H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 32 of 46)
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doubtless a fresh stimulus added to those by which you were so
often impelled to live for others rather than yourself, and to be
happy in their happiness.

I can't escape thinking sometimes, * How well if I could have

been taken and F left ! ' He could so ill be spared, and my

work seems all but done. No one seems able to think of any
useful way in which I could employ myself to any purpose.
I hope at least that up to the small remnant of the measure of
my capacities, I may be all the better and truer for the lessons of
heroism and faithfulness to duty learnt from your husband. . . .

You will forgive the grievous inability I feel to write as I would
and as I ought ... I can well believe that after passing through
such waters you are far better able to teach and help me than
I you. At any rate, I seem only able to commend you to Him
who is Lord both of dead and living, and all live to Him.

To Mrs. Gregg.

Bethlehem, Bee, 23.

I reached Bethlehem from Jerusalem on Tuesday last in
one of the severest storms of driving rain and sleet that I ever
experienced. Broken walls had blocked up the carriage road,
so that I was too thankful to reach Miss Jacombs' school at
last on foot through rivulets of water which poured down the
street. One felt somehow that Bethlehem was more worthily
approached on foot than in a carriage, how rough so ever, and
giving little protection from the storm. Miss Jacombs had
invited fifty or sixty at least, missionaries and other Europeans,
to be present at the opening and dedicating of her new school-
rooms, but excepting eight or ten persons, mostly ladies, who
braved the fury of the elements, all the guests invited failed
to give attendance, and all that could be done was to give
a short service in the new chapel, and take lunch all together,
the rest of the day being occupied in diying soaked vestments,
and getting wrapped up for the return to Jerusalem (six miles
off) in the evening.

However, the opening of a school for infants in Bethlehem
has a certain special appropriateness in itself, especially in
connexion with the promise to Eachel, who was bidden not
to weep for her children, because there was hope in the end

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that her children should come aprain to their own border,
a promise which I conp^ratulated Miss Jacombs and her asso-
ciates on beinor permitted to help signally to realize.

Christmas Day. So I have been enabled by our Father's
great goodness to realize a purpose my heart was set upon to
spend Christmas Day in Bethlehem, the spot in the whole
world where all its bright thoughts may well concentrate
themselves, and raise the heart to a higher level of faith and
love, if the true end of the Incarnation has taken effect in it
'Because ye are sons, Gk)d hath sent forth the Spirit of His
Son into your hearts.* That and the preceding verses I took
as my text this morning, the first time I have ventured to
throw English aside and plunge into the best Arabic I could
command. Miss Jacombs encourages me to believe the sermon
was understood, for which I must be thankful, as she is the
best Arabic scholar among the women of Palestine. ... I have
taken walks on all sides of Bethlehem to try to get its special
features of site, shape, colouring, grouping of building, and of
hills surrounding and containing it. It stands close on the
summit of one of the highest ridges, not on the lower slopes
and hollows of a valley as Nazareth does. . . . The old church
of Constantino still stands with its double row of rather dark
pink marble columns, perhaps the oldest church in all Christen-
dom, and having in the crypt beneath it what is reasonably
believed to be the very spot in which the glorious Incarnation
took effect. A silver star in the marble pavement marks the
spot on which the star in the East is said to have rested, and
the manger itself is shown with some fair probability of its
genuineness. I called on the Greek bishop, who politely took
me round the chief points of interest in the cathedral.

To Mrs. French.

Christmas Day.
The most striking view of Bethlehem is from a broad terrace
in front of the ancient cathedral, . . . from thence the bulk of the
town is seen in semicircular form, made up of highly respectable
houses, solidly built in two storeys, usually of the white (with
slightly yellowish tint) rock on which the town standa I saw it
one morning as the first flush of the rising sun dyed it all
a most lovely crimson, and one felt that, apart from its glorious
history, its aspect in itself was something to be proud of.
South towards Hebron other ranges fill up the prospect and
eastward also, yet not so as to obstruct the view of the distant
mountains of Moab. Between the Bethlehem ridge and the
next to the east is a smiling valley or rather broad hollow,
partly arable, partly planted with olives. These are the fields
of Boaz, and afterwards of Jesse, and a spot on the same is
marked as the shepherds' field with spacious caverns, where

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their flocks are said to have been housed for the night when
the angel-minstrelsy was heard.

