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 33 of 46)
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it back brilliantly. . . . Tiberias has become a very shrunken
and diminutive place : it seems richest in tombs of its former
men of learning and ruins of its former palaces, Herodian and
others. It hugs the seashore, and the mud of its streets is almost
impassable. The Jews in it are supported chiefly from Europe it
appears, and all in it seem spiritless and out of heart Miss
Fenton*s school of sixty girls seems a redeeming feature. About
twenty of these are Mohammedans ; and the Greeks and Latins,
who were antagonistic at first, have been obliged to give in to the
mothers, who appreciate the teaching given, and especially the
character formed, and have quite set their priests at defiance in
the matter. The low and unwholesome situation drives the
missionaries away to Safed for five months in the year, where
they have like schools for Jews and Moslems.

Jan. 22. Dr. Torrance returned last night and brought a lady
from Nazareth with him, as she required change. I am a little in
trouble therefore, as I occupy the one spare room. All will turn
out for the best doubtless, but I have not often been driven to
such straits for a lodging, and horses I expected from Nazareth
have not arrived. Travellers usually take tents with them I sup-
pose, and the loss of my dragoman is specially a contretemps.

Tyre, Jan. 29, 1889.

It has been a strangely varied week of roaming and rambling
in almost pathless wilds and amidst strange vicissitudes of things
and persons ; hard fights with the elements and adverse weather,
and difficulties in getting proper accommodation and carrying out
one's original plans.

I am, of course, no little gratified to find this brief rest in
Br place of such singular interest as ancient T^-re, which it was
scarcely in my plan to visit, but incessant storms of rain, and
roads thereby rendered scarcely passable, landed me here at
length as the most possible of seeming impossibles^ I think
my last was from Tiberias. ... On Thursday morning last the
whole party (Dr. T. excepted, whose hospital work forbade) took me
part of my first day's march hither by boat on the Lake of Gen-
nesareth as far as Tell Hum (Capernaum as the best authorities
seem pretty well agreed). ... It has some grandly massive
ruins of an ancient synagogue which may or may not have been
the one in which our Blessed Lord taught. Capitals and pedestals
of ancient columns lie scattered about with ruined bits of walls in
wondrous profusion, and testify to its probably having been the
most important central city of the district in which so many of
our Lord's mighty works took place. Very near is Bethsaida, the
city of Andrew and Peter, My horse, which had come round
the lake, met me there, and amid heavy rain we parted, they to
return to Tiberias and I towards Safed, which I reached before
evening and found shelter in the house of a Greek Syrian family.

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Safed is thought to be the city which elicited our Lord's remark ;
'A city which is set on a hill cannot be hid/ Its ascents and
descents are tortuous and difficult for animals, but it has some
fine houses and contains 1,500 Jews. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Friedman,
of the Church of England Jews Society, found me out imme-
diately on my arrival ; but I was already housed and did not
think it well to migrate in the heavy rain. They were, however,
most kindly intentioned. It was a surprise to find an English
clergyman in such a place, though a Eussian Jew by birth. I had
to taJk for two or three hours to them and the people of the house,
and then thankfully took refuge in a snug little bedroom with
a picture of the Virgin over the pillow, to ensure protection I sup-
pose. I started next morning, amid rain again and very threaten-
ing clouds, and fairly drenched we were, more than once, before
a steadily persevering march over mountains and defiles ended at
last not where we hoped, at Tibnin, a large fortress, but at an
Arab hamlet of rather dismal hovels (called Baithon), where,
after praying in vain for some time for a night's lodging, we were
compassionately received at last in a place, half-stable, half-cottage,
where, after making myself a cup of tea, I was glad to try to get
some rest on the floor amidst a medley group of men, women,
children, camels, heifers, horses and mules, dogs and cats, and
fowls roosting above in the ceiling beams. I tried, not with
much success, to get the good people to listen to some Arabic
readings out of the Gospels. The state of roads reminded me
of some of my last year's experiences between Bagdad and Mosul,
and again between Diarbekir and Oorfa. Here it was worse,
because I have no dragoman or companion, and have to be my
own cook as best I can.

