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H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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ance and confession of need might do more than all the letters
in our religious journals, intended to make it appear there is no
occasion for alarm and so to encourage the spirit of slumber 1

* J shall hope to learn something in my journeys of what the
Eastern and Eoman Churches, with the Ainerican Presbyterian
Missions, are doing in these parts, and how far they are at all in
touch with the Mohammedans, whether Turkish or Arabian, and
what the Church of England might do, either working missions
of its own, or trying to set to work agencies and influences in



^ The day appointed for the new bishop's enthronement.



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2l8 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

those Eastern Churches which invoke our aid. The archbishop
soems to have large and enlightened views on these questions*
I hope the Board of Missions . . . may have a committee with
broad and clear views on these interesting subjects, more and
more of vital concern to our Church, as it seems summoned to
take action*'

The next letter to Mrs. French is dated Bagdad, Feb-
ruary 6 : —

* On the morning of the 4th I had the pleasure of a walk on the
Tigris banks of two miles (which was made possible by intricate
windings of the steamer's course up the river at that point) to
visit the ruins of the one great palace of Ctesiphon, the Parthian
capital, which still survives, and of which one block fell about
a year ago. It is called the Arch of Cyrus or Khosrou, and refers
back probably to a king of that name, the last of the Sassanian
dynasty, a contemporary of Mohammed, and a man of famous
memories. But long before that it had been historically re-
nowned, and stood sieges from various Eoman emperors, Marcus
Aurelius, Septimius Severus, and Julian. An author I have been
reading connects the Parthians with the present Kurds: and
certainly the country is now called Kurdistan, and the character
of the races agrees pretty well. They and the Britons were the
two peoples that cost the Eomans so many hard fights, and some-
times defeats and slaughter! For 150 miles or more before
reaching Bagdad the country becomes more cultivated, and
villages of the roughest construction — ^the houses being of mud,
reeds, grass, thatch, with skins and blankets to cover them when
storms beat over them, at least in those of the more comfortable
type — break the dreary loneliness of the desert scene ; and ragged
children line the banks screaming for bakhshish. Only about
Ctesiphon and Seleucia, which fsice each other on the opposite
banks, one observes huge massive remnants of city walls and
mounds of earth, concealing monuments of these once splendid
and far-famed capitals : the latter built by Seleucus Nicator for his
capital, soon after Alexander's death. Dr. McAlister and myself
visited these relics of past empires with as much enthusiasm as
imagination can elicit out of those huge masses of ruin.

Towards sunset the domes and minarets of Bagdad came in
sight, beyond the date-palm groves which lined both shores to
some depth, mingled with orange gardens and brightened with
villas and country residences of merchants and Government
officials. It seemed almost lilce approaching Venice, if my
retrospect of that city is correct. A bright sunset gilded the
whole scene ; and the broad, glassy waters, with small sailing-
boats, making it as a land shadowed with wings, added much to
the pleasing efifeci The only Christian building, which is



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BAGDAD 219

visible by a lofty dome amid the mosque minarets, is that of
the Carmelites, a spacious and solid cathedral edifice. The other
churches, of Chaldean and Syrian Catholics and Armenians, are
not conspicuous at all. Borne has swallowed up and over^
ridden with the Papacy all the Eastern Churches, as far as this
city is concerned. In Mosul or Beyrout it is different, and some
other cities like Diarbekir, Mardin, and Eharpout. . . .

^Dr. Sutton seems to be winning his way among all classes
nobly : even the Boman priests and Sisters of Mercy think much
of him, and are most civil and friendly, all the more so that they
have no medical mission of their own. . . . We purpose to have
a donkey-ride to-morrow to Hillah and Babylon, which will
occupy the rest of the week for Dr. McAlister and myself, if all
goes well. The house here is on the river bank, with a good view
in front : it touches behind one of the narrow city streets. It is
the usual native style, two or three quadrangular courts, and
rooms in two stories, with vaulted cellars beneath called serdabs,
which form retreats in the hot season, being cooler than above.
We were glad to have stoves lighted yesterday, as it was very
damp, or seemed to me so. Next week I must hope to see some-
thing of the people here, and of the Eastern Churches and their
clergy perhaps, if time permits.'

To Mbs. Sheldon.

Babylon, Feb. 10, 1888.

