H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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tion to a changing audience, the versatility and humour
that often recommend the missionary bagman. He some-
times wearied men with length of speech and sermon, and
never spared himself If he succeeded — as he did succeed —
in this especial calling, it was not by any native genius
for the role of a religious mendicant, but by sheer dint of
pains and prayer and resolute determination. He had not
been at home for many months before the doctors at the
India House remonstrated against his overwork A lady
fiiend in Clifton wrote to him most openly to warn him
of his danger of paralysis, or weakening of the mental
powers : —

* Please bear with me. Do try to cut off all unnecessary work
which others could do for you. . . . You and your friends should
practise self-donial in ordinary correspondence. Never write to
a friend unless you have something special to say, unless you feel
it a real recreation to do so. There are many other ways in which
you could husband your strength, if you tried. You would then be
left more free for your high pastoral duties. I know what I recom-
mend would involve a good deal of self-denial on your part, and
that is a sure sign that I am shooting well at the mark. Please
consider how meekly Moses the great prophet of God took Jethro's
advice under similar circumstances. Moses might have replied
that he prefen'ed judging small as well as great mattei's himself,
but he saw the wisdom of the advice and followed it I wish you
had a Jethro, or St Luke, to counsel you, but meantime do weigh
well what I have written. ... St. John xxi. i8 may be applied to
the young and to the aged as well as to St. Peter. As years go on the
habits of youth must be given up, and the Christian will recognize
God's hand in the necessity.'

The bishop noted in his diary, ^ ' A nice letter from ' ;

but it did not appreciably change his practice. A little later
he recorded with much self-abasement a lapse of memory
about a simple Gospel narrative in preaching at St Peter's,

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Eaton Square — of little real importance, it was but a small
index of the pressure he was working at ; but of himself he
said, * May God forgive me, and cause no weak brother or
sister to be stumbled. I blush and am ashamed to lift up
my face, my God.'

Thus, though he got the money he had asked for, and
went back cheered with help and sympathy obtained on
eveiy side, he gained but little in his furlough of physical
refreshment and recruited health.

The tablet erected to his memory on the east wall of the
north transept of Lahore Cathedral commences with these
words : ' In reverent memory of Thomas Valpy French, D.D.,
sometime Fellow of University College, Oxford, and founder
of this Cathedral Church.* The words 'founder of this
Cathedral Church' were added at the strong desire of his
successor. In what sense was he so ? Not by origination of
the scheme for a new parish church— he found a scheme in
progress when he reached the diocese: nor by supplying
from himself the whole resources — although he was a large
and liberal donor and exercised the greatest self-denial, such
costly eflfort was beyond his means: but in the sense of
being the great motive-force, the strong unfailing advocate,
the persevering worker and presiding spirit in the enter-
prise, he does indeed deserve the name of founder.
Without his high hope and sustained endeavour, his
ardour, zeal, and energy, the work of a cathedral would
not have been devised at all, nor brought, at least in its
main features, to completion within the limits of his short

For thirty years after the British occupation of the Punjab
the English were content to worship in the tomb of a Begam
who had been a dancing-girl, though it was little suitable in
architectural design, or in its previous associations, or in the
scant accommodation it offered to the worshippers. Many
had felt it a disgrace. Sir R. Montgomery, when acting as
Lieut.-Govemor, secured the site for a new building, the same
where the cathedral stands : a rival project would have had
it placed in what are now the Anarkalli Gardens. Designs

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were drawn out for a station church, to be dedicated to
All Saints ; some money was collected ; a committee formed ;
and work was set in motion.

The foundation stone was laid on February n, 1874, ^7
the Archdeacon of Calcutta (Archdeacon Baly), the whole
Masonic body assisting at the service.

