Removal to Beirut - Retrenchment - The Abu Rikab.
N 186o I was transferred from Tripoli to Sidon. But my goods, shipped on a "shakhtoor," were driven into Beirut harbour by a storm, and the mission by an emergency vote directed me to stay in Beirut where I have since remained. I undertook the Arabic preaching to lessen the burden on Dr. Thomson.
In May of that year, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson left for America with their children, one of whom, Samuel Tyndale, is now president of Maryville College, Tennessee.
The English preaching services also devolved upon us. The missionaries had maintained them since 1826. It was in 1866 that the Church of Scotland agreed to supply those services, beginning with the Rev. James Robertson.
The French occupation was a curse to Syria. Fifty grogshops and many houses of ill fame were opened and drunkenness became a vice theretofore little known.
In April, 1861, Rev. D. Stuart Dodge with his bride, Ellen Phelps, sister of William Walter Phelps, visited Syria. His meeting Dr. Bliss, who came down from Suk el Gharb to meet Mr. and Mrs. George D. Phelps of New York, was the beginning of a friendship never interrupted since, and which resulted in the founding of the Syrian Protestant College, of which his sainted father, William E. Dodge, laid the corner-stone in December, 1871.
In February, 1861, we heard that Mr. Lincoln had offered my father a diplomatic post, and on his refusal had offered to appoint my brother Samuel consul at Beirut. It was thought he could master the language during his incumbency and then enter his missionary work.
We successfully dissuaded Samuel from a step which would have been so disastrous to his missionary influence. It would have impregnated his whole future with a political tinge that would have been in direct antagonism to the spiritual character of his life-work. Samuel thereupon volunteered as a chaplain, and my brothers George, William and Huntting also entered the army. But the relief work we were engaged in in Syria was a duty so high and pressing we had to choke down our eagerness to go home and do our share.
July 3d, the Sultan, Abdul Medjid died and was succeeded by Abdul Aziz. On the 4th, a brilliant comet was visible, and we had our Fourth of July celebration, with the native illumination of the city in honour of the new ruler. I made an address from Isaiah 8:12, which from its reference to the "confederacy" was startling to my hearers.
July 18th Daud Pasha was inaugurated as governor-general of the new pashalic of Mount Lebanon. The ceremony took place in Beirut barracks. The Firman of appointment was read in Turkish and Arabic, and addresses were made by Maronite and Greek priests, and the cavalcade set out for Deir el Komr. During the reading, a Deir el Komr widow saw in the crowd the Druse who had murdered her husband and by her screams compelled the pasha to order his arrest and imprisonment at once. As the pasha's party of mounted Christians and Druses entered Deir el Komr en route for the palace of B'teddin, the widows who had returned sprang on the Druse horsemen and forbade their reentering the town. They had to retreat and take another road. During the summer, the French wagon road to Damascus was completed and became a great public benefit. The French evacuation in June did not eradicate the effects of the occupation. These were both good and evil. The French army restored order, reassured the people, and quieted the land. But the army followers, who opened forty liquor saloons and many houses of ill fame in Beirut, introduced among the thousands of youths in Beirut licentiousness and intemperance to a degree never known before.
I regret to say that the example of the English was not much better. In July, 1861, five midshipmen from the British liner Afars came ashore in Beirut and after drinking more brandy than was safe, entered the confectionery shop of M. Troyet, a Frenchman, and demanded more liquor. M. Troyet, seeing their intoxicated condition, refused them, whereupon they opened a broadside of chairs and canes upon the mirrors, glass cases, jars, and furniture of the saloon, doing damage to the amount Of five thousand francs. Complaint was made and the "young gentlemen" were court-martialled, imprisoned, and fined to the full amount. A fine example for Englishmen to set before the Arabs of Beirut.
In August, 1861, I visited Zahleh from which Messrs. Dodds and Benton were expelled in 1859. I found five Protestants, Musa Ata and others, but the people at large looked at me with undisguised animosity. I wrote at the time, "The scenery about Zahleh is charming. Around you are the ranges of Lebanon and the splendid plains of the Bookaa half covered, at this season, with bright green fields of Indian corn, and the threshing-floors piled high with myriads of sheaves of wheat and barley and other grains. A small river of cold crystal water, the Bardouni, runs down through the narrow valley which divides the town into two distinct quarters. The people are a hearty, vigorous, and superior-looking race, and some day the Lord will bring them into the light."
