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The Life of John Wilson
Chapter XIII. Among Books—Second Marriage—Over Europe to Bombay


Colonel Jervis, F.R.S., and intercourse with Civil and Military Officers— Establishment of the North British Review—Reception of Dr. Wilson’s Works by the learned of Europe—Elected Fellow of the Royal Society— Death of Dr. Welsh—Writers in the North British Review—Letter to Hugh Miller, and from Dr. Falconer—Second Marriage—Isabella Dennis-toun of Dennistoun—Dr. and Mrs. Wilson leave for India—Lassen and William Erskine at Bonn—Researches in Egypt—Welcomes at Bombay— Lord Hardinge announces Suppression of Suttee, Infanticide, and Slavery, in many Native States—George Clerk and Memorial Church of Colaba— Gaikwar of Baroda dies.

We have seen how, throughout the first period of Dr. Wilson’s Indian career, he was encouraged and supported in his purely missionary as well as philanthropic and scientific labours by laymen, chiefly civil and military officers, who united with him in dedicating to the very highest ends their intellectual powers, their social influence, and their .Christian culture. Even at that early time he became the centre and the stimulus of the best society in Western India. One of the most remarkable of the officers with whom he formed a very close friendship was Colonel T. B. Jervis, F.RS. To his educational work in the Konkan, and erection of the Bombay College, transferred on its. completion to the Established Kirk, we have already referred. Born in India, and with a hereditary interest in its people like the majority of the Anglo-Indian officials under the East India Company, young Jervis gained extraordinary honours at Addiscombe and entered the Engineer Corps, became superintending engineer of the Southern Konkan which had just been made British territory, and surveyed that large tract of Western India. His maps still form part of the uncompleted Atlas of India. He made such a reputation that, when in England in 1837, he was nominated successor to Sir George Everest as Surveyor-General of India, an appointment he did not take up. On finally retiring from the service, shortly before Dr. Wilson’s departure from Bombay, he received a letter of touching farewell, and a copy of the best edition of the Bible which could then be procured, “as a small token of Christian affection and gratitude for his admirable design for the General Assembly’s Institution in Bombay.”

With no one was Dr. Wilson in such close correspondence all through his visit to Great Britain, especially on literary and scientific undertakings for the good of India, as with Colonel Jervis. While the missionary was striving to devote every hour he could snatch from ecclesiastical engagements to the preparation of his elaborate work, The Lands of the Bible, the engineer was projecting a series of Memoirs, Voyages, and Travels, original and translated, illustrative of the geography and statistics of Asia. The collection would have formed a modern Hakluyt, and is still a desideratum in European literature, in spite of similarly fragmentary attempts to supply it by both German and English editors, for the health and the resources of Colonel Jervis did not allow him to do more than issue in 1845 a first volume—Baron Charles Hugel’s Kaschmir und das Reich der Siek, in an English dress.

The two friends were farther interested in the success of the North British Review. Evangelical men of all parties in Scotland had, even before the events of 1843, desired to see established a Quarterly which, to the literary ability of the Edinburgh Review and its great rival, would add the discussion of theological questions which were then beginning to occupy thoughtful minds—no less in England, where the Tractarian movement was at its height, than in Scotland. Men like Drs. Chalmers and Welsh, Cunningham and Fleming, in the Scottish Universities and Church, and writers like Sir David Brewster, Isaac Taylor, and Merle D’Aubigne, formed a nucleus to whom only the leisure of letters was wanting in those stirring times to make success as lasting as it proved to be brilliant for a time. For the North British Review anticipated that discussion of the deepest theological problems, and of all questions on the platform of the highest principles, which has of late marked the higher periodical literature. In the thirty years of its existence it more than justified the other boast with which its prospectus was concluded: “The latest discoveries in mental and physical science will be regularly unfolded by men themselves of the highest inventive genius. In all departments individuals of the greatest celebrity in this and other countries have promised to adorn our pages with their contributions.” Dr. Welsh at once laid hold of Dr. Wilson for his staff. It should be noted that the same month of May 1844 which saw the first number of the Scottish Review, witnessed the birth of another Quarterly which has a history in the East quite as remarkable as that of the Edinburgh in the West—the Calcutta Review, edited, after its fourth number, by Dr. Duff. At a much later period, and for some time, Dr. Wilson contributed articles to the Bombay Quarterly Review and to the British and Foreign Evangelical Review.