Hebron-wards lies the well-watered valley of Artas, where
Solomon's gardens and pools lie, and the scenery of the Song
of Songs is said to be best realized in its most striking features
of beauty. The pools I hope to get a sight of on my route to
Hebron to-morrow.

I have been many times to visit the scene of the Nativity,
and the manger, which indeed is an indescribably sacred spot.
The pilgrims, children even, kneel and kiss it most devoutly.
I am content with kneeling, less I could hardly do. Geikie
says he wept like a child at the sight of it, and kissed it too.

The Latins had a service lasting all through the night, for
which the patriarch came over. I should have looked in for
an hour, I think, but that Miss Jacombs keeps the house so
tightly ifastened with Chubb's or some other insoluble locks,
that 1 fear I should never have got in again if I had ventured
out. There seem thieves even here, though the Bethlehemites are
quite a distinct race, most industrious and respectable as a whole,
and seldom intei>marry with people of any other town. They
boast of being partly descendants of the Crusaders, and having
much European blood in them. Many are employed in mother-
of-pearl work, some of a very delicate kind and very costly.
They are certainly a very pleasant and courteous people.
When I stopped to take breath once or twice amid the fury
of the storm last week, they welcomed me to their fire, and
wished me to sit and rest awhile. The children, too, seem
at home with foreigners, and the little ones kiss your hands
with a most respectful and winning grace. Of Moslems there
are few in Bethlehem.

To Wilfrid.
Hebron, St. John's Day, Dec aj, 1888.
To-day I spent about a quarter of an hour in aa address to
Moslems in the heart of the city on the steps leading up to
the tombs built above the cave of Machpelah, where lie
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with their wives, Leah at least of
Jacob's— for Eachel's tomb is shown a short distance from
Bethlehem (Ephrath), on the way to Hebron whither Jacob
was bound, and along which ^ I passed yesterday. It seems
very hard to be shut out from seeing the cave by the
Mohammedans, but only five or six royal personages, the
Prince of Wales amongst others, have been excepted from the
prohibition. The Mohammedan priest who accosted me on the
steps seemed surprised to find an English priest able to address
them in Arabic, and listened with attention and courtesy to
some plain words on the leading doctrines of the Gospel, and
I might have gone on longer but for Turkish soldiers who

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came up, being always on the watch to prevent any public
discussions. However, even to have got such an opportunity
as to-day was worth the year's hard fagging at Arabic I have
had, and I hope the next three months may go far to remove
defects in pronunciation and use of words inappropriate. . . .
I have seen no country so wholly planted with well-cultured
vines as the district all round Hebron, except on the vine-
growing banks of the Rhine. The grapes are mostly made
into raisins and various kinds of sweetmeats, which are rather
luscious; I do not hear of much wine being made. Patches
of snow still lie over the whole country from last week's
snow-storma The sunshine has been veiy bright, however,
for a week past, though the air is cold.

We are one and a half miles from the city, at a little Kussian
hospice, which is crowded to-night by 500 Russian pilgrims,
under the conduct of a Russian Greek priest. I have a nice
little corner-room which keeps me quiet. Hebron is rather
a bigoted place, being wholly Mohammedan except for a few
Jews. One heard a few contemptuous and mocking cries from
children, but of course one took little notice; it was much
worse ten years ago. In the compound of the hospice there
is one of the most ancient trees of this part of the world.
Pilgrims are told it is the oak of Mamre, under which Abraham
dwelt and had visions of the three angela I fear it is too
good to be true : perhaps it is just possible ; it is gigantic and
weird enough, and its trunk sundered into three vast arms. It
is an oak, and the upper stems are still leaf-bearing at least.
To-night the Greek priests are holding prayers round it for
the crowd of pilgrims. It is a sad sight.

To Mrs. French.

Jerusalem, Bee. 3a

I am paying now a visit of four days with the Blyths' :
I propose getting over to Jericho, and perhaps Salt this week. . . .
The Blyths have been most kind, and press me to stay longer. . . .
It is a comfort to hope that the next year will not be one of
such exhausting wanderings. ... I ought to be most thankful
for having been brought through all, but it has been an exceeding
trial of strength and endurance. However, if not » stronger
I can scarcely say I have lost ground since this time last
year, when I had those last days in Sindh, and felt almost
half- dead.

