DR. CORNELIUS VAN ALAN VAN DYCK
No American name is more revered and loved in Syria and the Arabic-speaking lands today than that of Cornelius Van Alan Van Dyck.
He was born in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York, August 13, 1818, studied medicine at Jefferson College in Philadelphia, and sailed for Syria as a lay medical missionary in February, 1840, when twenty-one and a half years of age. A Christian woman in Hornellsville, New York, remarked to Dr. Harris in 1903, that when she was a young girl in Kinderhook, she heard a friend say one Sunday, "It is discouraging that at our communion services today, only two persons were received, one a negro woman and the other a young man named Van Dyck." Yet this young man was one day to reflect greater honour on his native church and town than even the famous Martin Van Buren of Kinderhook, and will be remembered and revered when the most of his Kinderhook contemporaries are forgotten.
He was of Dutch descent, and owing to his father's financial misfortunes, was left to gain his education largely through his own efforts. When young he was a lover of nature, and prepared an herbarium of all the plants of his native country. At eighteen he lectured on chemistry to a school for girls.
He sailed from Boston, January 12, 1840, in the bark Emma Isodora, of 200 tons. The vessel was ice-bound in Boston harbour for three days. There were nine missionaries, three married men and Dr. Van Dyck, a bachelor of twenty-one and a half years, and three other passengers. There were no decent accommodations for passengers. The cabin was about ten by thirteen feet. Small pens called staterooms had been I knocked up in the after hold, and five married couples were crowded into this 'Black Hole.' The doctor slept in the deck house over the companionway. The table was over the stairs, resting on the railing, so as to shut off what little air could get down below that way. On a previous voyage to the West Indies, coffee had been spilled in the hold, and decayed, and produced a bilge, the smell of which was simply indescribable. There is nothing vile enough to compare with it. The agent of the Boston mission house had bought as his sleeping outfit a small blanket, too short at both ends, and as thin as a lady's veil, and a thin cotton spread, and this for a winter voyage. But for a buffalo robe he brought with him from home and a thick overcoat, he might have suffered. He was young and in robust health and did not mind matters at all. But the case was different with those five poor ladies, who were shut up below, and compelled to endure the smell of the bilge. A strong current of air drew down from the foresail into the forecastle, whence it drew through the hold to the cabin, taking the whole abominable compound of stinks, and keeping it up, on those poor creatures below, whence it came up through the companionway under the dining table in the deck house. You may imagine the result!
They reached Smyrna February 26, 1840, in forty-five days from Boston, and were received into the families of Messrs. Temple and Riggs. Mr. Adger was absent. Mr. S. H. Calhoun was stationed at Smyrna as agent for the American Bible Society. He was absent on duty in Athens. Some time in March they took Austrian steamer for Beirut, calling at Larnaca, Cyprus, where they met Messrs. Ladd and J. Thomson and also Mr. Hebard, who was en route for Constantinople.
"On the 2nd of April they anchored off Beirut and Were met by Messrs. William M. Thomson and E. R. Beadle, who came alongside. Though they had a clean bill of health, they were landed with all their goods and boxes (which in his case consisted of a small box of books and a trunk) in the quarantine, and kept fourteen days in durance vile in a leaky house. Then at the end of the fortnight some of them were taken into Dr. Thomson's family and some into Mr. Beadle's. Dr. Eli Smith was then in the United States, Mr. Hebard in Constantinople, and Messrs. Lanneau and Sherman in Jerusalem. Miss Tilden was teaching with Mr. Beadle in the Beirut Boys' Seminary." [Quoted from Dr. Van Dyck's " Reminiscences."]
Arriving in Syria April 2, 1840, he began at once the study of Arabic which lie kept up all his life, with remarkable success. In May, 1840, he made an extensive tour in Northern Syria with Dr. Thomson, and in July proceeded to Jerusalem to have the medical care of the missionary families. Returning to Beirut in January, 1841, lie made the acquaintance of Mr. Butrus Bistany, a recent convert to the Protestant faith from the Maronite sect. These two young men formed a warm attachment. Bistany was a scholar and an industrious student, and their congeniality of taste bound them together their whole lives. At Mr. Bistany's funeral, in 1883, he was requested to make an address, but was so overcome that he was only able to say with deep emotion, "Oh, friend of my youth!"
