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 40 of 46)
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father and his surroundings than he has told you, I am going to
give you a little account of his stay in Muscat while I was with

* We arrived there from Karachi on February 8, not in the
least knowing how or where we should put up, nor in any way
provided for setting up house on our own account. We landed
and spent some hours in trying to get some one to find a house or
rooms where we could lodge, as your father did not wish to accept
any hospitality from the political agent. Colonel Mockler, nor
even to call upon him till we were settled somewhere. At last
a Hindu merchant, to whom he applied, got a Goanese half-caste

^ See ' Arabia as a Mission Field/ by General Haig, C. M. InteUigencet\
July, 1887, p. 409 sq.

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to take us in ; so we went back and got our baggage from the
steamer, and settled ourselves as well as we could in a longish
room, very dirty, with one charpoy in it, a broken couch, and
a number of chairs. Luckily Mr. and Mrs. Bambridge of
Karachi had asked me to take a little box with some biscuits,
coflFee and milk, jam, &c., for your father. We got a kettle boiled
and had some coffee and biscuits. Later we got some chapatis
and milk from the bazaar. In the evening the head clerk from
the political agent's office called, but your father would not see
him. However, I learnt from him in conversation that we were
lodged in the Portuguese grog-shop for the Arabs ! — a curious
beginning of a mission to them ; but fair flowers often grow in
unpromising places. After two days' fruitless endeavour to get
a house in Muscat, either through others or by our own searchr—
a large part of Muscat having fallen down in a cyclone last year —
and being pretty sick of the grog-shop, your father decided to
accept an offer made us on board the steamer by the American
consul at Muscat, a Mr. Mackirdy, of his house at Muttra, a large
town three miles by boat from Muscat. Then we called on
Colonel Mockler, who was a little bit stiff, not unnaturally
perhaps ; and off we went to Muttra. Mr. Mackirdy sent a ser-
vant to put us into the house, who got it swept out a bit, arranged
with a bihishti to bring us water daily, and a woman to supply us
with milk, went with me to the bazaar to buy some sugar, candles,
&c., and then had to return to Muscat, and we were left monarch
(and attendant) of all we surveyed. Luckily there were some
degchies (cooking pots), and plenty of cups and plates in the house.
I had bought two teaspoons and a rusty knife in Muscat, and got
three more tin spoons in Muttra, Excellent Persian bread was to be
bought close by, so I boiled the kettle and made some tea, and we
dined. We were to have had evensong together afterwards, but
the place was so dirty (not having been occupied for seven or eight
months), and I took so long wa&^ing up and getting a clean place
to put the things that — well, evensong was not said together.

' Now I had better take a day, as days were much alike in their
main outline.

* Your father used to get up early, I about daylight (the sandflies
and mosquitoes were terrible, and we had no proper bedding or
nets at first, though we did better afterwards). He did his
devotions and reading while I lighted the fire, did my tubbing in
the scullery ! went out and got bread, milk, and eggs, and got break-
fast ready. Then we had breakfast together. He used to work
at Arabic hard all the morning up to 1.30. I used to go out
about one o'clock and get things for dinner, some curry or fried
fish, and rice from the bazaar, bread, and dates, and tea.

* After dinner we used to have a little service together, and then
about four o'clock your father would go out sometimes alone to
preach or read to the people, sometimes for a walk with me into

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the country behind Muttra, or to a village in the neighbourhood,
often getting a talk with the people, and if occasion ofTeied
reading to them. We used to get back about dark, and after tea
to have evensong together, after which we were generally so
sleepy that he used to go to bed at once, and I to struggle vainly
to keep awake and go to bed later.

' A^r about ten days we got a servant, a niceish lad, who can
cook fairly, who used to sleep in Muscat and come over in the
mornings generally while we were at breakfast, and go back in the
afternoons. He is to sleep in the house now that your father is
alone. Things are pretty well in train, and I don't think your
father will have any difficulty about food and lodging so long as
he is in his present quaiters. He is very well, he says he feels
much stronger than at any time since he left India, and though
he gets very tired by evening, seems always fresh in the morning,
and is able to work hard without a break, except for breakfast, up
to 1.30.

