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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executive committee, active in securing a site,
in drawing up the curriculum, and in securing
funds. At first Auburn was thought of as the


128 A Maker of the New Orient

proper location, but Elmira was finally decided

Those who founded Elmira College were pio-
neers bravely clearing a new pathway in an un-
trodden territory. For many years there was no
clear apprehension of the real worth and the best
work done at Elmira.

Yet just as surely as Harvard College, founded
by a few Congregational ministers at Newtown,
Mass., in 1636, gave the precedent and opened
a new era of education in North America, so the
first chartered woman's college in America, at
Newtown, N. Y. (the ancient name of Elmira
and in use until 1828), set the mark, and set it
high, for the wonderful development of woman's
education in America.

Both name and site were significant of decisive
events in history, which opened new eras of
progress. Before a white man had settled in the
Chemung Valley, or Elmira received its name,
there was an Indian village where the future
city was to arise, and hard by was the New
Town of the Iroquois Indians. Here, on the
29th of August, 1779, was fought the decisive
battle of civilization against savagery by Gen-
eral John Sullivan and his four brigades of Con-
tinentals, from New Hampshire, New Jersey,
New York, and Pennsylvania, which shattered
to pieces the Iroquois Confederacy of the Six
Nations. This victory opened the lake country
and the western half of the Empire State to the

Woman's Higher Education 129

settlement of white men. The Newtown battle
of 1779, the red man's Culloden, knocked the In-
dian's clan system to pieces. How appropriate,
in poetic justice, that the system that doomed
the squaw to hopeless drudgery under the reign
of savage force should receive its deathblow in
the very place where the crown jewel of Chris-
tian civilization — the higher education of woman
— should first sparkle! The Empire State, in
which was opened the first public school in
America, on Manhattan Island, again gave noble
precedents to the nation, first in Elmira and later
in Vassar College.

We read that on June 20, 1854, Elmira being
chosen as the site. Rev. S. R. Brown was re-
elected chairman, and Mr. Simeon Benjamin
treasurer. The latter proved a generous bene-
factor, giving in all to the college eighty thou-
sand dollars.

In April, 1855, the charter was amended and
the name changed to " Elmira Female College."
Later, in harmony with the other American col-
leges for women, the word " female " was
dropped, and the name Elmira College adopted.

It was a great joy to Phoebe Hinsdale Brown,
poet and dreamer, yet one of the most practical
of women, and mother of the pioneer educator
in China, to see Elmira College and her grand-
daughter a student within its walls. She paid a
visit to the college, grateful to God that she had
not died without such a sight. The hope and

130 A Maker of the New Orient

faith of long years had at last been crowned by
the sight of a woman's college which still chal-
lenges honorable comparison with the wealthier
colleges for women, in the fullness of its required
course of study, in the excellence and thorough-
ness of instruction, and in the scholarship of its
graduates. Domine Brown's interest remained
warm and constant, until his preparations for
going to Japan had to be made.

Human history is usually dictated by success-
ful precedents, which become examples. It was
Pilgrim grit and tenacity in Plymouth Colony,
issuing in assured success, that led the Puritans
to cross the sea with wealth, learning, and social
power, to begin the Massachusetts Bay Colony
and State. Did the demonstrated success of
Elmira influence Matthew Vassar to his own
noble enterprise at Poughkeepsie?

This work in the interests of the higher edu-
cation of American women was done amid the
national excitements just before the Civil War,
when the country was convulsed with the slavery
agitation and thousands were in intense anxiety
over the safety of the union of States, and amid
a round of toil that would have discouraged
many a man. Lest this seem too strongly stated,
let us look at one of the letters of his mother, at
this time supported by her loving son in his

She is writing at the school at Owasco Lake
Outlet, in which are twenty-five boys. She

Woman's Higher Education 131

pictures a specimen Sabbath, early in December,
1857, which shows what her son was doing:

" At six in the morning held the family prayer
meeting, which a few of the boys attended.
After breakfast had family worship. I then sat
down in my room to study the Bible lesson.
(He has a Bible class of his pupils on Sabbath
afternoons, and is going through the Acts of
the Apostles; uniting historical, geographical,
and religious instruction in his teaching.) Went
to church at 1 1 a. m. He preached on * The Love
of God in Christ': * God commendeth his love
toward us,' etc. Returned home at one. At 3
p. M. he taught the Bible class from the Acts of
the Apostles. Gave the boys an affectionate and
solemn talk. Attended family worship — took
tea — and went up the east side of the lake, about
six miles, to visit a dying member of the church,
and preached to an audience of 150 on 'The
Conversion of Zaccheus.' To-day, Monday, he
looks tired, but he said to me : * I had rather try
to save souls than to be the emperor of the Rus-