We left on Tuesday at 8 a. m., crossing the Tigris Bridge and
journeying across the fifty-five miles of dreary waste towards the
Euphrates, which we accomplished in two long days, riding the
fine white asses of the country. A naval captain of H. M, S,
Comet, stationed at Bagdad, and the American professor I spoke,
of (Dr. McAlister), were my fellow-travellers.

One day we were detained by heavy rains in a caravanserai
which would have amused you, the building allotted us being
one three-domed low room, the part of which under the central
dome we occupied; under another dome were the mules and
asses, and under the third our servants and luggage, a decidedly
Eastern arrangement, which it takes time and patience to get used
to and make oneself happy. The asses we managed to get
cleared out very soon ; as to live in a stable for two days we
could not make up our minds readily. The verandah was the
place of assemblage of the Arabs of the adjoining village, and
a number of them seemed well pleased to listen to some
chapters of the Arabic New Testament I read to them, with such
short conmients and instruction as my small experience in the
colloquial enabled me to address to them. The damp and cold
was a little trying, there being no stove or fireplace of any
kind ; but I had provided myself with bedding enough to make



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220 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

the nights fairly comfortable; some rude benches of very rough
workmanship supplying the place of bedsteads. The villagers
sold us the plain bread of the country, thick unleavened cakes
which, if fresh, are very eatable and nutritious, as well as eggs
and milk, so that we were not badly ofif.

There was nothing of particular interest on the journey, except
a few Arab huts and tents here and there, around a cultivated
space eked hardly out of the waste ; and the dreary-looking
caravanserai with its lofty mud walls, visible for many miles
across the level wastes ; and occasional caravans on their way to
and from Kerbela, a great place of pilgrimage to the Shiah
Mussulmen. As we drew near Babylon the date-palm groves,
lying on both banks of the Euphrates, were pleasant objects for
the eye to dwell on, stretching for many miles along the horizon ;
and gradually the vast mounds of ruined palaces and temples
buried under sand heaps, with here and there huge fragments of
dilapidated buildings bearing witness to the grand skilful engineer-
ing of ancient builders, and the wealth of bygone empires of
the East, gave a most impressive spectacle: though it was
disappointing they told so little of their own tale, especially
to us who could not decipher the cuneiform character. After
crossing the deep broad canal from the Euphrates, ascribed to
Semiramis, quite dry at present, but forming in old times
a formidable rampart, we halted an hour close under the first
building we reached, which Eawlinson and other archaeologists
ascribe on very reasonable grounds to the great temple of Bel,
the centre of the world's idolatrous system of worship, and
around which Nebuchadnezzar^s heathen empire clustered and
established itself in all its pomp and pride ; becoming thus the
'hammer of the whole eai-th,' and employed in God's providence
as * His battle-axe and weapons of war.' . . .

Yesterday was mostly spent at the Birs Nimroud, sup-
posed on good grounds, as it appears, to be the old temple of
Belus, with its eight stories in pyramidal ascent, tier upon tier,
of which three may be accounted for in the ruins, as they are now
visible and to be scaled by travellers. The circuit of the lowest
stage is about 2,226 feet, the whole extent of which is honey-
combed with chambers, many of which the excavator's pickaxe
has laid bare. The summit at present is surmounted by a tower
visible for many miles ; but even this, commanding and majestic
as it looks, must be but a feeble reflection of the lordly height
of grandeur from which it must have looked down of old with
supreme contempt on the expanse of level plains, stretching
away on this side of the great river and far beyond it, broken
only by palm-groves, and possibly artificial lakes and canals, into
which Eastern conquerors have delightod to bring the overflow of
the Euphrates, with distant views perhaps in fair weather of
Calneh, Erech, and Accad, mentioned in Genesis as forming,



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BABYLON AND BIRS NIMROUD 221

possibly with Babyloiii a confederacy or group of subject cities.
If, as others suppose, and on the theory which many ancient
traditions support, this is not only what survives of the great
Belus temple, which Herodotus describes, but also the remnant
of Nimrod's Babel Tower so familiar to our childhood, the interest
is immensely heightened, as you will suppose. And it is abun-
dantly possible that what served for the massive supports and
solidly grounded bases of the one was utilized also to prop up the
central seat of the world's heathen worship, as described by the
Greek historian in later ages. Anyhow, there this mysterious
height, with its unsolved and perhaps insoluble problem, stands,
like the equally inexplicable pile of Stonehenge in our own land :
like tribute saved and standing over from the heathen systems of
the past in their pride and pomp of power to be laid at the foot
of the Cross, when * He shall divide the spoil with the strong '
— and * He shall come whose right it is.' CertaiiJy if ever those
words seemed to have a uniquely emphatic meaning — *J will
overturn, overturn, overturn,' it would seem to be conveyed to
any thinking soul in sight of these ancient landmarks of
triumphant paganism, when it ruled empires of such boundless
extent. . .

