H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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deterred by a band of opponents seated around him. Another
(blind) muallim, in another large mosque, brought a thick stick
and brandished it fiercely, threatening to expel me, crying, * Sir
minnfi, sir minna ! ' * Get out from us.' Happily, being blind, he
could not use his stick to advantage.

Another man, of whom I had bought a small mattress two days
before, met me, and took me to his house. I addressed him and
his women folk for some time.

I think the other extracts are scarcely worth copying. There
must be a monotony about such passages from a diary. Most
days have their mingled currents of encouragements and dis-
couragements. At present I dare not speak very hopefully of the
effort. There are many well-to-do Beloochis here from our
frontier, but Arabic-speaking. They appear far more inveterate
against the Gospel than the Arabs. Their reluctance to receive
the bible is, as I often tell them, their greatest witness against
themselves. It is an involuntary confession of its great power :
the Koran dare not meet the Bible face to face. This they cannot
deny. The unbelief of many Englishmen is constantly brought
up as an objection by the more educated travelled people here.
Still at all hazards the witness ought to he borne. Shame upon us
if we do not

To Mr. Francis French.

Muscat, Gulf of Oman, April 2, 1891.
My beloved Brother,

This being your birthday I have felt resolved to write you,
if ever so short, a letter, to let you know you are not forgotten by
your exiled brother trying to fight the battles of the Cross with

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the Arabs of the Gulf. All I have just heard of you was of your
safe arrival at New Zealand, and the pleasure given to the gentle-
man whose daughter you took charge of. I can hardly believe it
is nearly six months since I left England. . . . My health has kept
up very fairly, and I am at least as well as when I left England ;
but now the hot season threatens to set in seriously, and without
the appliances one has in India to lessen its force and enable it to
be borne better. I propose to try to make my way some little
distance into the interior ; but this may prove impracticable, owing
to the difficulties caused by rough routes and wild tribes, but
I don't like giving up the attempt timorously. I get admission
into the mosques to read and give addresses better than in Tunis,
almost better than in India . . . still a little outbui-st of violent
wrath and altercation occurs at times, and one is glad to remem-
ber St. Paul's words — 'Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities
and reproaches, and distresses for Christ's sake, for when I am
weak then I am strong.' I am not able quite to reach the mark
and to say — * None of these things move me.' Very far from it !
but this is my aim : it is like firing heavenwards and hitting
a low tree only. . . You seem the only one of us that keeps young
strength unimpaired ; were you in these parts I should almost be
disposed to enlist you for my Arab tent journey : but it is a com-
fort to think that an old man like myself can be spared while their
youngers who are living like you to help and comfort others ought
not to be sacrificed. . . . Give my love to my two cousins, whom I
so well remember, Ellen and Katie : — the old Abbey, and the lime
walks, and the funeral procession for a pet bird or other animal,
when I officiated at the grave, clad in a pinafore, as the parson I !
How the old days come back again, and treasured recollections of
our beloved Peter, whom I can scarcely think of without a tear.
We may yet meet in England next year if I live to take six months'
leave, or settle down finally in the old country.

To Mrs. Thorndike.

Muscat, April 20.

I am going to inflict a short letter upon you this mail, dearest
Agnes, from this lonely spot, where one sits as the sparrow alone
on the housetop, or would do so but that a few of the Ai'abs make
friends with me in a fashion, and one is able to realize a little
sometimes how Moses *saw the invisible,' and so endured.

The dry hot wind makes one's pen almost dry up between the
dips in the ink-bottle and the paper, and one has to sit fairly
facing the hot wind in a windowless passage, for the bedrooms are
only little dark cells. However, these are small troubles com-
pared with many my sons and daughtei-s have to encounter, and
I don't wish to complain for a moment, only one is tempted to
grumble at the difficulty of writing letters, and to defer it to better
weather and till there is livelier matter to write about. A few

