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Good Words 1860
Missionary Sketches


No. I - Ziegenbalg and Plutschou.


Ziegenbalg and Plutschou learning the Tamul language in the Village School of Tranquebar

We purpose, from time to time, to lay before the readers of Good Words a series of Missionary Sketches of a somewhat varied and miscellaneous character. They will consist of notices of the lives and labours of missionaries, descriptions of missionary scenes, and narratives of important events in the history of the propagation of the gospel. We do not intend to restrict ourselves to chronological, or geographical, or any other order; but shall claim the privilege of wandering at our "sweet will" over the fair garden that is spread before us, now gazing upon some "plant of renown," and now attracted by the fragrance of some shade-loving violet, whose name and fame are not in all the churches, but which fills up what were else a blank in the garland of the King.

We begin with a sketch of the labours of Zie-genbalg and Plutschou, the first Protestant Missionaries to India.

In the year 1621, the King of Denmark bought from the Rajah of Tanjore, the city of Tranquebar, with a territory about the size of a moderate Scottish parish, extending five miles along the sea-coast, and three miles broad. It was, however, densely peopled, containing fifteen towns besides the capital. The countrymen of Hamlet seem to have comported themselves in a very creditable manner, so far as commercial probity was concerned, and to have gained the respect and the confidence of the natives, to their no small pecuniary profit. Sad it is, however, to say, that the small body of Danish officials and traders, living amongst the heathen, and shut out from the influence of a wholesome public opinion, did not escape the usual effects of such a mode of life. They seem to have had a church, and probably they had also, at least sometimes, a chaplain; but the spirit of evil triumphed over the spirit of good.

Early in the eighteenth century, Dr Lutkens, a good chaplain of the Danish king, had it put into his heart that his Most Christian Majesty ought to take steps towards the conversion of his heathen subjects to the faith of the gospel. He made a proposal to that effect to his royal master, Frederick IV., and received a commission to carry into effect the pious design. Under a deep sense of the importance of the trust assigned to him, Dr Lutkens sketched to himself a standard of qualifications which he could not find realised in Denmark. He therefore made application to Dr Franke, of Halle, to select two men with suitable qualifications for the great and momentous undertaking. Probably most of our readers are acquainted with the name of this fine old worthy, as founder of the Orphan House of Halle. He is not less worthy of remembrance on account of the influence that he long exercised for good over the numerous students that resorted to his teaching in the Halle university. The good Professor had at that time in his class two students whom he considered specially suitable to the object in view. Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Plutschou were called by Franke to undertake the enterprise, and with humility, yet without shrinking, they obeyed the call.

On the 29th of November 1705, they embarked for India, and arrived at Tranquebar on the 9th of July 1706, after a voyage of more than seven months—not more than an average passage in those days, though somewhat different from the trips of these times, when passengers deem themselves martyrs, and invoke the thunders of the Times, if those "horrid old tubs" of the Peninsular and Oriental Company should fail of landing them at Madras on the twenty-eighth day after leaving England, and encroach by a few hours on the twenty-ninth ! We like the attitude of the young missionaries on the voyage,—"The more the stormy and roaring seas broke in upon us, the more were the joy and praise of God increased in our mouths, seeing we had so mighty a Lord for our Father, whom we daily approach, and, as confiding children, put up our prayers to Him." This is the stuff that missionaries should be made of,—a compound of humble faith and manly fortitude. In entire keeping was the spirit with which they afterwards encountered waves and billows more tempestuous than those of the ocean in its stormiest mood.