This was shortly before French left his Divinity College for
England, and he records standing at some risk uncovered
in the noonday for the opening service. When he returned
as bishop but little progress had been made : a little more
than £3 000 had been collected, the Maharaja of Cashmere
had promised a large gift of timber, and the foundation and
plinth of the entire building had been finished^ ; but there
was no enthusiasm for the project Some were attached to
the old tomb; agnosticism on the one hand and Presby-
terianism upon the other hand were strongly represented in
the ruling and more moneyed classes : men could not feel so
warm about a building with which their own connexion was
likely to be a very passing one ; and soldiers and civilians
all looked forward to returning to their fatherland. Such
difficulties were inherent in the undertaking, and would
have frightened many men from putting hand to it. But
Bishop French was not dismayed. His sturdy faith

'Laughed at impossibilities
And said, It shall be dona'

His first act on arriving at Lahore was to go over the site
with Mr. Tribe and hear the difficulties of the question.
A few days later he had summoned the principal civilians to
a conference, and put the matter on a wholly diflferent
footing. The parish church must now give way to a cathe-
dral, ' built worthily of God and a great diocese.' Mr. Oldrid
Scott, son of Sir Gilbert Scott, was asked to draw out new

• *A8 a matter of fact/ writes Bishop Matthew, * these (station
church) foundatiions were of little use for the new work . . . and
Mr. Oldrid Scott's design was as much grander than the projected
station church as Westminster Abbey is than St. Margaret's Church
beside it.'

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plans on a larger scale, adapting the existing foundations as
far as possible. The cost was estimated at six lakhs of rupees
(or, roughly speaking, considerably over £50,000). Of this
perhaps near half might stand over for later generations, for
a groined inner roof and carving of the stone- work ; but
£30,000 would be required for the solid structure. The
bishop never feltered. The last year of his bishopric he saw
the consecration of the building; its full completion was in
progress when he left. It does not come within the scope
of this biography to give the architectural details in any
fullness^, but simply to explain at what expense of personal
endeavour by the bishop the work was done, and with what
aims and motives.

In April, 1879, the plans being to hand, he put forth an
appeal to the whole diocese, and fairly entered on the work
of his collection.

* If you have any rich friends,' he wrote to Cyril, * I hope you will
say a word in our favour, as people are really very poor for the most
part in the Punjab. Scarcely anybody stays in India who could
afford to live at home. Government cannot aid under present
distressed circumstances of wars and famines. I don't want to tax
our mission funds, but there are some High Church people who
dislike missions, and to whom a cathedral is a very legitimate
object for breaking the alabaster, though indeed I do hope and
trust our cathedral will have a distinctly Christian bearing on

On August 2, after mentioning his eflforts to secure the
help of the Oxford diocese and its officials, who were so
interested in the first inception of the bishopric, he added : —

* I am now thoroughly committed to the task and, please God,
must in patient perseverance go forward. Amid many failures God

' The dimensione are 226 feet in length and 153 feet in breadth
at the transepts ; the nave is no feet long by 30 broad ; the height
to the roof-tree is 70 feet ; the church is seated for 600, and
will without inconvenience accommodate as many as 200 more than
this. The style is decorated Early English. The chief weak point
in architecture is the shortening of the nave, due to financial exigence.
A &ir idea of the exterior may be obtained from the picture given
as frontispiece to this volume.

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can open hearts if it be His will, and command success or withhold
it. I am trying to set all the ladies to work with their friends at
home. Every mail now sees some little missives go forth, but it
is a harder and sterner task than I had thought for.'

Again he wrote a fortnight afterwards to Mrs. Sheldon • —

* As newspaper appeals failed very much, I must try individual
appeals. Of these I must anticipate that many will be failures also.
Oxford, Cheltenham, Burton, Clifton, even Erith, will be or have
been already canvassed. At the worst a little information w^ill be
diffused, and some hearts perhaps aroused to deep zeal and prayer.
... I was comforted two days ago by a lady telling me that her
child in England of twelve years of age was using her pocket-money
in buying wool to make little articles of sale for the cathedral,
and had raised £i 12s, already. Another comfort I have is to
feel that, so far as my work is still missionary, I have no fewer
but rather more friends in England than before. It is only
when I appeal for European objects that I feel a little isolated
and unsupported, not however by the nearest branches of my
own family.'

Again, he wrote to Mrs. Knox :—

' I am sadly disappointed. ... I have written my hands almost
into paralysis begging and pleading, but the paralysis of results
exceeds that of hands.'