The reputation which Dr. Wilson had gained in the circles of the learned of Europe by his work on the Parsee Religion was increased when his Lands of the Bible appeared, and, during his occasional visits to London, caused his society to be sought by men like Lord Castlereagh, afterwards fourth Marquis of Londonderry, who had himself been travelling in the East. In the addresses of 1869 and 1870 to Dr. Wilson, the public and the Asiatic Society of Bombay thus sum up contemporary opinions on these two books:—“Your learned and comprehensive work on the religion of the Parsees, published on the eve of your journey to Europe in 1843, was recognised by the few scholars then competent to form an opinion as the most complete investigation into the sacred writings of the Parsees that had up to that time appeared. A distinguished Oriental scholar, whose learned labours have reflected honour on Bombay, Mr. William Erskine, urged you, in reference to this and other works, ‘ to go on and enrich the world of letters, while you think chiefly of the religious world and religious benefit of the human race; ’ and Professor Westergaard of Copenhagen, whose own valuable labours in this branch of Oriental research are so well known, thankfully recognised the value of the services you had rendered himself, which he said he valued the more from the prominent place you hold amongst Oriental philologists, and for your having signally contributed to the furtherance of acquaintance with the Zoroastrian lore. Your great work, The Lands of the Bible, was hailed on its appearance as being in itself a complete storehouse of biblical research, and as abounding in materials illustrating the state of the Christian sects and churches of the East, of the Eastern Jews and Samaritans, of Mahomedanism, and the numerous questions connected with the ancient people and languages of Palestine, Syria, and other parts of the East. The President of the Royal Geographical Society, in directing the attention of the learned to what was new and important in the work specially pertaining to questions of geographical, topographical, and antiquarian research, remarked how much could be done in gleaning what was new in such countries as those you had travelled in, by travellers who enjoyed, as you did, the advantage of understanding the language of the people, and of entering into the spirit of the manners of the East.”

Of The Parsi Beligion the Asiatic Society of Paris thus wrote in their Report of 1843 :—“Tous ces ouvrages sont destines a servir l’^claircissement dune grande controverse qui s’est 61e\Ae, a Bombay, entre les missionaires protestants et les Parsis, et qui, dirigee, du cot6 Chretien, par un homme savant et intelligent comme M. Wilson, a donne naissance a plusieurs ecrits remarquables dont la science doit tirer profit.” But the practical criticism which Dr. Wilson valued most was the blue ribband of science in Great Britain. On the 7th February 1845 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.


“12th February 1845.—My very dear Friend—I cannot express to you the great delight I experienced, and those also to whom I read it aloud, from the review of my work in the North British. You have grasped and epitomised all that was worth knoAving on the subject in so masterly and delightful a manner that I have got a far clearer view from it of the Baron’s real merit and the happy selection I had made of my preliminary volume than I could ever have hoped for elsewhere. It has given courage to a sinking spirit, and will do more for the recommendation and sale of the work than all the advertisements or exertions I could make.

