XI. THE LAST TWO DECADES.
Dr. Talmage was a man of strong convictions, at the same time possessed of a spirit of genuine catholicity. The brethren connected with the London and English Presbyterian Missions recognized him as a true friend. In his later years he became the Nestor of the three Missions, the venerated patriarch, the trusted counselor.
It will not be inappropriate to give two letters expressive of his good-will toward his fellow laborers. The one was written on the occasion of Rev. John Stronach's return to England:
FORTY CONTINUOUS YEARS IN HEATHENISM.
"March 16, 1876. Today we said farewell to the veteran missionary, Rev. John Stronach.
"He has been laboring many years at this place in connection with the London Missionary Society. This morning he left us for his native land by a new route.
"Each of the three Missions has one or more boats employed exclusively in carrying missionaries and native preachers on their trips to and from the various outstations accessible by water. These boats are called by the native Christians 'hok-im-chun,' which means 'Gospel boat.' Mr. Stronach embarked on one of these 'Gospel boats.' He expected to land at one of the Mission stations on the mainland northeast from Amoy, and then travel overland on foot or by sedan-chair to Foochow. He will spend the remaining nights of this week and the Sabbath at various stations under the care of the Missions at Amoy, and say some parting words to the native Christians.
"He expects early next week to meet one of the Methodist missionaries of Foochow, and in company with him to pass on to that city, spending the nights at stations under the care of the Foochow Missions. We may now travel overland from Amoy to Foochow and spend every night, sometimes take our noonday meals, at a Christian chapel. Does this look as if missions were a failure in this region? At Foochow Mr. Stronach will take steamer for Shanghai, thence to Yokohama and San Francisco.
"All the missionaries of Amoy and many Chinese Christians accompanied Mr. Stronach to the boat. It is very sad to say farewell to those with whom we have been long and pleasantly associated.
"Mr. Stronach left England in 1837, thirty-nine years ago, to labor as a missionary in the East Indies.
"He came to Amoy in 1844, shortly after this port was opened to foreign commerce and missionary labor. He was soon sent to Shanghai as one of the Committee of Delegates on the translation of the Scriptures into the Chinese language. If he had done nothing more for China than his share in this great work, the benefit would have been incalculable. After the completion of this work in 1853, he returned to Amoy, where he has labored continuously, with the exception of a short visit a few years ago to Hongkong and Canton, and a shorter one last year to Foochow. Very rarely has he been interrupted in his work by illness. In the history of modern missions few instances can be found of missionaries who have been permitted to labor uninterruptedly for nearly forty years, not even taking one furlough home.
"In the case of Mr. Stronach the language concerning Moses may be literally applied, 'His eye is not dim, nor his natural force abated.' He does not yet have occasion to use spectacles, and the route he has taken proves him still full of mental and physical vigor. Think of the discoveries and inventions during the last forty years! Will Mr. Stronach recognize his native land? The good hand of the Lord be with him and make his remaining years as happy as his past ones have been useful."
The other letter, to Rev. John M. Ferris, D.D., was written on the occasion of the death of the Rev. Carstairs Douglas, LL.D., one of the most accomplished and scholarly men ever sent to any mission field:
"AUGUST 8, 1877.
"By this mail we have sad news to send. It relates to the death of Rev. Carstairs Douglas, LL.D., of the English Presbyterian Mission at Amoy. He was the senior member of that Mission, having arrived at Amoy, July, 1855, twenty-two years ago.
"Dr. Douglas, two weeks ago to-day, was in apparent good health. On that day he made calls on several members of the foreign community. To some of them he remarked, concerning his health, that he had never felt better. That evening he was in his usual place in our weekly prayer-meeting. The next morning at four o'clock he began to feel unwell, but did not wish to disturb others, so called no one until about half past six. Then some medicine was given him and he sat down at his study-table for the morning reading of his Hebrew Bible. About an hour after this he became much worse and the doctor was sent for. On his arrival the physician pronounced his disease to be cholera of the most virulent type, and the case to be almost without hope of recovery.
"In consequence of our long and close intimacy word was soon sent to me. I hastened to see him. He was already very weak and could not converse without great effort. Everything was done for him that could be done. But he continued failing until about a quarter before six in the afternoon, July 26th, when he breathed his last. He knew what his disease was and what would probably be its termination, but evidently the King of Terrors had no terror for him. His end was peace. He retained his consciousness nearly to the last.
"He was to have preached in our English chapel to the foreign community on the following Sabbath morning. He told us his text was Romans vi. 23, 'The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' The text was so suitable to the occasion that I took it, and in his place on the next Sabbath morning preached his funeral sermon from his own text.