Sunday, Feb, 12. QuinquagesimcL, May the blessings of this
Sunday of holy love be richly vouchsafed you all. . . . Yesterday
was spent mostly in Nebuchadnezzar's palace, or kasar, as it is
called here, close to the Euphrates banks. Beyond a few por-
tions of the stout thick walls of the palace which Layard exca-
vated, there is nothing but heaps on heaps of broken bricks
and pottery, some of the bricks bearing cuneiform inscriptions.
Dr. M. is trying to carry away some bits chipped off from these
flat bricks, about a foot square, or nine inches at least ; but it
would be impossible for me to encumber myself with burdens
like these. I bought of an Arab one little bit of inscribed stone
yesterday, on a little oblong slab not bigger than a piece of
Windsor soap, possibly an incantation or hymn to Nebo or
Merodach. Fragments of glass of lovely colours lie scattered all
round. The Arab family we put up with is large, consisting of
a host of children, fowls, sheep, &c. The lambs are brought
into the next room at night and tenderly nursed. It is a pleasant
pastoral sight, and all are friendly. . . . We have been reading
some of the Babylonian histories from Daniel this morning.

To Mrs. French. Feh. 10.

It is disappointing to think what uncertainty attaches to the
various accounts of the great scholars and archaeologists who
have undertaken to decipher the cuneiform inscriptions, and to
reconcile conflicting accounts of the ancients. . . . Though the brick-
work in some sections recently excavated looks as fresh as if it
were of yesterday, yet the general effect is suggestive rather of



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222 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

brute force and giant dogged determination, and any amount of
convict labour to be drawn upon, than of the artistic elegance
and exquisite beauty of buildings such as those whose remains so
charmed me at Persepolis. The meaning of this is that the
Babylon lessons are moral and spiritual, rather than lessons of
fine arts, although the fragments of pottery glazed in rich colours
(the blue and gi*een especially lovely) show that porcelain work
of a finished kind was well developed and most plentiful . . .

Feh. nth. A good part of to-day has been spent in examining
the mounds of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, standing on its height,
and trying to picture the time when he stood on its parapets and
exclaimed, * Is not this great Babylon which I have built ? ' and
then when the discipline was complete made his lowly confession
of faith : * Now J, Nehuchadnezsar, praise, extols and honour the
King of Heaven.' The willows aJong the Euphrates banks
touchingly reminded one of the harps of the captive Jews hung
on the willows. I got Captain Butterworth to cut me two or
three sticks of them to carry away; but I fear it is not very
likely they will come safe through my joumeyings \ To imagine
Belshazzar's boisterous and guilty carousals in the midst of such
unbroken silence was difficult, or to think of Alexander dying
there in the full tide of his conquests over the whole world,
except himself, his own lusts and passions. We took a light
lunch under the one tree which is to be found in the circuit of
the buildings, and which some suppose to be the sole survivor
of the hanging gardens which Nebuchadnezzar built for his
favourite Parian queen ! It is one of the most interesting trees
in the world if that be the case : and the chief proof given is,
that it is quite an exotic, the only one of the kind found in the
whole country round. At any rate it may be a descendant of the
old plantation in those gardens. ... A colossal elephant in stone,
of very dark granite, in a deep ravine of the palace grounds, is
perhaps the only remaining historic memorial of the earliest ages
of Babylon. Beyond Nebuchadnezzar's palace is another mound,
beneath which are supposed to be buried the relics of the more
ancient Babylonian dynasties and of their palaces ; but I cannot
learn whose names are graven on the few and dimly deciphered
monumenta ... It is pleasant to think of one of St. Peter's epistles
being most probably written from Babylon.

To Mrs. French.

Bagdad, Feb. 19, i88a
... I shall do but little writing, I fear, till I have got a firm hold
of the Arabic colloquial, which is occupying me night and day, with
French also, which I have much occasion to use as the Christian



^ They did, through the bishop's indomitable perseverance.