On their first arrival at the appointed scene of their labours, they seem to have been received by the Danish residents with good-natured indifference. They were assured that the work they had undertaken was the height of visionary enthusiasm, and that they never could by possibility have any success. "But they rightly judged, that as these persons never had made the attempt, they could not be competent to denounce it with so much confidence." Bight Baconian were the minds, and right Pauline were the hearts of these young evangelists! The first object of our missionaries was to put themselves in a position from which they could hold intercourse with the natives; and for this end they at once set themselves to inquiries about the characteristics of the native language. The results of their inquiries upon this subject, we confess that we can scarcely comprehend from Mr Hough's [The History of Christianity in India. By the Rev. James Hough, M.A., F.C.P.S. An excellent book, to which we are indebted for a great portion of the facts in this sketch.] relation of them. He tells us, that "the Tamul (which they call the Malabar language) they correctly described as a very regular language, and such as may be reduced to an exact standard, or rules of grammar. The High Tamul, in which the Hindu Vedas and Poems are written, is a language of great beauty; but the Colloquial Tamul is of much more importance, from the extent to which it prevails. It is supposed to be spoken within the compass of near three thousand two hundred English miles, and is understood in almost every part of India; but it is used chiefly in the Southern Carnatic, where it is spoken in its greatest purity, from a few miles north of Madras down to Cape Comorin, and from the eastern coast to the foot of the Ghauts, westward. They could hardly, therefore, attach too much importance to its acquisition." Surely there is great confusion here. If the High Tanrnl were really the language in which the Hindu Vedas, and the great Poems, the "Bamayan" and the "Mahabharat," were written, it must be the Sanskrit, which may be called High Tamul very much as Great Britain might be called an island off the coast of Bute. But if it means merely the more correct form of Tamul, the language of books as distinguished from the common language of conversation, then it is not true that the Vedas and Poems were written in it, or the former at least ever even translated into it. As to the Colloquial Tamul, we cannot understand how Mr Hough could assert that it is understood in almost every part of India. We venture to say, that over four-fifths of that immense land, a man speaking only Tamul would have as much difficulty in making himself understood as a Scottish Highlander, knowing only the Gaelic, would have in travelling over Europe.

But let this be as it may, the Tamul was the vernacular language of Tranquebar, and this language they resolved to acquire. They found, however, that a large number of the natives had a smattering of Portuguese, and as this language was easily acquired by men with a good knowledge of Latin, they argued that by means of it they might be able much sooner to gain access to a portion of the people; and accordingly they resolved that one of them should set himself vigorously to the study of Tamul, while the other should learn Portuguese for immediate use. A wise resolution, indicating men whose object in studying language was not dilettantism, but utility. It was determined by lot that Plutschou should undertake the study of Tamul, and Ziegenbalg that of Portuguese. The latter had an easy task; the former, one of immense difficulty. He engaged a native teacher to instruct him in the rudiments of the language; but as Mr Primrose discovered that an Englishman could not well teach the Dutch English, unless he himself possessed some knowledge of Dutch, so Plutschou soon found that his teacher was of little use to him, as teacher and pupil had no common language. He seems then to have argued somewhat thus : that he must learn Tamul very much as every infant learns its own language, by imitation. He and his colleague, therefore, became pupils in the village school of their teacher, sat upon the ground with the native children, traced the characters with their fingers in the sand, and in this way laid the foundation of a more idiomatic knowledge of the language than is to be reached by the "royal road" of grammars, and dictionaries, and pundits. It were a fine subject for the artist's pencil to depict these grave, earnest, grand men thus becoming as little children, not indeed that they might enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, but that haply they might be honoured to lead into it some of their fellow-men. Their self-denying zeal met with its fitting reward. At the end of eight months Ziegenbalg was able to speak intelligibly to the natives, and in due time his knowledge of the language, both in its spoken and written forms, was a subject of wonder to all who came into contact with him. Plutschou made less rapid, but not less effective progress. However, they seem at this time to have exchanged their parts, as previously assigned them by lot. At all events, Ziegenbalg appears henceforth to have confined himself to Tamul. Thus the missionaries were fairly at work. The love to God and to man with which their hearts had long been ready to overflow, now found a channel through which it could pour itself out on every side. But now their difficulties commenced. The Brahmins saw that they were in earnest, and began to be in earnest too. Their first step was to deprive them of the aid of their pundit, from whom they were receiving valuable instructions respecting the language and literature of the country. By false assertions, that ever-ready weapon in the hand of Hindus, they procured his banishment from Tranquebar. Having thus got him from under the protection of the Danish flag, they accused him to the Rajah of Tanjore of having disclosed the sacred mysteries of the Hindu religion to the missionaries. He was loaded with irons, and thrown into prison, where he remained for some months. Shortly after his liberation he died, in one sense a martyr in the cause of Christianity, although to the last not a Christian.