Dr. Van Dyck studied Arabic with Sheikh Nasif el Yazigy, the poet, and Sheikh Yusef el Asir, a Mohammedan Mufti, graduate of the Azhar University in Cairo. The former was Dr. Eli Smith's Arabic assistant in Bible translation for eight years, and the latter assisted Dr. Van Dyck also for eight years in the same great work. He soon mastered the best productions of Arabic poetry and literature, and by his wonderful memory could quote from the poetry, proverbs, history and science of the Arabs in a way which completely fascinated the Syrian people. They said, "He is one of us." He had no peer among foreigners in his knowledge of the Arabic language and literature. This taste for language was natural to him, and was a divine gift and a divine preparation for the great work of Bible translation to which in due season God called him.
On the 23d of December, 1842, he was married to Miss Julia Abbott, whose mother, the widow of the British Consul-General Abbott, had married in August, 1835, Rev. William M. Thomson.
In June, 1843, he removed with Dr. Thomson and Mr. Butrus Bistany to Abeih in Lebanon, fifteen miles southeast of Beirut, where he founded the Abeih High School, which was afterwards known as the famous Abeih Seminary, and which was under the care of Rev. S. H. Calhoun for twenty-six years, from 1849 to 1875. During his six years' stay in Abeih, he prepared in Arabic school-books on geography, algebra, geometry, logarithms, plane and spherical trigonometry, navigation and natural philosophy These books, afterwards revised by himself, continue to be standard works in the Arabic language.
His geography of Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine, is a thesaurus of graphic description, and full of apt quotations in poetry and prose from the old Arab geographers and travelers. The people delight in it and quote it with admiration. I found it to be one of the best possible reading books in acquiring a knowledge of the Arabic vocabulary.
In 1847 he was a member of a committee with Drs. Eli Smith and G. B. Whiting to prepare the appeal in behalf of anew translation of the Bible into the Arabic language, which we have already quoted in the chapter on Bible translation. From this time until 1857 he lived in Sidon in a house "on the wall," with his father-in-law, Dr. Thompson. Their field extended to Tyre' and Tiberias and to Mount Hermon and even Damascus. And they made extended tours, preaching and healing the sick. Their house in Sidon was open to all, and their evening Bible classes were thronged with young men.
When he removed from Abeih to Sidon, he expressed great joy at the prospect of giving himself more completely to the work of preaching But his linguistic tastes led him more and more to lay up great stores of Arabic learning.
Dr. Eli Smith died January 11, 1857, having laboured eight years in the translation of the Scriptures. In the chapter on Bible translation we have given a full account of Dr. Van Dyck's success in finishing it. It was indeed finished. But few errors, and those of secondary importance, have ever been found in this wonderfully accurate translation. It is the enduring monument of the scholarship, taste and sound judgment of the two eminent men whom God raised up for the work.
In 1865 lie went to New York to superintend the electrotyping of the whole Bible, to save the enormous expense of setting up the type whenever an edition was printed. While in America he gave instruction in the Hebrew language in Union Theological Seminary in New York, and was offered a permanent professorship, which he declined, saying, "I have left my heart in Syria and thither I must return." He returned to Beirut in September, 1867, and in addition to his regular duties as editor of the press and of the weekly journal, the Neshrah, he accepted the professorship of pathology in the medical department of the Syrian Protestant College, and continued in this office until 1883, when he resigned. During the sixteen years of his connection with the college he published a large Arabic volume on pathology, another on astronomy, and a work on chemistry. He aided in the foundation of the observatory, and brought out a telescope which he afterwards sold to the college. Together with Drs. Post, Wortabet and Lewis, he conducted regular clinics in the St. John's Hospital of the Knights of St. John of Berlin.
