H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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same name as Naomi, leaving out the i), a colporteur of the Bible
Society, who brings Bibles for sale ; my old servant, Hunnah Minus
by name; the nephew of a late Chaldean patriarch, Elias; an
Armenian gentleman, who joined himself to us for security's sake.
Our beds have to be spread most often on the mud floor, with
perhaps a Persian carpet or drugget kindly spread out of respect,
and I am often lovingly reminded of the careful forethought of my
. . . wife in getting me to take the large rizai, which was her own,
and the large oilcloth for securing all from wet and soil. Three
and a half mules are occupied with my mule-boxes, two trunks,
two or three bags with lunch-basket (an inestimable treasure in
such a journey), robe-case, writing-case, and bedding. The long
rides are an effort certainly, and cause some weariness and pain ;
but to-day I got a tight belt, which was a great help. Saturday
we were some ton hours in the saddle, and it was one of the
hardest and most exhausting days I ever experienced, as heavy

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rains had saturated the countiy and turned hundreds of miles
into a swamp, which would not have been so bad but for the
ditches dividing one desert tract from another. How to get
ourselves and horses across these broad, deep ditches was a pro-
blem of no small difficulty. However, at the worst points some
Arabs came to the rescue, divested of all clothing encumbrance,
and carried us on their shoulders across, unlading the mules also,
and transferring the baggage, and pulling out the poor creatures,
after their wallowings in the deep ditches, safe up the mud-banks,
by main force, on the other side. Darkness overtook us in this
struggle with the elements, and we could not reach the destination
(Dilhi Abbas) we hoped to achieve by 5 p.m. on Saturday the 3rd,
but seeing the lights of a wild Arab hamlet by the roadside
(whose name I did not learn, if it has a name at all), we threw
ourselves on the hospitality of the villagers, and got a little single-
roomed house placed at our disposal, all but the zenana part
screened by a sort of screen of straw-plaiting, where the good lady
and her children secreted themselves. But these Arab ladies are
most obliging sometimes : bring their children to be looked at and
inquired about, ask about my sons and daughters, and elicit my
small stock of Arabic colloquial; want to know all about our
whence and whither, and never forget the bakhshish, of course.
If they have turned themselves out of a room for us, we give
them an extra rupee or half medjidi, a Turkish coin. Their
behaviour is admirable, respectful and even dignified, yet with
a freedom of convei*8e which surprises me. On Saturday evening
they soon had a fire lit, coffee roasted, ground, then boiled, and
poured into cups like dolls' cups, and handed round with some
fresh baked bread and the "sour kraut" of curded milk. For
a couple of hours the Arab host, with his friends, sat round and
listened to stories which a traveller eloquently, and with a profu-
sion of gestures and actions suited to the warlike achievements he
described of havoc and slaughter, spoke out to the delight of the
Arab company, the lady standing like Sarah at the tent door and
partly behind it, and taking all in with ciuious and intense interest.
I said to the orator, " Now you have regaled us with feats of war
and of arms, suppose you tell us a stoiy out of the history of
Abraham." He confessed to profound ignorance on this subject ;
so I summoned what Arabic I could, and told them of the offering
of Isaac, and God's promises to him, with some teachings on the
great account to be rendered before the judgement-seat of Christ.
Yesterday at Kara Tuppa, where much in the same way a larger
Arab house was given up to us, I was allowed to open my mouth
a little more freely in Arabic on our Lord Jesus Christ as the
Judge and Saviour of men, taking some texts out of the Koran
(a copy of which they laid down before me), and showing what
was reliable truth in it and what was not so. These occasions are
full of interest, and one longs for the mouth to be freely open.'


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The account was continued from —

Earkhooky March ii.
(Eight marches from Bagdad and
four from Nineveh or Mosul.)