Bee. 31. Yesterday we all walked up to Calvary. ... I expected
the surroundings would take off from the effect, but I don't
find it so really. I feel constrained to kneel down in veneration
of what (there is little doubt) is the real and actual spot. You

^ The English bishop in Jerusalem and his family.

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must not suppose that I take in and credit all traditions indis-
criminately, I examine the authorities carefully and critically. . . .
My tendency is rather to believe too little than too mtich,

Jan. I, 1889. Yesterday our whole paiiy went to the mosque
of Omar. In the centre of the dome stands, as you perhaps
know, a solid mass of rock, which was the foundation — it can
scarcely be doubted — of the altar of burnt-offering in Solomon's
temple. It has an orifice through which flowed the blood of
the victims down into the heart of the rock. The pillars on
which the dome is supported (besides four very solid piers)
are twelve in number, and are of various beautiful marbles and
serpentine, some of which are believed to be relics of the second
temple of Herod. Solomon's porch, which was 600 ft. in length
and perhaps 400 ft. broad, interested me much on account of
the scene recorded in St. John x., and the great witness borne
by our Lord to His mission and nature, ending with ' I and My
Father are One.'

It was painful to find that the mosque of Aksa within the
same precincts is a fine old Crusaders' church, consisting of
a grand nave with three aisles on each side of it. The Moslem
conductor wanted to point out its beauties to me, but I told
him I was too much pained at heart to care to look on anything
now that such dishonour was done to Christ and His Church.

Underneath Solomon's court we descended into immense
crypts, where long rows of piers are built as substructions for
the support of the mosques, and terraces, and courts above.
Mr. Schick, the greatest living antiquarian in all that relates
to Jerusalem, accompanied us, and spent three hours in showing
us over the buildings, and pointing out spots of most interest
with probable dates. He has for twenty-five years or more
been studying the subject of the temple of Jerusalem, and
drawing up designs and plans to illustrate it \ I am afraid he
does not agree with me about Calvary.

To Cyril.

Jericho, Palestine, Jan, 4.
The site of the Jericho of the New Testament is known
only by a pool called Moses' pool, which was close by Herod's
palaca ... A huge English hotel looks very unsightly and
incongruous. My purse was not equal to lodging there, so I am
content with a quiet Httle lodging more like the inn that the
Samaritan took the half-dead traveller to, when the thieves fell
on him between Jerusalem and Jericho in the same road I
travelled by yesterday amid sombre BJ^d weird-looking hiUs, with
shelter for any number of banditti in their rocky caverns and

^ Next day the bishop spent an hour in inspecting these models.

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defiles like valleys of the shadow of death. In one fearfully deep
cleft one first comes to the Brook of Cherith, whose music^
babblings I heard during my waking hours last night. The
broad plain on which we descend by a series of steep and rocky
declivities on the highway from Jerusalem is called *' the ghor '
or hollow. . . .

The best is that the blessed Saviour's eyes rested on all these
scenes, and saw them much as they now are, and His feet trod
the very same pathways on that last journey up to Jerusalem, as
St. Luke so well pourtrays His ascent.

I have no dragoman here with me now, so the old landlady and
I have some work in understanding each other if I want to explain
to her how to cook some Scotch oatmeal, which I fall back on
when all other supplies fail — not a bad substitute either. My
Arabic has not dealt largely with cookery. I can better accom-
plish a sermon, as at Bethlehem.

On Tuesday the Greek patriarch (in robes of sumptuous
royalty !) called and sat one hour and a half, a very rare thing
with him, and a most interesting chat he had with Bishop Blyth
and myself. He [the bishop] has achieved the feat (so Canon
Liddon doubtless feels) of securing a chapel in the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre for English clergy desiring the recognition of
the EngUsh Church there. Since the days of the Crusades and
Cceur de Lion, I suppose the English have had all claim to
recognition in the East disallowed.

Some clergy had just sent the patriarch some plate for use in
the English chapel, with copes and all the paraphernalia of the
highest ritual. Bishop Blyth does not favour these extreme
developements, and expresses regret, I really cannot hazard an
opinion, but it seems doubtful whether the witness of the Church
of England can be emphasized by being next-door neighbour
to the scenes which attend the shocking exhibition of the holy

To Mrs. French. ^ li. t

Salt, Jan, 7.