“I sent you the testimonial (a copy) of your election as Fellow of the Royal Society—and a noble testimonial, and well supported it was, by Dr. Buckland, and Murchison, President of the Geographical Society, and Greenougb, President of the Geological Society. I am sorry to say our kind friend Mr. Greenougli is laid up with influenza, very severe. On Thursday the Royal Society meeting was put off for the death of the Princess Sophia. To another meeting I went down, and the old dame, the porteress at the door, said, ‘ Oh dear, Major Jervis, his good majesty Charles the First was martyrised to-day, and you are not the only gentleman who has been disappointed and had a long walk for nothing to Somerset House.’ The set day came at length, and I was at my post, Sir John Lubbock in the chair, and rejoiced to communicate to you the tidings of your admission into the long list of 750 Fellows, some eminent for taste and talent, and on the whole the most remarkable men in Europe of the present generation, or perhaps, any in modern times. The honour of your election is mutually yours and that of the great public body, and I always think that a grain of good salt thrown into the leaven will correct many acidities, and tend to give a wholesome zest to the discoveries of intellectual knowledge.

“I have got the view of Bombay, between the hills of Caranja, as seen from the top of Malabar Hill, close to the Rev. Dr. Wilson’s bungalow, sketched from nature and painted in oils by Mrs. Jervis. It is a glorious, magnificent scene.”


“Edinburgh, 1st February 1845.—My dear Robert—As I am sitting up again a whole night writing letters, you will not expect me to enlarge. The North British Review, No. IV., is sent to you by this mail. The writers of the articles whom I am at liberty to mention to you, are :—1. Dana—Dr. Fleming (Aberdeen). 2. Thorntou—Robertson (B.C.S.) 4. Fitchett—J. M.

Bell. 5. Arnold—Maitland (Edward). 6. Hiigel—John Wilson. 7. Poor Laws — Chalmers. 8. Palestine—Isaac Taylor. 9. Christian Union—Professor Eddye. 10. Jesuits—an Italian. The Review is now established as first-rate. Our Scotch circulation is ahead of the Edinburgh's ; and we are making way in England and on the continent. Westergaard is delighted with it. The Edinburgh prints 5000 copies, and we 3000 for the present.

“I have been strongly urged by friends here to write an essay on the Millennium ; but I can’t find time. I grudge every day I am away from my books. I hope that the Encyclopaedia Britannica, sent by the Brahman, will reach you safely. Two gigantic globes, with a few volumes, I send off next week. Put one of the globes in the Institution, and keep the other at Ambrolie for native visitors and the female schools.

“Dr. Welsh, our great leader, I grieve to tell you, is threatened with a fatal disease of the liver. Save, O Lord!

“6th March 1845.—I came up to London last week to sign the statutes of the Royal Society, of which, a short time ago, I was elected a member on the recommendation of nine of the great masters of science and literature, of whose unsought patronage I am very unworthy. At the Royal Asiatic Society on Saturday, I reported progress in the decipherment of the Himyaritic inscriptions of the south of Arabia, some of which, the most eminent orientalists here and elsewhere being witnesses, I have now clearly made out. Mr. Foster and Dr. Bird are both wrong. Gesenius was partly right and partly wrong. Rbdiger is nearly right. I have not time to tell you how I forged the key.

“I am with Jervis, who is doing great and good things for the East. Yesterday morning he forwarded to Prince Albert, without my knowledge, my proof of the raised map of Palestine. The Prince himself laid it before the Queen, who was much pleased with it, and ordered her private secretary to inform us that Her Majesty will graciously accept the dedication of the map from him and Dr. Wilson.”

“6th June 1845.—Our Assembly has passed off well; but we missed the hallowed form of Welsh. The loss which we have sustained by his death is unspeakably great. Mr. Edward Maitland, advocate, receives charge of the North British Review in the meantime.”


