SHORTLY after his arrival in Calcutta, Duff
received an invitation to a State Ball arranged by the
Governor-General in honour of the accession of William IV. As a matter
of principle he had never attended any ball, and he felt that he could
not accept the invitation. But as he did not know what an invitation
from the Governor-General might mean, he consulted the godly English
chaplain on the matter. The chaplain replied that he entirely
disapproved of balls, and if he possibly could he would shun them
altogether. But in India an invitation from the Governor-General, who
represented the Queen, was regarded as a command. He, therefore, was
in the habit of going to Government House and entering the ball room,
to remain there for a few moments, and then quietly to retire. Duff
did not like this compromise, and as his friend had no better solution
to give, he wrote a letter to the Governor-General's Private
Secretary, in which, after expressing thanks for the courteous
invitation, he stated that he could not
consistently attend the ball, and that he also was afraid to injure
his usefulness as a minister by accepting the invitation.
After a week or two the
Governor-General expressed by letter his cordial approval of the
spirit and principles of the Missionary's attitude. At the same time
the Private Secretary added that his lordship hoped Mr Duff would dine
privately with Lady Bentinck and himself and a few friends in order
that he might talk over various important matters which bore on the
social, moral, intellectual and religious conditions of the natives of
India. On these occasions civilians and military officials were
surprised at the unusual sight of the Governor-General condescending
to converse with a missionary instead of listening to them and hearing
We may now ask:—At what did
Duff aim in coming to India? What was the vision the missionary saw
and hoped to be able to help to make a reality? He believed that,
while it is the grand primary object of Christianity to save souls, it
is divinely ordained that in the very act and process of doing so,
Christianity should permeate, purify and elevate all society, not
stopping short till all private, domestic and social habits, manners,
customs and practices, as well as all national institutions and laws,
are brought into complete conformity with the mind and requirements of
Christ. He therefore hoped and expected that the Gospel would enable
India, animated by Christian principles, to take her rightful place
among the great nations of the world.
In the instructions which Duff
had received from the Convener, the special desire was expressed that
he should form a seminary for the higher education of the better-class
natives. This was Dr Inglis' own idea. After making inquiry in
Calcutta and its neighbourhood, the missionary concluded that the
spirit of this instruction could be better attained if the letter were
broken. The Committee desired that the seminary should be in the
environs of the city; Duff decided it should be established in
Calcutta itself. When he had once made up his mind he believed in
acting promptly. He sent home full and exhaustive explanations
justifying the course he was pursuing.
In reply there came a letter
from the Convener, in which Dr Inglis pathetically stated it had taken
him two months to circulate Mr Duff's letters amongst the Committee,
and asking the missionary to take this as a warning and to state his
views briefly, "abbreviating your discussions in point of reasoning."
(This appeal of the overwhelmed Convener recalls the fond wish which a
Scottish newspaper uttered when Duff addressed the Assembly as
Moderator for the second time in 1873—that the missionary had studied
under Baron Liebig!)
On another point the young pioneer in Calcutta
had the courage to differ from the instructions which he had received.
The original purpose which Dr Inglis, who really drafted the scheme,
had in view was instruction through Bengalee, although if was intended
that English should also be taught —to raise some intellectually by
imparting a liberal education to them, so that they should be a leaven
which would gradually act upon superstition and idolatry, but, "more
particularly, to qualify some who may be converted to Christianity and
religiously disposed," and who were to be used as ministers and
evangelists amongst their fellow-countrymen. But, after carefully
examining the situation, Duff decided that the best way to carry out
the instructions would be to .teach the whole school English, thus
taking advantage of the general eager desire of the Hindus for
instruction in that language, instead of
trying to train in European learning and literature through Arabic,
Persian and Sanscrit.
Duff was convinced that the example of Akbar,
when he had conquered India, was worthy of imitation by the British.
