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A history of the British and Foreign Bible Society online

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Scriptures far and wide : in England, Scotland, and the
islands ; Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and
even Barbary, I have given away the Word of Eternal
Life. . . . Never did I give one away that was not received
with the most grateful thanks, and I freely gave to all
degrees and descriptions of persons — from the Pope's
Nuncio to the parish priest among the clergy, and from
a grandee to the poor cobbler working in his stall. . . .
The Pope's Nuncio kindly invited me to his palace, and
even sent a gentleman on board the ship I then com-
manded, to request I would come on shore and stay a few
days with him ; but this I could not do. . . . The old
man, in order that he might not forget who gave him a
Testament, took his pencil and wrote my name in it, and
the name of the ship."

A sea-captain, giving account of the Modern Greek
Testaments intrusted to him, related that he gave the first to
a pilot of the Isle of Milo, where such a book could not be
bought for money. During a December storm he had to
run into Mitylene — perchance the very haven or roadstead
in which St Paul spent a moonless Sunday night on his
voyage to Rome^ — and there he gave one to a priest, who,
in his astonishment to see the Testament in his everyday
tongue, sat down in the street to read it. At Smyrna,
where among fifty to sixty thousand Greek families hardly
a copy of the New Testament was to be found, he pre-
sented one to the Bishop, and was pleased to learn
that the monks made no objection to the circulation of
^ Conybeare and Howson, St Paul, p. 548.


the Scriptures, though they considered the omission of
the Apocrypha a mutilation of the Bible.

The version of the New Testament in Modern Greek
was received with delight. At an early date attention
had been called by Dr Bogue of Gosport to the need of
an edition in this language.

A version by Maximus Calliergi, or Callipoli, had
been printed at Geneva in 1638, revised and reprinted in
1703 and 1705 by the Society for Propagating the Gospel,
and reprinted again at Halle in 17 10 at the expense of
Queen Sophia Louisa of Prussia. A copy of this last
edition was selected by the Society ; the work was seen
through the press by the Rev. J. F. Usko, who had
returned to this country after a long residence at Smyrna ;
and in 1810 a supply was shipped to Malta and the
Levant. Archimandrites and bishops lauded its accuracy
and utility, and aided in its distribution; "his Lowliness,"
Cyril the CEcumenical Patriarch, sanctioned its acceptance
"by all pious, united, and orthodox Christians"; Greek
officers ordered it for their regiments ; it was scattered
throughout the islands and along the coasts, and was
asked for so urgently that a second edition was issued
two years later. "I find myself impelled to believe," wrote
the learned Dean of Scandinari, "that the Lord, for the
sake of His only and beloved Son, is determined to
reform these our parts, and to communicate the brightness
of His light, through your Testament, in the Levant —
where, as you know, there is nothing to be found but
darkness and wretchedness and perdition."

In all, 15,000 copies were printed — 10,000 in Modern
Greek, and 5,000 with the original text and the modern
version in parallel columns.

The Italian New Testament was as heartily welcomed
as the Greek. At Messina, indeed, an objection to the
translation was raised by the priests ; but as the result


of a strict examination by a committee of the most learned
of the clergy, the Bishop was pleased to authorise its
circulation. The version was that of the "admirable"
Diodati, who at the age of twenty-one had been appointed
Professor of Hebrew at Geneva, and who was one of the
six divines chosen at the Synod of Dort to draw up its
Confession of Faith.

It was perceived at an early date that the advantageous
position of Malta marked it out for the great central depot
of the Society's work in the Mediterranean. No other
English possession is more happily situated for com-
munication with Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, and
Arabic speaking peoples. A few passages from letters
written by representatives at Malta aptly illustrate this fact :
"Of the Testaments you have entrusted to me," writes
one, "I have sent some to the Morea, having an oppor-
tunity by means of a good Christian friend. These
Italian Testaments were received at Tripolitza with in-
credible eagerness." . . . "With respect to the Arabic
Testaments," says another, "I have sent to Tunis four
of them by a captain of a Tunis vessel. He received
them almost in a transport of joy, read in them, kissed
them, and then kissed me for them ; and he said that
the persons who could read them should always wash
their hands three times before they opened the book." . . .
"I have also supplied," writes a third, "the French and
Italian prisoners of war (about looo) with Bibles and
Testaments on board transports in this harbour [Valetta]
previous to their return to their respective countries. Few
of them appear to have been acquainted before with the
sacred writings." . . . "From the favourable accounts
I have received from Zante," writes a fourth, " I have no
doubt but that there is a large field open in the Ionian
Islands for the sale of these inestimable books."

