H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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in the hands of the latter, either at Diarbekir or at Oorfa, the only
places unoccupied by the Americans except by their native
teachers, and occupying such fine central positions, the latter
most especially, how rich and abiding might be the blessing to
the Armenian and old Syrian Church of the future. At present
too the Latin Church is very weak in both those places, though it
has made an entrance and will never loose its hold. But I have
no idea that any such request has ever been addressed to your
Grace from any of the leaders of the Armenian Church, and until
such an appeal should reach you I can well believe that your
Grace would not find it in your will or power to make any
initiatory movement forwards towards the achievement of such
a result. The St. Sulpice priests' training college, with a first-
class school attached, would seem to be the one pivot and centre
of such hopeful action as would touch the weak and sore points,
would grapple with the very dearth and death (by the help,
present and ready, of God's most blessed Spirit) which has so
long afflicted and held in bondage these venerable and honoured
branches of Christendom. At any rate, the suggestion might
possibly occupy an hour's consideration of your Board (or Council)
of Missions. . . . Besides Oorfa and Diarbekir the one other place
weakly occupied by the Americans is Mosul, but the Latin Church
holds it in strength and supported with pillars which seem
inebranldbU indeed. Oorfa might be a bit of Bristol planted
down in the wastes near the Euphrates' banks 1 To stand over
the tomb of the great St. Ephraem, conducted there by the good
Armenian bishop who showed me over his own cathedral, was no
small privilege.

I am ashamed of having written at such length. Your Grace
can scarcely find it possible to have it read to you in person, but
you may find it possible to hand it over to your committee on the
Oriental Church question. I remain with deepest respect and
grateful i*egard,

Your Grace's servant and brother in Christ,

Thomas V. Fbekch (Bishop) ^

' Some extracts from this letter have been already printed in
Appendix A to the Board of Missions Report on Persia, Turkish Empire,
and Eastern Churches, S.P.C.K. 1894.

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How far the bishop's actual suggestions are practicable at
the present moment it is not for the writer to determine,
but it is plain to any man of education that if these
Churches of the East are to be helped to a self-reformation,
it must be on the lines of these proposals ; and fiirther it is
manifest that if a door be opened, the experiment is one
well worth a trial : for the revival of these ancient Churches
might be as life to the dead to the surrounding Mussulmans,
and they are not to be approached effectually in any
other way.

The early missionary story of these regions awakens hope
of latent possibilities that may recall the golden days of
Nisibis, Edessa, and Bagdad ^.

' Those who require further information on these interesting topics
will find it in the Reports of the Archhishap'a Assyrian Mission, S.P.C.K. ;
Cutts' Christians under the Crescent in Asia, specially chapters icv and xl ;
Curzon's Persia, vol. i. pp. 535 sq. ; Mrs. Bishop's Journeys in Persia and
Kurdistan; the works of Dwight and Dr. Badger, representing the
earliest modem efforts of America and England for the improvement
of these Churches ; the article * Greek Church/ in Chambers' Cyclopaedia,
by His Excellency Joannes Gennadios; and the standard ^Church

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*I hope from God with a hope that shall not be disappointed;
And no door is there for me except the door of God;
And no Teacher but He, and no Beloved one.
Do Thou (God) inspire me to talk of Thee all my life long,
For in thus making Thee known shall the world grow in goodness.'

Arabic Poem.

The bishop spent ten months in Syria and Palestine,
recruiting his health, and studying colloquial Arabic, and
making himself acquainted with all the varied mission
works, especially the British Syrian schools of Mrs. Mott,
which from this time forward occupied a large place in his
thoughts and prayers. This circle of some thirty schools
was established and carried on by the energy of three
devoted Christian sisters, Miss Lloyd, Mrs. Bowen Thomp-
son, and Mrs. Mott. It appealed to the bishop's sympathies
* as England's grandest and most steadily perpetuated con-
tribution to the redress of the atrocious wrongs perpetrated
on the Syrian Clmstiaiis by Druses and Moslems in i860,'
the date at which the effort first began ; and * as alone of the
various mission institutions he had met with seeming to
touch the large Mohammedan communities to any appre-
ciable extent*; and lastly, as almost the only Church of
England agency at work in north Syria, and itself in
danger of being lost to the Church.

