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 6 of 46)
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' I should think this king had one of the most lengthy reigns
on record. It is not quite certain whether he reigned sixty-nine
or seventy years. I fear our good queen will not beat that.
Yesterday we were between the Persian and Arabian coasts in
the Straits of Ormuzd. I think I shall have much clearer ideas
of some points in geography than before. Poor Ormuzd, once so
proverbial ("the wealth of Hormuzd or of Ind," says Milton), is
so reduced that it only exports some rock salt, of which it is
largely composed. Once it was the entrepot of the vast com-
mercial wealth which passed between Venice, Portugal, and
India. Sic transit gloria mundi\ Would it could be realized
that these poor souls, dwelling along these rocky, craggy coasts,
are more precious to Jesus than the pearls of price. Truly Jesus
dived far deeper to find them than these poor fishermen do. The
one pearl is toil-bought ; the other blood-bought.'

Here too, at Lingah, the bishop held a service on board
the vessel interrupted by the blowing away of a sail in a
sudden squall. He must (to judge from the notes remaining

^ Named ' Grubb*8 Notch,' after some old Indian sea-captain.
'^ In another letter the bishop quotes the old couplet : —
Si terraram orbis quaqaa patet, Had the world's golden circuit

annulus esset an opening and joint,

lUius Ormusium, gemma decus- Then Ormuzd, methinks, were
que foret. that fair jewel point.

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in his diary) have preached a very striking sermon on the
verse, ' The people stood beholding.* A few words may be
given : —

*What is it men behold? Is it not beauty, grand moral
beaut>'. which Lacordaire finds so pre-eminently in the Saviour ?
** In Thy Majesty" : the Vulgate has in specie tua et pulchriiudine
tua. What so touchingly, i^ectingly, impressively beautiful as
a refined, suffering face?

' Christ is a spectacle to three worlds (angels, men, devils). The
modern theorizing (dfatmv)^ like the old beholding. To which of
the groups of the beholders do I belong? Do I look on the
Crucified One as John, as the Virgin, with deep unutterable
love, following Him even there? or with deep penitence as
Peter ? The true effect of looking expressed in the day's collect,
•'That every member of the Church may truly and godly serve
Thee." '

The bishop was much delighted on this journey with the
Life ofPerreyve, which he was reading for the second time,
and highly recommended it to Basil : —

'I wish,' he said, *I had known it when I was young; how
much higher would my notions of life and duty have been, and
of the best way to become a good writer and speaker. ... It was
a sort of epoch in my life when I came to read Lacordaire,
Perreyve, and Gratry, reading all, however, in the light of God's
most precious word, and of the experience of life and of the
world of man and nature.'

On Easter Eve he continued : —

'It is beautiful, charming weather now, and calm seas, so
I can get on with my work, whether preparing sermons or
studying Persian works of the kind which are most extensively
read and discussed, if at least the moollahs are like they were in
Martyn's time. The doctrine of the Platonic ideas (t^<ni or tl^n)
takes a great hold upon them, and inflates them with conceits
and notions, vsdndy and empty, rather than solid food. Such
doctrines as the resun*ection and the new creation have no place
among them, no spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge
of Him, of Jesus Christ.'

And the same day he wrote to Mr. Clark : —

* We are now nearing Bushire. I have been able to do a little
in Persian with the native passengers, and in reading to them out
of the Arabic testament, which they seem to like, but there has

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not been rnuch^ encouragement thus far. I wish I may pick up
a little bit of H. Martyn's fallen mantle. I have been comforted
by preparing a sermon for to-morrow on the text, "He hath
begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of
Jesus Christ." I wish I had more to tell you, but I have seen
little but barren rocks, and we only landed twice, the Arabs
being not to be trusted along this inhospitable coast, and the
Arabic not at all pure.'

Next day, March 25, he wrote to Mrs. French : —

'Only think of my landing first in Persia proper on Easter
Day morning, a day of happy auspices and promise I trust for
my journey, and for the little work it may please God to give
me to do in testifying that Christ should be the first that
should rise from the dead and give light to the people and the
Gentiles *.

* Happily we got in quite early, and as Colonel Eoss, the
resident, sent a steam-launch for me, I was at the Residency, about
three miles or more from where the vessel anchored in the open
roadstead, by about 8.30 a.m. . . . The town is very like an
Egyptian town of the second or third class, only in each court-
yard is a date palm, the same donkeys and boys ! . . . Mr. Bruce
has sent an old and tried servant, an Armenian, to help and take
care of me on the road, and provide necessaries 1 may require
beyond what I have in the way of stores.'