Upon September i he wrote to Edith : —

* I have been writing to Sir W. Muir, our old friend, to-day to
ask if he cannot prevail on the friends of Lord Lawrence to spend
part of what they collect to do him honour with on the Lahore
Cathedral, where he won his laurels most, and not all on a
monument in Westminster Abbey. I think, at least, I would rather
have a church built to remember me by, than have my marble face
looked at in Westminster Abbey ! The little Prince Imperial is
to have a recumbent figute there after all ! The nicest thing is to
have the figure or form of the Lord Jesus, not in marble outside of
us. but in its living breathing likeness inside us, and in our lips
and character, liker and liker to Him eveiy day.'

In November he wrote to Mrs. Sheldon, proposing shortly
to give up his horse and carriage, and spend much of his
stipend on this object.

* The poor old Mohammedan tomb church is too great a stigma
of reproach for mo to bear, as bishop of the diocese. ... I am not
surprised that my dear and valued friends in England are dis-

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turbed, and I value their kind counsel. I cannot but feel however
that if they knew the actual state of things they would understand
my course better. I am trying to get the present design cut down
from i: 30, 000 to i 20, 000, so as to avoid all but what we really
require to erect— a comely and durable fabric. But I do feel that,
in presence of the great religious edifices of heathen and Moham-
medans, to erect a mean and unsightly building would be a great
disgrace to us and stigma on the Church of God, which I could
not allow my bishopric to be marked by. ... A stately and hand-
some church in presence of the huts of the New Zealanders would
be an anachronism, but in the midst of an architectural people, and
most self-sacrificing in what they spend on buildings devoted to
sacred purposes, it would be a scandal that we should worship in
a tomb belonging to a Mohammedan past. I am thoroughly con-
vinced of this, and am constrained to act on this conviction, even
if I were quite alone in my belief. There is much greater necessity,
I feel sure, for buildings of character and distinction (within reason-
able limits) in this land than in our own land. I feel at least that
their erection wipes off a great reproach, independently of what they
represent and effect as centres of Gospel extension and Church life.
I dare not withhold my witness and that of my office from those who
in this country are expending vast sums on schools, law courts,
hospitals, museums, but are leaving the house of God to dwell not
in curtains but in tombs. I am sure that many of the moderate
High-Church party, to which I have always belonged, would be of
one mind with me in this. By moderate High Church, I mean
sound and strong Churchmanship, the Prayer-book all round, as
truly based upon the Bible and the grand old evangelical teaching
of our forefathers of that school. I know that you will all pray
for me, that I may be held in the hollow of His hand, who alone
can preserve us from every wind of false doctrine and the craft of
them that lie in wait to deceive.'

The wars of 1879 and 1880 were little favourable to the
work of church building; but the bishop's indomitable
energy converted every stumbling-block into a stepping-
stone towards the attainment of his heart's desire. The
scheme for a memorial chancel to the fallen ofEcers and a
memorial transept for the native church in memory of his
beloved fiiend Gordon, sprang out of these adversities. He
wished that every interest within the diocese should find its
centre in God's house of prayer.

On January 16, 1881, he wrote to Edith : —

* Officers are often writing to me now from different regiments
about the memorial chancel : promises of £30, £40, and even £50
VOL. n. H

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I have had this week, but then one-half will go for epitaphs, and one-
half, I hope, for the chancel. But 1 hope far above memories of
the dead in the chancel will be memories of the Bisen Saviour,
who there at His table feeds His hungry and fainting ones ; and
above the thoughts of the partings will be many happy thoughts
of the ingathering at the Father's house: as it says in a verse
that I saw to-day : —

"Oh! to be there.
Where the weary feet shall rest at last,
Where the grief and the pain are for ever past,
Where the parted hands are again linked fast,
Oh, to be there!"

* And yet it is sweet to be able to try to bring others to know
of the Father's house, and to point them there, and to tell them
something of the joy and peace in believing. May you, dearest
child, and your dear schoolfellows, know this blessed peace amid
all the rockings and the tossings of the storms of life, and in its
most joyous, gladsome hours too.'

