THE Syrian Protestant College is the child of the Syria Mission, and but for the misison work done in Syria from 1820 to 1860, it could not have existed. The American preachers and teachers who had founded the native evangelical church and trained a native ministry, planned and proposed a literary institution which should control the higher education of the future in the Orient in the interests of religion and the Bible.
The exclusion of the English language from the Abeih Seminary in Lebanon, and the girls' boarding-school of Beirut, and confining all instruction to the vernacular Arabic, had begun as early, as 1858 to lead prominent families to withdraw their children from American schools and send them to the French Lazarists and Jesuits. And thus the edict of Dr. Anderson excluding English from all mission schools of the American Board was largely the occasion of the founding of the Syrian Protestant College. The Abeih Seminary which had stood at the head of Syrian high schools now shrank to a third or fourth place. It was training men solidly in Arabic, in the Bible and the sciences, and could fit men to be native preachers in the villages, but its instruction was largely gratuitous.
But the country demanded something more than this. Steam had brought Europe face to face with Syria, and the Syrians demanded French and English. They also needed medical science and educated physicians. The land was suffering and groaning under a dynasty of ignorant and conceited quacks. Who would come to the rescue? Who would initiate, adjust, guide and control such a system of education? Was it to be left to the Jesuits, those enemies of a pure Gospel, those masters of intrigue and duplicity and perverters of the human conscience? This must not be. The men were ready. Those who had started the first steam printing-press in Syria and the first boys' and girls' boarding-schools, were the first to initiate what took final form as the Syrian Protestant College.
The massacres of 1860 had brought Syria anew to the attention of England and America. Many intelligent men from both desire that more countries had visited Beirut, and expressed should be done for the future education of the Arab race. The missionaries concurred in the desire and had frequent consultations on the subject. Various plans were proposed. The Malta Protestant College, founded years before, had gathered students from Greece, European Turkey, Asia Minor, and Egypt, but had not been a success. They had not proved to be a benefit to their native lands. The experiment of educating the youth of a country in a foreign land is a dangerous one, especially if it be gratuitous. Dr. William M. Thomson's favourite theory was to found a school, with native Arab teachers and principal, as soon as practicable, but to assist it by endowments from abroad. This was also his plan in the Native Protestant Female Seminary,
founded in 1861, as a successor to Dr. Henry De Forest's high school for girls. October 17, 1861, 1 wrote Rev. D. Stuart Dodge in New York as follows: , We have now in contemplation a plan for establishing a Protestant college in Beirut, to be under native professors and teachers, to relieve the Board of the expense
of higher education in Beirut and Syria. We have the men for the teachers, and Europeans and Americans will constitute the board of trustees to control the funds which we hope to raise in England and America, if it can be done without necessitating a Church of England control of its affairs. We should have made the appeal in America as did Dr. Hamlin of Constantinople, but the Civil War forbids."
On December 20th Rev. J. A. Ford left for England at the invitation of the Turkish Mission's Aid Society with the understanding that Mr. Butrus Bistany, a learned Syrian Protestant, would follow him ere long to aid in raising funds for a higher literary institution where the president and professors should be native Syrians.
Even as late as January 4, 1862, i wrote to Rev. John Wortabet as follows: "If war does not break out between England and America, immediate steps will be taken to establish. a large Protestant native institution of a high order in Beirut with the cooperation of all the missions in Syria, Palestine and Egypt."
But after extended correspondence and mature deliberation it was found that none of the educated Syrians had had experience with modern college methods and training; and it became apparent that the liberal donors in Europe and America would not give money unless the institution were under Anglo-Saxon control.
The Beirut Girls' School was carried on for six years with Syrian teachers, when the principal broke down under the load, and as no available Syrian woman was qualified to take her place at that time, it became necessary to secure American teachers.
After repeated conferences and thorough discussion of the question in all its bearings, it was decided by the Syria Mission, January 23, 1862, that Dr. Thomson and Mr. Daniel Bliss be a committee "to prepare a minute in relation to a contemplated literary institution to be located in Beirut." Mr. Bliss was also proposed as principal.
The minute was presented January 27th and adopted, and Mr. Bliss was elected principal. One of the clauses of the minute was as follows; "It is deemed essential for the success of the undertaking that the contemplated institution should be guided and guarded by the combined wisdom and experience of the mission and have for its principal a person who shall be able, with the divine blessing, to infuse into it. that elevated moral and religious influence without which scientific and literary education may prove a curse and not a blessing." The plan was then referred to the Prudential Committee of the A. B. C. F. M. for their consideration and sanction, and they were asked to authorize the appointment of Mr. Bliss.
In reply the Prudential Committee gave their approval of the plan, but with evident misgiving, and consented to the appointment of Rev. D. Bliss as principal, his salary was missionary to continue for the present.