^ He would never let me go into the bazaar with him when he
preached, but I gathered that the people sometimes listened well,
sometimes opposed, and occasionally were rude.

* There are no Europeans or Christians of any sort, so far as
I know, in Muttra; but there is a clever little Indian doctor,
a retired surgeon-major in the I.M.D.', who has been fifteen years
in the place, and knows it like the palm of his hand. And in
Muscat I am sure Colonel Mockler and Mr. Mackirdy would do
anything in their power to help your father. (Mr. M. did send
over some knives and forks of his own accord, and lent us some
dusters !)

*Your father's energy and enthusiasm are wonderful, as you
know, and his example and devotion to his Master's cause some-
thing priceless to have known. God's blessing cannot fail to be
with him, even though the work may not be done in quite the
way he wishes. And there certainly is a special providence
watching over him in all his ways.'

The account maybe continued from the bishop's letters : —

To Mrs. French.

Muscat, Fch, 12, 1891.
Muttra, like Muscat, lies in a small basin, five-sixths of whose
circumference is shut in with lofty hills, on the summit of each
of which is perched a fort or castle; and the other one-sixth
has the sea facing it, with small sailing boats gently tossing
iis wave and breeze lift and stir them^. There seem to be ten

^ Indian Medical Department.

' There were often as many as fifty or sixty of these in at once, and
' incredible piles ' of fish upon the shore.

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or twelve mosques (in Muttra, I mean), and a few rather well-
built structures; mercantile houses like Mr. Mackirdy's, and
shops of rather mean dimensions; the majority of the houses
in small compounds, fenced round with fibres of dried palm
branches and matting of reeds, only one out of seven, perhaps,
what we call pukka buildings in India. Negroes, Hindus,
Beloochis, Persians, and a large proportion of Arabs with
camels from the interior compose the population, so it is a
babel of tongues ; but I try to avoid speaking every tongue
but the Arabic, and would engage no servant but Arabic-
speajcing — an Arab if possible, but they are too proud to take
seivice. So we are living at the top of this house without
a servant at all, only Mr. Maitland will do all menial work,
washing up plates and dishes, cooking eggs, boiling water, and
getting what is needful from the bazaar \ To-day we bought
some curry and rice ready cooked (Agnes must be so kind as not
to make fun of us, nor Wilfrid). Eggs and milk are readily
to be had, and very good and fresh native bread. So we are
not starved at all, and I am (for me) in the best of health,
and feel assured the morrow will take thought for the things
of itself.

The only English speiaker here is a surgeon-major, one of
the Indian. Army, a Mahratta Brahmin apparently, a man of
some real learning and scientific pursuits, and still in the pay
of the Indian Government for keeping up a hospital here. We
did not call on the English consul. Colonel Mockler, the two
first days, as I thought it would seem too much as though we
came by Government invitation and sanction, and under their
protection. Mr. Maitland thinks that it was not treating him
quite well, but I could not see that I should be right in
embarrassing him with the Sultan of Muscat by making him
seem to be partner with me in my proceedings. He expressed
himself courteously but no less distinctly unfavourable to the
project, and seemed fully assured it was hopeless and surrounded
with difficulties. He suggested Bahrein as a better place, because
it was an island ; but I said none of the young missionaries
assigned to such a mission would be content to be shut in

^ Mr. Maitland wrote to Mi-s. French, July 5, 1893 : — * You know that
anything that 1 can do for dear Bishop French is a very great and high
pleasure to me. Would to God I could be more like him, and not only
do trifles in memory of him. When I think of him and his work it
recalls our time at Muscat : it is such a fit picture of our measure, he
preached the gospel and I washed the plates. I am thankful to have
washed his plate. I should like to be still nearer to him in his work
than that ; but I was giving an address on the parable of the talents
this morning, and I did my best with the plates; and I don*t mind
saying I washed plates better than he did ! '