*The CM. S.,' the Bishop said in a letter to the Bishop of
Exeter, May 31, 1888, * thought it their duty (I could wish they
were pai-ty to no such contracts and compromises to make a de-
limitation of north Syria and south Syria, by which the north

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should be American and Presbyterian, and the south Church of
England. Still Mr. and Mrs. Mott did not relinquish their hold
on Mrs. Thompson's schools, so far at least as this, that Church
of England services have been preserved in them all these years,
and the Church Catechism also taught in most, if not all, of them.
But there being no Church of England missionaries or chaplains,
and the Americans being of overpowering strength and determina-
tion, well supported and freshly reinforced continually with the best
American blood in the shape of learned professors of the Caird
and Chalmers type, most often a Presbyterian preacher has given
one service on successive Sundays, using I believe the English
liturgy in good part. The Motts, though most tolerant and free
from all bigotry, desire that after their deaths the schools should
still be in Church of England hands.'

The bishop was very anxious to prevent *the closing of
this one lip of witness whicb the Church of England has
been permitted to open in north Syria.* He persuaded the
Bishop of Exeter to take interest in the work, and act as
president of the Home Council; he consented himself to
become a vice-president, on condition that the Church of
England service should be said once every Sunday in all
the schools ; he wrote to the Record, appealing successfully
for ftmds to wipe off a deficit of £i,ooo in the current
expenses ; and he personally inspected and examined every
school but one in the whole circuit. This last work also he
found most useftd in his Arabic studies.

*One has to sink oneself very much,' he said, 'to catch the
smallest details of the people's daily talk, getting children to
prattle away around one to become familiar with what is simplest
and comes soonest on the lips. I wish I could put myself into
a school class and learn as a child.'

Syria and Palestine is familiar and well-beaten ground
to travellers and tourists, but still the letters of a man so
well equipped with Oriental learning, and moved with
such strong missionary impulses, and brought by his eccle-
siastical position in contact with the highest dignitaries of
Eastern Churches, will have a special interest; and even
those who have themselves gone over the same ground may
not be sorry to retrace it in such company. Until October
he lingered in the Lebanon, at first at Beyrout, and then at

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two successive stations, Aitat and Bmmana, upon the higher

Beyrout he thus described to Basil, May 23, 1888 : —

* This is a very unique place in many ways, in some ways dis-
appointing, for I expected much loftier mountains and eternal
snows and wooded heights ; all these are wanting. Very gradual
slopes rise to some 7,000 or 8,000 feet above the waters of the
Mediterranean, and all along these slopes at distances of two or
thi'ee miles one from another are villages, containing the resi-
dences of wealthy Europeans and Syrian merchants, consuls.
Eastern bishops, monks, and nuns. Even carriage roads are being
gradually carried up these heights. Beneath the hills are palm
and pine plantations, occasionally with olive groves, and mul-
berries in abundance for the silk trade. Indian com and other
wheat crops are interspersed among these. Between mountains
and sea, on undulating elevations and rather steep eminences, the
city with its church towers (very unpretentious because jealously
watched) and more pretending minarets of mosques stretches
along for a mile or two, making a very imposing spectacle from
the bay. But few steamers anchor at one time ; only the last few
days several French frigates have been moored to become pro-
visioned by contract, and an English frigate follows to keep an eye
upon them, which is amusing rather. ... In very clear weather
Cyprus is visible from the heights above Beyrout. There are
some gorgeous palaces on the city outskirts, almost all devoted to
schools, chiefly the Eoman and the American Protestant. The
Sisters of Nazareth (Jesuit) have almost the finest building
within sight, on a proud hill-crest commanding sea and land.
They must have great influence with the Sultan's ministers to
accomplish this. The Sisters of St Joseph have 600 children in
a large institute in the city. Jewish and Moslem schools also
hold their heads high ; few towns in the world have so many
seats of education, all the Churches vying with each other to
multiply teachers and scholars— Maronites, Greeks, Aimenians,
Romans ; then, besides these, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic,
besides Scotch and American ; only the poor Church of England
unrepresented !

