Travel Letters: Darjeeling, India (1883)

DEAR MISS MORRILL, — Instead of writing you a letter which could be read at our Ash Wednesday meeting, I am writing to you on Ash Wednesday a letter which will hardly reach you before Easter. I explained to you before that I have been unable to see anything of the work of the Zenana Missionary in time to let you hear from me before the meeting. It is only now, after my visits to the places where our missionaries are at work, that I feel as if I had really something to say about their labors. From the time I entered India I heard much of the Zenana work. In Delhi, where I spent some time, English ladies are at work in this visitation and teaching of native women, and all persons who are interested in the religious and social condition of the people of India, whether clergy-men or laymen, value their influence very highly. Of course, from the nature of the case it is not a work which can make much display of visible results, nor can a visitor like myself get any sight even of its processes. But he can talk with those who are engaged in it, hear their descriptions, and learn from those who see it constantly what are its effects. Also, besides the visitation of Zenanas, the same ladies are engaged in teaching school, which one can freely see, and of which he can form some judgment for himself.

The ladies of the American Union Mission whom I have met are Miss Gardner, at Cawnpore, and Miss Marston, Miss Cook, and Mrs. Page, in Calcutta. I was sorry that Miss Ward was absent from Cawnpore, and Miss Lathrop from Allahabad at the times of my visit. They had both gone to Calcutta with reference to medical treatment for Miss Lathrop, and before I reached Calcutta they had returned to their respective posts. At Cawnpore the Mission House is a bright, pleasant bungalow, where the two American ladies live, together with a number of native teachers whom they have trained, and who go out every day to teach schools, which they have gathered either in the city or in some of the neighboring villages. There are fourteen such schools, I think, in or about Cawnpore. One of them is taught in the Mission House itself, and that I saw. The children were bright and intelligent, and (translated) answers showed that they knew what they were about.

I saw also what interested me very much, the school which is supported by the children of your class and Miss Lowell’s and Miss Torrey’s. I wish they could see it. It is described as the most difficult of all the schools, situated in a region of most benighted Mohammedanism, where the parents can hardly be induced to let the children come. Indeed, there were some fears lest the visit of a ” Padre Sahib,” or Mr. Minister, like me, might make trouble, and possibly break up the school. I hope that no disastrous results will follow from my well-meant and innocent appearance at the school-door. In the very heart of the crowded bazaars you turn from one dirty lane into another dirtier and narrower still, and then into the dirtiest and narrowest of all, which ends short at a native house of very poor sort, but making some small attempts at tidiness. The door admits at once to the only room, with an earth floor and a few benches, where you find a native woman who answers to the name of Dorcas, and around her about a dozen little, rough, sturdy, native girls, into whose dull heads she is trying to ut the elements of Hindostanee learning. It is all homely enough, even wretchedly shabby and dreary, as the girls who support the school would think if they could see it, but if they saw the homes in which their strange little protégées live, and their parents, and knew the lives which are before them if they go untaught, and could see the condition of other schools (which began just as this is beginning), full of brightness, and happiness, and neatness, and intelligence, and religion, they would bid Dorcas go on with her work, and feel it a privilege to watch over the little school and nurse it to full life.

I was rather glad, on the whole, to find that our children had the hardest and most discouraging field in Cawnpore to work upon. No one can talk with Miss Gardner and not be very much impressed with her good judgment and happy devotion to her work.

In Calcutta I have been several times at the Mission House and seen Miss Marston, Miss Cook, and their young native assistants, who live with them and make a most happy family. There, I could see no-thing of the Zenana work, but they told me much about it, and from others, as well as from them, I heard such testimony as gives me the strongest assurance of its value. The only wonder is that the Baboos, or native gentlemen, so freely admit these ladies to their houses. In Bengal especially there is a strong desire for education, which even the secluded women feel, and either by their persuasion or by the husbands own desire, the requisite permission is granted. Of course it is in every case clearly understood that the visitors mean to give Christian teaching. I have made special inquiry upon the point, and am assured that no such scandalous deception of the Baboo, as was described to us by the lady who addressed the Society last year in the shape of Emmanuel Church, has ever been practiced or tolerated by our missionaries.

A good deal of talk with Miss Marston has impressed me with the good sense and intelligence of her methods, and I am more confident than ever that our church does better work nowhere than in the contribution which it makes to the Zenana Mission.

The schools which are under the care of these Calcutta ladies are very interesting. I have visited several of them, and heard their recitations both in English and Bengalee. The former was so good that I could have no doubt about the latter. And .he children’s faces told the story, which to any one who has watched for a month or two the ordinary look of Hindoo children’s countenances was unmistakable.

Last Saturday afternoon I went to a prize festival of two of these schools, which I wish that the friends of the Mission could have seen. A generous Baboo had kindly offered the use of the courtyard of his house, which was prettily decorated for the occasion. He and a number of his friends came and looked on with the greatest interest. Even some of the ladies of his household were watching what went on from an upper gallery. Some hundred and fifty children were there, with that strange, pensive, half-sad look in their eyes which makes the faces of Hindoo children so pathetic. Some of them, however, had fun enough in them. Many of them were gorgeous in bright colors and trinkets. Most of them had fine rings in their ears, they all had rings in their noses, and the finest of them also had rings on their toes. Their little brown ankles tinkled with their anklets as they trotted up barefoot to get their dolls, and they answered Bible questions as I wish the children of Trinity school would answer them. They sang strange, sweet Bengalee words to tunes which all our children know, and after I had given them their prizes I made a little speech, which was translated to them, and I hope they understood, for I wanted them to know how much their American friends cared for these little friends of theirs.