Their letter was a masterly statement of the objections to a high grade English teaching institution on the mission field, and their approval of the ground taken by the mission, that such a school should not be supported by ordinary mission funds, but have its own independent endowment and board of trustees. They also insisted that the vernacular institution at Abeih could not be modified to meet the wants here contemplated; but that the college could in time relieve Abeih Academy of its literary department, leaving it thereafter to pursue only theological studies. They quoted from the Liverpool Conference of Missions, that "it is difficult to educate, without, to a certain extent, denationalizing, and that the denationalizing tendency is to be corrected by emphasizing the vernacular part of the educational course, and that it is difficult to get those acquiring an English education to pay attention to their own language." It was also urged that Asiatics acquiring civilized habits will be unfitted to live at home in their native region' and do good to their own people. Dr. Anderson, who was the writer of the Board's reply, summed up his views by saying in substance that the education given should not be gratuitous; that it should involve no necessary change of habits and tastes; and that "we confess to an apprehension that Beirut will not be found the place for the young men preparing for the ministry." He quotes Dr. Alexander Duff as saying that the "missions want men with a simple but sufficient education, especially adapted to the condition and wants of the rural population, who will be cheerfully willing to labour for moderate salaries; but that a smattering of English fills men with conceit, makes them unwilling to labour in the villages, and that they will be dissatisfied and heartless grumblers, were we to offer them less than double or treble the sum cheerfully accepted by those educated in a vernacular course." He quotes Dr. Kingsbury of the Choctaw Mission as saying that "with a few interesting "Anderson's Missions to the Oriental Churches," Vol. II, p. 388.
Exceptions, those that have acquired the most English seem to be the furthest from embracing the Gospel." Dr. Anderson insists that the education be evangelical as opposed to the Jesuit scheme. Their education is showy but deceptive. They fear to cultivate the reasoning powers; we fear nothing in the region of logic, nothing from the light of truth. "But do not attempt to educate the masses. That must be done by the people themselves and they must support their own native pastorate and their own village schools."
This letter was read by the mission and carefully considered, but there was nothing suggested that made us hesitate to go forward with the enterprise. Reasons of health requiring that the family of Mr. Bliss visit the United States, he was authorized to go, and reached New York September 17th, in time to attend the meeting of the A.B.C.F.M. in Springfield, Mass. There he met Mr. and Mrs. William E. Dodge and their son, Rev. D. Stuart Dodge. The interest of the latter in foreign missions, and the fact that he had hoped to become a missionary to Syria, made him a hearty advocate of the new college scheme, not only in his own family, but in the pulpit and the press. It was decided, after mature deliberation, to form a board of trustees, and Mr. William A. Booth and Hon. William E. Dodge consented to act, and through their influence Messrs. David Hoadley, Simeon B. Chittenden, Abner Kingman and Joseph S. Ropes were induced to serve. A local board of managers in Syria was then appointed, composed of American and British missionaries, American and British consuls and British merchants, eighteen in all.
An appeal was issued for an endowment. We had asked Mr. Bliss to raise, if possible, $20,000. But the sagacious and farseeing trustees insisted that the sum be $100,000. Hon. W. E. Dodge headed the subscription with 15,000, and Mrs. Dodge with $10,000.
In February, 1863, a circular appeal was issued by the trustees, and Mr. Bliss and Mr. D. Stuart Dodge set about the work. It was in the midst of the war for the Union, and a dark time, but money was plenty and "greenbacks" were being multiplied. In 1857, I gave President Woolsey, of Yale, several antique bronze coins of the Emperor Probus. He observed with a smile, "We have 700 coins of Probus in the Yale library. Probus was the S. P. Chase of antiquity; he seems to have done little but manufacture coins."
The local government of the college was vested from 1864 to 1902 in the board of managers and the faculty. The board of managers met annually and often held special meetings. In the outset, it was responsible for the financial management of the college, and received every year the official report of the president and faculty, which it ratified and transmitted to the trustees.
But after thirty-six years, in view of the increase in the number of the members of the faculty and their large experience and admitted ability to manage the internal affairs of the college, and the fact that, owing to the rapid growth of the college and the multiplication of its departments it was impossible for the managers to give the needed time and study to the needs and interests of the college to enable them to vote intelligently on questions of policy and administration, the managers decided, after long and prayerful consideration, to withdraw and leave their functions and responsibilities to the faculty. They at the same time expressed their unfailing interest in the college and their willingness to aid by counsel and cooperation whenever the faculty or trustees should ask their aid.
