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 36 of 46)
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At this service he preached -his last sermon in England,
on behalf of Bishop Blyth's fund, from the verse, * Awake,

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sword, against my slieplierd, and against the man that is
my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts : smite the shepherd,
and the sheep shall be scattered : and I will turn mine hand
upon the little ones/ Next day at noon he parted from
his wife on Dover pierhead — * a harder wrench than ever '
— and soon was on his way to Paris, never to see his native
land again.

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* On eUt bien voulu lui faire entendre qu'il prenait trop sur lui. J'eus
m§me la confiance de le lui repr^senter : mais ce bon pasteur h Timita-
tion du grand ap6tre comptait sa vie pour rien : il ne repondit autre
chose a ces remontrancea, sinon que quand il aurait donne son kme pour
ses ouailles, il aurait alors rempli 1 id^e du vrai pasteur. Jusque la,
ajouta-t-il, je n'aurai rien fait de trop.* — Vie de Fenelon.

* Love and labour are two roses whose lustre sparkles on the bough of
near access to God.'— Abd-ul-Kadir.

The account of the bishop's last joumeyings may best be
given in extracts from his letters home : —

To Mrs. French.

Grand Hotel, Tunis, Nov. 7, 1890.

To have been with you ... on the 3rd, and to write to you hence
on the 7th, would have seemed a wondrous impossibility fifty
years ago, yet that is but one of the many wonders of the great
half-century so brimful of change and movement, while one hopes
that much has been done to set forward the kingdom that cannot
be moved ; so the Immoveable, the I Am, works His will and has
His way amid the moving and shifting of human things.

We got off from Marseilles about 4 p.m. on the 5th as pro-
mised, and, as I expected, were no sooner out of port than we got
well tossed and beaten about with high seas. ... It seemed of
good and happy omen to me that my steamer was called St, Au-
gtistin. 1 told the captain that I had never found a steamer yet
so named. All the afternoon, or most of it, we coasted Sardinia,
quite a new country to me, but it seemed bare and bleak with its
white rocka I was almost the only first-class passenger. Every-
thing was beautifully clean and well ordered, and nothing but
civility was shown. The passage was pledged for thirty-six hours,
but it was only thirty-three, for at 5 a.m. this morning I woke to

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find ourselves anchored at Goletta, the port of Tunis, right in
sight of ancient Carthage and the scene of St. Augustine's labours,
at present, howeyer, the scene of Cardinal Lavigerie's labours ; his
archbishopric takes the title of Carthage, having been transferred
by the Pope from Algiers. I credit the Pope with wishing to
revive the old empire of Carthage here, as he seeks to do that of
old Nineveh at Mosul, all in honour of the Roman see. On
a height which may have been the old citadel of Carthage . . . the
cardinal has built a fine cathedral with a Benedictine convent
adjoining, all of brilliant white (marble probably), with a museum
of relics dug out of the ruins of Carthage. In the bright sunshine
this morning it looked glistering and smiling enough. ... It has
been a journey full of mercies, and scarcely the smallest fatigue :
only too comfortable and easy for one who would be a missionary ! . . .

A prayer of Scudamore's seems full of help and comfort to me.
(I left you my old dog's-eared copy, how generous of me, and
have bought a new copy to be dog's-eared too if I live, I hope.)
It begins, * O God, the Fath'^r of lights, grant that by Thy grace
I may be so ordered in Thy faith and fear that in all perplexities
and doubts I may be safe under the heavenly guidance of Thy
blessed Spirit.'

I think it is called * A prayer under perplexity for guidance.'
Let us try often to use it . . . with special reference to each other,
and I think that A. and B. and W. will like it too, for there
are perplexing doubts to all of us in oui* various histories and

Everybody here speaks French or Arabic, and as these two
I have been specially working at, I seem strangely at home with
the people straightway, only not fluent, of course, or happy in the
use of choice words. The Arabs seem quieter in manner than in
Egypt, but splendid specimens of humanity. I would to God
I might be the bearer of a blessing spiritually to some of them,
but it seems almost too good to hope with my small residue of
strength, yet to be in my old, old work again, or in the prospect
and attempted renewal of it, is the only compensation I could have
to make up to me in part for this temporary separation ! . • .

To Mbs. French.

