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William Carey: Vicissitudes of Missionary Life

from The Story of Baptist Missions... Chapt. 5 by G. Winfred Hervey
Arrangement for Preventing the Serampore Brethren from Printing Treasonable Matter—Death of Mrs. Carey—Second Marriage—Literary Character of his Second Wife—Her Danish Origin and Relations—Anecdote of Prayer Answered for Jabez.—Natives regard the Printing-Press as an English Idol—Printing-House Burned—Dr. Carey's Attainments and Thoroughness—Effect of Excessive Study of Languages—Carey's Humility—A Plodder, yet a Genius—Carey's Favorite Pundit—He could not Disturb Dr. Carey while Enjoying a Foretaste of Nirvana—Carey's Love of Flowers—The English Daisy—Carey's Third Marriage—The Death of Ward—His own Death—Inscription—An Estimate of his Labors—Political Influence of the Mission.

William CareyThe storm of controversy still raged in England, but the differences in India had already been composed. The possibility of printing treasonable and revolutionary matter was prevented by requiring the missionaries to send, previously to publication, copies of their issues to the Governor of Serampore, to be transmitted by him to the Governor-General of India. The missionaries observed a day of thanksgiving for this rescue from the danger of being compelled to stop preaching, and of being sent home to England.

In the meanwhile, great changes were taking place in Dr. Carey's household. In 180[7], Mrs. Carey went to her heavenly rest. She had been in India fourteen years. As the mother of Felix, Jabez, William, Peter and Jonathan, she will ever be remembered with honor; but, unhappily, she had for twelve years suffered from attacks of mental derangement.

The second marriage of Dr. Carey was providentially prepared. As early as 1801, in writing home an account of the progress of the Mission, he closes his letter with these words: "I have no doubt of the conversion of a German lady who came hither for her health; her name is Miss Rumohr, from the Duchy of Schleswig. Her father was a nobleman. Her's, however, is true nobility. She speaks French fluently, but wished to learn English." At the request of the Danish Governor, Mr. Carey gave her occasional lessons in the English language. Such was her diligence in the study of English, that in a few months she understood divine worship in that language, and was able to talk with the English residents of Serampore. Although brought up in the Lutheran Church, she had lived a skeptic until she read "Pascal's Thoughts," which led to a genuine conviction of her sinfulness. Becoming acquainted with the various members of the Mission family, she often talked with them on religious subjects, and was thus led to the Friend of sinners. She had always thought it wrong to baptize infants; and she was now convinced that it was her duty to receive believer's baptism. She obeyed the command of the Master concerning this ordinance, June 13th, 1802; and from that time she took a lively interest in the prosperity of the Baptist Missions in India.

About six years after her admission to the church she was married to Dr. Carey. As Lady Rumohr had always led the life of a student, and her mind was cultivated by extensive reading, while she now shared his zeal for the conversion of the Hindus, she became a most congenial companion for the learned Missionary. She seems to have been among the first to think of establishing Zenana schools. When her daughter-in-law was about to open a school for native girls at Cutwa, she took on herself the entire expense of the school.

She also gave to the brethren of the Mission a house she had built for her own residence: the rent of it was to be constantly appropriated to the support of native preachers. Her father, it may possibly be well to add, was the Chevalier de Rumohr, and her mother the Countess of Alfeldt. At the time of her marriage she had a sister who was a serious Christian, the wife of Chevalier Warnstadt, Chamberlain to the King of Denmark. The relations of the Baptist Mission at Serampore and the Danish Court had always been pleasant, so that it occasioned no surprise when the King sent to Carey, Marshman and Ward a letter expressing his approbation of their labors, accompanied by a gold medal for each; but they must have been somewhat astonished when, a few days later, a royal order arrived, conveying to the Baptist Mission a large house and adjoining grounds belonging to his Danish Majesty.

An incident concerning Carey's son Jabez is worthy of mention here. After the conversion of two of his sons, Dr. Carey became very anxious about the soul of Jabez, who had just commenced the practice of law. He wrote to his friend, Mr. Fuller, on the subject. At the next annual meeting of the Society in London, Mr. Fuller, while preaching, adverted to the happiness of the beloved Carey in seeing two of his sons denoted to the Mission, but added, "There is a third who gives him pain; he has not yet turned to the Lord;" then, making a long and solemn pause, he said, with tears and pathetic tones, "Brethren, let us send up a united and fervent prayer to God, in solemn silence, for the conversion of Jabez Carey." For two minutes, more than a thousand persons bowed their heads, and, with deep devotional feeling, joined in silent prayer. The result was striking. Months later, the intelligence arrived that the conversion of Jabez occurred, nearly, if not just at the time, of this united and heartfelt intercession.