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minutes with dear Gladys and her bright talk would help to cheer
and gladden one, I suspect. She seemed to promise not to be
backward that way, but you must preserve a few of her little
speeches for me. I am glad of the roof to sleep on at night,
though the nights are getting still and breathless, and the moon
seems to scorch at times when near its full. The outlook on the
sea and the fishing^boats is stUl, and a pleasant contrast to the
rugged rock-surroundings and crescentnshaped rows of white house-
roofs filling up the spaces between. A spare palm or two here and
there relieve the scene, and the forts crowning the heights. At
night one escapes the incessant muezzin cry of ' Mohammed rasool
Allah.' The adjoining mosque next door gives it full emphasis
and deep intone, for my special benefit, doubtless! Why they
should let me come in now and then, and exhort a few in their
mosques, I really cannot tell ! I fear this must be too good to last.
I say to them — You Arabs and we English are fine stout races,
why should we fight ? You have got a good part of the truth,
why should not you and we join to tell out the whole ? God's
witness concerning His Son and His Spirit? God's weakness
and foolishness as distinct from mere strength and wisdom of
men? You would have been startled to see how in my walk
through some of the streets yesterday afternoon, I had to stop
and sit down by request, and give my message. But tliis is

My chief comfort yesterday was a visit from a good honest
stalwart enquirer, who got some books three years ago, at a place
on the coast nearer Aden than this, and has stored them up and
read them, and seems full of resolute faith. He is a carpenter,
and has promised to take my journey to the interior with me, put
up tent, keep guard, and so on. If he turns out to be what he
seems he is a godsend, but I must not be over-sanguine.

Nearly a week's fevers and attacks of various sorts have left me
a little timorous and hesitating, but 'sufficient unto the day is
the evil thereof.'

I don't think I shall commend Muscat to Miss Shirley in my
reply to her queries, though Bagdad, in my poor cousin's place
there, is more eligible. I find she had fifteen days' illness, and is
terribly missed, so I learn from two aged Bible Society colporteurs
here with bibles last week, who left by mail yesterday. . . . Two
ladies went there (Bagdad) last autumn. My cousin, F. V., is
dead, and Miss Wilson, the other, is invalided to Bombay. F. V.
was more of the old Eoman type, steadily suffering and bravely
dying ; I wish we had more such. Most pressing urgent appeals
reached me yesterday from Mr. R Clark to come to their help ;
but I am in for the Arabs now, if God will, for a short season, the
last of my mission seasons, I feai' ; if I manage about three or
four years with a small break between of six months, it is about
all I dare hope to manage.


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To THE Rev. Robert Clark.

Muscat, April ao.

It costs me more pain, my dear friend, to say * No ' to your very
urgent and loving invitations than you can suppose, but such large
and expansive open doors as you set before me I feel it is hopeless
for me again to think of entering. Even last week brought back
my old fever weakness and prostration ; and all I seem capable of
is to stand as a door-keeper here, waiting to open it to any younger
and stronger men whom it may please God to send to occupy this
post, if indeed its circumstances and condition justify its selection
for a new mission at all. . . . You will not expect to hear from
me very soon again as I shall be in the interior, if it is to be
approached at least.

How much research and thoughtful pains you must have
devoted to your little work Day-daton, for which you have my
truest thanka Perhaps here or at Bona or at Hodaida we may
meet some day and be refreshed by talking over these various
open doors. The women here take a very prominent part in
opposing Christ and the word of God, which is a marked difference
between Arabia and India.

I am so glad the archbishop is to speak at the C. M. S. meeting
this year. I trust his episcopate will be a memorable epoch for
good in the Church of England. I can't get the Society to identify
themselves with the work here ; but I have felt the need of
respecting and acting out one's strong and conscientious convic-
tions. I am glad you are at Murree, and hope you may often be
able to preach. How well I recollect the Sunday you and I were
associated in preaching for C. M. S. there : we stayed with the
Urmstons. I was in wretched health, and you preached a noble
sermon. Mrs. — -. — (Brigadier's wife) said she hoped she should
never hear Mr. French again.

I told her daughter this on the Lebanon two years ago. She
was amused.

I do hope I shall not bring the bibles back from the interior,
but I can only look one day a-head. You will see my dear
daughter in the Gullies. I wish the quiet of Murree and its
walks in the woods may help to restore Mrs. Clark. Fii*mont
I had once for a season.

To Mrs. French. ^, . ^ .,

Muscat, Apnl 23.

