Lo! The “Poor Missionary”
BY MELMOTH, THE WANDERER.
Theosophist, February, 1880
Decidedly the year A.D. 1880 begins as unpropitious and gloomy for that long-suffering, self-sacrificing class, known in Europe as Protestant Missionaries, but in India as padres—as was the now departed year 1879! The free-thinkers and infidels, like a swarm of wicked mosquitoes buzzing around, worry them worse than ever. Their Roman Catholic brothers played, and are still preparing to play, all manner of unholy tricks upon them, and though the abuse lavished upon the heads of these pious and meek Christians, was mutual—especially when brought under the public notice in the shape of pamphlets issued by the Bible Society—yet it was anything but edifying and offered some impediments to future conversions. For years they have drawn, we may say, no other converts in India but those who go more for ready cash or money’s worth, than holy grace; and they feel, do these good men of God, that for the average Christian to stand by and see these “heathen brands plucked from the burning,” flying from the Catholic sanctuary unto the tabernacle of the Protestant Lord, and vice versa, according to the fluctuations of the market, was as good as a game of shuttlecock and battledore.
And now the rumblings of 1880 are beginning to be heard. Amanda Smith, the mother pilgrim from the land of the Pilgrim Fathers, proved, outside the small community of the true believers—a failure. Even their best, and, as I believe, their only undeteriorated specimen of native preacher, the hitherto indefatigable Parsee convert, begins to show unmistakable signs of weariness and the blackest melancholy. This illustrious Zoroastrian, who used, with the punctuality of a timepiece and—as if in derision of his former god—just before sunset, to daily squeeze himself among the bas-reliefs of the Dhobi Talav fountain, was missed at his usual place for several afternoons. The spot from which he lifted up his voice—as one conscious of crying in the wilderness—was actually deserted for several days! Wicked tongues report him becoming hoarse; he looks ill, they say, hence, perhaps his slackening zeal. And yet, if he loses it altogether—the voice, I mean, not his zeal—perchance his always scant now absent audiences may return all the sooner. Indeed he has more chances, the ex-pious son of Zoroaster, of attracting the multitude by placing himself to be stared at and even listened to as a speechless caryatid, in all the motionless solemnity of a stone idol than ever before, when after narrating the touching story of his miraculous conversion, he drew a flood of briny tears from his black eyes and let it trickle down the steps prepared for the sweet rippling waters of the ever-dry fountain. True, his fine baritone was never calculated to enhance the charm of the Methodist hymn and like a new Orpheus charm Heathen man and beast. His was not the voice to make the water-buffalo to desist from grazing, or the buggy-wallah cease plying the persuasive stick. It was evidently a neglected organ and the padres might do worse than insist upon his taking a few lessons in singing—were it but from the ebony-browed nightingale newly landed from America—before further compromising their cause by allowing him to sing the average heathen to the verge of suicide.
No less inimical than the unregenerate infidels, the Roman Catholic rivals, and the unmusical convert, becomes public opinion as regards the padres. The tide recedes, and the milk of kindness hitherto so freely drawn by them from the full udder of the nursing mother church of the “innocents at home,” is evidently curdling and turning sour. Traditions are current of well-meaning, God-fearing Christians who, with their minds full of heart-rending tales about the hardships and privations of the “poor missionary” in the land of the gentiles, and their pockets swelling with religious tracts forced upon them on board the P. and O. were suddenly brought to a cruel disenchantment. Their first, and as yet tottering steps upon treading the shores of the land of the sacred cow and the starving bullock, were crossed by “poor” missionaries driving in fashionable dogcarts, or reclining in elegant victorias with a red-garbed and skeleton-legged heathen sais or two hanging on behind, like two large clots of blood. . . . Then came several violent raps upon the “poor missionary’s” knuckles from earnest correspondents, writing in respectable orthodox London papers, besides daily attacks published by a hundred freethinking, though not less respectable daily journals throughout Christendom as well as in Heathendom. So, for instance, there appeared some time ago a savage attack upon these inoffensive, and well-meaning men, which requires notice. They were asked to first turn their attention to other and more needy directions than the lands of the “heathen.” Speaking of the enormous sums annually spent on foreign missions, a writer, signing himself Pilot, in a letter addressed to the Weekly Times (London, Aug. 31st, 1879), is struck with “the anomaly which continually presents itself to the most casual observer. . . . While the Kaffir, the Heathen Chinese, the mild Hindu, the poor African, and the Australian aboriginal” come in, every one of them, for their due share of physical and religious attention, “there comes case upon case before public tribunals, showing the lamentable ignorance of the dregs of our own population” . . . We quote the rest of the letter:
