Rena L. Hogg.

A master-builder on the Nile : being a record of the life and aims of John Hogg, D.D., Christian missionary online

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Online LibraryRena L. HoggA master-builder on the Nile : being a record of the life and aims of John Hogg, D.D., Christian missionary → online text (page 1 of 21)
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Christian Missionary



Of the American {United Presbyterian) Mission in Egypt

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Copyright, 1914, by




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(See page 236.)


IT is the generous custom in the world of books to
allow a writer one last word that none are bound to
read. What woman could refuse the privilege?

Like the apostle Paul, this biography is " as one born
out of due time " ; and this fact, while branding it as
a rash venture to a reluctant publisher, has brought
to the more reluctant writer both stimulus and strength.
For why should her comrades in Egypt have asked her
to unearth its buried history did it not contain enduring
interest and a special message for to-day?

I want to thank my fellow-missionaries, as I lay down
my pen, for the labour they have assigned me. I thank
them for two years of intimate companionship with one
who was too soon taken from me, and who, as I have
worked, has been teaching me lessons that in his lifetime
I was too young to learn. God grant that those who
read may see what I have seen and feel what I have
felt as I have written!

Other friends, too, I thank for help I could ill have
spared, friends who I trust will recognise their unre-
corded names. I thank them because their faith did
not falter when my own was weak, their praise rescued
me from disgust, and their kindness, remembrance, and
prayers were my daily portion. To some my thanks
are also due for more material assistance, and foremost
among these is " Hugh Laurence," who, as brother, critic,
and fellow-worker, has been, in matters great and small,
an unfailing helper.



All these I thank from my heart. The book is theirs,
not mine ; and if it does not disappoint them, if it carries
to them stimulus and pleasure, I shall feel that the
writing of it has made me rich.

Some may read this book who know little about Egypt,
and I would seek to guard them against misapprehen-
sions. Of recent years an Egypt has come into being
of which little knowledge can be gained from these pages.
A spirit of change has entered the land. It has touched
politics and education, journalism and commerce, the
Coptic Church and Islam, and the manners and customs
of the people. To understand the present, we must know
the past; and unaffected by the march of progress are
large regions and essential elements that remain unal-
tered. But for accurate information about the new
Egypt, the reader must go elsewhere. It is of an Egypt
of yesterday that this book has to tell.

R. L. H.


Prologue ...»

I. A Collier's Wean

II. Student Days

III. Serving His Apprenticeship

IV. Marriage and Shipwreck
V. At the Port of Egypt

VI. At the Heart of the Problem

VII. In the City of the Patriarch

VIII. In the Wake of Persecution .

IX. Pioneer Days in Assiut .

X. His Daily Task ....

XI. Laying Foundations .

XII. Flotsam and Jetsam .

XIII. Wanted: a College .

XIV. The Care of All the Churches
XV. Arabi Pasha's Rebellion .

XVI. Winds of Doctrine .

XVII. The End of the Journey .





















John Hogg Frontispiece


College Days at Edinburgh 34

Egyptian River Boats — )

j- . . . 90

The Ibis," the Mission Boat j


Bamba 118

View of Assiut During Nile Overflow

Protestant Church at Assiut

Assiut College 196

Village Scenes 228

God's Acre : Grave of John Hogg .... 288


THE days of legend have not wholly fled. There
are regions in the Orient where the centuries fall
from us and we seem nearer to the beginnings
of history than in our modern West. Facts, instead of
being buried under to-morrow's news and forgotten,
are stored in the memory of an unhurried race, repeated
by friend to friend and by father to son, and talked over
with the vivid vocabulary of the East in a calm and
ample leisure. Thus legend grows.