Saturday began again in mists and showers most nnpromisingly,
but we got oflF at 10 ; left Tibnin, a magnificent hill fortress
looking proudly down on vast mountain ranges, at 11 or so:
and then traversed, amid most exhausting storms, a defile more
than four hours in length, and seeming interminable, down
some boulder-strewn paths or rock-hewn cavities such as made
our steeds stand here and there in utter despondency to think
what was next to be the move to avoid a checkmate. It was to
be only five hours to Tyre according to Baedeker, but when
nightfall approached we found Tyre was still three hours ahead,
and we took refuge at a Greek Catholic priest's houso, who gave
me up considerately part of his own room (sitting and sleeping
both), and his wife, a good, simple hardworking body, lit fires
and cooked some eggs and a fowl, and turned into soup at my
dictation some Liebig's paste Mrs. Blyth gave me, so w^e fared
tolerably ; only a quarter of the parish gathered in the one
room to see us eat our supper. Some fairly profitable conver-
sation followed, and glad I was to spread my bed on the floor
again and seek quiet Alas ! I had to finish the three hours on

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Sunday morning into Tyre, as T hoped to be able to get in for
a service ; but we were too late. However the day was in
brilliant contrast to the last three, and the view never to be
forgotten for its surpassingly rich beauty ; —the deep blue expanse
of the Mediterranean beneath our feet ; and to north and east
of us the snow-clad heights of Lebanon and Hermon. The
Greek flock was coming out from early mass when I had
to pass them, but as I rode by I made them all understand what
a terrible disappointment it had been to me not to reach Tyre the
day before, and that possibly my mass (kadas) would have to be
later in the day on arrival.

I put up at a convent (Greek Orthodox) in Tyre, as I shrunk
from going in the middle of Sunday to the British Syrian Schools,
tempting as they looked in their pleasant gardens with inviting
school-house, school and chapel, and a few Christian teachers'
residences in charge of a Swiss lady, Madame Hisa I got
a room upstairs (unfurnished wholly) at the convent, where
I propose to stay till to-morrow, and may spend the rest of
the week at Madame Hiss*, as it is scarcely possible to sleep at
night amid the rough discomforts of the room I occupy. The
days here, however, have been most helpful, as one hears and
talks Arabic from morning till night, and the various members of
the family, of whom there must be fourteen or fifteen, uncles,
parents, cousins, children, &c., besides friends and callers, select
my i-oom for pretty constant though friendly and well-intentioned
invasion. If I could bear it for a fortnight I ought to have made
a beautifully fresh start in the language.

Tyre is a sorely shrunken little place, though its streets are
kept cleaner and better paved than those of Jerusalem, Nazai*eth,
Hebron, and others I have seen. Almost each little court has
a palm in its centre, which gives an Oriental look. I have been
reading with interest the elaborately wrought detail of Ez. xxvi —
xxviii of ancient Tyre, its glories, and accumulated gains and
treasures, with predictions of its fall as penalty of its pride and
covetous greed, and Israel's final restoration after Tyre's downfall.
Few passages seem to have had such pains spent upon them as
regards historical detail, and to form such a complete picture with
such minute pencillings and delicate shadings.

The mole thrown out by the great Alexander stretches still
some little way out in gigantic ruins, upon which the fretted,
buffeted waves rage and moan continually, as if to utter a dirge of
melancholy lament over their queen.

To Mrs. Moulson. ^

Jan, 30.

From the ridge above Tyre the snowy ranges of Lebanon and
Hermon, and the expanse of the Mediterranean below with its
bright blue waters, formed a picture of almost unique beauty,

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which may not unnaturally have enhanced the proud self-esteem
of the once mistress of the old world (arbitress at least of its
wealth and trading interests) leading the Prince of Tyre to say,
* I am God, I sit in the seat of God in the midst of the seas.' . . .
For colossal pillars of porphyry nothing I have yet seen approaches
the pillars lying prostrate at Tyre ; some washed daily by the sea
waves, and others adding, it were hard to say whether more of
ghastliness or of dignity and beauty, to its wondrous ruins.
Scenes like these strike one dumb almost in silent amazement as
one reads Holy Scripture interpreted in its fulfilments.