“In one recent instance, a girl of fourteen was questioned by the magistrate as to the Bible, a book which she declared she had never before heard mentioned. She was in an equal condition of ignorance as to the words God and Church, which conveyed no more meaning to this denizen of London than they would to a Hottentot. A few days after, an almost exactly similar state of mental darkness was displayed before another Police court, and yet we are engaged in sending cargoes of tracts to the uttermost parts of the earth. This condition of things is nothing less than a public disgrace to us as a country. Suppose we institute some system of home missions to remove the beam out of our own eye before we attempt to eradicate the mote of Buddhism, and other equally harmless forms of belief. With the passing of an Education Act some people fancy that such things as I have described are impossible; but it will be years before the seething mass of ignorance and vice underlying the whited sepulchre of our social system can be visibly affected by the efforts of the State. The metropolis is no startling exception in these matters, for the same unfortunate ignorance is prevalent in most large cities, and some parts of the black country and the brick-making districts are even worse than the towns. How long, then, shall we go on subscribing hundreds of thousands of pounds to disseminate a civilization which is wanted at home? It is nothing less than a hypocritical farce to spend money on proselytizing cannibals, when we have brother and sister heathen at our very doors. Charity should begin at home; but there evidently is not the same glory to be won rescuing an English waif in the purlieus of Ratcliff-highway as there is in converting a stray nigger in the wilds of Africa.”
And now, as the last coup de grace after this impertinence from home, comes in a stern rebuke in a highly respectable and strictly orthodox organ. This once it is neither an “infidel pigmy” like the Theosophist (the latest epithet bestowed upon it by a missionary organ, which, though famous for our great kindness, we must abstain from advertising) nor a second-class paper of London, which ‘goes for’ the padres, but that great authoritative organ of India and, as we are told, true barometer of the Indian press, which—to use a French expression—“makes the rain and the sunshine,” and tunes the violins of all minor papers—the Pioneer, in short. The rebuke, though indirect, and aimed rather at the collective body of missions than at the Indian in particular, must be very hard to bear. We sympathise heartily with the padres; and were not the Pioneer such a Goliath of the journalistic Gath, perchance the Quixotic spirit of our suckling David, this “infidel pigmy,” might even be aroused in defence of the poor missionary. As it is, we are obliged to eat the leek and we advise our friendly and esteemed padrestic contemporaries to do the same. But what a fuss to be sure, for an infidel Turkish Moolah, whom the kind padres, trying to save him from eternal damnation, had bribed into translating the Bible! And such an irreverent language too. I reproduce it with the minute exactness of a sincere sympathiser. Let your readers judge, verifying our quotation by reference to the Pioneer for Jan. 5th, 1880. The italics in the quotation are mine:
The quarrel at Constantinople has been healed somehow or other, and England is spared the ridicule that would have attached to her government if a regular rupture of diplomatic relations had been the consequence of the absurd incident of the moollah. As far as one can understand the case yet, Sir Henry Layard’s interference in that matter was altogether unwarrantable. The people whom he might properly have interfered with, would have been the troublesome fanatics who engaged the mullha, in the first instance, to help them in their Bible translation.
Our relations with Turkey are far too delicate at present to be imperilled by the escapades of foolish missionaries. There is a time for all things, and this is not the time for letting ignorant enthusiasts bring the good faith of Great Britain into disrepute in the East, by pecking, in an absurd way, at the religious sentiment of Islam. Englishmen are not Mohammedans and they need not pretend to think Mohammedanism a nice religion; but it is an essential condition of success for Great Britain in the large political undertakings that she has in hand that she should conscientiously act up to the principles of perfect toleration she professes. It is repugnant to British sentiment to interfere with private liberty, and thus missionaries wander where they will,—bringing about some hypothetical conversions and a good deal of disturbance. None the less is it clear that missionary work ought to be under some intelligent regulation where its indiscretions are liable to compromise the peace of Europe. How Sir Henry Layard can have failed to see that the treatment of the Turkish moollah by the Turkish Government was a matter with which he had absolutely no concern, is as yet a mystery. But, at any rate, it is most important for Mohammedans all over the world to understand that the British Government is incapable of importing religious bigotry into its political action.
The pen drops from my hand in horror. . . . Decidedly Sir H. Layard is here but a transparent pretext, and The Pioneer editor has become a rank infidel!