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H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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Muscat.

... A sight of ancient Carthage was a treat I never reckoned
on, and I revived old classical tastes by getting hold of Bosworth
Smith's work on Ancient and Modern Carthage. It is like
a romance and thrilling drama. Should Wilfrid return to his
classics with professional views, I should like to send him this
book to make a start with : helpful it must be to show how the
dead past can rise and live again to vigorous fancy and creative
skilful combinations of historic strata of facts. The Roman
strenuous and restless efforts to erect and build up a fleet to
match the Caiihaginian, and wrest from them the empire of the
sea, in which they were our predecessors, are grandly described,
and humorously in places.

There ai*e some young Hindus and Parsees on board in the
second class, and these, besides the Lascar crew, give me a little mis-
sionary work such as I desire. The Hindu passengers are of course
highly educated ; one was reading a new copy to-day of Henry
Taylor's autobiography, a refined literary classic, full of notices
of gi'eat men like Carlyle, Rogers, Wordsworth, Whately, Man-
ning. What a circulation must be given to English works of
merit by young Indians becoming purchasoi-s !

On leaving Aden the steamer just touched at Bombay,
and hence the bishop despatched an urgent letter to his
successor, explaining his own plans, and asking formal
recognition and licence.

'My present object,' he said, 'partly countenanced by the
C. M. S., but timidly and indecisively, is to spend a few weeks or
months at Muscat and the adjoining ports, to discover and report
upon present openings and possibilities of entrance for our mis-
sions, if such indeed there be, and unless— to use apostolic terms
with all humility— ** the Spirit suffers us not," or "Satan
hindei-s." As things now are this will bring me within your
episcopal supervision, and make me practically a worker in your
diocese. ... I must regard myself as one of your clergy, owing
you allegiance, and I will request you to be so kind as to send me
a certificate of formal and official permission to perform missionary
priestly functions in your diocese between Aden and Karachi,
along the Arabian shores of the Persian Gulf. . . . Bishop Steere,
in a letter given in his biography, gives it as his opinion that
a bishop resigning cannot do better than offer to help his successor
where that is practicable, and I thankfully embi-ace his judgement
and authority therefore, so far as to touch the fringe of your



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A DAY IN HARBOUR AT KARACHI 357

diocese in such a way as would be least embarrassing or savouring
of encroachment on the duty and jurisdiction assigned to an
honoured and beloved successor. . . . My health is still far from
being perfectly re-established, still I think sea voyages in the
Mediterranean and Ked Sea have helped towards a measure of
restoration, and I am mainly devoted to work among Arabs and
Moslems. I have confidence in your brotherly sympathy with
this temporary and too feeble fulfilment of plans long on my
heart."

This letter did not reach Bishop Matthew before he had
personally met with Bishop French at Karachi.

It was in some ways a real trial to French to be brought
close to his old diocese, and feel that days of Indian work
were past for him. He had registered a sort of vow not to
set foot on Indian soil again on this occasion, so the first
day till 4 p.m. was spent in writing letters in his cabin
(second class), from two of which, to Mrs. Moulson and
to Mrs. French, some extracts may be given.

To Mrs. Moulsok.

Karachi, Feb. 4th {en route for Muscat).

It seems incredible and almost insuflferably tantalizing to be
writing to you, I will not say from Indian soil^ except so far as it
is dredged out of the harbour here, for I am not landing on shore
for fear of discovery, but from an Indian poi-t and capital, and one
where so many of mTy happy working days as missionary and
missionary-bishop have been spent, and to which now I must
regard myself as one dead in human bodily personality, though
not in sympathy and living, loving relation of sympathy and
remembrance. . . . Arabs, Peraians, and Hindus are my brother-
passengers, who cook their food as well as eat it in the saloon, and
its scents at least are not savoury if its composites are : the chief
advantage being that I hear Arabic spoken incessantly and loudly,
and so a succession of moonshees keep me primed for my next
preachings. . . .

