Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Life of John Wilson
Chapter IV. Public Discussions with learned Hindoos and Muhammadans


How Mr. Wilson became an Orientalist—“ Turning the World upside-down ” —Ziegenbalg’s “Conferences”—First Discussion with Brahmans—Christian Brahman against Hindoo Pundits—“God’s Sepoys”—The Ten Incarnations—The Pundits Retire—Morality versus Religion—The Second Discussion—The New Champion with Garlands of Flowers — Mr. Wilson’s “First Exposure of Hindooism”—The Third Discussion — Mr. Wilson’s “Second Exposure of Hindooism” — Parseeism and Muhammadanism enter the Arena—Dr. Pfander’s later Treatises—Mr. Wilson’s Reply to Hadjee Muhammad Hashim—The Sexualism of the Koran and Slavery— The Sons of Israel in Western India—The Black and White Jews—Joseph Wolff, the Christian Dervish and Protestant Xavier—Visit of Mr. Anthony Groves, Dervish of a different stamp — Mr. Francis W. Newman as a Missionary—Mr. Robert C. Money—Sir John Malcolm—Lord William Bentinck—Sir Robert Grant—Mr. Wilson on the British Sovereignty in India in 1835—Bombay Union of Missionaries—Progress in Kaffraria—Mr. Wilson on Carey and Morrison.

There is no recorded instance in the life of any Oriental scholar, whether official or missionary, of such rapid hut thorough acquisition of multifarious information regarding the literature and the customs, as well as the languages of the natives, as marked Mr. Wilson’s first year’s residence in India. Sir William Jones began his purely Indian studies at a later period of life, and carried them on amid comparative leisure and wealth. Colebrooke, the greatest of all Orientalists, laid the foundation of his splendid acquirements so slowly that Sanskrit at first repelled him, though afterwards he would rise from the gaming-table at midnight to study it. Ziegenbalg and Carey had the same overmastering motive as John Wilson, but the former hardly went beyond the one vernacular— Tamul, and the latter was distracted by the hardships of poverty and a discontented wife; so that he began by working | as an indigo-planter when learning Bengalee. Mr. Wilson not only mastered Marathee, but Goojaratee ; to these he soon added Hindostanee and Persian, while almost his earliest work in Bombay was the preparation of a Hebrew and Marathee grammar for the Jews, there known as Beni-Israel. Thus its four great communities, Hindoo and Muhammadan, Parsee ancTJewish, he was'early prepared to influence, while he had from the first attained sufficient fluency in Portuguese to care for the large number of half-caste descendants of our predecessors in the island. A scholarly knowledge of Arabic he was later in finding leisure to acquire. But his advance in Sanskrit seems to have been parallel with his acquisition of ' Marathee, so that we find him from the very first confuting the Brahmans out of their own sacred books as Paul did in the case of the Athenians and the Cretans. This knowledge he steadily extended to the more obscure and esoteric dialects of the older Hindoo tongues, in which the various sects of quasi-dissenters, like the Sikhs and the Vaishnavas, had their authoritative scriptures. He was early a collector of Oriental manuscripts. Nor was he content with this. He employed Brahmans to gather information for him on a definite principle, and wherever he went he was constant in his cross-examination of the people and their priests.

The result of the first fifteen months’ unwearied toil was seen in the beginning of a series of discussions on Christianity, forced on Mr. Wilson, to his great satisfaction, by Hindoo, Muhammadan, and Parsee apologists in succession. The ardent and courageous scholar, having fairly organised his schools, and his translating and preaching work, was by no means content to go on in a daily routine, passively believing that Hindoo and Parsee, Jew and Muhammadan, would come over to him. “I have felt it my duty to proceed,” he writes to more than one of his home correspondents in 1831, “somewhat out of the course of modern missionary procedure. The result of my efforts has more than realised my expectations. Matters I thought were going on too quietly; I could see little of that which is spoken of in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ as a ‘ turning of the world upside-down,’ and nothing of that stir which attended the labours of the Apostles in the different cities which they visited. There was praying and there was teaching in schools, and there was preaching to some extent, especially by our missionaries; but there was no attempt to make a general impression on the whole population of a town or province. ‘Drive gently’ was the maxim. I thought on the days of Paul when he stood on Mars’ Hill. I thought on the days of Luther, and Knox, and Calvin, and I began to see that they were right. They announced with boldness, publicly and privately, in the face of every danger, in the midst of every difficulty, to high and low, rich and poor, young and old, and I resolved by divine grace to imitate them. I have consequently challenged Hindoos, Parsees, and Mussulmans to the combat. The former I fight by the mouth principally, and the two latter by the pen. The consternation of many of them I know to be great, and hundreds have heard the gospel in the place of tens. I have had in the idolatrous Bombay, and the still more idolatrous Nasik, 250 miles distant, many hundreds for auditors. At present I am waging war, through the native newspapers, with the Parsees and Mussulmans. They are very indignant; some of them had got up a petition praying Government to stop me, but this was in vain. They did not present it. They show talent in their communications, but with a bad cause what can they do Conscience, the Holy Spirit, the promises of God and the providence of God, are on our side. 0 for a pentecostal day! This may not be granted during our sojourn. Perhaps God only wishes us to be as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

A year before this, when announcing the first of these debates, he had pronounced it “the first general discussion on the Christian and Hindoo religions which has perhaps taken place in India.” This statement is correct, notwithstanding the “conferences” which the Lutheran missionaries of Denmark had held with the Tamul Brahmans and Muhammadans in South India a century before. “Upon the 6th of March 1707,” begins the record, “I, Bartholomew Ziegenbalgen, was visited by a grave and learned Brahman; and, asking him what he proposed to himself by his friendly visit, he replied that he desired to confer with me amicably about the great things and matters of religion.” All through the narration there is no sign, at that early time, of the overturning process.

In truth, the good men of that mission, which had Tranquebar for its head-quarters, from Ziegenbalg to Schwartz, and to this day, tolerate caste even at the Lord’s table, and in all their converts save ordained natives. Very different was the “turning upside-down” of Mr. Wilson’s Bombay discussions, and yet in temper and in charity quite as “amicable” on his part, though terribly in earnest. Thus the first began.