"By overwork he had worn himself out, and made himself an old man while he was yet comparatively young in years. He came to China quite young and at the time of his death was only about forty-six years of age, and yet men who had recently become acquainted with him thought him over sixty. Is any one inclined to blame him too much for this, as though he wore himself out and sacrificed his life before the time? If so, he did it in a good cause and for a good Master. Besides this, he did more work during the twenty-two years of his missionary life than the most of men accomplish in twice that time. And then, he reminds us of One, who when only a little over thirty years of age, from similar causes, seems to have acquired the appearance of nearly fifty .
"Recently, especially during the last year, it was manifest, at least to others, that his physical strength was fast giving way. Yet he could not be prevailed upon to leave his field for a season for temporary rest, or even to lessen the amount of his work.
"I never knew a more incessant worker. He was a man of most extensive general information. I think I have never met with his equal in this respect. He was acquainted with several modern European languages and was a thorough student of the original languages of Holy Scripture, as witness the fact of his study of the Hebrew Bible, even after his last sickness had commenced. As regards the Chinese language, he was already taking his place among the first sinologues of the land. We were indebted more to him, perhaps, than to any other one man for the success of the recent General Missionary Conference .
"As a member of the Committee of Arrangements he labored indefatigably by writing Ietters and in other ways to make it a success, and though comparatively so young, he well deserved the honor bestowed on him in making him one of the presidents of that body. 'Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?'
"This is a great blow to the English Presbyterian Mission in this place. It is also, because of the intimate relations of the two missions and the oneness of the churches under our care, a great blow to us. It is a great blow to the whole mission work in China--greater, perhaps, than the loss of any other man. You will not wonder that I, from my long intimacy with him, feel the loss deeply, more and more deeply every day and week, as the days and weeks pass away without him."
An episode in connection with the visit to China in 1878 of Dr. Jacob Chamberlain, of the Arcot Mission, is described in a letter to Dr. Goyn Talmage, as follows:
"Dear Goyn: I suppose I told you about the pleasant visit we had from Dr. Chamberlain and family. The Doctor went with me to Chiang-chiu. While there his carpet-bag was stolen out of the boat. We reported the case to a military officer, and told him that we wanted the bag very much, and if he could get it for us, we should make no trouble about having the thief punished. In a few days after our return to Amoy the bag was sent to us with all its contents complete. We bought an umbrella--a nice silk one--and sent it up to the officer as a present. Perhaps you would like to see a translation of the letter he sent in reply. It will illustrate Chinese politeness. The letter reads as follows:
"'When the flocks of wild geese make their orderly flight,--the glorious autumnal season deserving of laudation,--my thoughts wander far away to you, Teacher Talmage, whose noble presence is worthy to be saluted with bow profound, and whose dignified manners invite to close intimacy. Alas, that our acquaintance should have been formed at this late day!--and that, too, when, by wafting and by the plying of oars, having arrived at 'the stream of the fragrant grain fields' , you met with the mishap of doggish thieves taking advantage of your want of watchfulness! Truly, the blame of this rests on me. How, then, can I have the hardihood to receive from you a present of value! A reward of demerit, how can I endure it! During the three stages of life, I shall not be able to repay. It is only by inheritance that I obtained the imperial favor of office. Thus, my deficiency in the knowledge of official laws and governmental regulations has subjected you to fear and anxiety. Shame on me in the extreme! shame in the extreme! Only by the greatest stretch could I hope to meet with forbearance, how then could you take trouble and manifest kindness by sending a present. Writing cannot exhaust my words, and words can not exhaust my meaning. It will be necessary to come and express my thanks in person. Such are my supplications and such is my sense of obligation. May there be golden peace to you, Teacher Talmage, and will your excellency please bestow your brilliant glance on what I have written!'
"Is not that a specimen of humility? The stealing was because of his neglect of duty, and his neglect of duty was because of inability, having obtained his office through the merit of his father or grandfather. Of course he kept the umbrella."
August 18, 1887, marked the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Talmage's arrival in China. He said so little about it, however, that it was not known by the friends of the other missions until the very day dawned.
The members of the English Presbyterian Mission--ladies and gentlemen--immediately concluded to secure some suitable memento expressive of their regard for Dr. Talmage and his work. A set of Macaulay's History of England, bound in tree calf, and a finely bound copy of the latest edition of the Royal Atlas, were sent for. In connection with the presentation the following letter from Rev. W. McGregor was read:
"Amoy, April 3, 1888.