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CARMELITE NUNS SCHOOL, BAGDAD 223

churches here are approached through it, and my studies in
F^nelon, Dupanloup, and others have turned out most seasonable.
My Arabic dates from the old days in the Agra fort: the
dictionary I use being the very same ponderous one you and
I carried into the fort together on the day of the battle ! It is
a sadly torn and defaced book, but it does its work faithfully.
An old Chaldean Christian member of this flock sits several
hours a day with me, and I translate Spurgeon*s sermons with
him, and read the Arabic Bible with an Arabic work of contro-
versy written in Spain by a Christian doctor about 870 a. d., and
edited by Sir W. Muir. The Christians come up to my room
and have a little talk sometimes in Arabic, and I managed to
read a lesson in church this morning and give the benediction.
... I contemplate a journey by land to the old Mosul or
Nineveh : it will take tvvelve or fourteen days to reach it, I fear.
Happily Dr. Sutton proposes to accompany me, and two or three
of the native flock, one an employ^ of the Bible Society. . . .
Only think of my visiting the nuns' schools of 600 girls, Syrian
and Chaldee chiefly, connected with the French Carmelite
mission here. The m^re-sup^rieure was most gracious, giving
me my episcopal title, and having a chair of honour put for me
in each class-room, and letting me examine even in French ! . . .
One of the sisters is a beautiful Arabic scholar, and it was most
interesting to hear her examine in Arabic grammar and in Holy
Scripture also, which I specially begged her to question them in<
The day previous I called and sat with the four Carmelite priests,
who were very civil. Of the others I have only seen the
Chaldaeo-Boman bishop, and the Armenian vicaire, who is in
place of a bishop. He was particularly friendly, being not in
communion with Bome. I found the tomb of Le p^re Besson is
not here, but at Mosul in a mountain convent. The American
missions there have suffered terribly at times ; of the seven who
first went to labour there five died in a very short time, amongst
the most famed being Dr. Grant and Dr. Lobdells. The life of
the latter I am glancing hastily over. His tomb is well worth
a pilgrimage as well as Besson's, and what a contrast between the
two men in some ways, but scarcely in zeal, love, and devoted
self-sacrifice.

... I am so glad you could be at Bishop Matthew's con-
secration. I have thought much of him to-day as just entering
on the cathedral work of Lahore. What an enthusiastic and
crowded congregation there will be, and a real descent (I pray) of
the Holy Spirit's influences and blessing. May he reap in joy
what I have sown in tears, and sow still more plentifully for
after reapers ! . . . I have had some long chats with a Mr. Budge
of the British Museum, who is on a visit of research here, a very
young and vigorous traveller. He hopes to visit Mosul also
before long, but goes to Babylon this week. He reads off cunei-



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224 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

form inscriptions like English, and is trying to get a firman to
excavate at Sepharvaim and other old A»^rian cities close at
hand. Sepharvaim is the Sippara of the monuments, and is
about halfway between this and Babylon. • . . The Tigris rose
twelve feet at the beginning of last week, and was a magnificent
stream in full flood. Since then it has sunk considerably. The
boats are small oval-shaped coracles, osier-made, and lined with
skins of cattle, apparently not difficult to manage, but of the
rudest possible construction.

To Mrs. Moulson. p r

The Boman priests speak very discouragingly of the future as
regards reaching the Moslem in these lands: the Government
being so intensely jealous of any attempt to teach in home or
school, so that the barrier is almost hopelessly obstructiva . . .
Medicfd missions seem the one licit and unforbidden mode of
reaching Mohammedans : they don't seem able to resist this, and
this is a bond of friendly relations even between the 0. M. 8.
mission and the Eoman, as the latter have no medical branch,
and are most courteous when meeting Dr. Sutton at the bedside
of the sick and dying. But as a whole I think the Latins are far
less bigoted here than in Europe, though Mariolatry is much
the same.