At Bushire the bishop lingered till March 30, preparing
for his journey, and there is little to record of interest. Of
the sixty Europeans in the town and the adjoining telegraph
station some fifty attended the Church services, though there
were few communicants. The bishops ministrations were
evidently valued, as under the depressing circumstances of
the Persian Gulf stations he urged the need of lively hope
in Christ. At the telegraph station he consecrated a little
spot of ground in a public garden, where a dear child was
buried. His first little sermon in Persian was preached on
March 26, beside a large school of little boys learning to
recite prayer ; it was an exposition of part of St. John x.,
* I am the door/ With the Armenians too he had some

' It is another point of contact with Henry Martyn 's life, for Martyn
wrote : * I left India on Lady-Day, looked at Perpia on Easter Sunday,
and seven days after found myself in Arabia Felix.'

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intercourse. The priest called on him and asked him to
celebrate a marriage in his chnrch— a plain building in
decent order, containing several graves of officers fallen
in the attack on the Persian forts in 1858. The priest
was unable to officiate himself as the Armenian Lent was
not yet over. The bishop, after a day for consideration,
consented to perform the wedding.

'It seemed so strange,' he said, *to put on my robes in an
Armenian church. The bride was so closely veiled that I have
no idea what she looked like ; her bridesmaid had to translate the
pledges into Arabic for her, tho only language the bride mider-
stood. We had sweetmeats at the priest's afterwards.'

On Friday, March 30, he started at 7.30 in Mr. Paul's
steam-launch, reaching Shif at 9, and accompanied thus far
by the Armenian priest, the Rev. Basil. The bishop's
companions in travel were two colporteurs, Benjamin and
another, and George, an Armenian Christian and agent of
the Bible Society, all members of Bruce^s flock at Ispahan,
and Karaput, the servant Bruce had sent him. They found
their mules awaiting them upon the shore, where were great
piles of wheat from the Shiraz neighbourhood awaiting
shipment to Europe. The first day's ride brought them to
Borasjun, and the bishop much enjoyed it, save that travel-
ling all day in the ftiU sunshine was perilous enough. At
six farasangs (twenty-four miles) they rested under a palm-
grove, where were some karezes (underground water-courses)
of sweet water, with most perfect emerald-green grass all
round. The water for some cause was nearly white, and all
sorts of cattle, herds, and flocks, horses and asses, were
massed together here to drink of it. Only the last mile
or so of this day's march was pebbly and tiresome for
horses. At Borasjun Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm, Armenian
Christians at the telegraph station, entertained them, and
they had much talk about the chief points of the Gospel.
The caravanserai is the finest in all Persia, built by
Mushir-el-Mulk, and there were pure white hollyhocks
fi:om English seeds, 'almost the best,' the bishop said,
'I ever saw.'

VOL. n. E

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Next day they rode to Elonar Takta, starting at 5.45 and
reaching Daliki at 9.30 a.m., where they remained and
rested till the afternoon. Round Daliki there is a splendid
palm-forest, which would be grand if it were not so low.
The naphtha-springs are most unfragrant and abundant, but
turned to no account. The hill-clifts were luxuriant with
flowers. A river, swift and green, with many falls, was
spanned with a fine bridge at Daliki, built by the same
Mushir-el-Mulk, who also raised the zigzag stairs of stone
with parapets, which climb the narrow defile for a mile
towards Klonar Takta.

*This Mushir,' said the bishop, 'really deserves great credit,
yet he got suspected and nearly strangled, and had to pay a fine
of £4,000. We met a number of kafilas ' laden with — what you
would never guess — the coffins of their friends, being transported
(one on each side of the asses instead of panniers) to Kerbela,
where the tombs of Hosein and Hussan are, carried hundreds of
miles by sea and land, the dead saints of Mohammedanism being
thus preferred to the living Saviour. It was a saddening,
sickening sight indeed. On emerging from the ravine it is lovely
to look down on a few fields of com, where the valleys broaden,
green hills and bare grim rocks alternating ; the last three miles
delightful, soft and green along the valley of the Khisht.'

The next day, Sunday, they spent quietly with Mr.
Edwards, their host, at Khonar Takta ; and on Monday,
April 2, got up at 4 a.m. and made a long fatiguing march
to Kazeroon, thirty-two miles.