Akbar insisted that the language of business and polite literature
throughout all his Dominions should be Persian, his own language, in
order that the people might become familiar with his rule. By this
simple device he influenced the people's daily thought and made
Persian rule almost a national condition of things in
India. When the British overturned the rule of 'Akbar's successors,
they did not at once introduce the English language, and by this
omission they allowed the spell of the genius of the Mohammedan
dynasty to be an impressive power in India. By his determination to
use English in his school Duff hoped to begin the process of
familiarising the natives with that language, and thus add to the
stability of British rule in the country.
The New School
The most distinct feature of
the new school, Duff resolved, must be the daily reading of some
portion of the Bible by those who were able to read; and at the same
time the simple explanation of Scripture to all. This, he held, must
be done in order that the young people should be made acquainted with
the enlightened thought of Scripture, and so might become more
intelligent. But his chief end was to seek by this process to impress
the truth upon the hearts of those he taught, so that conscience might
become a living power in their lives. At no time in his career did he
relish the idea of a separation being made in his school between what
is called secular and what is called spiritual teaching. He went so
far as to maintain that in a missionary school "there ought to be no
exclusively secular department."
Duff found no difficulty in
carrying out this idea; and he always endeavoured—his pupils testified
to his success—in addition to reading and teaching the Bible, to
combine secular and religious education throughout the teaching of the
day. He sought to teach literature and science in such a way as to be
of effect in Christianising the scholar; and he gloried in making this
object known. He intended that his scholars should be so taught that
they should find in the instruction the reflection of the spirit of
Christ, and the illustration of its deductions and principles in
general life. He believed that the endeavour to convert the country by
the methods of elementary education and open air preaching alone was
unwise, and that to insist upon the reasonableness of these methods
alone was to sacrifice judgment to enthusiasm. At the same time he
held that teaching and preaching were always supplementary to each
The European community of
Calcutta at once disapproved. "What you propose doing is impossible.
It is a wild dream to think that any of the better-class Hindus will
attend a school where the Bible is read and explained." Many,
therefore, tried to dissuade him from pursuing what they believed to
be a suicidal policy. Their views were summed up by a brother
missionary, who called the day before Duff opened his school and said:
"He feared that his coming to India would prove a curse instead of a
blessing, and that he would fill Calcutta with rogues and vagabonds."
"Impossible'! Reach down my
dictionary, Sir, and turn to the word 'impossible' ," said a somewhat
choleric captain to a young lieutenant who had used this word in
reference to a proposed evolution. The youth looked, and then said "It
isn't in your dictionary, it's ruled out with red ink." No. Sir," said
the captain, "it's not in my dictionary, or in the dictionary of any
naval officer;. such a word is not used in the Navy; carry out my
instructions." And so it was with Alexander Duff. "Impossible" was not
in his lexicon.
Friends in Need
Though his scheme was received
with disapprobation in Calcutta, Duff visited the most experienced
missionary in India, William Carey, at Serampore, who cordially
welcomed the young Scotsman, and, after listening to the plan which he
had formed expressed his general approval of it. Before leaving, Duff
said to Carey "You have good reason if ever man had to adopt the
Apostle's words 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my
course, I have kept the faith. 'You have done so much for Christ's
cause." "No," replied the aged Carey in. a voice weak from exhaustion;
"that is too . strong, but I have a good hope."
The only one in Calcutta who
expressed anything like faith in the success of the experiment, and
whose help enabled the young missionary to begin his school, was a
Brahman of high social position and influence, the Rajah Ram Mohun
Roy, who had studied the leading religious systems in the original
sources, and had become a believer in God, though he had not professed
Christianity. "I met him twice or thrice every week in his house or
mine. What made him draw more particularly to me was, that my system
was one of religious instruction. If it had not been for him I could
not then have begun." He procured for Duff a small hail in the
Chitpore Road in the heart of the native city, and persuaded the
parents to allow five pupils of the highest caste to attend the
For the next few days the
school was besieged with eager applicants, "Me a good boy, oh take
me," cried one, "Me a poor boy, oh take me," or "me want to read your
good books, oh take me," said another. Perhaps one who knew a little
more about English missionaries said, "Me know your commandments,
'Thou shalt not have any other gods before me'; oh take me." There was
also heard the appeal, "Oh take me, and I pray for you."