The history of the mission at this time may be stated in the words which form a compend of the history of the faithful Church all through:—"A wide door, and effectual, was opened to them, but there were many adversaries." The gospel was in evil repute among the heathen, by reason of the ungodly lives of many of its professors. Perhaps Christianity is the only system of religion that has inconsistent professors; because it alone has respect to the heart and the affections. Hinduism, at all events, requires nothing of the heart. Its whole demands may be complied with by a man without any influence being produced upon his moral character. A man may be a most exemplary Hindu, and a most consummate scoundrel. This being the case, it is not worth any man's while to throw off the profession of Hinduism, which does not interfere with his living as he lists. Generally speaking, therefore, every man born in Hinduism is a Hindu, and of course the idea is very natural that in like manner every man born in Christendom is a Christian; and we have often heard missionaries say that it is a great point gained when the idea is apprehended by a native of India that there is a difference between nominal and real Christians. It is only when they have apprehended this idea that they can understand that the tendency of the system is towards holiness, and that its sure effect is holiness in the case of all those who are really under its influence. "I had hitherto supposed," said a native to Ziegenbalg, "that the ministers of the Christians exhorted them to drunkenness and debauchery, for they go direct from church to places for drunkenness and sensual indulgence." It was probably on account of the great scandal that was thus brought upon the Christian name, that the missionaries consented to form a German congregation and to minister to their countrymen, who, not understanding the Danish language, were unable to profit by the services of the Danish church. Such ministrations as these have very frequently been forced upon missionaries, and need not be a distraction to them, or lead to a diminution of their labours among those to whom they are specially sent, but may rather be made a healthful relaxation, and a means of keeping up in their hearts those home feelings and home sympathies, which are amongst the best counteractives of the evils of constant intercourse with heathens, and incessant contemplation of heathenism.

In the early period of the mission, a considerable portion of their attention seems to have been devoted to the slaves of the Europeans; and amongst them they had a considerable amount of success. At their request, the governor ordered all the Protestant inhabitants of Tranquebar to send their slaves, for two hours every day, to be instructed in sound principles of religion, with a view to their being admitted, when ready for baptism, into the Church of Christ. There may be some amongst us now-a-days that will stigmatise this order as savouring strongly of "Erastianism;" and we care not to dispute with them. To us it seems that the evil was in permitting them to have slaves, not in requiring them to have their slaves instructed. Nor was there any violence done to the consciences of the slaves. They had been all bought in their childhood, and brought up in their masters' houses. They had, therefore, no religion, nor any religious prejudices against the instructions that they were compelled to receive. Within ten months of their arrival in the country, the missionaries baptized five adult slaves of this class; and there is every reason to believe that the ordinance was not administered merely as a matter of course, after a certain amount of knowledge was attained by the catechumens, but that they were received into the Church on sound scriptural grounds.

As soon as the missionaries were familiar with the languages, they devoted a large portion of their time to educational work. They had two schools, a Portuguese and a Tamul; and in these they seem to have spent ordinarily a portion of each day. And then they were continually preaching; not perhaps always with the external formalities that are technically connected with that term, but reasoning and exhorting, in the house and by the wayside; with twos or threes or with hundreds; preaching the word, instant in season, out of season. More formal services they had on Sundays and Fridays, the Sunday services being in Portuguese in the morning, and in Tamul in the evening; and on Fridays, vice versa. A series of doctrinal lectures by Ziegenbalg, on the principles of the Christian faith, were afterwards published in the Tamul language, and are still read with interest and profit by missionaries, and recommended by them to the notice of the people. On the 5th of September 1707, they had the happiness of baptizing nine adult converts from Hinduism, and several more on the 15th. But these last were probably slaves.

In these varied labours, ministering to the young and the old, the bond and the free, the fair European and the swarthy native, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, these devoted men spent, and were spent, becoming all things to all men, if by any means they might save some. And some they did save, through God's grace blessing their labours.

Perhaps the department of labour to which Ziegenbalg devoted the greatest portion of time and study, and with the least apparent return, was discussion with the pundits or learned natives. And yet we doubt not that these produced beneficial results indirectly, by exalting the respectability of the mission and the missionaries, and so attracting the attention of many who would otherwise have turned away from them. Some of these discussions lasted four or five hours, and were conducted with great propriety on either side. Ziegenbalg, with all his zeal, was essentially a gentleman, and there is something gentlemanly in the Indian pundit when he has to deal with a man of learning.