In many of the towns and villages of Upper Egypt,
tales have been preserved which gain in glamour with
the years, about a man whom the people call " Hoj,"
who " brought light to the land." He was " like an
Egyptian exactly," and yet " like an angel from Heaven."
At his words ignorant Mohammedan robbers were trans-
formed into honest Christians in a night, and his purse,
unfailing as the widow's meal and oil, was used not to
feed an Elijah but to satisfy all who asked. That con-
verts so lightly made would not have endured, or that
indiscriminate generosity would have been the worst of
mission policy, does not occur to these loving souls.
Without thought of untruth, whatever they consider
good they attribute to him. His sermons are remem-
bered; his love of song, his powers of physical endur-
ance, the illustrations he employed to point a lesson, his
very gestures (as Egyptian as his accent) and the East-



ern modes of thought that made his words win home,
discovering the joints in his hearers' armour, all are
treasured and described.

Twenty-eight years have passed since what was mortal
of this man, so dearly honoured, was laid in his desert
grave, and though love and legend have kept his memory
as green as the Nile valley in December, there is danger
that the message of his life may be lost under a tangled
mass of fact and fiction. Not to be canonised but to
be followed is the tribute such a man would claim.

It is no saint or wonder-worker whom we see in the
records he has left behind him. It is a man of like
passions with ourselves who there reveals himself, but
a strong man with one consuming purpose that made
a unity of all his days.

" The evangelisation of the world in a single genera-
tion " was as yet an unknown watchword, but this ideal
was implicit in the thoughts that moved him, and he
dared to proclaim it possible if the Church would but
yield to her Lord the obedience of faith.

He had certain clearly defined ideas as to the means
by which alone the campaign could be conducted to a
speedy and successful issue. He laboured to win others
to his point of view — his fellow-labourers, the Church
of their planting, and the Church that sent him forth —
in order that neither time nor money might be squan-
dered on " the good " that should have been hoarded for
" the best."

These ideas, rightly or wrongly, he considered to be
the greatest thing in his life. Writing of them, he said,
" I am willing to have them written in large characters
as my epitaph after my mission life has ended, though
all else concerning me and my work were blotted out."


We are seeking now to write this epitaph in large
characters as he desired ; and that its message may lodge
where he would have it lodge, in the hearts of men,
where the springs of action are found, we are constrained
to tell the story of his life.


He's up at early mornin', howe'er the win' may blaw
Lang before the sun comes roun' tae chase the stars awa';
And 'mang a thoosand dangers, unkent in sweet daylicht,
He'll toil until the stars again keek through the chilly nicht.

See the puir wee callan' 'neath the cauld, clear moon,

His knees oot through his troosers, and his taes oot through

his shoon,
Wadin' through the freezin' snaw, thinkin' owre again
How happy every wean maun be that's no a collier's wean.

Oh, ye that row in Fortune's lap, his waefu' story hear,
Aft sorrows no sae deep as his hae won a pitying tear ;
And lichter wrangs than he endures your sympathy hae

won —
Although he is a collier's, mind he's still a Briton's son.

— Wingate, the Miner Poet, 183 — .

IN the year 1863, in an old mission house in Cairo,
the man whose life we are to sketch sat imprisoned
as nurse by the bedside of a sick wife. As the
disease was smallpox a rigid quarantine was enforced,
and to while away such leisure as his ministrations al-
lowed him, he turned back in thought to the days of
his childhood and wrote down in shorthand reminiscences
of his past that otherwise would have been buried in
oblivion, " In the hope," as he said, " that some of my
children may read these notes to their mother when their
father is in his grave/'



The annals thus preserved carry us at once to a spot
remote from that in which they were penned.

We turn from the closely built sun-baked city, the
oriental Cairo of fifty years ago, to an open countryside
in East Lothian on the east coast of Scotland, where
strong winds from the sea make the blood tingle and
nerve a man for action. Eastward the Firth of Forth
opens out to the German Ocean, and the Bass Rock and
Berwick Law stand out as natural pyramids against the
sky. To the north and west, beyond a stony shore and
the waters of the Forth, grey, green, or blue according
to the weather, are the hills of Fife, with an occasional
glimpse on a clear day of the peaks of Perthshire in the
distance. Directly west, Edinburgh and Leith mark the
limit of the view, in smoke by day and in city lights by
night, with Arthur's Seat and the Pentland Hills visible
amid the haze. Southwards no hills appear, but a stretch
of rolling country where fields of grain or pasture are
interspersed by woodland and dotted with villages.

