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 XX. Rest


1872-1875
REST

Assassination of Chief Justice Norman and Lord Mayo—Dr. Wilson on Muhammadan feeling—Translates Treasonable Proclamation—Welcomes from Old Students—At the Allahabad Missionary Conference—Additions to the Native Church—Shapoorjee’s Persecution— Vithabai’s Habeas Corpus Case — Missionary Statistics—Holkar’s Gift—Consulted by Viceroy on Baroda Case—Vernacular Press and State Education—Triumphs of opposition to the Slave-Trade and the Crimes of the Indian Cults—On Kirk Union and Disestablishment—Social Duties — Mr. Grant Duff—Lord Northbrook—H.R.H. the Prince of Wales—Illness—Death—Funeral— Memorials—Tributes by Vice-Chancellor Gibbs, Captain R. Mackenzie, I.N., and the wife of Major-General Ballard, C.B.

A THRILL of feeling" like that called forth by the Cawnpore massacre followed the assassination of the Viceroy, Lord Mayo, by a fanatical Afghan convict in the penal settlement of the Andaman Islands, on the 8th February 1872. Not five months before, a Wahabee traitor had cut down the blameless Chief Justice, Mr. Norman, as he entered the High Court in Calcutta. It was difficult, at the time, to believe that both of these events, unprecedented in our historj^, were not the expression of more than the individual bloodthirstiness of the assassins. But the voice of Dr. Wilson, who knew well the most excitable Muhammadan communities in India, next at least to the Wahabees and Afghans on the frontier, was raised again, as in 1857, in deprecation of sweeping charges against millions of our fellow-subjects. In a Town Hall meeting, and again at the annual conference of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s branch in Bombay, he used such language as this of Lord Mayo’s assassin: “The murderer must be prayed for in the spirit of the prayer offered up by Christ, that we should ask forgiveness for those who trespass against us. I am thoroughly convinced of the loyalty of the main body of Muhammadans. I believe that many of them are most anxious for the diffusion of knowledge, and even knowledge concerning God.” His eulogy of “the benevolent and beneficent Governor-General” was based on the experience he had had of his character and conversation when his guest at Simla. Since that other Irish administrator, the Marquis Wellesley, no ruler had exercised on Native and European alike, such a personal ^fascination as the upright Peer whose only fault was that he had sometimes too little suspicion of abler intellects directed by lower motives than his own. The missionary’s correspondence with Lord Mayo was brief, but it is sufficient to justify the assertion that the Viceroy felt a keen interest in all Christian and philanthropic agencies, “ and promised to give all assistance in his power to their efforts amongst the heathen tribes of the land.” Soon after, Dr. Wilson was consulted by the authorities on the translation and significance of a treasonable proclamation found in the pulpit of the Jumma Musjeed, the great mosque of Delhi, and in another place.

Lord Northbrook, the successor of Lord Mayo, had hardly taken his seat when he turned to Dr. Wilson for information and counsel as to the working of the University system, in itself and in its influence on the lower and vernacular education. Dr. Murdoch had long called the attention of the various Governments to the idolatrous and obscene passages in Government school-books, from which, nevertheless, Christian allusions were carefully excluded. The new Governor-General instructed each provincial Government to report on the subject, and with his own hand thus wrote to Dr. Wilson on the 3d May 1873: “The revision of the school-books is intended to extend to the Vernacular as well as the English books, and to give the opportunity of eliminating any indecencies or passages which teach the Hindoo or Muhammadan religions. ... I did not think it desirable to take any public notice of this part of the question, but I wish to set the matter straight without making a fuss. It is very gratifying to me that you should agree with what I said at the Convocation of the Calcutta University.” Lord Northbrook then invited Dr. Wilson’s opinion on such vexed questions as the compulsory requirement of an ancient language (Sanskrit, in Bengal) for

University pass degrees, and the establishment of University Professorships. On the latter the Scottish scholar’s opinion was most strongly that of Mr. S. Laing when Finance Minister, Mr. 0. U. Aitchison, Bishop Cotton, Archdeacon • Pratt, Dr. Duff, Principal Miller, and Lord Northbrook himself at last, that the Universities should not be prevented from becoming teaching as well as examining bodies, especially in such subjects common to all, and not involving religious difficulties, as the mathematical and physical sciences. Calcutta and Bombay now possess at least one University Chair.

