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James Legge, Missionary and Scholar
Chapter II. The Choice of His Life Work


IT was while James Legge was at College that the call to the East finally became clear. He was accepted by the Directors of the London Missionary Society, subject to the medical report as to his fitness for a hot climate. The doctor's verdict was unfavourable, and was to the effect that there was a tendency to consumption, and that, if sent to Macao, he would probably die within six months. Nevertheless, unmoved in his purpose, he sought out and consulted another doctor, by whom he was examined and pronounced perfectly sound. This doctor was afterwards widely known as the famous Sir William Jenner.

Forty years later, when Dr Legge was Professor of Chinese at Oxford, he was asked to write a paper for the Shanghai Conference of 1877 on Confucianism and its relation to Christianity—a very memorable occasion, and at which, among other things, it was determined to prepare, and issue The Conference Commentary on Holy Scripture, a work still proceeding, but of which important parts have been issued. In the outset of the paper, Dr Legge thus recalled the time of which we are writing: 'Looking back on nearly forty years of life, I am thankful that so long ago I was led to become a missionary to the Chinese. My experience may justify me in saying, that he who desires to be a missionary, desires a good work; and he who pursues it humbly and. wisely, with the consecration of all his powers, will have increasing satisfaction in reflecting on his course, and as he approaches the end of this earthly life, will bless God who called him from his country and his kindred and his father's house to go into the mission field.'

James Legge had set his heart upon going out as a missionary to the Chinese. But at that time China was not open to Europeans. It was not till 1842 that the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the British, and after the peace of Nanking in 1843, the five treaty ports were opened to English vessels. China being, therefore, a sealed book to Europeans, the sphere of labour first of all allotted to him was that of Malacca; and in July 1839 he sailed from England with his young wife, Mary Isabella, daughter of the Rev. Dr John Morison of Brompton, who was for many years editor of The Evangelical Magazine. He had wooed and won her only a few months before, and they set out on their long voyage full of heart and hope.

One forenoon, after rounding the Cape, a shark, conspicuous by its back fin rising above the water, came and played about the ship. The sailors captured it by means of a lump of pork on a hook. The doctor claimed the body to dissect and examine. Some time after he produced the heart, still throbbing so vigorously that when set on a table it jerked a hand or any small object placed on it.

In November they landed at Java in a strangely beautiful tropical world, and were courteously welcomed by the Resident at Anjer, who entertained them for some days in his bungalow, where pet monkeys and birds, among them a large grackle, lived in the dining-room. One morning the Rajah of Serang, with a large following, arrived to hold a consultation with the Resident The tenants of the district were afterwards admitted, none daring to stand upright nor to approach the Rajah except on their knees. From Anjer, Mr and Mrs Legge were carried by bearers on mountain-chairs to Serang, whence by a somewhat precarious coach ride they proceeded to Batavia. Their team consisted of four small but spirited ponies: every now and then ponies and vehicle floundered and sank into soft and spongy ground. The two policemen who escorted them hurried to neighbouring fields, beat up all labourers within call and compelled them to come and extricate the carriage. No sooner did the ponies feel firm ground again under their feet but they dashed forward, helter skelter, as before.

From Batavia, Mr and Mrs Legge sailed (the only passengers) in a small vessel to Singapore: the wind failed, the drinking water completely gave out, and the situation became serious. Fortunately a squall arose one day, and the sailors spread out a large sail and caught the precious rain. 'Ladies first,' they cried, and no one drank until a glass of water had been handed to Mrs Legge.

As the voyage continued they were able to land occasionally and explore the coast of Sumatra. Crossing the beach one morning, James Legge stepped upon what he thought was one of at least a dozen rotting tree-trunks. The thing moved beneath him and made for the water: he was horror-struck to find the tree-trunks were a group of crocodiles. Another day they rowed inland up a stream. The jungle came thickly to the water's edge, crocodiles dropped off the banks with a splash, the heat grew so intense that the men stripped off coat and shirt, and clouds of mosquitoes settled on their backs and shoulders. Next day the captain said to Mr Legge, *You were made to live in the East I am swollen up and quite ill from mosquito bites, but you have not a sign of inflammation." This immunity from mosquito poison continued all the time he was in the East.

Arrived at Singapore, they changed steamers again and then went on in a small Chinese vessel to Malacca, which they reached on January 10,1840—their journey altogether having thus taken them five months.


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