John Gerardus Fagg.

Forty years in south China; the life of Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D. D online

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Copyright, 1894, by
Anson D, F. Randolph & Company (Inc.).


o. Jenkins' son,





Too near was I to the subject of this biography
to write an impartial introduction. When John
Van Nest Talmage went, my last brother went.
Stunned until I staggered through the corridors of
the hotel in London, England, when the news came
that John was dead. If I should say all that I felt
I would declare that since Paul the great apostle
to the Gentiles, a more faithful or consecrated man
has not lifted his voice in the dark places of hea-
thenism. I said it while he was alive, and might
as well say it now that he is dead. " He was the
hero of our family." He did not go to a far-off land
to preach because people in America did not want
to hear him preach. At the time of his first going
to China he had a call to succeed Rev. Dr. Brod-
head, of Brooklyn, the Chrysostom of the American
pulpit, a call with a large salary, and there would
not have been anything impossible to him in the
matters of religious work or Christian achievement
had he tarried in his native land. But nothing




could detain him from the work to which God
called him years before he became a Christian.
My reason for writing that anomalous statement is
that when a boy in Sabbath-school at Boundbrook,
New Jersey, he read a Library book, entitled " The
Life of Henry Martyn, the Missionary," and he
said to our mother, " Mother ! when I grow up I am
going to be a missionary ! " The remark made no
especial impression at the time. Years passed on
before his conversion. But when the grace of God
appeared to him, and he had begun his study for
the ministry, he said one day, " Mother! Do you
remember that many years ago I said, ' I am going
to be a missionary'?" She replied, "Yes! I re-
member you said so." " Well," said he, " I am
going to keep my promise." And how well he
kept it millions of souls on earth and in heaven
have long since heard. But his chief work is yet
to come. We get our chronology so twisted that
we come to believe that the white marble of the
tomb is the mile-stone at which a good man stops,
when it is only a mile-stone on a journey, the most
of the miles of which are yet to be travelled.

The Dictionary which my brother prepared with
more than two decades of study, the religious liter-
ature he transferred from English into Chinese, the
hymns he wrote for others to sing, although him-


self could not sing at all, (he and I monopolizing the
musical incapacity of a family in which all the rest
could sing well), the missionary stations he planted,
the life he lived, will widen out, and deepen and
intensify through all time and all eternity.

I am glad that those competent to tell of his
magnificent work have undertaken it. You could
get nothing about it from him at all. Ask him a
question trying to evoke what he had done for
God and the church, and his lips were as tightly
shut as though they had never been opened. He
was animated enough when drawn out in discussion
religious, educational, or political, but he had great
powers of silence. I once took him to see General
Grant, our reticent President. On that occasion
they both seemed to do their best in the art of
quietude. The great military President with his
closed lips on one side of me, and my brother with
his closed lips on the other side of me, I felt there
was more silence in the room than I ever before
knew to be crowded into the same space. It was
the same kind of reticence that always came upon
John when you asked him about his work. But
the story has been gloriously told in the heavens
by those who through his instrumentality have al-
ready reached the City of Raptures. When the
roll of martyrs is called before the Throne of God,


the name of John Van Nest Talmage will be called.
He worked himself to death in the cause of the
world's evangelization. His heart, his brain, his
lungs, his hands, his muscles, his nerves, all wTought
for others until heart and brain, and lungs and
hands, and muscles and nerves could do no more.

He sleeps in the cemetery near Somerville, New
Jersey, so near father and mother that he will face
them when he rises in the Resurrection of the Just,
and amid a crowd of kindred now slumbering on
the right of him, and on the left of him, he will
feel the thrill of the Trumpet that wakes the dead.
Allelujah! Amen !
Brooklyn, June, 1894.


The accompanying resolution of the Board of
Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in
America, November i6, 1892, explains the origin
of this volume :

'■'Resolved, That the Board of Foreign Missions,
being firmly convinced that a biography of the late
John V. N. Talmage, D.D., for over forty years
identified with the Mission at Amoy, would be of
great service to the cause of Missions, heartily
recommend to the family of Dr. Talmage the selec-
tion of an appropriate person to prepare such a
memoir, and in case this is done, promise to render
all the aid in their power in furnishing whatever
facts or records may be of service to the author of
the book."