Towards the end of 1708, Ziegenbalg entered upon a new and most important work, the translation of the Bible into the Tamul language. This is the grand turning-point of every Protestant mission, or we should rather say, of Protestant missions in every country. It may seem strange that a man should have set about the translating of the Scriptures into a language of which he knew not a word but twenty-seven months before. But Ziegenbalg was an extraordinary man. In that short period he had made extraordinary progress in the language. Simultaneously with this work he carried on another, the composition of a Tamul dictionary; or rather two; for although Mr Hough does not mention it, he composed not only the ordinary dictionary, but also one of all the poetical words and phrases in the language, a work of great value to those who have occasion to compose works suited to the pundits and the literati of the country. "These numerous works," says Mr Hough, "which required that their minds should be free from extraneous care, were actually conducted under sufferings from want and oppression. The monthly expenditure upon their schools was now increased to between forty and fifty dollars— a large sum to pay out of their own scanty stipends; and while struggling with pecuniary difficulties, their enemies, whose rage against them was fomented instead of appeased by their meekness and perseverance, proceeded so far as to procure the incarceration of Ziegenbalg for four months, on some frivolous charge, which proved unfounded." For this last enormity the Danish authorities must be held responsible. It is vain to say that they could only act upon the information laid before them, and were bound to treat a charge brought against Ziegenbalg by his enemies as they would have treated a charge that might have been brought by Ziegenbalg against the most reprobate of his enemies. If this be law, the worse for law! Without doubt, it is at all events the very opposite of justice. Of course, the authorities were bound to inquire into the charge; but they ought to have accepted such bail as Ziegenbalg could offer. His word of honour would have been quite sufficient to secure his attendance when called upon. It would appear that his detention was not a mere gentle restraint, but an actual imprisonment of the most rigid kind ; for we learn incidentally that his translation was suspended, which would not have been the case, we may be sure, if he had been allowed access to his books and papers. Meantime, the Word of God was not bound. The steady, persevering labours of the missionaries were beginning to tell, not only in Tranquebar, but in the neighbouring country, and when additional labourers (Messrs Grundler, Boeving, and Jordan) arrived in the middle of 1709, they found the field white unto the harvest. These new missionaries brought out with them a very seasonable supply of money, a number of valuable books for the mission library, and a complete medicine-chest. At the same time arrived imperative orders from the King of Denmark to the governor of Tranquebar to render the missionaries whatever aid or protection they might require. And thus, with gradually improving prospects, yet in the midst of immense difficulties, perils from their own countrymen, and perils from the heathen, these apostolic men carried on their good work; in their greatest perils and their deepest poverty, staying themselves upon their God and Saviour, and experiencing the faithfulness of His most gracious promise, "Lo, I am with you always."

It seems to have been Prince George of Denmark, husband of our Queen Anne, and his chaplain, Dr Boehm, that brought the Tranquebar mission under the notice of the English, and procured for it the valuable assistance of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. In 1709, this society voted a grant of £20 and a case of books to the Tranquebar mission, and larger sums in subsequent years. They afterwards sent a printing-press, which reached just in time to enable the missionaries to proceed with the printing of the New Testament. It gives us a striking view of the state of feeling, and the state of communication in India, a century and a half ago, that when the first remittance of money and books arrived in Madras, the missionaries sent two natives to receive them. But the British authorities, to whom, as having come in a Company's ship, they were consigned, did not deem it expedient to intrust them to natives, and Ziegenbalg was obliged to go for them himself! Comparing the state of things indicated by this fact with the present state of matters in India, we come to a conclusion directly opposite to the prevalent idea, that everything has been stationary in that country. For ourselves, we believe that there is no country in the world in which so much progress has been made as in India during the last century.

Before the missionaries received aid from England, they had resolved that one of them must go to Europe, to represent to the King of Denmark the persecutions to which they were subjected at the hands of his subordinates, and to obtain increased pecuniary support. Both these objects were happily anticipated, as has just been told; and the missionaries were thus enabled to labour in concert till the autumn of 1711, when declining health constrained Plutschou to return to Europe. It need not be said that his colleague had from the first occupied a far more prominent position than he; but we must not thence conclude that Plut-schou's labours were either few or unimportant. In every great enterprise there must be variety of gifts and variety of powers, hand and foot, as well as eye and brain. Melancthon could not have taken the place of Luther, yet Martin would not have been much more than half of what he was had he wanted his Philip. In the days of chivalry each knight must have his squire. The little urchin who blew the bellows of the organ enunciated a grand principle in political economy when he said, '' I think we did pretty well in that piece." Albeit, therefore, Plutschou's name occurs but rarely in the history of the mission, yet we doubt not that he too filled an important place, and has a fair record on high.

