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Good Words 1860
The Serampore Missionaries


With feelings akin to those with which we can conceive a young Greek in old times to have surveyed the plain of Marathon, or looked up to the beetling cliffs of Thermopylae, or to those with which thousands of our countrymen now look upon the field of Waterloo, did the present "Sketcher" first visit Serampore. Not more classic are those great battle-fields in the history of Greece and England respectively, than is this quiet Gangetic town in the history of Christian missions. And truly no disparagement is cast upon the memory of the simple-minded, earnest-hearted, incorruptible, and chivalrous Leonidas, by the suggestion of a parallel betwixt him and William Carey; or upon that of the more statesman-like and far-seeing, but not less brave, and, despite of calumny and false accusation and harsh judgment, not less upright Miltiades, when a comparison is hinted at between him and Joshua Marshman; nor even upon that of our own iron Duke, who, to Spartan courage and Attic skill, superadded a high principle and an over-mastering sense of the good and the true and the right, which could have its birth only in a Christian age, when with his honoured name are coupled those of these good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We hope to make this good ere the present sketch be finished. And in order to do so we must first trace the history of the men, and then endeavour to estimate the importance of their work as missionaries in the metropolitan section of India. This will require more space than can be allowed us for a single sketch. At present we purpose to confine ourselves to the period of their lives preceding their engagement as missionaries.

We hope we shall not be accused of presumption if we say, at the outset, that in the former part of our work we shall take the inimitable Hogarth as our model, inasmuch as our sketch shall consist of a series of minor sketches, exhibiting our heroes in the several stages of their development. We know right well that we cannot vie with the designer of the. "Two Apprentices," and the "Rake's Progress," and "Marriage a la Mode," in graphic power, or in the skill of introducing telling incidents; but there is no reason why we should not adopt his method, although we must perforce be content with a very small share of his success in treating our subject.

William Carey, in his childhood, had nothing very particular to distinguish him from the great army of children that are born from year to year in English villages; or else no eye that fell upon him was sufficiently keen, or sufficiently interested, to mark the distinction. The son of very poor parents, from whom he inherited a constitution tainted with scrofula, he doubtless uttered many cries of pain and fretfulness, which those around him had, as doubtless, too little leisure to heed. It was probably on account of his feeble constitution that, instead of being sent to the fields in his infancy to drive away crows from the new-sown corn fields, he was allowed to remain at school rather longer than boys of his class were in those days generally permitted to do; and he consequently "received an education which was generally esteemed good in country villages." Indeed, he does not appear to have done any regular manual work until he was fourteen years of age, when he was bound apprentice to a shoemaker, at Haekleton in Northamptonshire.

Here the proper education of the future missionary began. It was in this wise:—In the cobbler's shop in which he wrought there were a few old books, such as we have all seen in such places. Amongst these was an odd volume of some critical commentary on the New Testament. It contained many references to the original, and consequently many Greek words, which were "all Greek" to young Carey, because he did not know the character. But he copied them, as we might copy some old Coptic or Runic inscription, and conveyed them to a friendly decipherer. This was one Tom Jones, one of a class of characters which has its representative in every village. He had got a good classical education at Kidderminster, and had "walked the hospitals" as a medical student. But he was a ''fast" young man, and ran through his little patrimony before he had made any progress on the road of professional attainment. After various ups and downs, each up being less high, and each down deeper than the preceding, he betook himself to the loom in Carey's native village, and kept up a certain sort of ambiguous popularity by his cleverness, his superior education, his reckless, frolicking good-nature, and his knowledge of life in certain of its phases, which were fortunately not familiar to his fellow-villagers. This Tom Jones was Carey's first teacher in Greek literature. As often as the young shoemaker paid a visit to his parents, he took with him his paper on which he had transcribed the Greek words which he had met with in the course of his reading, and received from Jones a fresh impulse to diligence in his studies.