The writer raised his pen to this task with hesi-
tancy. He had known Dr. Talmage only little
more than a year ; long enough, indeed, to revere
and love him, but not long enough to tell the story
of so rich and fruitful a life.


8 Preface.

Dr. Talmage was a man of unconscious greatness.
If he could have been consulted it is doubtful
whether a public record of him would have ever
seen the light. His life to him would have seemed
too commonplace and unworthy. He was exceed-
ingly careful in the use of language. He could not
endure exaggeration. Nothing so commanded his
admiration as honesty and accuracy of statement.
That ought to be suf^cient to guard any one who
speaks of such a man against indiscriminate

We have endeavored as far as possible to make
this memoir an autobiography. To carry out this
purpose has not been without difficulties.

Dr. Talmage did not keep a continuous diary.
He did not preserve complete files of his corre-
spondence as if anticipating the needs of some
possible biographer.

The author's enforced retirement from the mis-
sion field in the midst of collecting and sifting
material, has been no small drawback.

It is hoped, however, that enough has been
gleaned to justify publication. Sincerest thanks
are due to those brethren who contributed to the
concluding chapter, "In Memoriam."

If these pages may more fully acquaint the
Church of Christ with a name which it should

Preface. 9

not willingly let die, and deepen interest in and
hasten by the least hair-breadth the redemption of
" China's Millions," the author will feel abun-
dantly rewarded.

John G. Fagg.

Arlington, New Jersey,
October i, 1894.


Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D.D. {FroJidspiecc).

Chinese Clan-House,

Buddhist Temple, Ai\ioy, .

Pagoda near Lam-sin,

Chinese Bride and Groom,

Traveling Equipment in South China,

Pastor Iap and Family, .

The Sio ke Valley

Glimpse of the Sio-ke River,

Scene in the Hakka Region,

Girls' School; the Talmage Manse; Woman's
School (Kolongsu, opposite Amoy),

Pastor Iap





1 10









I. — The Ancestral Home, .
II. —Call to China and Voyage Hence,
HI. — The City of the "Elegant Gate,"

Description of Amoy and Amoy Island,

Ancestral Worship,


Is China to be won, and how?

Worship of the Emperor,
IV. — Light and Shade, .

The Chiang-chiu Valley, .

Breaking and Burning of Idols,

The Chinese Boat Race and its Origin,

The Chinese Beggar System, .

Two Noble Men Summoned Hence,
V. — At the Foot of the Bamboos, .

Opium, ....

Romanized Colloquial, .

Chinese Sense of Sin,

Primitive Lamps,

Zealous Converts, .

The Term Question,

What it Costs a Chinese to become a Chris

Persecuted for Clirist's sake,

" He is only a Beggar," .

Printing under Difficulties,

Carrier Pigeons,













VI.— The "Little Knife" Insurrection,
How the Chinese Fight, .
VII. — The Blossoming Desert,
Si-boo's Zeal, .
An Appeal for a Missionary,
VIII. — Church Union,

The Memorial of the Ainoy Mission,
IX. — Church Union (continued),
X. — The Anti-Missionary Agitation,
XI.— The Last Two Decades,

Forty continuous Years in Heathenism,
Chinese Grandiloquence,

XII. — In Memoriam,

Dr. Talmage — The Man and the Missionary

By Rev. W. S. Swanson, D. D., .
Venerable Teacher Talmage. By Pastor lap

Han Chiong

Rev. John Van Mest Talmage, D.D. By

Rev. S. L. Baldwin, D.D

The Rev. J. V. N. Talmage, D.D. By Rev.

Talbot W. Chambers, D.D., LL.D., .
Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D.D. By Rev.

John M. Ferris, D.D
















John Van Nest Talmage was born at Somer-
ville, New Jersey, August i8, 1819. He was the
fourth son in a family of seven brothers and five

The roots of the Tahnage genealogical tree may
be traced back to the year 1630, when Enos and
Thomas Talmage, the progenitors of the Talmage
family in North America, landed at Charlestown,
Massachusetts, and afterwards settled at East
Hampton, Long Island.

Dr. Lyman Beecher represents the first settlers
of East Hampton as " men resolute, enterprising,
acquainted with human nature, accustomed to do
business, well qualified by education, circumspect,
careful in dealing, friends of civil liberty, jealous of
their rights, vigilant to discover, and firm to resist
encroachments; eminently pious."