At this strange little city in the far wilderness we are spending
the Sunday quietly, and possibly may stay over to-morrow, as the
Bible Society colporteur wants to sell some of his Bibles here.
We had a march of about twenty-seven miles yesterday, and
I was glad it was not longer, as the day before I had rather
a bad fall in cantering over these lovely grassy plains, which
we had for two days almost continuously between Kiffree Taouk
and this place. My horse fell and threw me heavily, catching
its foot in a hole, I suppose. However, I am recovering its
effects, and hope I may not have another. We had to come very
slowly yesterday, as the zaptiehs or mounted guards, which by
Government orders accompany travellers in these wild parts
(we had four or five of them), seemed in constant apprehension
of our leaving the rest of the caravan, lest we should be assaulted
by a Kurdish tribe who are said to be hovering about to raid and
maraud. I said to the two who rode by me, * Don't be afraid, God
will take care of us if we trust Him.* *0h,' said one, * we are not
afraid for ourselves, but for you ; we are commissioned to take
care of you, a very precious charge (amftnat-ul-assimat).' The
marauding tribe is ciJled the Hamavends, and belong to the
same Garduchi or Kurds who troubled Xenophon and his force
so much in the march of the 10,000 along the same course, on
which our pathway lies for some distance. I do think, however,
the quiet of these rides in the finest air possible, and with but
few hours allowed for my studies, will, in spite of considerable
bodily fatigue, do much to prepare me perhaps for any little work
in which I may be hereafter allowed to ser\'e the Church of
God. Nor am I by any means shut out from stray opportunities
of mission work, almost more than I could enjoy as bishop.
I had some very interesting talk with my guards yesterday.
Two of them seemed at home in the more classical Arabic,
and knew more than the rude and clipped colloquial, which it
is so hard to acquire. Several passages out of the gospels
on our Lord's life and work I was able to comment upon as
we rode along, and where we stopped for an hour to get a cup
of tea.

In Kiffree on Tuesday we occupied a khan in the centre of
the bazaar, and two or three highly educated men among the
State officials called and made many most searching and
thoughtful inquiries on the nature of our Lord, to resolve which
we read and talked over several of the most impressive passages
of St. John in Arabic. . . . The chief man of the party was
brought to me by a little son of his, a bright, intelligent youth

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of a singularly sweet expression of countenance, who found me
out the day before and told me he was a schoolboy learning
Arabic, Persian and Turkish, so we read a little of the two former
in the Arabic and Persian Testaments. When we came to the
word ^Isa,' I told him that was a misnomer, applied to our Lord
by the Mohammedans, and that Yezu was the true name, meaning

OflF the little fellow ran and brought ink, pen and paper, and
had the true name and its meaning (and the ' Masih ' also) copied
out for him to carry away. When he brought his father next day,
it did one good to see the riveted fixed gaze with which he sat,
and sought to catch each word. At atmost all places we came
to, some little work of this sort seems to be given me to cheer
and encourage. The boy might be eleven or twelve years of
age, and I fancied his becoming to some apostle in days to come
what Timothy was to St. Paul, and Gregory to St. Boniface in old
times \

This (Karkhook) is a small episcopal city, like a Wells or
Salisbury of the East, with a bishop (matran) and cathedral
and little body of Chaldean clergy. We sat nearly two hours
with the bishop and his priests, a venerable and dignified body.
The bishop himself is learned really, quotes Latin and Greek
familiarly, and of course Sjrriac or Chaldee, which is their
ecclesiastical language. He sat on a dais, their early services
being completed, and the leading members of his congregation
in fine dresses mostly came in one by one to make their salaams
and pay respect to their bishop. It was a novel and interesting
sight It was an upper chamber at the far end of the court,
which was stoutly walled round and paved with stone. The
bishop made me sit by him and we conversed in French, which
he spoke very simply and intelligibly. The Chaldeans are
Nestorians whom the Bomish missionaries, after long struggles
and with the aid of French prestige and influence, have brought
into reunion with Eome. Since then they have been called
Chaldean churches. This title is partly adopted, because the
race to which they belong claims to be and doubtless is (as their
fine imposing stature and resemblance to the figures in the
sculptured slabs bears witness) descended from the Chaldeans
of Nineveh. My old servant Hunnah (dim. for Yuhannah) is
a grand specimen of the race, and easily carries any of us across
a broad ditch not to be leapt over. The conversation yesterday
turned on the differences between the Anglican and Boman
Churches, which the bishop (Jibrail, L e. Gabriel) hoped I might
and he might see reunited. I said we never could abandon
our present mission as a Church to allow any worship whatever,

^ In his journal he adds : 'I said to the father, ''Let us pray that an
apostle of your own selves may be raised up for this dark land.'' '