The Turkish government began to collect a million dollars from the Moslems of Damascus, and their rage was so great that they plotted Another massacre. They planned killing the pasha, and then all the Christians and foreigners left in the city. But though the plot was discovered and thwarted, yet it produced a new panic in the city and all over Syria. Miss Mason and Miss Temple reopened the girls' school in Suk with six pupils. Mr. Calhoun, in the Abeih Seminary, being unable for want of funds to open the school, received a small class of men for theological instruction. In the printing of the new Arabic translation of the Old Testament, Dr. Van Dyck had proceeded as far as the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Numbers. But owing to the inferior character of the old printing machine, it was extremely difficult to obtain a register, that is, to have pages correspond on the opposite sides of the leaf. So Mr. Hurter, the printer, was authorized to visit America and obtain, if possible, a new and improved machine.
A meteor, said to be of the size of the full moon, passed over Anti-Lebanon early in August and moved to the southwest of Mount Hermon, leaving a train of fire behind it. It passed off towards Carmel and exploded with a noise like a cannon.
A young Englishman named Lee visited the famous Dog River, nine miles from Beirut, for the purpose of studying the inscriptions on the ancient rock-hewn tablets of Sesostris, Esarhaddon, and others, of which there were nine. On reading his "Murray's Guide," he was surprised to find that the face of one of the ancient tablets had been smoothed down by a chisel, and a French inscription cut upon it, commemorating the French military expedition to Syria in 1860-61 with the name of Napoleon III, and the officers of the army. Supposing it to have been the work of some unauthorized vandal, he took a stone and defaced the emperor's name from the inscription. On his return to Beirut he was summoned to the British consulate to answer a charge of the French consul that be had destroyed French property. He then wrote an apologetic answer to the French consul and also expressed his surprise that the French officials who had sent Renan to explore the Syrian antiquities should have authorized the destruction of one of its most ancient monuments. The French consul returned his letter as unsatisfactory and there the incident closed.
In September Messrs. Ford and Lyons laid the corner-stone of a new church in El Khiyam. Sixty dollars of the money used in this building was money received by me from Sunday-scbools in America and given to poor Protestants for buying seed wheat. They sowed the wheat, harvested it and repaid the money for the church edifice, and thus it has done a double service, in giving bread to their bodies and the bread of life to their souls.
On September 20th, we received orders from Dr. Anderson of the A. B. C. F. M. to cut off one-third of our expenses. So we met and applied the surgeon's knife, cutting down our own salaries, and those of all the native agents, and closing the boys' and girls' boarding-schools. We did this as an expression of our sympathy with our suffering friends in America. October 17, 1861, I wrote to the missionary society of Illinois College urging the claims of missions and apologizing for a brief letter on the ground of pressure of duties, as I had to preach in Arabic every Sunday and in English once a month, conduct a weekly Arabic Bible class, a singing school, translate hymns for a new hymn-book, correspond regularly with the missions at Aleppo, Aintab, Latakia, Smyrna, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Cairo, attend to receiving and forwarding all mails, English and Arabic, and all boxes for the press, and for individuals, attend to a large private correspondence, attend meetings of the Anglo-American Relief Committee, and the Claims Commission for losses during the massacres.
At this date the mission was reduced to seven men, Messrs. Wilson and Hurter having left for America and Messrs. Eddy and Bird being still absent, and we were earnest in pleading for reinforcement. We had abandoned, for the time being, the whole of Syria north of the Dog River, and awaited help from our afflicted native land. I removed my home in Beirut to Beit Jebaili in the eastern quarter and was surrounded by Damascene refugees, many of them very delightful and lovely people. Mrs. Jessup and I opened at once a Sunday-school and I had a weekly Bible class for men and women. In 1862 we opened a school for their girls with a pupil of Mrs. De Forest, Mrs. Saada Haleby, as teacher, and soon we had ninety girls under instruction. That school was afterwards in 1864 transferred to Mrs. Bowen Thompson, founder of the British Syrian Schools.