Kama Chundra, the Pooranic Brahman who had been baptized at Bankote, visited Bombay in May 1830, for the purpose of declaring to his caste-fellows and priestly colleagues his reasons for forsaking them. For a time his arguments failed to prick their apathy. But at last Pundit Lukshmun Shastree was tempted to defend at great length the teaching of Hindooism regarding the ten Avatars or incarnations of Yishnoo, and, in the heat of controversy, to refer the question to five or six Brahmans. Rama Chundra demanded a fair public debate. To this the Pundit reluctantly consented, but himself prepared an advertisement announcing that there would be a discussion upon the evidences of the Hindoo and the Christian religion in the house of Mr. Wilson, at four o’clock on Friday the 21st May; that Rama Chundra, formerly a Pooranic, would defend the Christian religion; and that Lukshmun, a Pooranic, would, “as he felt disposed,” take up the side of the Hindoo religion. A great crowd assembled accordingly, and among them upwards of a hundred Brahmans. Lukshmun being the secular Sanskrit teacher of one of the American missionaries, and Rama Chundra a convert of the Scottish missionaries, both missionaries were present. Mr. R. T. Webb, as a layman and a high official, was asked to keep order. The interest of the whole lay in the fact that Brahman met Brahman; the one new to the work of Christian apologetics and exposition, but assisted by Mr. Wilson occasionally ; the other also helped by abler reasoners.

Mr. Wilson opened the proceedings, which were in Marathee, with constant quotations of Sanskrit verses, by stating the advantages of discussion in the attainment of truth, by exhorting the combatants to observe charity and the audience to put away prejudice, and by meeting only the initial assumption that God had established several religions, with the remark that, as God is the Father of all mankind, he -will not appoint opposing laws for the regulation of his family.

After the first day the Pundit Lukshmun “did not long keep his ground.” Rama Chundra, “though he occasionally introduced irrelevant matter, and was too tolerant of the sophistry, of his opponents, acquitted himself in a manner which greatly interested many of his auditors.” During the next three days, [ accordingly, the discussion fell into abler hands, Mr. Wilson ] on the one side, and on the Hindoo side Nirbhaya Rama and Kisundas Joguldas, chief pundit and principal pleader respectively of the highest Government Appellate Court, the Sudder' Adawlut. The Rralimans were the first to ask for quarter. The benefit of the discussion was not confined fo The crowds who heard it. Two editions of the report in Marathee were speedily exhausted; all Hindoo Bombay talked of it; it stirred up inquiry as nothing else could have done, and the delusion was dispelled that Christianity feared the investigation of the learned. True to his wise, natural, and kindly policy, in this as all through his career, Mr. Wilson took care that what he himself had learned as Western truth, but yet was of Asiatic origin as to its mode, he urged on Orientals in an Eastern form, and so commended it to every man. These extracts from the report, giving the more purely native part of the discussion, will show how it played, then as still, in the East as of late growingly in the West, around the three great questions of the nature of God., the relation of morality to religion, the origin and the means of getting rid of sin, here another after.

Rama Chundra began by declaring that he had abandoned the Hindoo religion because the statements of its scriptures were inconsistent with truth. Finding that the chief pundit, Nirbhaya, demanded proof that there is one God, he pointed to the works of God, and quoted, as binding on his opponent, the sloka of the Bhagavat Geet, to the effect that there is one Supreme Being, the author of birth, life, and death:

“R. C. In the Hindoo Shastres it is written that God was at first destitute of qualities, and that afterwards he became possessed of suttvci (activity), rvja (goodness), and tuma (darkness). In this statement three difficulties present themselves to my mind. The declaration that God was destitute of qualities tends highly to his dishonour; and I am unable to understand, if he was destitute of power, how he could become possessed of it. I cannot admit that such qualities as ruja and tuma are to be applied to the Divinity. The Avatars (incarnations) of Vishnoo have taken human life and committed other bad actions; on this account I put no faith in them; but not so with the Avatar of Christ; he has obeyed God in all things, and given his life for man. As then the onion and the musk are known by their odour, and the tree is known by its fruits, so are the Avatars to be known by their works. Their works are evil, and therefore I renounce them.

“Lukshmun. I ask a question—If a subject commits a crime, is the king to be blamed for punishing him ? Is God to be blamed for taking an Avatar to punish the Rakshusas (demons)?

“R. C. Amongst men a king must punish an offender according to his crime; but God has established principles, from which men, by their own wickedness, come to evil, and go to hell, therefore there was no occasion for an Avatar to come into the world for that purpose.

“Nirhhaya. God was not wholly included in the Avatar, and therefore the sins of the Avatars are not to be laid to God.

“R, C. Suppose them to be so far disconnected with God as to be only his messengers—if they are true they will act rightly.

“Ivisundass. Yes! the Avatars were God’s Sepoys.

“R. C. If God’s Sepoys, why did they not act according to his will? If they commit sin, how are they to be known as His Sepoys?

“K. They are known by their badge, and not by their conduct.

“R. C. Where is the badge? Nirbhaya Rama says they are only parts of God; but if parts, they will be like himself in substance: but God has no parts; He is everywhere present.

“Shcis. If they are not from God, whence are they?

“R. C. They may have been men, and therefore they are not to be worshipped.

“K. But if they are great and powerful, and are sent in the place of God, with power to punish the Rakshusas, they are as kings, who are not to be blamed for punishing offenders.

“R. C. Are we then to bow down to all who do any wonderful acts ? Their works prove that they are not part of God. If I have a piece of gold, and break it into many pieces, the qualities in each will still remain the same.

“K. In the God you worship you admit three Persons: and why then do you reject ten Avatars?