May you be comforted, as I have been to-day, with dwelling on
the apostle's thought, ** Let us run with patience, looking unto
Jesus, the Author (apxrry^v — first or chief captain or leader) and
Finisher, perfeder, of our faith («X€i»Tii^), lest ye be wearied and
faint in your minds. For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,
even as a father the son." These thoughts before dawn this
morning seemed to bring our dear Saviour nearer to me and more
as my own trusted friend, helper, counseller, than at most times
I can realize it



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358 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

God bless you and yours with fullest richest blessing in all
heavenly places and all earthly places which the changes and
chances of life bring you to, until we reach the citif which hath
foundations which God Himself hath prepared.

To Mrs. French.

(Same date.)

I get many little missionary-preaching seasons with Arabs on
board, and for once again have had some Hindustani speaking
and reading, as not a few on board were from India. ... It is
a lovely day and all looks bright. Unhappily the beautiful church
tower I admired so is out of sight. Mr. Maitland is gone on
shore to look at it, and to get some Arabic and Persian prayer-
books, if pi-acticable, for use at Muscat and Bushire. It saddens
me to thmk of my young cousin, Florence Valpy, having passed
away so soon ^ The officers of this steamer have been so ex-
tremely attentive and kind. They could not bear my being shut
up with Arabs, and kept coming to inquire quite in a brotherly
way how I was getting on. Mr. Maitland partly had my cabin
for use, and partly moves about freely without being cribbed and
cabined at all, which seems to suit him best. I believe he pays
first-class fare for this, but he can't bear to think I should travel
second and he first class. I am thankful his very popular and
graceful manners and speech should be not lost to first-class
passengers. He is so deservedly popular, with none even of the
little stiffness of manner which made G. M. Gordon appreciated
only by the more discerning. . . .

My next, please God, will be from Muscat, if we are not
prevented landing by consuls or otherwise. ... I am afraid of
Mr. Maitland getting starved there, for he wants more building
up than I do; however, he seems determined to link himself
a few weeks more to my fortunes. . . . Will you please send me
by return to Muscat Mrs. Gai-diner's Cookery Book? I expect
Mr. Maitland and I shall have occasion to use it. Mrs. G. will be
proud of being my professoress in that art, so I may add cookery
to surgery in my small way I Not much of either, I suspect. . . .
I wish Muscat had been more of a place to ask Lydia to stop at on
her way home ; but five little bairns would have found but poor
accommodation I fear, and these Arab-laden steamers would not
have suited I

The bishop was unable to preserve a strict incognito,
for when on finishing these letters he went up for a
turn on deck, *whom should I encounter/ he said, 'but



^ She had been working with much devotion as a misBionaiy under
Dr. Bruce at Bagdad.



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AN UNEXPECTED RENDEZVOUS 359

Mr. Bobert Clark and Mr. Bambridge, to whom the secret
had oozed out someliowl No one confessed to be the
guilty party, but so it was.' From them he learnt that
the bishop was expected next day on visitation for a
week before leaving for England, and at 2 p.m. that day,
French having still resisted all pressure to make him
land, some one said to him, *Here comes the bishop in
a small boat/

* So I did my best,* he wrote to Mrs. French, * to look innocent,
and went down the ladder to bring him up ; and I must say he
was most kind and brotherly, and understood how I was circum-
stanced, and the great efforts I had made till the last moment to
get straight across to Muscat, and how I had been thwarted. He
was only vexed with me, if at all, for thinking so much of form
and ceremony in the matter ; however, I felt most thankful for
having kept my vow and not landed. He had to lecture in the
evening, but stayed about three quarters of an hour in most
friendly and affectionate chat, asking all about you and Agnes,
and then about my plans, and telling me his own. ... He will
send me instructions as I desii-ed, and welcome me among his
fellow-workers, which I told him was a special gratification to me,
and so it is I Afterwards Mr. Clark came again with his daughter,
and Mr. Bambridge bringing me some jams and biscuits for the
journey, and again we had a long chat and prayer together.
I gave them some tea also, and said farewell.

The bishop I thought looking well (but he hopes to run
down and see you). . . . Evidently he has won all hearts, as
I felt perfectly sure he would, please God. The senior chaplain,
Mr. Gillmore, came with him, and seemed very happy to meet me
again, which refreshed and cheered me. Mr. Maitland was almost
the whole two days on land, and the change was doubtless good
for him. . . . Mr. Clark begged me hard to come over soon, and
have a series of missions through the Punjab stations ; but I made
no promise, and feel it most unlikely I should ever venture on
an3rthing so exciting, and requiring such delicacy of discretion to
prevent all embarrassment.'