Tunis, Nov. 10, 1890.
. . . The cardinal is not here at present, but on his temperance
tour, I suppose. He is not greatly respected here, it seems, being
thought by the Romanists too worldly-minded and time-sorving,
and more anxious to spread Roman supremacy than the kingdom
of Christ. He has done much to exalt Carthage into a new
dominion and power in the world, and has got most of the prizes
at the Paris Exposition for the finest vines and wines in which
Caiihage excels I Rather strange for a temperance orator I What
would Canon Wilberforce say ? . . .

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To Mbs. Feench. Tunis, Nov. 14.

... I have at last got hold of a mooUah to-day of some fame
for learning, if I am told right. ... I was so glad to find I was
more at home with him in Arabic talk than I was when I left
Syria with his brother mooUahs, the fruit of my work in the dear
little Chislehurst study, which you thought I stuck too inveterately
to, though you bore with all so lovingly. . . . Later on there are
more English trayellers I hear, but at present they might be
counted on one's fingers. * Tramways ' seems the only English
word one comes across, except here and there an assurance On
parle Anglais. I wonder the French put up even with * Tramways. '
... I go on learning Greek pronunciation proper at the archiman-
diite's, as it may help me if I do any work among the Greeks
hereafter, which is improbable, however. . . .

I have rather begged Messrs. Wigram and Eugene Stock to
embrace a plan of a mission to Muscat among the new ventures of
faith they are planning, and have even suggested that I should
visit it to repoi-t on the likelihood of its being available as a fresh
starting-point for African work.

Nov, 16. The, Intelligencers are remarkably full and rich about
Afiica lately. ... It is really a privilege to touch even the border
of African work at such a^time. . . .

This whole place is, of course, honey-combed with Koman sisters
of four or five orders at least, especially Les SoBurs de Sion, and
others of the order of St. Joseph. Two found me out at the hotel
the other day — they go round to all the bedrooms !— and I gave
a small sum for les pauvres, for whom they appealed. I expect
dear Gladys is rapidly gaining full speaking powers. I am so glad
to have her little image before me in my Bible, and her father's
too. She will be a little Sceur de Sion too, I trust — not in the
Pope's employ, however I

To Mrs. Knox. ,j^^.^ j^^ ^

. . . The whole place is entirely in French occupation — pro-
tectorate they call it — but everything (education, agriculture,
military rule, law, and finance) seems subject to their absolute
control under a kind of governor-general with a large staff.
Arabs and French, however, seem to intermingle on far more
equal and friendly teims than Hindus and English do in India.
In the cafSs they sit and smoke promiscuously, and seem to con-
verse freely. I have taken English services a good deal since
I came here. . . . My chief work is with a learned moollah
(Arabic) Mr. Flad helped me to get hold of, with whom I read one
of their most useful classics, Abd-ul-ICadir : one of their great
saints, who lived six hundred years ago at Bagdad, and whose lan-
guage often testifies to his having been to some extent under
Christian influences and teachings, and favourably disposed towards

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the Gospel, His vocabulary is of infinite use for writers of Chris-
tian works for Mohammedans. Besides, all North Africa down to
the Soudan sits at his feet as their favourite and most honoured
instructor. Even the Mahdi, and a rival of his in North Africa,
are partisans and sectaries of this great and devout teacher, full of
mysticism and a soi-t of devout pietism, which subsists and holds
its own by the side of and in the midst of glaring immoralities.

Besides this I am starting with the moollah a careful translation
of St. Hilary on the Trinity, the early chapters of which, on
St. John's teachings in his first chapter, appear to seize the moollah
with a great surprise. He went into a land of ecstasy over them
this morning, of a most genuine and unmistakable kind, however,
on the words * bom not of blood, nor of the will of man,' &c. He
put his hand over his forehead and exclaimed, * Fahimt, Fahimt '
(*I understand, I underatand '), like the old cupi/^a, €vprjKa. *Now
I see what for these fifty five years of my life I never had a con-
ception of before.' In all my missionary days I never was more
struck with the seizure divine truth makes, and the hold it takes
superhumanly, of a heart somewhat unprejudiced and open to its
influences. If this were the only thing I came to Tunis for it
would not seem a worthless and objectless visit. May it be a work
begun of God and ended by Him ! In beginning our lesson to-day
I said to him, * Now we must be very solemn and reverent, for we
have some very deep and sacred truths that should make us tremble
and hide our faces with a sense of shame and unworthiness.'