Plutschou was accompanied to Europe by a native youth, who was sent to Halle for the completion of his education. Our readers who remember the interest that was produced a few years ago by the arrival of Rajahgopaul in Scotland, will be able to understand the effect of the visit of a Christian native of India nearly a century and a half earlier.

It was not long ere Ziegenbalg was compelled to follow his colleague to Europe. He was originally of a delicate constitution, and he could not learn to spare himself, or to take any care of himself. He therefore, when left alone, soon fell ill, and left the field of his labours in October 1714, taking with him another convert, with whose aid he carried on during his voyage the translation of the Old Testament, and the composition of the Tamul dictionary. His reception in Denmark and in England was most cordial. The Kings of Denmark and of England, his old preceptor Professor Franke of Halle, and Archbishop Wake of Canterbury, vied with each other in attempts to render his visit pleasant to himself, and profitable to the interests of the mission. But he could not stay here. His health was recruited. He had taken the best human security for its continuance by marrying a pious and intelligent wife. The interests of the mission had been advocated in the proper quarters, and on the 4th of March 1716, he and his bride embarked for the far East. Great was the joy of all when he returned to Tranquebar, and told of all the way in which the Lord had led him, and especially of the promises of aid he had received in "generous England."

And now the mission had well-nigh attained that state of felicity which is said to appertain to the country whose annals are blank. There was as much hard work as ever, and of more varied kinds, but the strain and the jar were less. The opposition had abated, both from the favourable influence of the King of Denmark, and from the increased and constantly increasing respectability of the Christian community, who were now able to shield each other from the persecutions of their heathen countrymen. In fact, the mission was now one of the established institutions of the country, and was recognised as such by friends and foes. There was no department of missionary work that was not now in vigorous operation at Tranquebar. Preaching of the gospel to all who would hear it in the Danish territory; itinerating in the surrounding districts, though this was carried on at great risk, on account of the opposition of the heathen Rajah; schools for the young ; printing of books and tracts, and especially of the translated Word of God, and in order thereto paper-making, and apparently type-founding; all these entered into the daily occupations of Ziegenbalg and his colleagues.

But the chariot of fire was at the gate, which was to convey Ziegenbalg from his abundant labours to his superabundant reward; and the horses were impatiently champing the bits. He had been ill in October 1718, and if he had taken rest then, it would appear, humanly speaking, that he might have recovered. But he could not rest. And in the beginning of the year a relapse ensued, and prostrated him on the bed, which soon proved to be his bed of death. "Throughout his sickness nothing was heard from his lips but prayer and devout ejaculations of praise, in the language of that sacred volume in whose translation he had been so long engaged. On the morning of his last day on earth he rose early, and, as he was wont, joined with his wife in prayer. Soon after he was seized with extreme pain; and when told of St Paul's desire to depart and be with Christ, he answered in a feeble voice, 'So do I desire. God grant that, washed from my sins in the blood of Christ, and clothed in His righteousness, I may depart from this world to the kingdom of heaven.' As his agonies increased, he was reminded of the same apostle's confidence in prospect of eternity; 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.' Upon which he said, 'In this warfare I will endure hardness, through Christ, that I may obtain that glorious crown.' Shortly after he faintly added, ' I can hardly speak any more. May the Lord command what I have said to bring forth fruit! Daily have I resigned myself to the will of my God. Christ has said, "Where I am, there also shall my servant be!"' He then requested that one of his favourite hymns might be sung—Jesus meine Zuversicht, (Jesus my Saviour)—with the accompaniment of the violin. The singing ended, he desired to be placed in an arm-chair; and soon after he calmly fell asleep in Jesus. The composure of his departing spirit presented a striking contrast to the lamentations of the beholders."

We are afraid that some of our readers may be disposed to smile at the idea of the good man dying to the sound of the fiddle. To us it seems in beautiful keeping with the whole scene, and the scene itself in as beautiful keeping with the life that went before.

So lived, and so died in the thirty-sixth year of his age, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, a brave man, a humble Christian, a devoted and a successful missionary. And now, ye readers of Good Words, so live ye also, doing good unto all as you severally have opportunity; and so may ye die, in the faith of the gospel, triumphing over death, and may ye share the eternal joys which are around the throne of the Lamb!


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