"Whilst vigorous in stirring others to be liberal, the bishop
set them an example : for three whole years half his episcopal
income was readily devoted to the work, and he was well
backed up by all his family. He also made himself respon-
sible for further sums.

In May, 1881, there was a great committee, in which all
were in favour of building not half only but all of Mr. Scott s

*I laid a plan before them,' said the bishop, *for getting it built
by contract in three years, making myself answerable for half a lakh
(£4,333), but there would be three years to collect it in, in India
and at home. This is to depend on Government giving half
a lakh from imperial sources, besides the half lakh Sir R, Egerton
promises from the Punjab Government resources ' ; and he added
on June 3 following, 'It is a serious risk, but I hope to reim-
burse myself, of a good part at least, when I visit England, if
not before.'

In November the same year he reported to Mrs. Knox : —

'The work of the foundations goes on steadily and solidly.
Shall I ever live to see the topstone? Not as bishop, I fear ;
but I must not despair, if only the hand of jfiy God is good
upon me.'

And to Edith two months later : —

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' I like to walk down and see the cathedral building going on.
It is slow, but steady. The choir and chancel of the Truro
Cathedral is to cost as much as our cathedral altogether, except
the steeples, which will be a long time in coming, I fear. I was
reading this week of M. Olier trying to build the great church of
St. Sulpice in Paris, but it was his sixth successor who finished it,
so that others are disappointed as well as I.'

In July, 1882, the bishop preached a sermon on Phinehas'
wife and her zeal for God's glory, in the station church at
Simla. It made some stir there at the time, one lady putting
a valuable ring into the plate in answer to his plea for
costly trinkets, like those the Israelitish women so willingly
surrendered. 'I told the people/ says the bishop, 'I
thought Christ might fairly upbraid us with the reproof,
" I was a stranger and ye took Me not in," that is, in Lahore,
providing no proper house for Himself and His word. The
sermon, witb another, was published, and in the following
December brought him a present of £300 from Canon
Linton —

^ A great comfort and refreshment, as I began to think that
they were wholly fruitless and must have fallen flat on many
readers. I hoped the missionary aspect of the cathedral would
have stimulated hearts and called out sympathy, but God will not
be indebted to us always and to our methods, but works for us in
ways of His own.'

In August, 1882, in a kind and sympathetic note, Sir
Charles Aitchison told him that the Supreme Government
would do nothing, though they would allow the Punjab
Gtjvemment to give the half lakh on condition that all the
balance was paid up before March 30, 1885.

* I hardly know what it portends,' the bishop says, * whether my
being driven to resign my office or no. Some i'9,000 have to be
raised in about two years, and though many coffers in England
would set me free with one stroke of the pen, yet past experience
is not encouraging, and it will, if gained at all, be probably by
hard toiling and plodding. However, I am not disposed to give
up without an effort Courage and faith and hope must not so soon
give way. I have been brought through some severe crises, perhaps
none quite equal to this, but I must not limit the Holy One of
Israel and say— Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?

H 2

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There will be moments of partial deepondency, but if God's will
be on my side, and He is pleased to accept me, it shall yet
be done.'

It was this refusal that finally determined him to take his
furlough the j'ear following. It has been seen that on his
journey through Persia he was still mindful of this one
great object. The childish gift of sea-shells, the willing con-
tribution of Armenian Christians, has been already men-
tioned, together with the knick-knacks that he bought and
forwarded for the bazaar in London.

Towards the close of his few months in England another
heavy disappointment met him.

*Is it really so,' he wrote May 23, 1884, from Eastbourne, to
Mr. Montgomery, the Lahore chaplain, ' that the Cashmere timber
IS only worth i:5oo instead of £1,000, and that thus ^£500 more
must be added to the sum required to be raised ? If so, I must
give up my rest the last two months which I looked forward to,
and plod and plead on still patiently and exhaustingly.'

This shock to their financial progress inclined some
of the Building Committee to hold their hands about con-
tinuing the towers. And the bishop wrote back in dismay
to Mr. Montgomery to plead for the design in its entirety.