* A good part of the day we were still threading defiles, which
were blocked up here and there by American cannon, which
were being hoisted up in coffin -like boxes on men's shoulders,
with somewhat less noise than Indian coolies under the circum-
stances would make. Scarcely any bush or tree was to be seen
through these gorges or staircases, where it was difficult to go
without getting one's legs crushed between the rocky wall on
both sides. Such as these I have never seen before. Colonel
Smith *, General Director of Telegraphs, telegraphed I should be
met by the chief native official in each town. . . . This cere-
monial in Persia, as in India, is called ^^istikbal." lam afraid
I should rather gladly dispense with this honour, but it is

Caravans. ^ Now Sir B. Murdoch Smith.

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deemed a duty of respect. Thus we were met by the Eabit of
Ejimerij, who was obliging, and offered hospitalities which we

' The Kamerij plain at first entrance is very pleasing, the hills
are mostly white and greyish pink. We stayed an hour (eggs
and tea), and on over another stiffish kotal ^ down into the
plain of Shahpor, which opens out into the plain of Kazeroon.
I gazed with great interest and longing curiosity at a cleft on the
opposite side of the plain. There was the ancient city of Shahpor,
and up that cleft are remains of many ancient monuments ; and in
a cave the colossal image of Shahpor the Second, lying flat now
and defaced a good deal, but part of the features and the beard
are recognizable. We stopped at Dirris half an hour, seven
miles from Kazeroon. It was once an important town, but an
earthquake shattered it, and all the houses sank into the earth :
the curious thing is they sank bodily, and do not seem broken
up- I thought the buildings were tahkhanas [vaultsl, and were
built as now to be seen. The fort of Shahpor, and relics of other
scattered forts, crown every available eminence all through this
plain of vast dimensions, redolent of memorials of empire.
Colonel Smith had ordered a mounted guard to come and conduct
us from Kamerij onward, and this was a great help, as he
rode on in front and saved us from winding about rough roads.
A number of horsemen joined us, and showed us their feats of
horsemanship, cutting capers of all sorts, shooting while at full
gallop, before or sideways or behind, bending down from the
saddle to pick up from the ground, and scouring the plain in
true Parthian fashion. Parties of bivouacked Iliyatees here
and there in black tents were picturesque. As we approached
Kazeroon the vast slate hills with deep gashes, rents, and scars
in them looked very singular ; you would almost fancy blood
flowed from the fissures.

'Kazeroon, a city almost in ruins, yet ruins of palaces and
elegant buildings, and so from a distance very deceptive, lies
under the lower range which becomes snowcapt beyond, and
boasts one of the loveliest sites of earthly towns. The governor,
a stout and not particularly refined man, a tajir or merchant by
birth, who talked rather vxdgar Persian, came and sat an hour.
I tried to lead him to serious Christian subjects, but evidently
he la not a tiTith-seeker. The town is flanked on both sides by
nearer and at this time grass-grown hills of ant hill shape, and in
front of it, out in the plain, are lovely wall-encircled gardens of
date palms, oranges, pomegranates. It looks palatial, but ever
since the famine, in which my dear friend Gordon distinguished

^ See Curzon, voL ii p. 221, for a picture of this stiffish kotal, and
a rahdar or road-guard upon it.

£ 2

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himself by relieving thousands of sufferers, the palaces and forts
have become as dens, as the prophet writes, or at least are as
pearl shells without the pearls, miserably dilapidated, and the
inhabitants so impoverished and ground down as to be utterly
unable to repair the I'ents. There is a blue glass or a blue tile
domed mosque, which is visibly conspicuous for miles,'

^ April 3. Mr. Yuhannes, our host at Kazeroon, accompanied
us eight miles. Then up Dukhter Kotul (the Maiden's Pass\
with artificial rocky staircase and paiapets, up which George and
I walked. We got some water at a boorj at the top of this
(which is called the Simplon of south Persia) from some guards in
blue blouses, and rode on through the Dasht-i-bai'f, some twelve
miles long, a perfect garden of green grass, oaks just bursting
into leaf fonning almost a forest of luxuriant green, alternating
with exquisite wild almonds in loveliest profusion of light pink
blossom. We galloped along five miles till the ascent of the
Per-zan began, the worst bit yet climbed, the stones and boulders
being trying almost to despair.