If our readers are not pleased with this first sketch, and are shocked at the kind of intercourse that was kept up between the cobbler's apprentice and the blase disreputable ex-medical student, our next ought to please them better, for we are going to sketch his introduction to a very estimable, venerable man. Carey's apprenticeship was cut short at the end of two years by the death of his master. He then wrought as a journeyman in the shop of Mr. Old, a respected parishioner of good Thomas Scott, the well-known commentator. Mr. Scott was in the habit of paying pastoral visits to the family of Mr. Old, and apparently of assembling some of the neighbours in his parlour for conversational and catechetical instruction. On one of these occasions '' Mr. Old entered the room with a sensible-looking lad, in his working apron. Young Carey's attention was riveted while Mr. Scott addressed the group of rustics, and exhibited great intelligence. He said little, but occasionally asked appropriate questions with much modesty, which led Mr. Scott to remark to those around him, that the youth would prove no ordinary character." [In this sketch, what we do not state on our personal knowledge, we derive mainly from "The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, embracing the History of the Serampore Mission. By John Clark Marshman. 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1859. ]

About this period Carey began to give attention to religious ordinances, and it is probable that the seed was now sown in his heart which was destined in due time to bring forth good and abundant fruit. He fell, as might have been anticipated, notwithstanding the judicious counsels of Thomas Scott, into the snare which is apt to entangle an intellectual man in an unintellectual community, the snare of speculation and perplexity. But although entangled for a time in the meshes of metaphysical subtlety, he seems to have been not long left a prey to the destroyer. He appears, however, to have gradually seceded from the worship of the Established Church, and to have associated himself more and more with a small body of men who were accustomed to meet for mutual exhortation and social worship at Hackleton. Among these he was sometimes invited to express his thoughts on a passage of Scripture, and from less to more be became a preacher,—if we are to believe his subsequent testimony (and we confess we are not disposed to distrust it), with little benefit to his hearers, and with no little injury to himself. At this time he was only eighteen years old. Probably a very large proportion of our readers are not sufficiently conversant with the constitutions of these small Independent churches, and with the forms observed by them in the calling and ordination of ministers, to be able to understand very precisely the various steps by which, a little time after, he became pastor of a small church at Earls-Barton, a village in the neighbourhood of Hackleton. At the same time he engaged to preach once a month in his native village of Pury; and these engagements he continued to discharge for three years and a half. About the end of this period he adopted Baptist views; and on the 5th October 1783, he was immersed in the river Nen, by Dr. John Ryland. From this time he seems to have enjoyed the advantages of good advice from Dr. Ryland as to the conduct of his studies; and his progress accordingly was more satisfactory than it had previously been.

Some time before this, while he was still under twenty, he had married the sister of Mr. Old, and on his master's death, had taken over his stock and business. His wife and he were ill-matched, and little happiness oh either side resulted from this improvidently-formed union. Having very imperfectly learned his trade, and having no liking for it; being neither by constitution nor education well fitted for business ; drawn by inclination to divide his time between study and gardening, and by his pastoral engagements to the composition of sermons, even at the best of times he did not "keep his shop," and so Poor Richard's aphorism was verified, and his shop did not long "keep him." And then low spirits, and fever and ague seized him, and for a time it seemed as if his sun would set in murky clouds before noon. Now would have been the time for a good wife to have shown her value; but "pain and anguish" wrung Carey's brow, and we fear we must confess that no "ministering angel" was Mrs. Carey. His ague continued for eighteen months, "and in this enfeebled state he was frequently obliged to travel from place to place to dispose of his goods to procure bread." So says Mr. Marshman. And we fear that the "goods" so disposed of were not the produce of the awl and the last, but haply the lasts and the awls themselves, or mayhap the household goods, the pots and pans, and other portable furniture, the better garments of himself and his wife; just the things, in short, which poverty and fever compel many a back-going family in our cities to consign to the custody of the pawnbroker.

Carey's next move was to Moulton, where ha became pastor of a small Baptist church, and teacher of a small village school. But starvation followed him here also. His income stood as follows : Stipend from his church, 11, with a supplement of 5 from a fund in London; from his school about 7s. a week, or at most 20 a year. In all about 36 to five upon in those hard dear times! Again, therefore, he betook himself to his lasts, and was fortunate enough to obtain employment from a government contractor. Here then we have a subject for a sketch worthy of Hogarth's own pencil. On every alternate Saturday he walked ten miles to Northampton with the produce of his fortnight's toil, and returned with a supply of leather to occupy him for the next fortnight. But next day he was a new man, and out of the abundance of a full heart, was well able to edify his small congregation by a heartfelt statement of the power of the gospel to sweeten the bitter cup, and to lighten the heavy burden.