VOL. n. B b

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where few ships called, and no journeys into the interior were
practicabla At any rate, he said residence here in the hot
season would be impracticable, and of this I said I was equally
convinced. Dr. Jayaker (the surgeon-major) spoke of a mountain
ninety miles off, called Jubbul Akhdar or the Green Moun-
tain, which was quite accessible, and reached by caravan
through a district where villages were met with at intervals,
and provisions were procurable. So with a decent servant this
might be managed with donkeys and camels, which are to be
had. If this fails Hodaida with the highlands beyond, which
General Haig travelled over and found free from serious difficulty
and danger, would be reached in a very few days from Aden, and
with small expense, and I should be still among the Arab tribes,
such as I seek to find entrance to. But the hot weather will
scarcely be overpowering for three months to come, so I have
time to make more inquiries and preparations. I hope to write
to-morrow for a Swiss tent to India, so as to be independent of
finding house room and accommodation in caravanserais. The
Arabic spoken here and at Hodaida is far purer than in Tunis
and Egypt, and I am much better understood, which is a comfort.

To Mks. French.

Muscat, Gulf of Oman, Feb, 22, 1891.
I delight to write my letters to you on Sunday when I can :
it is a day for special oneness of heai*t and closeness of sympathy
between us, which has been rendered all the more sacred and
deep, I feel sure, by our enforced long separations and partings.
I have just been having a quiet service with Mr. Maitland ; . . .
we have been reading a beautiful sermon of Canon Liddon's, on
* Rejoice in the Lord alway,' preached at St. Paul's in 1875.
I have not much of a very encouraging nature to record.
Difficulties and hindrances abou^id, and seem likely to do so
at present Muscat is full of mosques, and they are fairly well
attended by women as well as men, more so than in any
Mohammedan city I have seen. There are a few schools for
boys and girls. There must be a fair number of people who
can read. The bazaara are chiefly in the hands of Bcloochis,
Persians, and Hindus, but the bulk of the population is Arab,
and Arabic is the colloquial. I decline to talk any other
language myself, as I feel I have done with India so far as
personal work goes. They are such dark places these bazaars, as
to be almost like mole-burrows underground. I bought some very
thin linen, almost gauze-like, to make a temporary mosquito net
of, and it answers its purpose fairly. I hope to get a durzi (tailor)
from the larger bazaar two miles off, to make up something like
that in the box left at Marseilles, as well as some white umbrella
covers and some white trousers. I do not feel quite sure enough

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of staying the summer here to have my boxes sent as yet\
Every move becomes so serious with those great cases to be
rq>acked. I am so thankful that for the present Mr. Mackirdy,
the American consul (Scotch merchant), begs me to keep on
in these upper rooms above the seashore. The house is in
the midst of a dense population, yet as it out-tops them all
and has a roof which makes a little promenade (if we had time
to walk on it, and the ladder up to it was not so shaky !), it is
really just the kind of mission house we want ; and I have got
a fairly respectable servant, a decent cook — he would almost have
suited you — for ten rupees a month ; so poor Mr. Maitland is
released of some of his menial services, which you will be
glad to hear.

I have had four or five long bazaar preachings (in Arabic
of course), and on the whole have very intelligible conversations
and addresses, and understand most of what they say to me —
very much at any rate, and this will grow daily.

I cannot say that I have met with many thoughtful and
encouraging hearers or people who want Bibles and Testaments ;
there is much of holding aloof, and even occasionally of bitter and
angry opposition, but not as much as I have often met with
in Lahore. The Arabs on the whole seem the most quiet and
thoughtful hearers, even the Bedawin themselves. I must at
least thank God that even the first fortnight I have been able
to secure so much of patient attention and real opening up of
the great truths of the Gospel. I could hardly have expected
to get as far as this.

Dates, bread, and eggs with tea are our staple articles of food,
the dates being first-rate and wondrously cheap, the whole
country producing them plentifully. Fish makes a very useful
variety and is really good. ... I cannot get hold of a sheikh or
mooUah to help me in my translations, which is a great desider-
atum. * There are such among us ' (an Arab hearer said yesterday,
a woodcutter who offered me a seat in his shop to sit down
and read), * but they are strangers to you and you to them, so it
is not easy to get them.' So one is reminded of being a stranger
in a strange land. ... I have written to Dr. Sutton to ask if he
can send me for my hot weather journey to the hills above
Muscat one of the young Syrian catechists who accompanied me
to Antioch and Beyrout three years ago. It will be a help to me
if he can, and a comfort to look on a Christian face, and one who
can join in a service '. . . . The second summer, if God will, I may

^ This hesitation had fatal consequence, as the non- arrival of his
boxes delayed his starting for the hills in May.