When Dr. John Wortabet was nominated by the managers in Beirut as professor in the medical department in September, 1866, objection was made on the ground that he was not an American but a native of Syria. Dr. W. M. Thomson was a strong advocate of his appointment and said emphatically, "If the appointment of native professors is to be impossible simply because they are native, I must decline to have anything more to do with the college." But this ground was never taken. The objection which came from beyond the sea was based on the experience of certain institutions where there was evident incompatibility between men of different nationalities trying to work together.
Germans and Englishmen had not worked well together in certain well-known cases. Dr. Wortabet was elected and did excellent work as a teacher. He is the author of "The Religions of Syria," a standard book, which in its line has no peer.
After the completion of the endowment in America, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss spent about a year in England where they were cordially received by public men, clergymen, statesmen and civilians, prominent among whom were Lord Shaftesbury, Sir Culling Eardley, the Duke of Argyle and others, and the sum of $20,000 (4,000 pounds) was received for purchasing needed furniture and apparatus, and paying current expenses.
In March, 1866, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss returned to Beirut, and in the autumn the college was opened with sixteen pupils, all received gratuitously. A preparatory class had been formed the previous year in connection with the national school or "Wataniyeh" of Mr. Butrus Bistany, an eminent, industrious and learned Syrian Protestant scholar. The faculty of the college in the outset consisted of Rev. D. Bliss, President; Rev. C. V. A. Van Dyck, M. D., D. D., Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, Astronomy, and Chemistry; Rev. George E. Post, M. D., D. D. S., Professor of Surgery and Botany, and afterwards Mr. Harvey Porter, Professor of History, with Mr. Asaad Shidoody as tutor in Arabic. The first class graduated in 1870. The medical department was organized and opened in 1867, the first class graduating in 1871. The preparatory department was begun in 1871, but was not fully organized until 188o. The school of commerce was opened in October, 1900.
During the early years of the college, Arabic was the language of instruction in all departments. This was later changed to English. The classes of 1880 in the collegiate department, and of 1887 in the medical department, were the first to be instructed through the medium of that language.
The reasons for this change were various. There was, first, "a strong and insistent desire "on the part of the young men of the East to know thoroughly some foreign language, either English or French; secondly, the absence of Arabic text-books in the various branches taught. Dr. Van Dyck and others had published in Arabic works on geography, arithmetic, pathology and the higher mathematics, but before a scientific text-book could be translated, printed and bound, it might be quite out of date, and the enormous expense of publishing Arabic books with their slow and limited sale made it impossible to keep up with the progress of science, and so English was chosen as the language of the institution. Again, students other than Syrians were debarred by the Arabic language from entering the college. Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Persians desired to come, and by making English the common language, the door was thrown open to all. The British occupation of Egypt moreover created a demand for the English language and for medical and scientific and business men trained in English. Since 188o the students have had direct access to the wealth of literary, scientific and philosophical works found in the English language; the latest medical and scientific text-books are readily obtained, and highly qualified tutors, graduates of American colleges and universities are annually secured for a three years' term of service. Yet this adoption of English has not been at the expense of the Arabic, for "the Arabic instruction is so efficient that the graduates average higher ability to use the tongue acceptably than those of any other missionary institution in the Arabic-speaking world. The thorough Arabic instruction supplies the channel through which our graduates can communicate to their peoples the thought of modern learning; the English equipment supplies thought worthy to be communicated."
The rumour of the opening of a Protestant college stirred up all the various sects of the land to action. The Papal Greekpatriarch built a large edifice in the Museitebeh quarter and brought out a Parisian to teach French and an Irishman to teach English. The patriarch did not know that his school was just what we all rejoiced in. For we felt sure that the Syrian Protestant College would yet compel all Syria to be educated, and this hope has been realized. The Jesuit Fathers removed their college from Ghazeer, Mount Lebanon, to Beirut and constituted it a university.
The Maronite archbishop also opened a college in the eastern quarter in Beirut. The Turkish government has opened several high institutions for Mohammedan youth, and the Israelitish Alliance an academy for Jewish boys.
The details of the college property, equipment, faculty and student body are well shown in President Bliss' report for 1901-02 and in the annual catalogue of 1908-09 in which is announced the new training course for teachers. Table II in the catalogue shows the annual growth in student enrollment from sixteen in 1866 to 876 in 1908.
The model of the campus and its buildings made by me in 1902 for the college I reproduced at the request of Morris K. Jesup, using one of the rooms in the American Museum of Natural History, where Mr. Bumpus courteously gave me every facility and assistance required. It was enclosed in a mahogany and plate glass case and sent to the St. Louis Exposition, being awarded a gold medal.
I had the pleasure of explaining the complete model with exact reproductions of each building carved out of "Malta" stone to a gathering on February 13, 1903, invited by Mr. Jesup and his fellow trustees.