Despite its difficulties and its trials, Carey's residence at Moulton was one of the most interesting and most important periods of his life. Here he enjoyed the friendship of Mr. Hall of Arnsby (author of the Help to Zion's Travellers, and father of Robert Hall), of Dr. Ryland, and of Andrew Puller. Here too, while instructing the young Moultonians in geography, his mind was first overwhelmed with the thought of the condition of the heathen world; and in that little school did that poverty-pinched young man conceive and grasp the sublime idea of carrying the gospel to the darkened nations of heathenism. This idea rather grasped him, and held him henceforth in its strong arms, constraining all his faculties and powers, nerving him for all contests, bearing him up in all trials, and giving him, through means of his strong will, the victory over all opposition. "When he quitted the school and resumed his trade, he had a map of of the world hung on the wall of his shop, in which he had entered all "the particulars he had been able to glean relative to the natural characteristics, the population, and the religion of every country as then known to us. While engaged in making or mending shoes, his eye was often raised from the last to the map, and his mind was employed in traversing the different regions of the globe, and musing on the condition of the various heathen tribes, and devising the means of evangelizing them." Reader, you have perchance read and been amused, in some of the clever novels of the day, with witty and bitter sarcasm directed against men, and particularly against women, who, through dislike of the ordinary commonplace duties around them, deem that they have a special "mission" for something great and distant. It may, or it may not, be fair game to assail with the shafts of ridicule the canting imitation of the best and the holiest things. On this we offer at present no opinion. Only we advise thee, if ever thou shouldst be tempted by such ridicule to think that all is vanity and sham, to turn thy thoughts to that little Moulton school and that little Moulton workshop, and to rivet on thy heart the conviction that all coin is not spurious, that there is such a thing as sterling and solid metal as well as gilt and silver-wash. One Carey were a fair offset to a hundred "Mrs. Jellabies;" and while we will not say that there are hundreds of Careys for one Jellaby, we will say that the class to which the former belonged is more numerous than that of which the latter is taken as a type, or, at all events, we have known far more members of the one class than the other.

For years Carey continued to harp upon this one string, and succeeded, according to the usual terms of the series in such matters, first, in making himself a "bore;" secondly, in getting the doubtful credit from some of being a well-meaning enthusiast ; thirdly, in exciting opposition as warm as his own advocacy; and fourthly, in achieving complete and glorious success. Such, good readers of Good Words, are the stations on the line of noble enterprise; and you must be prepared to pass through the intermediate stations, else there is little likelihood of your ever reaching the terminus.

In 1789, Carey was translated to Leicester, where his circumstances, as preacher and teacher, were somewhat improved. But the advantage which he valued most was access to a good library, containing a valuable collection of works on scientific subjects. The following is his account of the way in which he distributed his time :—" On Monday, I confine myself to the study of the learned languages, and oblige myself to translate something. On Tuesday, the study of science, history, and composition. On Wednesday, I preach a lecture, and have been more than a twelvemonth on the Book of Revelation. On Thursday, I visit my friends. Friday and Saturday are spent in preparing for the Lord's day ; and the Lord's day in preaching the word of God. Once a fortnight I preach three times at home, and once a fortnight I go to a neighbouring village in the evening. My school begins at nine in the morning, and continues till four in winter, and five in summer."

"The laurel never grows for sluggard brows."

Though his hands were thus full of work, and although he did with his might what his hand found to do, yet he never lost sight of his great aim. Like his divine Master, he had a baptism to be baptized with, and greatly was he straitened till it was accomplished. Success in his ministry at home, which has so often been regarded (sometimes, no doubt, conscientiously enough) as an indication of God's will that his servants should relinquish the missionary enterprise, was to him only an incentive to greater zeal, and to more intense devotedness to his chosen, his appointed work. The opposition with which he met from revered fathers and brethren served only to add fuel to the flame that had been kindled within him. And now this poor "cobbler," under the influence of this grand idea, stands forth on our canvas as a veritable hero, ready to dare all and to bear all, ready not only to spend and to be spent, but ready to do battle even with men at whose feet he would willingly have sat as a humble disciple. Strong as were his denominational prejudices or convictions, even these gave way before this over-mastering influence,

and henceforth the church was divided, not according to the old landmarks of Episcopacy and Presbytery and Congregationalism, but into those who were interested in missions and those who cared not for them. At length light began to break in upon his prospects. At a meeting of Baptist ministers in 1791, Carey was urged to publish his Inquiry on Missions ; and at the meeting in 1792, he preached before the Association from Isaiah liv. 2, 3. The heads of his sermon became henceforth the motto of the missionary enterprise: "Expect GREAT THINGS FROM GOD; ATTEMPT GREAT THINGS FOR GOD."