How grandly has the lake country in central
New York become a great missionary and edu-
cational area, more especially since S. R. Brown
enriched its borders with an academy and col-
lege! When the nineteenth century opened
the Auburn Theological School — started as
Congregational, and still leavened by the free
spirit of inquiry that makes it the Union Semi-

132 A Maker of the New Orient

nary of central New York — had, besides Hobart
College, and a few academies and elementary
schools of fair repute, indeed been started.
Now nearly every one of the lake cities, towns, or
villages has its high school, academy, or col-
lege, all of them led by the most typical modem
American University, Cornell, which at Ithaca
crowns the heights of Lake Cayuga. One may
look with pride upon the Universities of Roch-
ester and Syracuse, upon the schools of various
grades and disciplines on Cayuga, Seneca,
Owasco, Onondaga, Oneida, Cazenovia, and
Keuka lakes, whence has issued a mighty host
of men and women grandly equipped to do the
world's work. In the ranks of the missionary
soldiers and workers the list of honored names
from New York's lake region is a long and shin-
ing one, as notable for the talents and consecra-
tion and results wrought as for its length.
From Domine Kirkland, missionary to the
Oneida Indians, pioneer and founder of Hamil-
ton College, to Parker and Marcus Whitman on
Pacific slope land, to Brown, Verbeck, and
Nevius beyond seas, to the first Ramabai circle
founded at Cornell, to the Students' Volunteer
movement, the record is a noble one.

Grand as was Domine Brown's toil at Owasco
Outlet, his work was to be even more glorious
in a new land across the Pacific.

Again was he to taste the glorious freedom of
a foreign missionary, to toil indeed amid the

Woman's Higher Education 133

sights and sounds of uncanny heathenism, but
to be rid of what many pastors have to struggle
against — the hypocrisy, the selfishness, the
worldliness of nominal Christianity at home, and
to be free of the cantankerous church officers
who will rule or wreck. Like Verbeck, Robbins
Brown gloried in the unique freedom and superb
opportunity of the missionary. His was the
spirit of " Childe Roland," as Browning pictures
him, as he *' to the dark tower came."

Ho for Japan!


Ho for Japan !

HOW the Reformed (Dutch) Church in
America determined to plant a gospel
mission among the hermit people, whose
doors Matthew Perry and Townsend Harris had
persuaded them to open, has been told in " Ver-
beck of Japan." Happily it was the angel of the
olive branch, and not of sulphurous war, that had
persuaded the Japanese to do this, and thus again
attract Robbins Brown to the ends of the earth.
At nearly fifty years of age many men would
have shrunk from entering an unknown and
untried field like that of Japan, but Samuel R.
Brown had the spirit of a pioneer and leader.
He was probably the very first to receive appoint-
ment as an American missionary to Japan. Both
the American Episcopal and Presbyterian mis-
sionaries preceded him; in actual arrival on the
ground, though he had urged his church to be
first. In his letter of application, dated Spring-
side, December ii, 1858, he expressed himself
as ready for either China or Japan, as the Board
might direct. Further, he believed in " the reflex
influence of missions." Hear him as he closes
his letter:


138 A Maker of the New Orient

" I think my going abroad would benefit the
Church here more than my stay. It would be
a trial to an affectionate people to part with their
pastor, but, if I mistake not, it would open their
hearts and purse strings in favor of the mis-
sionary work not a little."

After returning from China, in 1847, Mr.
Brown had hoped to go back to his work there
in two years, but the health of his wife would not
then permit. As soon as her health was settled,
came the agitation consequent upon Commodore
Perry's treaty with Japan, and later the deter-
mination of the Reformed (Dutch) Church in
America to plant a mission in Japan, as already
told in " Verbeck of Japan."

Appointed senior missionary, with Rev. Guido
F. Verbeck and Dr. Duane B. Simmons, Domine
Brown visited some of the churches, especially
those in the Classis of Cayuga, and also the
Theological Seminary at New Brunswick^ N. J.,
to rouse missionary zeal and provide for re-en-
forcements. He sailed with his wife and two
daughters on the ship Surprise from' New York
May 7, 1859. From a letter which he sent to
the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed
Church when, ** within a week's sail of Java
Head," we learn the character of the crew and
the daily routine of the voyage. The eighteen
passengers had been eleven weeks out.