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whether called Hyperdoulia or Doulia, which contravened the
only and unadulterated worship of the one true Grod ; for
instance Virgin-worship, which, however he repudiated it, yet
in every part of his (otherwise very simple and unadorned)
cathedral were pictures of the Virgin, not even Virgin and
Child, but herself alone. They have old copies on desks of
the ancient liturgies and the Bible, all in the Chaldee or
Syriac ; from the liturgies the names of Nestorius and his chief
followers are now expunged, the priest pointed out the eflface-
ment with ink of their names since the union with Rome,
implying that they no longer hold the two persons instead of
the single person of the Saviour. The matran thought but
little of the missions of the Church of England as compared
with the Roman, especially as regards their numbers. Dr. Sutton
suggesteJ numbers were not the best and only criterion of

Between Kififree and Karkhook the road lay under a very
picturesque, though not lofty, hill-range for about thirty miles
steadily. . . . Each little town was fringed with date-palm groves,
and in two or three of them were groves of willowB by the waters,
like those which grew on the Euphrates at Babylon. Under these
hills the black tents and herds and flocks of the Arabs were
in singular and pleasing contrast. Far on to the west and
Tigris were vast and boundless plains, carpeted at this season
with rich vegetation. . . . One cloud-like mass of small, almost
black, birds I saw at one point, perhaps bee-eaters, at least much
of their size and colour ; once or twice I saw a covey of partridges,
in villages were turkeys and fowls, and on the doorways of many
houses stood a pair of storks in dignified statue-like guardianship
of the respective courts. But the silence of these plains is almost
talismanic: one shepherd's pipe only I heard, and the drowsy
tinklings of the mules often, and the unmusical songs of the
muleteers and zaptiehs. The sheep and cattle are mostly black,
though not wholly so ; and the Arabs' dress is black, as their
tents also. The kids and lambs are mostly kept in separate
flocks and tended by children. Here and there were a few
troops of Arab horses, mares chiefly. Far away to the east
are a series of gloriously glistening snowy ranges, forming the
boundary lines between Persia and Turkish Arabia, anciently
called the Zagros, I believe, now called by various names, as the
Karrada or White Mountain in Turkish, in Arabic Jabl-ul-&9wad,
which means the same thing. Another is called Khizr Elias,
Khizr being the Moslem name for the prophet.

The famous battle-field of Arbela ^ (modem Arbil)^ still

^ Where Alexander defeated Darius and overthrew the Persian empire
B. c. 331.

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dominated by a fine and noble fort, was passed in dark and
gloomy weather, March 14.

Nineveh, or Mosul (house of old Chaldean bishop),

March 21, 1888.

. . . We had four long and fatiguing marches between twenty-
five and thirty miles daily from Tuesday to Friday of last week,
and reached this^ place by a wearisome circuit on Friday evening,
as the heavy rains had swollen the Tigris and the bridge of boats
was broken up. We entered between two of the mounds, which
are the best known as containing some of the best monuments
excavated from ancient Nineveh — Koyunyik, and Nabi Yunus,
where is Jonah's reputed tomb.

We had accepted the invitation of one or two Chaldean priests
of the non-Roman branch of that Church to occupy the very plain
and unostentatious house of their bishop, who is at present in
Constantinople, tiying to prevail on the Government to save his
Church from becoming the spoil of the Roman and Latin priests,
who in these regions think the great missionary duty of the
Church is to swallow up the small Churches which date from
the second and third centuries at latest. One of the priests is
teaching me to read their Services in Syriac, which I once tried
to acquire by taking lessons from a rabbi in London when we
were at Beddington. However, it is almost unknown to me
now, except for its numerous Hebrew and Arabic roots, and
I include it in my other Arabic studies. On Sunday they
were not content without my occupying their matran's seat,
and I took the Lord's Supper after their form, which is simple
enough, except for the very elaborate and lengthy form of
prayers, the embellished altar, the musical accompaniments by
several choirs of youths and boys, more adoration than we allow,
and some other particulars.

The sermon immediately preceded the consecration, and lasted
about a quarter of an hour. It was on our Lord's teaching about
fasting, and Isaiah's also in chapter Iviii. I understood much of
the drift of the discourse.