The effect of this sermon was great; and a resolution was passed "that a plan be prepared against the next ministers' meeting at Kettering for the establishment of a Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen." Accordingly, when the Association met at Kettering on the 2d October 1792, the twelve ministers present pledged themselves in a solemn vow to make an attempt to convey the gospel message of salvation to some portion of the heathen world. A committee was appointed, and a subscription was collected, amounting to 13, 2s. 6d. This sum has often been spoken of as an instance of small beginnings, and rightly enough. But it ought also to be regarded in another light. As subscribed by twelve men, probably no one of whom had an income of 100 a year, it appears to us munificent. Would a subscription raised among the " fathers and brethren" of one of our General Assemblies now, afford a proportional result ? Thus was the good ship launched. But little sympathy was shown by the leading men of the denomination; but wisdom is justified of her children. The only minister who showed any warmth of sympathy with the cause, was good old John Newton, who recognised these ardent young Baptists as his brethren, while their ecclesiastical superiors and his alike stood aloof from them. . The circumstances which led to the selection of Bengal as the first field for the inauguration of this great enterprise we cannot now detail. We must content ourselves with intimating, that on the 9th of January 1793, the Society agreed to send out Mr. Carey and Mr. Thomas to Bengal. This strange associate we cannot at present sketch. He was in many respects a good man, but perhaps one of the most injudicious that ever injured a good cause.

We have already alluded to Carey's inconsiderate marriage. How the ill-assorted pair had dragged on hitherto, we have no intimation. But now it was made manifest how little Mrs. Carey was a help-meet to her husband. She absolutely refused to accompany him to India; and sorely was he tried by this apparently insuperable difficulty. He was a man and a husband before he became a missionary; and could the duties of his new avocation release him from the obligations of the old tie? It is a nice point of casuistry, upon which we shall give no deliverance. Carey decided it thus: He would go to India with his eldest son, and return for his wife and other children as soon as the mission should be fairly established. Now, let no one hint that haply he was rather pleased to be rid of her. Really it was not so. Poverty and ill-temper, and an uncongenial, vulgar mind had, indeed, long ago driven away all the romance and sentiment of his early love ; but he was still, and to the last, a faithful and a loving husband, bearing and forbearing, doing for her what he could do, suffering for her and from her with all patience and long-suffering and gentleness. Perhaps, indeed, there is nothing that brings out more strikingly the greatness of Carey's character than his treatment of his wife from first to last.

But the difficulties were not yet well begun. The funds fell far short of the means of paying two passages to India. And it was found impossible to procure the license of the Company for any missionaries to proceed to India. We do not remember to have read a narrative of more harassing difficulty than that which Mr. Marshman gives. Doubtless, it was a good training for the work that lay before them. At last the difficulties were surmounted. Mrs. Carey having got a taste of widowhood, and not liking its savour, followed her husband ; and the whole party embarked on the 13th of June 1793, on board the Danish ship "Cron-Princessa Maria," and after a pleasant voyage, landed in Calcutta on the 11th of November. Having thus brought Carey to the scene of his labours in India, we go back to England, and present a few sketches of Mr. Marshman's pre-missionary life.