This was the bishop's farewell sight of India, the land of
his devotion; and there is certainly something strange,
almost dramatic, in the way in which he was so unex-
pectedly brought face to face on ship-board with his oldest
missionary friend and colleague, with the bishop who had
succeeded him^ and had been like a right hand to him
through his episcopate, with a comrade of his Persian



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360 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

joumeyings, and with a most attached member of the staff
of the Punjab chaplains. There scarcely could have been
so small a gathering more truly representative of his life
interests than these few Mends, as they thus met amid
Hindus and Arabs on the steamer-deck.



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CHAPTER XXVI.



THE LONELY PIONEER.

* On to the bound of the waste, on to the city of God.'

Matthew Arnold.

* Quod si deficiant vires ; audacia certe
Laus erit, in magnis et voluisse sat est.'

* I long for the prayers of your Kttle band of intercessors ofifering this
simple request, that as the Arab has been so grievously a successful
instrument in deposing Christ from His throne (for this long season
only), in so many fair and beautiful regions of the East, ... so the Arab
may be in God's good providence at least one of the main auxiliaries
and reinforcements in restoring the Great King, and reseating Him on
David's throne of judgement and mercy, and Solomon*s throne of peace,
and, above all, God's throne of righteousness.'— Bishop French, to
* Watchers and Workers,' Muscat, April, 1891.

With his farewell to India the last stage of the bishop's
life is entered. He left Karachi on Thursday, February 5,
and reached Muscat itself on Sunday, February 8, touching
only at Gwadur by the way. The passage was not of the
smoothest, and finding the Arab horse-dealers *too over-
powering' he was forced to transfer himself to the first-
class accommodation.

Before proceeding fiirther with the narrative it may be
well to recall the steps by which he had been led to make
his final venture. When he was in England Mackay's
appeal for missionary work in Muscat had made a deep
impression on his mind, and a brief extract will show its
force and cogency. Mackay had said : —

' I do not deny that the task is difficult ; and the men selected
for work in Muscat must be endowed with no small measure of



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362 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

the spirit of Jesus, besides possessing such linguistic capacity
as to be able to reach not only the ears, but the very hearts
of men.

* Is it credible that the English universities will fail to supply
us with a sufficient number of men able to enter upon this work
at once ? When the needs of the Keith-Falconer Mission were
brought before the divinity colleges in Scotland, no less than five
of the ablest and most devoted students (graduates, I believe)
were found ready to take up the work. The English universities
are more liberally endowed with chairs of Oriental languages than
those of Scotland, while among the vastly greater number of
clergymen surely half a dozen of the right stamp will be found.
If we resolve to make the venture in faith, I doubt not but that
God will send us the proper men.

' The importance of Muscat, as a missionary centre for work
among the Arabs, can scarcely be over-estimated ; but the post
must be held by no feeble staff. As the nature of the case pre-
cludes public preaching in bazaars and evangelistic work of the
more ostentatious kind, attention should be concentrated in two
directions :

'(i) Medical, in which the assistance of trained ladies will
prove a powerful softener of opposition ;

* (2) Educational, chiefly with the view of training young Arabs
to be missionaries to their fellow-countrymen. Any idea of trying
to introduce the teaching of English should be considered entirely
out of the question. From the first the staff should have the
assistance of a Christian native pastor from Syria, India, or some
other Mohammedan land, one who is an approved worker for
Christ. Such a man with two Europeans (clerical and medical),
and not less than two ladies, I should consider barely a sufficient
staff to begin the work. ... It is almost needless to say that the
outlook in Africa will be considerably brightened by the establish-
ment of a mission to the Arabs in Muscat. If the claims of India
have a title to be considered paramount, equally so have those of
Muscat ; for in no part of the earth, at least over no other area
so wide as Central Africa, have Mohammedans such power for
influencing the work of the C. M. S.*

It is easy to see how this appeal was one that touched
the bishop in the very points on which he was the most
susceptible. The work was for the Arab and Mohammedan;
it had a special bearing on that great African field to which
he had always, and lately more especially, looked with the
keenest interest. It was a challenge to the older universi-
ties; it called for high linguistic talent in the tongue
that had absorbed his later efforts — ^the work must be



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mackay's appeal and French's answer 363

* vernacular'; and lastly, but not least, it was a call to show
the spirit of the Lord Jesus on what was still, so far as
missions were concerned, a virgin soil.