On the two occasions on which, in 1872 and 1873, Dr. Wilson travelled by railway to Nagpore, to inspect the mission and do presbyterial duty, and to Allahabad to attend the General Missionary Conference, he made something like a triumphal progress. These great cities were the outposts to which his direct influence had extended during the previous forty years. At every station where his advent was known, natives, young and old, converts and non-Christians, crowded to the train to see their teacher once more, while some accompanied him for forty miles to prolong the dearly loved intercourse. His letters show how deeply this affection moved the old man. At Allahabad he was honoured, above all, by the 136 missionaries of 19 societies, Native and European, from all parts of India, who met to discuss the methods and results of the missions in India during the previous decade. In the whole history of foreign missions no such Synod has ever been held, whether we look at the number and varied experience of the members, at the evangelical unity of their faith and love, or at the weight and critical value of their disscussions. Dr. Wilson was one of the daily presidents, and he preached on “The Glory of Christ” on the evening of the united communion service. The subject assigned to him for a paper was “On Preaching to the Hindoos,’’ which he treated not as purely evangelistic, not as only educational, but as the proclamation of the gospel in many forms. His plea for doing justice to the languages of the peoples of India as the grand, though not exclusive, media of Christian instruction—legendo, scribendo, et loquendo—was not less emphatic than when he first applied it to himself in 1829. But he advocated English as “an alternative vernacular language, specially adapted to the higher regions of thought and feeling,” especially in the great cities. “It is rapidly becoming under the British Government what the Greek became under the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies and the Latin became under the Roman Consuls. I leave all absolute anti-Anglicists to answer for themselves the question, Why did the wisdom of God choose the Greek language for the New Testament?” Nowhere will the young Englishman, and especially the preacher and teacher, who goes out to India, find such ripe wisdom and practical counsels as in that paper, and in the subsequent opinions on intercourse with the Muhammadans, the aboriginal tribes, and the advanced Brahmists. The hints are worthy to be placed side by side with, so as to supplement, the famous but now too little known, “ Notes of Instructions ” to young officials, in Malcolm’s Memoir of Central India.

To the last, whether in Bombay or elsewdiere, Dr. Wilson looked, worked, prayed for true converts, and not in vain. The case of Dhunjeebhoy Nowrojee more than thirty years before, and oft-repeated since, was renewed in 1872. Shapoorjee Dhunjeebhoy Babha, a youth of good family, entered the Surat mission school to learn English. On the second day of his attendance Dr. Wilson happened to visit the school and to distribute copies of his elementary catechism. The simple book issued in Shapoorjee’s baptism two years after, in spite of the controversial treatises placed in his hands on the other side, and the frantic declarations of his father that he would destroy himself. The usual persecution followed —kidnapping and imprisonment. But the youth remained firm. He nursed Dr. Wilson in the last hours, and has visited Scotland for the completion of his studies as an ordained medical missionary to his own people.

Again, in 1874, Vithabai, a lady of high caste, sought baptism, and was driven from her home by the violence of her husband, whose treatment of the children was such that the mother had them brought into court on a writ of “habeas corpus.” The eldest girl, twelve years of age, vehemently protested her desire to live as a Christian with her mother, but the father’s rights were declared absolute, in spite of his acknowledged cruelty. The evidence showed that he had himself placed his daughter in the Free Church female school, and had arranged that she should receive lunch in violation of caste rules; that when she left the school, a Christian book she took with her led her mother to Christ; that he then asked the wife of the Rev. Gunputrao Navalkar to teach Christianity in his own house; and that he himself had even proposed to go over to Christianity with his whole family. Who that knows the little faith and much fearing of his own heart will do more than pity the timidity that prevailed? In the same year Dr. Wilson wrote to Miss Camilla Dennistoun : “Mission objects are pressing upon me the more that the enterprise expands. Last year I admitted into the Christian Church eighteen individuals of hopeful character, education, and intelligence. This year the harvest promises to be equally extensive.”