Two days ago I visited the Jewish schools. One is a Bagged
School of i,ooo children, and ragged and emaciated they, looked,
poor things ; such suffering countenances I have rarely seen.
The cane seemed brandished about in a terrible way, with
menaces enough to drive all the heart out of them. They all get
a bit of bread once a day at the school. I gave them enough to
give a second bit to each for that day, costing about \d. for each\
We looked at their largest synagogue after. It has the usual
flat roof, and part is open to the sky, and part overspread with
matting to keep the sun out. Let into the wall is a little mosaic
of stones, with a notice in Hebrew that these are of the rock in
Sion Mount, and the mortar even is made of earth from Jeru-
salem. I then went to hear a bit of a lecture in the Talmudic
school, which is famous here. Old grey-haired Jews were listening
to an exposition by a group of rabbis * sitting in Moses' seat,'
I suppose, and discussing questions of law and theology. They
were learning when we went in how to sharpen knives for
butchering animals, on which the Talmud has veiy exacting
requirements. The smallest notch spoils the instrument, which



^ The bishop was distressed that his offer was not accepted, as coming
from a Christian ; * but then one thought of God's Son Himself from
heaven being rejected, so that one ought to feel no wonder at such an
incident as this!'



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ANECDOTE OF DR. VALPY 225

must pass through the animal's neck so that there is scarce a con-
scious sensation of being killed. At a higher school, maintained
chiefly by the Sassoons of Bombay, they learnt English, French,
Arabic, Hebrew, besides some industries. There seem some
40,000 Jews in Bagdad, sprung chiefly from the old Babylonian
Jews of the captivity.

To Mbs. French.

Fehmarp 27.

The Tigris is tossed like a sea to-day with a strong south wind ;
it is a great sight really. I had no idea how difficult it would be
to make arrangements for travel, but scarcely any people, except

excavators and eccentric people like the s, seem to come into

these parts, which I am surprised at, considering the historical
interest attaching to them.

I am afraid this stay at Bagdad has not been as much of a rest
as I hoped ; but I hope I have broken the back of the Arabic
colloquial a little. The ride in the desert ought to help to soothe
the brain if not to rest the body.

In the coarse of his Arabic studies here, in translating
Spurgeon's two thousandth sermon, the bishop met with
half a page devoted to the story of some lines by his grand-
father (Dr. Valpy) with which he was familiar in his own
father's Bible : —

*Lord, let me end in peace my bi*eath,

And Thy salvation see ;
My sins deserve eternal death,
But Jesus died for me.'

These lines Dr. Valpy wrote as his confession of faith,
and gave to Dr. Marsh, who put them on his study mantel-
shelf. The Earl of Roden came in, saw them, and begged
for a copy, which he put on his mantel-shelf. General
Taylor, a Waterloo hero, noticed them, and read them over
and over again while staying with Lord Eoden, till the
latter remarked, 'Taylor, I should think you know those
lines by heart.' He answered, ' I do know them by heart,
indeed my heart has grasped their meaning.' He handed
them over to an officer going to the Crimean War. He
came home to die. Dr. Marsh went to see him. The poor
soul in his weakness said, * Do you know this verse General

VOL. II. Q



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226 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

Taylor gave me ? It brought me to my Saviour, and I die
in peace.'

FROM BAGDAD TO MOSUL.

The next letter from Kiffree Taouk (?), between Bagdad
and Mosul, Asiatic Turkey, March 6, 1888, was written
seated on a mule-trunk in a little hut in one of the dreary,
and what English people would call filthy, caravanserais.

* After being delayed a day or two for post horses, we started
at length successfully from the Mission House, Bagdad, on Thurs-
day, March i. Our first march of twenty miles was accomplished
in about four hours, to a place called Judeida, on a fine broad
reach of the Tigris almost like a lake, but with swift stream. The
horses, as a rule, go well, and even canter in pleasantly after
twenty or twenty-five miles. It is a great advantage to have this
arranged for us by the Government posts, as I found it in Persia ;
but we are not sure of escaping detention by there being no horses
to be spared, as last night, for example ; but we were able to hire
others in the placa The caravanserais are equally unfurnished
with those in Persia, but are less clean, and the multitude of
creeping, crawling insects is a real trial sometimes. Dr. Sutton
is quite a victim to them. My blood running more slowly attracts
them less, but one's sleep is much broken by them. The post
caravanserai is almost crowded at night with flocks of sheep and
goats, with cows and horses also driven in for safety, as the one
only door and the tall walls do not invite the thief and robber,
and are a much valued protection. Often we all have to be con-
tent with a single mud hut just within the entrance door — that is
Dr. Sutton and myself; Selim, a Bejrrout youth, fairly well
educated, at least he knows English and Arabic well ; Naoum (the



Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 24 of 46)