In one of the smallest of these, Penston, not; to be
found on any map, on April 30, 1833, John Hogg was
born. In this region he had his home till he reached
the age of twenty-three, and back to it till the day of
his death memory carried him, any time that music, the
words of a Scotch song, some familiar proverb of his
youth, or a touch of the broad accent of the countryside,
set the old chords vibrating and transported him to the
land of his birth.

That he felt a certain pride in his origin is perfectly
apparent. He had the pride that every one must share
who has come from such a home as his, a home of the
kind that Burns has left pictured for us as typical of
his native land, pride in the solid worth of his parents,
and in the virtues which in a humble sphere had marked


them out as belonging to the noble of the land, clothing
poverty in the retrospect with a sort of lustre, wedding
it to strength and courage, and crowning it with grace.
He had, too, the pride that a strong man feels in diffi-
culties and hardships so met that instead of marring
him they had strengthened his moral fibre and added
a keener hopefulness to his outlook on life.

Sir Walter Scott in beginning his autobiography as-
sures us that " Every Scottish man has a pedigree,"
and that it is " a right as inalienable as his pride and his
poverty ! " Strange to say, the Scot who sat penning
his own history in the sick-room, while claiming poverty
and, as we have seen, not altogether concealing pride,
seems to have waived the first of his " inalienable rights,"
the right of pedigree. He traces his line of descent no
farther back than to his father and mother, John Hogg,
overseer of Penston Colliery, and Mary Richardson,
daughter of a small country farmer and mother ere she
died of a family of eight — six stalwart sons and two
daughters. John was third of the family, and though
bearing the same name as his father, no confusion could
occur, for his father was known in the district as " the
Jake." Under this title the father's memory still lingers
among the oldest inhabitants as the " benefactor of the
miners of East Lothian and Fife," the man who ven-
tilated the mines and almost doubled their output — " No
an eddicated man, ye ken, but jist a nateral genius";
while the son has been forgotten, or when inquired
about, is cursorily dismissed with — " Oh, ay, I mind, the
Jake had a son that went out to Egypt as a missionary."

The Jake's genius, though it may have increased the
prosperity of his employers and the comfort and safety
of his fellow-workmen, brought to himself no wealth.
The position of overseer carried with it the right to free


house and coal, with a weekly wage of four or five dol-
lars. But there were periods in his life when he was
reduced to working as a common collier. The diary
represents this as due to his having lost his position
through a misunderstanding ; but those who worked with
him declare that he actually resigned it on two separate
occasions for some reason which he did not choose to
explain to his fellow-workmen, and which remained a
mystery, as he continued on friendly terms with the
mine-owner. Considering the sacrifice involved, the rea-
son must have been a strong one.

During one of these intervals of common labour, the
demand for coal being so small that the daily output was
kept at a low limit, the combined wages of himself and
two of his boys, amounted to but two and a half dol-
lars a week. Yet the family was never in debt.

" Sobriety, industry, and thrift," writes the son, " en-
abled father and mother to rear up their large family
well, giving them an education suited to their circum-
stances, and keeping them well-clothed, while others had
eaten up the earnings of the week by Tuesday or Wednes-
day, and were almost famished ere pay-day. During a
long strike of not below sixteen weeks, we had always
food enough, and were even able to lend to some of our
friends who else must have died of starvation."

The diary happily gives some description of the frugal
methods of living that made it possible to lay up against
such a mischance.

The mother and children gleaned during harvest sea-
son. By using their gleaning sparingly and treating
wheaten bread as a luxury to be doled out on special
occasions, their gleanings were sufficient for their needs
during the greater part of the year. Their bread and
scones for common use were made of pea-flour. Oatmeal


porridge was the daily breakfast for old and young alike.
Those not yet doing a man's work dined on pease-bread
and sour milk. The older ones had for dinner during
winter, broth with a little meat and potatoes and pease-
scones; in summer, herring and potatoes, potatoes and
milk, or chipped potatoes with a little fat. This may
sound a montonous regime, but once a week came the
day of feasting. On Sabbath morning the whole family
sat down to a diet of " fat brose " which was greatly
relished, followed by tea or coffee of which each was
allowed one munificent cup ! They had, however, to
live on the memory of this till evening, helped by a lunch
of two hard biscuits eaten between services.