To BOBEBT ClABE. rp ^^ jTeft. g,

... I was not aware that from about November 15 to February
15 travellers almost wholly cease, and one cannot attempt journeys
without serious risk of breaking down and falling ill. . . . How-
ever, as my time is limited, I have ventured on pushing on ... ;
unhappily it has rained the whole week nearly, and I feel stricken
with the damp cold. To-morrow I hope to start for Sid on along
the coast via Zarephath. . . . My last sigh and pang of agony,
I believe, will be for the miserably small and fiivolous strifes
which fritter away our strength to such a terrible extent on such
trifles as eastward or northward position, mixing of the wine with
water, the bishop's pastoral staff, &c. If it were questions like
virgin-worship, or bowing down to adore the elements, then we
are on ground worthy of our steel ; but the sooner we have done
with these childish contentions about airy nothings, so much the
better for the Tiiith and the worse for Rome, which makes such
vast capital out of our bringing seventy-two pounders to knock
down sand-castles built by infants on the seashore I ... It is
the infinite concern, I trust, which I have for Christ and His
blessed Truth and Church, which makes me eschew soft utterances
at some moments of almost desperation at the way in which the
regiments within the Christian army — those who have the same
devotion to the King and His Bride — set to work fighting each
other and riddling the allied ranks with grape-shot and worse,
instead of charging with one heart and soul the common foe.

I have been bearing my witness stout and strong against the
real questions at issue, in conversations I have had with Greek
and Latin priests. I wish I could have done it better and in more
colloquial Arabic idiom, but I have tried my best, and got pitched
into in return sometimes. . . . Accept my loving and grateful
acknowledgement for your words of sympathy in our severe family
sorrow and bereavement. It has been a mystery and a surprise.
With our large families we must expect to receive both the good
and the evil at the Lord's hands. As the Lord pleased so is it
done (LXX. in Job). I expect to reach Damascus early next week,
and inspect the schools there, if strength return. A month hence
I may be in Beyrout again.

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Of the bishop's ftirther travels to Damascus and Baalbec,
Hasbeiya, Banias, and Zachleh, completing the ftdl circuit
of the British Syrian Schools and visiting the other missions,
there is nothing of particular importance to relate.

At Zachleh having blessed one mother's child, the others
all thronged round him, till he was wearied of blessing —
especially as the two days before were spent in travelling
in drenching rains.

He returned to England from Beyrout in March by way
of Smyrna and Constantinople, where he was anxious to
find traces of his master Pfander s work. Some extracts
from his diary will show the dangers he encountered.

^ March 29, 30, 31. Have to record with deep and heartfelt
gratitude two narrow escapes from perils of unusual severity.
First, on the night of the 30th, when a very heavy sea and strong
wind caused the ship to reel tenibly and be shaken with unusual
violence, and the sea to make heavy breaches on the vessel, so
that the deck became covered with water that had no proper
escape ; finally it seemed to settle for a short while on beam ends
and to be at the mercy of the storm. How this occurred is not
quite clear. Some of the officers said it arose from the shifting of
the baggage both above and below. Shouts, shrieks, and groans,
of poor deck passengers, prayers and cries to God, I thought our
last moment was at hand, so great was the peril. I tried to get
across to the great saloon to have prayer, last prayer I thought, with
passengers, but was knocked down by boxes of oranges and other
cargo rolling against me, and platforms on which passengers slept,
which got dislodged and rolling about — a hideous scene of con-
fusion : — between one of them and an iron water-tank got leg
jammed slightly and hurt, so only with help could rise up, and
get back towards my own cabin. Meantime the ship had righted
itself and got turned round, and the squall lulled a little, and we
breathed again and were in comparative stillness.

*I never before felt so face to face with death, but was able,
thank God, to say, ** Into Thy hands I commend my spirit," and
to pray as the Apostles, •* Lord, save us, we perish " : this was
veiy calming and quieting to the spirit. The first impression
was of alarm, but I was enabled to grasp the promise and the
Saviour's atoning all-sufficiency with some strength and good
courage. Praised be His name for this "power of His endless
life ! " Wo got back to Scanderoon (Alexandretta) on 31st, in
morning, and rested for the day : then stai-ted for Mersina again,
which we reached in calm weather next morning. From Mersina
was pointed out the site of ancient Tarsus.

