H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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helped by this explanation, unless the failure of the old river route
should necessitate a great railway S3rstem, and so entrance of
European powers, English, Russian, or other I Nor does the
country round Babylon tend to make its history intelligible,
whereas Nineveh seems every way grand in its surroundings, and
unbounded in its resources. It has a splendid river in the Tigris,
with some of the richest and most remunerative soils spread all
around it for miles upon miles. Not merely is there a tenacious,
yet easily workable, clay for brickmaking and rearing up huge
mounds of earth for defences, which still stand proud and lordly,
though the fortresses, palaces, and wealth treasures they protected
have long passed away ; but at ten miles distance for several miles
the road passes along and over strata of pure white marble, which
glisten in the bright Eastern sun ; and closer in to Nineveh are
gypsum quarries, out of which slabs for house fronts in Mosul are
still freely excavated, and which, by being burnt in kilns and
pounded fine, produce most beautiful mortar and plaster of Paris
of different shades of colour.'


From Simbil the bishop made a digression to Mariaco,
which he thus described : —

' Wednesday I chiefly spent in making my way by rough and
savage mountain pathways to a monastery on the summit of one

^ * When we saw it (the Euphrates) under the Babylon mounds/ the
bishop said to Cyril, 'its great waters of proverbial force and depth, as
well as breadth, were a poor feeble stream only four or five feet deep.
Captain Butterworth, who was with me, waded across it and back easily.
Engineers say it would cost £1,000,000 to regulate the canals and make
up breaches so that the Euphrates would be itself again ! Perhaps this
will never be, for the Turks are said to repair nothing, and what we
have seen would go to prove that to be true.'

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of these ranges called Mariaco, built on the site of a most vener-
able and quaintly antique Chaldean church of solid rock-like
masonry— the sanctuary, as usual, only joined to the nave by
a broad doorway curtained. As in other churches, the four parts of
the Bible wei-e represented by different readers, boys and young
men ; Eph. v. and a portion of the gospels were carefully and
distinctly monotoned, and the people listened standing. The
ladies were all at the back with a slight screen of separation.
There were no hymns or chanting, but sAi was recited in Arabic.

'I visited the monastery at some pains to see the tomb of
a very famous Dominican missionary, one of Lacordaire's disciples,
whose biography Mrs. Sydney Lear has written, Le p^re Besson,
a kind of Henry Martyn of the Roman Church, Pio Nono's chief
painter at the Vatican^ but he gave up all for Christ, and for
his saintliness and exhausting toils and sufferings will doubtless
be canonized. I told the Roman priest, a French monk, about
Henry Martyn. On the peak of a little cliff facing the monastery
is Besson's little tomb, with a small chapel built above it. On
the little knoll topped by Besson's tomb are a number of rock-
hewn graves, some left above ground, some under, two of
martyred Chaldean children, I know not how old. Caverns of
Chaldean anchorites look grim and stem, their mouths opening
to the fresh air, and giving those old coenobites egress to attend
the Chaldean Church service at their little cathedral, partly in
ruins in its front, but otherwise of such vast solidity tliat one
might suppose it to have been cut out in a single block of the

' Terraced gardens along the heights are in lovely contrast
with this savage scenery around. They contain apricots, vines,
almonds, iigs, a few olives (quite old trees), a few oaks» and
almost all European vegetables of the more delicate kind.'

The next day vras almost more fatiguing than any march
on the journey. After riding five hours the bishop felt ill
and dismounted, and hid his head from the broiling sun
under a small ftirze bush of * shok,' waiting for his caravan.
For an hour or so he was in terrible plight, while his
servant, Hadoori, went on to get water from a rill, and
make tea for him. After a long halt he was able to go
on for the four hours yet remaining, crossing a great
mountain-range out of one country into another, through,
in seemingly endless succession, tortuous mazes of rocks,
sometimes wholly bare and savage, sometimes with oases of
bright, rich vegetation, acres upon acres of narcissus growing
wild, with the white genista in full bloom. At the summit