No profanity was heard on the ship and on
Sundays almost all the crew with the passengers











Ho for Japan ! 139

attended divine service, with preaching on the
quarter-deck. At 7 p. m. family worship in the
cabin, with Scripture reading, singing, and
prayer, closed each day.

Seasickness over, a plan of daily work was
laid out. No English-speaking person, it must
be remembered, could at that time read a Japanese
book. A class in Japanese, meeting at 9 a. m.
was started, of which Mr. Brown was made head.
The books on hand were a small vocabulary and
work on botany. At the end of the voyage 250
Japanese words had been learned by heart and
he was able to write according to the katakanu,
or syllabary of " square " characters, numbering
about fifty. The mastery of hira-kana, or run-
ning script of the same number of signs, but
with apparently infinite variety of form and
vagaries of private penmanship, making prac-
tically several systems, was to be the work of

Mr. Verbeck taught the gentlemen Dutch,
so they could talk a little and read more in that
language. This was a necessity, since the one
medium of European culture and language of
communication with Western people employed
by the Japanese was the language of the Nether-

Fun and recreation were not forgotten.
Domine Brown had the divine gift of humor.
For five weeks they kept up a weekly ship's news-
paper called The Main Sheet, which was read on

140 A Maker of the New Orient

Saturdays, furnishing much merriment. On the
Fourth of July a grand celebration was enjoyed.
The ship was decked with colors, salutes were
fired, and an oration on deck by " the elder
domine " was delivered. A grand procession,
fore and aft, with banners, was followed by a
good dinner. Fireworks, charades, and music
filled up the evening, making a very patriotic
day afloat.

A thousand questions arose in the mind of
Robbins Brown as, now the senior pioneer for
the second time^ he mused on the problem of
the future. He was to hew his own way through
difficulties, for he had been sent uninstructed to
found a new mission. Where should he locate,
at Nagasaki or Kanagawa? Twenty-one years
before, he and his bride had sailed over these
seas bound to China. Now retracing his way to
the Far East, he was about to enter a newer and
more uncertain field of labor than ever China
was. " Is it possible, I ask myself," he wrote, —
" is it possible that we are really missionaries
again, bound to China, to pass on beyond to the
most distant empire on the globe. . . We are
thankful that God in his sovereign pleasure saw
fit to honor us with this mission."

Seeking the Far East along the same old route,
through the straits of Sunda, they arrived July
2jy at Anjer in Java — the port of call so long
familiar to voyagers to China, but under the
waves since the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. The

Ho for Japan ! 141

ship got aground in the Straits of Banka, and
they had to wait six days for the spring tide to
float them off. Reaching Hong Kong August
23, 108 days from New York, they received news
of the British reverse of May 28, 1858, at the
Peiho forts in the far north, when our own
Commodore Tatnall, in dashing forward to help
the British wounded, with his surgeons, uttered
the ever memorable words, " Blood is thicker
than water." Dr. S. Wells Williams, Brown's
old friend, was on the U. S. S. S. Minnesota, off
the Peiho, where thirty vessels of the four
Powers were gathered. He saw the battle,
which was more exciting than the one which he
and his friend Brown had seen in August, 1839,
at the Barrier Forts near Canton. Dr. Williams'
letter was finished at Tientsin, which he reached
May 30. He saw a beautiful landscape under
highest cultivation, its lively green contrasting
with the hovels of the people, whose persons and
clothes were much less attractive than those of
the Chinese further south. Very different was
this coming into North China from that of Gutz-
laff in 1 83 1. Rev. E. W. Syle, another old
friend of Mr. Brown, was also on board the
American man-of-war as the guest of his relative
Captain Dupont, afterward rear admiral.

China, as seen the second time, was not wholly
a land of strangers, for the Master had many
more disciples in 1859 than when Robbins Brown
had landed, nearly twenty years before, in the

142 A Maker of the New Orient

Middle Kingdom. On going ashore, one of the
first friends he met was his former pupil Dr.
Wong, who gave him an inside view of politics.
He explained that the Chinese emperor did not
wish to keep off ambassadors from Peking, but
that the imperial purpose, in refortifying and
obstructing the Peiho, was to keep out pirates.
He wanted his British friends to go to Peking by
another way, but they refused and hence the
battle and disaster.