... A sheikh of very wild description sat forty or fifty minutes

with me this morning, and we read passages about our Lord's

second coming. The parable of the Ten Virgins seemed specially

attractive to him. This being the Ramazan the bigotry of the

people is more at fever-heat, and I cannot win so patient a hearing

as before. However, Joshua'js charge from Moses and others like

it seem appropriate and helpful, and one must hold fast one's

confidence steadfastly if God will. No tidings from G. M. S. at

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present. ... At this juncture the archbishop's consent to speak at
the C. M. S. meeting is something, and means something surely ;
and shows him to be the strong, bold, self-standing man I took
him to be, please God. . . .

April 24. ... As to camp, I never feel sure of it till I am
actually started. All depends at present on the Arab who has
promised to join me keeping true to his word, and they peem to
think so little of plighted troth, whether to wives or masters, or
to God Himself, one is daily and hourly reminded of the blessed
word, *I am th^ Truthy' * Every one that is of the truth heareth
My voice.' One gets a sad idea here of the utter unreh'ableness of
the Arab, though I daresay they have some vows they hold sacred
and inviolable. I have had the happiest morning of the week
to-day, preaching in a large covered shed to a number of lepers —
men, women, and children — at the adjoining village of Matthera.
. . . There was much more quiet and serious attention than the last
time I was among them. I took a bible down for the muallim or
teacher they get some soi-t of teaching from, himself with all his
iingera mutilated almost I Perhaps these may be among the first
to enter the kingdom of God in Muscat, * the poor, maimed, halt,
blind,' &c. I met with two educated gentlemen at different points
on the way home, one elderly, the other in strong middle age.
I had a pretty long setting forth of the main truths of the Gospel
to them. ... I am thankful that the weather is bearable just,
though trying and depressing at times. At any rate it would
seem that from the middle of October to the end of April, Muscat
is habitable for Europeans in moderate health. I must send
notes to this effect to-day to Mr. Eugene Stock, if I can.

I wish I could write more, but head is very weary and there is
little to note. By next letter I shall be able to give you a clearer
idea of the future ; but in any case I feci bound to stay among the
Arabs in Arabia or Africa (God willing) till Easter of next year,
or till after May ist, which I always dread. My Arabic in any
case, and the books I am writing, ought not to suffer. Whether
after six months at home another eighteen months will be granted
me I cannot say. It is scarcely likely. That would bring me
almost to seventy, man's full age ; and thus it is very improbable,
if spai'ed, I should venture out again.

P.S.— The Arab I relied on to accompany me has come back,
and seems an earnest enquirer, and anxious to go with me \

To Miss Mills.

My deab Friend, Muscat, Gulf of Oman, April 33, 1891.

A very rapid line, alas ! is all that a very weak head and
overburdened brain can compass, I fear, in acknowledgement of your

^ In a letter to Mr. Stock of the same date the bishop adds :— * I have
sung my ** Te Deum " for him.'

C C 2

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most kind gifts for my work among the Arabs — a work which is
not very hopeful, I must confess, nor likely to be very long
continued, for the climate is unusually trying and depressing, and
the open door scarcely discoverable at present, so far as the
guiding finger of the Church's great Head and Bishop is waited
and watched for. However all is not dark, and I feel at any
rate that to forecast the future would be premature.

If I am* only an outside doorkeeper for some future porter who
may be posted within to give entrance to his Lord 'when He
comes and knocks,' I shall not have come wholly in vain. At
least I am thus able to bear witness to my undiminished interest,
I trust, in the work early committed to me, and at too fitful
intervals taken up a&esh.

If I could but train up one or two native labourers, and writ«
one or two works in this great and noble vernacular to witness
for Christ when I have my discharge and after, I should be privi-
leged indeed; it would be grace reigning through righteousness

A few copies of my reprint of Missionary Addresses will reach
you, I trust. Mr. Proctor's kind invitation elicited them, or
I should have left England without my usual message of appeal,
feeble and for the most part resultless as these have been ; yet
they come out of my heart and, I trust, out of God's simple un-
adulterated testimony — ^they do not breathe partizanship enough,
yet I must venture to maintain they are true to our reformed

I hardly know how to manage what at present is laid upon me,
not merely linguistic studies which are heavy, but teaching in the
house and in public and writing Arabic books which I consider an
essential part of my work, perhaps the most lasting, unless some
young Timothy or Titus could be left behind ! . . . I enclose
a contribution for Bishop Stirling and his great work where it is
most in need, and most tells on the native population. He is one
of the bishops whom I try very steadily to keep in mind and
plead for in prayer. My old ally, Bishop Stuart, and Bishops
Moule and Bickersteth (of Japan) being of the others.

