William Elliot Griffis.

A maker of the new Orient : Samuel Robbins Brown, pioneer educator in China, America, and Japan : the story of his life and work online

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36 A Maker of the New Orient

his classmates had gone on before him, while he
remained behind because he had not the means
of support. He promised that, if permitted to
enter Amherst College, he would devote his first
earnings after graduation to lifting the mortgage
from the place which had been bought as their

Again the father, probably to test the spirit of
his son rather than to discourage him, replied
that his heart was with him in his purpose, but
that in all probability the money he could earn
for some years after graduation would go to pay
his student debts.

Robbins'own words are, " I confess it seemed
so to me, but yet there was back of all this ob-
stacle in my way, a firm, but unexpressed, con-
viction that somehow I should succeed. My
father allowed me to make the attempt."

So early in the autumn of 1828, with his
father's horse and buggy, money enough in his
pockets to pay for the horse's feed on the way
and some crackers and cheese for himself, he set
ofif on the ride of twenty-four miles to Amherst.
In the college halls he was examined, and
passed. When he reached home he was " pen-
niless, but a freshman in Amherst ... I had no
money to carry me further. . . In sailor's
phraseology I had set my sails, but there was no
breeze to fill them."

" While thus becalmed, I was called upon by a
gentleman from a neighboring town, who wished

School-Teaching — Grit and Grace 37

to secure my services as teacher of the district
school in the place where he resided. He of-
fered me eighteen dollars a month and my board
at a village hotel. I did not hesitate to accept
the offer, but went to Wales, Mass., and taught
the school three months."

This village, seven miles from Monson, was
hardly a prepossessing place at that day. The
church building, then in its paintless, dilapidated
appearance, was a fitting representation of the
religious condition of the community. The inn,
at which the young schoolmaster boarded, was
the nightly resort of the village idlers. In
going out Robbins had to pass through the bar-
room, meeting the same persons every day,
and the hangers on at the taproom all knew

On his arrival he was told that the school was
a difficult one to manage, and that the winter
previous the master had been pitched out into
the snow by some of the big boys. " But I
never knew what it was to be afraid of my
pupils. Not that I was strong and muscular,
but I felt that I could manage them." On the
first morning he forestalled any attempt at in-
sult by making a pleasant speech. Looking
into the bright and intelligent faces about him,
he told the lads that he had probably been mis-
informed, and that they had been slandered.
However, if anyone wished to try the same trick
upon him, then and there was the time to settle

38 A Maker of the New Orient

the question. No champion stepped forward
and young Brown had no trouble.

Nevertheless the pedagogue's patience was
often sorely tried, and discipline was not always
easy. Those pupils that came from homes
where scarcely any law except that of force was
known, were the worst offenders. But, as we
shall see, Robbins made up by intellect and tact
what he lacked in sinew. Happily, by heredity
and culture he had that power which rends rocks
and softens savages. He was a fine singer and
a good musician. How this Yankee Apollo
more than once in his lifetime raised walls, called
back beauty from the unseen, and even flayed
many a Marsyas must now be told.

Indeed, music made up a large part of Robbins'
life as boy, student, teacher, and missionary.
He seemed to be a well-stringed harp^ on which
the faintest breath would awaken melody. How
often do I remember him in Japan, with his rich
tenor voice lifting up delightful song. Once in
Tokio, at the house of Dr. P. T. Veeder of the
Imperial University, when we were all around
the piano, Mrs. Veeder laid upon the rack a
fresh sheet of music, just received from the
United States. Dr. Brown proceeded to read
off the notes and sing while she played. The
first verses were pleasant, the last two or three
were entrancing. It was the now well-known
tune and hymn, " Tell me the Old, Old Story."
Delighted and thankful, as we poured out our

School-Teaching — Grit and Grace 39

congratulations, I, not knowing its age, asked
him whether it was one of his old favorites. He
repHed, " I never saw it before. This is the first
time I ever sung it, but it's a good one, isn't it? "
His musical gifts, in a sense hereditary, were de-
veloped by careful cultivation. We shall now
see how, at Wales, the music in him softened a
savage breast.