“R. C. Not so : in the Deity there are three Persons, but one God ; as in the sun,—there is the sun, the light, and the heat, but all included in one sun. I utterly reject the Avatars. Why did they take place ? The object of the Fish Avatar was the discovery of the stolen Yedas. The object of the Tortoise was the placing the newly created earth upon his back to keep it firm. The object of the Boar Avatar was to draw up the earth from the waters, after it was sunken by the Devtya. The object of the Man-lion Avatar was to destroy the rebellious giants, Hirunuyaksha and Hirunyukushipoo. The object of the Dwarf Avatar was the destruction of the religious : Bulee. The object of the Purushoo Rama Avatar was the destruction of the Kshutriyas. The object of the Rama Avatar was the destruction of Ravana. The object of the Krishna Avatar was to destroy the giant Kungshu. These are the Avatars which you say have already taken place. Is there any appearance of God in such acts ? Could He not have accomplished these objects without assuming an Avatar ? Did His taking a form make the work easier ? I maintain, then, the reason for such Avatars is absurd. This is not the case with Christ : He came that the punishment of sin might be endured, and God’s hatred of sin manifested.

“S Jmkhurama Shctstree. Cannot a king do what he pleases? Cannot he go into the bazaar and carry off what he pleases? who can call in question his doings?

“Mr. IF. This is one of your other modes of explaining the actions of Krishna. A king, by his power, may prevent inquiry into his conduct; but lie assuredly can sin. If the greatness of Krishna is to he considered, it must he viewed as an aggravation of his faults. Utterly opposed to these Avatars is that of Christ, in Whom we wish you to trust. He came into the world to save sinners. By His miracles he proved His divine mission. His doctrines were holy ; and His works were holy. He voluntarily gave His life a ransom for us. He illustrated the divine mercy, and the divine holiness. He procured a righteousness for man. He prays for man in heaven. He is able to save man. The hooks which contain His history are true. They are not like the Hindoo Shastres. In them we find no foolish stories, no errors, and no utter want of evidence. Read them. Search and pray for wisdom. Embrace the truth.

“Shuk. How can you show that God has forbidden the worship of idols? for where there is one who does not, there are an hundred who do worship idols.

“H. C. All men are sinners, and are inclined to depart from God.

“Mr. IE. Are the idols like God?

“Shuk. Not so: but if obeisance is made to the shoe of a king in the pre-« sence of his servants, and they bear the intelligence to the king that such-a-one has great respect for him, for he every day comes and makes obeisance before his shoe, would you not consider this as paying respect to the king'!—so is it in worshipping the Deity by the idol.

“Mr. IV. By this reasoning you make God at a distance; and we say that He is everywhere present, and that He is everywhere propitious. Is God then in the idol?

"Shuk. Yes, in everything.

“Mr. I. You say that God is in a particular manner in the idol, and that he is brought in by the Muntras (invocations); but if a Mussulman touches it he goes out!—Even your old Shastres say that you are not to worship idols. The Vedantee philosophers, near Calcutta assert this ; aud they have produced many passages in support of their opinion. There is one in the Bhagavat Geet.

“Luk. It is said that man cannot approach God ; therefore he must first propitiate Krishna. By Krishna God may be approached, and in no other way.

“R. C. You say, then, that Krishna is propitiated by idols, and that through him the Deity. But suppose I am hungry, and have a handful of rice ; if I throw that direct into the fire it will be burnt up, and I shall be deprived of my food ; but I must have a vessel to put it in, that it may be put on the fire and be cooked : but suppose the vessel I select is a dirty one, or a cracked one, then my rice will be spoiled in cooking, or the water will escape, and it will not be cooked; and in either case I shall remain hungry. I must then be careful that I select a proper vessel. So must it be with your Avatar —(incarnation). Take care and get a proper one.

“K. We should only follow him if his works are good, and not otherwise.

“R. C. Therefore you must see and get a proper mediator.

“Shuk. I hold that by the performance of ablution the mind is washed; for all evil proceeds from evil thoughts; and by the performance of ablution morning and evening I am brought to think of this, and thereby a check is thrown upon evil thoughts, and so the mind is purified.

"C. In your own Shastres the inefficiency of these remedies is declared.

“K. I allow that unless the mind is firm these austerities are of no avail.

“A Brahman. What is sin?

“Mr. F. The breaking of the law of God.

“Brahman. How did sin get into the world?

“Mr. F. How shall sin get ont of the world ? This should be the great inquiry. When a man is seized with cholera, he does not distress himself by inquiring about the manner in which it came to him ; but earnestly seeks a cure. The grand reason why we object to your remedies is, that they all proceed 011 the principle that man is saved by his own works. Admit this principle and you destroy the kingdom of God.”

It is “the immemorial quest, the old complaint.” In the Brahmans’ conferences with Ziegenbalg the same fixed ideas of the pantheist, the polytheist, the ritualist, ever recur, prefaced always by the assumption which Mr. Wilson put out of the controversy at starting, that to save the European one way and the Hindoo another “ is one of the pastimes and diversions of Almighty God,” as the Tamul priest of Yishnoo expressed it. The argument of Kisundass, that the nine Avatars or incarnations of Yishnoo—the tenth, Kalki, is to appear as a comet in the sky, on a white horse, with an apocalyptic sword, to restore the righteousness of the golden age—were. God’s sepoys, known by their badge and not by their conduct; and that of Shookaram, that as a king God can sin as he pleases, denote the universal belief of the Hindoos that morality and god-worship have different and frequently opposite spheres. Since, about 1864, Sir Henry Maine first brought his study of early institutions and his official task of constant legislation to bear on Hindoo society, this has been recognised, and students of the science of religion, who are at the same time familiar with the social phenomena of native society, have worked it out. Hence missionary and legislator alike, together as well as separately, each in his own sphere, have to act so that the crimes sanctioned by the theology of the Hindoos shall be prohibited by an application of the moral law of Christianity, and the jurisprudence of the civilised nations of the west; while the legislator has to guard against the opposite extreme of seeming to sanction, and of really perpetuating with a new authority, the vast mass of Hindoo religious and therefore civil law, which he must leave untouched. From i Lord William Bentinck and Macaulay to Lord Lawrence and Sir Henry Maine, and from Claudius Buchanan and Carey to Duff and Wilson, this double process has gone on, till India enjoys a more humane criminal code and a more perfect toleration of creeds and opinions than Great Britain itself.