When he had selected his
pupils and made an attempt to arrange them in classes Duff asked them
to come on 13th July. According to the Rajah's own suggestion he
opened a school that day by repeating the Lord's Prayer in Bengalee,
all the youths standing. When, however, he put copies of the Gospels
in Bengalee into the hands of those who could read it, one of the
youths said "This is the Christian Shastre (sacred book). How then can
we read it? It may make us Christians, and our friends will be angry
and drive us out of caste"—the greatest disgrace for a Brahman. The
Rajah, who was present, pointed out to the lad his mistake. He drew
his attention to the fact that many Christians studied the sacred book
of the Hindus in Sanskrit, but it had not made them Hindus. He had
studied the Koran in Arabic, but that had not made him a Moslem. In
this way, having calmed the fears of the pupils, he added that all
they were asked to do was to judge for themselves. The appeal told;
boys are proud to be trusted.
Had you seen Duff in the
evening you would have found him busily translating the day's lesson
into Bengalee, to help his memory as well as to gain familiarity in
writing the language, and drawing up a review of each lesson which he
carried with him for his own guidance. The boys, noting the trouble
which he took to acquire their language in order to help them to learn
English, were stimulated to greater exertions ; it became a race
between master and pupil. But at the outset, so low had the office of
teacher of English, the language of the Mlecchas (or unclean), fallen
in Calcutta, that six months passed before Duff could induce any Hindu
to act as teacher or monitor for any pay.
Successes and Sorrows
Take a look into one of the class rooms. The
missionary is standing beside a board resting upon an upright frame,
with a semicircle of keen-eyed clever boys in front of him. He picks
up a slip of wood, on which the letter O has
been painted, and slips it into one of the parallel grooves that run
across the board, at the same time pronouncing its name. When that
letter has been mastered he slips in the letter X and pronounces it;
when that letter, too, has been learnt he brings the two together, and
says O-X, OX. He then gives the name of the
animal which he has described, in Bengalee, their mother tongue, and
the boys have begun to learn English. Follow these little fellows as
they leave school that day. Soon they meet an ox pulling a native
cart, whereupon they show off the English they have learnt by shouting
in glee O-X—OX.
Some of the boys, not more than six or seven
years old, proved apt scholars, for they learned the alphabet in two
days, and with equal speed they put letters together into words, so
that in a very short time they were able to read. Duff made it a rule,
how-. ever, that only when they were able to read tolerably well their
own Bengalee could they be allowed to begin English. For the Bengalee
he secured an Indian teacher, but until the arrival of his colleagues
from Scotland he had to teach all the English classes
himself. He went rapidly from one class to another, keeping them all
in exercise, so that he never sat down, though this involved from five
to six hours daily in that hot trying climate.
One day the lesson in general
knowledge was about rain. "What causes rain? " he asked.
"Oh, it comes from the trunk
of Indra's elephant upon which he rides through the clouds."
"How do you know?"
"Our Guru (Sacred teacher)
told us the gods told him."
"Would you like to know what
we are taught about rain?"
"Did you ever see a kettle
boiling? What comes out of the spout?"
"And what is steam?"
"It is the vapour which the
water gives off."
"If you look at the inside of
the kettle lid, what happens to the steam when it touches it?" "The
lid becomes wet."
"In the same way if you hold a
saucer before the spout in the steam the saucer becomes wet too. The
steam is changed into water, it is condensed, and as the drops collect
they fall back into the water. After the heavy rain has fallen, you
see vapour rising from the ground, where does it go?"
"Into the air."
"And as the air is colder the
vapour condenses, as the steam condensed on the saucer, and as soon as
there is more vapour than the air can carry, the rain falls."
The boys understood the
explanation, and saw that what they had been told was not true. They
began to doubt their holy teacher.