One day when his wild colts were unusually
frisky, he had taken up, for a slight offense, a
very small boy and put him for a few minutes in-
side the great oaken desk designed for the mas-
ter's use. The large knothole in the lid, and
many gaping cracks in other parts of this choice
bit of furniture, banished all fear of lack of venti-
lation for the urchin within. Yet no sooner was
the young plague incarcerated, than his brother,
twelve or thirteen years old, asked leave to go
out. Permission given by the unsuspecting
master, he ran home, telling his father, who was
a shoemaker, that the teacher was smothering
his little brother. The father could neither read
nor write, but was a great fiddler at country balls
in the village inn. As Robbins did not know that
the small boy had gone to his father's house, and
as the culprit was soon released, he was not pre-
pared for the explosion of the next day.

These were the days of quills, and the p^da^
gogue's regular evening task was to mend his
pens and set copies for pupils. After supper of
that day, as Robbins sat in his room upstairs, he

40 A Maker of the New Orient

heard the shoemaker burst into the room below,
cursing and swearing, while telling the story of
the schoolmaster's cruelty to his little boy, deco-
rating it gayly in order to gain the sympathy of
the crowd. His hearers, however, justified the
teacher, believing he had done no harm. At
this, the man of wax ends went ofif, uncomforted
and cursing.

The next morning the slim schoolmaster must
pass the shoeshop on his way to his daily toil.
There was deep snow lying on the ground, and
he must needs find his way in the track of the
sleighs. As he neared the shop out rushed the
shoemaker without hat or coat, but with leather
apron on, and shirt-sleeves rolled up. He took
his position in the path directly in front of young
Brown, who had his copy books under his arm.
The disciple of Crispin at once assailed the
schoolmaster with a volley of questions and
oaths. He seemed ready to follow his words
with blows from his clenched fist. The out-
look was decidedly dark.

Robbins maintained silence, allowing the noisy
fellow to ventilate his passion, but kept up a vig-
orous thinking as to what he should say. At
last, he thought of the beloved fiddle. With a
smile he asked most blandly:

" Mr. Moulton, don't you play the violin?"

Crispin's disciple seemed stayed by the ques-
tion and growled out, " Yes, I do sometimes."

" Yes," said Brown, " I know you do. I

School-Teaching — Grit and Grace 41

heard you play at the ball a while ago. I am ex-
ceedingly fond of music, and I intend to come to
your house and get you to play for me."

The little tack had so punctured the tire of
anger that the whole machine of passion col-
lapsed in a moment. The shoemaker roared out
almost gleefully:

"That's right, come on! I'll play for you at
any time you please to come."

Never did a towering passion subside so sud-
denly. The soft answer had turned away wrath.
Young Brown went often afterwards to the
house of the man who was shoemaker by voca-
tion and violinist by avocation. He had dis-
covered the ideal side of his life. His wife, who
probably sympathized with Robbins' ideas of
discipline, set before the schoolmaster her best
cooking and tickled his palate with her dainties.

Thus victorious, young Brown learned a les-
son thereby that was of use to him in all his sub-
sequent years. For self-defense, tact was often
more than thews. Years afterwards, he saw
how one little Japanese policeman, by the fine
art of jujitsu, could lay two or three burly for-
eign sailors sprawling. As we shall see, his
voice and his masterv of music won him his

The offer of a kind friend of his mother's to
help her son at New Haven deflected Robbins'
course from Amherst to Yale, and we shall next
find our hero in his native State of Connecticut.

North and South — Elms and Violets


North and South — Elms and Violets

THE Japanese author of that twelfth-cen-
tury classic, " The Romance of Prince
Genji," names each one of her chapters
after some flower in the garden. We may be
pardoned for entitling ours after the trees of New
Haven, under which old Yale University grew
up, and the blossoms of South Carolina, whose
beauty and perfume Robbins Brown, as a student,
loved so well. It was a Japanese student, a half
century afterwards, who spelled New Haven,
" New Heaven," though he added that " the
climate is too cold for my health."

The future missionary started for Yale College
in a coat remodeled from his father's, though it
was still several sizes too large for him. When
he arrived he had six and a half cents in his
pocket, reserved on the margin of his calculated
expenses. With the capital remitted from
home he settled in his room, with a very eco-
nomical outfit as to furniture, as a member of the
class of 1832, in second-term Freshman.