The excitement caused by this discussion among the natives of Bombay had not passed away when, in February 1831, another champion arrived to renew the controversy. This was Mora Bhatta Dandekara, who thought to succeed where the pundit Mukshmun and his friends had failed. Many Brahmans were present. “ They brought their chief champion every day in a carriage, with garlands of flowers hanging about him. They could not, however, defend their religion,” writes Mr. Wilson to his father. The debate continued during six successive evenings. Mr. Webb again presided at the request of both parties. The Brahman convert, Rama Chundra, again took part in it, but the chief combatant for Christianity was Mr. Wilson himself. “ The Brahmans [X. were the first to solicit a cessation of hostilities.” It was left on this occasion to the Hindoos to publish a report of the proceedings, and several wealthy men subscribed for the purpose. But the Bhatta had not taken notes, and he preferred to publish as his defence a tract on the Verification of the Hindoo Religion, to which he challenged a reply. The debate had, as on the former occasion, referred principally to the character of the Divine Being, the means of salvation, the principles of morals, and the allotment of rewards and punishments. The Verification reiterates the arguments of the former apologists for Hindooism, but it is of interest from the httacks it makes on some statements of the Christian Scriptures which it first perverts. This, for instance, is the rendering of the opening verse of the fourth Gospel:—“In the beginning was word. That word was in the heart of God; and the same word was manifested in the world in the form of Christ.” The real value of the tract, however, lies in the fact that it called forth Mr. Wilson’s first Exposure of the Hindoo Religion, to which a translation of it by Mr. Nesbit is prefixed:—“The Bhatta, though he has in some instances disguised the truth, writes generally in support of what has been called the exoteric system of Hindooism j and a little reflection will show that the attempt to uphold any other can only be made with the sacrifice of the pretensions to inspiration on the part of the Hindoo scriptures, and with admissions which must prove destructive to the popular superstition. The efforts which have hitherto been made to refine on the Brahmanical faith have hitherto proved, and must ever prove, completely abortive. It is essentially distinguished by exaggeration, confusion, contradiction, puerility, and immortality.” Such was Mr. Wilson’s earlier impression of a system, with even the innermost recesses of which further study and experience were to make him so familiar, that the Government and the Judges frequently appealed to him as the highest trustworthy authority for political and legal ends.

The Brahmans, thus twice met on the later Pooranic or Brahmanical side, determined to return to the charge, this time on the earlier Vedantic, or what was then called the esoteric ground. One Rarayan Rao, English teacher in the Raja of Satara’s school, accordingly wrote a reply to the first Exposure of Hindooism, under the signature of “ An Espouser of his Country’s Religion.” Mora Bhatta edited the work, and I took it to Mr. Wilson. Hence his publication, towards the close of 183d, of A Second Exposure of the Hindoo Fieligion. The title-page bears these lines of Sir William Jones :—

“Oh! bid the patient Hindoo rise and live.
His erring mind that wizard lore beguiles,
Clouded by priestly wiles,
To senseless nature bows for Nature’s God.”

Like its predecessor, this Exposure is a model of kindly controversy and lofty courtesy to antagonists. “I beg of them,” he writes to the Hindoos in his preface, “to continue to extend credit to me and to my fellow-labourers for the benevolence of our intentions, and to believe that anything which is inconsistent with the deepest charity is not what we would for one moment seek to defend.” Both works caused a greater demand for copies than was expected, and called forth many i letters from natives assuring the writer that they had been 1 thus led to lose all confidence in the religion of their fathers. The books were translated into Bengalee and other Indian vernaculars, and continued to be long useful in letting light into many a native’s mind. Mr. Wilson made good use of the admissions of the Bengalee theist Rammohun Roy, who had at that time written his principal works and had been carefully answered by Carey and Marshman. The Second Exposure, dedicated to Mr. James Farish who acted as interim Governor, has a further literary interest, as showing Mr. Wilson’s steady as well as rapid advance in his Sanskrit studies, and in the consequent use of the Yedic, Pooranic, and Epic literature, for the demolition of error. His preface thus concludes:—“To several friends I am indebted for the loan of several Sanskrit MSS. which were not in my possession, and which I have used for enabling me to judge of the fidelity of existing translations and opinions, and correctly to make some original extracts. It was my intention at one time to have quoted more liberally from the Upanishads than I have done. The inspection of a great number of them led me to perceive that while they abound in metaphysical errors there is a great accordance in the few principles which they respectively unfold, and to which attention should be particularly directed.”

At the time of the second of the three discussions with Brahmans on the Christian and Hindoo religions, Mr. Wilson found himself challenged to an encounter on the two very different fields of the Zoroastrianism of the Parsees and the ethics and theology of the Muhammadan Koran. His review of the Armenian History of the Religious Wars between the Persians and Armenians, in the Oriental Christian Spectator of July and August 1831, tempted the descendants of the j persecuting Magi, now peaceable and loyal enough because themselves persecuted exiles, to defend the wasta, their sacred Book. This controversy opens out so wide a field, alike in itself and in Mr. Wilson’s career as a scholar and a missionary, that we shall reserve it and its consequences for another chapter. But an expression adverse to Muhammadanism in one of Mr. Wilson’s letters to the Parsees, called forth a champion of Muhammad and the Koran, and led to j the publication of a Refutation of Muhammadanism, in Hindo-1 stanee, Goojaratee, and Persian, which may be placed side by j side with the two exposures of Hindooism.