In 1725 we find Daniel Talmage at Elizabeth-
town, New Jersey. Daniel's grandson, Thomas,
during the years between 1775 and 1834 shifts his


1 6 The Ancestral Home.

tent to Piscataway, New Jersey, thence to New
Brunswick, thence to Somcrville, where the stakes
are driven firmly on a farm "beautiful for situa-
tion," Thomas Talmage was a builder by trade,
and erected some of the most important court-
houses and public edifices in Somerset and Mid-
dlesex Counties. He was active in the Revolu-
tionary war, holding the rank of major. It was
said of hiPA, " His name will be held in everlasting
remembrance in the churches." He was the father
of seven sons and six daughters.

The third son, David T., the father of John Van
Nest Talmage, was born at Piscataway, April 21,
1783. He was married to Catharine Van Nest,
Dec. 19, 1803. David T. Talmage was rather
migratory in his instincts. The smoke of the Tal-
mage home now curled out from a house at Mill-
stone, now from a homestead near Somerville, then
from Gateville ; then the family ark rested for many
years on the outskirts of Somerville and finally
it brought up at Boundbrook, New Jersey.
Though the family tent was folded several times,
it was not folded for more than a day's wagon-
journey before it was pitched again. The places
designated are all within the range of a single New
Jersey county.

In 1836 David T, Talmage was elected a mem-

The Ancestral Home. 17

ber of the State Legislature and was returned three
successive terms. In 184T, he was chosen high
sheriff of Somerset County. Four of his sons en-
tered the Christian ministry, James R., John Van
Nest, Goyn, and Thomas De Witt. James R.,
the senior brother, rendered efficient service in
pastorates at Pompton Plains and Blawenburgh,
New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, Greenbush, and Chit-
tenango. New York. He received the degree of
Doctor of Divinity from Rutgers College, New
Jersey, in 1864. John Van Nest gave his life to
China. Goyn, a most winsome man and eloquent
preacher, ministered with marked success to the
churches of Niskayuna, Greenpoint, Rhinebeck,
and Port Jervis, New York, and Paramus, New
Jersey. He was for five years the Corresponding
Secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions of
the Reformed Church. Rutgers College honored
herself and him by giving him the degree of Doctor
of Divinity in 1876.

Thomas De Witt, the youngest son, still minis-
ters to the largest church in Protestant Christen-
dom. What a river of blessing has flowed from
that humble, cottage well-spring. The wilderness
and the parched land have been made glad by it.
The desert has been made to rejoice and blossom
as the rose. The courses thereof have gone out

1 8 The Ancestral Home.

into all the earth, and the tossing of its waves have
been heard to the end of the world.

In November, 1865, Dr. T. De Witt Talmage
preached a sermon on " The Beauty of Old Age " "^
from the words in Eccles. xii. 5, "The Almond
Tree shall flourish." It was commemorative of his
father, David T. Talmage. He says : " I have stood,
for the last few days, as under the power of an en-
chantment. Last Friday-a-week, at eighty-three
years of age, my father exchanged earth for heaven.
The wheat was ripe, and it has been harvested.
No painter's pencil or poet's rhythm could describe
that magnificent sunsetting. It was no hurricane
blast let loose ; but a gale from heaven, that drove
into the dust the blossoms of that almond tree.

" There are lessons for vie to learn, and also for
you, for many of you knew him. The child of his
old age, I come to-night to pay an humble tribute
to him, who, in the hour of my birth, took me into
his watchful care, and whose parental faithfulness,
combined with that of my mother, was the means
of bringing my erring feet to the cross, and kind-
ling in my soul anticipations of immortal blessed-

* This sermon gives so graphic and tender a portrayal of
the father of one of America's most distinguished minis-
terial families, that the author feels justified in making so
lengthy an extract.

The Ancestral Home. 19

ness. If I failed to speak, methinks the old family
Bible, that I brought home with me, would rebuke
my silence, and the very walls of my youthful
home would tell the story of my ingratitude. I
must speak, though it be with broken utterance,
and in terms which seem too strong for those of
you who never had an opportunity of gathering
the fruit of this luxuriant almond tree.