* Such a Babel of teachers and taught the world can scarcely
contain elsewhere in so small a compass. The Motts have five or
six schools — boys', girls', infants', Jewish schools, schools for blind,
night schools ; and the Americans must have still more, and up to
the highest standard, literary and medical, scientific and philo-
sophic, and theological I am perfectly bewildered, but I can
only hope to visit a few of these, and that by slow degrees. Then
the Motts radiate out from schools here to schools in Damascus,
Tyre, and village schools on various heights of the Lebanon,
offered once to theC. M. S., but rejected by them as more properly

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belonging to the American Presbyterian missions. It is a noble
circle to act upon, if only the Church of England could take the
work in hand now that the Motts are aged and borne down with
the weight of what is like a separate missionary organism in

Thus missionary subjects, as usual, occupied his foremost
thoughts. He found Canon Isaac Taylor's apology for
Islam making a good deal of stir ; and an apostate Indian
convert from Islam called on him with a view to forming
an eclectic faith! The bishop entirely refused to shake
hands with him, and met him with a very sharp rebuff.

The missionary conference in London was a source of
some perplexity.

' How could anything like unanimity and harmony be attained
in such a mixed fraternity,' he wrote to Mr. Clark, July i, * except
by eliminating half the questions bearing on missionary agencies,
and nearly all those bearing on the edifying of the Churches ? And
how inmiense the advantage we are giving to Eome, and the
scorn with which they must regard us I ... It has been a sore
sifting and proving time to me, as for many other perhaps too
easily offended souls, burning for more of the unity and harmony
of heaven ! '

Again three days later to Mrs. Moulson : —

*A hundred and fifty societies with such variety of prin-
ciples and tenets almost more need a Pentecost than 150 strange
tongues do.'

And yet again a little later to Mrs. French : —

' On the whole I think more good fruits have appeared than
I could have ventured to predict. Some of the speeches were
really very full of missionary interest, especially Prebendary
Edmonds' and Mr. Allan's. The Americans seem to have shone.
One of the Beyrout professors (a Dr. Post) was there.'

Two losses in the mission-field deeply affected him.

'Bishop Parker's sudden removal is a solemn lesson, which
I wish myself and others might take well to heart, so as to live
more Christ-like, prayerful, and wholly yielded lives. It is a sore
blow to the C. M. S., but Africa seems to enlist recruits better
than all the world besides. I see twelve new offers for the Oxford
and Cambridge Central African Mission have been received
recently. I shall wait till I i^ecruit force, if possible, before I say

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anything definitely about taking up work, old or new. Perhaps
our dear Lord and Master has no more need of, and will bear no
longer, such a half-hearted servant as I have been. Certainly
I should not dare volunteer for Africa at my age ! '

To Wilfrid he wrote, June 5 : —

* The people are justly proud of their beautiful language, and
none I should think can beat it in the multiplicity and volubility
of its words, so that to a learner it seems an endless ocean of
speech, in which one always seems hugging the shore and never
well out to sea. I never expected to find it such a terrible effort
of memory, for I thought I had mastered the vocabulary, though
not the pronunciation, but I found I was deceived about this I
But you know I don't like to give in, so I go on plodding in
hopes something may come of it, and that I may have the heart to
use the tongue when acquired ; but I am more and more persuaded
it is a very rare and hard thing to be a real good missionary —
to speak out boldly the message we profess to bear. Keith-
Falconer's removal was strange indeed. His gifts were so singular
of mind, spirit, and body. He was Arabic Professor at Cam-
biidge, among other honours reaped, and seems to have been
champion bicyclist too ; but his faith rose higher than his genius,
and take him altogether he will not soon be forgotten, though his
course was so short.'

Another loss that greatly moved him was that of the
great German Emperor Frederic.

* Few can have refrained from tears, I should think, in reading
the touching notices of the Emperor Frederic's death. What
a lovable and admirable character his was! Since Prince Albert's
death I have scarcely felt the loss of any public man so much. It
was almost to me what the hearing of my dear friend Gordon's
death was. '

He attended uninvited in his episcopal robes at the
service in the German Church.

* All the consuls,' he said, * some twelve or fifteen, were present
in gold and lace, and the arms of Prussia were exhibited in full
splendour, but with crape borderings. My going seemed appreci-
ated as an act of national sympathy. I sat within the rails. The
service being German I could follow it but slightly.'