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of the pass suddenly there burst in sight a snowy mountain-
range, one of the great frontier-separating lines of Central
Asia, the southern masses of the vast Niphates chain
between Armenia and Asiatic Turkey, from different sides
and elevations of which both the Euphrates and Tigris have
their chief springs and sources. No Alps or Himalayas
could well look grander. Then they emerged upon another
grass-grown plain, with spring crops of wheat and barley
over endless stretches of undulating lands. At the entrance
of these, seen by peeps and glances here and there at times
of the descent through chasms and ravines, lay the most
picturesque little town of Zagoo (or Jakhoo), surrounded
almost by two branches of a clear crystal river, turbulent
and strong, the Chabour, i.e. the Chebar of Ezekiel. This
spot is regarded by the Arabs as among the most like
Paradise, famed for diversities of park forest and pasturage,
like the garden of God for glory and beauty,

^ Still 100 or more families of the Jews of the first dispersion
inhabit the place, besides 150 Moslem families, and some 50 or
60 Christian families. A similar proportion seems to prevail in
all the small towns and villages on this route from Mosul towards
Constantinople. It is among the non-papal Assyrian-Chaldeans
that .the archbishop's mission (at their own earnest and repeated
invitation) is labouring. . . . They are such a splendid race, these
old descendants of the Ninevites, such fine robust athletic men,
almost as fair as ourselves, and their women of almost excep-
tional beauty and finely formed features, except when wizen with
yeai*s, and tanned and sunburnt with field labour, in which they
take a large share, though I have not seen them at the plough ! '

Jakhoo (like Jazeerah, where the bishop spent his Easter)
faces the snowy range of Joodi, said to be the resting-place
of the ark on Mount Ararat — ^ Siknat-ul-Safinat,' the resting-
place of the big ship, as it is called in Arabic. ' Sefinah ' is
the Hebrew word in Jonah (i. 5) for the ship he set out in
for Tarshish. The Jews of Jakhoo were busy with their
Passover, and the bishop spoke with a group of them
(Good Friday morning, March 30) on * Christ our Passover is
sacrificed for us.' A light march brought him on that
night to the little village of Nahirwan, where he gathered

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the Oriental Christians, and spoke to them from the crucifix
on the subject of the day. They had no priest in residence,
but French described the little parish church — a low-
vaulted nave and aisle some fifty feet long, ending in
a dome kept very low, not to excite the Moslem jealousy ;
the walls and roof two feet in thickness, one very low
door ^ on the south side as the only entrance, no windows,
one little orifice to let in air, a little altar of the plainest
type, one candle, two minute bottles for wine and water,
which they generally mix, as was usual in Justin Martyr's
time. Tom church books and portions of the Bible were
lying scattered about in conftision, and on the altar were
the priest's dresses, dirty but wrapped and put in order.
He, a poor ignorant rustic, had gone to Mosul to recover
stolen property.

To the inquiry of what sort of Christian he was, the
bishop answered * Katulik la Papaviya ' (Catholic not Papal),
a formula he constantly rehearsed. The caravan was
lessened from this point by the return of Dr. Sutton and
Naoum to Mosul. His servant Hunnah, whose cooking was
atrocious, and not at all proportioned to his muscular
praise-worthiness, had been replaced at Mosul by a more
efficient dragoman, Hadoori. At Nahirwan cows, horses,
buflFaloes had to walk through the bishop's single room to
their respective quarters I As might be expected, his bed
swarmed with bedfellows, and through these and two
babies who screamed every hour of the night he did not get
a wink of sleep.

After this the house of the head layman of the non-papal
Syrian Church at Jazeerah ^, — a place where the four rivers,
Chabour, Hezil (Halah?), Nirkush and Tigris all unite, —
seemed like a small oasis for two nights at Eastertide. The
bishop attended the Holy Communion in the Syrian
church, but only received the bread not dipped in wine, as

* The doors in the Eastern churches are made low, lest the Moslems
should be tempted to stable cattle in the buildings.
^ The name Jazeerah means ' Island.*

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their custom is, nor did any of the congregation communi-
cate, though devout and fervent in responses. Their own
Syrian Easter took place later. In the evening he had
readings on the resurrection with his host and his brother,
and some of the ladies who gathered, and seemed to give
signs of being in earnest.

To Mbs. French.

Mardm, April 7.