*This kotul is called the "Old Woman's" Col \ I can't say
what the terms mean, except that the terraced staircase may
represent the smooth neck of the young girl compared with the
wrinkled neck of the old lady, up whose shoulders we climbed
with infinite trouble. At the bottom of it I got half an hour's
sleep under an oak. One hour's ride more (about) brought me to
this singular sarai, built thirty years ago, superseding an old
ruined one a mass of filth, which dear Martyn probably slept in,
less dirty I hope than now. Around it besides rocks are oaks,
almonds, and willows (in Persian heeds), whose fresh foliage has
a conspicuously yellow colour. From under the willow-grove
flows out a spring of deliciously fresh cool water, carried by
pipes or gutters with stone cisterns under both sarais. Snows
approach us here, and there is a beautiful view of the Dasht-i-barf.
An old fakir called and begged, and after I had given him a silver
coin, sat one and a half hours while I read portions of St John
to him (chaps, i. iii. xi.). He seemed greatly pleased, he was
perfectly educated in Persian, and followed along with delight-
fully intelligent remarks. May God bless His word to him.
I could not refuse him a copy of the gospel as he begged for one.
We had the aristocratic portion of the sarai, enclosed within
doors to itself. I was rather done up ; though only twenty miles
the march was severe, and I walked up the staircase of Simplon.
The name of the place is Miyan Kotal.'

* April 4. Wrote to M. A. at length ; the swallows spoiled my
Bible. Started at 1.30 in afternoon for Dasht-i-arjun, the worst
bit of road on any of the hills yet traversed ; I had to dismount
at one part. Springs issued in several places, very refreshing,

^ See Curzon, vol. ii. p. 203.

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guigling, and purling. At one the lions usually come down
to drink in the evening, wild pigs also, hiding especially in a
'* tang " or hollow in the hills near the village of Dasht-i-arjun.
Mr. Smith, telegraph inspector as far as Bushire, had ridden out
several miles looMng for us in the morning, and received us
most kindly, and had good fires and refreshments. Tlie sun had
touched me, and all night almost till morning a wearisome head-
ache continued. . . . Swamps make the plain very shaky and
unreliable for riding, firma terra is rare, and watercress and
ducks abundant. The village is very poor ; the people in bad
harvest times live on acorn bread, only mixing a handful of
barley meal with a mass of pounded acorn paste. Some villages
get little else at any time. A few wild figs and grapes are
roughly cultivated up the hills, and are nearly all their luxuries.
Mr. Smith hopes to get home in a year or two. He is terribly
desolate, I should think.'

^ April 5. He rode about four miles with us towards Takta
Zuniya, along a ridge first of all with snowy mountains in all
directions. Takta Zuniya is little more than a caravanserai, with
capitally clean but cold and windy guest-rooms, not tenanted by
swallows as yesterday's.

'After long reading out of Ain-ul-Haiyat (Water of Life) with the
colporteurs, and exposition with prayer, I sat under the trees by
the side of the little river Kara Gach and thought on the kingdom
of God, and Shiraz, and dear Martyn ; the ground was much
enlivened with the small blue narcissus.'

From the breezy guest-rooms of Takta Zuniya he wrote
to his sick daughter Edith: —

' It makes me sad to have been so long silent ; and disappointed
in so many days not even to know how you are getting on. From
this strange, wild place, girt about with snow mountains all
around, by the side of a little snow-fed stream called the Kara
Gach, whose banks are clothed with richest, softest pink blossom
of the ** arjun," I must begin a letter, hoping to finish it on arrival
at Shiraz, which is now thirty miles oif, and we have a fair hope
of reaching it to-morrow evening.

* Henry Martyn's Life and Memoirs seem to make me quite
familiar with it already. Would I could meet with some who
talked with him, but of that there is no hope, since seventy years
have gone by since he was laid in his lonely grave. The king-
dom of God abides, however, though the servants of it pass away.
I am in a caravanserai to-night, such as I need scarcely describe,
as Mr. Martyn so vividly described it, only there is generally
a cleaner upstairs room than those he suffered so much in, and
the heat is less, because he was two months later, or nearly so, in
his journey. Unhappily I could nowhere find my volume of his
life on leaving the house at Lahore, though I made great search