But it was not only with the Germans that the bishop
won favour. He keenly felt the lack of more Church fellow-
ship and feeling in Beyrout: he lamented, for instance,

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that wlien lie sent down from the hills to get two Arabic
Prayer-books, *they returned instead two copies of Bonr-
dillon's family prayers in very indifferent Arabic, having none
of the other r But still he could find points of sympathy
with the Americans on one side, and Greek Church prelates
on the other.

'Three evenings ago,' he wrote to Mrs. Sheldon on June 8.
'I addressed some sixty-live or seventy persons in the Motts*
drawing-room at a soiree. It was a curious collection, some
thirty being American Presbyterian missionaries with their
families, the rest Scotch, Grermans, Syrians, Danes, as well as
English. I gave an account of my journeys and researches among
the Eastern Churches, with reference to my work among Moham-
medans in India, and my views, so far as I have been able to
form them, of what the Church of England might do in the way
of helping some of these thirsty spirits who appeal to us for sym-
pathy and succour. I had to tread most delicate ground, but
I gladly acknowledged the great blessing and widespread spirit of
inquiry resulting from the Presbyterian missions, and deprecated
all jealousies and heart-burnings between us and them if it should
so happen that our Church should see its way to take up some
special work on its own lines, which would not trench on or
interfere with theirs. The Presbyterian missionaries seem to have
taken my words very kindly and Mendlily, which I scarcely

Two days later he added : —

'I spoke to 150 youths this morning at the American High
School and College. It seemed much to gratify the professors,
and was to me an interesting service.'

At the same time he wrote to Mrs. French: —

'I have almost made friends with the Greek patriarch of
Antioch, who resides at Damascus, and was here on visitation.
I suppose ; a man of splendid physique and most aristocratic dress
and bearing. The Archbishop of Canterbury arranged with him
all about Bishop Blyth's relations to the Greek Church, and got
thoroughly friendly recognition of his presence and work, not to
proselytize, but to head the English missions, chaplains, and con-
gregations throughout Syria and Egypt The patriarch talks
French perfectly, as well as Greek and Arabic, and was most
courteous and friendly. . . . He called and sat an hour, bringing
an archbishop as his chaplain, or superior bishop of Zachleh, near
Damascus, whom I shall hope to see if I visit those parts later
in the year. As you may suppose, we had much talk about

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Antioch, and I heartily felicitated him on being recently ap-
pointed to such a see, one of the three greatest patriarchates of
the East. I wish he could perform a very sweeping visitation
of his capital ! '

A few days later he attended a luncheon at a Syrian
physician's, at which

^ Two little girls dressed up for the occasion came up to the
patriarch, kissed his hands with great reverence, sang their little
carols, and addressed him in very respectful congratulations on his
recent elevation. There was only one toast after dinner, that of
the patriarch, coupled with my name, and a very pretty speech in
earnest language with expression of fervent hope that the Greek
and English Church might ever be united in love and harmony in
the same mind and judgement. This was all in Arabic, but
I understood much. Only Mr. Price (English chaplain) accom-
panied me : the rest were Greeks and Syrians. One gentleman,
I suppose in excess of compliment, said what he could scarcely
have thought, that Palestine was called the Holy Land, but that
for possessing a holy people no country could be comparable to

Another day the bishop had as a caller the Archbishop
of Zante, in the Ionian Isles, a man most favourable to
Protestant missions.

' He looked carefully over Mrs. Mott's schools, and said to the
lady-superior, " Do you like Luther ? " She said, " Yes." ** And
so do I," he said, ** but you know I don't dare say so. I regard
him as the founder of religious liberty." How strange a speech
for a Greek archbishop. Certainly Beyrout is interesting in this
way, as making one acquainted with the great characters in the
East, much more than Bagdad or Mosul could.'

His Syriac lessons the bishop obtained at the Maronite
College from a courteous, gentlemanly priest. The Maro-
nite bishop read with him himself the first half-hour, and
expressed to the priests who sat around him his surprise at
his philosophic ardour in pursuing the study of Eastern

This philosophic ardour as a linguist ftirther appears
from a letter of the bishop to Mr. Jukes about the Pushtu
Scriptures, preparing for the press.