“24th July 1845.—My dear Sir—I have the pleasure of sending for your examination most of the fossils which I brought from Lebanon. The ichthyolites are certainly neither placoids nor ganoids. I have so little practical acquaintance with such remains that I cannot positively say whether they are ctenoids or cycloids, though I am inclined to think that they are the latter. One of the species seems to belong to the salmonidse. Most of the shells and impressions of shells I picked up in the Jurassic Hills between Jazin and Deir-el-Kamr, south-east of Beyrut. One or two of them are from the under indurated chalk between Deir-el-Kamr and Beyrut. The small packet in white paper is from Ehdur, near the cedars. The recent species of buccinum is for comparison with the largest impression. I send also the specimens of fossil wood which I brought from the Egyptian desert, south-east of Basatin, and from Jebel-el-Tih, in the Mount Sinai peninsula, north of the granitic range. You will oblige me by asking Mr. Sanderson when he may call upon you, to cut them so as to exhibit a section of them, and to prepare a slip of each for the miscroscope, like those which you yesterday showed to me. You are most welcome to take pieces of them as hand specimens, etc., for yourself. I have a good many other articles here on which I must ask Mr. Sanderson to operate at a future time.”


“British Museum, May 1846.—My dear Sir—I commissioned a friend who went out lately to Bombay to send all the information he could gather for me about the Perim island fossils, more especially the Dinotherium and Mastodons. I have received a number of sketches of the specimens in the Bombay Society’s Museum, but none of the Dinotherium, and my friend Mr. Winterbottom was informed by Professor Orlebar or Dr. Buist that you had got a cranium of the Dinotherium, and taken it with you to this country. Might I ask the favour of your informing me if such is the case, or if you have any good specimens of Mastodons or Dinotherium teeth from Perim island, and whether I could get access to them for illustrations and description in our ‘ Fauna Antiqua Sivalensis. ’My dear Sir, yours very faithfully,

“H. Falconer.”

Dr. Wilson’s second marriage took place in September 1846, to Isabella, second daughter of James Dennistoun of Dennistoun, and of Mary Ramsay, fifth daughter of George Oswald of Scotstoun. For more than twenty years she proved to be a devoted wife, and no less a self-sacrificing missionary than her husband was. Admirably did she fill the place left vacant by the Bayne sisters, alike at the head of the female schools, among the families of the native converts, and in general society. Sprung of a house which, through the alliance of one of its members with Robert the Steward of Scotland, could declare, “kings have come of us, not we of kings,” Isabella Wilson ever showed the truest marks of gentle birth and training in the unobtrusive piety and unselfish simplicity of her character.


“London, 3d July 1847.

“My dear Friend—In a box which I forwarded to you to-day, I enclose a copy of my work on The Lands of the Bible for the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen, to the Secretary of whom I have addressed this note :—‘ London, 3d July 1847.—My dear Sir—It is only a few weeks since I received at Edinburgh your letter acquainting me with my election as a founder and member of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen, even though that letter, and the accompanying diploma, are dated in the early part of 1843. Your parcel must have lain at some of our public Institutions without being forwarded to me. Allow me, however late, to thank your Society for the honour it has done me in electing me a founder, and also for adding my name to the list of the Collaborateurs des Memoires in the Asiatic Section. With this editorial committee I shall have pleasure in co-operating on my return to India, for which I am about to set out.’

“And now, my dear friend Westergaard, I send you all my Zand and Pahlavi MSS. for collation, except a few Zasts which one of my boys has by mistake put into one of my Indian boxes. They are in eight volumes, viz.— 1. Parsi Baicayats, Zand, Pahlavi MSS., etc. 2. Collection of Zasts, Zand MSS. 3. Great Sirozah and Bazes, Zand ]\IS. 4. Sirozahs, Zand MSS. 5. Khurda Avasta, MS. 6. Zand and Pahlavi Minor MSS. 7. Xyaishes Zand MSS. 8. Star-Stir, Zand and Pahlavi MS. You will find my name on them all. When you have collated them I will thank you to return them to me at Bombay, where the Parsee may perhaps again fight with me as the wild beasts with St. Paul at Ephesus.”

By lending liis MSS. in Scotland as by his personal intercourse and influence in Bombay, he co-operated with the learned Westergaard in producing what is still, and must long be, the only complete text of the extant Parsee scriptures. At the same time we find the then venerable Colonel Briggs invoking his aid in researches into the development of the great vernacular languages of Northern and Central India from the Sanskrit, and their relation to the Dra vidian and aboriginal tongues of the South. About this time Lassen announced to him his election as a Corresponding Member of the German Oriental Society.