This letter must be a short and meagre one, for I am weather-
bound in one of the wildest spots I have ever witnessed. . . .
Had I known the severity of the march, owing to the inclemency
of weather and immense distances without hut or hovel of any
kind, I should scarcely have ventured on it. It is one of the two
places which vie for the honour of being ancient Eamoth-gilead ;
the other being Jerash (ancient Gerasa), which has magnificent
ruins still. . . .

This place. Salt, lies deep down embedded in solid rocks, and
with its main street the deepest descent of any town I was ever
in. Its houses of dark stone give it a particularly weird and deso-
late appearance. ... It lies north-east of Jericho, about thirty
miles. It cost us a good way towards ten hours, as the Jordan

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valley, through the late exceptional rains, is in part a swamp,
and my horse sank into it up to his breast with me on its back,
and glad I was to get out again, as Christian from the Slough
of Despond.

From Jericho across the Jordan plain a ride of some twenty
miles brings us to the lower hills which underlie the grand moun-
tains of Moab. The former rise at Salt to about 3,000 ft. above the
sea, and a long wearisome monotony of rocky heights it is, by
which at last one's patience was rewarded (not till after sunset) by
seeing beneath one's feet the strange old town of the Bedawin,
caverned as it were in the heart of the earth.

After travelling eight hours without the sight of human habi-
tation, it was a comfort to see even such a drear dark place as Salt,
but almost impossible to think that Ahab or any other king could
ever have risked his life in fighting for such a grim-looking place,
with scarce a feature to recommend it. However, the good old
pastor here, Mr. Jamal, says it is the key to all the lands lying
eastward, Moab, Ammon, &c., and possibly it may once have had
its days of glory. Its one charm to me is the old pastor and
his flock, who reminds me that he heard me preach the C. M. S.
sermon at St. Bride's in 1884, and himself spoke at the morning
C. M. S. meeting. He translated for me a sermon yesterday
morning (Epiphany Day), in presence of rather a wild-looking
Arabic flock, and to-day I heard his children catechized, who ai'e
chiefly Greeks. The Latins also have found entrance, and have
built a church. The journey I took from Jericho to the Jordan
must have been much the same that Elijah took to the place of his
translation, so that altogether the memories of these parts are very
agreeable and refreshing.

Shechem, Jan, 12.

Mr. Jamal is something like Bishop Dupanloup, I should say, in
his excellence in catechizing, a real lamp burning and shining in
the midst of the wild Bedawin of the lower ranges of the Moab
hills. He is a little Elisha up there, minus the she-bears, though
his rough hairy dress almost calls Elijah's mantle to mind. I told
him I should always connect two names with Salt, one Micaiah's,
the other Jamal's, which made him smile pleasantly, of course.

. . . On the way I had to sleep on a very dank wet field, as no
hut even was available : for forty miles only two dwellings were
in sight, one the ferryman's over the Jordan, and the other
a Turkish barrack, whose inmates refused to give me a night's
lodging. I brought away lumbago of course, and should haye
brought worse but that the muleteers spread on the rain-sodden
ground a sackcloth bag with chopped straw in it, and your Indian
rizais did the rest for me. . . .

It is the week of prayer-meetings, and I am to give an address
this evening and celebrate to-morrow. I partly rest here six
days because of the quiet of it, and partly because I have an

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excellent Arabic teacher here, and I always get a fresh push on in
my studies with such a man.

Jan. 14. I miss my old dragoman much, and have in vain
tried to find another. Two I tried have both proved failures, and
in my state of head it is very unsafe being answerable for every-
thing. The cold and damp is trying, and Shechem in its hollow
between the mount of cursing and blessing especially so.

. . . The Samaritan high priest called yesterday and sat an
hour or more. We had a long chat in Arabic over the prophecies
of the Old Testament. His father was very near becoming
a Christian, and Mr. F. thinks quite died in the faith of Christ.
There are only about aoo Samaritans left altogether. I told the
priest the great want in these parts was a real John the Baptist to
be raised up in them, like him whose head is said to be preserved
in a small chapel on Mount Ebal, and his body at Sebastiyeh, and
that I wished that prophet might be the priest himself, witnessing
to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. At
this he looked rather taken aback and astonished.