'I am not neglecting Pushtu,' he said, 'among the studies
I pursue, as strength allows, upon these Lebanon heights, but

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I fear I have but little hope of recall to labours which still have
a deep hold of my heart. ... I shall try not to forget you in
your approaching bitter trial of fresh separation from your dear
wife. ... It is one part at least of the fulfilment of that deep
passage, "Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." I have got
a good way through half of the Koran in Arabic again the last few
months, and much of the Psalms, Proverbs, and New Testament.
I am reminded of the words I love in the S. P. G. Manual of De-
votion in behalf of Missionaries : ** May Thy holy word so burn
within their hearts that they may speak with that resistless energy
of love which may melt the hearts of sinners." '

On the other hand he continued his researches into
the French writers on the inner life. Thus he wrote to
Mrs. Moulson, who was returning to India : —

July 3.

I have been comforted to-day by some words I extracted from
F6n6lon, when he was condemned by the Pope and Bossuet in
a bull for his views on the pure and disinterested love of God.
I copy them for you, as in your present uncertainties they may
help and strengthen you. They occur in a letter to his dearest

'AUons jusqu'k bout en simplicity Marchons au travers des
ombres de la mort avec celui qui est notre guide. Quoiqu'il arrive,
je ne puis que Tadorer, Paimer et b6nir celui par qui tout se fera, et
pour qui seul je porte la croix. Si Dieu ne veut point encore se
servir de moi dans mon minist^re, je ne songerai qu*k Taimer le
reste de ma vie, n'6tant plus en 6tat de travailler & le faire aimer
aux autres.'

It has been almost a special providence to me to have been led
to the study of F6n6lon's life and character the last twelve months.
There is in him and his works so much of a devotional and highly
spiritual, yet practical, character, and almost as perfect a con-
formity to the image of our dear Lord in action and suffering as is
possible in this poor weak flesh of ours. If but such an apostolic
bishop could be raised up in the Greek Church in Syria, what
a blessing it would be ! What I have seen of the Greek prelates
has not been very helpful or hopefully reassuring; one of the
ablest and most thoughtful was the Patriarch of Antioch.

A few words must be said about the bishop's work and
sojourn in the hills.

In July he was established in the house of a Druse
sheikh at Aitat, where he roughly furnished two rooms for
himself. It was a little village 2,000 feet above Beyrout,
with fine, broad prospect of sea and mountain and olive-

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clad plains. The great attraction was the near neighbour-
hood of an elderly clergyman, Mr. Worsley, a thoughtful
man with a good library of Anglican theology, who, when
his health permitted, conducted Church of England services
for his near neighbours. Hence the bishop visited some of
the other towns and villages, doing a little missionary work
as opportunity occurred for it. From Baaklin he wrote,
July 14 : —

* As with the Druses at Aitat, so here also there are several veiy
intelligent Bible readers, and it is quite a surprise to me to find
that the Gospel seems at last to be a little taking hold of the
people. I had no idea of it till I ^'i8ited these pwts. . . . Cer-
tainly I think that in no former year have I learned so much, or
imbibed so many new ideas about men and things '.'

To Mrs. Sheldon. .... ^ ,

Aitat, July 23.

Think of the fruitfulness and freshness of Lebanon being thrice
in one chapter (Hos. xiv) used to illustrate God's gracious dealuigs
with the returning penitent. This makes one look at Lebanon
with reverence and sacredness, in spite of the darkness of its
Maronite Church (all adherents of Kome), and the grievous
massacres of Christians twenty-eight years ago. I visited last
week one of the worst scenes of bloodshed. . . . Dair-ul-Kamar is
the town, five miles off, which reeked with Christian blood. It
looks so bright and smiling with its imposing yellow-stone
houses by day, and its brilliant lamps by night. One could
hardly imagine that a place of such natural beauty on the hill
slopes, environed with mulberry and fig gardens, could ever have
been such an Inferno. An old man, who was one of the leaders
of the slaughter, comes to call on Miss Smith sometimes — a Druse
sheikh. I gave two addresses on the lawn to the little flock. The
sanguinary sheikh's grandson was one of my hearers, seated under

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 29 of 46)