Now I must stop, alas! as weariness comes on so soon, and
dries one's pen, though not one's heart. I am in the middle of
a chapter on 'The Cross and its lessons,' the fourth in about
twelve or fifteen chapters [in which] I purpose to place the Gospel
in its main features before the Arabs.

You will beg my old friends to be so kind as to accept copies of
my Addresses — ^with affectionate regards and Whitsunday bene-

I am, with kindest and most grateful regards.

Your truly affectionate friend,

Thos. V. Frekch, Bishop.

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To THE Rev. E« A. Kkox.
(On his acceptance of the living of Aston, Birmingham.)

Muscat, May 2, 1891.

You have certainly set us all an example of a courageous and
unstaggering faith in undertaking, after serious reflection and
doubtless much prayer, so weighty and serious a charge as that
of 35,000 souls. I confess I think few, if any, missionary posts
abroad are to be compared for utter and absolute self-devotion to
a post like that you are called to in Birmingham. This is not
the popular view, I know, but some small experience of both has
led me to this inevitable conclusion, and I shall be glad if per-
mitted in the coming kingdom to sit at the feet of very many of
my toiling, suffering, impoverished, and often well-nigh dis-
tracted brethren, charged with the spiritual care, and in many
cases the temporal relief, of such great masses of our fellow-
countrymen, so many of whom circumstances and condition
have alienated from those entrusted with the pastoral tending
and nurturing of them. My chief sorrow is that I have not
wealth at command to give any material support to the heavily
taxed and burdened institutions of your parish. Yet so much
seems to depend on the staff of fellow-labourers you are enabled
to rally round you. ... It is not that Birmingham ought to
want help from outside, yet, I suppose, like other crowded trade
centres it has its temporary depressions and panics and many
other reasons, real or imaginary, for holding the purse-strings

I shall never be able again to offer to take a Sunday for you
and set you free for needed rest. . . . My own future here is so
unsettled and undecided that I had rather not speak of it until
the kindly light I seek is clearly leading me on. At present
I cannot tell which way the guiding hand is directing me.
I have seldom experienced such trying bafflings and baulkings
of purpose. It is all well deserved, I must believe. Day dawn
may break on what is perplexed and rather overclouded. I don't
think that I shall ever be sorry that I made an attempt, how
feeble and unsuccessful soever, to reach the poor Arabs. I fear
you must have some even worse Arabs at Birmingham than those
I encounter. My two drawing-rooms in the city for Syrian schools
last year brought me into touch with some of the clergy, and I am
glad even to have had this point of connexion again with a place
of so great mark and which has played so great a part in the
merchajit history of our nation. I used to know it better still.
My poor friend Knott used to tell me much about the college and
Dr. Lee. I suppose Dr. Perowne is a man well able to appreciate
the true stuff of which his brother clergy are made, and will do
his best to second and support their zealous labours. . . . Poor
dear Ellen must heave a sigh sometimes as she forms a rough

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estimate of the pathway before her ; but she is brave and not
soon daunted, and our gracious Lord will surely not forsake you
after putting you in charge of a work to which human strength
and energy must be wholly unequal. ... I have a seivice to-
morrow in an English gunboat now in port, and hope to address
a small flock of lepers in an adjoining village, so I must close for

Dear Ellen will not attempt, I trust, to send a single line to me.
for I am siure she has not any spai'e strength. A year hence, if
our lives are spared, I may get a glance at your work and gather
the first-fruits of your experience in it. Your children will miss
the beautiful lawn and the pleasant strolls in the country. They
have to enter on the sterner realities of life. I trust I shall not
forget them and yourselves in my poor prayers.

This chapter may be closed by a few extracts from the
last letter to Mrs. French, begun on April 26 and ended on
May 3, which, besides the news contained in it, is full of
kind remembrances and references to friends in England.