The population is only about half that of Bagdad, and the
public buildings are far less imposing. It lies low, close down to
the river, not like ancient Nineveh, which was well above it, and
surrounded (especially Koyunyik and Nabi Yunus) with towering
mounds of eartii, which gave some idea of the enormous materiid
if not moral force which men like Shalmaneser and Sennacherib
concentrated on the erection of their capitals, and their own
palaces in particular.

The massive embankments of earth, brick and conglomerate
which encircle Koyunyik, and served, with moats and canals and
river streams diverted, as defences to the enormous structures of
Sennacherib's and Sardanapalus' palace, cannot be more than

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three or four miles in circumference, though Herodotus' account
(corresponding better to Jonah's^ makes the city sixty stadia
(twelve miles at least) each way. If so it must, or might at least,
have included Ehorsabad, Sargon's palaces, whose mounds are
nine miles !N. E., and Karram Lais far S.W.

Of the old monuments the best, as you know, have been
transferred by Layard, Bawlinson, Smith, Botta, and others, to
the museums of the Louvre and London ; still, to see some of the
inferior ones on the very original spots has an interest of its own,
and in this we spent about three hours yesterday with Mr. Ainslie,
a Presbyterian missionary, and Mr. Easiaam, nephew of the famed
explorer. . . . We try to see the bishops and priests of the various
churches here, but it is no easy matter, as there must be seven or
eight different ecclesiastical bodies.

One old bishop, Matran Mulus of the Jacobite Church, who
called this morning, is full of love and of the spirit of God, I do
think. The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks highly of him, and
recommends those who apply to him here for spiritual help to
rally round this matran, who for eight years or so was head of the
Syrian Church in Malabar.

About fifteen or eighteen persons here are very desirous of
placing themselves in connexion with the Church of England
rather than the American Presbyterians, but the archbishop does
not favour the idea of adding another to the motley group of
discordant Churches. The Americans are very jealous of the
movement in the direction of the English Church, and I do not
suppose the C. M. S, would at all desire or favour it.

The Jacobite Church wanted me to administer the Lord's
Supper next Sunday, as their own bishop is away, but as my
Arabic and Syriac would be in part at least unintelligible, I could
not accept the courtesy. I promised, if desired, to give the

I doubt whether the Dominican Latin Church would even
receive a call from me if I ventured to their doors, as they seem
here to be most majestic and imperious and scornful of all but
papal adherents. In the reception room of the absent Jacobite
bishop we sleep, eat, receive callers from the patriarch down to
poor members of what is called the Protestant, that is the Pres-
byterian, Church. If I called myself a Protestant I should be
supposed to be a Presbyterian, which I object to I

This, the only letter during his stay of ten days from
Friday, March i6, to Monday, March 26, at Mosul, may be
supplemented by some extracts from the bishop's journal.

' Sunday, 18. Attended Jacobite mass. Made to sit in matran's
chair. Full choir of youths, who stood the whole time, nearly
two hours. I stood much of the time, but they begged me to be

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seated, perhaps out of pity for my grey hairs ! Full choir of boys
also, mostly in white dresses, some white mixed with slightly
coloured embroidery, five candles at altar, only a cross, not
a vestige of Mariolatry ; but the curtain drawn and undrawn at
intervals, e. g. at time of consecration. Lessons read by a number
of young men, some very young, out of law, prophets, and gospels.
Psalms chanted and read alternately, and very reverentially. Two
robed deacons, or sub-deacons, in white with scarves of scarlet
held staves with what seemed a circular brass-plate at end of each,
which they waved, like wings hovering over the consecrating
priest, io represent (as appeared) the descent of the Holy Ghost to
cause the elements to become the body and blood of the Lord to
the faithfuL The priest also waved a kind of cloth, which he out-
spread over the elements before consecration, or at the moment of
consecration. Occasionally one of the little boys came out of
choir of boys, knelt, and repeats a prayer for the children,
I suppose. These various officiators came up to me, and took my
hand and kissed it. After the consecration, the priest uplifted
the elements before the people, and called them to draw near with
faith, love, holiness, not with hatred, strife, debate ; then gave
a short sermon in Ajraibic (as above). The church was crowded,
and on the whole the congregation seemed devout and reverent ;
the sermon listened to in perfect silence. The prayers seemed
full of Christ ; the Virgin's name I caught once or twice, but not
the connexion in which it came. I begged to receive the elements
kneeling, and both were brought me by the officiating priest.
Several times the priest, raising his hand, commended the people
to the love and peace of God patriarchally. In the sermon, appa-
rently, words of most kindly welcome to me, as a visiting matran
from a distant Church, wei'e addressed from the priest in his
people's behalf. The box for alms was held outside the Church,
or a dish of brass rather, no secrecy or privacy apparently ; but
I was helpless, so put in my two medjidis in presence of a lot of
spectators! Some little wafers of unleavened flour of round
biscuit shape (the usual native bread) were brought me as I left
the church, which I distributed to some hungry little boys on the
way 2 a crowd of them and some elders accompanied me ; happily
it was not far to the bishop's house.