^ April I. Started in afternoon for Smyrna: had not gone

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three hours when suddenly the screw snapped and broke utterly,
and left us like a log of wood at the mercy of wind and wave,
close to a dangerous and rocky shore (four miles away) ; with aoo
fathoms of water and sails almost wholly powerless, the vessel
stirred scarcely a mile an hour, and was drifting slowly towards
the rocks : the smallest wind would have sent it straight on these
most perilous shelves. It was a serious six hours indeed, and it
was hard to get the passengers into the senous frame demanded.
I seemed in vain to try to raise their thoughts upwards and
Godwards in the crisis. So it was till after dark, 7 p.m. perhaps ;
then a vessel (Turkish) hove in sight, blue lights and rockets
were brought into play, and as it neared us a boat was sent off to
request help. It bore down on us by degrees, and towing ropes
were attached, which in bad weather could never .have drawn
steadily such a massive ship, mostly iron-plated ; but, thank God,
the fine weather of the day before continued all that night and
until near evening of next day, by which time we arrived at
Alexandretta again (about 2 p.m.). I went off soon to the Turkish
vessel which had towed us, and got my luggage over, and got

a cabin ; later on the E s and other passengers did the same.

We were twelve out of the Eussian steamer ; a Greek bishop (of
Adalia) in the same cabin with me.'

In this Turkish vessel the remainder of the voyage to
Constantinople was made without further adventure; but
it was an immense interest to the bishop to touch at
places of such ecclesiastical and classic fame as Ehodes,
April 5 (where, as coming into Turkish-speaking regions, he
distributed the remainder of his Arabic gospels) ; Smyrna,
Saturday, April 6 (whence he was sorely tempted, like other
passengers, to run over to Ephesus but was withheld by
scruples about Sunday travelling); Mitylene; and Troaa He
reached Constantinople on April 11. Here it grieved him
to find no trace of good Dr. Pfander's work in any existing
mission agencies employed among the Moslems, and the
system of espionage was so strict that there seemed no
favourable opportunity for re-opening a C. M. S. mission,
though Mr. Dwight, an American missionary, was quite
prepared to welcome such an effort.

'At Constantinople,' said the bishop, 'Islam seems to have
attained its apotheosis in having usurped the grandest Eastern
monuments of Christian architecture, descended firom Constantino
and Justinian and other great princes of ova faith. However,


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this is not a final settlement of matters there, doubtless. Canon
Curtis (S. P. G.) still holds out, but is sadly overworked. I was
present at the baptism in Turkish of a Turk ' (slightly grey),
rather high in Government employ. Probably he would have to
be self-exiled from the country to Egypt or Tunis. Dr. Kbelle
had for long instructed him. He answered with much energy and
determination. Only one godfather, or witness, stood by him.
There is a baptistery for immersion, but Canon Curtis only
poured from a white shell water on his head thrice. In the
vestry I had a few pleasant, cheery words with Dr. Eustace on his
way to succeed Dr. Hosmle at Ispahan.'

At Vienna the bishop was in time for the Palm Sunday-
services with all their grand processions in the cathedral,
and encountered also an alarm of fire in the English churcL

On April 17, the Wednesday in Holy Week, he rejoined
his wife at Chislehurst. Of the remainder of his family
Basil only was at home at this time. His diary records —
' one of the happiest days of my life.'

^ Mr. Shirreff informs me that this Turk must have been Ahmad Taufiq.
The political complications which arose from his baptism are mentioned
in the Life of the Right Hon. W. H. Smith. He was one of the leading
Ulama in Turkey, and was sentenced to death for apostasy. Then under
pressure from the British Government he was not executed but sent
to an island as prisoner. Thence he escaped to England where
Mr. Shirreff made his acquaintance, and afterwards he went to Egypt
and disappeared.

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• Wean thyself from the world and its splendouins ;
Its brightness is dimness, its meetings are partings/

Arabic Poem.

In quoting the Arabic couplet at the heading of this
chapter to Mrs. French in one of his letters from Beyrout,
the bishop said, ' The last words, alas, have been too often
true in our experience '; and now this fleeting character of
earthly unions was to receive its final illustration in his
own life-history. He found it impossible to rest or to be
idle, and the work of pleading mission causes before such
varied congregations was wearing and exciting, and seemed
to leave his gift of languages to rust unused; so, as no
settled post of duty offered itself to him in England, in
little more than a year he was preparing once again to sally
forth upon a final venture against the untouched fortresses
of Islam. His principal correspondent at this time was
Mrs. Moulson, his daughter absent in India, and the
gradual forming of his purpose to go out again will be
noticed in his letters.