* Dr. Sutton was away ; indeed, he was actually in the port of Muscat
some weeks afterwards without the bishop at Muttra knowing it ; and
so the catechist was never sent.

B b 2

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hope to fulfil my purpose of being with you, unless any Arab
churches should be formed, which would only be by such
a miracle of God's grace as only a very strong, unfaltering faith
could expect or desire to see. A steamer (British India Company)
sailed into Muscat harbour this morning. It reminded me
pleasantly of the outer world and of possible communications
with it, and above all with homa

I am of course pushing on very hard with Arabic, copying
out verses to give to more hopeful inquirers to carry home,
and preparing a tract of a simple kind on the leading articles
of the creed which might be helpful to catechumens, with a small
dictionary of the more useful theological terms which might help
young missionaries in preaching and translating. These, whether
in the end carried into effect or no, give me plenty to do and
more than I can do well. My * Hilary' work has to stop till
the sheikh I seek is procurable. I scarcely think that any four
months of my various missionary experiences have been more
full of interest and hard work than the last four, and for this,
considering my years, I have much cause to thank God heartily
and hopefully. I have now Bishop Matthew's authority ' besides
the archbishop's blessing, and am preparing a report of the
capacities of Muscat for the C. M. S. So I am not a loafer in
the proper sense, though if the C. M. S. refuse to recognize my
connexion with them formally, I shall beg the archbishop to
put my work here into some official connexion with his Board
of Missions ; this is what I propose to myself at least. Colonel
Mockler still does all he can to dissuade my selecting Muscat
for a centre. . . .

Feb. 27. The last day before mail leaves, and alas ! so little
to add ; one day is so like another, and the great world so shut
out. . . .

There is no chance, I think, of our leaving this suburb or rather
sister-town for Muscat, as it seems hopeless to think of finding
decent lodgings there. It was a providence indeed which made
the American consul our fellow-traveller, so it seems at least.
Beyond mosquitoes and sandflies and occasional gusts of dust-
bearing wind, which it is hard to get our tables and chairs clean
from ^as the sitting-rooms are passages open to the outer air), we
have really little to complain of. Mr. Maitland stays another fort-
night, but the servant does tolerably well and cooks plain things
fau'ly. He was with some Englishman a short time. To have
no Christian in the house or place (suburb, I mean) will be
a trial. . . . Now I must close, grieving only that I cannot send
you a brighter letter ; still I have much to be thankful for.
I cannot expect an effort like this to be easy and everything
ready to hand. It is all pioneering work.

Given personally at Karachi. See vol. i. p. 378.

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To Mrs. Knox. „,

Feb. 27.

. . . Lydia sent me a photograph of her little group on receipt
of mine from Karachi. . . . You will be surprised to hear of the
coincidence which caused my meeting Mr. Clark and the bishop.
Had Lydia only been there, it would have been almost a concen-
tration of all Indies to me in small compasa But as a villager
told me the other day, I was no Englishman but an Arab ! I shall
be in danger of becoming an alien to my mother's children and
friends, not to my oum children, I trust even then, and grand-
children. With a tanned and dyed skin, however, and added
wrinkles, even Ethel and Eddie might fail to recognize grandpapa.
So Eddie has begun his schooldays : may they be days he will
look back upon with happy thankfulness and joy hereafter. . . .
Two days ago a large party of Arabs (ladies and gentlemen, the
former standing, the latter sitting) made almost a dead set at me
to induce me to turn Mohammedan. It was a new experience to
me, but useful as enabling me better to understand the feeling an
Arab or Hindu would have in being so approached with a view to
changing a faith deai* to him as life itself, and so with the Mos-
lems usually it is. They used to say to Mackay — * Ah, you come
and try to convert the Uganda people and other idol worshippers ;
you never tried to convert us at Muscat I ' I hope my small visit
here may in some tentative and broken way help to refute that
charge ; but one feels it a serious matter, and the grace needed
a very special and constantly replenished one from Him in whom
all fidness dwells. Happily we have the promise for Arabia twice
repeated by name in the seventy-second Psalm (Prayer-book ver-
sion). Was it that which took St Paul so soon into Aiabia ?
I remember trying for the Latin verse prize (which I did not get,
Sandars, a distinguished lawyer since, got it), of which the subject
was Ardbes, but I little thought of the near contact I should be
brought into with them. Muscat, for better or worse, has lost its
celebrity, however, of late years from various causes : feeble rulers,
transference of commerce to Zanzibar, contending sheikhs, &c. . . .
The Bishop of Lahore has begged me to visit my old diocese and
consecrate the Quettah church, for which I fought the Government
and even the Commander-in-Chief lather hard ; but I feel I dare
not venture on so exciting an effort. It was a noble act of
generous brotherly kindness on his part.