Yet it is clear Mackay had not contemplated the sending
of a * lonely pioneer,' and all that Bishop French himself at
first proposed in writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury
was, * I should not refiise, I trust, if invited, to accompany
as unpaid volunteer a small brotherhood enlisted to occupy
that field/ Again from Africa he wrote to Mr. Wigram
and to Mr. Eugene Stock, urging the special claims of the
mission upon the C. M. S., and stating his own readiness to
act in their employ.

The Society received his overtures with sympathy, but

* timidly and indecisively.' Deafened with din of cries for
help from their existing stations, and too mindful perhaps
of past ecclesiastical divergences in India, they held aloof
and stood in doubt of him. But his own faith was not to
be restrained. His other projects failing, he pushed on,
weakened with sunstroke (the old stroke of the Derajat)
and weighed down with years, yet striving to *keep the
door ajar,* as he expressed it, till men were found both
strong and bold enough to come and fully open it. For
a few months the effort was sustained, and on his death the
door closed to, and none of his own Church and country was
found prepared to force it back again. It is a stirring and
pathetic sight, and if some ask, *Cui bono?— to what pur-
pose ? ' — and are ready to exclaim with the French general
at Balaclava, * C est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre/
others with even greater justice will regard it as another
illustration of the words, * Except a com of wheat fall into
the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it
bringeth forth much fruit.*

* God hath His mysteries of grace,
Ways that we cannot tell,
He hides them deep, like the hidden sleep
Of him He loved so well.*

And now the spot selected for his final venture must be
described at somewhat greater length than hitherto.



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364 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

'Muscat, the capital of Oman/ says Mr. Curzon, 'is probably
one of the most pictui-esque places in the world. Prom a dis-
tance immense granitic masses of rock with jagged outline of cliff
and crag are seen ascending in gloomy abruptness from the sea.
Far inland ridge rises upon ridge, splintered edge above and
savage fissures between, the impression being that of a country
upheaved from Nature's primeval cauldron and still scarred and
blackened by those terrific fires. In this seawall of sheer rock
a gap is suddenly disclosed, opening into a little cove, land-locked
on three of its sides by these stupendous natural ramparta In
the furthermost recess of the bight, which is about one mile deep
by half a mile in width, upon a narrow space of flat ground left
by some freak of Nature between the mountains and the sea, is
built the Arab capital, its plastered houses glittering against the
sombre background like a seagull's wing against an angry sky.
Aucher-Eloy, the botanist, said that compared with the Muscat
hills those of Sinai itself are a garden.

'The climate of Muscat in summer is indeed an exceptional
horror, and has tested alike the vocabulary and the imagination
of the most fanciful writers.

'John Struys, the Dutchman, who was here in 1672, said that
it was **so incredible hot and scorching that strangers are as if
they were in boiling cauldrons or in sweating tubs." But his
description pales before the rhetorical flights of the worthy
Abdur Kezak, a Persian, who in May, 1442, had left on record
that—

' " The heat was so intense that it burned the marrow in the
bones ; the sword in its scabbard melted like wax, and the gems
wliich adorned the handle of the dagger were reduced to coal.
In the plains the chase became a matter of perfect ease, for the
desert was filled with roasted gazelles."

' Of more practical value as evidence will be the statement that
in the heats between June and August the ordinary thei-mometer
bursts, and that those graded high enough have placed the solar
radiation at 189° Fahr. The rainfall is only three and a half
inches, and the whole of this falls within a period of two or thi-ee
weeks.