To Mrs. Moulson.

Chislehurst, May 22, 1889.
It is sad to see in village parishes the gradual wasting away of
the agricultural population. One old farmer I talked with two
days since complained bitterly of tht> Punjab wheat supply
cheapening the corn in England, so that they could not make
both ends meet. . . . Yet the food and dress of the villagers
seem on the whole better than I remember them thirty or forty
years ago, and the intelligence is wonderfully increased. Even

X 2

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the Fonthill girls were getting up high music last week for
a choral festival at Salisbuiy soon. They do not answer Scrip-
tural questions, however, as the Syrian girls do in the brighter
Eastern sunshine, and having richer imaginations, and more taste
for the superhuman it may be. . . . E. J. gave me a little volume
of selected sermons of Padre Agostino Montefeltro on social and
moral questions, which show that he is a man of wide culture and
research as well as of eloquence. What a reformation of the
E. C. Church such a man might be the agent of, if chosen to be
pope : but the Jesuits will be careful to block his way to pro-
motion. They seem to be a revived order again, and to put
terrible pressure on all efforts towards reform. ... I made a
very sorry d^but at Exeter Hall yesterday ' (May 23) ; but the fact
was I was thoroughly flurried at having to succeed two great
guns, and to precede two other ditto. It gave me no fair chance,
as I could not keep the audience from men of whom great things
were expected, so the speech I had carefully prepared had to be
pocketed instead of proclaimed ! Useful experiences however
these, and likely to be multiplied the older one grows now. . . .
One longs to live at the elevation of Fdnelon in spiritual
matters. Religion seems less and less to find admission into
conversation, and the world's chill starves and dries one up,
not that I want empty talk without occasion, but something to
tell we are not Hindus or Agnostics, but Christians.

This letter illustrates the bishop's shrinking from May
meetings: however two months later he was speaking
at the Duke of Argyll's house in London for the Arch-
bishop's Assyrian Mission; the Archbishop, the Duke,
Mr. Athelstan Eiley, Dean Hole, and Canon Bright being
the other speakers. Afterwards he dined and slept at
Lambeth Palace, which led to a correspondence with the
archbishop (in the midst of his heavy preoccupations with
the Lincoln judgement) in reference to the obtaining of
educational institutes for Greeks in Syria, or Palestine,
or Cyprus. The bishop wrote on July 27 from Penzance : —

'As I believe your Grace would consider the formation of
a fresh society both impolitic and impossible, it would seem that
the onlj' practicable course would be that some wealthy laymen
or laywomen, taking large and clear views of the })resent crisis in
the East, should approach your Grace with the offer of some con-
siderable sums to be specially devoted to this line of Church work

^ In speaking for the Christian Evidence Society.

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under the general directions of the Bo^ or Council of Missions,
and in response to the urgent and pathetic appeals addressed to
the heads of the Anglican Church from the Eastern patriarchs
and bishops.'

With referencje to the locality for such a work, the
bishop looked on Cyprus as being too remote, and Beyrout
as too strongly occupied by the Americans, while the
C. M. S. college for praeparandi on Mount Zion could
hardly on its present lines of action form the basis of such
a school of prophets as would be acceptable to the Greek
Church and conciliate their confidence. The existing j>rae-
parandi college he described as * not devoid of some very
hopeftil and promising elements of useftdness * ; but he felt
that something more was wanted in the direction of Bishop
Blyth's suggestions, as a continuation and higher elevation
of it, 'avoiding to the utmost everything polemical and
controversial, rather witnessing fiiendlily, as sister might
to sister, in the way of recalling them to their own old
paths, and their great early authorities to which the Church
Catholic (and our own branch of it not least) is so deeply

In this letter he mentions having taken a light charge
for seven or eight weeks at St. Paul's, Penzance. The
vicar, the Eev. J. J. Hunt, the present writer was informed,
had advertised in some church paper for a locum tenens,
* a spiritually-minded brother in the Lord,' or words to like
effect. Bishop French, as has been stated, had special
pleasure in the thought of Penzance as a post of healthfol
duty, and answered the advertisement, declaring that, though

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 33 of 46)