We left Jazeerah about sunrise, and still on and on through
plains becoming not less spacious, but more richly verdant
and cultivated ; spring crops everywhere, refreshing to the eye ;
and small Arab villages in much more rapid succession, many
of them on green knolls, which are a conspicuous feature of the
plateaux, spread out far and wide here as throughout Mesopo-
tamia, and rendering the journey less dreary and monotonous.
The villages are poor, and rags and tatters abound more than
further to the south, though flocks and herds seem plentiful,
and eggs and milk are always procurable easily and cheaply
at the right times of day. The houses are mean and filthy,
and khans are rare, so that we were glad two evenings this
week to sleep out in the open field rather than venture on the
stable floora to spread our bedding upon. With your large
oilcloth over my head and your large rizai, I managed to
keep cold and dewy air out sufiiciently, but of course I would
rather have a place indoors to lay my head.

At Nisibin (the celebrated Nisibis of Syrian Church history,
which sent its missionaries to India and to China in the seventh
century) I was taken in at the matran's monastic establish-
ment, which has an extremely old Nestorian church and tomb
in one, of the early saint and apostle of the Syrian Church,
Mar Yakub. I fear the matran is not a very worthy successor,
either in spirit or learning, of the great and worthy occupants
of the ancient see. The place savours of having been a great
church and state centre of times long f?one by : broken pillars,
carved slabs, Norman arches (perfectly so in shape), with a few
better preserved columnar monuments, being the sole relics
of what was a most noble fortress once, and stood long sieges
unbroken and without surrender.

After speaking with much enthusiasm of the remarkable
remains of Dara, he continued : —

I reached this place (Mardin) yesterday, greatly fatigued after
a trying pull up the steep and rocky hill on which it stands.
I should have been exhausted utterly, but for a small Arab

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village I halted at beneath the steep ascent. They brought me
first some sour milk, and then some sweet milk and bread of
the country, and then formed a group, and the Arab women
heard with amusing interest about my sons and daughters in
England, and even about deai* Edith. I tell them of her last
prayer, ^ For ever with the Lord ' ; so the dear child helps my
missionary lispings in Arabic about the Saviour.

Terraces of well-built stone houses rise tier above tier up
the loftier part of the hill about a quarter of the whole height,
the part immediately underlying ttie brow, which consists of
precipitous crags, surmounted with castellated buildings partly
in ruins, intended for fort and barracks.

The view over the plain is grand. The place was one of
the strong posts which Elhosrou took from the Bomans about
A.D. 600.

To Mbs. Kirox.

Khan Khupper (near Diarbekir), Turkish Armenia, April 11.

Last night we spread our bedding on the green grass on
a dry spot, as it seemed, close to the village 'mukbara,' or
cemetery, but a drenching storm broke over us about midnight,
reducing us to a plight I need hardly describe, and which it
requires the patience gained in an old traveller's experience
to bear with equanimity. At 9 a. m. we managed to start our
horses for a short stage of twelve miles, and again we got
well soaked, and, what is worse, some of my books and papers
were much spoilt. Last Sunday was spent in Mardin, in the
house of the old Syrian patriarch, whose jurisdiction extends
over most of Mesopotamia, a veteran of some ninety summers.
He visited London ten years ago, and saw the Queen and
Archbishop Tait, whose portraits adorn his walls ; but he is
very indisposed, I fear, to reform his Church, or to admit
spiritual succours and evangelical teaching from either the
American Presbyterian Board or the Church of England. He
preached with very great force last Sunday morning, seated in
his chair, which several young men and acolytes helped him
to mount, dressed in rich gorgeous apparel. The simplicity
of ritual struck me much in their Mosul and Bagdad churches,
but not so much at Mardin. The congregations are usually
crowded, and take part by constant ejaculations in the prayers,
even those of the ' Kadasat ' (or Eucharistic service), and in the
course of the sermon they express emotions very audibly but

Many opportunities have been given me in God's good provi-
dence of witnessing to these ancient Churches in Christ's behalf —
both those who have become adherents of the Papacy and those
who still hold out for Oriental independence, and in a few cases
to the Latin missionaries themselves. I had no conception that

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Borne could have usurped such power in the distant East* Very
urgent have been the appeals made to me to use any influence
I may have with the primate to lend succour and support