" First. In my father's old age was to be seen
the beauty of a cheerful spirit. I never remember
to have heard him make a gloomy expression.
This was not because he had no conception of the
pollutions of society. He abhorred everything like
impurity, or fraud, or double-dealing. He never
failed to lift up his voice against sin, when he saw
it. He was terrible in his indignation against
wrong, and had an iron grip for the throat of him
who trampled on the helpless. Better meet a lion
robbed of her whelps than him, if you had been
stealing the bread from the mouth of the fatherless.
It required all the placidity of my mother's voice
to calm him when once the mountain storm of his
righteous wrath was in full blast ; while as for him-
self, he would submit to more imposition, and say
nothing, than any man I ever knew.

" But while sensitive to the evils of society, he
felt confident that all would be righted. When he

20 The Ancestral Home.

prayed, you could hear in the very tones of his
voice the expectation that Christ Jesus would ut-
terly demolish all iniquity, and fill the earth with
His gloiy. This Christian man was not a misan-
thrope, did not think that everything was going to
ruin, considered the world a very good place to
live in. He never sat moping or despondent, but
took things as they were, knowing that God could
and would make them better. When the heaviest
surge of calamity came upon him, he met it with
as cheerful a countenance as ever a bather at the
beach met the incoming Atlantic, rising up on the
other side of the wave stronger than when it smote
him. Without ever being charged with frivolity,
he sang, and whistled, and laughed. He knew
about all the cheerful tunes that were ever printed
in old ' New Brunswick Collection,' and the ' Shum-
way,' and the sweetest melodies that Thomas
Hastings ever composed. I think that every pillar
in the Somerville and Boundbrook churches knew
his happy voice. He took the pitch of sacred song
on Sabbath morning, and lost it not through all
the week. I have heard him sing plowing amid
the aggravations of a ' new ground,' serving writs,
examining deeds, going to arrest criminals, in the
house and by the way, at the barn and in the
street. When the church choir would break down,

The Ancestral Home. 21

everybody looked around to see if he were not
ready with Woodstock, Mount Pisgah, or Uxbridge.
And when all his familiar tunes failed to express
the joy of his soul, he would take up his own pen,
draw five long lines across the sheet, put in the
notes, and then to the tune that he called ' Bound-
brook ' begin to sing:

'As when the weary trav'Ier gains
The height of some o'erlooking hill,

His heart revives if, 'cross the plains,
He eyes his home, tho' distant still :

' Thus, when the Christian pilgrim views,
By faith, his mansion in the skies;
The sight his fainting strength renews.
And wings his speed to reach the prize.

" 'Tis there," he says, " I am to dwell
"With Jesus in the realms of day :
There I shall bid my cares farewell.
And he will wipe my tears away." '

" But few families fell heir to so large a pile of
well-studied note-books. He was ready, at proper
times, for all kinds of innocent amusement. He
often felt a merriment that not only touched the
lips, but played upon every fibre of the body, and
rolled down into the very depths of his soul, with
long reverberations. No one that I ever knew

22 The Ancestral Home.

understood more fully the science of a good laugh.
He was not only quick to recognize hilarity when
created by others, but was always ready to do his
share toward making it. Before extreme old age,
he could outrun and outleap any of his children.
He did not hide his satisfaction at having out-
walked some one who boasted of his pedestrianism,
or at having been able to swing the scythe after all
the rest of the harvesters had dropped from ex-
haustion, or at having, in legislative hall, tripped
up some villanous scheme for robbing the public
treasury. We never had our ears boxed, as some
children I wot of, for the sin of being happy. In
long winter nights it was hard to tell who enjoyed
sportfulness the better, the children who romped
the floor, or the parents who, with lighted coun-
tenance, looked at them. Great indulgence and
leniency characterized his family rule, but the re-
membrance of at least one correction more em-
phatic than pleasing proves that he was not like
Eli of old, who had wayward sons and restrained
them not. In the multitude of his witticisms there
were no flings at religion, no caricatures of good
men, no trifling with things of eternity. His
laughter was not the ' crackling of thorns under a
pot,' but the merry heart that doeth good like a
medicine. For this all the children of the com-

The Ancestral Home. 23

munity knew him ; and to the last day of his walk-
ing out, when they saw him coming down the lane,
shouted, 'Here com ss grandfather ! ' No gall, no
acerbity, no hypercriticism. If there was a bright
side to anything, he always saw it, and his name,
in all the places where he dwelt, will long be a
synonym for exhilaration of spirit.