After his resignation from the Syrian Protestant College, he accepted an invitation from the Greek Hospital of St. George in Beirut and continued to attend its clinics for ten years, and aided largely not only in raising its character, but in inducing the wealthy Syrian Greeks to contribute to its enlargement and its higher efficiency. In 1891, the year of his jubilee of fifty years in Syria, the Greek citizens placed a white marble bust of Dr. Van Dyck in the open court in the midst of the hospital as a proof of their appreciation and gratitude. It was the first memorial bust erected in Syria in modern times, and the Greek Society have shown great liberality and sincere gratitude by setting it up to commemorate the labours and life of an American Protestant missionary physician. Several eloquent addresses were made, and Greeks, Mohammedans Maronites, Protestants, Catholics and Jews united in the celebration.
During the latter years of his life he published in Arabic eight volumes of science primers and a fine volume, "Beauties of the Starry Heavens." His last Arabic work was the translation of "Ben Hur," which was published after his death by two of his pupils at the "Muktataf " Press in Cairo.
Dr. Sarroof states in a brief Arabic memoir, that Dr. Van Dyck was most sensitive with regard to the honour due to Dr. Eli Smith, and would never allow the translation of the Bible to be spoken of as his alone. When Dom Pedro, Emperor of Brazil, called upon him in 1877 he complimented him on his translation of the Bible. Dr. Van Dyck at once replied, "Perhaps Your Majesty has not been informed that I am not the only translator. The work was begun by Dr. Eli Smith, and after his death I completed it." He scorned flattery and once on receiving a visit from a deputation of learned sheikhs and Ulema from Damascus, the leading sheikh, a noted scholar, began to praise the doctor in efflorescent Oriental style, and asked, " What gifts and talents must a man have to attain such learning as you have?" The doctor curtly replied, "The humblest may attain to it by industry. He who strives wins."
On April 2, 1890, his jubilee was celebrated by his friends, native and foreign. Committees had been formed in Syria and Egypt, and subscriptions raised. On the day of his jubilee deputation after deputation visited him, presenting addresses and tokens of esteem. The native committee presented him with a purse of 500 pounds. The American missionaries gave him a Gothic walnut case containing all of his Arabic publications, twenty-six in number, elegantly bound. A photographer presented him a large picture of himself in an Oriental frame. The managers of the Greek Hospital gave him a silver coffee set, and a valuable gift was presented him from the Curatorium of St. John's Hospital.
Among the addresses presented to him on his jubilee were those from the Central Committee, from the Orthodox Greek Patriarch of Antioch in Damascus, Dr. Edward C. Gilman of the American Bible Society, the Curators of St. John's Hospital, the Syrian Evangelical Society, the session of the Beirut Church, the Greek Bishop of Beirut, the Alumni of the Syrian Protestant College, the Syrian Young Women's Society, the Y. M. C. A., the undergraduates of the Syrian Protestant College, and an elaborate address from his brethren of the Syrian Mission read by the Rev' Dr. W. W. Eddy.
In 1892 Dr. Van Dyck received the honorary degree of L. H. D. from the University of Edinburgh.
After a brief illness, he entered into rest on Wednesday morning, November 13, 1895. The public sorrow was perhaps unparalleled in Syria. He had requested that no word of eulogy be uttered at his funeral and the request was strictly complied with. It is an old custom in Syria for the poets to read eulogistic poems at funerals, and no Oriental custom was more distasteful to him, so that literally a score of poets were greatly disappointed But a few days after, on Wednesday, November 30th, by general request, the writer pronounced a funeral discourse to a large congregation. His admiring friends, however, sent to the local press, and to his old pupil, Dr. Iskander Barudi, not less than forty-seven elegiac poems, which were published in a volume.
His old pupil and fellow teacher, Dr. John Wortabet and a few associates, erected over his grave a monument of red Aberdeen granite suitably inscribed in both English and Arabic:
Cornelius Van Alan Van Dyck
Born in Kinderhook, August 13,1818,
Died in Beirut, November 13, 1895,
After labouring 55 years among the sons of the