The Bible cause had been warmly taken up by the


Rev. Mr Terrot, chaplain to Sir Alexander Ball, the
Governor of Malta, and his friend Cleardo Naudi, physician
and Professor of Chemistry in the College of Valetta, who,
though a staunch Roman Catholic all his life, had been
appalled by the ignorance and spiritual dangers of the
Christians living under Turkish rule. In 181 1 he addressed
a remarkable appeal to the Rev. Josiah Pratt, secretary to
the Church Missionary Society, in which he quotes the
saying of a Greek deacon, that "the institution of the Bible
Society of England must have taken place by heavenly
inspiration," and calls on the missionaries "to enter on the
labour of propagating the Christian faith among infidels, and
of confirming it among the ignorant." The Propaganda
had perished — "its property sold, its revenues usurped
and diverted " ; the few Franciscans still in Egypt were ill-
informed. Since Rome had failed, "the English Church,
as an independent Branch, was quite qualified to teach the

A hearty response was made to this appeal. It was felt
that Malta had not been placed in our hands solely for the
extension and protection of our political greatness. The
Rev. William Jowett, Pratt's brother-in-law, a Cambridge
Wrangler, and the first University missionary of the Church
Missionary Society, was sent out to Malta as a "Literary
Representative," with a special mission, in which shortly
afterwards the first Oxford men, James Connor and John
Hartley, took an important part. To these matters, however,
we shall return later.

In 1 81 2 a representative from Malta visited Sicily on a
Bible tour, and received numerous applications from Palermo,
Trapani, Syracuse, Catania, Taormina — in fact from all parts
of the island. He climbed -(Etna, and was hospitably received
by the prior of a monastery, the last inhabited house towards
the summit, "who in return for an Italian Testament accom-

1 Stock, Hist, of the Church Missionary Society, vol. i. p. 223.



modated us with the best his humble habitation could afford
— which could not be procured in this awful and barren place
for money." On his way to the volcano he had presented
to an unknown Italian gentleman at Aci Reale a copy of the
New Testament, and on his return he found that the stranger,
the Marquis Vico, had been several times to the inn to inquire
for him and had left an invitation, " saying his house, horses,
and carriages were at my service ; which I was obliged to
decline, to the no small disappointment of himself and his
family, in consequence of my hasty return to Malta." The
Gospel was everywhere a golden key to the hearts and homes
of men.

In the course of seven years — the first attempt of the Society
was made in 1809 — by the means we have described, and
principally through the agency of representatives at Malta, over
800 Bibles and 15,000 Testaments, in French, Italian, Modern
Greek, Arabic and Armenian, were distributed, at a cost of
^2370, in the islands and along the coast of the Midland Sea ;
and 220 Ethiopic Psalters, through the good offices of Mr
Salt, British Consul in Egypt, reached the mysterious realm
of Abyssinia. In the control of these operations much advan-
tage was derived from the assistance of Claudius James Rich,
the East India Company's resident at Baghdad; John Barker,
the British Consul at Aleppo; the Rev. H. Lindsay, chaplain
to the Embassy at Constantinople; and Sir Charles Penrose,
the Admiral commanding in the Mediterranean. Mr Rich
made the Society acquainted with the dearth of Scriptures in
the Pashalik of Baghdad, where Bibles in Syriac and Chaldee
were to be found only in manuscript in the churches, and
where, had they existed in print, they would have been of little
use, as the language of the people was for the most part
Arabic. Mr Lindsay obtained the Armenian Patriarch's
approval of the circulation of the Scriptures, and, in 1816,
traversing ground hallowed by the footsteps of St Paul — now
vaguely remembered as a name in the Calendar of Saints— he


visited the seven Apocalyptic Churches of Asia Minor, and
presented each with a copy of the New Testament in its own