For twelve years the Missionary Printing-House had been enlarging its business, until it had become an immense establishment. It was one hundred and seventy-four feet long and fifty broad, to which were attached a storeroom one hundred and forty feet long, and a room for casting type. Near it was a paper-mill. The natives frequently visited the place, as a new European wonder. One day, as some of them turned away from the first view of a printing-press, they said, "It is an English idol!" There were forty or fifty learned natives employed in translating or in correcting proof-sheets of the Scriptures. Besides these, there were Mahometans, pagan Hindus and native converts all busy, some composing, others distributing, others correcting. A dozen Mahometans were employed in binding parts of the Bible.

But destruction was to visit this busy scene. On the evening of March 11th, 1812, the printing-house was destroyed by fire. A large quantity of paper (two thousand reams) and many volumes of Scriptures fed the flames. Fonts of type in thirteen languages, and manuscripts in seven languages, were consumed. The loss was estimated at £12,000, or about $60,000. But there were parts of the loss that could not be remedied by money. Among these were Dr. Carey's manuscript dictionary of Sanskrit, the work of many years, and nearly ready for the press; also a large quantity of materials for an universal dictionary of the Oriental languages derived from the Sanskrit. Neither of these works was ever resumed. Happily, no lives were lost, though Mr. Ward, the missionary printer and scholar, was in very great danger of being suffocated with smoke. He ran into the place as soon as the fire broke out, to save whatever he could seize. The next morning, as Dr. Carey, in company with a friend, walked over the smoking ruins, with tears in his eyes, "In one short evening," said he, "the labors of many years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God! The Lord has laid me low that I may look more simply to him." However, the presses and the matrices of the Oriental types were saved; and no sooner did tidings of the calamity reach England and America than Christians of every name united to repair the loss. In fact, the great fire at Serampore cast gleams into thousands of minds that before were totally ignorant of the doings of Carey, Marshman and Ward in India; it warmed the cold hearts of a multitude of wealthy formalists and votaries of fashion. Eventually did it appear that the conflagration brought to light some of the brightest treasures that fire ever melted out of the ore of dark mystery.

This conflagration of manuscripts called the attention of the Christian world to Dr. Carey's linguistic labors. Into twenty-six languages was he translating the Scriptures, as early as 1814. He was a master of Sanskrit when instruction in that sacred tongue was in its infancy. He became familiar with the literature it embalms, and spoke it with fluency and correctness. It was this knowledge, as Dr. Francis Mason thinks, that enabled him to learn so many of the other languages of the East which are dialects of the Sanskrit.

The care with which Dr. Carey made his versions has never, we think, been fully appreciated. "We never," says he in 1805, "print any translation until every word has been revised and re-revised. Whatever helps we employ, I have never yet suffered a single word, or a single mode of construction, to pass without examining it and seeing through it. I read every proof-sheet twice or thrice myself, and correct every letter with my own hand. Whatever helps I use, I commit my judgment to none of them." Dr. Marshman's words are well worth reading, marking and digesting: "Seven years have formed the shortest period which has been occupied with any version, and it was not till those in the chief cognate languages of India had been finished that the secondary versions were suffered to pass through the press even in so small a space as seven years. The chief cognate branches occupied, in general, about ten years each; and to those wherein the discrepancy was greatest, nearly twelve years were given." As there were in 1814 only certain parts of Scripture printed in twenty-six languages, or rather mostly dialects, it is necessary that the general reader should bear in mind that Dr. Marshman takes for granted that several of these versions were being made and printed in parts at the same time. In printing second editions of these parts of the New and Old Testament, Dr. Carey availed himself of the criticisms which learned natives and Europeans had made upon the first editions.