“Hadjee Muhammad Hashim of Ispahan,” who, as his name shows, had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and was the most learned Moulvie in Bombay, “challenged me,” writes Mr. Wilson, “to the proof of the licentiousness and imposture of the author of the Koran, and I readily attempted to establish my position. After several letters had appeared in the native newspapers, the Hadjee came forward with a pamphlet of considerable size in Goojaratee and Persian, in which he evinces at once great sophistry and great ability.” His Reply to Hadjee j Muhammad Hashim’s Defence of the Islamic Faith is, if we except the necessarily imperfect tract of Henry Martyn, continued by Dr. Lee, the first controversial treatise of the kind in point of time, as the Exposures of Hindooism are. Dr. Pfander had not yet begun that series of Christian apologies in controversy with Muhammadans, which have done more than any other instrument to shake the apparently immovable confidence of the votaries of Islam in Agra and Delhi, in Allahabad and Lucknow, in Lahore and Peshawur, in Constantinople and Cairo, where more than one learned Moulvie now preaches the faith which once he attacked, or even translates the Christian Scriptures. It was Pfander’s representation of the need for a biography of the prophet, suitable for the perusal of his followers, that led Sir William Muir, when a busy settlement officer and revenue secretary at Agra, to prepare his Life of Mahomet, which is the greatest in the English language, as Sprenger’s is in the German. But no one can peruse Mr. Wilson’s Reply to Muhammad Hasliim without remarking how he has, in brief, anticipated Muir in shrewd insight, criticism, and keen exposure of the moral irregularities and shortcomings of Muhammad’s Koran and his private life. In twenty-one necessarily condensed chapters Mr. Wilson covered the whole field of the controversy, save 011 its historical side—which was not raised. But it went very far down into practical life as well as ethical principles, although he does not allude to the almost unmentionable “Mostahil” or temporary husband, so essential a part of the Muhammadan system of divorce, as authoritatively laid down in the “Fatawa-Alamgiri.” Nor did the attack of the Hadjee lead him to the consideration of a subject which recent treaties have made prominent, the relation of the sexual side of the Koran to the slave-trade and slavery. To the practical efforts in that direction he was soon to be called. But he did not spare the Hadjee in his sixth chapter, “On the mode in which Muhammad procured and treated his wives,” a subject on which even Gibbon is severe.

The law of polygamous marriage and treble divorce has never been interferred with by the British Government among the forty millions of its Mussulman subjects in India, while not a few Hindoo criminal practices, like widow-burning, child-murder, hook-swinging, and human sacrifice, all in the name of religion, have been ruthlessly stopped. The result is such a horrible state of society among the Mussulmans of eastern Bengal, as was revealed in an official inquiry in 1873, and which still goes on corrupting, under the segis of the Koran ^ and its expounders. Mr. Wilson was able to write of this controversy as of those which preceded it, that it had shaken the faith of some Muhammadans in different parts of the country. The Parsee editor of the newspaper in which it was at first conducted, summed it up in the brief declaration, “All for the world know that Islamism has been either propagated by the sword, or embraced on account of its licentiousness.” From far Cochin, and the south, a convert came convinced by the Reply, which was reprinted in other parts of India. In October 1833, Mr. Wilson baptized the first Muhammadan of Bombay who had been received into the Christian Church. |( He was a fakeer, or mendicant devotee, whose secession from Islam infuriated his intolerant brethren. He was followed by an inquirer, a very learned Moolla, young and master of several tongues, who during the controversy was the stoutest opposer of Christ, but humbly solicited baptism as now convinced of the truth of Christianity.

It was with a peculiar interest that Mr. Wilson directed his . attention to the Jews of Western India from the very beginning of his studies in the Konkan. For it was on that low coast, and in the country stretching upwards to the high road to Poona that, according to their own tradition, their ancestors, seven men and seven women, found an asylum, after shipwreck, sixteen centuries before. The little colony increased under the protection of the Abyssinian Chief who had settled there, and they came to be recognised as another variety of the Muhammadans. Destitute of all historical evidence, even of their own Law, the Beni-Israel, or sons of Israel as they called themselves, clung all the more tenaciously, generation after generation, to their paternal customs. On the mainland they became industrious agriculturists and oil-sellers. In the new settlement of Bombay they found work to do as artizans, and even shopkeepers and writers. Not a few of them are Sepoys in the Bombay army, as many Christians are in the Madras army. They differ from the black Jews of Cochin, farther south, who have sprung of the earliest emigrants from Arabia and Indian proselytes. Nor have they any connection with the so-called white Jews of the same place, whose arrival in India dates no further back probably than the earliest of those expulsions from Spain, which, in the same way, afterwards sent Lord Beaconsfield’s ancestors to Venice. The Beni-Israel, repelling the name of Yehudi as a reproach, were probably older than both, for the Cocliin-Jews say that they found them on their arrival at Rajapoora, in the Konkan. In two careful and learned papers, written for the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Mr. Wilson traced them to Yemen or Arabia Felix, the Jews of which they resemble, and with whom they hold intercourse. One of the Rothschild family, Mr. Samuel, and Air. Wilson himself afterwards, found the origin of the Aden Jews in the remnant of the captivity who fled into Egypt, where, as Jeremiah had warned them, many were sent captive to Arabia, and where they led the Himyarite King of Yemen, Toba, to embrace their faith. The Yemen colony was reinforced after the dispersion, on the fall of Jerusalem, and again on the defeat of Zenobia; till Sana, the capital of Yemen, became a new bulwark of Judaism against the Christians of Ethiopia on the west and the Zoroastrians of Persia on the east. The Beni-Israel were very near Mr. Wilson’s heart. For them he prepared his first grammar of Hebrew and Marathee. Long after he ceased to receive support for them from the home churches he made it his special care to raise funds on the spot. The transfer of the mission to the General Assembly he welcomed, among other reasons, because of the impetus it gave to this department. In 1826 a converted Cochin Jew, Mr. Sargon, had worked among them, and the American Missionaries also had from the first cared for them. Of the 1300 children who attended Mr. Wilson’s various schools in 1836, some 250 were Beni-Israel, and of these one third were girls.