Statistics are no adequate test of such work as Dr. Wilson’s. But the figures for 1877 show that in Bombay and the stations of the Free Church founded by him, 1071 converts had been admitted, on the intelligent profession of their faith, since the beginning of his mission; while there were 2877 pupils and students in 56 schools. That is but the first-fruit of the harvest which he sowed. We find it in other forms so opposite, as the gift at this time, through Sir Madhava Rao, of Rs. 500 from the Maharaja Holkar, which was devoted to enriching the libraries of the college and schools in vernacular and Sanskrit works ; and in this communication from one who had been long a chaplain in India: “I can never forget that it was at a social meeting at your house in Ambrolie, and while you were engaged in prayer, that a remarkable change, or rather the first step of a remarkable change, passed over my wife. I may say that the life of faith is a different thing to me now from what it was when you and I were first acquainted.”

The last of the political services which Dr. Wilson was to be able to render to the Government was called for by Lord Northbrook. As an interpreter between the Oriental and the European mind, as a mediator between the races, he was asked in 1875 for his impressions as to the effect of the recent Baroda trial on the minds of the natives. “The opinion of one occupying your position, with large experience of the country and peculiar opportunities of mixing with all classes, would be very valuable,” he was told, as different at once from official reports and the utterances of the Press. His elaborate reply (see Appendix I.) called forth a warm letter of gratitude, and a further request for his opinion on these questions, one of which has since been hastily dealt with:—“Is it desirable to impose any check upon the native Press, or to endeavour to counteract the effect of the disloyal native papers by supporting papers which will put forward correct views?” “Has the time arrived for making those who receive a high English education pay the whole cost of it, limiting the aid of the State to those youths who, by distinguishing themselves in the lower schools, show that they deserve assistance in completing their education, thereby bringing fully into operation the principles expounded in the Educational Despatch of 1851? The leisure for replying to these questions never came, but it is not difficult to say what Dr. Wilson’s answer would have been to both. Certainly he would have urged the Governor-General, by arguments no less powerful than those which gave the Despatch of 1851 its force, to remove every obstruction to the development of a policy which would allow all religions, educationally, a fair field, and would permit positive moral and spiritual principle to affect the education of the young, while ceasing to build up and to hedge round pure secularism, and all which that involves, by a State monopoly. It is deeply to be regretted that, in spite of his premature abolition of direct taxation, so that the burdens of India are thrown mainly on the poor, Lord Northbrook did not continue, for at least the usual five years’ term of office, to maintain the foreign policy of his great predecessors, and to develop his own wise educational views.

In the mission of Sir Bartle Erere to Africa and the East, to arrange with the Khedive, the Sultan of Zanzibar, and the petty potentates of the littoral from the Persian Gulf west and south to the still slave-trading territory of the Portuguese Government of Mozambique, Dn Wilson saw the philanthropic i efforts of his life approaching that happy issue which our vigorous consul at Zanzibar, Dr. Kirk, soon after reached by treaty. In India itself, as he reviewed the gradual amelioration of Asiatic customs under the East India Company, and the growth of toleration under the Crown, he thus tersely catalogued the bloodless triumphs that had been won on a field where, it may be said, he himself completed what Carey had begun eighty years before :—

HORRORS AND INIQUITIES OF INDIA REMOVED BY GOVERNMENT.

I. Murder of Parents.

(a) By Suttee.

(b) By exposure on the banks of rivers.

(c) By burial alive. Case in Joudhpore territory, 1860.

II. Murder of Children.

(a) By dedication to the Ganges, to be devoured by crocodiles.

(b) By Rajpoot infanticide, West of India, Punjab, East of India.

III. Human Sacrifices.

{a) Temple sacrifices.

(b) By wild tribes—Meriahs of the Khonds.

IV. Suicide.

(а) Crushing by idol cars.

(б) Devotees drowning themselves in rivers.

(c) Devotees casting themselves from precipices.

(d) Leaping into wells—widows.

(e) By Traga.

V. Voluntary Torment.

(a) By hook-swinging.

(b) By thigh-piercing.

(c) By tongue-extraction.

(d) By falling on knives.

(e) By austerities.

VI. Involuntary Torment.

(a) Barbarous executions.

(b) Mutilation of criminals.

(c) Extraction of evidence by torment.

(d) Bloody and injurious ordeals.

(e) Cutting off the noses of women.

VII. Slavery.

(a) Hereditary predial slavery.