So devoted was our scholar to the work of translating from Hebrew and Greek, into strange tongues, that he at one time feared he might be secularized by his bias towards seeking out words, phrases and idioms of speech. The exclusive study of languages is, however, as injurious to the intellect as to the heart. DeQuincy has justly characterized it as "the dry-rot of the mind." And yet such was Carey's natural aptitude for the acquisition of languages that he could make rapid progress in the knowledge of other tongues, while giving much time daily to preparing sermons, or teaching in the College of Fort William, or attending to the many other avocations that were incident to his official position and relations. Too low an estimate has, I think, been set on Carey's natural endowments; indeed, in his occasional fits of "wild humility" (to use the words of Dr. Ryland), his own account of himself and his achievements was to be received as unjust. How often, for example, do we hear quoted these self-depreciating words: "Eustace, if, after my removal, any one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he give me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod, I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything." But Eustace here, as in some other places, does not stop to inquire whether such statements are supported by the facts he narrated. Thus, we find him, amidst various occupations, as shoemaker and as pastor at Moulton, while composing his elaborate "Inquiry" and attending to all the cares of his family, amusing himself with the study of the Dutch language. Some one having made him a present of a folio volume in Dutch, for the sake of reading it he obtained a grammar and learned the language. "This I know," says Andrew Fuller, "that soon afterwards a Dutch pamphlet was put into his hands, and he actually translated it and made a present of the translation to me, which I have still by me."

That mere plodding, without any natural talent for the study of languages, would have enabled him to perform such exploits, passes all understanding, and is beyond rational belief. Competent judges of his intellectual powers, as well in England as in India, in their tributes to his memory, agree in ascribing to him a singular facility in acquiring languages. Add to this the life-long pleasure he took in storing his memory with the names of all flowers, beasts, birds and minerals; could a mere plodder have possibly acquired all this dry technical knowledge? The learned commentator, Thomas Scott, who knew Carey when he was working as a shoemaker in Mr. Old's shop, said, many years after: "From the first, I thought young Carey an extraordinary person." Long afterwards, when "the consecrated cobbler" had become famous, Mr. Scott, while passing the deserted and tumble-down little shop, would say to his sons: "That is Mr. Carey's college." No intelligent person can read any candid estimate of Dr. Carey's literary character without concluding that he was not only a scholar, but a man of genius.

The manifold duties of Dr. Carey very seldom permitted him to make excursions beyond Calcutta; but he undertook one noteworthy journey into Bootan, on the borders of Thibet. So great a contrast he had never seen between two neighboring nations, as the Bootans and the Hindus. Our space does not allow us to give a particular account of this excursion. Dr. Carey likewise watched the growth of missions in other parts of the world, and lamented the failure of the missions in Africa...

Dr. Carey's favorite pundit, Mrityunjaya, was especially attached to his service as Professor in the College of Fort William. In Mr. Hume's picture of Dr. Carey, his portrait is included. He was held in high esteem by his master, and was always associated with him in literary occupations. Mr. Jonathan Carey tells us an anecdote which serves to illustrate the habits of his father, as well as the manners of the Hindus. For some years Dr. Carey went to Calcutta three days every week, to instruct his classes in the College. During this period three pundits attended him alternately through the day—one in the morning before breakfast, another after breakfast until his College duties commenced; the third during the afternoon. It was the Doctor's habit during the hot months to rest half an hour in the afternoon. One day, pressed with engagements, he requested his pundit to wake him in a quarter of an hour, and, leaving his watch on the table to direct the pundit, he retired to his room. At the appointed time the pundit went softly to the room to awake him, but, finding him sound asleep, could not summon courage enough to disturb him, and came back to the table. Five minutes later he made a second attempt, but the pundit's resolution again failed. About ten minutes after the time appointed, the Doctor awoke, and, coming out to look at his watch, admonished the pundit for his neglect. The latter informed him of his repeated attempts, and pleaded, as his excuse, the custom of the natives not to disturb any person in sound sleep. It is, as it would appear, regarded as a foretaste of the highest felicity or nirvana.

The great missionary and scholar carried to India his youthful passion for flowers. He could not take with him the English lark, which he had so often seen singing and soaring to meet the first rays of the rising and the last rays of the setting sun; he could not hear the church-bells of a Sunday morning, nor "sigh at the sound of a knell," nor listen to "the drowsy tinklings of the distant folds." Untunable gongs, drums, and every sound of discord—dialects more harsh than were spoken by those who left Babel in mutual disgust—daily and nightly rasped upon his ears. But there was one mitigation of his misery: he found on experiment that he could make live in India, at least for a season, the roses, cowslips, violets and bluebells of his dear old native land. He now learned to love even the common weeds, nettles and thistles of England. How he begged his friends to send the seeds of them to him, and even reproached them as being less mindful of him in this regard than his more remote friends in America. Once, after having carefully unpacked a bag of seeds which he had received from a friend in England, he shook out the bag in a corner of his garden, and in due time discovered something spring up on the spot, which, to his great delight, proved to be one of those daisies which spangle every English walk and meadow. In writing home, he expressed his joy on making this discovery. The incident suggested to James Montgomery his poem "The Daisy." We have room for only one of the six stanzas:

"Thrice welcome, little English flower!
  To me the pledge of hope unseen:
When sorrow would my soul o'erpower
  For joys that were or might have been,
I'll call to mind how fresh and green
  I saw thee waking from the dust,
Then turn to heaven with brow serene
  And place in God my trust."

It is doubtful, however, whether he could make the daisy flourish in such a tropical climate. At any rate the Hon. Emily Eden writing in 1836, laments that nobody had ever seen a daisy, although she had often sojourned at Barrackpore, on the opposite banks of the Hoogly. Carey's fondness for his garden remained to the last. Under his care it had become the best and rarest collection of plants in the East. Often, when he could no longer walk, he was drawn into the garden in a chair placed on a board with four wheels. It was with much distress that he quitted this little Eden for the last time, his exceeding weakness not permitting him again to visit his favorite retreat. The privation was the more painful because it was in this Paradise that he had enjoyed his most pleasant seasons of secret meditation and communion with Him who was once mistaken, for a gardener.

Agriculture, next to Horticulture in his esteem, also enjoyed much of his attention; he issued a circular on the subject which resulted in the formation of a society for its encouragement.

In May, 1821, Dr. Carey was greatly afflicted by the loss of his second wife. Three years after, he married again. Writing to his old friend Dr. Ryland respecting this event, he says: "I think I informed you in my last of my third marriage. I can add, that my present wife is a person who fears God, and that I have as good a share of domestic happiness, perhaps, as those who are most favored in that respect." In 1822 he was called to lament the death of his co-laborer, William Ward.

At the close of the year 1823, as Dr. Carey was stepping from a boat, his foot slipped and he fell heavily to the ground, causing a violent contusion of the hip joint. Fevers and other disorders followed, which succeeded in breaking down his constitution and disqualifying him for hard study. But still, such was the force of habit that he would return daily to his desk, where he spent most of his time in reading. His last days were filled with expressions of gratitude and hope. He suffered from debility, but was almost free from pain for six months before his departure. He was now delirious at times. In the wanderings of his mind he would often ask to be taken to his desk, that he might write a letter of thanks to his friends at home for all their kindness. His weakness went on increasing until June 9th, 1834, when his spirit took its joyful flight to its eternal palace. By his express direction, he was buried by the side of his second wife, and on the plain cenotaph which was erected to her memory was cut the following inscription, and nothing more:

WILLIAM CAREY,
Born 17th August, 1761; Died 9th June, 1834.
"A wretched, poor and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall"

In his last days, the venerable man would often talk of the favorable changes that had taken place since he arrived in India, forty years before, and exclaim, "What hath God wrought!" Space would fail us to dwell upon the progress of the spirit of Missions, in his own land and in America; upon the revolution that had taken place in the minds of statesmen at home and in the policy of the Indian government; upon the spread and growth of missions in many parts of the East; and upon the decay of idolatry and its cruel, debasing rites. To Baptists belong the honor of having given to British India the Scriptures in various dialects, of having been the first to encourage the cultivation of Bengali, and of establishing there a newspaper, of high character and extensive influence. "We are now able to see" says a living British author, of the Congregational faith, "that this Mission may be said to have saved India to the British Empire. It not only created the scholars to whom we have referred, and the band of holy pioneers and heralds, but also the sagacity of Lord Lawrence and the consecrated courage of Sir Henry Havelock. We are therefore prepared to maintain that we are indebted more to William Carey and his £13:2:6 than to the cunning of Clive and the rapacity of Warren Hastings."

Nor were the statistical results of Dr. Carey's labors mean and inconsiderable, even during his lifetime. From the Scrampore press had issued before his death 212,000 copies of the Sacred Scriptures, in forty different languages—the vernacular tongues of about 330,000,000 of immortal souls, of whom more than 100,000,000 were British subjects. He lived till he had seen expended upon the grand object for which the first small offering at Kettering (of £13:2:6) was presented, a sum a little short of $500,000...


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.

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