Thus each time of Mr. Brown's arrival in
China was a time of war. Naturally foreigners
were excited and some were afraid. Hearing
of a missionary who talked of sending back his
wife, Mr. Brown wrote : " None of these things
move me. . . It would be cowardice to stop short
of the summit and take council of your fears.'*
Looking toward Japan, he thought the Japanese
might be alarmied at the sudden rush of traders
into the open ports, since commerce with other
nations, after the long and almost entire ex-
clusion of aliens from their shores, was so new
and strange to them. He was all the more
heartened for his Japan work by meeting his
Chinese pupils and seeing what steadfast Chris-
tians they proved to be and how useful they had
made themselves. Another one of his former
boys, whom he had taken to the United States
in 1847, "ow thirty-three years old, was in charge
of the mission press in Hong Kong. Rev. Dr
Chalmers, colleague of Dr. J. Legge, said of him,

Ho for Japan 143

*' He is the best Chinese in the region." Yung
Wing, who had been graduated with high honors
from Yale in 1854, was another shining hght in
the new China. As the biographer concludes
this chapter, in June, 1902, Dr. Yung Wing is
again on the soil of America,

Of Dr. Wong, his pupil who had studied
medicine in Scotland, and who was in charge of
the London Society^s Hospital in Hong Kong,
Mr. E. H. Parker, in his lively book entitled
" John Chinaman," has written to the extent of
two pages, praising him very highly, but omitting
to mention that he was Dr. Brown's pupil ! One
must read Mr. Parker's sketch to see how funny
the so-called " Agnostic " can be.

From Amoy, his brethren of the Reformed
Church mission, Messrs. Doty and Rappleje,
wrote, sending greetings and cheer. It was
voted that Mr. Brown should be treasurer of the

After reaching Shanghai, where four days
were spent, the missionary families were left
under the care of Rev. E. W. Syle. Mr. Verbeck
went to Nagasaki. Dr. Simimons, Mr. Frank
Hall, and S. R. Brown, in the American bark
Mary Louisa, set sail toward the Land Where
the Day Begins, to reach Yokohama, the mush-
room port of yesterday in Everlasting Great

It will be seen that Domine Brown had superb
preparations for life and work in Japan. He

144 ^ Maker of the New Orient

had a fair knowledge of the ideographs of the
Chinese, and was familiar with much of their
literature. This meant ability and preparation
to read Japanese also. What in the long run
was better, even than a knowledge of Japanese
language as spoken, was the mastery and famil-
iarity with the molds of thought and the liter-
ary phrases, ideas, and allusions with which the
Japanese, after fifteen hundred years of steady
borrowing from China, had saturated their litera-
ture. Dr. J. C. Hepburn had had a similar,
though not so thorough an experience.

But to think of learning such a language as
Japanese, which has almost no analogies with
European tongues, without trained teachers or
apparatus of mastery! Years ago I wrote:

" Did you ever try to leap through a wall, or
pump water out of a deep well with no apparatus,
or make bricks without molds or straw? I
knew a negro with a weak stomach for whisky
and an amazing thickness of skull, who would
allow rude fellows to rap his noddle with a
hickory ax-handle for the sake of a dram.
Something like any one of the four processes
above mentioned is the learning of an Asiatic
language when there are no grammars, diction-
aries, or trained teachers. You must butt the
opposing wall, pump the supposed receptacle of
knowledge, shape your bricks of theory as you
can, and suffer many a rap of mistake and dis-

Life in a Buddhist Temple at Kanagawa

Life in a Buddhist Temple at Kanagawa

ALL had dreaded " the stormy Japanese
seas," against which foreign tradition,
^ woeful experience, and Chinese poetry
were one in indictment, but the nine days' journey
was over tranquil seas, and on November 3,
1859, anchor was cast at Kanagawa and the three
" religious invaders " set foot on shore.

Yokohama of 1859 was a narrow strip of
land, extending from Benten to the canal since
cut through, two hundred yards wide at the
northern end and fifty yards wide at the southern
end. All else was marsh often covered with
water, and fishing boats were sometimes seen on
what is now the larger part of a city of two
hundred thousand people. Fourteen vessels lay
in the harbor, including the U. S. S. S. Pow-
hatan and a British man-of-war. Dr. and Mrs.
J. C. Hepburn, missionaries of the American
Presbyterian Church, were already on the
ground. In years before these pioneers in Japan
had been fellow workers at Macao. Now they
" met again in this strange and newly opened
country as laborers in the same cause."