(6) Domestic slavery.

(c) Importation of slaves from Africa.

. VIII. Extortions.

{a) By Dharana.

(b) By Traga.

IX. Religious Intolerance.

(a) Prevention of Propagation of Christianity.

(b) Calling upon the Christian soldiers to fire salutes at heathen festivals, etc.

(c) Saluting gods on official papers.

(d) Managing affairs of idol temples.

X. Support of Caste by Law.

(a) Exclusion of low castes from offices.

(b) Exemption of high castes from appearing to give evidence. .

(c) Disparagement of low caste.

But it was ever to the spiritual, the divine, that Dr. Wilson looked as the motive power of all effective philanthropy. Hence, as his end drew near, he longed more and more for the restoration of that unity of the Kirk of Scotland which, when the later Stewarts had failed to wipe it out in blood, the shortsighted advisers of Queen Anne first secretly shattered. His experience during the year of his Moderatorship showed him that, without a united Kirk reconstructed on the historical lines of spiritual but lay independence, as stated by Francis Jeffrey and Henry Cockburn, his country would never do its duty in the Christianisation of India. These were his last letters on that subject, written at a time when he was welcoming back to India the Bev. Narayan Sheshadri “after his most successful campaign in Britain and America,” in which the Christian Brahman had pleaded for the depressed tribes and ignorant peasantry for whom he has given his life:—

“4th September 1874.—Nulla vestigia retrorsum must be the motto of the Free Presbyterian Churches. If others can claim, and receive and maintain their full liberty in Christ, and prove faithful to evangelical truth, let them be received into the advanced fraternity ; but let there be no obscurations, or concessions, or retrogressions, which would endanger or weaken onr position or injure our character. The duty of the State now, in the present advanced state of Christian society and the many divisions which exist, is to remove all imposts for the support of religion, and to devote all church property held by the State to such objects as, in the spirit of its original destination, are not inconsistent with its original consecration, viewed in a general and liberal sense.”

“5th October 1874.—I am pleased to a certain extent with the Act of Parliament abolishing Patronage, and more particularly because it was sought for by the Established Church of Scotland ; but it does not recognise the essential freedom and autonomy of the Church, and is entirely destitute of Presbyterian Catholicity. We are the historical Church of Scotland, and let the Established Churchmen be abreast of ns before we unite with them. The hasty comprehensions of the Revolution bear a solemn lesson to us which we should not forget. I am convinced that they are the best friends of the Established Churches of Scotland and England who, in a Christian spirit, seek their disestablishment. Saying or doing nothing in this direction we are responsible for much error and much sin. I express this opinion with much personal regard for thousands of their members and ministers, and with still greater regard for those of our own Church who may not see eye to eye with us in this matter. Much discretion will be needed in the advocacy of the disestablishment cause.” =

Every year, to the last, seemed to bring with it an increase of Dr. Wilson’s social duties and influence, while there was no abatement in his services to the public by frequent lectures on such subjects as “Views of Sin in the Hindoo Books and in the Bible “ Hindoo Philosophy,” etc. Among the guests and visitors whom he again and again guided amid the rock-cut temples around Bombay, while he opened to them its native, its benevolent and scientific institutions, and delighted them with his conversation, were, in these last years—Lord Northbrook, Lady Hobart, Sir Arthur Gordon, Sir Harry Parkes, Count Cserakotsky, Dr. Hermann Jacobi, Dr. Begg, General Litchfield, Mr. Grant Duff; Mr. Maughan and Mr. Octavius Stone, travellers; Mr. Seibert, and other United States astronomers; Dr. Andreas, sent by the Austrian Government to study the Parsee religion; Miss Tucker (A.L.O.E.); M. Minayeff, a Bussian traveller; Professor Monier Williams; the Armenian bishop; the Maharaja Holkar, Sir Madhava Rao, and the Chief of Jamkhundee ; Canon Duckworth, and the Rev. Dr. A. N. Somerville. It was at the farewell meeting held by that evangelist on April 7th, 1875, that Dr. Wilson appeared among the non-Christian natives of Bombay for the last time—a fitting occasion. On the 22d June he presided at a public meeting for the reception of E. B. Eastwick, Esq., and spoke with great animation. Dr. Templeton closed the long succession of missionaries and friends who had been his guests. The last time he gathered his children in the faith around him was on the 18th August, when he opened the “Day-school for Indian and other Eastern Females,” which he had erected in affectionate remembrance of Isabella Wilson, “ from a bequest by herself for any one evangelistic object of his choice.”