To Mrs. French. ^ . ,^

Tunis, Nov. 21.

. . . Two or three hours were spent in examining the upper
classes of Mr. Flad's boys' school — all Jews of course. It is
delightful to find so good and able a young priest of our Church
at work in this large and important centre of African trade, the
old Carthage of Hannibal and St. Augustine! He is a good
Hebraist, and has been much under the influence of the men
whose works I have so valued, Domer and Delitzsch, so that I am
soon at home with him.

We had a lesson from Abraham's history with the first class,
which brought us to Machpelah, so I was able to give them
a little history (in French and Arabic, partly in both) of my visit
there, and my address to the Mohammedans there on Hom. vi.,
the death and resurrection with Christ as the true deliverance
from sin.

Then with the second class fabout fifteen boys in each), our
Lord's being found by His parents in the Temple, which brought
me to speak of Jerusalem and what I had seen there and of the
gi-adual flocking thither of such a multitude of Jews, connected
with the promise, * I will pour out the spirit of grace,' &c. * They
shall look on Him whom they pierced, and the least of them shall

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be as David,' which I emphasized (to their amusement) by pointing
to the least little Jew boy of the whole lot.

How should I thank God for such opportunities given me in
this simple way. and with such a short journey, to meet youths of
these varied tongues and peoples, and speak to them of such
blessed truths ! I can scarcely imagine any episcopal work more
important than visits to these little sciittered mission churches, if
the door of utterance be opened of Him.

... I had a delightful hour with the Greek archimandrite,
chatting in Greek as best I could, and reading with him St.
Peter's great advent chapter, as well as i Cor. iii. on the true
purgatory of the advent, as opposed to the purgatory of the Roman
Church with its errors and corruptions. The archimandrite told
me he had been brought up in the Univeraity of Athens {iravfiri'
frrrifuov they call it in Greek) as I had been in Oxford. I do
think he loves his Bible. Some time back, when there was no
Greek priest resident in Tunis, Mr. Flad took baptisms and funerals
in the Greek church, which is a curious instance of practical
reunion between the two Churches. The archimandrite has been
keeping his bed for several days from illness, and I had thusocca-
sion to make two or three pastoral calls. So our Lord seems to have
His own scattered abroad here, as in Pontus, Asia, &c. . . . I am to
have a little tea-party to-morrow evening in my rather ill-furnished
lodging, of the Flads, Mr. Harding, a young missionary on his way
back to Tripoli, and as many of the five ladies as are able to come.
I must go to the French shop, and bring back the patisserie in my
blue bag, a purpose it was never turned to before. You would
laugh at my tea-party ! Would you could be here to arrange and
grace it ! . . . What would the rector think of me holding such an
heretical assemblage !

On Wednesday the consul, Mr. Drummond Hay, took mo to call
on the great educational minister here, M. Machouel, a very dis-
tinguished and influential pei'soiiage. My French conies back to
me happily now, so that I converse pretty freely, though more
with the learned than the uneducated. I had occasion to talk
with him on the earnest craving of the Punjabis for more moral
and religious education, which I wish he might remember in
drawing up his educational programme for Tunis.

To Dr. R. V. French.

Tunis, Nov. 25.

... I wish I had any interesting matter to communicate to
you, but a stranger among strangers learns but little. The history
of the last decade of Tunisian affairs is not a bright spot in the
world's annals, and reflects no great credit either on the French or on
ourselves, who have proved treacherous (Broadley ^ lays the blame

^ Tunis, Past and Present,

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on Gladstone) to our ancient allies, to whom English support for
fifty years had been a pillar of strength. We left them meanly
and pitilessly to their fate, and our prestige in these parts has
suffered grievous loss most deservedly.