The latest incident in the Society's records connected with
these years is the vote of thanks passed by the Society
to Admiral Charles Penrose, Commander-in-Chief in the
Mediterranean, for his readiness to assist in the dispersion of
the Holy Scriptures among the Ionian Islands, and other
places visited by the ships under his command. There was
already a zealous friend of the Bible cause at Corfu, and
doubtless both he and the Admiral had recalled, as they passed
the Isle of Paxo, that strangest of old legends which Plutarch
relates as having happened about the time our Lord suffered
His most bitter passion, and which must have now appealed
to them with peculiar significance. In the reign of Tiberius
a ship was sailing off the Echinad Isles, and as evening closed
the wind dropped, and the vessel, carried by the current,
drifted near Paxo, about ten miles south of Corfu. " Most of
the voyagers had not yet gone to sleep, and many were still
sitting at their wine after supper, when suddenly from the Isle
of Paxo a voice was heard calling so loudly on ' Thamus '
that they were amazed. Thamus was the Egyptian steersman,
known by name to many on board. To the first and second
calling he made no reply, but at the third time he answered,
and the voice, still more loud and clear, uttered these words :
' When thou comest over against Palodes give tidings that
great Pan is dead.' " After much debate among the voyagers
Thamus decided that if all was calm he would deliver his
message. When they reached Palodes there was no breath of
wind or swell of sea, and "standing on the poop Thamus
cried out to the land what he had heard, ' Great Pan is dead.'
Then there arose along the shore a great wailing, not of one,
but of many voices mingling in amazement. The story got
spread about in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius,
who gave such credence to the tale that he made inquiry and

142 THE ISLES OF THE SEA [1804-1817

research concerning this Pan."^ " By whych Pan," says the
old commentator on Spenser's May pastoral, " though of some
be understoode the great Satanas, whose kingdome at that
time was by Christ conquered, the gates of hell broken up,
and death by death delivered to eternall death, yet I thinke it
more properly meant of the death of Christ, the onely and very
Pan, then suffering for his flock. . . . For Pan signifieth
all, or omnipotent, which is onel-y the Lord Jesus. And by
that name (as I remember) he is called of Eusebius, in his fifte
booke De Preparat. Evang."^

Just as the period under review closed, a Bible Society was
established in Malta, and in due time we shall pick up the
clue of its operations.

^ ¥lut&ich, Moralia: " The Cessation of Oracles," xvii.
^ Spenser, TAe Shepheards Calender, ' ' Maye. "



We are now free to turn attention to the vast project of
evangelization which the Bible Society had undertaken on
the Continent.

The first continental Auxiliary, the German Bible Society,
was formed, as we briefly stated in Chap. III., at Nurem-
berg, on Ascension Day 1804. In 1806, with the hearty
concurrence of the friends at Nuremberg, it was transferred
to Basel, where it was welcomed by supporters who, eager as
they were to promote the object of the Society, considered
their means insufficient to maintain an independent Auxiliary.
The change was wholly advantageous, for Basel was noted
for the excellence of its typography and paper ; it was the
centre of the celebrated German Religious Society, which
enjoyed an extensive range of influence in Germany and
Switzerland, and which promised its active assistance ; and
its position offered facilities for unexpected communication
with France. Even before the transference took place, the
London Committee had remitted two sums of ;^5o to the
Rev. Mr Blumhardt, the secretary of the Religious Society,
who, in accordance with their wishes, distributed copies of
the Scriptures among the poor of Lausanne, Besan9on,
Montmirail, and Strasburg, and opened negotiations for
the supply of correspondents at Lyons, in the valleys
of the Cevennes, at Nismes, Bordeaux, and even in

To enable the German Bible Society to enlarge the scope




of its operations in these auspicious circumstances the
Committee voted, as a third donation, a grant of ;^300.