At the end of 1833 Bombay was visited by Joseph Wolff, the erratic Jew of Prague, who delighted to proclaim himself the Protestant Xavier, and lamented that he had not altogether followed that missionary in the matter of celibacy, such was the sorrow that their separation by his frequent wanderings had brought on Lady Georgiana and himself. He had the year before sent Mr. Wilson this communication :—

“Cabool, 10th May 1832.—The bearers of these lines are the Armenian Christians of Cabool, whose ancestors were brought to Cabool from Meshed by Ahmed Shah ; as they had no longer any means of support at Cabool they were constrained to emigrate from here with their wives and children, and intend now to settle themselves at Jerusalem and round Mount Ararat. As they are very poor indeed, I cannot but recommend them to my English friends as worthy objects of their pity and compassion for the sake of onr Lord Jesus Christ, Who will come again in the clouds of heaven in the year 1847 to establish His throne and citadel in the capital of my Jewish ancestors in the city of Jerusalem—and at that time there shall be neither Armenian nor Englishman, but all one in Christ Jesus crucified, the King of kings and Lord of lords.— Joseph Wolff, Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ for Palestine, Persia, Bokhara, and Balkhf

After emerging from Central Asia in a condition more nearly resembling that of a nude dervish than an Anglican clergyman, Wolff had attempted to convert Runjeet Singh at Lahore, had himself been civilised for the time at Simla by Lord William Bentinck and his noble wife, and had made his way round and across India by Madras and Goa to the western capital. Lady William Bentinck had a hard fight to assure the Governor General’s court that Wolff was not mad. “I have succeeded,” she told him, “in convincing all who have seen and heard you that you are not cracked, but I have not convinced them that you are not an enthusiast.” Wolff replied, “ My dear Lady William, I hope that I am an enthusiast, or, as the Persian Soofees say, that I am drunk with the love of God. Columbus would never have discovered America without enthusiasm.” And so Wolff afterwards revealed the true fate of Conolly and Stoddart. In the amusing and by no means uninstructive Travels and Adventures, which, in 1861, was dedicated “by his friend and admirer” to the Right Hon. Benjamin Disraeli, we have these glimpses of Bombay society, and of Mr. Wilson, with whom he afterwards frequently corresponded on mission-work for the Jews and the eastern Christians. “ Wolff arrived in Bombay on the 29 th November, and was received by all classes of denominations of Christians there with true cordiality and love. He was the guest of Mr. James Farish, who was several times Deputy-Governor of Bombay. Lord Clare, the Governor, called, and heard a lecture which was delivered before a large audience. Wolff also lectured in Farish’s house as well as in the Town Hall of Bombay, when English, Parsees, Armenians, Mussulmans, Portuguese, and Hindoos were present. One of the Parsees announced a lecture on the principles of the Parsees, in which he tried to adopt the style and actions of Joseph Wolff, but he was dreadfully cut up in the papers. . . . Wolff had a public discussion with the Muhammadans at Bombay, when the most distinguished members of the British Government were present, both of the military and civil departments, including Farish, Robert Money, and the missionaries Wilson and Nesbit, and also Parsees.” Mr. Wilson and Mr. Stevenson introduced him to all departments of their mission-work, but he was especially interested in the Beni-Israel, some of whom he had first seen at Poona. He writes of “those learned, excellent, eloquent, devoted, and zealous missionaries of the Scotch Kirk,” and continues,—“Wolff went also with Mr. Wilson to see one of the celebrated Yoghees, who was lying in the sun in the street, the nails of whose hands were grown into his cheek, and a bird’s nest upon his head. Wolff asked him, ‘ How can one obtain the knowledge of God % ’ He replied, ‘ Do not ask me questions; you may look at me, for I am God! ’ Wolff indignantly said to him, ‘ You will go to hell if you speak in such a way.’ ” The subtle pantheism of the ascetic absorbed into Yishnoo was beyond the Judseo-Christian dervish. He left soon after for Yemen and Abyssinia, whence we shall hear from him again.

A wandering missionary of like zeal but more intensity of spirit visited Bombay in the same year, Mr. Anthony Groves of Exeter, first and most catholic of those who call themselves “The Brethren.” Having parted with all he possessed, according to his rendering of Christ’s precept—“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,” as expounded in a pamphlet on Christian Devoteclness, he proceeded by St. Petersburg to Baghdad in 1831, and there commenced his mission. He had as his secretary, and the tutor of his children, the deaf lad who afterwards became remarkable as Dr. Kitto. Plague, inundation, and famine, broke up the schools in which he gave a Christian education to eighty children under five masters. His own wife and children fell victims, and in 1833 he visited India to learn lithographic printing, and acquaint himself with the experience of men like Duff and "Wilson. But his speculative views were too far advanced for that. He was a dervish of a different type from the buoyant Wolff, but still a dervish. He held that, as the gospel was to be preached for a witness by missionaries supported by the free-will offerings of Christendom, before the end come, no mission should continue in the same place for more than five years. After a visit to England he returned with a considerable reinforcement of coadjutors in 1836. On both occasions Mr. Wilson showed him that hospitality and did him that social service, which were already beginning to be drawn upon by all visitors who could plead any interest of any kind in the East and its people.

Another type of missionary policy was supplied by Mr. j Francis William Newman, brother of the greater John Henry Newman, and son of a well-known banker. After giving brilliant promise, since well redeemed, as Fellow of Balliol up to 1830, Mr. F. W. Newman drifted away from the Thirty-Nine Articles into the views of Mr. Groves, whose pamphlet attracted him also to Baghdad. There he hoped to draw the Muhammadans to the Arian form at least of Christianity, by such purely moral evidence of its superiority as the lives of really disinterested Englishmen might supply. He dreamed of a colony “so animated by faith, primitive love, and disinterestedness, that the collective moral influence of all might interpret and enforce the words of the few who preached.” He looked for success “ where the natives had gained experience in the characters of the Christian family around them.” This was precisely what Wilson, of all missionaries who have ever worked in the East, did in Bombay; but he succeeded ! where Mr. F. W. Newman soon failed, because he never ceased to show that a disinterested life and the Christian family sprang , directly out of those “mystical doctrines of Christianity” which the author of that sadly suggestive book the Phases of Faith began by postponing. Wolff, Groves, and F. W. Newman were all on one right track, the superiority of what is called the internal evidences, of arguments addressed to the moral and spiritual faculties of heathen and Muhammadan.