* I write especially,' he said on July 18, 1884, Ho entreat you to
employ all your effort with heart and soul against leaving one of
the cathedral towers unfinished. I have pleaded most earnestly
in the cathedral behalf on this fundamental condition among others,
that the whole design be completed at once and not in instalments.
I trust the Committee will feel thai it will be a wrong done to all
concerned to stop short with a stunted and mutilated fabric . . .
We ought not to present the shameful and almost ludicrous
appearance of men who began to build but were not able to
finish. . . .

* Let us make the long and strong pull required to complete the
225,000 rupees which, I gather from the archdeacon*8 letter, is
sadly placed in jeopardy by the proved worthlessness of the
Maharaja's timber. . . . The present is really of all our crises
most serious, yet most full of hope, if we do not lose heart when
one, just one more spurt of zealous determination, by Grod's
blessing, may tide over our long struggle for victory against
giant odd&

'I have exhausted my strength too much to attempt more

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pleading in pulpit or on platform. I must now comparatively
keep quiet the next two months, or I shall have gained little or
nothing by this furlough. I have nothing but scanty gleanings
now to gather in.*

On December i8, 1884, he wrote to Mrs. Sheldon from
Lahore : —

* There are still about £2,000 to raise for our mother-church :
the chief loss, which has really amounted to about j£ 1,600, has
been through the unlucky timber. I am not going to allow
my friends to collect any more for this object. They have ex-
hausted themselves with noble effort, and nothing now remains
but a loan to complete the building necessary, and to get all
possible offertories and gifts out here, and the archdeacon, who
is so very attractive a preacher, will be able to get sermons in

In April, 1885, his hopes received a further blow, the last
to be recorded in this chequered narrative. The bishop
wrote upon the 26th from Shahpur : —

'All seems to make against me everywhere at present, and it
seems a time of the Lord's controversy with us. I can but
humble myself under His chastening hand. Added to other
troubles, it now appears that the cathedral, even with one roof,
cannot be finished for less than 50,000 rupees more, i.e. some
i:4.40o. The finance department seems to have been ignorant
that what was spent on the foundation, which was nearly £4,000,
was not an item on the creditor's side between Messrs. Burne
and Company (the contractors) and the cathedral authorities, but
that beginning from the point where they found the building they
contracted to finish it for three lakhs of rupees. So now we are
pledged for £4,400 in six months' time. Messrs. Burne and Com-
pany will lend the money, but at 8 per cent., which would be £350
per annum, as much as all our offertories could do to pay the
interest alone, and still the debt of £4,400 hanging over our heads
ad infinitum, I only learned this mistake of the finance depart-
ment two days ago, and felt struck to the ground by a blow most
serious and disastrous. We are really in distress, and all I see
that can be done is to try to borrow money from friends without
interest I give myself £500 this year somehow. Mr. M. Y. and
Mr. L. offered to lend £500 each, so that, with mine, will do some-
thing ; but still the debt will be over our heads like a Damocles'
sword ! I should be disposed to say — Stop short, and build
no more than you have money for ; but Mr. Montgomery and the
Gardiners say — No, by all means finish, and get the money after.
I hope to write three or four letters home by next mail to ask for

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••¥02- '::.-:. '''-".LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

some pledges of ^^500 loans, but I never in my life borrowed
before, and would starve rather at any time, but here we are put
to straits. That will raise the cost of the whole building to
about three and a half lakhs, 350,000 rupees, alas !

* Mr. sent 1,000 rupees lately. Mrs. Montgomery raised 400

rupees at her bazaar. So funds come in, but it seems but a drop in
the bucket compared with the great deficiency.

* The text on my bedroom wall comforts me amid anxious com-
plications, " All things work together for good to them that love
God." May we rest on this confidently, and find His love shed
abroad richly.'

In June the same year the bishop wrote from Murree : —

* Some very hard things are said of me now in connexion with
the cathedral, yet the difficulties are, in the main, such as I could
not possibly foresee or provide against. However, the matter
does not trouble me nearly so much as many others. If the
rather severe earthquake we had last night had swallowed the

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 11 of 46)