And here once more we are made conscious of the
deplorable state of Europe and of the restless tyranny of
Napoleon. In the most favourable conditions communi-
cation, at that period, was slow and precarious. As late as
181 1 news travelled at the rate of seventy miles a day. It
took a full week to reach Paris from Antwerp ; six days
from Strasburg, Lyons, or Brest ; eleven from Rome, and
twenty-one from Madrid. But in these times of deadly
confusion, with the Emperor's stern embargo on everything
that related to England, intercourse was practically sus-
pended. A solitary letter from Basel reached the Committee
in 1807. It stated that a large edition of the New Testament
was being printed in April, and that the Old Testament
was about to be sent to press. A second letter was received
in October 1808. The New Testament, said the writer, Dr
Hertzog, the octogenarian Professor of Divinity in the
University of Basel, had been in circulation for some months,
and had met with unqualified approval. The Old Testa-
ment would be ready before the close of the year ; and so
many orders had been received that the first edition would
be practically exhausted on publication, but they hoped to
proceed with a second and a third. If the old city in
which Erasmus published his memorable Greek and Latin
Testament had been silent, it was not for lack of news. A
number of pious Moravian merchants in Basel had engaged
on an edition of the New Testament for the mountaineers of
the Orisons, in that strange Roumansch or Romanese, whose
origin, to judge by the survival of Etruscan words embedded
in it, seems to be thrown back into a mysterious antiquity.
The New Testament, printed in 1560, and the whole Bible,
in 1679, had long been exhausted, and any stray copy com-
manded an exorbitant price ; so that these poor hill-folk
Stood much in need of the Word of Life. Regarding France,

^■4^0^e'^^^^J^>n^^' (


,..«.-"'— "^"''"


too, he was able to transmit a good report: — "From the
sale_ of a considerable number of French Bibles, which we
disposed of very cheap to some truly excellent French
ministers in Languedoc, we have been enabled to proceed
to a new edition of the French Testament. At first we
endeavoured to collect a sufficient sum of money for the
printing of the whole French Bible, but as we could not
succeed to the full extent of our wishes, we were obliged to
confine ourselves to the New Testament." Whereupon, as
might have been expected, the Committee ordered a set of
plates of the French Bible to be despatched to Basel. A third
letter was received in July 1809. The second edition, 5500
copies, of the German Bible had been issued in the preceding
December, and as it had been almost entirely disposed of, a
third edition, of 3000 copies, had been put to press. Further
information was given with regard to France ; and as some
time was needed for the printing of the French Bible from
the plates which had been presented, the Committee remitted
^200 for the purchase of Bibles and Testaments so that
the large Protestant congregations in Languedoc and other
parts might be provided without delay, either by sale or
gratuitous distribution.

A fourth letter arrived about the end of April 1810. The
last donation had been received, and promptly applied to
its purpose. Over 2000 Testaments had been sent to Nismes,
900 to Montbeliard, some hundreds more in other directions ;
and the writer added : ' ' From the south of France we have
heard that even Roman Catholics secretly desire to obtain
our Testaments, and read them with eagerness and gratitude."
A member of the Basel Society had also offered to produce
in the course of the year 4000 copies of the Old Testament
in French, if that society would take looo off his hands.
This liberal proposal had been accepted ; and as it was
through Basel alone that the British and Foreign Bible
Society could hope to reach the people of France, the



Committee resolved to assist the enterprise with a fourth
grant of ^300.

Then, too, the same letter went on to state, the Romanese
New Testament had, to the great joy of the mountaineers,
been issued in April (1810), and the good merchants who
had borne the expense had been considering the possibility
of producing a Roumansch edition of the Old Testament.
The entire cost, however, was too heavy for them ; but
though they were willing to contribute generously, the
Basel Society could not assist them, so the matter was in
the hands of God. This old Roumansch moreover had two
very distinct dialects, the Churwelsche and the Ladinische,^
and when the poor Ladins in the upper Rhine valleys
bordering on Italy heard what a treasure their neighbours
on the Tyrolese frontier had got, they expressed a very
strong desire that they too, whose Bible of 17 19 was rarely
to be had at any price, should be similarly favoured. The
double appeal seemed to indicate so clearly the directions
in which good work might be effected that the Committee
responded readily with a grant of ;^200 on behalf of an
edition of the Old Testament in the Churwelsche dialect
for the Engadine Protestants, and another ;^200 for a Ladin
New Testament for the Roman Catholic Oberland ; and
when, in the last letter (October 1810) received for many
eventful months, it was suggested that the ;^200 designed
for the Churwelsche Old Testament might satisfy a more