"But whence this cheerfulness? Some might
ascribe it all to natural disposition. No doubt
there is such a thing as sunshine of temperament.
God gives more brightness to the almond tree than
to the cypress. While the pool putrefies under the
summer sun, God slips the rill off of the rocks
with a frolicsomeness that fills the mountain with
echo. No doubt constitutional structure had much
to do with this cheerfulness. He had, by a life of
sobriety, preserved his freshness and vigor. You
know that good habits are better than speaking
tubes to the ear; better than a staff to the hand;
better than lozenges to the throat ; better than
warm baths to the feet ; better than bitters for the
stomach. His lips had not been polluted, nor his
brain befogged, by the fumes of the noxious weed
that has sapped the life of whole generations, send-
ing even ministers of the Gospel to untimely
graves, over which the tombstone declared, ' Sac-
rificed by overwork in the Lord's vineyard,' when

24 The Ancestral Iloine.

if the marble had not lied, it would have said,
' Killed by villanous tobacco ! ' He abhorred any-
thing that could intoxicate, being among the first
in this country to join the crusade against alcoholic
beverages. When urged, during a severe sickness,
to take some stimulus, he said, 'No! If I am to
die, let me die sober ! ' The swill of the brewery
had never been poured around the roots of this
thrifty almond. To the last week of his life his
ear could catch a child's whisper, and at fourscore
years his eyes refused spectacles, although he would
sometimes have to hold the book off on the other
side of the light, as octogenarians are wont to do.
No trembling of the hands, no rheum in the eyes,
no knocking together of the knees, no hobbling on
crutches with what polite society terms rheumatism
in the feet, but what everybody knows is nothing
but gout. Death came, not to fell the gnarled
trunk of a tree worm-eaten and lightning-blasted,
but to hew down a Lebanon cedar, whose fall made
the mountains tremble and the heavens ring. But
physical health could not account for half of this
sunshine. Sixty-four years ago a coal from the
heavenly altar had kindled a light that shone
brighter and brighter to the perfect day. Let
Almighty grace for nearly three-quarters of a cen-
tury triumph in a man's soul, and do you wonder that

The Ancestral Home. 25

he is happy? For twice the length of your hfe
and mine he had sat in the bovver of the promises,
plucking the round, ripe clusters of Eshcol. While
others bit their tongues for thirst, he stood at the
wells of salvation, and put his lips to the bucket
that came up dripping with the fresh, cool, spark-
ling waters of eternal life. This joy was not that
which breaks in the bursting bubble of the cham-
pagne glass, or that which is thrown out with the
orange-peelings of a midnight bacchanalia, but the
joy which, planted by a Saviour's pardoning grace,
mounts up higher and higher, till it breaks forth in
the acclaim of the hundred and forty and four
thousand who have broken their last chain and
wept their last sorrow. Oh ! mighty God ! How
deep, how wide, how high the joy Thou kindlest in
the heart of the believer !

" Again : We behold in our father the beauty of
a Christian faith.

" Let not the account of this cheerfulness give
you the idea that he never had any trouble. But
few men have so serious and overwhelming a life-
struggle. He went out into the world without
means, and with no educational opportunity, save
that which was afforded him in the winter months,
in an old, dilapidated school-house, from instructors
whose chief work was to collect their own salary.

26 The Ancestral Home.

Instead of postponing the marriage relation, as
modern society compels a young man to postpone
it, until he can earn a fortune, and be able, at com-
mencement cf the conjugal relation, to keep a com-
panion like the lilies of the field, that toil not nor
spin, though Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these — he chose an early alliance
with one, who would not only be able to enjoy the
success of his life, but who would with her ov/n
willing hands help achieve it. And so while father
plowed the fields, and threshed the wheat, and
broke the flax, and husked the corn, my mother
stood for Solomon's portraiture, when he said,
* She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth
meat to her household. She layeth her hands to
the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She
is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all
her household are clothed with scarlet. Her chil-
dren arise up and call her blessed, her husband

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Online LibraryJohn Gerardus FaggForty years in south China; the life of Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D. D → online text (page 1 of 14)