The population here is a strange medley and agglomeration of
Easterns and Westerns, mostly Arabs, but a large percentage also
of. Maltese, French, Italians, Jews (30,000}, numbering altogether
about 130,000, over whom our neighbours have autocratic sway
at present, and seem at leaat exerting themselves to improve
the material resources of the countiy, regulate its jSnances, and
keep good order and discipline fairly maintained. As things go
education is cared for pretty well, wholly of a godless sort by
Government, but on a religious basis also by peres and freres and
sosurs almost countless, and great credit they deserve for their
exhaustless and ill-requited labours, which might put us to shame.
. . . There are five ladies here of a North African Society, Ply-
mouthists and Baptists chiefly ; however, they seem to tolerate, if
not value, the interest taken in them and their work by an
Ainglican bishop, and there seems much one can learn from their
devoted selfsacriflce. It seems needless at least to exaggerate
differences in such wild, outlying regions ! . . . I am giving some
six hours a day to Arabic and like studies, with no clear prospect
as yet of turning them to much account, but to try and fail in
a matter of this sort is better than not trying, hard as it is to
accept the failure contentedly or thankfully when the event
arrives. . . . This little experience of foreign tongues and races
seems about the one single talent left me to save from burial or
waste. I grieve to think of the disappointment it must be to lay
aside of necessity at present your literary effort to crown your
life's work as you hoped in that direction, but de Sales says
somewhere, * Solitude is the mother of great thoughts and high
purposes.' May this be well illustrated in your experience I

I have a plan which I may not have strength or courage to
carry out, to visit a very sacred Moslem city, Kairowan, a second
Cairo some say, others a second Mecca — at any rate for a thousand
yeai-s a virgin city of Islam, on which Christian foot never trod.
The French, however, simply walked in without a shot being fli*ed
in 1881, and its glory is departed as the glory of the Jewish
temple when Antiochus Epiphanes or Pompey desecrated it. It
is a trial to me not to have my Livy or even Augustine here
while living in sight of CartJiago studiis aspcrrima belli on the
opposite hill.

Father de Lattr^, a great excavator and professor in Cardinal
Lavigerie's college here, makes out Tarshish in Ezek. xxvii. to
mean Carthage, but I know not on what authority. I can get not
a single book in any shop to revive old memories of the grand
old city, grand in Christian though less than in pagan times:
the city of Tertullian and Cyprian as weU as of Hannibal and

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Hamilcar. . . . Would L. be so good as to beg for the intercessions
of W. and W.* during my journeys by land and by sea for the
present, and for preservation, and for such measure of success as
God may please to give me in trying to reach these poor Moslems
in my feeble way ?

To Mrs. Moulson.

Nov, 27, 1890.

The missionary ladies live in a hidden, secluded nook, in the
very heart of this city of 130,000 people, much like Amritsar, and
have affectionate welcomes in some Mohammedan zenanas here ;
a few of their disciples beginning to pray to the Lord Jesus in
the simple form at least — ^ y^ ^help me,' I have been spending

this afternoon with them, and reading a specimen or two of
a translation into Arabic I am working at with a mooUah of
St. Hilary's great work on the Trinity, which I have long
thought would be likely to be useful to the Mohammedans.

Of course my work in Bagdad, Beyrout, Damascus, &c, as well
as former Indian experience, have been very helpful to me in all
this. I must soon leave for Egypt, as it is chiefly in response
to frequent invitations from Bishop Blyth that my course has
seemed shaped hitherwards as nowhere elsewards. But if no
definite line of work seems appointed me in Egypt, or beyond it
in the Red Sea or Syria, I may yet return here, where the great
Panislamic movement to fight a last desperate battle with the
gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God is thought likely by
many to have very momentous issues. What is done here, of
course, works more or less in harmony and concert with the
Uganda, Congo, and Zanzibar work, only that the builders are
fighting and building at different portions of the wall, like Nehe-
miah and his soldier-masons. My work-day is drawing fast
towards its evening shadows, so it does not seem to make much
matter where I make a temporary settlement; but I hope to
yours and you, dearest Lydia, the pleasant and lovely thought
of Abraham's old servant may prove true— 'I being in the way,
the Lord led me.' I can realize this better in Tunis than in
England, for there one scarcely seemed * in the way ' at all, except
in other people's way : the Societies cared little to get help from
me ; only a few friends here and there took compassion, and sent
private invitations to plead the mission cause, especially (curiously
enough) the Wells, Lincoln, Hereford, and Cambridge people ;
Burton also, Newcastle, Whitby, and a scoi-e of others, few and
far between. Being of neither of the two gi'eat parties out and
out I fell between the two boats, and all this helped me to see my
way Eastward again, besides a strong and growing sense of duty,
and of not being released yet from my missionary vows.