It will comfort you to know that I am able to carry on some
little missionary work in all places I come to, besides talking to
muleteers and others on the way ; besides these, to do any good
one would be obliged to be, like Orpheus, talking to the rocks, or
'causing the stones to cry out,' as our Lord said.

Mount Tabor (Latin Hospice),

Jan, 16, 1888.
One goes back to the days of Deborah and Barak, and fine spots
there are on the lower slopes where a force of 10,000 men might
have been congregated under the prophetess' direction ; and below
is the Kishon plain, whose waters gleam in their far-off course to
the western sea, where Sisera's forces were swept away. I made
the lady workers smile at Jerusalem by telling them it was
a great matter the Deborahs were there in growing force, but the
worst was the Baraks did not come after them, and so the grand old
days of the Judges were not repeated as they should be ! The
Baraks, if there are any, are mostly of the Latin Church and the
Eussian, with a very trifling Prussian band of missionaries, among
whom the veteran Mr. Schneller is a prince. Mr. Zeller deserves
great respect for his quiet, steady perseverance in spite of diffi-
culties, and Mr. Kelk, also of the Jews' Society. But the English
Church wants recruits sadly, and the workers seem a little out of
heart, eoccept the ladies, who are imdaunted like Amazons.

Tiberias, Jan, 20,

Marches of eight and nine hours respectively brought me from

Nablous to the top of Tabor, where I stayed two nights with the

Latin monks, whose dair or convent is in the midst of curious old

ruined churches and fortresses. Of the former there are two, one

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of them more ancient and ascribed to the Empress Helena, the
other of the Crusading period. These have been recovered by
excavations so far as the foundations, and portions of walls, arches
and pillars. The views every way from Mount Tabor ai*e most
inspiring and impressive ; only the heavy clouds and encircling
mists darkened the prospect somewhat. It was really cold with
fireless rooms and stone floors, but I got no hann, and on Friday,
by an exhausting six hours' march over morasses and wastes
strewn with basaltic boulders most trying for the horses* feet,
descended from Kurftn Hattin round the opposite brow of a hill
upon the Lake of Galilee and its little town of Tibeiias. For one
night the Latin monk, a most forbidding and intensely bigoted
priest, allowed me reluctantly to put up at the convent. . . .
Dr. Torrance had gone to Nazareth for three days, and Miss T.
kindly let me occupy his room for three nights, and the Ewings
of the same mission offered a small prophet's chamber, else I know
not what I should have done. I was anxious to stay over to-day to
recruit my strength, and see something of the beauties and most
striking features of the scenery of this holy lake, and the won-
drous play of light and shade on its banks, as well as to see some-
thing of the mission schools also, and work among the Jews. It
is a Scotch Jewish Mission, in fact, of recent establishment The
missionaries are quite of the highest and best type of Scotch
workers, and nothing could be kinder and more cordial than their
reception, . . .

Yesterday Mr. Ewing took me for a walk on the slopes above
the lake, and pointed out the sit^s of Capernaum, Chorazin, and
Bethsaida. They have two mission boats provided by friends
in England, and take venturous trips across to the shores
of the Hauran and Gergesene side of the lake. They propo^
a little sail to-morrow, but the weather is too unsettled to cross,
for even yesterday the waves suddenly grew all but boisterous
as we looked on ; one's heart grows full of thankfulness, joy,
and amazement in looking on these spots and scenes. I doubted
before whether any such pleasurable realization of the past was
possible. I am satisfied now, it is, and I would on no account have
missed it. How forcibly these words flashed across my mind
two days since, * Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy Name I '

Jan. 21. To-day has been given to Miss Fenton's school inspec-
tion . . . and a most refreshing little row on the Sea of Galilee
to the spot where the Jordan issues again at the far south of the
lake. There we had a little picnic, and recollected like scenes of
a moi'e sacred and solemn character as recorded by the Evan-
gelists. A sort of Sabbath rest and sanctity seemed to rest upon
and pervade the scene. To talk of lesser subjects seemed almost

After many dark and clouded days the landscape rejoiced in
bright sunshine, and the vast expanse of Hermon snows flashed

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 32 of 46)