To Mbs. French.

April 26. ... I hope to get out into more open country about
the 4th or 5th of May. If that is impossible I must at once try
to make for Aden and Hodaida ; of this you would have due
notice. But I want to stick to this place and its adjoining dis-
trict and hills, if it is found practicable and God favours. I should
start earlier but for my boxes not arriving. . . .

May ^rd, . . . Soon after your letter arrived this afternoon
I had to start and take an evening service on board The Sphinx
gunboat, which is again in harbour for two or three days. It is
such a joy to me to have occasion for a Sunday service, though the
morning, alas I was not available. The captain (Dyke) said he
unloaded 490 boxes this morning. Mrs. Mockler was at the
service, and the captain and another officer I think of the British
Indian steamer here to-day from Karachi to Bosrah— the same by
which I reached Muscat February 8th, all but three months ago.
It seemed quite a nice service, being composed of various elements,
engineers, thirty sailors, &c. Alas ! I fear my boxes from Mar-
seilles are not here among those unladen. ... I took an Ascen-
sion subject this evening, the last verse of i Pet iii, and told
them how the words once came to Dr. ELrapf 's aid in an hour
of despondency. I am sure it has helped me to-day, and some
words of the evening Psalm too. Your winter seems very relent-
less this year and slow te release its vigorous rule. I love to
think of possibly being with you about this time next year.
I hope to feel my way cautiously and warily and [not] push on
rashly. For the present I shall be by the coast, and know not

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how to leave it until my two boxes from Marseilles arrive, as I am
so badly off for summer garb. Colonel Mockler has really tried
to help me, and says he has really done his best to support my
interests, but he is bound to keep the sultan here acquainted with
all my movements. This may render me safer, but the work
suffers, I fear, in consequence. I addressed the lepers again this
morning and have had a few hopeful gatherings of more educated
men and women, but nothing of a novel kind. Friday I had two
separate petitions for and thankful acceptance, as it seemed, of
bibles, the first time this has occurred. But the Eamazan season
always keeps up the intolerant spirit at its extreme height. . . ,
I hope while at the sea-coast little town of Sib for the next two or
three weeks I shall be able to get letters regulaiiy despatched by
private messengers to Muscat, but you must not be anxious at not
hearing sometimes, for there is no official post despatch. Perhaps
you would send Mrs. Clay ^ two copies of my sermons. Her note
was a very affectionate one.

I have pulled through an article for Mr. Spence Grey's Review
this week on North African Mohammedan Missions, but it tires my
brain sorely to add such work to my tract and other direct mission
agencies ^ I wish it might please God through any of my notes
in the Intelligencer to call out some young and able men, saints,
but linguists too, to take up the Ajrab work. At my age I can
hope to do little besides. Thanks ... for your words of
encouragement in this letter. None so go to my heart and
cheer me as yours. Your heart seemed made and meant to
touch mine. ... I am laying up a little stock of biscuits,
tapioca, candles, t^ even a little jam, so as not to be at the
mercy everywhere of the people I may be amongst — but there
seems to be no reasonable apprehension of not getting the
necessary supplies for daily use. I hope dear little Gladys has
fought out successfully the last teething battle. It must have
been a hard struggle. I am, with much love to Agnes and the

^ ' Your own ever deeply attached husband,

Thos. V. Fb£17ch, Bishop.

The last entry in Bishop French's diary occurs on the
same date.

^ An old Burton friend of his childhood.

* In the article he calls it * this small effort of a pen which has nearly
written its ink dry, to the memory of Martyn and Pfander, and others
of my honoured brethren, whose names I must withhold here, though
treasured in affectionate recollections of work done together.'

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'High failure, towering far o'er low success,
Firm faith, unwarped by others* faithlessness,
Which, like a day, brightest at eventide.
Seemed never half so deathless, till he died.*

Arthur Waugh, Gordon in Africa,

* As we advance in holiness ... we reach at last the mountain top,
where the perfected spirit henceforth labours without weariness, nay,
rather with joy and ecstasy, because now having tamed and conquered
its unruly passions, and overcome itself and all created things, it dwells

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 42 of 46)