So had Wilson begun, and so did he continue all through his career, from the letter quoted at page 46, to his testimony, along with that of Bishop French of Lahore, regarding the importance of witness-bearing, at the Allahabad Conference in 1873. But Wilson did not make the mistake of cutting the | stream off below the fountain-head, and hence the permanent | and developing fruitfulness of his work to all time and among all creeds and classes. Francis Newman returned to England in two years, himself partly affected by a Muhammadan carpenter of Aleppo, to find the Tractarian movement beginning, and his brother and his whole family alienated from him. He would not return to the East; considering the idea of a Christian Church propagating Christianity Avhile divided against itself to be ridiculous. So Ecclesiasticism drove him out, he thinks; and we may admit this much, that Protestant Evangelicalism lost not a little in the brothers Newman, abroad and at home, whoever was to blame. The unity which each has to this day sought they would have found, as John Wilson did, in catholic work for the Master, pursued in loving cooperation with missionaries of all sects in India. The mission in Baghdad and Persia, abandoned by Groves and NeAvman, he in due time did his best to revive with the only means at his disposal.

In 1835 the society which Mr. Wilson had gradually gathered around him lost its greatest lay ornament in the death of Mr. Robert C. Money, secretary to the Government. The son of Wilberforce’s friend, he had earlier shown in Bombay all the excellencies of “the Clapham sect,” as a devoted member of the Church of England. Under the Charter of 1833 Archdeacon Carr had become the first Bishop of Bombay, and the Church Missionary Society had received a new impetus there. From the first Mr. Money became the attached friend of Mr. Wilson, and co-operated with him in every good work. Men of all classes, native as well as English, united to raise as his memorial the Church of England Institution, or English College, in Bombay, which bears his name. Mr. Wilson was for some time engaged in the preparation for the press of a memoir, and of the papers, of one who, like Mr. Webb and Mr. Law at the same time, and Sir Bartle Frere at a later period, reflected lustre on the Bombay Civil Service.

To the regret of all classes in the Presidency, Sir John Malcolm resigned the office of Governor at the close of 1830, and with that ceased those splendid services to India and Asia right up to the Caspian, which justified Sir Walter Scott’s eulogies and the great Duke’s friendship. Not the least valued, certainly not the least sincere, of the addresses presented to his Excellency who had come out to India as an infantry cadet at thirteen, was that which Mr. Wilson wrote and signed as Secretary to the Bombay Missionary Union. At a time when the Charter of 1833 had not removed the silly opposition of the East India Company, these men, some of whom had been driven from Calcutta and for a time threatened with expulsion from Bombay, thanked “the Honourable Major-General Malcolm, G.C.B., Governor of Bombay, for the facilities which he has granted for the preaching of the gospel in all parts of the Bombay territories, for his favourable exertions for the abolition of Suttee, and for the kind manner in which he has countenanced Christian education.” His reply was that of the purely secular but truly tolerant statesman. He ' begged Mr. Wilson to assure the missionaries “ that it is solely to their real and Christian humility, combined, as I have ever found it, with a spirit of toleration and good sense, that I owe any power I have possessed of aiding them in their good and 1 pious objects, which . . . must merit and receive the support of all who take an interest in the promotion of knowledge, the advancement of civilisation, and the cause of truth.” So had Mountstuart Elphinstone spoken before him. So, and even still more warmly, did Lord William Bentinck afterwards reply to a favourable address from the Calcutta missionaries.

Sir John Malcolm met in Egypt his successor, Lord Clare, whose Irish blood he found inflamed because of the delay in the arrival of the steamer at Cosseir. The Earl of Clare was followed in 1835 by Sir Robert Grant, who keenly sympathised with Mr. Wilson and his work on its highest side. Lord Clare had, indeed, specially requested Mr. Stevenson to continue to give religious instruction in the Poona School at first established by that missionary, after it had been transferred to the Government, and he had privately assisted missions. But Sir Robert Grant was a man to whom Wilson could, in the first year of his administration, publicly apply this language when appropriately dedicating to his Excellency a sermon on “The British Sovereignty in India.” The dedication was based on “ the confidence which I entertain, grounded both on your well-known sentiments and your actings since your arrival in this Presidency, that the cause of Christian and general philanthropy in India, so dear to the heart of our distinguished father, will ever secure your warmest support in the high station in which God in his providence has placed you.” Sir Robert Grant, and his elder brother Lord Glenelg, were sons worthy of Charles Grant, who, from his earliest experience as a Bengal civilian in 1776, had devoted himself to the moral and spiritual regeneration of the people of India. Afterwards, as author of the Observations on the Moral Condition of the Hindoos and the Means of Improving it, which were written in 1792, and have almost the character of prediction; as chairman of the Court of Directors and member for the county of Inverness, he proved to be the mainspring of all the reforms which were forced by successive charters on the East India Company, up to that of 1833. While his elder son assisted him in the House of Commons, and afterwards as a Cabinet Minister and a peer, it fell to Sir Robert to carry out in Western India the enlightened provisions of that charter. This he did with a wisdom and a success which more than justified Mr. Wilson’s eulogy; while in his private character he became, when at the head of the Bombay Government, the author of those hymns, four of which Lord Selborne has embalmed for ever in his Booh of Praise, among the four hundred best sacred lyrics of the language. The name of the author of the strains beginning “ Saviour, when in dust I lie,” and “ When gathering clouds around I view,” will be always dear to Christendom; but these hymns were the least of his services to its cause. His last act as Governor of Bombay was to request Mr. Wilson to submit to Government a plan for the practical encouragement of a sound and useful education of the natives, by whomsoever conducted, whether by the State, by missionaries, or by natives themselves.

The sermon on the British Sovereignty in India, which, on the 8th of November 1835, Mr. Wilson preached in St. Andrew’s Kirk for the Scottish Mission, marks the broad imperial view which he had already learned to take of our position in Southern India as rulers, and of our relation to the feudatory Princes who have been incorporated with our political system by Lord Canning’s patent only since the Mutiny of 1857. The preacher’s subject was the not dissimilar mission of Cyrus (Isaiah xlv. 1-4, 6-13). Mr. Wilson spoke at an “epoch-making” time, when the Charter of 1833 had in India just began to operate in the two directions of opening the trade of the East India Company to the world, and securing the education of the people in the English language, and all that that fact involved. He was too wise and equitable a missionary to exaggerate his success on the one hand, or to argue on the other that the progress of the Christian church in India would have been greater if the State had devoted public funds to it as well as to education. At a later period, in 1849, he thus wrote: “Though it be devoutly admitted that the exalted Saviour demands the homage of governments and communities as well as of individuals, it is obvious that the professed expression of that homage by the exaction of pecuniary contribution in support even of Christian Institutions, from an unwilling people, may be questioned without any want of loyalty to Christianity itself.”