The newcomers were welcomed by the U. S.


148 A Maker of the New Orient

consul, General Door, who had already procured
a Buddhist temple for these new guests of the

It seems curious that the Japanese should so
readily lend their temples as residences to for-
eigners, but so they did, for even then these canny
islanders loved lucre, and they love it more now.
Indeed they are in the world's race for dollars.
The idols, tables, temple furniture, incense burn-
ers, and what-not had been stowed away in a
recess beside the main altar and shut up there in
darkness and disuse by a board partition. This
was to be so long as the " hairy foreigners "
should occupy the building. Outside of the main
edifice was the building for the priests who had
gone elsewhere to live, though an old bonze —
almost a bronze in color — ninety years old, still
dwelt in an adjoining house. General Door, the
consul, was also a tenant of a temple in a most
picturesque spot on a hill surrounded by trees
and shrubbery.

In his first walk Mr. Brown, fresh from his
farm on Owasco Lake, noticed peas, turnips, and
buckwheat growing in patches near each other.
He believed that what the Americans call
" Irish " and the Japanese " Dutch " or " Java "
potatoes would grow easily there. The fish in
the markets was most excellent. Fowls and
eggs were plentiful, but meat, other than poultry,
was difficult to get. Native wheat flour, though
far from snow-white, was good and cheap. He





Life in a Buddhist Temple 149

began at once with the help of native carpenters
to transform a Buddhist temple, which consists
chiefly of a section of all outdoors with a roof on,
into the semblance of a dwelling house. It was
while thus working that he rushed out, like
Archimedes, to Dr. Hepburn, one day announcing
that he had discovered the future tense. He
soon learned also what earthquakes were. Some
months later his teacher told him in detail and
with many a graphic touch, of his experiences of
the great earthquake in Yedo in 1854, by which,
popularly and in tradition, " one hundred thou-
sand " and in reality about ten thousand people
were actually killed.

All this was very horrible, but there were com-
pensations. It is alleged that more people lose
their lives in the United States in one year by
lightning than are killed by earthquakes in

The Japanese embassy to ratify the Harris
treaty with the United States was nearly ready.
On November 2 Commodore Tatnall told Dr.
Brown that in three days he would go up to
Yedo in the Powhatan and take the embassy to
Washington. Nevertheless, as Japan is the
" Land of Approximate Time," the motley com-
pany of seventy-one persons did not get off until
February 13, i860.

On March 6, at invitation of Minister Harris,
with U. S. Consul E. M. Door and attended by
" a mounted knight," Mr. Brown went up to

150 A Maker of the New Orient

Yedo to the United States Legation. His pur-
pose was to secure a good teacher. Eager to
attack the language at once, he had sought one,
only to be disappointed. All his efforts to get
one at Kanagawa were in vain. Was official in-
terference the cause? It is certain that at first
the government opposed in their people all com-
munication of knowledge to foreigners. For
years the prisons had held men who wrote books
or gave away maps to foreigners. Even while the
rivet heads of the political boiler were just ready
to fly, the Tycoon*s officers were climbing on the
safety valve and piling up fresh falsehoods to
hold it down. Already, though Mr. Brown
knew it not, there was a catacomb, and Chris-
tianity in Japan had a subterranean history. In
our day the tombs of the men once imiprisoned
are built high and gloriously garnished.

When the ladies arrived in Yokohama they
transformed the shelter into a home, and named
it " The Evergreens." In summer their temple
house was delightful. In the raw autumn they
found that " living in the house is almost living
out of doors here. No wonder that the Japanese
never suffocate from the use of their charcoal

As a religious invader S. R. Brown was
thoroughly tactful and sympathetic. In opening
a box for Mrs. Hepburn, containing ten gilt-
framed pictures, such as Mrs. Doremus had in
her schoolroom in the old South Reformed

Life in a Buddhist Temple 151

Church in New York and which were presented
by her Sunday-School scholars to Mrs. Hepburn,
the first one taken out was an engraving of the
Crucifixion. Mr. Brown wrote: *' I told Mrs.
Hepburn that I could not have that picture in
sight. I do not like the thing as a matter of

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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 6 of 14)