The month of September 1847 found Dr. and Mrs. Wilson on their way to India. Their route lay through the north of France, Belgium, and the Rhine country, Switzerland, Italy, and Malta, that he might report on the state of religion on the Continent, and the duty of the Free Church, which supports many preaching stations there, and aids the indigenous Reformed Churches of France, Italy, and Bohemia. In his letter to the Rev. J. G. Lorimer, Convener of the committee on the subject, he describes his meeting with Lassen :—

“In Rhenish Prussia my intercourse with different parties was entirely of a literary character. At Bonn I had the pleasure of seeing Professor Lassen, one of the greatest Orientalists of the Continent. At present he is engaged in the preparation of a truly great work on the History of India, which, I trust, will ere long become well known in our native country as well as in the distant East. It is entitled, Indische Alterthumskunde, von Chr. Lassen. I was favoured with the sheets of the work, so far as it has been printed. After a topographical and ethnographical description of India, the author proceeds to investigate its ancient history. His acquaintance with its sacred language and antiquities gives him advantages, which he turns to a wonderful account. At the same place I met Mr. Erskine, the son-in-law of Sir James Mackintosh. He was one of the founders of our Bombay Asiatic Society, to which he contributed several most able papers on the Parsees and the Cave-temples of India. He has been devoting his attention of late to the Muhammadan History of India, as set forth in its original authorities. He introduced me to Mr. Konig, who has patronised oriental literature, perhaps more than any other individual of our day, by the publication of many works in the Sanskrit and other languages.”

To Dr. J. Buchanan he wrote:—

“At Cairo I purchased from the Karaim Jews a complete copy of the Hebrew Scriptures, neatly written on 1386 leaves of parchment. Though it is only three hundred and fifty-seven years old, it has peculiar interest as belonging to a recension of which few or no copies are in the hands of Europeans, and as having the text in many places arranged according to the Hebrew poetry. By the help of Mr. Lieder, the esteemed missionary, we were able speedily to equip ourselves for a journey through the land of Goshen, which we were able to accomplish in a very satisfactory manner. At the Tern el-Yehud, near Thibin, we found undoubted and numerous tokens of an ancient site, and, if we mistake not, traces of the Onion built by Onias in imitation of the Temple of Jerusalem. We successfully explored the Tell el-Yehud near Belbies, probably the site of the Vicus Judseorum of the Antoninian Itinerary. At the Ten el-Basta, the Bubastis of the Greeks, and the Pi-Beseth (the first of these syllables being the Egyptian article), as well as other places, we procured some valuable antiques which have an historical import. We visited a site corresponding with the Thon of the Antoninian Itinerary, and perhaps the Pi-Thom of the Israelites. We examined the site of Heroopolis, the Raineses of the Septuagint; and we there disinhumed the large image of Rameses II., the Sesostris of the Egyptians. We found what is now generally admitted to be the land of Goshen most minutely accord with the intimations and exigencies of Holy Writ. We went to the Red Sea by a route seldom traversed; and on its interesting shores we observed fresh proofs of the accuracy of the views which I have ventured to express in The Lands of the Bible, on the great question of the passage of the Israelites. We felt very thankful to the Father of mercies when we arrived at our desired haven.

“Our friend Dr. Miller took us on shore early on the morning after we cast anchor in the harbour. We met Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Henderson, and Dhunjeebhoy and Hormasdjee, and then the Abyssinian youth most kindly hastening to bid us welcome, Mr. Nesbit, who has since joined us, being then absent from Bombay. Since our establishment in the mission-house we have had crowds of visitors, particularly of all tribes and classes of natives, by many of whom, former acquaintances, we have been received in the most affecting manner. Several of my controversial opponents have proffered their renewed friendship, which1 is very acceptable, alleging that they never could take offence at what I have written, as I ‘ uniformly avoided disagreeable personalities.’ I have recommenced my usual Sabbath services, both predicatory and catechetical; and two week-day lectures in English and Marathee, which have hitherto been remarkably well attended. I am inspecting the educational operations of the mission with a view to the immediate resumption of my duties in that department. You will ever pray that grace may be given to us all to make full proof of our ministry, incalculably solemn in all circumstances, but especially so in this great land of heathen darkness and death.