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for it, and to the residents in this country poor H. Martyn is
a forgotten name, or nearly so. Yet the thought of his having
been on these very spots lends them a great sacredness and
unceasing interest to me. It is raining heavily to-night, and as
three doors out of five are open to wind and damp, and we are
7,000 feet above the sea-level, I am glad of a good fire, though the
smoke is a little trying. I am fortunate in having a nice little
bamboo cot with a bit of carpet stretched across the poles, which
was given me lately by Colonel Carey at Peshawur, who had
bought it for the Afghan campaign. My little English lantern
vrith a clean candle may be too civilized for the place, but I can
write a letter at least, and have my little dinner spread on a mule
trunk, which I fear you would think very luxurious if you dropped
in upon me : a little soup (beef) out of a tin, and a stewed fowl.
Perhaps St Paul sometimes got one when **they laded us," he says,
' ' with such things as were necessary. " Eggs and milk seem almost
better procurable than in India. My servant and two colporteurs,
all Armenians, and Mr. Gfeorge, an Armenian agent of the British
and Foreign Bible Society, come in to prayers with me, which
are in Persian out of Dr. Bruce's prayer-book, and sometimes
a chapter out of the Armenian Bible is read, which they all under-
stand except me. I hear Mrs. Bruce writes and speaks Armenian
weU. I wish there were a Christian girls' school in Shiraz. The
city is celebrated for its great poets, Hafiz and Sadi, whose tombs
are a sort of place of pilgrimage ; but the tombs of dead poets will
not make people poets, any more than visiting those of dead
saints will make people holy. . . .

* We have a mounted guard in front, a Persian, and Mr. George
rides behind me on a mule, which keeps up the double march Avith
both my horses. The Persian mule is a most serviceable animal.
A good one will fetch about £30. Mr. Smith, who housed us
last night at Dasht-i-arjun, collected 1,500 mules and over for the
Afghan expedition. They were shipped to Bombay and so sent
up by train. Oui* mounted guide shot a hare for us to-day as we
went along, the only hare I have seen in Persia, and the servant
in charge of the sarai brought in another to-day. We are taking
both as a present to Dr. Odling, who entertains us (D. V. ) at Shiraz.
Some of the hills at Dasht-i-arjun were grand and imposing,
looking like a Doric colonnade of most classic taste and stately
proportions ; and far away was a noble pyramid of snow, with its
angles almost as finely carved and marked off as if it were
masonry — only this was God's rocky building, not man's. Persia
is the country to come to to get out of the way of letters. Think
of having none for eight days, and the post only going each way
once a week. I suppose in old Persian days the posts were better
managed, for Herodotus speaks of hemerodromoi in Darius' days,
which means, probably, people who ran every day. I believe it
is better, however, north of Shiraz, I shall have tired you

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already, but must say how much I appreciated your dear letter,
written, I fear, with painful though loving effort. I write these
few last lines from Shiraz — only 200 miles finished out of the
1,800 miles before me/

The bishop stayed at Shiraz for twelve days, from
April 6 to 18, and to Mrs. French he thus described the
place: —

*We are in a broad valley surrounded by hills on all sides.
From the stony wastes much is reclaimed and walled in for
gardens. The rulers of the country spend their gains often in
providing these oases for themselves and their friends, for few of
these gardens are public The apples and almonds are in blossom ;
and cypresses (of two kinds tall and spreading) with poplars and
chunars or plane trees are the principal trees of delight. . . . The
bazaars are mostly thatched over with matting and flimsy cover-
ings of wood and straw, and sanitation laws are unknown.
Almost all but the food of the country sold here is the produce
of Europe, a very small amount too comes from India. There are
eight or ten Europeans, not quite twenty Armenian Christians,
the rest Jews and Mussulmans, mostly the latter. Learning,
especially philosophy and poetry, have always been renowned,
else I hardly know what there is to give Shiraz the name it has.
I have been reading the Chaldean original of the book of Daniel
with much enjoyment. It is curious to find how many words in
that part of the book are familiar to Persians, through the old
Chaldean words that doubtless at that age (Daniel's) became
mixed up with their language. It was only at the Mohammedan
invasion, 1,000 years later, that Shiraz took the place of Persepolis
as capital ; now it has given place to Ispahan' and Teheran, and it
is only a provincial capital I wish I had learned ever so little
of the process of deciphering the cuneiform character, but I hope
I shall not attempt any more tongues. '^Tongues shall cease,
but now abideth charity, divine love " ; that is what we want.
I wish to impress that on the moollahs and hakeems here, some of
whom come to call, and I am thankful to say, for the most part,

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 6 of 46)