One of the priests at Mardin spoke to me most touchingly and
solemnly two days ago. For ten years, he said, he had been
praying that reinforcements from the English Church might be
made available for them in this crisis all but of despondency. . . •
I have written at length to the Archbishop, and hope to write
a second letter shortly. I have said some plain things to the
Eomish clergy out here, in the best French and Arabic I could
command, but it is of course out of much weakness, both of mind
and body, that the effort has been made. I cannot but feel that
a very important work has been done by the American Presbyterian

Both at Mosul and Mardin I have felt compelled to break my
rule of not speaking in other than Church of England places of
worship, and have addressed their large flocks, having the mis-
sionary for my interpreter. In these wildernesses of the world,
at least, I can scarcely think I should be blamed !

My chief object has been to witness to Mohammedans, Arabs,
and others I came across, but also to induce the more seriously
minded men among the Christian bodies to fulfil their own duty
to them by word and example.

The Arabs, both men, women, and children, have quite gained
my heart from their simple naturalness and imaffected propriety
of conduct They seem to place great confidence in Europeans,
the English in particular ; and if we put up in their houses — very
dirty, I am sorry to say— -the women and girls never hide, but go
about their house duties with freedom. Perhaps it is because
I am an old man, and a matran, or bishop !

To Mrs. Knox.

Diarbekir, April 14, 1884.
I wish I had time to describe the fine approach to this grand
old city of the Parthian empire, by some still thought to be the
Tigranocerta of Tacitus, though others, with more probability,
take that to be Sert, a place seven days from here, close under the
Taurus range eastward ^ The westward part of the same range
we look up to from the roofs of Diarbekir, and a very splendid
background tlie vast glaciers of those frontier mountains present

^ Diarbekir more probably is Amida, a place made famoas by a story
of its old bishop, Acacius. The Persian king had maltreated the
Christians. The Roman emperor invaded Persia to defend them, and
took 7,000 prisoners. Acacius sold the Church plate and ransomed them,
to prove to his own (Persian) monarch the true spirit of Christianity.

VOL. n. B

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Edmund will not forget it is the old Niphates of our classics.
Everything here savours of extreme antiquity. One old Syrian
church is reckoned to be 1,500 years old ; its wizen, scarred look
speaks in favour of its having weathered very many centuries of
storm. Broken pillars of the basaltic rock near at hand meet you
at every turn of the street and every doorway. . . . The Tigris
rolls under the noble battlements and bastions, which crown an
eminence of very gentle slope with minarets and bell-towers of its
churches. Eather more than half the population is Christian:
Armenians, papal and non-papal Syrians, Chaldeans, Greeks,
Latins, &c Of the Armenians there are 1,500 fanulies or more ;
of the papal Chaldeans, about 300. The Armenian church was
burnt down some two years ago, but they are well off enough to
have built a cathedral of great dimensions, 100 ft square, with
columns of the same hard dark grey basalt, which are really very
imposing, placed in rows so as to make the building a vast colon-
nade. The cost must have been very great. Several bishops of
the other churches have their cathedrals, so that it looks quite an
ecclesiastical city. The chief mosques are old churches with
square towera, of which the Christians were stripped by the
Moslems some 300 years ago. Above the square towers they have
erected circular minarets, regarded as the Mohammedan symbol,
overtopping the sign of the cross. . . .

There has been a terrible famine in the mountain districts, and
partly in the plain, through clouds of locusts devastating the crops,
and the town is full of pitiable famishing objects. My host, the
British Consul, an Armenian, Mr. Boyajian, with a thoroughly
ladylike English wife, who entertains me for three days most
hospitably, is engaged every day in distributing doles of bread
or money to these poor famished, half-naked, (hseased creatures
of God.

A small present (i'lo) is all I can do to express my sympathy.
It wants a Gordon to be able to gather and distribute large sums,
equal to meet even an appreciable portion of the emergency.
' The old Syrian bishop seems really a holy and distinctly evan-
gelical prelate, to whom God's word and the doctrine of Christ
are dear and precious. We start on Monday towards Aleppo.
It is a trying portion of the journey rather.

Certainly I must say it seems as if a little door had been opened
to me of the Lord, but I speak with reserve where one may pos-
sibly be too much self-girded, and not obedient to a direct call. . . .
My little purple apron which Cox sent me is a great help, as it is

the recognized Eastern bishop's dress. I fear would be

horrified I but Cox said it was proper ; even the children in the
streets know it, and treat me better when I have got it on.