One morning a scholar in great
distress told Duff that on the previous day he had been compelled,
from fear of offending parents and friends, to join in the Hindu
ceremonies customary during an eclipse of the sun. "Why did you
explain those things to us?" he said. "I had much pain, for your
explanation is always in my mind, and I feel that I am now a
hypocrite. Why did you explain them to us?"
In this way Duff devoted his
time and strength, as he said, to the preparing of a mine which should
one day explode and tear up the old system from its lowest depths.
A very well-known Independent
missionary, when visiting a remote and obscure place forty miles from
Calcutta, to preach there, was not a little surprised one morning when
three young Hindus approached him, and one of them, addressing him in
English, told the missionary that urgent business had brought him (the
speaker) to that place. While there he met with these two neighbours
and had been conversing with them in the effort to convince them of
the superior claims of Christianity, for, said he, "The Bible is a
good book and contains the only true religion." Having finished his
business, he was now obliged to return to Calcutta, but as he had
heard of the missionary's arrival, he, though a perfect stranger, had
brought his neighbours to the missionary, as they desired to hear more
about Christianity. Astonished beyond measure, the missionary asked
the speaker where he had received his knowledge of Christianity. "At
Mr Duff's school," he replied. " Here," said the missionary when
relating the incident to Duff, "was a young Hindu, quietly and unknown
to his teacher, doing the work of a missionary." It fully convinced
him of the good which might be effected by an efficient Christian
One lad called upon the
missionary after the pupils had read in the class and heard the
explanation of the passage "Love your enemies." In his own holy books,
he said, he was taught, on divine authority, to curse his enemies.
That lad became a Christian, a step which in those days needed more
than human strength and courage.
Another lad who wished to
acknowledge Christ had nowhere to go; he, therefore, came to the
missionary's house, and a message was sent to let his father know. In
answer the father came walking with downcast countenance and hands
folded as if in agony. By and by he drew near, and in silence embraced
his son's feet, looked up wistfully, tears trickling down his cheek,
as he said in soft piercing tones, "My son!" The son could not help
weeping also. The father, looking up, said "My son! If you will not
for my sake, why be so cruel to your mother who bore you, carried you
on her breast, fed you with her own milk out of her own substance?
Will you really, my son, be the murderer of your mother, for she has
vowed that she will neither eat nor drink till she has set her eyes
upon her darling son? Just come that she may look upon you for one
moment. If you do not, she will die." The young man felt the strain so
terribly that he fainted, murmuring, as he recovered consciousness,
"Oh God have mercy upon me! Oh God, spare my reason!" Many a young
convert faced this ordeal triumphantly.
As he received neither help
nor encouragement from European residents and missionaries, Duff
resolved to live in the native town, but no Hindu with any self-
respect would let a house to one who ate beef. In the emergency, he
heard of a house that no one would occupy because it was said to be
haunted. In this house he lived with his wife and child till
ill-health compelled him to seek healthier quarters. But what of Mrs
Duff? One recalls Ruth's beautiful reply to Naomi, for the
missionary's wife had made a similar choice and lived, without a
murmur, a life of solitude during these days. It was of her that
Duff's former colleague wrote when he heard of her death. "She was the
best of wives and mothers, a loving and true help to her husband, the
soother of his many pains and cares and sorrows, deeply interested in
his work and intensely solicitous for his honour. If not herself a
missionary, she was heart and soul a missionary's wife."
About a year after the opening
of the school a public examination of the pupils was held in the
Freemasons' Hall, Archdeacon Corrie presiding. The audience was amazed
when they heard high-caste Indian boys not only reading in English
portions of the Bible, but readily, with accurate knowledge, answering
questions on the doctrines and proofs of Christian faith and morals.
This was the talk of Calcutta for some time, and Duff was received
into favour by the other missionaries, who frankly acknowledged they
had been wrong. So many visitors now called to see the school that
Saturday was set apart for their reception, while the new system of
missionary education was generally adopted throughout India.