Mr. Grant Duff has told the world his delight in the companionship of the missionary:—“We drove round a large part of the town with Dr. Wilson—a great pleasure, to be put in the same class as going over Canterbury Cathedral with the author of the Memorials, the Greyfriars Churchyard with Robert Chambers, or Holyrood with poor Joseph Robertson. ... I leave Bombay with 'a much stronger impression than I had of its great Asiatic as distinguished from its merely Indian importance. It is and will be more and more, to all this part of the world, what Ephesus or Alexandria was to the eastern basin of the Mediterranean in the days of the Roman Empire. I wish I could give it a fortnight, and be allowed to pick Dr. Wilson’s brains all the time.” By the time that the Prince of Wales landed, and there had been put into his hands the exposition of the “Religious Excavations of Western India,” over which Dr. Wilson was to have been his guide, the great missionary was too ill to receive His Royal Highness, who graciously deputed so old a friend as Sir Bartle Frere to visit the dying apostle, and sent him the royal portrait. The Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, sought an interview with him, as Lord Hastings and Lady W. Bentinck had done with Carey when he was sick.

Frequent attacks of fever, after his return to Bombay at the end of 1871, had ended in September 1875 in chronic breathlessness from weakness of the heart. But he could not rest so long as any duty had to be done in the Institution, in the financial affairs of the mission, and in the University, although he had Mr. Stothert and zealous young colleagues to relieve him. On attempting to reach Mahableshwar, after a previous visit to Poona, he was forced by an alarming attack to return from Panchgunny, twelve miles short of the loved sanitarium. Miss Taylor, Dr. Macdonald the medical missionary, and Professor Peterson nursed him with devotion. When again in Bombay under the tender skill of Dr. Joynt, he had ever in his hand, as he sat in the chair to which the disease confined him, a volume of hymns marked at Kelly’s “Comfort in Prospect of Death.” In the last letter written with his own hand he said: “In the goodness of my Heavenly Father I think I am a little better, but if you saw my difficulty of breathing you would pity me. Let that pity pass into petitions addressed to the Throne of all grace.” Ready to die, he yet desired life that he might finish, as he thought, his Master’s work. To Mr. Bowen, the American missionary, he said the day before he died: “I have perfect peace, and am content that the Lord should do what seems good to Him.” And then he talked of the advance of Christ’s kingdom in India, expressing an eager solicitude that during the Prince’s tour among its peoples and nobles nothing might be done that should even seem to countenance false religions, or to depart from the Government’s attitude of simple toleration. He had lived for the freedom of Truth; rejoicing in Him Who alone has guaranteed that freedom he died.

At his feet gathered more, and more to him, than prince or viceroy, governor or scholar. The Hindoos were there;

Tirmal Eao and his two sons came from far Dharwar to seek his blessing. They knelt before him, their turbans on the ground, as they laid the Christian patriarch’s hands on their heads ; and when he died they—Hindoos—begged his body that they might bury it. The Muhammadans were there. A family greatly attached to him brought their own physician to see him, pleading that a hukeem who had healed the Shah of Persia must do him good. The Parsees were represented by Dhunjeebhoy and Shapoorjee, his first and his latest sons in the faith from their tribe. In the wanderings of unconsciousness, the words of Scripture, clearly read, often recalled his soul to follow them.

At five on the evening of 1st December, peacefully, John Wilson entered into his rest. In ten days he would have completed his seventy-first year. The old Scottish Burial Ground, closed by an Act of the Legislature, "was opened that his dust might lie in the same grave with that of Margaret and Isabella Wilson. There, too, lie Anna Bayne and Robert Nesbit, of whose wife Hay Bayne, who died at sea, there is a marble record. When we last stood there it was with Dr. Wilson, who said that by the grave which was to open for him he would take possession of India for the Lord. For, he used to remark, the way to Heaven is as short from India as from England. While some may regret that the veteran of threescore and ten did not retire to the leisure and the influence to which his native country invited him, surely there was a dramatic completeness, a spiritual unity, in the death which he died in Bombay. By him such an end was desired, but not as a mere sentiment. In 1849 he had written, “Though for long I thought that missionaries should seek to die in India and not contemplate retiring in any circumstances, observation has led me to qualify my opinion.” He would have worked unceasingly anywhere ; he desired to go on working long. It is well for the natives he loved and for the Church to which he is an example that he was permitted to fall while still in the front of the battle.