'The town itself is one of no size or pretentiousness. . . .
Every man carried in his belt a small dagger with curving
blade, and scabbard richly ornamented with silver, and most were
armed in addition with immensely long single-barrelled match-
lock guns also silver-plated, and with deer's hide bound round
their stocks. The women increase their natural hideousness by
a kind of veil which consists of two strips of embroidery, with an
aperture for the eyes between, a stiff band resting on the bridge
of the nose and connecting the two. Both men and women are
extraordinarily black, the genuine Arab having been swamped
here in the African type, and many of both sexes present the



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MUSCAT AND OMAN 365

purely negro physiognomy. It was of the people of Muscat that
the English ship's captain, being instructed on visiting strange
places to make a report of the manners and customs of the
inhabitants, penned the famous saying, "As to manners they
have none, and their customs are beastly '." '

So far Mr. Curzon ; it must be said, however, that General
Haig s description of the place and climate is more favour-
able and far less deterrent.

*Oman, though properly speaking the title applies only to
a certain district around Muscat, is the name given to the whole
country lying between Eas-el-Had (the easternmost point of
Arabia) and Bahrein. It is in area about the size of England, and
has a coast line of some 700 miles in length. It is under the sway
of an independant Mohammedan Prince, commonly called the
Imam or Sultan of Muscat. . . The total population is estimated
by Colonel Miles* not to exceed 1,000,000 or 1,500,000. There are
numerous towns of 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants, Somail and a few
others having as many as 14,000 or 15,000. Muscat, the capital,
has a population of 20,000, and Muttra, only two miles distant,
30,00a Muscat, the port, is hemmed round on the land side by
precipitous hills over which there is no road, and Muttra, which
has no such obstacle between it and the interior, is the entrepot
for the distribution of the imports and exports, which are sent to
and from Muscat by sea. Thus the two towns are separated by
only half an hour of boat carriage, and vii-tually form but one
centre of ti-ade.

• The climate is pleasant for about half the year. During the
summer months the heat is often great, though tempered by the
sea breezes. It is probably not nearly so severe as that of the
Punjab or Sindh in the hottest months. The rainfall, which is
only six to ten inches on the coast, is much higher in the interior.
About forty miles from Muscat the mountains rise to a height of
6,000 feet, and have of course quite a temperate climate. Oman is
separated from the rest of Arabia by a sandy deseii. It is, in fact,
as far as communication with the rest of the world is concerned,
an island with the sea on one side and the desert on the other.
Hence its people are even more primitive, simple, and unchanged
in their habits than the Arabs generally. Along the coast, how-
ever, and especially in Muscat and Muttra, they are more in
contact with the outer world. Large numbers go to Zanzibar, the
Sultan of which l3 a brother of the Sultan of Muscat, and which
was originally subdued by Arabs from Oman. The British India
Company's steamers call once a fortnight at Muscat, and in the
date season others also visit the coast There are many Indian



^ Curzon'8 Pei-sia, vol. ii. p. 439. ^ A former Resident.



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366 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

traders from Bombay in Muscat, there is also a large admixture in
the coast towns of Beloochis from the opposite coast. The
Sultan's troops ai*e largely recruited from this source. . . The
Omanese fishermen also take a very wide range, going down
the coast of India as ^far as Comorin, and even to Africa and the
Mauritius. The Persian Gulf teems with fish ; as many as 6,000
boats are employed in fishing (from all the different ports on both
sides of the sea), and the annual take is estimated at 160,000 tons.
Salted fish is constantly being sent into the interior, and forms an
important article of food.

'The Arabs of Oman ai*e a finer race physically, and I am
inclined to think in many other respects, than those around Aden,
as well as much handsomer. They have a manly and inde-
pendent bearing, and a pleasing frankness and openness of manner.
There is an entii'e absence of anything like servility or cringing.
They think themselves the first race on the face of the earth, and
their manner, while perfectly polite, is the natural expression of
this feeling. They are tolerant towards other religions. . .

* My belief is that a man with a good knowledge of the language
would be free to make known the Gospel in Oman if he set to
work quietly and unobtrusively ; and in this opinion I am sup-
ported by others much better acquainted with the people thMi
myself. I have also high authority for the belief that the Sultan
would offer no opposition . . . British influence, it must be
remembered, is supreme in Oman, and I cannot but think it
would be the fault of a missionary if he did not succeed in gaining
a footing among this interesting people \*

The manner of the bishop's coming and the nature of his
avocations day by day are described in a letter of Mr. Mait-
land to Mrs. Moulson, written March 18, 1891, shortly after
he had left him :—

* As I dare say you would like to know something more of your



Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 39 of 46)