To Mbs. Fsench.

Muscat, March 9, 1891.
Just a little beginning of a letter for the mail of the 14th that
I may not be too hurried at last. It is the mail by which
Mr. Maitland leaves me, and sorry though I am to part with him,
I yet feel that it does not quite suit his health, and it would be
such a giief to me if he suffered on my account, and a young life

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full of promise for service were damaged for an old and sadly
exhausted one like mine. Yet you will be much comforted . . .
by knowing how beyond all my expectations I am permitted to
witness here to companies of educated and thoughtful Arab sheikhs
and their followers, as e. g. last evening I sat an hour in a circle of
them, their sheikh at their head, going through very many of
the most vital Gospel truths, and listened to with very marked
attention and seriousness. ... I began last evening by speaking
to them of the coming kingdom of God and Christ, reading
David's last words in 2 Sam. xxiii. 3, 4, 5, which is now under-
stood by expositors of the great King that was to come, a Euler
among men, just, the fear of God (impersonated). And He shall
be as the light, &c. Then from Isaiah xxxv. and Psalm Ixxii.
I showed some of the characteristic features of this kingdom, and
how the kings of Arabia and Seba should bring gifts (which
seemed specially to arouse their attention). Then the way was
open for further reference to the kingdom of Christ as set up in
the heaii, being in effect a new creation through repentance and
death to sin with Christ, and resurrection with Him to a higher
and holier life. Many questions they asked as to prayers, pil-
grimages ; what I thought of Mohammed and the Koran ; what
would become of the drunkard and the fornicator in the coming
kingdom : in answer to which last I read much of Rev. xxi. and
xxii, which seemed to strike them much.

This happened in a village one and a-half miles out of Muscat,
to which Maitland and myself walked out in the afternoon after
our morning service was over, and after I had received your two
prized letters (via Aden), the last dated February 6. ... To be
80 courteously, almost cordially^, welcomed by those Arab desert-
rangers, if it be only once out of five visits paid and addresses
given, is cheering beyond description, and leads me growingly to
hope I am not come unsent and unauthorized, though the Society
in its notice of my letter states that the subject requires further
consideration. For the present I must be satisfied with this. . . .
Such a work, of course, has its lights and shades, its ups and
downs, moments of depi-ession and uncertainty, and then again
others of deep thankfulness and assurance ; yet I feel it does
realize many old vivid hopes, to which the last three years'
thoughts and studies have added ever-deepening impressions,
and from which no providential calls elsewhere have diverted
me. So I can only plead the prayer for us both, * Lead, kindly
light' ... I send this week for some of my boxes from Marseilles,
the clothes trunk especially, and one of the book boxes, as I find
it impossible to find a durzi here who can make the most neces-
sary apparel at all decently. St. Paul could scarcely have got his
cloak repaired had he needed it! I got an old sheikh at last,
nearly eighty years and blind, to come and help me in pushing
on my work ; but he will not do much good, I fear, and his
character does not seem to stand very high, or his hands to be

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clean of bribes in the law courts here. In walking round Muscat
on Thursday, I met his son with some companions, and began
asking about moollahs. He commended his own father and took
me to their house, where the ladies courteously gave me coffee
and sweetmeats, and we had a long and friendly converse for one
and a-half hours. So I came across the old sheikh, and got fresh
entrance to an Arab house, which is necessary to my intercourse
with the people and improved knowledge of them. I had gone
over to see the hospital which the Indian government maintains
for the poor and sick under the charge of Surgeon-Major Jayaker
of the Bombay army.

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 40 of 46)