The next day (as appears from his journal) the bishop
took a long walk to the Jacobite Church for the * Kadasat.'

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'My heart,' he said, 'was full of joy at the stores of scripture
read out so eloquently, and with such expressiveness — the latter
history of Samson, Hosea xiv., the whole of the Philippi history of
St. Paul, besides an epistle which I lost, the monotone being too
strong to leave the sounds distinct and articulate. Most full of
joy at the sermon, which was a rich treat of evangelical marrow
and fatness. A Puritan would have heard it with glistening eyes.
Christ, and Christ only, was the Good Samaritan ; then earnest
exhortations to come to Him. A very fine congregation, one-third
women, all on the ground. They made me come and sit up close
under the holy place, where the bishop consecrated.'


To Mrs. French.

Oorfa, ancient Edessa, April 21.

A ride of thirty long miles yesterday, and fifteen more this
morning (added to seventy-two accomplished over roads, some of
which were indescribably and atrociously bad, the four previous
days), brought me at last to this remarkable town, both as regards
its ancient renown and its high promise for the future. This is
nearly half-way to Aleppo from Diarbekir. The climate this week
has been precisely our own English climate ; ice and snow we
came across on Monday, even being brushed by the skirts of
a snow-storm on the hills the day we left Diarbekir. Of the 950
miles or more of my proposed journey, nearly 750 have now been
accomplished. ... It is curious thus to have a second journey
across Asia, or nearly so ; the difference is that last time it was
homewardy with the prospect of so happily rejoining you, which
does not seem to be granted me this time. Yet the very word
Mediterranean seems to make one*s heart leap up with the thought
of home and you ! . . • I wi-ite from the floor, resting my back
on a bag or mule trunk, which I find an easier posture than sitting
on the latter, the back unsupported. Two evenings since I was'
taken in by the Agha Kurdish chief of a charmingly situated
village, looking down on a verdant valley of poplars and apricots,
with a perennial stream rolling its stores of plenty.

It was the mosque likewise of the village, and three times in
the course of eight hours the worshippers were gathered in the
large room I occupied, to follow the Imam's recital of portions of
the Koran, with some very solemn and touching intercessional
forms of petition for themselves, their families, friends, and all
good Moslems and faithful souls everywhere. I never met with
that before. I tried to plead with them for the Saviour, but no
open door seemed given I Last night we had a fairly clean
Kurdish part of a house offered us in a lonely village, which we
gladly accepted. It really seemed clean, though some of the


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chambers were occupied by horses and buffaloes, besides cats,
dogs, and turkeys, and the man and his wife and child had
another room. It was very curious to see what a pile of clean and
well-woven blankets they had, and other first-rate bedding, all
ranged in as beautiful order, almost, as if yourself had been the

The town covers a large surface, about one and a half miles
square at least of the lower slopes of a range of lime hills of
rather brilliant white ; and the domes and minarets of churches
and mosques being built of this same bright limestone are very
effective. It is clearly a town of large growth and unusual
promise ; a new street is being built and paved, through which
we passed to-day, and the bazaars are clean and arched overhead,
and stocked with all conceivable varieties of home and foreign
merchandise. Facing us northward is the same grand and
glorious Taurus range. We occupy a khan just outside the city
gate westward, close to the old Syrian or Jacobite church. Un-
happily both there, and in the Protestant church which numbers
about i,ooo souls, the language of service is Turkish and Syriac,
and, I fear, the only Arabic service is in the Roman or Latin
church, where French and Arabic seem to be adopted as in Mosul ;
in fact, from what I learn the Latins have laid themselves out for
the ^ra&ic-speaking races, and see little visible fruit in the way of
perversion or conversion outside of them, amongst the Armenian
and Turkish races. However, they never lose heart, and here they
have a church and two Latin priests, with some fifty families
attached to them. I don't see why either here or at Diarbekir
(perhaps better here) a school of a high-class order for Arabic,
English, Syriac, Greek, &c., might not do a great and good work
in reviving God's truth in these dark churches.

How one longs that this freedom from the care of souls may be

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 26 of 46)