How all Bombay, how half India, made great lamentation for John Wilson, and carried him to his burial, the journals of the day record. Governor, Council, and Judges; University Vice-Chancellor, General, and Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy; Missionaries, Chaplains, and Portuguese Catholics; the converts, students, and school children; Asiatics and Africans of every caste and creed, reverently followed all that was mortal of the venerated missionary for two hours as the bier was borne from “The Cliff” along Malabar Hill, and down the road which sweeps round the head of the Back Bay to the Free Church on the Esplanade, and then to the last resting-place.

The University of Bombay possesses his library, and a marble bust of its virtual founder by Mr. J. Adams-Acton. His countrymen in Scotland have founded memorial scholarships to stimulate the youth of the Border to follow in his footsteps. Dr. Norman Macleod’s proposal in 1870, that Dr. Wilson’s Institution should become the United Christian College of Bombay, is likely to be carried out. Mr. Vice-Chancellor Gibbs, at the first convocation of the University afterwards, paid this official tribute to the learning and reputation of his predecessor :— “ This venerable missionary brought all his power, tempered by a most catholic spirit, to the service of this University; and in every branch of its government, including the office which I have now the honour to hold, gave it not only his best and warmest support, but also the incalculable benefit of his great experience as a teacher and guide of the native youth of this presidency. He has gone, in the fulness of the age allotted to man, to his reward and his rest; the regret we entertain for his loss is sincere, though perhaps selfish, but all will, I think, agree in the applicability to him of the often-quoted sentiment of the Prince of Denmark :—

“He was a man, take him for all and all,
We shall not look upon his like again.”

Captain R. Mackenzie, I.N., writes to us of his work among the officers of the Indian Navy:—“Under his usual calm and placid demeanour there lay a strong current of genial humour which he often gave vent to in his intercourse with his more intimate friends. The interest he manifested in the spiritual welfare of the officers both of the Army and the Indian Navy soon made Ambrolie Mission House a great centre of attraction for many in both services ; and the awakening to spiritual life that manifested itself very decidedly on the western side, can be traced to the prayers and influence of Dr. Wilson. Apart from his work among the native community, had he done nothing more than what he was directly and indirectly instrumental in accomplishing among his own countrymen of all classes, he would have done enough.”

Major-General Ballard, C.B., and his wife enjoyed Dr. Wilson’s friendship for sixteen years, and they were long his neighbours on Malabar Hill. Mrs. Ballard recalls his care of the native converts, and his unwearied patience with all their difficulties. “How often have I watched one after another go in at his gate, all sure of a welcome, of his courteous attention and sympathy. No matter how interesting the study in which he was engaged, he seemed to me to be always ready to lay it down if he could do the least good to a human soul, or speak a kind word to a sorrowing heart. He always appealed to what was best in every man. He fixed his eye steadily, not on the weaknesses, the inconsistencies of frail human nature, but on the inherent dignity of the soul, the priceless value of that for which Christ died. I have heard a Native Christian of low caste say in a tone that touched my heart, ‘Dr. Wilson believes me; the Padre Saheb knows I say true; ’ as if hugging to his soul the consciousness that some one trusted him. I have heard those who were incapable of having even a glimpse of the nobleness of his nature say with a smile that he was ‘often taken in.’ I never could admit that it was a reproach to say so—not unless it be a reproach to say that a man’s soul is steeped in charity, the charity that tliinketh no evil, that ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, and hopeth all things.’ Yes, he was often taken in, and in nothing do I venerate his memory more. I venerate it, because when he had been deceived and disappointed, chilled with ingratitude or wearied with inconsistency, he was able to begin afresh to love and to pity, to hope and to trust. Few of us are capable in this sense of being ‘often taken in!’