"Dear Dr. Talmage:
"When on the 18th of last August we learned that that day was the fortieth anniversary of your arrival in China, the news came upon us unexpectedly. We wished we had had more forethought and kept better count of the years, so that we might have made more of the occasion. Each of us felt a desire to present you with some token of our regard, and it seemed to us for many reasons best that we should do so unitedly as members of the English Presbyterian Mission in Amoy. We had at the time nothing suitable to offer you, but we agreed on certain books to be sent for,--not as having any special relations to the work in which you have been engaged, but as being each a standard work of its kind. The books have now arrived, and I have much pleasure in sending them to you as something that may be kept in your family as a memorial of the day and a small token of our high esteem for yourself personally and of the great value we attach to the work you have done in the service of our common Lord.
"I am, yours truly,
"On behalf of the members of the English Presbyterian Mission, Amoy."
Dr. Talmage was blessed with a most vigorous physical constitution, but years of struggle with one of the complaints peculiar to the tropics, finally compelled his retirement from the Mission field.
In the summer of 1889, Dr. and Mrs. Talmage embarked on the steamship Arabia for the United States. Dr. Talmage turned his face to the old home-village, Bound Brook, New Jersey, all the time cherishing the hope of one more return to China and his laying down the shepherd's crook and robe among the flock he had gathered from among the heathen. That hope was not to be realized. Though he had left Amoy, yet he ceased not to do what he could for the work there. Though compelled to lie on his back much of the time, making writing difficult, he sent letters to the Chinese Monthly Magazine and to not a few of the pastors, encouraging them in their labors. Chiefly did he devote himself to the completion of a Character Colloquial Dictionary in the Amoy language, intended to be of special service to the Chinese Christian Church. It was intended to facilitate the study of the Chinese Character, especially those Characters used in the Chinese Bible. It was also calculated to promote the study of the Romanized Colloquial Version of the Scriptures as well as other Romanized Colloquial literature.
In the midst of multiplied duties and many distractions he had wrought on it for upwards of a score of years. He was eager to make it thoroughly reliable. He spared no pains to that end. He always felt very much out of patience with any one who would give to the public an inaccurate book; and it was the desire to make his dictionary as accurate as possible that kept him from having it published some years since.
He consulted Chinese literary men. He pored over Chinese dictionaries. He brought it home with him, requiring, as he thought, still further revision, and his last labors were the completion of it with the valued assistance of the Rev. Daniel Rapalje, of the Amoy Mission. It is now going through the press and will soon be at the service of missionaries and native brethren who have eagerly awaited its appearance for many years.
His strength gradually failed and on August 19, 1892, in his seventy-third year, he quietly breathed his last at Bound Brook, New Jersey.
The mortal tent loosened down and folded was laid away in the family plot near Somerville, New Jersey. Most of his living, working years he had spent far away from the ancestral home. It was God's will that his dust should find a place next to the kindred dust of father and mother, sister and brother, in the peaceful God's acre but a few miles from the old homestead.
Dr. Talmage left a wife, two daughters and three sons, and a goodly circle of relatives and friends to mourn his departure. Mrs. Talmage has since returned to the Talmage Manse at Amoy and taken up afresh her chosen work in educating the ill-privileged and ignorant women of China. The two daughters, Miss Katharine and Miss Mary, are rendering most faithful and efficient service, too, among China's mothers and daughters. Rev. David M. Talmage fills a pastorate with the Reformed Church of Westwood, New Jersey. Mr. John Talmage is a rice merchant at New Orleans, Louisiana. Rev. George E. Talmage ministers to the Lord's people at Mott Haven, New York.
When the sun of Dr. Talmage's life set, it was to the Chinese brethren at Amoy, like the setting of a great hope. The venerable teacher had left them two years before, but he had not spoken a final farewell. They and he looked for one more meeting on earth. He was known to the whole Chinese Church in and about Amoy for a circuit of a hundred miles. He sat at its cradle. He watched its growth until within two years of the day when it went forth two bands united in one Synod with twenty organized, self-supporting churches, nineteen native pastors, upwards of two thousand communicants and six thousand adherents.
In the many breaks that occur in the missionary constituency, his life was the one chain of continuity. The Churches had come to feel that whoever failed them, they had Teacher Talmage still. His departure was like the falling down of a venerable cathedral, leaving the broken and bleeding ivy among the dust and debris. The Chinese Christians had leaned hard upon him. They loved and revered him as a father. Since he passed away his name has seldom been mentioned in any public assembly of the Church by any of the Chinese brethren without the broken and trembling utterance that has called forth from a listening congregation the silent, sympathetic tear.
Great and good man, fervent preacher, inspiring teacher, wise and sympathetic counselor, generous friend, affectionate father,--farewell, till the morning breaks and we meet in the City of Light. "And behold these shall come from far, and lo, these from the north, and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim."
"Oh then what raptured greetings, What knitting severed friendships up, Where partings are no more."