Tranent United Presbyterian Church was three miles
distant. The father was an elder there, and he and his
bairns were usually seated in their pew before most of
the people of Tranent had begun to dress for church.
The boys as they grew older joined the choir, and as
the presence of the family was as much to be counted on
as the appearance of the precentor with his tuning-fork,
or the beadle bearing the pulpit-Bible, survivors in the
district have not yet forgotten the weekly procession of
father and sons marching down the aisle, some of them
" giants in Israel/' and none stopping in growth short
of six feet. It may be left to the imagination to picture
the appetite of a growing boy by five o'clock on a Sab-
bath afternoon, after six miles of walking in fresh coun-
try air and two long church services, through which he
had been sustained by two hard biscuits. Can we wonder
that the dinner that followed, of fried beef or roast pork
" and sometimes a haggis," followed by tea and " fat
scones," seemed royal fare, and its memory worth trans-
mitting to children yet unborn?

Frugality affected clothes as well as food, so that John


wore no clothes but of his mother's making till well on
in his teens, and rarely donned a suit that had not been
already worn by one or both of his elder brothers. There
was one glorious exception, however, for which he paid
full dear.

" Well do I remember," he writes, " getting a new
velvet jacket all to myself. Three were made at the
same time for the three eldest of us. Mine had a big
hump in the middle of the back, but I did not much
care for that, and when father put a penny into my
pocket to hansel it, I was as happy as a king. But I
was sick of velvet jackets before I got through them.
When George outgrew his it came to me, and then I wore
James's, and when they were past wearing in daylight,
they were worn in the pit until they had entirely changed
their colour."

Coppers were a rarity and worth remembering, and it
is recorded that each year on Hansel Monday, Mrs.
Deans, the mine-owner's wife, gathered the children at
the " Great House " and gave each a halfpenny. When
all had received their dole, she asked, " And where is
the good scholar ? " and little John being pushed forward
by the others, received an extra halfpenny as a special
reward for superior scholarship, and was once more as
happy as a king!

In considering the circumstances that governed his up-
bringing, the fewness of his childhood's pleasures, its
rigid economies, its habitual stint, one wonders to what
extent they were responsible for the development in him
of certain characteristics that marked him throughout
life. In some natures their effect would have been the
strengthening of the disposition supposed to be latent in
every Scotsman to weigh a farthing before spending it,
and to keep not the Sabbath only, but everything else


he can lay his hands on. In him the effect was the re-
verse. It was as though he were in revolt against the
calculating spirit that had been a prime necessity in those
days of his youth, and the generosity that had fretted
against the barriers that poverty set up, inclined to over-
flow in a sort of joyous license. He hated anything
shabby or scrimp. Never again must there be one cup
of tea apiece ! At his table the provision must be such
that he could supply any number, freely and fearlessly,
leaving still enough for more. He inclined always
towards a choice of the better of two qualities, with the
comfortable philosophy that it must always be true
economy to purchase what would last longer. He liked,
too, to buy in quantity, as when during one of his fur-
loughs, in need of a new toothbrush, he came happily
home with a dozen in his pocket, as they would be sure
to come in useful, and it saved time to buy a number at

The same largesse marked his giving, and he was
readier than most to lend, though he suffered for it, as
lenders must. He loved to surprise a friend with a
cheque when times were hard and needs pressing, and
the gift was sure to be a handsome one, surprising in its
amount as much as in its spontaneity, given with keenest
pleasure and in the firm faith, which time proved not
ill-founded, that "our children will never be allowed to
suffer for what we have given to help others."