The severe retrenchments and closing of Abeih Seminary compelled leading Protestants to send their sons to Lazarist and Jesuit Schools. Even the zealous Dr. Meshaka of Damascus, the Martin Luther of Syria, sent his son to Antura, the famous school of the Lazarists. In October, 1861, the French sailed away in a fleet of six liners from Beirut. At the same time two of the better class of Druse sheikhs, Yusef Abdul Melek and the Emir Mohammed Arslan were released from prison and returned to their homes, and were afterwards useful in the government of Lebanon.
My brother Samuel was ordained by the New School Presbytery of Montrose, September 10th. having been excused from his regiment for the purpose and then returned to the army, where he remained until after the battle of Malvern Hills, July 31, 1862.
In the middle of October, Beirut was visited by its first epidemic of dengue fever, called by the Arabs "Abu Rikab " (father of the knees), from the severe pain at the knees. Not less than 25,000 out of a population of 60,000 of the people were sick at one time.
Whole families were prostrated, but very few died. It was supposed that no more than 2,000 of the 60,000 people escaped it. It was probably caused by the filthy state of the city and the gardens, after the residence of so many thousands for nine months, with no regard for sanitary precautions and no steps taken by the government to prevent disease. For forty days not a cloud appeared and the sky was like burning brass. There had been but one day of rain for six months. The sick longed for rain. About December 1st, when the dark clouds had gathered in the southwest larger than a man's hand, Fuad Pasha ordered the religious heads of all sects to assemble in the public square and pray for rain. After they had assembled, the wind rose and one Maronite priest prayed holding an umbrella over his head. Fuad Pasha had not studied his barometer in vain, for that night the rain descended in torrents and continued for tell days. The air was cooled, the sick recovered, and the epidemic ceased.
A strange event took place at this time in Beirut. Mr. Giurgius Jimmal, a wealthy Protestant of Acre, whose house was attacked by a gang of Moslem robbers, succeeded, with the aid of his servants, in binding them and shaving off their beards. They complained of the indignity, and the government arrested Mr. Jimmal and put him in irons for ten days and only released him at the protest of Colonel Frazier, H. B. M. Commissioner in Syria. The robbers were not molested.
November, 1861, was a period of great anxiety. The Board had cut off $6,000 from our mission funds. We were all overworked. The great work of the mission, the translation of the Scriptures, was in jeopardy. The health of Dr. Van Dyck was very precarious. He suffered from severe headaches, was thin and weak, and had serious effusion in his joints. Yet in addition to his labours of Bible translation, he was constantly called on for medical advice and attention, in the mission families and among the people, and we were full of apprehension lest his health fail and the great work of Old Testament translation be indefinitely postponed. This fact added force to our appeals for reinforcement, but none came for fifteen months afterwards.
On December 14, 1861, Fuad Pasha left on the frigate Tayif for Constantinople to enter on his office as Sadr Azam or grand vizier. The Beirut people gave him an ovation on his departure and no man in modern times has been more popular in Syria. He took with him fifty blooded Arab horses, the finest display ever seen in Beirut. Not less than 3,000 trunks, boxes, barrels, baskets, and packages were sent on board the corvette which went with the Tayif as a tender. The Pasha of Beirut sent him some 500 baskets and boxes containing lemons and oranges, dried fruits, silks, rugs, furniture, and all the chief officials vied with each other in sending him rich presents. In return he bestowed liberally decorations of different grades of the Medjidiyeh order.
On December 20th, Mr. Ford of Sidon sailed for England, at the expense of the Turkish Mission's Aid Society, for three months' absence, to plead the cause of Christian education and evangelization in Syria. In a letter to Dr. Wortabet, January 4, 1862, I stated that immediate steps would be taken to establish a large Protestant native institution in Beirut of a high order, with the cooperation of all the missions in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. As will be seen elsewhere, in the sketch of the Syrian Protestant College, we had under serious consideration the sending of a learned Syrian, Mr. B. Bistany, to join Mr. Ford in his appeals for the new institution. It was wisely given up. A dual control in an institution will end in disaster. A native school, founded and supported by natives, should be under native control. A foreign school, founded by foreign funds, should be under foreign control.
On December 28th, we were in intense anxiety with regard to threatening war between England and America, growing out of the Mason and Slidell affair. It would have cut off all our mails and supplies and would have been inexpressibly disastrous to our work.