All through this period the Bombay Union of Missionaries j showed great activity in the number and variety of the questions which it discussed. Mr. Wilson was the secretary and the most energetic member. Now we find him in 1832 sub- | mitting a petition, presented by Lord Bexley to the House of Lords, for the amelioration of the Hindoo and Muhammadan laws of property and inheritance as they affected converts to Christianity, which resulted in Lord William Bentinck’s first concession on that point, to be completed long after by Lord Dalhousie and Lord Lawrence. Again he reports on the purchasing and receiving donations of Oriental works for the use of the Union. Now he gives information regarding the similar Christian Union in China. Again he seeks light on the delicate questions raised by converts as to marriage and divorce, which he helped Sir Henry Maine and the Legislature to settle half a century after. Then he proposes such questions as these—Are there any instances of a remarkable progress of Christianity among a people without the gospel being previously, generally, and simultaneously, proclaimed among them?” “How is the statement that Christ is an object of worship in his entire person consistent with the declaration that Christians worship the immaterial God alone?”

“What influences tend to modify and destroy Caste?” The growing extension of intemperance and drunkenness under the excise and opium laws, among communities who are temperate by climate, custom, and creed, gave at that early period a peculiar interest to the question which was thus decided:

“The Union are of the opinion that it is the duty of all Christians in India to promote and encourage the cause of temperance societies ; that these societies should be formed upon the principles of the Bible, and that they should exhibit the prevalence of Christian principles as the grand means of producing temperance; also that they should be formed upon the principle of entire abstinence from all ardent spirits, opium, tobacco, and other intoxicating drugs, except when used as medicines, or in cases of extreme urgency and necessity ; and moderation in the use of fermented and other liquors.”

The spirit of union and co-operation which always marks the various missionaries abroad in the face of the common foe, was further illustrated by a communication from the Presbytery of Kaffraria, which expressed a desire for friendly correspondence. To the somewhat narrow remark that Calvinistic Presbyterian missionaries should be more united than they are, or than the Churches at home, Mr. Wilson appended the characteristic note, “We would add in the spirit of gospel Catholicism — and all Christian missionaries.” This letter, dated 4th July 1832, and signed “John Bennie, Moderator,” describes the work of four missionaries at Chumee and Love-dale, “the two oldest stations, where there is a considerable population,” and Pirie and Burnshill. In the half-century since we get this glimpse at South Africa, Lovedale has become the brightest light among its tribes, and the native question has again and again sought a settlement, in the East Indian sense, by seven wars.

India itself and China were soon after to lose their two foremost scholar-missionaries, in the death of Dr. Carey at Serampore on the 9th June 1834, at the age of seventy-three; and of Dr. Morrison at Canton on the 1st August, at the comparatively early age of fifty-three. Mr. Wilson, who was still beginning in Western India and Asia the preparatory work that they had done so well for Eastern and Northern India, and for China and Eastern Asia, wrote thus of the two men whose special merits he, of all others, was best fitted to describe:—

“Dr. Carey, the first of living missionaries, the most honoured and the most successful since the time of the apostles, has closed his long and influential career. Indeed his spirit, his life, and his labours were truly apostolic. Called from the lowest class of the people, he came to this country without money, without friends, without learning. He was exposed to severe persecution, and forced for some time to labour with his own hands for his support; yet then even, in his brief intervals of leisure, he found time to master the Hebrew and Bengalee languages, to make considerable progress in the Sanskrita, and to write with his own hand a complete version of the Scriptures in the language of the country. The Spirit of God, which was in him, led him forward from strength to strength, supported him under privation, enabled him to overcome in a fight that seemed without hope. Like the beloved disciple, whom he resembled in simplicity of mind, and in seeking to draw sinners to Christ altogether by the cords of love, he outlived his trials to enjoy a peaceful and honoured old age, to know that his Master’s cause was prospering, and that his own name was named with reverence and blessing in every country where a Christian dwelt. Perhaps no man ever exerted a greater influence for good on a great cause. Who that saw him, poor, and in seats of learning uneducated, embark on such an enterprise, could ever dream that, in little more than forty years, Christendom should be animated with the same spirit, thousands forsake all to follow his example, and that the word of life should be translated into almost every language, and preached in almost every corner of the earth?”

“Dr. Morrison, whose name will be held in everlasting remembrance, died -at Canton on the 1st of August last, at the age of fifty-three. He had laboured as a missionary for nearly twenty-seven years in China, and (with \ the assistance of Dr. Milne in some of the books) translated the Scriptures into Chinese, compiled and published a copious Chinese dictionary, and several important philological works, prepared and circulated many Chinese tracts, founded the Anglo-Chinese College at Malacca, and proved the means of the conversion and scriptural education of Leang Afa, who is now labouring, with some success, as a native preacher. He was also for several years interpreter to the English Factory, and he supported himself, and contributed much to the cause of missions, from the salary which he received in consequence of the situation which he thus held.”

More than any other missionary in the East, Mr. Wilson proved to be the successor of these two men. It is a subject of regret that he could not become the Biograher of Carey, whose life has yet to be worthily written. The Memoir by Eustace Carey, his nephew, was written avowedly at the request of the Baptist Missionary Society, which had misunderstood Dr. Carey from the first, and it is unworthy of the subject. The Lives of the Serampore Missionaries, by the late John Clark Marshman, C.S.I., is the most valuable contribution yet made to the history of Christian and social progress in India, by one who is emphatically the Historian of British India before the Mutiny; but its theme is too wide to represent William Carey in all the details of his unique career.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus