Berlin (D.V.), and still hope to reach
you on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, coming from
Calais to Dover, and taking the first train for Tunbridge. I fear
your nieces will laugh terribly at so wizen and worn an old man,
as I shall look to their young eyes. I have been looking over
some of the chief palaces and cathedrals in and around the Kremlin
to-day. I had an hour and a half with two polished and agreeable
Russian gentlemen in French chiefly, and I hope I was able to
witness to them a little for Christ They thanked me so warmly
afterwards, and we seemed quite to part as friends.'

During his brief stay at St. Petersburg the bishop saw
the famous Sinaitic MS., and also a celebrated Cufic copy of
the Koran, said to have belonged to Ali. This he mentioned
to Sir W. Muir in a letter commenting upon his volume on
the Caliphs. Thus ends the correspondence on this interest-
ing journey. Dr. Bruce, after the bishop's death, wrote to
the Punjab Mission News: —

* Never was a missionary more full of the martyr spirit than our
beloved bishop. In one sense perhaps too much so, for he was

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not satisfied with being a martyr in will, but seemed determined to
be a mart]^ in deed also. God has granted his desire, and he is
now among the mafii^rum candidatus exerdtas. Will He not also
answer his prayer for the dark lands for which he died ? Surely
He will.

* On the occasion of his visit to Persia in 1883, Bishop French
often impressed this upon me : '* If we would win these Moslem
lands for Christ, we must die for them." "Except a corn of
wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but, if it die,
it bringeth forth much fruit." Whether this be true of India or
not, it certainly seems to be true of Moslem lands. . . . While the
present generation lasts the good bishop's visit to us in Julfa
Ispahan will not be forgotten, and I have no doubt its fruits will
last through eternity.'

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'Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, Is it time for you, ye, to dwell
in your cieled houses, and this house to lie waste? Now therefore
thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Consider your ways. Go up to the
mountain, and bring wood, and build the house, and I will take pleasure
in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.'— The Pkophet Haggai.

* I would rather have a church built to remember me by, than have
my marble face looked at in Westminster Abbey ! *

The Bishop to his daughter Edith.

The bishop remained in England till Sept. 17, 1884; he
came ostensibly for rest and holiday, but no rest save a
change of work was ever possible to his ' unweariable spirit.*
His home head-quarters were successively at Eastbourne and
at Tunbridge Wells, where he found his great heart-interest
in eveiy interval of deputation journeying, in ministering
by the sick bed of his daughter Edith. Two or three days
a week he generally spent at home, and now and then
a Sunday. But he had set himself to gather £^fxx> at
least for his cathedral church, and did not cease to plead
for other objects in his diocese (for chaplains, and for
education), and to give his advocacy freely to wider claims
of the great Church societies. He said himself that he
always felt happiest in pleading for these great societies,
and gave them three Sundays for every one to his own
special work. In face of such a statement it is difficult to
estimate how much good he effected in his months at home,
or the amount of effort that it cost him. For a few weeks
on his first arrival he obtained a partial relaxation, and for
a few weeks before sailiug he in a measure slackened his

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endeavours : in each year too he managed a brief visit to
the continent. But, with these small abatements, his life was
one long toil. This work was not what he delighted in.
He was not an ideal deputation : although a charming talker
in congenial company, he lacked the universal bonhomie,
the talent of refined and cultivated self-advertisement, the
sanguine views of missionary enterprise, the ready adapta-

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 10 of 46)