The " good scholar," in spite of the superior excel-
lence which had been so munificently rewarded at the
" Great House," did not carry into after-life golden mem-
ories of his schooldays. According to his own account,
though by the age of four he had learned to read and
spell in " the fourpenny," he was " not particularly
bright," and a reputation for cleverness which crowned


him for a time was attributable only to his being trained
at home in Bible knowledge and the Shorter Catechism
more than his companions. With this judgment all might
not agree. There are many amongst us who have con-
quered the land that lies between 2X2 and 12 X 12
only after severe toil and a series of pitched battles ex-
tending over a long campaign. Such may think that a
child who could, in a single afternoon, master that whole
territory so as to have it forever after at his command
must have had, in one line at least, native ability some-
what beyond the average. This feat, the diary tells us,
he accomplished at the age of five. He had the previous
year been drafted from Penston Infant School to Glads-
muir Grammar School, and there his troubles began.

Methods of education have altered since 1837. The
problem of a schoolmaster in those days has been stated
thus, " Given the book, the boy, and the rod ; how to get
the first into the second by means of the third." John
having fallen heir to a grammar-book from which the
.. first part had been torn, the rod had but a blank to work
"upon. That blank it drove effectually into the boy's
mind. As the rest of the class were reviewing the book
for the second or third time, few explanations were
made. The schoolmaster made no effort apparently to
understand his difficulty, and to his parents grammar
was a science unknown. Often he would learn carefully
from memory an exercise that should have been parsed,
to receive in consequence, as though he were indolent or
worse, the punishment that had become his daily por-
tion. With childhood's impotent patience he bore dumbly
the injustice, but the shame of it ate into his soul.

Relief came at last. At the age of nine and a half,
times being hard, he was allowed to leave school and join
the rank of workers. The rise in dignity was grateful


to a small boy's soul, and as his tasks for a time were
light, he imagined himself in a land of liberty. But if
at first a miner's lamp seemed a badge of honour, he was
not long in learning that such badges may be dearly
bought. A miner's life is no child's play even now,
and the primitive conditions of seventy years ago involved
" toil and pain ayont conceivin'." Before many weeks
had passed, the child was labouring in daily weariness
and suffering at work which the law of the land was
soon to forbid to such as he. Merely to reach the pit
involved hardship, and one does not wonder that his
memory retained vivid pictures of rising three hours
before the sun, whose face he saw but one day in the
seven, stumbling along in the dark with heavy, sharp
implements under his arm, and crouching in his thin,
patched clothing behind hedges to shelter from the cut-
ting east winds of winter ; pictures, too, of the fearsome
descent of 120 feet by means of rope and ladder when
the pit's mouth was reached, of the inclination to slip
when older workers impatiently hurried him, and of
occasions when his lamp went out, leaving him in mid-
night darkness to grope his way to the bottom of the

But these things were trivial as compared with the
labour itself. His father soon became overseer of two
mines, and was kept so busy that John and his brother
were left to themselves. " Generally." he says, " we
did the work of two men " ; but in truth it was not man's
work that occupied them, but work fit rather for beasts
of burden and now relegated, in many mines, to elec-
tricity. The men broke out the coal; the boys dragged
it in small waggons to the surface up a steep under-
ground passage, 900 yards long, 4 feet wide, and for
the most part about 3 feet high. The little boy went in


front, a chain in each hand, to drag and guide the waggon
on its wooden rails, often knocking his head or grazing his
back on some projecting ridge in the uneven roof, till
the slightest touch on the unhealed sores caused the
acutest pain. His older brother James pushed the waggon
from behind. The work was hard on the temper. The
feeble rails were apt to split and the waggons to go off
the line, on which occasions the bigger boy relieved
his feelings, as big boys will, by throwing the blame
on the younger, whom the slightest word of re-
proof always cut to the quick, making him miserable
for hours.

He did not bid a final farewell to a miner's life till he
reached the age of eighteen and had spent two sessions
at the University. Years of this period were passed
largely in the work of dragging trucks, now in one pit and
now in another, sometimes for what was considered a
good wage and sometimes for the merest pittance. In
one pit the workings were half a mile from the shaft-

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Online LibraryRena L. HoggA master-builder on the Nile : being a record of the life and aims of John Hogg, D.D., Christian missionary → online text (page 1 of 21)