* At 12 was pi-esent at Bible-class, or catechizing (Presbyterian),
in Kaoum's house ; said a few words. At 3 attended service of
prayer and song in fine Latin cathedral of Dominicans, in near
neighbourhood ; prayers, liturgical, and in not very sweet sounds
uttered by all children, more a scream than musical notes in any
sort of haimony; the priest interposed a short prayer, kneeling
before the altar, and the bishop came in at last, perhaps for bene-
diction. One short lesson from St. John read, two or thi*ee very
sweet solos, and some Gregorian chants. Body of church filled
with children, sisters, &c. ; at sides men and women. No sermon,

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alas ! which is at mass service at 7 a. m. ; in evening attended
American service, Ainslie preached.'

' igth. Sat a considerable time with Bishop Mulus in his library.
He is, apparently, tabooed to a great extent by all the Boman
clergy here. His library very much of the eclectic character of
my own ; much of historical, devotional, theological element,
with philosophy of Mar Hebraeus, &c He was most cordial and
friendly, one felt heart to heart with him. He knew all about
Canon Maclean's movement and commission from archbishop.'

^2oth. Visited Chaldean patriarch of Babylon, a sort of Sen-
nacherib in haughtiness of bearing (at first), and Sardanapalus in
exquisite taste and grandeur of his furniture. The Ottoman arms
figured at head of his reception room in glowing and brilliant
colounng, and on each side was the Mohammedan crescent in
showy and magnificent gilding. . . . He beckoned to me and S. to
sit opposite to him, while he occupied, not his throne, but a very
richly embroidered damask sofa. I tried in French to deliver my
witness, as in other cases, and found some freedom. He would
not admit any departures of Eome from the original type of
doctrine and ritual, nor could he understand the special witness
which the ancient Church of England had a commission to deliver.
Much discussion of the polygamy question in connexion with the
Lambeth counciL Some conversation about le P^re Besson,
whom he had seen at Rome, and whose history he knew well.
Then on white donkey to Koyunyik, and saw all that could be
seen now of the winged bulls, and one priest of ancient Nineveh,
the best preserved piece of antiquity ; bach very tired.'

The rest of the week was spent in similar interviews, and
others of more directly missionary character with a Turkish
rais, and two hours daily were spent in studying St.
Ephraem with a Syrian priest. The bishop always sought
to put before the Easterns the position of our English
Church. On one occasion he was urged by Matran Mulus
to get copies of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth's TheophUus
Anglicanus printed in Arabic at Bagdad, and circulated
through Turkish Arabia with this intent. On the second
Sunday he received the Sacrament from the Matran Mulus
in his church ; and preached at night to the Presbyterian
congregation through an interpreter, receiving many thanks
for his address.

In a letter to Mrs. Sheldon, written on March 28 at
Simbil, on the road to Mardin, the bishop summed up his
impressions thus : —

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'The surroundings of Nineveh are, on the whole, much
more suggestive than those of Babylon. The Euphrates near
Babylon has become a comparatively insignificant stream, through
ill-considered and mischievous attempts of the Sultan and his
court ladies to divert its waters into districts where they have
bought up hundreds of miles of desert for their private advantage ;
and the failure to bank up canals properly, by which the waters of
the river have caused useless inundations to the suffering of the
people by the creation of swamps, and cutting off of the old
supplies relied on by the agriculturists along the bed of the old
river \ It suggests the recollection of the words, ** drying up of
the waters of the Euphrates," though the context is not much

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 25 of 46)