“But we must not overlook what his life and example did for many of the natives who felt his elevating influence though they lacked the moral courage or the strength of conviction to profess his faith. A Parsee gentleman said to me soon after his death, ‘ Dr. Wilson did not make me a Christian, but I hope I am a better man for having known him than I would otherwise have been.’ This may be said of hundreds in Bombay. There is one class of Dr. Wilson’s native friends that I cannot think of without sadness—the students, numbering hundreds in Bombay, who had the privilege of being instructed by him; to whom all the doctrines of Christianity are familiar; who are convinced, as many of them acknowledge, of the worthlessness of their own system, but who outwardly cling to it still. I never saw Dr. Wilson look so sad as in speaking of some of these—‘They know they ought to be Christians.’ Surely it cannot be that so much love and so much labour have been expended in vain!

“I know that there are many missionaries doing noble work in India who come little into contact with English society. They avoid rather than welcome opportunities of entering into it. It would not undervalue their labours; but it is impossible not to regret that the lesson of their lives is in a great measure lost upon their own countrymen. Of course it may be said that Dr. Wilson possessed special social gifts, that few have acquired such stores of information, and few have the same power of imparting it to others. I do not think that the secret of his popularity lay in his gifts, but rather in his ready sympathy, his catholic spirit, and his genial nature. He had in a rare degree the power of imparting knowledge without making others too painfully conscious of their ignorance. Then no uncharitable judgments or injurious reports were ever traced to him. Every man felt so safe in talking to him. Scandal passed him by, the evil weed found no soil to take root in. While alive to all that interested us, our joys and our sorrows, he lived in the world but not of it. Dr. Wilson made it a special aim to lead his countrymen to think justly and kindly of those around them, and he was often the connecting link between the English and the natives, helping them to understand each other better. Many of us have felt that his presence in the midst of us had a softening effect in our dealings with the natives in our households, leading us more earnestly to desire to do them good. When a hasty word rose to our lips, or a severe thought of them, the remembrance of him seemed to say, ‘ Hush! there is one who would lay down his life to save their souls ! ’

“Though he was an attached member of the Free Church of Scotland, we never found that his ecclesiastical views chilled his friendship for those of us who adhered to other communions. He seemed to belong to all who loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity. I remember with what tender regard he spoke to me of Dr. Douglas, then Bishop of Bombay, and how deeply he grieved for him at a time of sore bereavement in his family. I believe that regard was reciprocal, and that thought they differed widely in some articles of their creed, each recognised and honoured in the other devotion to the same Lord. They see eye to eye now!

“Many look back gratefully to Dr. Wilson’s simple but cordial hospitality; and I believe his liberal charities could only be kept up by the exercise of great personal self-denial. He entered cheerfully into society, and his presence had an elevating influence on conversation. He seemed so much part of Bomba}^ and its interests that every visitor of note made an effort to make his acquaintance, and he took a prominent part on every occasion of public interest there. In the last event of importance, however, during his life he was missed from his wonted place. When Bombay was stirred by loyal enthusiasm on the arrival of the Prince of Wales, our venerable friend was ‘wearin’ awa’ to the land o’ the leal! ’ As we drove past his darkened house to join the brilliant gathering the night after the arrival of the Prince, I felt saddened by the thought that, while we were going to a scene which would have been full of interest to him, he was laid on a bed of suffering. I was reminded, however, by Sir Bartle Frere, of the higher view to be taken of his state, and how he was waiting at the entrance-chamber of the King of kings. ‘ How I have missed Dr. Wilson from his place today,’ said Sir Bartle. ‘ But when one thinks of things as they really are, probably there is no man on earth more to be envied at this moment than Dr. Wilson. What must it be to be near the close of such a life!’

“I stole into the silent bungalow to lay a wreath on his coffin. The sun was rising over the distant hills and tinging the bay with gold. No sound broke the stillness but the rustle of the wind in the dry palm leaves and the dash of the distant wave, until I entered the little study. There a voice of bitter weeping met my ear in the verandah—the Native Christians sorrowing most of all that they should see his face no more. ‘We are so glad,’ said a Native Christian once to me, ‘that Dr. Wilson will never go home. You all go and leave us; we know you are always looking longingly to England; but Dr. Wilson will never go home.’ Ah! he had gone Home now.”


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

Quantcast