I wish that I had time to tell you about Mrs. Page’s Orphan Asylum. Most of these orphans are foundlings, and one could not look at them without thinking what their lives must have been, save for this home ; if indeed without it, they could have had any life at all ; many of them must have died in infancy. Now those who have been with Mrs. Page for years are as cheerful and cheery a lot of little Christian maidens as any school in America can show. Some of the teachers in the schools of which I have been speaking were brought up in this home. There are some seventy or eighty inmates now.

But I must not go on forever. You will see that my whole visit to this Zenana work and my acquaintance with the workers have deepened the faith in it which I have always rather blindly felt. I know it now, and I know that it is good. Those who have given their contributions year after year may rest assured that they have really helped the minds and souls of Hindoo women, shut up in the dreary monotony and frivolity of their Zenanas, and made possible for Hindoo children happy and useful lives, of which they had no chance except for such help. I congratulate you and the other ladies, who have had the privilege of helping on this work and keeping alive other people’s interest in it. If anything that I can ever do or say can give it encouragement or strength, I shall be very glad.

Foreign missions lose something of their romance, but they gain vastly in reality and interest when one sees them here at work. I should be very glad to think that in all this long letter I had succeeded in giving you any idea of how it all looks when one sees it with his own eyes. Believe me ever

Most sincerely yours, PHILLIPS BROOKS.

CALCUTTA, February 11, 1883.

DEAR WILLIAM, — This week I have seen the Himalayas. Last Monday we left Calcutta at three o’clock by rail ; at seven we crossed the Ganges on a steam-boat, just as if it had been the Susquehanna. All night we slept in the train, and the next day were climbing up and up on a sort of steam tramway, which runs to Darjeeling, a summer station at the foot of the highest hills, but itself a thousand ‘feet higher than the top of Mt. Washington. There the swells go in the hot months, but now it is almost deserted. We reached there on Tuesday evening in the midst of rain, found that the great mountains had not been seen for eight days, and everybody laughed at our hope of seeing them. We slept, and early the next morning looked out on nothing but clouds. But about eight o’clock the curtain began to fall, and before nine there was a most splendid view of the whole range. In the midst was the lordly Kinchinjinga, the second highest mountain in the world, over 28,000 feet high. Think of that ! Certainly, they made the impression of height, such as no mountains ever gave me before.

By and by we rode about six miles to another hill called Senchul, where the tip of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, 29,002 feet, is visible. That was interesting, but the real glory of the day was Kinchinjinga. We gazed at him till the jealous clouds came again in the afternoon and covered him ; then we roamed over the little town and went to a Buddhist village a couple of miles away. The people here are Thibetans by origin, and they keep associations with the tribes upon the other side of the great hills. A company of Thibetans, priests and Lamas, had come over to celebrate the New Year, which with them begins on the 9th of February. They had the strangest music and dances, and queer outdoor plays, and we were welcomed as distinguished strangers, and set in the place of honor, feasted with oranges, and begged for backsheesh.

The next morning there were the giant hills again, and we looked at Kinchinjinga (I want you to learn his name) till eleven o’clock, when we took the train again for Calcutta, and arrived there on Friday after-noon about five. It was a splendid journey, and one to be always remembered. On my return to Calcutta I found two invitations waiting : one was to dine at the Government House with the Viceroy on Thursday evening. Of course, I was too late for that, and was very sorry, for now I shall not see the great man and the viceregal court at all. The other was to an evening party on Friday, given by the Rajah Rajendra Narayan del Bahadur, in honor of the late British victory in Egypt.” Of course I went to this, and it was the biggest thing seen in India for years. It is said to have cost the old Rajah a lac of rupees, or $100,000. At any rate, it was very splendid and very queer, — acres of palace and palace grounds blazing with lights, a thousand guests, the natives in the most beautiful costumes of silk and gold ; a Nautch dance going on all the time in one hall, a full circus, — horses, acrobats, clowns, and all, only after native fashion, — in a great covered courtyard, supper perpetual, and the great drawing-room blazing with family jewels. I stayed till one o’clock, and then came home as if from the Arabian Nights, and went to bed.

But I cannot tell you all I am doing or have done. This morning, for a change, I preached from Henry Martyn’s old pulpit in the Mission Church. Tomorrow morning, we sail on the P. & O. steamer Rohilla for Madras, a three days’ voyage. Thence we travel by Tanjore, Trichinopoly, and Madura to Tuticorin. Then across by sea to Colombo, and after a week in Ceylon sail in the Verona (P. & O.) on the 7th of March (the day Daniel Webster made his speech) for Suez. From Suez by rail to Alexandria, seeing Cairo on the way, and the recent battlefield of Tel El Kebir. When you get this, about the 24th of March, I shall probably be in Alexandria, perhaps spend Easter there. Thence I somehow go to Spain, getting there about April 1.

Your New Year’s letter reached me yesterday. A thousand thanks for it. Next year we will have such a watch-meeting as was never known. Now the year is more than half over. How fast it has gone, and henceforth we draw nearer and nearer to each other. When I get to England, it will almost seem at home.

Tell M., and A., and G., and S. that I love them all. G.’s Christmas report not yet received. Affectionately, P.