The * Watchers and Workers.'

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To Mrs. French.

Tunis, Dec. i, 1890.

I think my Arabic has made a good push on this month ; but
I feel it has been a great effort, with other work in hand, and
must try to hold myself back a little.

Saturday about twelve of us met at the Flads' house for
a missionaiy prayer-meeting, which was rather an enjoyable
occasion, as it was the eve of St. Andrew's day, and the party
consisted mostly of hearty workers. I read a good part of the
C. M. S. paper put out specially for this year's day of intercession,
with notices of the special objects to be pleaded for. We sang
several hymns, and several offered prayer, one lady — don't be very
shocked ; she was very brief and modest in her prayer, and really
they are the missionary workers in the place. I took Dean Goul-
bum's beautiful missionary litany and read Dan. x. It lasted
about one hour and a quarter. . , ,

Yesterday the French service was intermitted, owing to a funeral
service going on the same afternoon of a French lady, so I wrote
for about four hours at my translation of St. Hilary, and then had
the archimandrite (Greek) and his deacon for a cup of tea, and we
took some Greek Testament together, passages bearing on the
Advent. It reminded me of the evening when the rector dropped
in upon us (you can tell him so if you meet him) — only you were
not with us. I had some coffee for them, and fancy bread, and
some fresh butter I had bought at a shop on Saturday. It is so
pleasant to see a little bit of the Greeks again, and carry out my
longing desire for a reunion in the truth, and that only.

It is strange modern Greek should be so very hard to speak ;
knowing all the words yet one cannot, without really a brain
effort, recognize them in their modem dress.

I seem to have learnt more about the Mohammedan world these
three weeks than even in the three years before. A French
gentleman told me this morning that Tunis has retained its
Arab stamp more than any other city in North Africa, so I am glad
I came here. I must close with much love to dear Agnes : missing
little Gladys' morning visit to my study. She still iTins into it all
empty, I daresay.

On December 4 the bishop left Tunis, and went from

Goletta to Soussa in his old cabin in the St Augtistin,

a calm, delightful passage, and next day the remaining

forty miles to Kairowan were traversed, as described in the

following letter : —

To Mrs. French.

Kairowan, Soussa, N. Africa.
Four hours in a car holding sixteen people, four in each of the
four seats, one behind the other, brought us to Kairowan very

VOL. II. z

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agreeably by a tramway : so we escaped all jolting. The road lies
for ten miles or so through olive plantations, then over stubble
fields, from which wheat, apparently, had been reaped late in the
autumn : rather a drear, unattractive prospect, mostly flat, with
a slight roll here and there : almost wholly unpeopled, except by
nomad Arabs, whose black tents reminded me again of the plains
round Babylon, and between Bagdad and Mosul. Then came
a more smiling country again : flocks, herds, and camel-droves
in goodly number, and a few villages in the distance and a low
mountain-range also appeared. Then through a thick grove of
cactus hedges, tall, and thick, and green, we were wheeled along
in sight of the very imposing fabrics of the mosques and tombs of
Eairowan, on which the setting sun shone grandly, and gave them
then- fullest eflfect. It seemed almost a magic story represented
out of The Arabian Nights to see such a brilliant scene (as if
a section of the finest art products of Constantinople had been
transplanted there on a sudden) starting into view out of the midst
of so wild a desert.

Dec 6. I was up early this morning and got leave from the
Contr6leur-G6n6ral, a French officer (very courteous and agreeable),
to visit the great mosques and tombs ; and he handed over to
me an Arab guide, who conducted me through them.

The Jamaa Kabir, or great mosque, ia the most remarkable
though not perhaps the most ancient ; its courts, vestibule, and
the most sacred part employed for prayer and preaching, contain
some 600 pillars of all kinds of rich marble and porphyiy from all
parts of the Christian world, which (after every Moslem conquest)
the churches have been rifled and pillaged of, and here the
trophies of their triumph over the cross are massed together in
a promiscuous collection, yet orderly arranged enough in eight
rows on each side as you walk up to the east end, besides
many scores of them built into the walls. Mostly, however, they
have been carried off from the African churches in the terrible
devastation of them in the seventh century. I can only hope and
pray that the glorious old promise may yet come true in this land :
* They that be of thee shall build the old waste places ; thou shalt

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 36 of 46)