Joshua Marshman was born at Westbury Leigh, in Wiltshire, on the 20th April 1768, when William Carey was about seven years old. His father, after a life of adventure by sea and land, had resumed his original trade of a weaver, and become in due time a deacon of the Baptist Church at Westbury Leigh. His mother was of French descent, and both father and mother adorned their station by piety and exemplary beneficence. Young Marshman's education was of the most meagre character. He left school "with a fair knowledge of reading," the district not containing a single school in which writing or arithmetic was taught! But the little seed of education fell into a fertile soil, and grew up to a great and vigorous tree. At the age of seven, he learned from his father the story of David and Goliath; and forthwith he set about reading the Old Testament history. Soon after, he found on a stall in a fair, a brief History of England, and left not the stall till he had read it through. From this time to the end of his long life, he was an insatiable reader. By the time he was twelve years old, he had read through more than 100 volumes, and before he was fifteen, he had read more than 500 works, almost all of them borrowed, some of them at the expense of a journey of a dozen miles. His biographer tells us that he thought little of such a walk for the loan of a book; but he does not tell us whether he was equally zealous as respects the return of those that he borrowed ! Judging from the habits of certain friends of our own (who are quite welcome to take a hint when they read this in the pages of Good Words), and from his own subsequent character in this respect, we think it not improbable that he was not.

When Marshman was fifteen years old, the Tillage of Westbury Leigh was visited by Mr. Cator, a native of the village, who was a bookseller in London. He heard of young Marshman's passion for reading, and having become acquainted with him, offered to take him into his shop. It is needless to say that the offer was most earnestly accepted. The prospect of dwelling in the midst of books, was the prospect of dwelling in paradise. The reality scarcely came up to the expectation. He had plenty books indeed, but he had little time for reading them. The following little sketch is worthy of being copied: "As he had little time for reading in the shop, and was daily sent out with books to the residence of customers, he often read them as he walked the streets, and frequently found the book tossed into his face by some rude passenger." This period of his life was, upon the whole, one of considerable enjoyment ; but it was soon brought to a close. "At the end of five months, his father, under the impression that he was unhappy in London, or being himself unhappy, recalled him to Westbury Leigh. There he resumed his labours at the loom, and plunged again into his old course of desultory and immoderate reading, devouring every work of fiction or poetry, history, geography, or travels, to which he could obtain access."

In this course of weaving and reading, reading and weaving, he continued for ten years. During this period, he began to give heed to spiritual concerns; and seems to have become a candidate for baptism. But the worthy deacons of the Baptist church laid it down as an axiom, that "heart knowledge" of Christianity must be in inverse ratio to "head knowledge" of it, and as they found the catechumen to have a vast amount of the latter, they concluded that he must of necessity have very little of the former. He was therefore kept in probation for seven years, and was not baptized till after he had left the village.

In 1791, Mr. Marshman married Miss Hannah Shepherd, whom the present "sketcher" remembers well as a venerable mother in Israel, whose name and memory are revered by many in India. Three years later, Mr. Marshman left the loom for the more congenial work of teaching, having been appointed master of the congregational school of Broadmead in Bristol. The same year he was baptized by Dr. Ryland, and began to attend the classes in the Bristol Academy, the college of the Baptist denomination for the Western districts of England. Here for five years he laboured with enthusiasm, studying with his characteristic energy not only the Latin and Greek classics, but also the Hebrew and Syrian languages. His school, unlike Carey's, prospered under him; and he had a fair prospect of realizing a competency in a few years. But his mind was turned to the subject of missions; and ere long he resolved to devote himself to this noble work. His views were encouraged by Dr. Ryland. He offered his services to the Baptist Missionary Society, and they were accepted ; and within three weeks of the time when he determined to proceed to India, he was sailing down the Channel on his way thither.

Thus have we attempted to give some idea of the materials out of which the Serampore Missionaries were formed. Hearts of oak they were, strengthened by many a blast, and prepared by strange providences for the arduous service for which they were designed. Very different they were from each other, and yet very similar in some respects, especially in their indefatigable industry, and indomitable perseverance. Carey studied from the love of study, Marshman from the thirst for knowledge. Carey overbore difficulties by patience that nothing could wear out, Marshman by strength of will that nothing could resist. We took occasion to say in our first sketch, that in almost every great enterprise there is a first and a second leader; the second occupying a subordinate place, but yet, one that must be occupied. But it was not so with these brethren. They were "par nobile fratrum." Each supplied the defects of the other; and while it is impossible to fail to recognise them as both leaders, it is as impossible to see that either led the other. But of this our readers will be better able to judge when we have presented them with a sketch of the actual missionary life of those whose training we have now attempted to delineate.


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