“Dhunjeebhoy has set out on an important tour with all juvenile ardour and Christian zeal and humility. Gabru, one of the two devoted Abyssinian youths, accompanied him as an attendant and assistant. Hormasdjee is preparing discourses with a view to his ordination, which we hope will soon take place, particularly as, of all the converts iu the East, he has endured the greatest trials and suffered the greatest earthly losses in consequence of his embracement of the cause of Christ. I feel it an unspeakable privilege to be restored to the fellowship of the dear converts.”

“Welcome! welcome again on the Indian shores ! ” wrote one whom we may take as representative of all—the Rev. B. Schmidt, of the Church Missionary Society, who had long evangelised the Tamul country, and had returned to India to work among the tribes of the Neilgherry hills. “I almost apprehended that you would find so much to do at home for the mission cause that you would not come out again into the encampment. But a true Crusader cannot stay at home as long as one Turk is in the field! Although born in different countries, wearing different uniforms, preaching Christ in different languages, in different provinces, yet we reach each other the right hand of fellowship—we are one in Christ j ” And as, when beginning his mission in Bombay, Dr. Wilson’s first privilege was to announce, in the Oriental Christian Spectator for January 1830, the suppression of Suttee in what was then British India, so now, on resuming his editorial labours in January 1848, he published the notification, by the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief Lord Hardinge, that proclamations had been issued by the Maharaja of Kashmere, the notorious Goolab Singh, and a majority of the principal feudatories, prohibiting widow-burning, infanticide, and slavery throughout their States. “The Governor-General abstains on this occasion from prominently noticing those States in which these barbarous usages are still observed, as he confidently expects at no distant day to hear of the complete renunciation of them in every State in alliance with, or under the protection of, the Paramount Power of India.” That good work was completed a few years afterwards by his successor, the last of the East India Company’s Governor-Generals, the Marquis of Dalhousie.

The famous “Political,” George Clerk, whose very name had been a tower of strength on our north-west frontier all through the Cabul disasters and the first Sikh War, and at whose feet Sir Henry Lawrence had sat, was now at the close of his first term of office as Governor of Bombay. He laid the foundation-stone of the Colaba Church at its extreme south point, to commemorate our countrymen who had fallen victims to a policy against which many of them had protested, and, as the evangelical bishop of those days expressed it, “to acknowledge the hand of Almighty God, which was equally seen and felt in the victories bestowed. This monumental church will be conspicuously seen by every Yessel entering our beautiful and commodious harbour, and our countrymen newly arrived, whether in a civil or a military capacity, will be reminded that although far removed from the land of their fathers, they are still in the land of the God of their fathers.” And Dr. Wilson found his old colleagues and some new scholars in the Asiatic Society eagerly discussing those slabs sent to Bombay by Sir Henry Rawlinson, which had been dug up from the ruins of Nineveh. The Governor directed plaster castings to be made from them for his own collection ; and the work, the first of the kind in Bombay, was executed by Abyssinian boys rescued by the Indian Navy from the Arab slavers.

The death, at forty-eight, of his old acquaintance, Syajee Rao, the Gaikwar of Baroda, on the 28th December, drew from Dr. Wilson this public notice of him:—“Sagacity and suspicion were prominent traits in his character; and it was in consequence of the latter that he sometimes became the dupe of designing men. In 1835, the principles of Christianity were pretty fully unfolded to him at his own request. He heard the communications which were made to him with respect, and stated his objections to some of the arguments advanced by the Brahmans of his Durbar against the Christian missionary.”

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