A number of his classmates who were aided
by the American Education Society took their


46 A Maker of the New Orient

exercise daily by sawing wood in the college
woodyard. As nothing else offered, Robbins
bought the tools for wood sawing and splitting,
and sturdily began making acquaintance with
American hickory. This was the wood, very
light and very strong, preferred for heating. Its
virtues are next to unknown in Europe, thereby
explaining, as some think, why Britons, less than
Americans, understand how lightness and
strength can be associated; hickory representing
the American, oak the British genius.

Nevertheless, before Robbins Brown had
earned enough to pay for the tools, he tired of
the toil of which he had had more than enough
at home as a boy, and which furnished no recre-
ation. It was not for him to be a dull Jack, with
all work, and no play. Being a good Bible stu-
dent he early learned the difference between
labor and work. To saw, split, and pile up hard
hickory logs eight feet long, brought only
seventy-five cents a cord. The fruit of such toil
was literally "striving after wind." So, as in-
dustrious as a prophet, or a Paul in seeking
work with his hands, by which he might, while
keeping up his studies, earn money to pay his
expenses, he looked for some other bird to bring
him Elijah's food. They came, and lo! the
orebim, that were to deliver his bread and meat,
turned out to be not ravens, but larks.

Inquiring among his fellow-students, he found
that they wanted vocal music. He could get up

North and South — Elms and Violets 47

a singing class that would pay him better and
please him more. He could teach music both
vocal and instrumental, and teach it well. There-
upon laying down the ax for the tuning fork,
and the saw-buck for the baton, he started a
class in music which helped finely to pay his ex-

He rubbed through the Freshman year with
little help from his good friend Mr. Backus, de-
termining never to apply to him for help till he
had exhausted every other resource. He kept
a check upon his purse by keeping a strict ac-
count of income and expense. During six
months he waited on the tables in the dining
room and thus paid for his board. To save
room rent he slept during part of his first year in
a recitation room, with his schoolmate in Mon-
son Academy, Amasa Dewey. It was from
this friend's house, a half century later, that he
was to pass into the House of Eternity.

In his Sophomore terms his quarters were in
the old South Middle, with Corydon Philemon
Perry, whose sister, the accomplished wife of
Rev. Dr. Maclay, was later his neighbor in
Japan. During half of this second year he
served as waiter in the upper hall, putting the
food that came up from the kitchen below in
dumb waiters, on the table.

From the beginning of his Junior year he had
no further anxiety. A member of the faculty
came to him, informing him that his name was

48 A Maker of the New Orient

the first on the list of applicants for the college
bell ringing. As he had never put it there or
asked anyone else to do it for him, he was both
delighted and surprised. He ministered to the
needs of the college and supplied his wants for
that year by making " music in the air."

As responsible bell ringer he guarded against
propensity to sleep in the morning by putting an
alarm clock at the head of his bed. Only once
did he fail to obey its prompt and noisy sum-
mons. The winter chapel service of morning
prayers was held by candlelight, and when, by
that one infirmity of a second nap, he gave the
whole college a happy half hour of lateness and
loss, he was the hero of the undergraduates for
one day at least. " What a fright it gave me,"
he wrote, " though I think I was the most popu-
lar man in college that morning." Warned by
the faculty, he never overslept himself again.

He took this lesson of lateness to heart for his
good. Thereafter he was a man of the clock.
Without haste or waste, his life was spent in
faithful work, in punctuality and diligence, ever
enjoying hard work and plenty of friends.

In the Senior year he paid all his expenses by
teaching music in the boys* school at New
Haven. With a quick eye and ready mind for
languages, he stood well in his class. He was a
hearty good fellow. A social gathering among
the students and his New Haven friends was
hardly complete without young Brown's pres-

North and South — Elms and Violets 49

ence. Just as the three months' vacation before
Commencement began, he was invited to go to
New York to teach deaf mutes. He accepted,
and returned to New Haven in time to rehearse
his piece for the Commencement stage. He
brought with him, as his quarter's pay, money
enough to settle his bills, and a subject for his
Commencement address, which was " A Disser-
tation on the Language of Signs," which he duly
delivered. When he graduated, ranking in the
second of the three divisions of his class, he had
a sheepskin in his hand, fifty dollars in his
pocket, and around him a large circle of culti-
vated and influential friends. Thus, keeping
within his income, this Yale student had become
a capitalist. He delighted in the Lord, and the
Lord gave him the desire of his heart. He
lacked no good thing then or in after-life.

Who could then foresee that Yale University
would become the favorite of students from
Japan, at that time a sealed empire, and that
here at the quarter-millennial celebration in
1901 the Mikado's premier Ito, should, gowned
and capped in the scholastic garb of the Occi-
dent, receive the degree of LL. D.?

After college life Brown taught school for
three years, thus carrying out his promise to his
father of financial assistance. Besides this filial
purpose, he had other motives. In 1879 he
wrote :

" A friend in Philadelphia wrote to me at the

50 A Maker of the New Orient

beginning of what was called the Senior vaca-
tion, three months before Commencement, urg-
ing me to go to Princeton Theological Semi-
nary, and offering to pay all my expenses. I
thanked him for his generosity, but told him I
had two reasons for declining to accept his offer.
One was that when I asked my father's consent
to enter college, I told him I would devote my
first earnings after being graduated to paying
his debts; and secondly, I did not think I was
mature enough to commence the study of the-
ology, but needed more knowledge of men and
things before assuming the responsibility of a
minister of the gospel. I therefore accepted a
call to the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb
in the city of New York, and went there at the
beginning of the Senior vacation in 1832.

** I remained there until the autumn of 1835,
when I was advised by my physician to go to a
warmer climate, in order to recover from the
effects of a severe attack of pneumonia, that I
had had in Boston, while on a visit to my elder
sister in that city."

In other words, Robbins Brown learned by ex-
perience that next to knowing the Hub City and
the radiations of its spokes in the suburban om-
nibus, " tram," or electric trolley lines, it is well
to know the peculiarities of Boston's climate.
This ancient center of wisdom may not boast
what Mark Twain ascribes as frequently pos-
sible to Connecticut — one hundred and thirty-

North and South — Elms and Violets 51

three kinds of weather in twenty-four hours —
but it has an East Wind, that we may be ex-
cused for capitalizing and personifying. With
this servant of Boreas, we declare, after seven
years' residence on Tremont Street, it is not safe
to run risks or take liberties. Indeed, even in
summer it is not wise to go very far without an
overcoat. Young Brown, with too close adher-
ence to the scriptural injunction, by failing to
take two coats, succeeded in taking pneumonia.
After recovery from a long illness, he looked
southward for healing in the region of the pal-
metto tree. He entered the Theological Semi-
nary at Columbia, S. C, and supported himself
during two years by teaching vocal and instru-
mental music in the Barhamville Young Ladies'

His pupils came from many parts of the coun-
try. One of them was the lady who became the
wife of Bishop Boone, whom he knew later in
China. Another was Miss Martha Bulloch of
Georgia, who afterwards married Theodore
Roosevelt of New York and was the mother
of four children, one of whom became the
twenty-fifth President of the United States,
though she died " before the sight " of her illus-
trious son's inauguration. When, in April, 1902,
President Roosevelt on his way to the Charles-
ton Exposition stopped a few minutes in Co-
lumbia, there was handed to him a bunch of
violets grown on the grounds of Barhamville.

52 A Maker of the New Orient

The incident touched deeply the apostle of the
strenuous life.

Two years of life in this genial southern cli-
mate found Robbins Brown fully restored to
health, with his lungs strong, and so he looked
northward. There were magnets drawing him
with subtle force thitherward. One was the
pretty face of the minister's daughter at East
Windsor, to whom he was betrothed. Another
was the Union Theological Seminary in New
York City, then indeed in its infancy, but a giant
child, destined to be one of the noblest institu-
tions in the land. Last, but not least, was the
offer of a position as teacher, with good salary,
in the New York City Institute for the Deaf and
Dumb. Here the potential missionary could
bide his time.

The promoters of Union Theological Semi-
nary, the first full class of which Mr. Brown
entered, were almost entirely men of business,
merchants who consecrated their talents and
money to the service of God. This fact had its
influence upon S. R. Brown. He learned to ap-
preciate business men and to look upon them as
his comrades and co-workers. He was always
able to take the right business view of things,
and this made him eminently practical. It pre-
pared him to do the great work which is being
accomplished in China and Japan, in disarming
prejudice and winning the missionary and the
merchant into unity of service, thus helping to

North and South — Elms and Violets 53

solve one of the mightiest problems in missions.
One of the first ambitions of a missionary should
be to win the merchant as his helper for Christ's
sake. S. R. Brown was also one of the first and
pioneer students earning his own living in the
great city, while also pursuing his studies in the
science of Christian truth. Union Seminary has
been a leader in helping to hasten the day when
the profession of the preacher, more manly and
independent, will break from the old traditions
and be better fitted for its environment in the
American democracy and in the world, by mak-
ing young men more serviceable in the cause of

The houseless institution which opened on the
5th of December, 1836, despite the awful losses
by the great fire of 1835, was at first peripatetic.
The students went to Leonard, Eldridge, and
Nassau streets to be taught of Professor White,
Robinson, Bush, or Skinner, as the case might
be. In the following quoted sentence, from the
first printed catalogue, one may recognize a
reference to Mr. Brown: " No dormitories hav-
ing yet been provided, the students came from
every quarter of the city, as far away as the Deaf
and Dumb Institution on Fiftieth Street." Be-
sides thus teaching daily, the future missionary
led the choir in the Allen Street Presbyterian
Church, then at the height of its power and use-

Trade and the Gospel — A Call to China


Trade and the Gospel — A Call to China

IMMEDIATELY after graduation "the
Reverend " Samuel R. Brown, as he was
now, offered himself at once to the Ameri-
can Board, desiring to go to China. At this
time both Japan and Korea seemed to be hope-
lessly and hermetically sealed against all out-
side Christian influences. Even China had but
the one port, Canton, open to foreign trade and

The times were far from propitious. The
country had not yet recovered from the panic of
1837. Money was scarce, and the Board was in
difficulties. Fifty applicants were before our
hero and on the waiting list. No missionary
appointments could be made until the financial
fog lifted. So Robbins Brown continued his
teaching of the deaf and dumb.

While thus waiting as a prisoner of hope, a
new way was opened into the Middle Kingdom.
Even as Union Seminary was the gift of business
men to the American metropolis, so again it was
primarily through the initiation of Christian


58 A Maker of the New Orient

merchants, British and American,* that edu-
cation on modern methods was begun in

The renowned Rev. Robert Morrison, D. D.
(* 1782 f 1834), was the founder of Protestant
missions in the Chinese Empire. He was a
Northumbrian EngHshman, who, with a letter
from James Madison, our Secretary of State,
found warm friends among the Americans at
Canton. After prodigious labors, as pathfinder,
for English-speaking people, in the Chinese
language and as translator of the Bible, he fell
asleep after twenty-seven years of unselfish toil
for God's almond-eyed children. His tomb is at

Dr. Morrison died on the ist of August, 1834.
Some of the nobler-minded men of trade, who
were eager to do something on behalf of the
Chinese, circulated a paper containing sugges-
tions for the formation of an association to be
called " The Morrison Education Society." The
paper was dated January 6, 1835. By the 24th
of February twenty-two signatures had been ob-
tained, the sum of $4860 collected, and a com-
mittee of men of honored names, Robinson, Jar-
dine, Olyphant, Dent, Morrison, and Bridgman,
was formed to propose the best method of carry-
ing out the plan of diffusing " among one-fourth
of the human family that true religion which is

* For the beginning of American trade with China,
see " America in the East," New York, 1899.

Trade and the Gospel 59

one day to pervade the whole earth. . . As a
knowledge of the Chinese language has been of
great advantage to foreignersj^ so an acquaint-
ance with the English will be of even greater ad-
vantage to the people of this empire. . . The
object of this institution shall be to establish and
support schools in China in which native youths
shall be taught, in connection with their own, to
read and write the English language; and
through this medium to bring within their reach
all the varied learning of the western world.
The Bible and books on Christianity shall be
read in the schools."

The isolation of the China of that day, when
very few indeed of China's millions had ever,
except as sailors, visited Europe and America,
was something which we find it hard to imagine
in this twentieth century. The founders of the
society said, " Our posterity, if not ourselves,
may see the Chinese, at no very distant day, not
only visiting Europe and America for commer-
cial, literary, and political purposes, but, having

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Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisA maker of the new Orient : Samuel Robbins Brown, pioneer educator in China, America, and Japan : the story of his life and work → online text (page 2 of 14)