^ ' ' The Roumansch or Rumansch, the language of the Grisons, is spoken in the
valley of the Inn, the Enghadine, and in the valley of the Rhine, the Oberland.
The inhabitants of the Enghadine are Protestants ; those of the Oberland, Roman
Catholics. The dialect of the former is called Roumansch, that of the latter Ladin.
There is a religious literature of the sixteenth century, consisting chiefly of trans-
lations of the Bible, catechisms, and hymns in Roumansch. A translation of the
New Testament exists in the Bodleian Library : ' L'g Nuof Sainc Testamaint da
nos Signer Jesu Christi, prais our delg Latin et our d'oters launguax et huossa da
nosuf mis in Arumaunsch tres lachiam Bifrum d'Agnedina. Schquischo ilg an
MDLX.'" (Max Miiller, The Science of Langtmge, vol. i. p. 223). This "Naof
.Sainc Testamaint" is the Churwelsche version of 1560 already referred to. It
materially helped the spread of the Reformation through the Rhsetian Valley of the
Inn, and is said to be the first printed book in the language. It was preceded by
popular songs of derring-do, and an epic by Johannes Travers in 1525.


pressing need if diverted to an edition of the Italian New
Testament, the Committee emphasised their wish that the
original arrangement should hold good, and promised a
third grant of ;^200 for the Italian version.

Here then in the opening months of 181 2 we leave
the story of the German Society at Basel, to record what
was happening in these turbulent years in other parts of

The establishment of the first Bible Society at Nuremberg
excited the emulation of the Roman Catholics at Ratisbon,
who proceeded to organise an institution of their own under
the management of Regens Wittman, the Director of the
Ecclesiastical Seminary in that city. Though its relations
were marked by a spirit of Christian liberality, its action
was wholly independent of the British and Foreign Bible
Society. Still, its object was the same, and the translation
of the New Testament, which it issued for the benefit of
thousands who had hitherto never read the Scriptures,
was that of Schwarzel, which was free from note or
comment, and which commended itself to the approval even
of the ministers of the Lutheran Church. Up to the year
1812 it had distributed 27,500 copies, of which all but 100
had been sold ; in 1822 the number had increased to 65,000.
After that date communications with the Committee in
London appear to have ceased, and a decade or two later
this Ratisbon Society is believed to have died out.

Mention must now also be made of the Canstein Bible
Institution at Halle, in Saxony, which for nearly a hundred
years before the formation of the British and Foreign
Bible Society had done much to preserve the light of the
Gospel unextinguished in a darkening world, and which
now afforded the Society frequent and opportune assistance.
The institution was formed in 17 10 by Carl Hildebrand,
Baron von Canstein, who to his piety and philanthropy
added the resourcefulness of an ingenious mother-wit. He


invented a method of printing something similar to stereo-
typing, though the details are not clearly known, and
was able to produce Bibles and Testaments, which could
be sold, the former at lod., and the latter at 3d. a copy.
At his death he left the institution to the care of his friend
the Rev. Professor August Hermann Franke, who, with
no other resource than a reliance on Providence, had in
1698 founded the munificent Orphanage of Halle. During
the ninety-five years this institution had existed, over three
million copies, either of the whole Bible or of the New
Testament, had been printed in different languages, includ-
ing Bohemian and Polish, and dispersed not only
throughout the greater part of Europe, but in America
and among the Russian colonies in Asia ; and many
thousands had been distributed gratuitously among the
poor. Dr Knapp, who was now the Director of the
Orphanage, placed at the disposal of the Committee much
valuable information, which in the course of time enabled
the Society to enlarge the range of its operations with
an ease and efficacy that would not otherwise have been
possible. From the depot of the institution temporary
supplies were obtained by the continental societies, and
from the same source the Committee in London, in their
sympathy for the necessitous and the sorrowful, distributed
copies of the Scriptures to the value of ;^900 among the
colonists of the Volga, the poor of Germany and Poland,
and unhappy exiles who, in the bombardment and sack
of their native towns, had often lost everything but life.

It was with no unworthy elation that the Bible Society
heard of the establishment of an Auxiliary at Berlin, the
first founded under the special sanction and personal
approval of a crowned head. From that royal example
what hopes were derived of a brilliant future among
the nations of Europe ! Encouraged by the success of
Nuremberg, and the promise of aid from the Committee,


Online LibraryWilliam CantonA history of the British and Foreign Bible Society → online text (page 12 of 42)